Mini-ITX Terabyte Storage Array

Back before everyone left Zeus, Vivek and I had an ongoing bet to see if either of us could find the components on eBay to build a terabyte storage array for less than £1000.

At about the same time, I saw a review of the Buffalo TeraStation – which looked like a great product, but was priced at around £800 at the time. With the falling cost of storage, it’s now available for just over £500. I had decided that I wanted a terabyte storage array of my own, and I wanted one that ran Linux so that I could add additional services and install my own programs.

After taking ages to actually decide what equipment I wanted and finally getting around to buying it (as Paul will attest!) I eventually took the plunge and ordered all of the components I’d need.

(The main delay was waiting for VIA to release their C7 processors… that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it ;))

In the end, I bought:

  • 1 x VIA 1.2GHz EN12000EG Mini-ITX motherboard
  • 1 x 1Gb PC4200 DDR2 DIMM
  • 5 x Samsung SP2504C SATA hard-disc drives
  • 1 x Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8 SATA PCI-X controller card
  • 1 x Supermicro CSE-M35T1 5-bay SATA Hot-swap drive rack
  • 1 x 1Gb High-speed Compact Flash card
  • 1 x 180W low-noise 1U PSU

The EN12000 motherboard is very cool (literally) and runs entirely passively cooled (unlike the faster 1.5GHz version, which requires a fan). The SATA controller card (which has no RAID functionality – it purely presents up to 8 disks to the host OS) is Marvell based and, despite the driver for this being marked as “HIGHLY EXPERIMENTAL”(!) as of Linux 2.6.17, it’s worked perfectly for me – even though the motherboard has only a standard 32bit/33MHz PCI slot. The Samsung drives are very high quality (and I’ve always liked the 160Gb versions in my desktop), but were mainly chosen because of all of the drives available the Samsungs have the lower peak power usage. This is significant because, with five of them present, even a few watts extra could push a small, silent PSU over its limits. Finally, the Compact-Flash card plugs into a CF->IDE convertor – which is by far the least-hassle way to use them. Integrated CF-readers tend to be either unbootable, or only bootable via USB-emulation, which can cause complications once your OS of choice has started and is trying to work out where it’s root filesystem is…