A few weeks ago I put together a cheap RAID fileserver using an old Dell Optiplex 745 and a bunch of spare hard drives. My goal: power efficiency, RAID, and low cost.
The 745 on the left has a 160 GB hard drive inside the case for the OS. I’m running 64-bit Windows Server 2008 R2. The small dual-core CPU is power efficient and fast enough to serve up home network storage needs. It also has an onboard gigabit network port—almost a requirement for a NAS. On the right is an old Dell 340 that runs my personal webserver and ebook library. I had to add on a gigabit Ethernet card to the 340. My routers and switches are all gigabit so home network file transfers are fairly fast. The fileserver also doubles as a domain controller for my home domain.
The most expensive component is an 8-port Highpoint RocketRaid 2320 RAID controller. This isn’t a true hardware controller but it has its own bios and “software” onboard, making it independent of the OS.
I put together a quick wood case with slots for eight hard drives. I put two fans on the back to keep the drives cool. The drives have almost an inch of free space between so they stay fairly cool even without the fans running.
The hard drives are powered by the 340 power supply. I then daisy-chained a few splitters to get eight sata power plugs. It’s simple to run a sata cable between each drive and the controller. Since both servers are always on, this works okay. Both servers are connected to a uninterruptible power supply and have auto restart and wake-on-LAN configured in the BIOS in case they ever shut down and I need to start them remotely. The servers live in a walk-in closet and require very little maintenance.
The NAS works great. I installed the Highpoint monitoring software on the 745 so it would warn me when a drive went bad. Without LED indicators on the hard drives, it’s not easy to tell when a drive goes bad but the software works good. I have four 500 GB drives in RAID 5 plus a hot spare. Highpoint has an expand feature that allows online expansion of the RAID by plugging in another hard drive..no restart or reformat required. There is also a 2 TB drive in the rack that’s plugged directly into the 745 motherboard. The 745 case stays cooler with all the drives outside.
My next NAS will probably have an Atom processor, more efficient power supply, and a backplane setup so drives are easier to change and monitor with lower power consumption.