What To Choose: 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 were free, I would be pleased. 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 more straightforward, 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 required for home NAS system.
  2. Xeon CPU – It’s costly, but it has AES instructions assisting in real-time encryption (but some people 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. 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 picture with 1 bit flipped, and destroying the photo. Reason? It sat on windows based computer for about two 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. Do I have 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 tough 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.

Fractal Design Node 804
Fractal Design Node 804, I love this case.

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 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 need. Below is screenshot during re-silvering of my new Toshiba 2TB. The CPU is coping quite well. Do I need more power? For 1-2 users?


The bottom 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 yell 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??? Yet another story.

Yes, Yes… Always remember to do a backup 😉

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