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Old 11-05-2012, 06:11 AM   #1
Wardrop
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Default Custom NAS Case Project

I have posted this thread on an Australian forum, but feedback is a little slow over there, so maybe I can get better traction from Anandtech users.

Quite regularly, people post on these forums looking for cases suitable for a NAS. The unfortunate situation is that there aren't really any cases ideal for a custom NAS; there's really nothing that can compete with the size and functionality of appliance NAS cases.

Typically, you want your NAS case to be small, hot-swappable, and have support for an expansion card (RAID controller, etc). You also typically want to have room for a 2.5" SSD for the boot volume. There's unfortunately nothing on the market that meets these requirements, and those that get close, typically only support up to 4 drives, which for those of us wanting 5 or 6 drives, is too small and not economical enough (core components will cost the same regardless of number of hard-drives, so it makes sense to go with something with support for over 4 drives).

I'm currently looking into designing and manufacturing my own NAS case using services like emachineshop.com. The only problem is that for single quantity orders, it's very expensive, but for every extra set of items ordered, the price drops significantly, even if only ordering 5 or 10 items. So what may cost $1000 for a one-off case, will only cost about $2000 for 10 cases (~$200 each). The price drop is that dramatic.

I'm wondering whether anyone would be interested in collaborating on a custom NAS enclosure, or whether you'd even be interested in buying one assuming they looked good and had all the aforementioned features.

To give you an idea of what I'm currently thinking:
  • All aluminium; as sturdy as practical. 1.5mm for chassis, 2mm for face plate, 1mm for cover.
  • Macbook-like bead blasted finish. Perhaps anodised for a range of colours.
    Support for 4x5.25" drive bays to allow for two 2x5.25"-to-3x5.25" hotswap enclosures.
  • Fully covered face plate (with ventilation holes) to hide relatively ugly hot-swap drive bays. Held on by strong magnets to allow for instant access to hot-swap drives laying behind. Looks pretty without sacrificing practicality.
  • Support for Mini-ITX motherboard and full-height expansion slot. ~60mm clearance for CPU cooler.
  • Power button and LED. Small hole in faceplate will show LED light. Power button will be hidden behind face plate; it's a NAS, you shouldn't to use the power button often.
  • CNC bending and other cheaper forms of manufacturing will be preferred over more costly milling. Internal structure will be covered by faceplate, and single-piece U-shape body (much like the body of the QNAP's, but with a nicer finish hopefully).
I want this NAS to be pretty. I'll be going for a minimalist look, similar to Lian Li cases. I'll do up some example designs in Google Sketchup which I'll post here.

My goal is to make a cheaper, prettier and higher performing custom NAS than an equivalent appliance from QNAP or Synology, at roughly the same size (under 13 litres). So for $1200, instead of a 6-bay QNAP with 1GB RAM and Atom processor, you get can get a beefy Quad-Core IvyBridge processor, 16GB RAM and the same number of drives. Something more than capable of running FreeNAS or Windows Server, and which can be more like a general purpose server than file server.

So, would anyone be interested in buying such a case. What would be your upper spending limit so I have a rough idea what cost targets need to be. I'll be aiming for under $300 per case, excluding hot-swap drive cages as they can be configured in many ways. Still very early days though, so I'm after feedback on the idea, as well as gauging interest.

I want as few parts as possible. A two-piece chassis (like most Lian Li cases), two-piece cover (U-shape cover for top and sides; flat face for front), internal structure for 5.25" bays, PSU, SSD and of course motherboard, as well as power button and LED which will be purchased off-the-shelf. I'd also get some off-the-shelf case feet (nice polished metal ones).

So hopefully only 10 pieces all up for structure, and only a few pieces for the complementary accessories like power buttons, etc. Everything will be assembled with standard-size phillips and thumb screws; countersunk wherever possible and no rivets. I'd send them out fully assembled though of course.

Please let me know what you guys think.

Last edited by Wardrop; 11-05-2012 at 06:14 AM.
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Old 11-05-2012, 12:12 PM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wardrop View Post
So, would anyone be interested in buying such a case.
Based on your description, no.

However, this does not mean someone else won't love your case idea.

I think that as the size goes down, due to the limited space the "wish list" starts to vary. I see this at various forums around the net. Someone says, "I wish I could have the same ITX case as at this link, but without the optical drive bay so I can have more 3.5" HDDs." Someone else goes, "But I need the optical drive bay, and would rather the same case supporting a bigger PSU." Third person goes, "I went all SSD, so I don't need optical drives, nor 3.5" HDD bays at all."

My personal wish list for a NAS style case?
- Micro tower style.
- ITX motherboard, with single expansion slot.
- No hot swap bays, to save money and make it smaller. For home use I can afford to power down the system now and again.
- 4x 3.5" HDD bays.
- 1x 2.5" SSD bay for OS.
- Quiet fan(s).
- Low wattage and efficient PSU. I'm thinking maybe 80Plus Gold/Platinum at no more than 150W as that would be sufficient for a quad core CPU + all drives. Also, all internal. Don't want power brick.
- Come with customized and pre-routed cables.
- Decoupled HDD mounts, for lower noise.
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Old 11-05-2012, 04:13 PM   #3
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Yes, you're right, good points, however, for a lot of those people who have less reasonable requirements (those not typical of an appliance-like NAS), they're usually satisfied with the larger more flexible cases on the market. I'm targeting those who want a pure NAS; those seeking something as close to an appliance as possible but with the customizability and performance of a desktop.

Your own requirements seem awfully close to what I'm going for. Mine may not be tower style (it's more like a cube), but otherwise, all your other criteria could be met, including the lack of hotswap drives - many manufacturers sell internal 5.25" to 3.5" drive cages, such as the Lian Li EX-36A3 which go for $30.
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Old 11-05-2012, 05:16 PM   #4
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A Fujitsu MX130 S2 fits most of your criteria. It's temporarily or maybe permanently out of stock now, but a few months ago, I got one for $140, and if you sell the 250GB HDD that comes with it, you might get it for less. The Sempron 145 is powerful enough for ZFS file server duties; upgradeable to Athlon/Phenom CPUs up to 95W TDP. Semi-beefy CPU cooler is a mini-tower design that's a little noisy, but you can swap fans. 4 3.5" HDD bays with a small space that you could put a SSD into as L2ARC or boot drive, if you don't wanna boot off USB stick. Mobo is a Fujitsu board with 6 SATA-II slots, USB 2.0, and Broadcom NIC. PSU is a custom 85% efficient 250W max PSU. Comes with 2GB ECC DDR-1333 unbuffered DRAM; there are four slots and max capacity is 16GB DRAM. In base configuration it idles in the lower-40s (watts). 2 mounts are on plastic rails, others against bare aluminum. You can swap out the front case fan if desired. Cables are pre-routed to a large extent.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16859115022

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zap View Post
Based on your description, no.

However, this does not mean someone else won't love your case idea.

I think that as the size goes down, due to the limited space the "wish list" starts to vary. I see this at various forums around the net. Someone says, "I wish I could have the same ITX case as at this link, but without the optical drive bay so I can have more 3.5" HDDs." Someone else goes, "But I need the optical drive bay, and would rather the same case supporting a bigger PSU." Third person goes, "I went all SSD, so I don't need optical drives, nor 3.5" HDD bays at all."

My personal wish list for a NAS style case?
- Micro tower style.
- ITX motherboard, with single expansion slot.
- No hot swap bays, to save money and make it smaller. For home use I can afford to power down the system now and again.
- 4x 3.5" HDD bays.
- 1x 2.5" SSD bay for OS.
- Quiet fan(s).
- Low wattage and efficient PSU. I'm thinking maybe 80Plus Gold/Platinum at no more than 150W as that would be sufficient for a quad core CPU + all drives. Also, all internal. Don't want power brick.
- Come with customized and pre-routed cables.
- Decoupled HDD mounts, for lower noise.
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Last edited by blastingcap; 11-05-2012 at 05:18 PM.
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Old 11-05-2012, 06:02 PM   #5
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OP, closest thing currently is the Lian-Li PC-Q25. Only 5 built in hotswap though, can't really add any more hotswap bays and the power switch isn't hidden behind a panel, it also holds an addition 2 3.5" without modding and has room for 2.5" drives as well.

It works well for a mITX NAS case, I'd only move away if your case has 6+ built-in hotswap bays. I don't want buy drive bay converters to make things work, if you're going to make a dedicated NAS enclosure, build the hotswap bays in.
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Last edited by ND40oz; 11-05-2012 at 06:05 PM.
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Old 11-05-2012, 06:22 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ND40oz View Post
It works well for a mITX NAS case, I'd only move away if your case has 6+ built-in hotswap bays. I don't want buy drive bay converters to make things work, if you're going to make a dedicated NAS enclosure, build the hotswap bays in.
I would make a bespoke hot-swap bay (it would make it smaller too), except the build would become a fair bit more complex, unless I could source them pre-made. Backplanes are also hard to find. By using 5.25" bays with hot-swap drive cages, you bypass all these difficulties.
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Old 11-05-2012, 08:45 PM   #7
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Corsair has backplanes available, I purchased one when I upgraded my 800D from sata 2 to sata 3. I'm sure you can find the Lian Li ones as well.

http://www.corsair.com/obsidian-seri...grade-kit.html
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:08 PM   #8
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Backplanes can be made-to-spec by American Megatrends as well, but you've also got the enclosure and caddies to worry about, which requires much more engineering time and prowess than it's probably worth. Especially considering the problem has been solved a thousand times with off-the-shelf enclosures, which would probably cheaper, as well as more flexible for the end user.

That corsair backplane is however the cheapest I've seen. I guess if I can find a way to engineer a tray-less hot-swap solution, that'll keep parts down and maintain the simplicity of the current design. I find it otherwise hard to justify creating my own bespoke hot-swap solution.

But this is what this thread is about. If anyone has some ideas for how to engineer a simple hot-swap drive solution, I'm obviously interested.

I did find this Intel drive cage however: http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Intel-6-D...ht_2700wt_1202

Expensive, but of course the benefit is that it's a little more compact. I think the flexibility in letter the user choose there own still out-weighs the benefits. If someone wanted an optical drive for example, that could get a 3x5.25"-to-5x3.5" hot-swap cage, and use the 4th 5.25" slot for their optical drive. It just gives more flexibility.

Last edited by Wardrop; 11-05-2012 at 09:25 PM.
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:26 PM   #9
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Off the shelf enclosures aren't cheap though, the supermicro is around $100 for a 5 into 3, the startech 4 into 3 is $95 and their 3 into 2 is $75, unless you're finding stuff cheaper?

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16817121405
http://www.amazon.com/StarTech-com-3.../dp/B000NMAZUK
http://www.provantage.com/startech-h...k~7STR90CA.htm
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:28 PM   #10
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But that's the ting, I don't think going custom would make it any cheaper. Backplanes and hot-swap assemblies cost a minimum amount. There's is potential though for a tray-less design to work out cheaper than a caddie design, but I can't think of how you'd prevent the drives rattling around. You'd need rollers, or low-friction rubber material on the sides. Not sure. Got any ideas for how'd you'd engineer a tray-less cage?
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:30 PM   #11
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By the way, here's are some models I created a few weeks ago in Google Sketchup: https://docs.google.com/a/tomwardrop...dTA/edit?pli=1

These are indicative of sizing and layout only; the design and physical structure is of course up in the air, and this is just one option. You'll see a collection of 5.25" enclosures, and enclosures designed for a bespoke hot-swap cage.
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:31 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wardrop View Post
But that's the ting, I don't think going custom would make it any cheaper. Backplanes and hot-swap assemblies cost a minimum amount. There's is potential though for a tray-less design to work out cheaper than a caddie design, but I can't think of how you'd prevent the drives rattling around. You'd need rollers, or low-friction rubber material on the sides. Not sure. Got any ideas for how'd you'd engineer a tray-less cage?
Look at the Lian Li Q25, it's trayless and I bet all the parts are available to purchase individually, they're pretty good at providing them. The thing is, it's dirt cheap and going to be hard to beat on price.
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Old 11-05-2012, 09:41 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ND40oz View Post
Look at the Lian Li Q25, it's trayless and I bet all the parts are available to purchase individually, they're pretty good at providing them. The thing is, it's dirt cheap and going to be hard to beat on price.
Yeah true, the screw and rubber grommet design is pretty simple and reliable. I reckon I could implement that pretty easily. Not sure why I didn't think of that before. I could also integrate a handle like the Lian Li hotswap enclosures have. They're just a bit of bend aluminium. Maybe a bespoke hot-swap solution wouldn't be too hard.

See, this is what this thread is all about I found these as well, in case I can't find a google single backplane solution: http://www.sierra-cables.com/Adapters/SATA.aspx
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