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A window into the Digital Life of Bryan Vyhmeister

High-End Mini-ITX NAS Server with ECC

Based on my post from earlier this week, I had some requests for a more complete picture of total system cost if a system was built with the components I outlined in that post. As with any computer system these days, component costs vary on any given day but these prices are current as of today. Also not included in the cost are sales tax or shipping charges that may apply to your location. Many of the components are available from which only charges sales tax in a few locations and shipping is often free, especially with an Amazon Prime Account.

I covered the available components for the system in the previous post but I am providing a list of what I would recommend as the best available options. In the list below, I am listing the best price from either or Newegg and this is indicated by bold text. Not all components are available from both retailers. I also am not including third party retailers at Amazon for the purposes of the lowest price unless they ship through Amazon and are therefore eligible for Prime Shipping.

Qty  Component       Cost    Links
1 Intel Server Board S1200KP $155.99 Amazon Newegg
1 Xeon E3 1235 Processor $264.99 Amazon Newegg
1 Kingston 8GB kit ECC Unbuffered Memory $65.74 Amazon Newegg
1 LSI Logic SAS9211-4i 6Gb/s SAS/SATA PCIe x4 Card $167.99 Amazon Newegg
1 3ware Multi-lane Internal SFF-8087 to 4 SATA Cable $16.88 Amazon Newegg
1 Fractal Design Array R2 Case w/300W PS $159.99 Newegg
1 Crucial M4 64GB SSD $94.93 Amazon Newegg
  Subtotal before hard drives $926.51  
  Hard drives    
6 Hitachi 7K3000 3TB 7200RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6Gb/s $319.99 Amazon Newegg
  Subtotal of hard drives $1919.94  
  Final system total $2846.45  

PCIe SATA Interface Card

Choosing the best PCI Express 4-port SATA controller card is the hardest part of building this system. In the above list I picked a well supported SATA 6Gb/s PCI Express x4 controller from LSI Logic. I picked this card because it was the least expensive 4-port SATA 6Gb/s controller that used a PCI Express x4 interface. Most of the budget cards in the $30 to $70 range use only a PCI Express x1 interface which could potentially be a bottleneck depending on your system usage.

It would also have been possible to go with a less expensive SAS/SATA 3Gb/s card but hard drive compatibility is an issue with some of the available cards. All controllers seem to support 2TB drives just fine but once you get larger than that, some do and some do not. For example, the otherwise excellent Intel SASUC8I (really an LSI Logic card) does not support drives over 2TB due to a hardware limitation with the LSI Logic chipset. No firmware update can correct the limitation on the SASUC8I. It is hit and miss with other cards. Some of the LSI Logic 3Gb/s cards only support larger than 2TB drives if they are SAS and not SATA drives. Due to these variables, it seems best to just pick a 6Gb/s card.

I have written a follow-up post where I detail a few different controllers, some of which would be very appropriate for this system as an alternative to the SAS9211-4i. Of particular interest is an IBM-branded version of the LSI SAS9212-4i4e controller which provides four internal Serial ATA ports and an external SFF-8088 port to connect to an external enclosure or to an SAS expander. This controller is available for less than $200 from Amazon and I think is worth the approximately $30 increase in price.

Hard Drives

Right now is the worst possible time to be buying hard drives because of the elevated prices due to the flooding in Thailand a few months back. Hard drives are often double the price they should be. In any case, I have included the top capacity drive well suited to this application. You might be tempted to go with Western Digital Caviar Green drives such as the 2.5TB or 3TB models since they seem to be a good deal. Unfortunately, those drives seem to have lots of problems in RAID setups and are very poorly suited to this application.

In particular, Hitachi 7200RPM drives are top quality and work extremely well for this application. If you wait on new drives for another six months or so we might be back to normal prices and, if so, the hard drive cost might be cut in half. Shaving almost $1000 off the price tag would be nice.

For the time being, if you are like me, you might grab some old hard drives you have now until the pricing issues are resolved. I happen to have eight Hitachi 1TB 7200RPM drives that I am using for a system very similar to this. Although it is a little cramped for space, it is not worth the premium to spring for bigger drives right now for me.

With 3TB drives, a system with six drives could have as much as 15TB of space in a RAID 5 configuration. A RAID 6 configuration (two parity drives) would drop capacity to 12TB but that would still be an impressive amount of storage in such a small box.

Bottom Line

Building a very high-end server/NAS with ECC support is slightly on the expensive side. It would be possible to save money by going with a slower processor such as an Intel Core i3 and you could also cut down on hard drive costs by going with lower capacity drives. In any case, this provides a guide that you can use to build your own server/NAS with ECC and some amazing performance.

Update: I have written an additional post about the S1200KP board because it actually does not support VT-d. It still works as a great NAS or virtualization board as long as you do not need PCI passthrough.