Introduction and Testing Methodology

Small businesses and power users in a home setting have begun to face challenges with managing large amounts of data. These are generated either as part of day-to-day business operations or backing up of multimedia files from phones / tablets / TV recordings etc. One option is to use a dedicated COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) NAS from a vendor such as Synology or QNAP. Sometimes, it is also necessary to have a file server that is much more flexible with respect to programs that can be run on it. This is where storage servers based on Microsoft's offerings or even units based on Linux distributions such as Red Hat and Ubuntu come into play. These servers can either be bought as an appliance or assembled in a DIY fashion. Today, we will be looking at a system based on the latter approach.

A DIY approach involves selection of an appropriate motherboard and a chassis to place it in. Depending on the requirements and motherboard characteristics, one can opt for ECC or ordinary RAM. The platform choice and the number of drives would dictate the PSU capacity. The file server being discussed today uses the ASRock C2750D4I mini-ITX motherboard in a U-NAS NSC 800 chassis. 8 GB of ECC DRAM and a 400 W PSU round up the barebones components. The table below lists the components of the system.

ASRock C2750D4I + U-NAS NSC-800
Form Factor 8-bay mini-tower / mITX motherboard
Platform Intel Avoton C2750
CPU Configuration 8C/8T Silvermont x86 Cores
4 MB L2, 20W TDP
2.4 GHz (Turbo: 2.6 GHz)
SoC SATA Ports 2x SATA III (for two hot-swap bays)
4x SATA II (for one OS drive)
Additional SATA Ports Marvell SE9172 (2x) (for two hot-swap bays)
Marvell SE9230 (4x) (for four hot-swap bays)
I/O Ports 3x USB 2.0
1x D-Sub
2x RJ-45 GbE LAN
1x COM1 Serial Port
Expansion Slots 1x PCIe 2.0 x8 (Unused)
Memory 2x 4GB DDR3-1333 ECC UDIMM
Samsung M391B5273DH0-YH9
Data Drives 8x OCZ Vector 128 GB
Chassis Dimensions 316mm x 254mm x 180mm
Power Supply 400W Internal PSU
Diskless Price (when built) USD 845

Evaluation Methodology

A file server can be used for multiple purposes, unlike a dedicated NAS. Evaluating a file server with our standard NAS testing methodology wouldn't do justice to the eventual use-cases and would tell only a part of the story to the reader. Hence, we adopt a hybrid approach in which the evaluation is divided into two parts - one, as a standalone computing system and another as a storage device on a network.

In order to get an idea of the performance of the file server as a standalone computing system, we boot up the unit with a USB key containing a Ubuntu-on-the-go installation. The drives in the bays are configured in a mdadm RAID-5 array. Selected benchmarks from the Phoronix Test Suite (i.e, those benchmarks relevant to the usage of a system as a file server) are processed after ensuring that any test utilizing local storage (disk benchmarks, in particular) point to the mdadm RAID-5 array. Usage of the Phoronix Test Suite allows readers to have comparison points for the file server against multiple systems (even those that haven't been benchmarked by us).

As a storage device on a network, there are multiple ways to determine the performance. One option would be to repeat all our NAS benchmarks on the system, but that would be take too much time to process for a given system that we are already testing as a standalone computer. On the other hand, it is also important to look beyond numbers from artificial benchmarks and see how a system performs in terms of business metrics. SPEC SFS 2014 comes to our help here. The benchmark tool is best used for evaluation of SANs. However, it also helps us here to see the effectiveness of the file server as a storage node in a network. The SPEC SFS 2014 has been developed by the IOZone folks, and covers evaluation of the filer in specific application scenarios like the number of virtual machines that can be run off the filer, number of simultaneous databases, number of video streams that can be simultaneously recorded and the number of simultaneous software builds that can be processed.

Our SPEC SFS 2014 setup consists of a SMB share on the file server under test connected over an Ethernet network to our NAS evaluation testbed outlined below. Further details about the SPEC SFS 2014 workloads will be provided in the appropriate section.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 (1.6TB PCIe SSD)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evolution 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

The above testbed runs 10 Windows 7 VMs simultaneously, each with a dedicated 1 Gbps network interface. This simulates a real-life workload of up to 10 clients for the NAS being evaluated. All the VMs connect to the network switch to which the NAS is also connected (with link aggregation, as applicable). The VMs generate the NAS traffic for performance evaluation.

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:

Setup Impressions and Platform Analysis
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  • damianrobertjones - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Any chance of adding the price to the top of the page? I can then evaluate suitability etc.
  • SirGCal - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    I saw it a few times throughout the article including the top page. $845
  • colinstu - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    What's with the benchmarks that aren't compared to anything else?
  • ganeshts - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    This is the first of three file servers that we are reviewing with a completely new evaluation methodology. Since we are just starting out, there are no comparison numbers, but I do link to pages for each of the tests - so one can see what other systems are capable of with respect to that benchmark.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    I think U-NAS deserves more credit for the compactness of their case designs. Being much bulkier than units from Synology/etc has always been an issue for anyone in a space constrained situation (or just with a spouse who grumbles about how much space all of your toys takes up). This case is only 15% larger in volume than Synologies DS1815+ (12.4 vs 14.4 liters); and their 4 bay model comes even closer to the DS414 (7.8 vs 8.7l).

    Assuming I decide on a DIY box to replace my WHS2011 box in a few months, the U-NAS NSC-400 is exactly what I'm looking for in a chassis (and half the size of the box it'd be replacing).
  • xicaque - Monday, November 23, 2015 - link

    I have built two of these units. I am very happy with them. for 200bucks (case only with some wires) is not a bad deal. I am running freenas.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Do you have any power consumption numbers available?
  • Johnmcl7 - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    There are some power figures on the last page, 70W under load and 38W idle.
  • DanNeely - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    two numbers in the text is a far cry from the normal table showing rebuild times and power levels shown in a normal NAS review.
  • ganeshts - Monday, August 10, 2015 - link

    Dan, Yes, it felt a bit odd for me to leave out that table in a NAS review.. The issue for me is that it is not worth it to spend more than 'N' hours on evaluating a particular system / review a particular product, and setting up the SPEC SFS 2014 benchmarks and processing it took a lot of time.

    I hope to address this issue in future file server reviews (now that SPEC SFS 2014 seems to be stable), but not for the next two (which have already been evaluated and are just pending write-up)

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