Unraid HTPC silent and low watt usage - History


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I hope my experience will help some others. Especially if you plan to buy a embed CPU motherboard with intel celeron etc...

 

My objective was to build a silent and low watt usage HTPC for home usage.

In europe (I am in France), 1W / year cost 1€ / year. So if I build a  configuration at 250W, the cost is 250€ per year. Which is amazing just for plex !! netflix + amazon prime are cheapest per year ;)

 

My usage is at 90% for plex/emby & seedbox, and 10% nextcloud and VPN.

 

So the first thing I did was to buy a HTPC case at HDPlex. I have chosen the H5 gen 2 case : https://hdplex.com/hdplex-h5-fanless-computer-case.html

Not cheap, but beautiful. I see it everyday under my TV so, it is important.

 

I do not need a lot of power and speed. Most of the time I am the single user of this server. But occasionaly, we can be 2 or 3 at the same time watching videos.

So do I need fastest disks, no!

Latest CPU, no!

10Gb/s network, no!

critical time fo response, no!

big cache, no! an old 256GB SSD sata witll do the job.

 

For my first configuration I bought a all in one configuration with intel j5005 ITX motherboard with 4 sata disks 2.5 1000GB. Very cheap motherboard, around 110€. Disks can be found easely on 2nd hand market, everybody replace 2.5 hdd in laptop by SSD. You can find brand new 2.5 1TB disks for less than 30€. 2.5 disks are slower than 3.5 but very silent and just consume a couple of watt during usage and around 0.1w during iddle. Perfect for my usage

It worked just fine with 4 disks. Disks were used at their maximum speed (average 90MB/s, max 120MB/s, min 60MB/s depending on where you read/write on disk) with the 4 onboard sata connectors. The CPU has enough power to run everything easely simultaneously. I totally recommend this configuration if you just plan to use 4 disks. And if you case can, because my hdplex h5 is bit small, but difficult to use more than 4 disks in (not impossible).

But very soon, I needed to add more disks and I jumped to 6 disks then 8 disks. It was the beginning of a lot of issues.

 

First and the biggest problem, celeron J5005 have limitation in terms of pcie lanes. Just 6 are available. 2 are used by satas and 1 for pcie x1 onboard connector. all the 3 others are used by network card/ usb etc... So more disks I add, more this single pcie lane is shared. 

So whatever I can do, only 1 pcie lane is used for ALL disks after the 4th. With 6 disks, the read/write speed was around 80Mb/s. With 8 disks, read/write speed was around 50/60 MB/s etc... etc... 

 

It was the time to invest to a real SAS controller (LSI 9xxx series) HBA pcie x4 etc... I found it easely on ebay for $20 and wait 3 weeks to receive it.

 

This card was not usable with my motherboard which just had 1 pciex1 extension slot. So let's buy a new motherboard/CPU!
And my brightest idea of the year was to buy a J4105 celeron embed motherboard in mATX format with 1 pcie (2.0)x16 slot and 1 pcie (2.0)x1 slot. With the pciex16 slot, I can use my new LSI card and really use this powerful controler to stop sharing a pcie lane (2.0) x1 accross all disks. But of course it did not work at all, the fucking pciex16 lane run at pciex1 speed (it was the time to read intel specification on intel.com and asrock specifications). So the situation was exactly the same than before but lot more expensive because I bought the LSI controller, new cables and and new motherboard.... for nothing...congrats me !!!

Thanks EBay and leboncoin, I was able to resell this unusable motherboard and not loose a lot of €.

 

Maybe you ask why I wanted to change my configuration. I said just before I do not need fast disk, fast cpu etc... so why do you do that. It was slower, but acceptable you think !!

Response: with 8TB on 8 disks, the weekly check disks run for 16 to 20 hours !!! downloading torrents at 100MB/s use almost 100% of the bus speed of my pcie lane. My configuration was a single thread server. Even pihole was slow during disks checks or heavy torrent download, and sometimes not able to respond DNS in time :)

Everything was dependant to this pciex1 lane used by ALL processus on my server. 

 

From a very usable, cheap and low cost server with 4 disks, I jumped to a nightmare server, most of the time in idle trying to deal with existing process instead of responding new ones !!! Moving everything to cache helped a bit BUT :) my ssd cache is on a sata port, so it helped just a bit... or not at all, difficult to say.

 

After this amazing experience of doing 2 times the same error, I planed to really build an extendable configuration.

Instead of buying embed intel 10Watts platform with celeron, I have chosen intel T series at 30W max.

 

It took me weeks to find a good opportunity at the right price. Not a lot of people sell them. I bought an intel I5-6400T for 60€.

then I bough a brand new motherboard GA-H110M-S2H for 50€ with 1 real pcie (3.0) x16 lane and 2 pcie(2.0) x1 lane.

Now i can really use my LSI controler.

 

After all this changes and deceptions, it was also the time to maybe stop using the SSD sata cache disk. I had a SSD nvme 512GB toshiba from an old laptop sleeping somewhere, so I bought a pciex1 extension slot for nvme (aliexpress $8, 3 weeks delivery).

 

And then the dream came true. ALL was running perfectly. Today with 8 disks, I do not even use onboard sata controllers. All disk are plugged on my LSI 9211 controler. All running at their maximum speed and the pcie(2.0) x4  of the controler has enough bandwith to ingest all actions (plex/torrent/pihole etc..) simultaneously on different disks. Using a disk cache on a pcie (2.0) x1 lane is also a better idea than cache on sata. The bandwith is lot larger and has direct access to CPU and bridge. I have noticed immediately a BIG improvement when I switched.

 

So today I have a working configuration, with 8 TB on 8 disks. Very silent and low watt usage (40-45W on load, 29W idle). With the help of powertop and ASPM enabled, I reduce the watt usage to 25W on idle.

I can say that the cost of intel T series + motherboad is the same than a brand new celeron J5005/J4105 embed on motherboard. So DO NOT BUY an intel celeron embed if you imagine using more than 4 disks... or use 3.5 disks so you can really increase your storage without adding new disks. (but bye bye silence and low cost usage)

 

The LSI 92xx controler is perfect. Must have and cheap for more than 4 sata disks. Sata controler on pciex1 lane are not that bad, but completely struggle the bandwith available with your disks. If you really have simultaneous process, you feel immediately the difference.

 

Same for cache, prefer a SSD on pcie extension slot. Bandwith is lot higher than on sata. I saw immediately a big difference when I switched to this cache.

 

Overall the configuration, without the case, cost less then 350€ for 8 disks, CPU/motherboard/ram and LSI controler + pcie nvme cache.

The case cost 300€ !!! but I cannot deal with design (and my wife asking me what is this ugly box under the TV).

 

I added recently a DVB-T tuner card to record TV contents. Works perfectly. I recommend the TBS 6281 SE. Perfect to use with plex.

 

Hope it helps.

 

 

 

Edited by tapodufeu
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I'm running a j5005 with an H1110 HBA (cut to fit the x1 slot) and 8 disks:

  • 2 SSD Cache (on the integrated intel)
  • 3 Array disks and and a BTRFS Raid 5 Pool of 3 disks (all distributed between the integrated ASMedia and the HBA)

It's not a performance server but I don't notice any slowness although your idle wattage with the new setup (22W) is close to mine. Do you remember what your idle wattage was with the J4105 and HBA?

 

Benchmarking the x1 controller in DiskSpeed does show limitations but not enough to affect usability (although if my controller ran 8 disks instead of 4 I could see it doubling? parity check time.)

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Edited by CS01-HS
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If I remember well, the HBA consumes 5 to 7 watts on use, based on specifications I found.

 

The 22W was with the SATA raid control and J5005  (x4 ports marvell controller) and 6 disks. I stayed a couple of months in this configuration.

With the I5 6400T, LSI and 8 disks, it is more 25/27.

Then  I added the TBS and the nvme disk and now I am between 29-31 watts.

NVMe disk consumes a lot of power compared to a sata disk.

During a recording + watching, I see some jumps at 42 - 44 Watts.

 

I have a picoPSU 80Watt. When my server is off, I can see 1.3 watt usage, just by the PSU.

So during load, maybe 4 to 5 watts are used by the PSU itself. Up to 10Watt at 80 watts maybe.

My picopsu is not GOLD/platinium/silver etc... it is chinese made :) and my watt meter is not also very "acurate" (10 bucks on amazon... ).

 

Only 4 disks are plugged on your HBA ? so you don't see yet a bit bottleneck.

 

You use the asrock J5005-mITX ?

 

PS: I have edited my post and my signature to use correct numbers. thanks CSO1

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Edited by tapodufeu
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Ah I see, that's still good power savings.

 

Yes, I have the J5005-mITX with 6 HDDs (4 on the card, 2 on the board) and 2 Cache SDDs. More information is linked in my signature.

 

If you want to see great power savings look at this:

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.computerbase.de%2Fforum%2Fthreads%2Fselbstbau-nas-im-10-zoll-rack.1932675%2F

 

He also posts here:

 

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If I stop torrents... and wait 15mn. I am at 26.6W.

 

8 drives on the LSI + ssd cache on sata and you are exactly in the same configuration than I was a couple of months ago.

I have also tried 6 drives on the LSI + 2 paritys drives onboard sata + ssd onboard sata, you will improve a bit performance, but not that much. 

Especially during heavy load or parity check, you do not see any difference. But at least process stops hanging :) haha.

 

For my use case, using a j5005 or i5 6400T  is at the same cost of setup, cost 8 watts more for usage (so 8€ per year). But in the second case I have a NVMe drive for cache, an LSI HBA and a TBS DVB-T tuner card. You know I wonder if the T series is more "adaptative" than the J series. Maybe power usage of the CPU can fall down more with a T series than with the J series (which maybe stay always around 8 to 10W).

 

I will add 4 new 2.5 1TB drives in a couple of weeks. When you start using unraid for NAS, you cannot stop. LOL

next step is of course to use 2TB drives 2.5, they are becoming affordable.

 

I have also post a pic showing my HTPC server under my TV. If people wants to know how it looks.

 

great, I take a look at powertop !! very interesting !!

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Edited by tapodufeu
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