Cheap NAS or Intel NAS?

Quite recently I was crawling through few forums and I just realised that there is some sort of prejudice towards non-Intel-based NAS systems. There is always someone saying that you must have:

  1. Intel C2xx chipset
  2. Xeon CPU
  3. ECC support
  4. Intel NIC

Some always argue that you will run 24/7, that Intel cards are faster, Intel is more power efficient… I am sure that for the majority of NAS users, the total price is the biggest thing to swallow. Of course, I wouldn’t mind having a very low powered system with all bells and whistles and if it was free, I would be very happy. Unfortunately, it may never happen.

Luckily, there are few alternatives to Intel’s prices and I am running one at home for dirt cheap with good 85MB/s read/write. How? Let’s debunk some of “necessities” based on Intel’s offerings. We will focus on MATX or ITX format, simply because not everyone wants full-blown tower NAS. Smaller is simpler, but more expensive, especially casing.

  1. Intel C2xx chipset – last time I’ve checked, any motherboard with C216 or C226 was with a price tag above £150. With Intel, you need C2xx to handle ECC memory plus you gain few PCIe lanes, Intel NIC or two etc, something not really needed for home NAS system.
  2. Xeon CPU – It’s VERY expensive but it has AES instructions assisting in real time encryption (but there are people who are saying that those instructions which should be random are not entirely random, so there is a chance of decrypting what shouldn’t be possible… anyway different story), also can use ECC memory and it can address more than 32GB (and why you need more than 16GB in home file server?)
  3. ECC support – I will agree here that, if you want the safety of your data, you will need them. No buts no maybes: I will show you my pics were 1 bit flipped and 75% of the photo is destroyed. Reason? It sat on windows based computer for about 2 years. No ECC, no ZFS, no checksums, nothing.
  4. Intel NIC – I have 1 Realtek 8111E on my motherboard and it performs flawlessly, maybe I didn’t hit speed records, but it does nearly 1Gbp limit anyway. Having 2 network cards on Intel boards? To do teaming or bonding you still need a switch with bonding functions and those are not consumer parts also damn expensive, so why bother. IPMI – a few years ago there was no IPMI and people still worked on servers using SSH for example. OK, it may help you, but at what price?

So, let’s face it: if you want to have Intel’s bells and whistles you may pay about £200 just for board or/and CPU:

  • ASRock E3C226D2I Server/Workstation Board (Socket 1150, Intel C226, DDR3, S-ATA 600, M-ITX) @ £165
  • Intel Pentium G3220 @ £40 (but no AES)
  • 8GB 10600E (PC1333) Unbuffered ECC @ £70
  • TOSHIBA DT01ACA200 2TB @ £50 x 6 (we are doing RaidZ2 with 6 disks)
  • any case you want, I chose rack 3U case @ £50

My NAS is based on AMD 210e CPU @£26 used and ASUS M5A78L-M/USB3 @ £50 new motherboard. OK, Intel might be faster and more power efficient but with double or triple the cost and I will be very difficult to get it second hand if you want to save money. My system is used mainly for backups and family photos/videos and I do value, that it just works nearly out of the box using ZFS and NAS4Free.

I know that many people will argue that Intel is server grade hardware and much more powerful, but I will ask them again: Do I really need server grade parts for home use? I don’t think so and many others as well. We are going cheap and cheerful. It works without spending 100s on features  I don’t really need. Below is screenshot during re-silvering of my new Toshiba 2TB. The CPU is coping quite well, so do I need more power? for 1-2 users?


Below is the reason, why I actually bother with NAS, ZFS, ECC and other bits: this picture was destroyed by just holding on NTFS partition for about 2 years. If it was a 7zip archive, it will not decompress, if it was a program it will keep crashing… Faulty RAM memory can be silent killer as well…

20120173Bottom line is that for a home file serving with occasional FTP, SMB, SSH; cheap AMD system with ECC memory is more than adequate to safeguard your data without spending a lot of money. I can hear those screaming “what about transcoding video for DLNA?!”, I can scream back with “ditch your iPad/iPhone/isomething_else and use more advanced stuff to play your music/video via SMB share without the need to transcode!!!”. Why the heck, every time you have to transcode something into something else using CPU at full throttle?? Where is your energy efficiency??? This is yet another story…

Yes, Yes… Always do a backup 😉


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When your NAS is DEGRADED…

…it’s not the end of the world. Not yet.

It was a very nice day, when just out of blue, 2 of my 6 hard drives in RaidZ2 configured pool, start having hiccups (read: S.M.A.R.T errors). A SMART error is not the end of the world and it’s more like warning signs than an actual problem. More often, it will give you plenty of time to replace playing up disk(s).

So far, I’ve found that first of my Seagate 7200.11, 500GB – dev/ada4 with 13690 working hours has 3 different problems, each qualifying disk for replacement.

  1. Reallocated_Sector_Ct – 10
  2. Spin Retry – 2 (I could live with this one)
  3. Reported_Uncorrect – 530

Also, second Seagate 7200.11 with 8490 working hours has its own quirks:

  1. Spin Retry – 51
  2. Reported_Uncorrect – 33
  3. UDMA_CRC_Error_Count – 280 (It could be just faulty cable)

Again, not the end of this hard drive yet, but… you need to think about new one as well. Fairly quickly.

Today, arrived 1st replacement (I will never buy more than 1 disk from the same batch): Toshiba DT01ACA200 – 2TB Hitachi debranded hardware with 2 years warranty Return To Base. One thing to remember with Toshiba is that in case of damaged drive, you have to deal with seller and NOT Toshiba directly as they don’t have returns facility (at least in the UK)

Drive arrived from in nice small parcel via Signed Delivery. Disk well packed, with nice, big FRAGILE  letters (shame, that it was inside the grey plastic bag, but… never mind). Inside, my Toshiba in the antistatic sealed plastic bag.

To check 2TB, I had to run the EXTENDED SMART TEST, via any S.M.A.R.T. monitor tool (I used well tested Hirens boot 15.2 from here) and it took over 4 hours to complete. Once completed, it was ready to go in my NAS4Free box. It was way easier for me to use my other media box to connect this hard drive and run test, than actually put in my NAS, as I have too many securing screws 😉 but you can feel free to just replace old HDD with the new one in your NAS4Free box.

How to replace damaged drive in ZFS? Actually, it’s very easy:

  1. Once you have physically replaced your old drive with new one.
  2. Start N4F and wait until it is up and running fully.
  3. Login into web and go to DISKS->Management
  4. Press Clear Config and Import Disks
  5. You should see new hard drive – in my case it was /dev/ada4 – TOSHIBA DT01ACA200, still not part of ZFS my pool
  6. You can use SSH, or pick menu ADVANCE->Command or like me, just switch monitor from DVI to VGA to see output from N4F box and choose menu 6 – Shell
  7. Type (in my case) zpool replace RaidZ2 /dev/ada4, where RaidZ2 is your pool name, /dev/ada4 is the number of your new drive, in my case 4, see point no. 5)
  8. If you type zpool status RaidZ2, you should see that your zpool is re-silvering, which mean replacing missing data.
  9. When it’s finished (timewise will depend on how much data you have and speed of your hard drive, for me 300GB was about 15 minutes), you should see your zpool status as ONLINE. No more degraded.

As you can see, I’ve replaced 500GB with 2TB, but my zpool is still worth of 4x 500GB. Until all disks are not 2TB, my zpool will not grow. Once all are 2TB, I will have more or less 4 x 2TB, usable around 7.2TB. Enough for a long time… At least for me 😉

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Once, long time ago, in a different galaxy… I tried to learn a bit of C#, after that, Java was the hot topic as well as Android development. Problem was, that I just couldn’t get the grip with object-oriented programming. Also, at the time, development for Android was based only with Java on Eclipse. Nothing else.

I was looking towards BASIC type programming languages, but there was only one worth looking at Basic for Android (actually Basic4Android). I start doodling on it and it was way easier than Java for Android. Of course, the forum is the first thing to look at as they are so helpful, so if you stuck somewhere, they will help you.

Worth mentioning: There is 50% discount based on the referral system, where you can buy the copy of Basic4Android via Plimus and apply discount code:


At the time of writing is $119 or £78.67 and after discount, it is $59.50 or £39.34 for Basic4android Enterprise Version with 2 years of updates applied or Basic4android Standard Version with 30% discount and 2 months of updates. Prices may change without of notice so hurry up. It’s well worth it.

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