First, I’d like to thank all my fellow AVSers for your thoughtful and informational discussions and posts. Without this wonderful community I wouldn’t have ever built a HTPC let alone a media server.
Many people have discussed builds based on the Norco 4020 case but I have yet to come across someone’s actual build description with pictures of the build using this case. Having been first inspired by gshipley’s 7TB unRaid server build
and others to build my first/second media server
, I decided to post pictures and build thoughts on my third media server build (hopefully this one will last me for awhile). I think (like many on these forums) that I am a bit of a perfectionist and tinkerer with some mild OCD thrown in, lol.
One suggestion I want to give anybody contemplating building a media server is to figure out exactly what you want to build that meets your budget, needs, and other restrictions and stick with it. If at all possible, give yourself as much expandability and fault tolerance as possible.
While my old file server was running server 2008 running raid 5, I often worried about losing two hard drives at one time and thus losing the entire array of data. The simplicity and limited loss characteristics of unRaid made it my choice for my third server iteration.Parts list:
I’ll give some general thoughts here, and more in depth discussion of the parts in the build discussion.Case:NORCO RPC-4020 4U Rackmount Server Case
Thoughts – This case has been much talked about in many threads. While it is a bit loud, I really like it and after experiencing the ease of hot-swappable bays now first hand, I can tell you the extra money is worth it. One thing I haven’t seen mentioned much (even in the case description on Newegg) is that this case will easily hold 22, possibly 23 HDD’s. While there are only 20 hot swappable bays, there is an OS drive space on the top, plus you could put a drive in the floppy and CD-Rom slot.Power supply:CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750W
Thoughts – I really like the quality of the Corsair brand of P/S’s. They are also single-rail so you do not have to worry about balancing power between your rails (if it’s even possible to do so given that an inordinate amount of our power is going to our peripherals aka our HDD’s). Furthermore, there are 8 molex and 8 sata connectors (most P/S’s come with 6). Finally, what’s not to love about a P/S company that packs their P/S’s in their own cloth bag, a la Crown Royal. NOTE: The price and availability of the Corsair 850W is now very close to the 750W. You shouldn’t need it, though why not, they’re both very efficient P/S’s. Though in all honesty, you should be fine with even the 650W.Motherboard:SUPERMICRO MBD-X7SBE LGA 775 Intel 3210 ATX Server Motherboard
Thoughts – First, it’s been used and works with unRaid. Second it has two PCI-X 133 MHz slots for my two 8 port PCI-X cards. Third, it takes DDR2800 memory and regular Intel processors. A few other nice features are the internal USB plug to make it easy to have unRaid and it has Intel Ethernet which is implemented very well. CAUTION: This mobo DOES NOT have any PATA connectors despite what the Newegg description states. This wasn't a problem for me and I knew it going it, but just be aware.CPU:Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 Wolfdale 3.16GHz 6MB L2 Cache LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Processor - Retail
Thoughts – Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this is way overkill for an unRaid build. I’ll probably disable one of the cores (The supermicro board allows you to do this easily btw). However, I wanted it because it gave me the freedom to change my mind down the road and run another OS with plenty of power and feature set. According to my Kill-a-Watt though, this build doesn’t use much power despite my extravagant CPU choice.RAM:G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory - Retail
Thoughts – Well rated memory. It was reasonably priced and didn’t have any rebates. Also, I liked that it had heat spreaders. For unRaid, 4GB should be plenty.SATA card:SUPERMICRO AOC-SAT2-MV8 64-bit PCI-X133MHz SATA Controller Card - Retail
Thoughts – A lot has already been said about this card. Until they make a reasonably priced many port card that uses PCIe, this will be the go to card IMHO. It’s also known to work in unRaid. Although I am using unRaid and only have to worry about the PCI-bus bottleneck when doing parity, I didn’t want that to be a bottleneck. While I could still theoretically reach it on the PCI-X bus with this build, it’s gives me a much higher ceiling and in real-world use PCI-X should be plenty of bandwidth. (Two 8 port cards = 16 drives. Both cards share the PCI-X bus which is 1064 MB/s. So: 1064 MB/s / 16 drives = 66.5 MB/s per drive). This should be plenty given unRaid’s tested, real world throughput. Plus unRaid right now only uses 16 drives. So: 16 drives – 6 sata ports on mobo = 10 drives on the PCI-X bus. 1064 MB/s / 10 drives = 106 MB/s per drive.Hard drives:Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS 1.5TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive (bare drive) - OEM
Thoughts – Largest capacity drives available at the time, they’re only $20 to $30 more than the 1TB drives. While they first had some problems, the current generation seems to be working well. So far, after a week of running, I have not had any problems with them. With my choice of unRaid I wasn’t too worried about a drive loss just in case they still had some growing pains. I also have ten 750GB HDD’s from my old server that I will put into the new server as soon as I migrate all of the data to the new server. This will give me 15TB of storage. (~14TB in real storage)Flash drive:Patriot Xporter XT 4GB Flash Drive (USB2.0 Portable) Model PEF4GUSB - Retail
Thoughts – Proven to work with unRaid. Again, 4GB is probably way overkill for unRaid, but I wanted to give myself lots of room in case I wanted to add features to my unRaid build. The cost difference between these and a 1GB or 2GB drive is negligible IMHO. They have great reviews and good reliability. They are very solidly constructed. Also, if your mobo choice doesn’t allow internal mounting (or you don’t buy an adapter to do so) they also come with an extension cord so you can zip tie it inside the case.SATA to Molex Adapter:ABS SATA To Molex Power Adapter - Retail
Thoughts – The P/S has 8 molex connections. The Norco backplane has 10 molex connectors (though I have read you don’t have to attach all 10, why not err on the safe side). These are a bit fat, so if you use them on the backplane, you have to use just one per horizontal row, two won’t fit side by side. It’s a very tight fit though, so I’d recommend using extensions instead anyways.OS:unRaid Pro
Thoughts – Media server OS’s have been much discussed and argued (heck, I’ve changed my media server OS quite a few times, even after trying out many of them). For my needs unRaid fits. Its main attraction for me is the raid 5 like HDD fault tolerance with the ability to lose more than one drive and just lose the data on the lost drives.Not needed, so didn’t buy:Sata cables:
The board comes with 6 for its 6 ports and each sata card comes with 8 for their 8 ports.Wish I would have bought:Molex and Sata power extenders:
I moved the fan directly across from the power plugs on the backplane to make room. Even so it’s a very tight fit using the big, fat cabling from the P/S. I wish I would have gotten some thinner extenders so it wouldn’t be so tight.3 pin fan to molex converter:
Because I moved the fan I needed to power it. Luckily in my spare parts I had one of these. I’d recommend getting two so you can move the fans at both sides of the case to give more space for the power connections and the sata connections. (though the sata fit okay).80mm fan grills:
Again, if you move the fans, get 2 extra fan grills. I used a fan grille from the middle fan because with my cable management there were no wires near that fan.Build Discussion and Pictures:
The CaseReady to Rock n Roll
As you can see, everything is laid out and the case has been opened.
First I positioned the mobo over the case and saw which risers need to be moved or added. The Norco comes with a nice little tool to loosen and tighten them.
Then I installed the CPU and heatsink outside of the case (makes it a lot easier IMHO; plus I hate to put the downward force needed to install an Intel retail heatsink onto a mounted mobo). Dunno about anyone else, but I hate the new plastic push pin retail heatsinks…
If you notice in the picture, I left the mobo on the foam that it comes with to help cushion it. Then I installed the RAM, making sure to populate it to take advantage of dual channel mode.
Next I put the mobo into the case and screwed it down.
If you’ve never built a computer before, alternate adding the screws around the outside of the mobo and don’t tighten them down until you have them all screwed in. Also, I first use one of the risers to test all of the screws I’m going to use to make sure they are the right length and size.
The Norco case made this easy though by separating out all the screws in different bags.
I use bowls to hold screws that are loose. Otherwise I’ve found that they disappear rather quickly.
Now that the mobo is installed, I next installed the P/S. Then I decided to unscrew the fan divider as you can see.
If you’ve managed to hook up the power and the sata without doing this, then I bow to your small and nimble fingers.NOTE:
If anyone has just removed the fan holder and perhaps modded the case to blow larger 120mm fans over the HDD bays, I’d be very interested to hear about it. Any info to make the case quieter while still having good airflow would be greatly appreciated.
As you can see from the above picture, the power cables are a very tight fit. I had to move the fan to the other side. I took a fan grille from a middle fan as there are no cables near it. As I discussed in the parts list, if you can get some thinner extenders I think it would work a lot better.
Next I attached the case cables (such as the power switch, reset switch, etc.) to the mobo. Then I put in the SATA cards, attached the sata cables to the backplane and then the cards (zip tying as I went). After that I re-screwed in the fan divider.
One nice bonus of the motherboard is the internal USB connection.
Now that everything is hooked up, it’s time to put in the 1.5TB drives.
As you can tell from the picture, you screw the HDD’s into the bottom of the tray and then just slide them in and they should connect. As another poster has said, sometimes you have to jiggle them a bit as you slide them in to get them to line up.
This is the main appeal of going with the Norco case; it has 20 hot swappable bays for a reasonable cost. If you can put up with the noise and the size, it’s definitely the way to go.
For adding a HDD in a regular case, you have to power down, open up the case, unhook the drives in the cage you’re adding too, unscrew and remove the cage, add in the drive and screw it in, put the cage back in, screw the cage in, re-hook everything up, close up the case, and power back on.
For adding a HDD to the Norco you push the tab of the bay over, remove the cage, place the HDD on it, put in two screws, and then push it back in.
For starting out, if you’re on a budget, or if you need a tower solution, however, I won’t argue with a coolermaster centurion or stacker case and some 4 in 3’s or 3 in 2’s. But the cost for the Norco really isn’t that much more. (can you tell that I’m a hot swap convert)It’s Built, Let’s fire it up
I hooked it up to a keyboard and mouse and LCD. While you can run it headless (without those things) you will need them to configure your bios.
The only thing that stands out from bios configuration is that it saw the unRaid USB stick but it had it in the “excluded from boot” category (or something like that) so I moved it to first boot device.
Next I ran into some problems as it wouldn’t boot from my unRaid stick. It turns out as I tried to setup the unRaid in Vista there is a problem with the LimeTech directions. If you’re interested, you can read about how to fix this on my post in the unRaid support thread here
After figuring that out, it booted unRaid without a hitch. I opened a browser and setup my server and proceeded to build the array.
As you can see, each hot swappable bay has two lights. Green means it’s powered, and blue means the drive is being accessed.Final Thoughts:
Other than a few minor problems and suggestions that I mentioned earlier, everything went very well. So far I’ve been very happy with the server. I currently rip Blu ray to .iso (I may change and convert to .mkv but right now I have plenty of room). I’m able to play them flawlessly over my GbE network (DLink Dir 655) from my unRaid server to my HTPC by mounting the .iso using Virtual Clonedrive and playing via PowerDVD.UPDATE (3/6/09):
I love having all of the storage available. However, as we are living in an apartment right now, the server was just too noisy for it to be practical. Hence I decided to quiet it down.
In hindsight, I highly recommend doing as another poster did and use three 120mm fans across instead of the five 80mm fans. The fan holder could be easily modded with a dremel and drill (do this outside of the case though of course and I recommend doing it before you build. I plan on doing this when I put together a similar build for a friend in a month or so… I’ll post about it when I do. I didn’t want to do this with my build as the build was already done.)
For whatever reason my stock Intel cooler was very loud, I do not know if I got a bad fan, or it’s due to having a server motherboard (typically servers are in an environment where cooling > noise). To be in the same room as my server was for any length of time gave me a headache. I was lazy and didn’t want to uninstall the mobo and various other things to replace the heatsink with a better one so I originally went with a Thermaltake
push-pin heatsink. This was a mistake as I had seating problems with the push pin heatsink. So I got the Cooler Master GeminII S
which screws down. It works great and is extremely quiet.
I also realized that the Delta fans that come with the case are very loud so I replaced them with these Coolermaster 80mm fans
(I had them laying around and they are comparable in CFM to the Delta’s).
It’s much quieter now (I’m writing this with the server within 4ft of me and while not as quiet as my main rig it is quite tolerable).
At the end of a parity check drive temps are between 35 to 39 degrees Celsius (which is the same as they were before I made the switch).