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My unRAID build idea - looking for comments and criticism


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I stumbled upon unRAID a few days ago, and did a lot of reading of some of the excellent posts in this forum and wiki. I've been looking into getting a NAS for a while now, and the idea of unRAID actually suits me a lot better, especially with the easy expandability. So I did some research into components that might suit my needs. As I live in Europe (Austria) newegg.com is not an option for me, but most of the "good stuff" is available here too.


I don't plan to start buying and building today or even tomorrow, but I think at some point during the next few months, I'll get going. I'll mainly want to store media (video and audio files) along with my personal photo collection, and also use the rig for backing up my personal files and probably host some full backups of the machines that are either mine or at least mine to administrate (close friends, family members, etc.). So as of right now, I'll need about 3.5 TB for media and maybe another 2-3 TB for various backups, so starting out with about 8 TB of usable space (plus a parity and maybe cache drive) would be sufficient for my needs right now. I want to have the option for maximum expandability though, and that's why I might aim a bit high at first glance.


Anyhoo, here's what I consider building, maybe there are obvious (or not so obvious) flaws in my design and thought process, which I hope somebody can/will point out:


General considerations:


Right now, green 2 TB drives seem to be cheapest per Terabyte. I'm hoping for 3 TB drives to take that position once 4 TB drives become available. Also, unRAID will have to support these, which I think v5.0 final should bring to the table. I'd love to start building my rig using 3 TB drives, but right now, my config includes cheaper 2 TB drives.


I'll be using an HTPC running XBMC as my media center. Right now, I still own an older 32" CRT screen and a 5.1/DVD home cinema from about 10 years back, but plan on progressively adding a larger LED/3D capable screen and fully digital home cinema system over the next year.


All prices are converted from euros and include all taxes.



Stage 1: Basic setup for my current needs



Motherboard: MSI Z68A-G43 ($135)


The Z68 chipset is interesting, as it can run the 2nd generatiopn of Intel Core processors ("Sandy Bridge", socket 1155) and has one PCIe 3.0 16x and one PCIE 2.0 16x that electronically is only 8x. That means, two PCIe 8x SAS/SATA 6.0 Gb/s cards could be used to drive up to 8 SATA 6.0 Gb/s drives each. There are also 2× PCIe 1x and 3× PCI slots for even more SATA controllers (to be used via SNAP or once unRAID supports more than 20-22 drives). The board itself has 4× SATA II and 2× SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports, can handle up to four DDR3 memory modules and has USB 3.0 (for fast file transfers when plugging external drives) as well as a serial port (to use a UPS). The question is, if the Z68 chipset is supported by unRAID and if MSI is reliable (my last experience with their boards was about 10 years back).



CPU: Intel Pentium G630T, 2× 2.3 GHz, Intel HD Graphics included ($90)


Basically the cheapest GHz-per-watt 35W dual core fitting the 1155 socket there is (the G620 at 2.2 GHz is a little cheaper, but we're talking a few cents here). The Core i3-2120T at 2×2.6 GHz, that also features Turbo Boost cost around $155, so not sure if the added price will actually add a lot of performance.



RAM: Kingston ValueRAM Kit, 2×2 GB, PC3-10667@1333 MHz ($32)


I figured I'll go with 4 GB, while prices are low, just to play it safe. That way, there is enough room for fancy plug-ins



Case: Antec Twelve Hundred ($180)


As I want to be able to use up to 20 drives eventually, I guess this beast with 12× 5.25" (and 20× 3.5 when using 3-to-5 bays) is the way to go. I'd have loved to have gotten the Norco 20 or 24 bay 19" rack, but it is obscenely expensive here in Europe (almost $700), I went with the cheaper tower solution. There's also the newer V3 of the case ($205) that basically adds front-USB 3.0 and a 2.5" bay and allows for easier assembling of the CPU cooler. Front-USB 3.0 would be nice-to-have but is not a dealbreaker if it's not there. Also has a 200mm fan at the top and two 120mm fans at the front with optional 120mm fans in the middle and at one side.



PSU: be quiet! Straight Power E9 500W ($120)


This is an ATX 2.3 PSU with an 80+ Gold certification (average 90% efficiency). Even with 20 green drives, maximum power consumption with the rest of the hardware should only be slightly over 400W, so I figured 500W should be enough.  



CPU Cooler: Thermaltake Slim X3 ($24)


I might even go with the standard boxed Intel cooler, but this one is cheap and low and should not get into the way of cable management and airflow. The PSU has 4× +12V rails with 18A each, so if I'm not a complete fool, it should have 72A total for all HDDs. Comes with a five year warranty and has a 135 mm fan.



5-in-3-bay: 1× Sunnytek/Jou Jye ST-3051 ($132)


I think it looks great, is hot-swappable and has an 80mm fan at the back, individual door locks and an overheating alarm. Eventually I'll need fot of these in total, but I'll start out with just one.



SATA Cables: 5× standard SATA cables ($5)


About 50 cm in length, might need longer/shorter ones, have to see how everything is located in the case



Hard Disks: 5× Hitachi Deskstar 5K3000, 2 TB ($475)


As everybody seems to rave about these drives, I'll give them a shot. I'll use one as a parity drive and the rest for storage. I'm also getting two 3 TB WD Caviar Greens soon for my immediate storage needs in my HTPC and might include one or both into unRAID when I need more space, once I am ready to transfer storage there (or use one or both instead of some of the Hitachis right away, I'll decide that on the fly when ordering). I also have another WD Caviar Green 1 TB in an eSATA/USB enclosure right now that I might add at some point.



Stage 2: Expansion



USP: APC Back-UPS Pro 900VA ($210)


I didn't look in-depth into the whole USP topic yet, but what I read was that APC devices were best supported in unRAID. This one has 540W and 900VA, so it should be able to bridge the gap when power fails even when my rig is fully equipped. I do want to add an USP ASAP though, just to be on the safe side.



5-in-3-bay: 3× Sunnytek/Jou Jye ST-3051 ($369)


I'll get these as I need them, one at a time



Hard Disks: 14× Hitachi Deskstar 5K3000, 2 TB ($1.330)


Again, I'll expand as needed and might use some of the drives I already have. As storage space grows and prices fall, I might add some 3 or even 4 TB drives. I'll stay with green drives that come cheap, stay cool and perform reasonably well. I might mix and match Hitachi, WD, Seagate and maybe Samsung.



Cache Drive: Hitachi Ultrastar A7K3000, 3 TB ($400)


I like the concept of being able to add a cache drive to speed things up. This one is a 7,200 RPM model and is intended for continuous operation (as I understand it, the cache drive will spin at all times?).


Of course, an SSD cache drive would be ideal, but these are still very expensive. Is there an info on the ideal size of a cache drive? I'm not sure if a 128 GB Crucial m4 ($225) would be sufficient for the task, but something along these lines (Marvell or Sandforce 2200 controller with synchronous MLC) would be my ideal cache drive. A 640 GB, 10,000 RPM VelociRaptor ($285) might also be another option.


Also, do you guys recommend using a cache drive that is suited for continuous operation?



SATA controller cards: 2× SuperMicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 ($250)


I'll also add these as required. These require at least an PCIe 4x slot and can power 8× SATA II drives via SAS forward breakout cables. I might go for the AOC-SAS2LP-MV8 which is only slightly more expensive (about $25 per card), requires PCIe 8x and can drive up to 8 SATA 6.0 Gb/s drives. With the two ports on the board I could drive 18 SATA 6.0 Gb/s drives and add more 1-2 SATA 6.0 Gb/s capable cards in the remaining PCIe 1x slots on the board.



4× SAS-to-SATA cables: LSI 3ware SFF-8087 to 4× SATA ($90)


Again will be added as needed per controller card.





So, these are my plans. Will I go there? I hope so. The initial setup will cost me about $1.200, but if I use some of the disks I will have by then, it might come closer to $1.000. That's still a bit for a RAID setup, but it's about the same if I used a NAS case with 4-5 disks, which comes at less flexibility and upgrades are either not possible or a major pain in the butt. And I like the idea of investing a bit now and be able to upgrade as needed as my demands grow (and as unRAID moves forward, nice features such as dual-parity drives might become reality). Plus, I'm an IT tech guy, so I love the thought of building and expanding my own rig. :)


That being said, I'm also a bloody unRAID newbie, albeit one with a bit of understanding of hardware. So, if there are any major flaws in my fantasy setup, or if in your opinion I aim to high or too low in certain areas, please tell me where I have it wrong. Again, I will probably not start building this beast until after christmas, maybe even not before March, all depending on how much money I can spare for this most interesting project.

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Since most of your drives are 2TB drives, I would use a 2TB cache drive. Same as your data drive and save some funds.


It can also serve as an exercised warm spare to replace a failed drive in a pinch.


I.E. Data drive failes. Give up cache functionality.  Put cache in failed data drive's space.

RMA data drive or order a new drive.


I would probably keep the cache drive the same size as the parity so that can be replaced in a pinch also.

But if you have older smaller drives laying around, you can use them as a cache.


I'm not sure you'll need an expensive 7200 RPM 3TB cache drive unless you plan to move terabytes of data in a day.


>>> Also, do you guys recommend using a cache drive that is suited for continuous operation?

Not necessarily unless you plan to be moving data to the machine at a constant rate.


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I did not fully look at your hardware as you are not buying it today.


Your plan is a sound and a logical upgrade path. as you pointed out, it will be a few months, who knows what s available and what drives/hardware cost in a few months. you will mostlikely have redo all your research then.


The other option is, start watching for sales and closeouts and pick up a part here and there and slowly assemble it over the next few months.


That was how i built my last few servers. start with scrap parts and upgrade with each sale.


One thing I would change for sure:

is the 500watt PSU. once you start pushing 20 drives, the 500 will probably not be enough. remember when you start and stop your server and your array. it will spin all drives at one. that is a huge power spike.

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My thoughts since you are asking  ;) :  Your cache drive is not / does not have to run all the time.  No reason it won't / could not to spin down unless you have frequent writes 24x7 ... otherwise it could/should spin down.


Also a 3TB cache drive is overkill unless you are really going to be writing 3TB of data before you get a chance to run the mover script.  In which case run the mover twice a day.  And as mentioned, keeping cache <= parity means you can press the cache into array duty after a failure while awaiting a new drive.


7200rpm is overkill unless you are running dual 1gbit networks.  with a 5400rpm cache and one switch hop from my desktop I saturate the network.  a 5400rpm cache drive is NOT the speed limiter in this case.


You could save a few bucks now if you wanted and hold off on the 5x3 cages until you needed the extra slots.  Which won't happen until you hit 12 drives.  Then when you buy the 13th go ahead and get the cages to expand.


Ditto on the PSU ... look in the PSU thread, you likely will want something a little more powerful if your goal is 20 drives.

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Thanks for your comments and info! I decided to go for a test build with stuff I mostly have lying around first, to see if unRAID actually fits my needs and have something to play with. Info on what I got right now is here, if anybody wants to comment on if this would work.


As for the PSU, I figured 500W to be sufficient, but I guess it really is not. Also, I've read up on the disadvantages about multiple +12V rails (I figured this might be a problem, just never bothered to read up on it), so I've reconsidered in favor of a Corsair Enthusiast Series TX650 V2 (650W, 53A on a single +12V rail). I'll probably get that one for my test build and re-use it, when/if I build a new "production" server.


I'll keep you guys up to date (as I'm sure more questions will arise) and will post more info/pictures when any rig gets finished or at least is in progress.

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Thanks for the input. I listed one in 5-in-3 cage in my initial setup and three more in my "expansion plan".


As for the PSU, I'm planning to go with a Corsair Enthusiast Series TX650 V2 (650W/53A on a single +12V rail). Would this be sufficient?


Yes, that is sufficient for a server that uses 20+ green drives.  I use that PSU as the basis of most of my 20 drive servers.

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