Build your own NAS: flexible, energy-saving and cheap [HowTo].

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If you're looking for a NAS (Network Attached Storage) for home use, you can't avoid the manufacturers Synology and QNAP. Both manufacturers deliver small NAS complete solutions with the possibility to synchronize data locally or via the Internet and both do not exactly charge little money for the hardware used.

When buying a dedicated NAS, OS and program updates are provided by the manufacturers, who also specify how long their hardware is provided with updates. The all-round carefree packages of the well-known NAS manufacturers certainly save some time during commissioning, but can then only be operated within the range of functions provided by the manufacturers and on their hardware. A proprietary Linux distribution is usually used as the operating system.

The free software Nextcloud, formerly Owncloud, is an alternative file sharing and sync solution. Nextcloud can be operated on almost any current hardware or on various operating systems and, in addition to sync clients for all common operating systems, including MacOS, Windows, Linux, BSD, Android and iOS, also offers the option of synchronizing the calendar, contacts and photos on the smartphone. Since Nextcloud is also available as a Docker version, the software can be run on any platform with Docker support, theoretically also on a complete NAS solution.

Looking for a hardware with low power consumption, I first came across the Raspberry Pi, of course, and later Mini-ITX due to the lack of SATA ports. In Mini-ITX format there are small motherboards including passive cooled CPU with up to 4 onboard SATA ports and the possibility to expand them via PCI-EXPRESS up to 8 SATA ports.

Hardware

Here my shopping list:

  • 1xAsrock J3455-ITX approx. 80€
  • 1x8GB DDR3L SODIM 204-Pin ca.60€ (can optionally be upgraded to 16GB)
  • 1xPicoPSU-90 approx. 30€
  • 1x12V 6A power supply approx.15€
  • 1xSSD HDD 250GB approx.40€ (operating system disk)
  • Enclosure from 3D printer about 5€ (True: this post is a bit unfair, but yes: I have a 3D printer and yes it's also true that I won't win any beauty contest with the design, see also: /3d-objects#nas)

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total approx. 230€

additional components for the operation of up to 8 hard disks:

  • 1x4Port SATA III PCI-EXPRESS 2.0 x1 controller card ca.30€ (so we have a total of 8 SATA ports and can run another 7 hard disks besides the operating system disk)
  • additional SATA cable and power distributor for HDDs ca. 10€
  • 1xFan ca. 10€ (For the HDDs, the board would not need a fan ...)

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Total approx. 280€

Wow: although there is actually no case included here: more expensive than expected, but still much cheaper than a comparable NAS complete solution. Hey: the hardware can drive 8 SATA hard disks, has 4 cores and 8GB RAM and an SSD hard disk for the OS. In addition, the J3455 board can connect up to 3 monitors and run one of them at 4K resolution, more on that later ...

Operating system and software

When choosing an operating system, I decided to use OpenMediaVault (OMV). OpenMediaVault is based on the Linux distribution Debian and offers the possibility to install Nextcloud directly as well as to run Docker containers. After installation via a USB stick or an ISO image, the drives and their RAID levels, with the exception of BTRFS, are managed via a convenient WebGUI. There are also numerous extensions and plugins for OMV.

Configuration details:

I also connected 2 monitors to the NAS and installed the desktop environment KDE. So I'm writing this article on the NAS ... Is this then actually still a NAS or already a desktop PC?

Freeze: intel_idle. max_cstate=1

After the NAS froze with certain kernel versions every now and then, I completely rebuilt the NAS with KUbuntu. The behavior with the almost daily freezes remained, so I added the following parameter to Grub: intel_idle. max_cstate=1. The parameter obviously solved the problem. There is no measurable difference in power consumption on this hardware.

Power consumption

The idle power consumption of the hardware described here is a measured 8 watts. It is important to use a PicoPSU instead of a normal PC power supply, because a normal PC power supply burns about 10 watts in idle mode without the mainboard connected and the power consumption would be unnecessarily high. A 3.5" SATA hard disk needs about 1 Watt in standby and about 5 Watt in operation. In operation with an SSD and 3 hard drives in standby mode, the NAS needs about 13 watts for me:

If all 4 hard drives are in operation, the NAS still needs under 30 watts:

All in all, the NAS based on a mini-ITX board needs about as much power as a comparable NAS complete solution.

 

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