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DIY NAS Smackdown

DIY NAS Smackdown
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If I build the cheapest non-RAID NAS I can, how well will it perform? The purpose of this article is to build a cheap NAS (i.e., using low-cost and "locally available" parts) and test it with using the TomsNetworking iozone benchmark to see how well it compares with commercial solutions. This article differs from my first Tom's Hardware article that showed how to build your own RAID 5 NAS. This time, the idea is to take the same hardware, the same software and see how it performs using a single hard drive.

The Hardware

The hardware for this do-it-yourself project is displayed in Table 1. To keep this project simple, I intended to use a single hardware configuration with a single gigabit Ethernet adapter (the Initial Hardware Components columns in Table 1). I was able to complete two of the three operating system evaluations with this setup (which was the same as my previous DIY RAID5 NAS article). But before I could evaluate Windows XP Pro, something began to go wrong and the hardware died. So, I switched to an even slower set of hardware (the Final Hardware Components columns) that I bought three years ago from Walmart. I call this hardware the "Walmart Wonder" box even though it was manufactured by Microtel. 

  Initial Hardware Components Cost Final Hardware Components Cost
CPU Sempron 2200+ $59 (for 2600+ 2200+ no longer available) Duron 1.6 GHz Included
CD ROM ASUS 52x $10.00 ASUS 52x Included
Power Supply CoolerMaster RS-450-ACLX 450W $80.00 Codegen 300W Included
Case Cheapest @ CompUSA $29.90 "Walmart Wonder" Microtel $199.00
RAM 512 MB DDR 400 SDRAM
Running at 266 mHz
$40.00 512 MB DDR 400 SDRAM
Running @ 266 mHz
$40.00
Hard Drives 300 Gigabyte 7200 ATA IDE $105.00 300 GB 7200 ATA IDE $105.00
Operating System - ClarkConnect 3.2 Home
- Ubuntu 6.06 Desktop
$0.00
$0.00
- ClarkConnect 3.2 Home
- Ubuntu 6.06 Desktop
- Windows XP Pro
$0.00

$0.00

$140
Total System Cost   $407.84 or $547.84   $362.99 or $502.99
Table 1: System Costs

I found this hardware after becoming tired of searching for the cheapest components one-by-one. So, I asked myself: "Who in the world has the greatest incentive to ruin the PCmarket with low prices?" I thought for minute and said "Oh! Walmart!" Until then, I had never looked on Walmart's web site for computers.

When I looked, there it was, CD ROM, motherboard, case, 250 W power supply, 128 MB ram, case, 40 GB hard drive, and crappy speakers, all for $199. If you look today, the system has been changed and the price point is higher - $258 - but this is where the original system came from. I've tried several times to beat the price of the Walmart Wonder and even though I threw out the RAM and hard drive, it was still cheaper to buy the system.

In Table 1, I've put the word "Included" in each row of the Final Hardware Cost column to indicate what came with the original Walmart Wonder system for $199.00.

Operating Systems

Originally, I was going to compare FreeNAS to ClarkConnect in this article. However, I could not get FreeNAS running within my article deadline. In my last article, I was able to install FreeNAS and to compare it to Ubuntu 6.06 Desktop. However, even though the change in hardware for this review was simple (removing the LSI Logic MegaRaid i4controller and three hard drives, attaching one hard drive as an IDE), I was not able to get FreeNAS to boot. 

Searching the FreeNas help site revealed many other users with the same problem. The fixes, "set BIOS to default," "turn off serial ports," "nuke the master boot record," did not work on either the initial or final hardware for this article. So, if you can provide help in getting FreeNAS up and running, please drop me a line at bill@basicip.com

I will keep working on the installation and hope to add FreeNAS benchmarks to the other results reported in this article at a later time. In no way do I mean to gloss over or not give FreeNAS its due. In the future I'd love not only to add FreeNAS but also NASLite benchmarks to the data collected. 

I ended up building and benchmarking NAS configurations using ClarkConnect, Ubuntu 6.06 Desktop and Windows XP Pro. I'll provide a fair amount of detail for installing and configuring Samba on ClarkConnect, a little less on Ubuntu and none for Win XP Pro. These tips are not bullet-proof instructions, but mainly the most important do's and don'ts that I'm aware of. If you have problems, please let us know in the Forumz.

To get Samba up and running we use the simplest installations possible. Before you start, you need a basic desktop computer configuration like the one in Table1. You would be smart to only have one Ethernet port active in this configuration. I used a PCI gigabit Ethernet adapter to maximize throughput and disabled the internal 100 Mbps adapter in the BIOS of both motherboards used before I began installing ClarkConnect. I did this because a second Ethernet port has the potential to confuse ClarkConnect during installation.

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