24.10.06

Gamble gone wrong

After a long debate on buying the Thecus 5200, an impressively built NAS bassed around a Celeron M, I decided I would instead use it as inspiration to build my own. Although it's plug and play, has gigabit ethernet performance, supports 5 discs and Raid 6, features high on my list, it is also a tad more expensive than what I believed I could spec out on my own. Plus, I wanted the experience of building my own always-on server.

I started out with an Icy Doc 4 bay backplane and a black Mapower 4 x5.25 bay external raid enclosure. One of my goals was to approach teh same size as the 5200, as well as create a look of a "just a bunch of disks" front facia. My first motherboard, an ASUS P5RD2-VM, was just a tad too big to fit in the enclosure without some heavy modification to both it and the backplane. I then exchanged it for a different Asus board, the K8N-VM, which is the smallest, least expensive microatx motherboard I could find. It didn't have the same exact features performance wise, but it was still workable. Or so I thought.

I tried several combinations of orientation, but nothing layed out well still. The motherboard would fit without modification, but because the case was never meant to mount a motherboard, it would have not mounted well on the little bit of metal to hang it on. Plus, the end of the enclosure would end up looking very ragged. So, I upgraded to the smallest, most reasonable looking microatx case that could hold 3 5.25 bays. The Athenatech A3603BB.400 is a good looking case, that sets itself appart in that sense. It takes the Icy Dock 4 in 3 backplane well, but as reviewers have noted, you can't use just any microatx motherboard, as the lowest 5.25 bay will probably hit. No problem, i have the smallest microatx board that appears to exist. Or so I thought.

I wouldn't be writing this now if everything was up and running. Instead, i'd probably be ripping my entire cd and dvd collection to my new fileserver. I used to think the Asus brand name was revered and sought after (I exaggerate), but I have come to realize I can't trust what even their own manual says, or the standards they say they support. This board does not have enough sata2 ports for my needs, but that shouldn't have stopped me, as it does have two pci-express slots, a 16x and a 1x. Using two run of the mill Rosewill sata2 pci-e 2port cards, I thought surely I could overcome this, and have extra sata2 ports to boot, especially since I could just use the onboard video. Not so, says Asus tech support, whom I called after the machine would beep with a 1x board in the 16x slot, regardless of bios settings. "Only a video card is supported in the 16x slot."

This seems to go against the pci-express standard, but that doesn't seem to be a concern with Asus, as they have other shoddy implementations on the board. Since I was also trying to boot from a CF ide adapter, I had to disable the udma options in the bios. Except that even if I disabled them, various flavors of linux insisted they were still on. I don't know who to trust, but i'm leaning towards linux gurus. It's already known that the linux acpi does not work well with Asus.

The tech support rep, although stumbling his way through an explanation, also led me to believe that their sata2 support does not support any type of switching used for port multipliers. I confirmed this looking up Nvidias 6100 chipset. If I had at least 1 sata2 port that did, i could use an add on switch that supported 5 disks, all at full speed. Simultaneously. My pci-express 1x card, however, does support port multipliers, so I still have that avenue.

So, now I'm fighting my way through any decent install of linux that I could at least test with. My original intent was FreeNAS, but I couldn't even get it installed, and even the developer suggests not to trust it's software raid. Openfiler is next, and if that installs successfully, I'll at least have a test bed to calcualte how far I may need to backtrack in design.

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