unRAID media storage NAS ramblings

deckingman

Novice Member
Hi Guys,

Just thought I'd share with you some ramblings concerning research into media storage (NAS) solutions which I have been doing over the past few weeks. First off let me explain that I am by no means any sort of IT or computer wiz so there is much that I don't understand.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I've looked at the various "off the shelf" solutions and also DIY approaches. The latter interest me because funds are tight and I have an old, defunct PC. This means that I already have a case, mobo, memory, processor, power supply etc. In fact, most of the hardware that I would be paying for if I bought an "off the shelf" NAS. I looked at (and installed)
FreeNAS) but found it quite difficult to get to grips with. Then I stumbled accross unRAID which I have installed but as yet, only have a single 80Gb disc to play with.

A quick search of these forums (and the internet) shows that unRAID is not widely known about.

unRAID is (and I quote) "an embedded Network Attached Storage server Operating System designed to boot form a USB flash device and specifically for digital media storage".

For me personally, this seems to tick most of the boxes. Note that this is specifically for storing media on a network. If you need a NAS for other purposes the unRAID may not be suitable.

First off it's cheap - really cheap if you have an old defunct PC because all you need is a usb flash. The software is free for up to 3 drives, after that you need a user license (from about $60).

Secondly, (and for me this is huge) you can start off with just two HDDs and when you need more space, simply add more drives (up to about 16 I think) and the drives don't have to be all the same size or speed. You can also change smaller drives to larger ones. You can even mix IDE and SATA. The only caveat is that no data disc can be larger than the parity disc, so starting from scratch, it
would be wise to fit a huge parity disc.

Thirdly, because data isn't striped accross discs, any disc which is not in use can be spun down, reducing power consumption and noise. To access a file the entire array doesn't have to be spun up - only the disc that it resides on.

Forthly, is the fault tollerance. Any single drive can be reconstructed but in the event of multiple drive failures, only the data on the failed drives would be lost - not the whole array.

Finally, is a thing called user shares. You could for example set up disc 1 - movies, disc2 - movies, disc3 - movies. The share "movies" would then appear as a single share to the media player.

On the down side, there is the write speed, which is slow. There are however, a couple of ways around this. Firstly, to initially populate the array, you could dissable or not instal the parity disc - obviously your data would be at risk during this process. Secondly, if you purchase a license, you can use a cache disc. Data gets writen to this straight away, then transferred to the parity protected discs at a later time.

I'm also told that unRAID does not scale well. I don't know what this means or how important it is.

There is a wiki and various forums, a quick "google" search for unRAID will yield more info.

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts. I appreciate the above may sound like some sort of advertisment which is not my intention. As I said at the start, I'm no sort of expert but for anyone starting out, this could be a way of building a quiet, low power, NAS with true incremental storage capability, for not very much money.

I'd be interested to hear any comments from those who are more knowledgeable about these things than me.
 

NeilS

Active Member
A good summary of a very good product.

I built myself an unRaid server from scratch using a dual core atom motherboard and currently populated with 2 x 2TB hard drives. For my media serving requirements (popcorn hour C200) this does a sterling job.

I have nearly filled my 2TB data drive with my DVD rips and the beauty of unRaid is that I can just plug in another drive and rebuild the parity drive any time I need additional capacity. Additionally you are not tied into any particular hardware so a server can be built for very little money or if funds are less of an issue then some very serious huge storage capacity is possible.

The unRaid support forums are very good with many helpful people contributing to it and numerous custom packages available to complement.

I'd definately recommend looking at this if you're in the market for a media server.

Neil
 

deckingman

Novice Member
That's good feedback from someone who has used one in earnest.

You may be able to answer a question for me. The PC I'm using has a P4 processor with huge heat sink and fan. The fan is quite noisy so I'm wondering, as the processor is doing next to nothing, if it would be safe to just disconnect the fan.
 

NeilS

Active Member
Difficult to say if it'd be ok really. If I were in that position I think I'd look for a quite fan to replace the current one. That's probably a safer option.

Neil
 

strolls

Novice Member
I'm currently using a P4 for a file-server, and I've spent good money on "passive-cooling" heatsinks, and IMO P4s just aren't worth it, really. We tend to use them because they're "cheap" - you can pick up socket 472 CPUs for peanuts, but actually the motherboards are actually pretty expensive secondhand because of dead capacitors and particularly a brand of PSU which was *very* widely-used during this era and which would take out the motherboard when it died. I think I've paid the best part of £20 delivered for a fanless-heatsink, and if you were instead to sell your P4 for £50 in the local classifieds you'd be well on the way to an Atom m/board + CPU (ATX Atom m/board go for about £100 with the CPU already fitted at the factory). These motherboards also have 4-pin fan headers, so can spin the fan down and be quieter when idle, and the Atom's lower power consumption will (I'm told) pay the difference in no time (weeks or months - over the course of a year you'll already be saving money, I believe).
 

deckingman

Novice Member
Cheers guys. Both good tips. I've ordered a cheap but quiet fan for now. When I get I few bob, I'll maybe change the mobo. But that's another good thing about unRAID - I can do this.

I guess you could even take all the HDDs out, bung them in another old PC, and it'd still work without any loss of data.
 

Nelviticus

Active Member
Don't run the CPU without cooling, it could well die within seconds. The Pentium 4's were notorious for running very hot which is why Intel recommended that you used a case with special ducting (see this page for more info, including a rather cheesy Intel video). You can of course use a 3rd party cooler but make sure it's rated to handle your particular CPU.

I thought about turning my old PC into a NAS - in fact I'm still thinking about it - but the main down-side is power. A full PC will draw a lot more power than a dedicated NAS and over time that adds up to more cost. The power a PC draws depends on many things but various estimates out there lead me to think it'd be around 100 Watts for a simple, stripped-down NAS machine. A dedicated NAS like the QNAP TS-410 draws 20W in operation and 12W idle - an eighth to a fifth of a typical PC. Bearing in mind it'll be on 24 hours a day, power starts to become important.
 

deckingman

Novice Member
Point already noted about P4 - probably not the best processor to use but it's what I have kicking about.

Can't see why power consumption should be a big issue though. It's just running as stand alone box - no monitor, no keyboard or mouse. Graphics and sound all dissabled in BIOS. No optical or floppy drive. All HDD discs spun down when idle (and when in use, only the active disc needs be spun up). And of course, it can be set to Wake on Lan.
 

NeilS

Active Member
The power consumption was something I paid careful attention to when assembling by unRaid box. By carefully selecting the components, my server, with 2 x 2TB drives fitted consumes only 31-32w while writing, 21w with the drives spun down and 2.5w when in s3 sleep.

I think this is prety much a match or better for any off the shelf nas though obviously using any old PC hardware will not yield the same results.

Neil
 

STdrez625

Banned
Yeah I looked at Unraid,, especially for its ease of expansion, but I think i rejected it..I would like a standalone NAS box to be able to do more than just serve media. Like the better NAS, i would like it to be a download station, webserver etc. Plus my unfamiliarity with unraid, I decided to run with (for now) win/xp running XBMC, also able to encode, backup etc. i am also happily running software raid 0 over a mix of IDE & SATA with different size disks. I still haven't decided on a Final solution.
Unraid also obviates the need to buy special "RAID edition" hard disks, as specified by some mfrs.
 

deckingman

Novice Member
Agreed. I don't think unRAID would be the best solution if you wanted to use it for backups and other things. I think it's virtues are best suited for media storage. The biggest plus for me is the ease of incrementaly increasing storage capacity.
 

Nelviticus

Active Member
You don't need to buy special 'RAID edition' disks - they're more reliable than standard ones but they can still fail. They're really for people for whom a disk failure would be a major setback, where the extra outlay and reduced risk makes sense. For most people normal disks will be fine.

In case anyone's wondering!
 

STdrez625

Banned
When I say "need raid edition disks", I realise that many people are using "ordinary" disks in their raid set-ups. But it is surprising that most people dont even know such devices exist. I suspect that in reality they are aimed squarely at the SMB/corporate market where downtime costs money and the extra expense is worthwhile/deductable. There is a bigger difference than reliability, I think these disks have two processors and different firmware, which is (more) suited to raid use (see TLER)
 

deckingman

Novice Member
Just an update for anyone that's interested.

I decided to have a go at this. So, I've stripped out what isn't needed from the old PC - mainly the DVD rom drive. That's given me a bit more space. I've modded the case a bit too - (side cutters job). It's not pretty but I reckon I can now fit 4 HDDs easily and maybe 7 at a push. I changed the processor fan for quiet one and while I was at it, changed the case fan too. Now it is almost completely silent.

I've also added a cheap 2 channel PCIE SATA card so I now have 4 SATA ports. In honesty, if I need more the 4 HDDS, I think I would change the case and maybe the mobo too. It might be cheaper than buying more SATA cards although, with unRAID, I can use any combination of HDD types.

I've downloaded and installed the latest license free version of unRAID which was a piece of cake (even for an old guy like me). It all boots from a USB stick. I also came across something called unMENU which is an unsupported but better user interface. This also alows easy installation of all sorts of other user written add on packages too.

I've been playing around with the software but only have an old 80Gb hard disc. It all seems to do what it says on the tin and I've found particularly easy despite the fact that I have zero knowledge of Linux and not a great deal of knowledge about PCs in general. The Wiki and forums are especially useful.

Total spend so far about £30 plus of course the old defunct PC. That's what I call a cheap NAS.

Now all I need is some HDDS. Funds are still tight but maybe in a month or so...........
 

Smurfin

Distinguished Member
The power consumption was something I paid careful attention to when assembling by unRaid box. By carefully selecting the components, my server, with 2 x 2TB drives fitted consumes only 31-32w while writing, 21w with the drives spun down and 2.5w when in s3 sleep.

I think this is prety much a match or better for any off the shelf nas though obviously using any old PC hardware will not yield the same results.

Neil
Old thread and all, but what did you spec to get the power consumption so low?

Cheers
Matt
 

NeilS

Active Member
I'm using a Supermicro X7SPA HF board which is a dual core atom D510 with 6 on board SATA and IPMI. PSU is a Seasonic 80%+ 330w (ish) running in 2GB ram. I've since added a pair of 3 into 2 StarTech SATA back planes. I now have 3 * 2TB WD EARS drives so power consumption has gone up a bit. I should really check what it is now though I expect with all 3 drives running it'll still be at or below 45w.

Neil
 

Smurfin

Distinguished Member
Nice :)

The kit for all of my server should be arriving in the next two days, I can't wait to get building! It's going to be a 36TB monster! (plus 4TB for parity and cache). Hate to think what the power consumption is going to be, but I'll be posting a new build thread once it's finished - there's not enough talk about unRAID on here imho.

Where did you get the supermicro board from?
 

NeilS

Active Member
Wow, that's rather massive! Have you ripped every blu ray that's been released to need all that file space?!

I expect you'll see huge power draw on bootup but as unRaid can spin down unused drives it should be fine in normal useage. Are you using YAMJ to present your movies or something else? If your heating breaks down in the winter you'll be able to simply spin up all your drives to keep warm!

I'd certainly be interested to readabout your build. That can only serve to publicise unRaid more which is no bad thing as it really is a great product for media storage and extremely expandable as your build looks set to prove.

I bought my board from Germany as it was almost impossible to find in the UK.

Neil
 

Smurfin

Distinguished Member
It won't that big to start with, I'll be using 11 drives giving me 18TB of storage - my collection stands at 13TB so far, plus I want to rip my CD collection in lossless FLAC which will eat up some more space. The problem I've had is that after 2 NAS's, I keep running out of space and more than anything else, I want something more future proof than what I have currently.

I'll probably be building it this weekend so will post the build thread in the next couple of weeks :) Looking forward to another project!!!
 

MarkE19

Moderator
there's not enough talk about unRAID on here imho.
Fully agree - I only found out about it by searching through the NAS section of the forum when I was looking at what to get for my media storage.
I'd certainly be interested to readabout your build. That can only serve to publicise unRaid more which is no bad thing as it really is a great product for media storage and extremely expandable as your build looks set to prove.
I also look forward to the build thread although my server is already built and running, although I [-]may[/-] will need to upgrade it at a later date so any info could come in handy.

Mark.
 

chilli_pepper

Standard Member
Unraid is simply great. Been running my modest box for just over 2 months. P4 2GB Intel Server board w/gbit lan, 1.5TB Parity, and a total of 3TB storage with frontloading hot-swap bays. It's on 24/7 doing numberous things. It's great.

The only problem I have in anonymous user access to certain shares - I'm running the script from the unraid forums but it only works on the first access after the server starts - there after if I shutdown a client machine I'll have to enter user and password!
 

JimiAces

Active Member
glad to see this thread, didnt realise there were so many guys also running unraid!

Ive been running the free version now for over a year with 3x1tb drives (1 parity and 2 for storage)

I am now at the stage where i have filled the drives and am contemplating buying the 6disk version, but before i do that i am going to upgrade my mobo.

So far it has been absolutely faultless for me, i spent a few weeks tweaking it at first,i was comletely linux illiterate but the wiki and forums are really helpful and even i can now do most things i need to with it. unmenu and sabNZB installed and now it sits silently in a cupboard and i never have to touch it, i stream to my acer revo and O!play, i also use it to listen to music on my laptop.

also have a look at freenas, i did go down this route at first but after trying unraid i just stuck with it. would be good to hear anyones opinions if they have tried both.
 

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