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Tower vs. Norco 4220 for UnRaid Server

post #1 of 33
Thread Starter 
Everyone,

I am going to build a server for my HTPC and was wondering what the benefits of each would be? Obviously a tower looks like more of a computer, but not sure if this will matters since I will put it in the basement and no one will be looking at it.

Just looking to find out the pros and cons of each.
post #2 of 33
Towers can be had for cheaper. Norco can hold more drives and and drives can be "hot swapped".
post #3 of 33
I started with a regular tower and quickly moved to a CoolerMaster Cenurion 590 tower with three 4-in3 cages. I reached the limit of 12 drives and wanted to expand. I had a choice:
1) Buy the ~$100 each 5-in-3 cases to go from 12 drives to 15, basically $100 per extra drive's on top of the drive's cost.

2) Buy an external box or two such as the Sans Digital TR5-M, which add on via eSata and expand by 5 drives each.

3) Buy a server case like the Norco 4220/4224.

At that time I went with option 2 and bought two 5-bay eSATA add-on boxes. I'm still using these.
The lack of quick swap capability with my 4-in-3 cages has finally worn me down, however. So now I've bought a new 4224 case and am in the process of transferring my 20 data drives, plus parity and cache drive over to the new chassis. It's going in the basement rather than the office where the Centurion still is.
With hindsight, I would have gone with the 4224 had it been available right at the start.
post #4 of 33
I use an Antec Nine Hundred tower case with three Supermicro 5-in-3 SATA backplanes for a total of 15 drives. I believe this is actually one of the configurations that Lime Technology sells as a turnkey unRAID server.

The backplanes are hot-swappable, but it doesn't really do you any good to swap drives out when the server is up and running. You have to reboot the server before it will recognize any new drive. I don't believe it will recognize a different drive if one is already assigned to a slot. At the very least you'd have to stop the array and unassign a drive before removing it. I'd be surprised if the replacement drive even shows up in the list of available drives, but then I've never actually tried it. I always shut it down before replacing a drive.
post #5 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by captain_video View Post

I use an Antec Nine Hundred tower case with three Supermicro 5-in-3 SATA backplanes for a total of 15 drives. I believe this is actually one of the configurations that Lime Technology sells as a turnkey unRAID server.

The backplanes are hot-swappable, but it doesn't really do you any good to swap drives out when the server is up and running. You have to reboot the server before it will recognize any new drive. I don't believe it will recognize a different drive if one is already assigned to a slot. At the very least you'd have to stop the array and unassign a drive before removing it. I'd be surprised if the replacement drive even shows up in the list of available drives, but then I've never actually tried it. I always shut it down before replacing a drive.

At least with the 5 in 3 SATA backplanes you don't have to open the case, use a screwdriver and disconnect power and SATA to multiple drives to change the single drive that failed or is being replaced.
post #6 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by fitbrit View Post

At least with the 5 in 3 SATA backplanes you don't have to open the case, use a screwdriver and disconnect power and SATA to multiple drives to change the single drive that failed or is being replaced.

True. The ability to hot-swap isn't as important as the ease of access for replacing a drive, especially when using the case for a server. There are some cases that allow you to install the drives internally from the side. Each drive is mounted in a sled similar to the hot-swap bays normally accessed from the front of the case. I think I've seen some cases that have two vertical stacks for internal hard drives while still having several 5-1/2" drive bays at the top. You still have to disconnect the power and SATA signal cables from the drive, but they're still easier to swap out than conventionally mounted internal drives.
post #7 of 33
Do you have other components going in a rack?

That would be a big consideration as stuffing your systems + home network equipment in a cheap/free rack off craiglist/fleabay/dumpster-dive/etc is a nice project for the basement. I built my own mini data center in a half rack about the size of a garage freezer, keeps it all organized, quiet(er) and mobile. (wheels and other goodies, its really nice)

How many drives are you planning on? Once you break 12-15 or so, the norco (or similar, check fleabay) is the cheaper option regardless.
post #8 of 33
Thread Starter 
Thanks everyone. All great options and opinions. I have lots of thinking to do. Good thing is I have a little bit of time to make a sound decision.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aluminum View Post

Do you have other components going in a rack?

That would be a big consideration as stuffing your systems + home network equipment in a cheap/free rack off craiglist/fleabay/dumpster-dive/etc is a nice project for the basement. I built my own mini data center in a half rack about the size of a garage freezer, keeps it all organized, quiet(er) and mobile. (wheels and other goodies, its really nice)

How many drives are you planning on? Once you break 12-15 or so, the norco (or similar, check fleabay) is the cheaper option regardless.

I have another server (WHS v1), the router, switch etc... all down where this server will eventually live. Also, I think you are right about the number of drives. I am thinking I may end up with 15, if not more. So I may have to lean towards the Norco. I will not have all 15 drives to start with, but will be working my way up towards it. To start I was thinking it will be 5 or 6 - especially if drive prices stay high for the near future. I may just start with a couple to keep me going, until prices start to fall againl.


This will be my first try of an UnRaid media server.
post #9 of 33
In "most" cases building a comparable tower based build will cost you more than to just buy a Norco. This is very clear once you surpass the 15 drive limit of a lot of tower based enclosures.

Lets say you find a set of 5 in 3 backplanes for $60 a pop (i'm being very generous lol). To meet the 4220's 20 drive limit (ruling out the ability to mount more drives inside, 2 extra positions are ready with stock setup) you'd need to buy 4 back planes... that's already $240. A brand new Norco 4220 can be had for $299 pretty regularly throughout the year... a used one is even less depending on where you look. With that $240 price tag in mind, that does not leave much room at all for a decent enclosure.

I wasted money going the tower route when I first started building my server, I should have ponied up for the 4220 from the start. Hell now I'm second guessing whether I should have gotten the 4224.
post #10 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by drealit View Post

I wasted money going the tower route when I first started building my server, I should have ponied up for the 4220 from the start. Hell now I'm second guessing whether I should have gotten the 4224.

That's what I was trying to say in my long-winded way. I learned my lesson enough to go straight to the 4224. Unfortunately I paid about $400 for it, and a few weeks later (before I even opened the box) several guys were selling theirs much cheaper on the unraid forums.
post #11 of 33
I got one of these. Its used, but in great condition.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Custom-Xeon-...ht_2004wt_1392

Its a few years dated ('06 - '07), but everything is there to start. There is a thread here: http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1324649 , post #26, that has the drivers for the sata cards to recognize >2tb drives, but i have yet to test myself.

Best case scenario, a fully functioning, 24 bay hot swap server
Worst Case scenario, a 24 bay hot swap server case with 3 Zippy psu's and a bundle of sata cables, along with some ECC ram and a few fans, for less than the price of a 4224, or even a 4220.
post #12 of 33
The only thing about the Norco case is that you need a suitable rack to mount it on, and living in a small house with no basement, that could be an issue space wise.

I thought about getting one of those, but for now I am using a tower (Antec) and doing well so far. I only have 3 drives in it right now so not very much.
post #13 of 33
Norco's have an issue with noise, if that is important to you, and a case will keep the drives cooler. I've just built a server using an Antec 900 and couldn't be happier.

Used a lot of quiet fans/coolers and the case is a dream to work in. Stuck a few rubber dots on the side of the case, turned it on its side and it fits into my theatre shelf perfectly. Just remember to get a black marker and some tape to cover those stupid LED's.
post #14 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeathPoobar View Post

Norco's have an issue with noise, if that is important to you, and a case will keep the drives cooler. I've just built a server using an Antec 900 and couldn't be happier.

Used a lot of quiet fans/coolers and the case is a dream to work in. Stuck a few rubber dots on the side of the case, turned it on its side and it fits into my theatre shelf perfectly. Just remember to get a black marker and some tape to cover those stupid LED's.

I have that same case...works great for me also. I haven't gotten around to changing the stock fans yet though but that's on the 'to do soon' list. A quiet server works great for me.

Turning the case on its side sounds like a great idea...I might try that! Least will be easier to access the drives whenever the case needs to be opened.
post #15 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by AVTechMan View Post

I have that same case...works great for me also. I haven't gotten around to changing the stock fans yet though but that's on the 'to do soon' list. A quiet server works great for me.

Stock fans - not too sure if they can be replaced. Even if they could, it would seem like a troublesome upgrade.

All I did was used some spare fan resistors/adapters which slowed down most of the case/HDD fans and turned down all the case's inbuilt fan switches. My Noctua CPU coolers came with extra fan resistor cables.

Is the case silent? No, but for a unit cooling 10 HDD's, it is quiet enough not to cause distraction and also give me the POM of knowing that my server is more than adequately cooled.

I also installed an Antec Spot Cool fan to cool the heat sink of my Adaptec Raid card. Can't believe how hot that thing gets.
post #16 of 33
I know Norco is very popular but I bought the RPC-4224 and thought it was junk, so I ended up returning it. Norco is having serious quality control issues with the backplanes and my case had three bad ones (out of six).

Aside from that, the case had poor airflow, difficult cable management, no anti-vibration, and was quite loud (even with fans replaced).

I ended up getting a case from Case Labs:

http://caselabs-store.com/

Boy am I happy now. In exchange for giving up hot-swapping I ended up with the best construction quality I've ever seen in a case, with every high end feature you could possibly ask for, great cable management, air flow and countless customization options.
post #17 of 33
Correct me if I'm wrong... but wouldn't the price difference be fairly significant when all was said and done to go the CaseLabs route? That isn't a really good comparison if my suspicion is accurate.
post #18 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by drealit View Post

Correct me if I'm wrong... but wouldn't the price difference be fairly significant when all was said and done to go the CaseLabs route? That isn't a really good comparison if my suspicion is accurate.

It can be significant depending on the add-ons you choose. The base price of the case I chose is $359. With customization and shipping it was more like $500, but for me it's really been worth it. If you're considering an RPC-4224 at $400 + shipping, the cost difference is only about $100.
post #19 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by fitbrit View Post

. . . So now I've bought a new 4224 case and am in the process of transferring my 20 data drives, plus parity and cache drive over to the new chassis. It's going in the basement rather than the office where the Centurion still is.

Can you recommend a rack, if you have mounted it that way? (Norco's smaller racks get really poor reviews at newegg.)
post #20 of 33
I have built a silent pc but i was told building a server you should put it in another room, because cooling 20+ drives will need to be noisy and wont be silent.
post #21 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Murilo View Post

I have built a silent pc but i was told building a server you should put it in another room, because cooling 20+ drives will need to be noisy and wont be silent.

The fans in my Supermicro SATA backplanes are extremely loud. I tried swapping them out with silent fans, but the internal temps went up considerably so I reinstalled the stock fans. I'd rather have them run cooler and deal with the noise than have them die from overheating.

I keep the server in a small room with the door closed next to my HT setup so I can't hear it. There's no ventilation in the room so I have to open the door in the summer so the room doesn't get too hot. With the TV on the noise from the server gets drowned out so it's not that much of an issue. However, it would definitely be intrusive if it was in the same room.

If I was building a new server from scratch and I planned on maxing out the number of drives in unRAID I would definitely consider a case like the Norco. I wasn't even aware of the Norco when I bought the Antec Nine Hundred. I got a ridiculous deal on the Antec so I jumped on it. I think I paid something like $40 after discounts and rebates. I started off with one or two of the SATA backplanes and eventually added a third. I believe I paid around $110 - 120 apiece for the backplanes, bringing my total cost for the case to around $400.

On another note, the type of drives you use has a direct bearing on how hot the server will get. I have found that Samsung drives run cooler than anything else I've tried, probably because they spin at 5400rpm. Seagates run the hottest with WD "green" drives somewhere in between. I haven't tried any of the Hitachi drives in a while so I can't say where they fall in the temp range. Right now my drives are reporting a low temp of 17 degrees C with a high temp of 27 degrees C. These temps will go up as the days get warmer because the room gets warmer. The Seagate temps will probably rise into the low to mid 30's in July and August.
post #22 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeathPoobar View Post

Norco's have an issue with noise, if that is important to you, and a case will keep the drives cooler. I've just built a server using an Antec 900 and couldn't be happier.

Quote:
Originally Posted by captain_video View Post

The fans in my Supermicro SATA backplanes are extremely loud. I tried swapping them out with silent fans, but the internal temps went up considerably so I reinstalled the stock fans. I'd rather have them run cooler and deal with the noise than have them die from overheating.

I keep the server in a small room with the door closed next to my HT setup so I can't hear it. There's no ventilation in the room so I have to open the door in the summer so the room doesn't get too hot. With the TV on the noise from the server gets drowned out so it's not that much of an issue. However, it would definitely be intrusive if it was in the same room.

If I was building a new server from scratch and I planned on maxing out the number of drives in unRAID I would definitely consider a case like the Norco. I wasn't even aware of the Norco when I bought the Antec Nine Hundred. I got a ridiculous deal on the Antec so I jumped on it. I think I paid something like $40 after discounts and rebates. I started off with one or two of the SATA backplanes and eventually added a third. I believe I paid around $110 - 120 apiece for the backplanes, bringing my total cost for the case to around $400.

On another note, the type of drives you use has a direct bearing on how hot the server will get. I have found that Samsung drives run cooler than anything else I've tried, probably because they spin at 5400rpm. Seagates run the hottest with WD "green" drives somewhere in between. I haven't tried any of the Hitachi drives in a while so I can't say where they fall in the temp range. Right now my drives are reporting a low temp of 17 degrees C with a high temp of 27 degrees C. These temps will go up as the days get warmer because the room gets warmer. The Seagate temps will probably rise into the low to mid 30's in July and August.

Are you saying that a tower case will cool better than a rack mount type case, such as the Norco?

How many drives can you expect to get into a tower without degrading the life of the drives due to excessive heat? A salesman at Micro Center said he wouldn't put more than 3 drives in a tower, as they may not make it even a year before they have issues.

Where do the temps need to get to before you would be concerned with reliability issues.

I was thinking of a rack mount not for the drive capacity (I will only be needing 4 to 6 2TB drives), but for the horizontal orientation. It will be a server in a ventilated closet with limited vertical space...........the closet is also for book storage.
post #23 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gregory View Post

Are you saying that a tower case will cool better than a rack mount type case, such as the Norco?

How many drives can you expect to get into a tower without degrading the life of the drives due to excessive heat? A salesman at Micro Center said he wouldn't put more than 3 drives in a tower, as they may not make it even a year before they have issues.

Where do the temps need to get to before you would be concerned with reliability issues.

I was thinking of a rack mount not for the drive capacity (I will only be needing 4 to 6 2TB drives), but for the horizontal orientation. It will be a server in a ventilated closet with limited vertical space...........the closet is also for book storage.

Salespeople in the stores rarely know anything when it comes to hard drives and cooling without proper research. In my old Chieftec case that was a full tower, I had up to 5 drives (original SATA drives) in there and had both intake and exhaust fans installed and never had any heat issues and and ran for 5 years. As long as you have the proper cooling methods in place, the hard drives will do just fine.
post #24 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gregory View Post

Are you saying that a tower case will cool better than a rack mount type case, such as the Norco?

How many drives can you expect to get into a tower without degrading the life of the drives due to excessive heat? A salesman at Micro Center said he wouldn't put more than 3 drives in a tower, as they may not make it even a year before they have issues.

Where do the temps need to get to before you would be concerned with reliability issues.

I was thinking of a rack mount not for the drive capacity (I will only be needing 4 to 6 2TB drives), but for the horizontal orientation. It will be a server in a ventilated closet with limited vertical space...........the closet is also for book storage.

I don't think it really matters what form factor you're using for the case. It all boils down to how you're cooling the drives. My 5-in-3 SATA backplanes each have a fan mounted in the rear of the backplane. They appear to be in closer proximity to the drives than the Norco case configuration, although the Norco case has four fans to cool the drives vs. three for the SATA backplanes.

There are horizontal PC cases that should work if you don't need a lot of drive slots. The Norco case is quite deep since all 20 drives have to fit in front of the motherboard as well as accommodate the fan rack. My Antec case is much shallower than the Norco by comparison.
post #25 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by lsarver View Post

Can you recommend a rack, if you have mounted it that way? (Norco's smaller racks get really poor reviews at newegg.)

I specifically would not buy a rack retail, there are so many better options especially if you are close enough to urban sprawl or have tech/R&D development zones nearby. Also shipping is a b*tch: anything besides simple 2 post almost always has to go freight so picking it up yourself makes a huge difference.

Between fleabay, craigslist, e-cyclers, liquidation/auctions and old fashioned dumpster diving, you can land really nice stuff cheap. While you're there, possibly look for some SAN-style equipment, but usually systems are too old or different to be useful for htpc (20 drives! yeah, 36gb and 15krpm...ugh) and often overvalued.

Things like racks, switches, ups, pdu etc are often bargain basement and ironically age a lot slower than systems.

Some of the best deals I've seen are "take this rack with all the crap inside included and get it off my dock tonight".
post #26 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by AVTechMan View Post

Salespeople in the stores rarely know anything when it comes to hard drives and cooling without proper research. In my old Chieftec case that was a full tower, I had up to 5 drives (original SATA drives) in there and had both intake and exhaust fans installed and never had any heat issues and and ran for 5 years. As long as you have the proper cooling methods in place, the hard drives will do just fine.

Quote:
Originally Posted by captain_video View Post

I don't think it really matters what form factor you're using for the case. It all boils down to how you're cooling the drives. My 5-in-3 SATA backplanes each have a fan mounted in the rear of the backplane. They appear to be in closer proximity to the drives than the Norco case configuration, although the Norco case has four fans to cool the drives vs. three for the SATA backplanes.

There are horizontal PC cases that should work if you don't need a lot of drive slots. The Norco case is quite deep since all 20 drives have to fit in front of the motherboard as well as accommodate the fan rack. My Antec case is much shallower than the Norco by comparison.

I appreciate the advice, guys. I'll check out the horizontal cases, as I won't need a ton of drives.

As this will be in a closet, noise shouldn't be an issue, so going a little over-kill on the fans should keep things cool.

Thanks,
Greg
post #27 of 33
Good luck with your build. One thing I'd think about is, how accurately have you estimated your storage requirements? Many people pick a number of anticipated HDD bays and then multiply it by 1.5-2 to make sure they are covered.
post #28 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by lsarver View Post

Can you recommend a rack, if you have mounted it that way? (Norco's smaller racks get really poor reviews at newegg.)

I haven't mounted it in a pre-bought rack. Rather, my contractor fashioned his own based on existing shelving in my basement.
post #29 of 33
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by DeathPoobar View Post

Good luck with your build. One thing I'd think about is, how accurately have you estimated your storage requirements? Many people pick a number of anticipated HDD bays and then multiply it by 1.5-2 to make sure they are covered.

That's a good point. One reason why I was thinking about using the Norco 4224. That should give me plenty of space and growth capabilities.
post #30 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by rsmclay View Post

That's a good point. One reason why I was thinking about using the Norco 4224. That should give me plenty of space and growth capabilities.

Yeah, I thought of the same thing, when I....well...



That should do it...
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