Well, after DIY NAS last year couldn't satisfy all my need. Throughput could be easily lifted up by upgrading network to Gigabit network which is cheap nowadays.But there is something that couldn't be fixed. Thus, a new better NAS in both performance and look will be waiting for us to discover pretty soon :-P

This time I will concern in any areas which can be categorized into 2: hardware & software:-

Hardware

  • Appearance
  • Power Consumption
  • Functionality
  • Upgradability
  • Cost

Software <ul> <li>Features </li> <li>Performance & Security </li> </ul>

Firstly, I thought hardware could be the more vital choice for NAS selection, but I'm totally wrong here because of only one choice, HP MediaSmart EX470. If you choose this, only Windows Home Server is your choice. Yes, you could install Linux, but with 'tons of effort + possible a lot of money' involves yet you still couldn't utilize all features on the box. Why bother choosing EX470? However, EX470 is such a good choice for NAS. After experiencing EX470, I then move 'software' to the most important choice for NAS because it can actually help you filter choices more efficiently.

Software side

Features - It's sort of decision to make at this point. Table below is tweaked from what I wrote awhile back in 10ninox's blog.

<tr style="background: rgb(238,238,238) 0% 50%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial" top?="top?"> <tr style="background: rgb(238,238,238) 0% 50%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial" top?="top?"> <tr style="background: rgb(238,238,238) 0% 50%; -moz-background-clip: -moz-initial; -moz-background-origin: -moz-initial; -moz-background-inline-policy: -moz-initial" top?="top?">
  dedicated NAS box Unix-based OS Windows Desktop OS Windows Home Server
Power Consumption lowest medium low-mediumw1 low-mediumw1
Throughput slow fast fastest fastest
Protocol FTP, HTTP, SMB FTP, HTTP, SMB, etc FTP, HTTP, SMB2, etc. FTP, HTTP, SMB2, etc.
Indexing ability N/A local onlyu2 Yes, Windows Desktop Searchw2 Yes, Windows Desktop Searchw2
Ease of use Very easy (on/off) Normalu3 Easy Easy
Remote Connection via web-based mostly Telnet, SSH, or web-based remote connection remote connection
Features       » Automatic backup
» remote connection
» NO RAID supportw3
» flexible storage sizew5
Cost of OS Free Free $$w4 $$w4

u2 - yes it does have Beagle, but any remote machine needs to access via web-based which is not that comfort.
u3 - there is a learning curve here for most of users.
w1 - although I use the same system as Ubuntu, there is 3rd party for Windows OS, like RMClock, to undervoltage which is really help. I could drop about 10W or so without sacrificing performance and stability.
w2 - For Vista client, you could just exploring to NAS and find them in the same GUI. It’ll use index on NAS automatically which is so fast & cool. But I couldn’t find client with XP+Windows Desktop Search which work the same way.
w3 - No RAID support in WHS; however, there is a duplicate feature (2+ drives needed) which copies data into another drive for safety sake considering as RAID 1 replacement--no speed gain feature like RAID 0 or parity error check and correction like RAID 5.
w4 - It’s not free, Vista Home Premium OEM or Windows Home Server is about $99; depending on what you think if it’s worth or not.
w5 - It's truly flexible storage size because you can add/remove hard disk drive anytime. All you see is only 1 large storage place; all processes are automatic.

As you can see above, you'll get what you pay for. I used to like having Windows around, but by the fact that sometimes Windows gives me some troubles. Nowadays I just prefer having Unix-based as NAS and SSH for setting up/tuning up. It's just easier and faster than going through all clunky GUI. Believe me, once you know necessary commands in Unix, you find GUI is clumsy--I mean both x-windows in Linux and MS Windows. Another drawback of Unix-based OS is no easy Desktop search like Vista and I could not find any comparable one--It's just a tradeoff. You will have to build hierarchical structure to keep all data in place and easy to find. That would help :-)

One more thing is feature; most OSes don't have any special thing. Specific OS like Windows Home Server, however, gives such nice features like automatic backup over the network and remote connection over clients. These might be a good additional if you use it. I had a chance being Home Server beta; It's good, but I just prefer backup manually. =)

Performance & Security - Speed and security never go along. That's the principle, but how much tradeoff you are willing to take. This is depending on how many features you like to add too. For WLAN, please make sure of that using only WPA2-AES if you are putting security on because otherwise you will lose about at least 20%, normally 30% or so, of throughput comparing to no security one. Another way of dealing with this is applied MAC filter to your router. That would give you maximum performance with no security compromise much.

Security on each OS? well telling you the truth, Unix-based OS doesn't give you that much more security than what Windows gives you. Anti-virus is what you have to install anyway if security is what you are concerned. Linux & Mac don't give you any extra security over Windows; it might be better if you deleted 'root' after installing, but would regular Joe & Jane do that? I don't think so.

Before wrapping this up, I used to be the one who think one box rules them all. By the fact that turning on NAS 24/7 is preferred--a must for me though :-D The question like why would I have to use another box for Media Center then? Just put them together. Well, I did and it works quite well. The problem I faced was most of the time I got only 2-3MB/s and about 15MB/s throughput over 802.11n and GigabitLAN consecutively. That's only around 50% of what it is capable of. In addition, using Media Center box requires higher performance box which means more electricity consumption. The box I used was about 100W idle and about 13xW active. That's quite a lot for 24/7. However, since I separated into 2 boxes; my NAS box, Shuttle K45, sucks only 40W average and my Media center sleeps most of the time, only about 10 minutes before record schedule and 1 hours after finished recording are the time it's up. The process is totally automatic by Vista Ultimate--Kudos to Microsoft + little software named MCE standby tool here =) So far, I don't think I wasted more energy setting up this way and a big plus is optimal performance on both jobs :-D

In short, it's all up to your preference. One might think Windows is better/easier, one might think Linux is freedom, another one might think OS X is the best--so OSX86 is the way to go. They all are good if you believe in it. For me, anything is good. I have both Windows Home Server & Linux boxes because I prefer to use Linux to do thing, but EX470 forces me to have WHS. I probably do comparison again, but I bet Windows OS would win anyway since Vista boxes are regular clients in my case and NAS, here, we talk about SMB protocol only! :-P If Windows Home Server are your top-list, I can tell you that HP MediaSmart has a great balance on both form factor & features. Otherwise, go on, there are lots of things we need to go through for hardware side.

Oops! forget to mention that if Windows is your way, differences between XP/Vista and Windows any server is maximum connection possible. They all can do the job, but how well Vista handles network sessions, i.e. more than 10 simultaneous requests/connections, is questionable. Practically Microsoft just limits workstation OS that way. Thus they can sell server one :-P By the way, you can use XP/Vista as NAS; you just have to accept delegated service that might have happened. That's it.

Hardware side

Appearance/form factor -- how they look might not matter to some, but how big it is could be a big factor here since if it's small enough. We can just put on the shelf or on the corner neatly. You guys might think of ITX form factor as far as size is concerned. Compromises, however, like higher cost, limited choices should not be our limit. Then we probably focus on microATX which is larger, widely used, and cheaper, or mini barebone systems, e.g. Shuttle's, Asus's, or MSI's. If size doesn't matter for you, then go for mid-tower case. There are tons of choices out there.

If you choose to go for microATX form factor, the smaller case possible might be approximately 750 inch3 to be able to put CD and HDD in. It could come in slim tower or desktop or something in between, like Ultra productst, which I like to call as microwave case. They all are fine, but as my experience, slim tower or desktop is the best choice since it's pretty ease and waste less space.

Alternatively, Shuttle products, which mostly are small box form factor--which I called toaster form factor, are pretty nice solution too. Their products' size are around < 600 inch3 which is considerably very small! -- just the right size, I could tell you that. If you can't imagine how small it is, just compare to regular mid tower case size. It's mostly about >2200 inch3. What we are looking for is less 1/3 size of regular case. Only downside so far from Shuttle is service; I have contacted about lousy PSU fan; no even reply after almost 2 weeks.

Note: At last, they contacted me to do RMA; everything seemed fine, but such an unfair/non-sense policy below made me feel flat with Shuttle service. We have to send that in which shipping cost for barebone system is not that cheap! Why would we want to waste such a time and effort to lie them about this? We'll see how fast they process is.
Shuttle K45

update on Feb 3, 2009: I got the replacement which is working great just few days over a week from the day I shipped a broken one back.; so far so good.

Shuttle X27D Shuttle K45  Shuttle SG45H7 Shuttle SG33Gx

All about budget it seems, all form factors mentioned above have 1 main drawback is limit space for HDD. If you think 2 hard drives are not enough, you will have fewer choices and probably higher cost. Some of them are just worth to look at though.

Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069 - inside
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069 - HDD bays
Chenbro ES34069
Chenbro ES34069 adapter
Chenbro ES34069
- 4 Hot-Swap HDDs Mini ITX Server Chassis
- External adapter (120W or 190W, 19VDC)
- 10.24" x 5.51" x 10.24" (D x W x H)
- $170-$200
HP MediaSmart Server EX470
HP MediaSmart Server EX470
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - back panel
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - back panel
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - size comparison
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - size comparison
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - size comparison
HP MediaSmart Server EX470 - size comparison
HP MediaSmart EX470
- 4 Hot-Swap HDDs Chassis
- Windows Home Server
- AMD Sempron 3400+
- SiS 761GX + SiS 966 Chipset
- 512MB DDR2-800 RAM (1 slot)
- 1*500GB HDD
- Ports: GigabitLAN, 4*USB, 1*e-SATA
- no VGA port (need to do DIY cable)
- Internal PSU
- $300-$500

Considering these 2 choices, quite interesting, huh?

Power Consumption-- the less stuffing you are putting in, the less consumption the machine is. Just remember that power supply rating doesn't tell you a thing about real power consumption; the way you can know for sure is measuring it. That's it. However, average rating is depending on each machine each configuration. I'll try gathering as much as possible.

Model Standby [W] Idle [W] Max [W]
Shuttle SG33 2-6 80 150
Asus P2-P5945G 4-8 85 130
Regular PC 2-15 130 180
Asus P1-AH2 2-5 60 100
HP EX470 N/A 65-80ex1 100-110

ex1- varied by a number of hard disk drives installed.

Well, this is based on non-tweaked power consumption. You might be able to lower it about 10W or so with RMClock

Functionality - Sometimes things might not go on our way when shopping for all things. However, our requirement for NAS is quite small. Gigabit LAN, place to put hard disk drive one or two or four?, good and compatible chipset for any OS you like to, and RAID capabilities. Just so you know, chipset is normally one of 2 most power hungry things in the system which are CPU and Chipset. CPU might not be the most important thing for NAS. Atom/Celeron/Sempron or Pentium/Core 2 Duo/Athlon/Phenom is giving you similar throughput anyway. No worth invests too much on it. Chipset also gives similar effect as CPU; no much different. By the fact that south bridge chipset defines whether Gigabit LAN performs well or not. But 30-60 MB/s throughput is what integrated Gigabit controller can achieve easily, so why bother? If you need perfect performance, then go for add-on controller :-P that's simple. In case you don't care Gigabit LAN and 100Mbps or just sharing over WLAN is what you look for, you don't have to think of anything because anything is enough for your need. Nonetheless, there is one thing effects the performance directly--amount of RAM. The more memory you have, more throughput you can possibly have. For RAID, speed or reliability you can choose :-) But if you have 3 HDD or more, RAID 5 could be a good one since reliability is quite good, reasonable performance and the best thing is you sacrifice only 33% of space or less due to number of you hard drive.

Upgradability - Considering of purchasing NAS, I don't know if we are concerned about this much. PCI Express slot? DVI? or even HDMI? They all could be a nice additional, but by the fact that NAS we build will not have anything attached -- only power and CAT5e cable plugged in. Thus extra RAM slot, more SATA port, or eSATA port should be what we concerned more.

Cost - summing up as examples should help get idea much better.

  Chenbro ITX Server box HP MediaSmart EX470 Shuttle K45 box Mid-Tower ATX
Case Chenbro ES34069 (+$170) HP EX470 (+$400) Shuttle K45 (+$90) Antec NSK4480 (+$75)
CPU Intel Atom 330 AMD Sempron 3400+ Intel Celeron E1200 (+$50) Intel Celeron E1200 (+$50)
Mainboard Intel BOXD945GCLF2 (+$80) SiS 761GX Included Foxconn G31MV-K (+$45)
RAM 2GB DDR-800 (+$20) 2GB DDR-800 (+$20) 2GB DDR-800 (+$20) 2GB DDR-800 (+$20)
Connectivity Gigabit LAN Gigabit LAN Gigabit LAN Gigabit LAN
Storage 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+$70) 500GB 7200rpm SATA 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+$70) 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+$70)
Ports Int: 2*SATA, 1*PATA
Ext: 1*VGA, 8*USB, 1*S-Video, audio ports
Int: 4*SATA
Exthp1: 4*USB,
1*e-SATA
Int: 2*SATA, 1*PATA
Ext: 1*VGA, 5*USB, audio ports
Int: 2*SATA, 1*PATA
Ext: 1*VGA, 5*USB, audio ports
OS Windows OS (+$100) or
any Linux (+$0)
Windows Home Server Windows OS (+$100) or
any Linux (+$0)
Windows OS (+$100) or
any Linux (+$0)
Extra     1*PCI slot 1*PCI Express x16, 1*PCI slot, RAID 0/1
HDD Bays 4*HDD bay 4*HDD bay 2*HDD bay 4+*internal HDD bay
Total** $340 or $440 $420 $230 or $330 $240 or $340

* Prices based on Newegg.com, hpshopping.com EPP and eWiz.com on Dec 13, 2008
** Total price above is not included shipping or tax, so actual price might cause around 120% of showing price
hp1 - There is no VGA port.

Comparing to DIY NAS I wrote last year, that $330 with much worse spec than all these. It's really showing how fast semiconductor world change! Moore's law is still valid, huh? While 500GB could be a little less, 1TB for $100 can be captured easily. For this table, I tried to make them as comparable as I can to see the difference in term of price each configuration could be. By the price, first 2 choices are worst, but as far as appearance & expandability are concerned they are the best around. Just remember something about buying stuff, a good deal always pops up randomly, I got my HP MediaSmart EX470 only $270 on Black Friday and before that OfficeMax had this on sale for $299 before discontinued I guess. What a fantastic deal that was! In this economic situation, using what you have and staying alert for a great deal are the best strategy.

Conclusion

All in all, there are tons of possibility building up NAS these days. What we are trying to do is selecting the best one that gives look, performance, and reasonable cost. After this decision, there are still big jobs to do--configure & tweak--for the optimal result. Read & try will show what you have to do :-) I recommend you guys check out SmallNetBuilder.com. Over there, there are so many great resources about network & NAS. And stay tuned for my HP MediaSmart EX470 and shuttle K45 NAS box review :-)

>>Discuss more here<<