Up to 24TB of storage in a 5 gallon case

A year ago I wrote a file server builder's guide, which generated more discussion than any of my other guides. Succinctly, there are a lot of options to consider when you build a file server. There are many operating system choices, from FreeBSD and FreeNAS, Ubuntu and Samba, to Windows Home Server 2011. You can read more about those software solutions in the previous file server guide, as the information remains relevant. Windows Home Server 2011 gets the nod here, simply because of its ease of use. If you're willing to spend a bit more time implementing a free file server OS, there are many compelling alternatives.

Dustin recently reviewed Fractal Design's new ITX case, the Node 304. What impresses me most about the Node 304 are its sleek styling and its ability to house six full-size 3.5" hard drives. As 4TB drives are the highest capacity models available to the mainstream market, the Node 304, which has a volume of about 5 gallons, has the ability to put up to 24TB of storage in a small footprint on your desk or on a bookshelf. My own testing indicates that the Node 304 is capable of keeping lower RPM (i.e. "green") hard drive temperatures well within comfortable operating temperatures (less than 40C) even under full, artificial load.

That said, the Node 304 is, as you might imagine, cramped when you stuff it full of six hard drives. To ameliorate this concern, we're pairing it with Silverstone's ST50F-P power supply, a 500W 80+ unit that is one of the smallest ATX power supplies available. Furthermore, we're recommending Silverstone's short cable kit, which helps with installation and cable management.

ASUS' P8H77-I is one of the few ITX motherboards with six SATA ports. As such, expansion cards aren't necessary to fill the Node 304 to its maximum hard drive capacity. This motherboard is also particularly well laid out when installed in the Node 304, which again helps with installation and cable management. It's important to note that file servers do not require powerful processors, so again the Celeron G540 gets the nod here.

Finally, Western Digital released its Red line of hard drives this year, which Ganesh reviewed. These drives are ideally suited for server use: they sip power, they're user configurable, and they run cool and quiet. Western Digital Red drives also carry a 3-year warranty, compared to the 2-year warranty of Western Digital's Green drives and many of Seagate's higher capacity storage drives. These Red series drives are available in 1TB, 2TB, and 3TB capacities; hopefully a 4GB model will be available soon. 4TB hard drives are currently available from Seagate and Hitachi. That said, the base model file server outlined below features a single 3TB Red drive as this capacity represents the best dollar per GB ratio of the three Red models. Of course, only you can determine how much storage you need, and definitely watch prices as I've seen these fluctuate wildly over the last month in terms of cost. Also keep in mind that consumers are not in a good position to judge the reliability of hard drives, and that the plural of anecdote is not data.

Component Product Price
Case Fractal Design Node 304 $90
Power supply Silverstone ST50F-P $78
Power supply accessory Silverstone short cable kit $20
CPU Intel Celeron G540 2.5GHz dual-core $45
Motherboard ASUS P8H77-I mITX $100
RAM Corsair Value Select 4GB DDR3-1333MHz $18
Hard drive Western Digital Red 3TB $155
Operating system Windows Home Server 2011 $50
  Total: $556

On the next page, we outline two SFF gaming systems.

Budget Small Form Factor Systems Gaming Small Form Factor Systems


View All Comments

  • 96redformula - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    Not sure how you couldn't include Silverstone SG-09 as a case. Yeah, I know, the style is hit or miss, but hard to argue vs all the capabilities and features of it.

    I have a full blown gaming system in mine and the advantages are huge; the option of going crossfire/SLI, full sized CPU tower, water cooling capable, and smaller than the Bitfenix Prodigy case.
  • bim27142 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    it's more expensive i think that's why... Reply
  • JohnMD1022 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    Requires a slot load optical drive... $70. Waiting for mine to arrive.

    Needs the special ODD cable ($9).

    For all intents and purposes, requires a Silverstone full modular power supply ($80 and up) plus the short cable set ($25).

    We're over $100 already, plus the $100 for the case.

  • lmcd - Sunday, January 13, 2013 - link

    Brief correction: slot-load dvd is $30 Reply
  • JohnMD1022 - Saturday, February 9, 2013 - link



    Half height tray loads are $30.

    Slot loads are 70+

  • Cygni - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    These tiny ITX systems also have another use not really mentioned: as a full blown media center PC (often with CableCard tuners). It's a combo of features that's hard to nail right now in the market place... quiet, small, presentable in the middle of a living room, optical audio out, half height PCie bracket you dont have to bend to get to work, etc.

    I currently have a G530, BIOSTAR TH61ITX, and Antec ISK 310-150, with a Ceton 4 tuner card. Looking pretty hard at going to a 35w Ivy Bridge Celly/Pentium when they become available, because even the dainty G530 is enough to spin up the fans with 3 channels recording.
  • pdffs - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    I was thinking this too, but...

    Optical audio should pretty much be phased out now that HDMI is so prevalent (HDMI audio is vastly superior, and carried by all equipment for the past few years).

    And it'd be hard to recommend a capture card for such a build, since there are so many standards in different regions.

    I'm looking at replacing my aging ION box with some Ivy Bridge (though I wish Intel would fix the 24p frame-rate issue).
  • Rick83 - Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - link

    I disagree: The stereo amplifier I bought two years ago features optical in, but no HDMI.

    Optical also means less conducitivity, so more resilience against interference.
    Optical cables are much thinner. I run one under a door, where it is all but invisible, an HDMI cable would be a huge eye-sore - and would not fit.

    HDMI audio may be somewhat superior, if you have sources that get you "HD" codecs, but those are only on BDs anyway, so no point for most of us, who can't be bothered with BDs due to the DRM breaking free players - and just use a stand alone device.

    Music, games and everything else wil mostly be fine with optical. While multichannel PCM is nice to have, you'll need support on both ends, to gain anything over DTS/DD encoded audio.

    Plus, you don't always want to logically bind display and audio together.
    And then there's display port, which I'd prefer over HDMI.
  • erple2 - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    <quote>less conducitivity, so more resilience against interference.</quote>

    What? HDMI is a digital signal, which means it either works or doesn't, much like how an HDMI video signal is NOT affected by the 'quality' of the cables. Unless you're talking about something else.
  • Bender316 - Thursday, December 6, 2012 - link

    HDMI IS copper cable, and the signal is just voltage on that cable - whether Analogue or Digital, neither are totally immune to interference. So there are limitations and are potential interference issues.

    If you want a very long distance (cabling through doorways is mentioned) - I believe the Low-Voltage Differential Signal standard it uses recommends max 15m? I'd have to check. At the same time the LVDS signalling is very robust, and should be fairly good at dealing with interference.

    Optical on the other hand is light in a glass tube. Electromagnetic interference should not be an issue. Distance obviously impacted by the driver, but I seem to recall max distances are a lot higher than HDMI.

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