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My Windows based NAS using Flexraid - haisaikat

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haisaikat

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Introduction
After months of research and planning I have finally been able to put up my Windows based Home NAS. I would like to thank above all sam for all the inspirational writings in his Unraid NAS thread which made my mind change to come out from a boxed off-the-shelf NAS to a custom built NAS.

My main reasons for going towards a custom NAS were below
1. Ability to hook up USB drives to the NAS
2. Having a NAS where some storage places would be fixed like internal drives and some part would be mobile like in the USB drives which would be handy to carry everywhere (new arrivals)
3. Higher data throughput, helpful if you do a lot of copying in and out of NAS
4. Ability to run any UPNP Media Server of choice with media transcoding for supporting more variety of UPNP clients.
5. Better management options

Hardware Components

Motherboard: ASUS M5A88-M (INR 5539 from Flipkart)
Earlier I thought would go for a mini-itx based solution but looking at the price tags for high featured mini-itx boards I dropped the idea. Same applies for not going with Intel boards, the ones having 4+ sata ports are costlier than comparative AMD boards. I chose this specific board since it was the cheapest having 6 SATA-III ports and also supports a host of processors (recent ones as well as old ones). Also it has USB 3.0 ports. Thankfully the motherboard came with two stock SATA III cables which otherwise seems very scarce in India to procure easily.

Processor: AMD 3.2 GHz AM3 Athlon II 260(INR 3299 from Flipkart)
Just whatever I found fits my bill, dual core, 64 bit and low cost. Also found on flipkart reviews that this runs comparatively cool.

RAM: Corsair XMS3 4 GB 1333MHz (INR 1100 from amazon.com carried back by one friend returning from US)
Wanted small budget 4GB RAMS and could not find anything less cheaper in DDR3 platform.

PSU: Cooler Master Gx 450 (INR 3502 from Flipkart)
It is 80 plus bronze certified 450 Watts single rail PSU, bought hoping to serve it would be fit for longer runs.

Disk Drives: I had two 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM drives in my old DND 323 purchased around 2 years back so ended up using them as one data drive and one parity drive. I also had one 1 TB external drive which is now holding some share of the files from the old 1 TB internal drives. I have plans to purchase next month when I have slightly more budget the Cavier Green 1 TB pack of 3 on flipkart if that carries some discount but otherwise would buy 2 new 2TB Cavier greens from flipkart. For now I can live with these. I also had one 32GB Transcend SSD purchased from one of our HFV FM that I am using as System drive for OS.

Cabinet: I reused my 2001 purchased old Pentium 3 cabinet which was lying unused and somewhat big considering the old times but considering my low budget should be good for now. Otherwise I had the following new cabinets on my list like NZXT Tempest Evo, Thermaltake M9, Thermaltake V6 but seems most of the shops do not keep them be it online or local and some of them are being phased out may be to make way for more costlier ones. Nevertheless I will keep looking for some future options in due course.
My old cabinet had 3 5.25 inch drive bays where I inserted one Cooler Master 4 in 3 Drive cage module (purchased locally for INR 1250) that comes with a fan (air intake) and can host 4 drives and on the rear side of the cabinet I fitted a cooler master 80mm fan (purchased locally for INR 125) to act as exhaust. Cable management is npt so good in this old cabinet hence not posting any of those ugly images.

Followed the motherboard manual step by step to fit all the components, most difficult was fitting the CPU cooler and the motherboard IO shield at the back but managed in the end.

NAS from front (pardon the image quality, also the old Intel sticker is still there)


Closer look at the drive cage


Drive cage from inside


Power supply and exhaust fan at the rear



Softwares
I installed Windows 7 ultimate for OS, Flexraid for NAS support and Twonky Media Server for UPnP streaming. Still to setup more media transcoding options and kind of yet to decide the best media server since my Pana Plasma still does not decode some of the streamed video which my veedee tab can easily playback using native UPNP clients so there seems to be some more scope of on-the-fly media transcoding. All softwares are so far in trial state.

Settings
The browser based UI of FlexRaid is pretty simple for flexraid the only shortcoming being that it requires use of an active control so for non windows platform I am not sure how this will be handled. However for now if I need to change settings of flexraid from my android tab I first login to the RDC of the NAS using 2x client and then control via RDC. Though once set you would hardly need to change anything in this.


You can create one or more configurations which are like individual standalone NAS with their own parity and scheduling. For now I have just one configuration and using the drive manager to pool the two 1 TB hard disks one for the actual data and other for the parity in snapshot mode and not using real time parity which is also supported. I think one good point here is that Flexraid is also allowing to use a USB drive as part of the Disk Pool and hence for people who want to remain 100% mobile with their existing External Drives they can also take advantage of the parity based protection.


Once your drives are added in pool, once you restart the NAS box you start seeing one single drive like in the picture below where V drive is the pooled single drive. Most important feature being you can add a drive already having windows based FS alongwith existing data without the need to format it and at any time if you intend to take it out you will be left with the files normally on a NTFS drive for you to read / write on any NTFS supported machines.


I have created some shares using the out of the box sharing options of flexraid and did not go with windows file sharing, something that I did for the USB drives.
That said I am done with essential settings, apart from which there are some pretty cool features like drive health monitoring of your individual drives if your drives support SMART attributes.




Performance
The NAS is now hooked via Digilink Cat6 cable to my Gigabit Router and readily shows up as a media device on all my networked devices bet it my abdroid phone, tablet or TV.For a USB 2.0 Drive hooked locally to the NAS (over a USB 2.0 port) the max speed I got for file copy (to and from Flexraid Drive) was around 28 MBps.
Reconnecting the same setup via a USB 3.0 port increased the same to around 37 MBps.
However the maximum I got was 77 MBps when copying a file from Local Drive of a Laptop connected over a Gigabit Network (cat6 cable) to the NAS into the Flexraid Drive of the NAS.
With my old DLink DNS 323 NAS and the same physical drives the maximum read /write speed I got was 17 MBps so a lot of improvement.

However the most import gain in performance is the temperature control, these drives are remaining at less than 35 C with moderate read and write which was earlier around 47 C in DLink NAS most of the time. Although both the temperatures are within the limit of the drive yet cooler is better.

The mobo / processor temperature remains steady at around 40 C with stock CPU cooling.

I have to still research on which media server software would be best be it Plex or anyother till then enjoying my newly built NAS. Music streaming on mobile or tablet or FHD BD Rips playback on HTPC works like a charm.

FAQ

*Q1: *About using USB disks as part of RAID. How will it work? Is it really mobile? I mean if it is part of RAID array then it would be appropriately formatted and you won't be able to used it outside? [Originally Posted by yrk1969]
*A: *One of the reasons to go with Flexraid was its capability to add drives to the pool with the existing file system and its files intact. Hence USB drives would not be formatted. However after adding the drive you need to recalculate the parity. So take out the drive when the system is powered down and plug it back in before powering it up next time. If you do power it up I am not sure how flexraid would behave when it finds that the drive is no longer there. But trust me, this is a documented feature of Flexraid as well to have the ability to pool any storage added to the PC except the System Partition. This ideally means that if you do not want to spend a separate disk for the OS, better partition any one of the drives into two so that one would be reserved for OS leaving the rest to be ready for inclusion in the Pool.

*Q2: *Is Parition V(FlexRaid Parition) visible and accessible to local system, even without FlexRaid running? [Originally Posted by ukjeyaraj]
*A: *No, however since flexraid runs as a windows service hence just powering on the pc ensures that the Flexraid drive is available, you would not need to start flexraid separately. I have done the same for Twonky as well which gave the option to run the server as a service thereby ensuring that media server is also ready just after powering the system up automatically.

*Q3: *Is CIFS sharing also available through flexraid [Originally Posted by ukjeyaraj]
*A: *When you set up shares in Flexraid no separate option comes to specify the protocol. However I believe you can very well use a 3rd party software like Networking Software for Windows and add support for your own protocol, in that case you would have to share the drive using windows sharing options.

*Q4: *When connected from client, does it use windows user account for authentication, or a separate user-password needs to be created at flexraid level [Originally Posted by ukjeyaraj]
*A: *No separate user creation required, you can mention directly a user in the format domain/user or hostname/user.

*Q5: *Is it possible to access flexraid partition through SCP/SFTP from a client machine for data transfer [Originally Posted by ukjeyaraj]
*A: *The partition is like a normal windows partition and hence appears everywhere, when my media player connects to it the NAS, or when my foobar running remotely on HTPC wants to add a file to a playlist, etc. Hence if you setup FTP server it will be visible there as well since they are runnning over the windows layer and will see what windows makes them see.
 
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ukjeyaraj

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Thats a detailed post. I was just thinking of changing my NAS box from freenas to unraid/flexiraid (got some time and additional storage to play around). Your post is definitely going to help me. Thanks.
 
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ukjeyaraj

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1) Is Parition V(FlexRaid Parition) visible and accessible to local system, even without FlexRaid running?

2) Is CIFS sharing also available through flexraid

3) When connected from client, does it use windows user account for authentication, or a separate user-password needs to be created at flexraid level

4) Is it possible to access flexraid partition through SCP/SFTP from a client machine for data transfer
 

haisaikat

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1) Is Parition V(FlexRaid Parition) visible and accessible to local system, even without FlexRaid running?

2) Is CIFS sharing also available through flexraid

3) When connected from client, does it use windows user account for authentication, or a separate user-password needs to be created at flexraid level

4) Is it possible to access flexraid partition through SCP/SFTP from a client machine for data transfer

1. No, however since flexraid runs as a windows service hence just powering on the pc ensures that the Flexraid drive is available, you would not need to start flexraid separately. I have done the same for Twonky as well which gave the option to run the server as a service thereby ensuring that media server is also ready just after powering the system up automatically.
2. When you set up shares in Flexraid no separate option comes to specify the protocol. However I believe you can very well use a 3rd party software like Networking Software for Windows and add support for your own protocol, in that case you would have to share the drive using windows sharing options.
3. No separate user creation required, you can mention directly a user in the format domain/user or hostname/user.
4. The partition is like a normal windows partition and hence appears everywhere, when my media player connects to it the NAS, or when my foobar running remotely on HTPC wants to add a file to a playlist, etc. Hence if you setup FTP server it will be visible there as well since they are runnning over the windows layer and will see what windows makes them see.
 

yrk1969

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Have not used software RAID in Windows, but I think 30MB/s is low for Gigabit network. Native Windows 7 does 70-80MB/s easily.

About SATA III cables, not sure if they will make a difference. Isn't the drive throughput already much less than SATA III? So it should not make a difference.

I have 8 drives in my PC, though not in RAID, and one challenge is cable management. And I also used the CM module!

About using USB disks as part of RAID. How will it work? Is it really mobile? I mean if it is part of RAID array then it would be appropriately formatted and you won't be able to used it outside?
 

haisaikat

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Have not used software RAID in Windows, but I think 30MB/s is low for Gigabit network. Native Windows 7 does 70-80MB/s easily.

I tried copying a file to/from a USB drive to the Pool Drive and also to the same physical drives before adding them in pool, got same speed all throughout. Thus this eliminates the Gigabit network part. So I suspect that this is the old hard drive itself.

About SATA III cables, not sure if they will make a difference. Isn't the drive throughput already much less than SATA III? So it should not make a difference.

I agree, what I forgot to mention is that the stock SATA-III cables had locks and L shaped connectors making the wire alignment easier towards the disks.

I have 8 drives in my PC, though not in RAID, and one challenge is cable management. And I also used the CM module!

I find the fan of the CM module somewhat noisy but cannot be heard once the Home Theater roars. Did you find the same? How cool does your drives remain at peak and what is the throughput you are getting?

About using USB disks as part of RAID. How will it work? Is it really mobile? I mean if it is part of RAID array then it would be appropriately formatted and you won't be able to used it outside?

One of the reasons for me to go with Flexraid was its capability to add drives to the pool with the existing file system and its files intact. Hence USB drives would not be formatted. However after adding the drive you need to recalculate the parity. So take out the drive when the system is powered down and plug it back in before powering it up next time. If you do power it up I am not sure how flexraid would behave when it finds that the drive is no longer there. But trust me, this is a documented feature of Flexraid as well to have the ability to pool any storage added to the PC except the System Partition. This ideally means that if you do not want to spend a separate disk for the OS, better partition any one of the drives into two so that one would be reserved for OS leaving the rest to be ready for inclusion in the Pool.
 

vaibhavyagnik

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HSK, the read write speeds that you are getting are that of usb 2.0, i.e copying files from Usb drive to a windows drive. actual transfer speeds over a gigabit network will be higher.
 

haisaikat

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Hi vaibhab, if source and target drives are windows based usb devices then will the same bottleneck still not exist? For usb 2 the max 480 mbps which is 60 mBps. Hence I still have not reached the protocol's max speed. This led me to think that it is limitation of the drive.

Sent from my Galaxy Pro Duos via Tapatalk
 

yrk1969

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I find the fan of the CM module somewhat noisy but cannot be heard once the Home Theater roars. Did you find the same? How cool does your drives remain at peak and what is the throughput you are getting?



One of the reasons for me to go with Flexraid was its capability to add drives to the pool with the existing file system and its files intact. Hence USB drives would not be formatted. However after adding the drive you need to recalculate the parity. So take out the drive when the system is powered down and plug it back in before powering it up next time. If you do power it up I am not sure how flexraid would behave when it finds that the drive is no longer there. But trust me, this is a documented feature of Flexraid as well to have the ability to pool any storage added to the PC except the System Partition. This ideally means that if you do not want to spend a separate disk for the OS, better partition any one of the drives into two so that one would be reserved for OS leaving the rest to be ready for inclusion in the Pool.

Understood the mobile explanation, thanks.

The CM module fan was disconnected a while back in all the cable mess and I did not bother connecting it again. Don't remember the noise. My PC goes to sleep after 15min of inactivity and is on only perhaps 2-3hrs a day, so I guess its ok.
 

yrk1969

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Hi vaibhab, if source and target drives are windows based usb devices then will the same bottleneck still not exist? For usb 2 the max 480 mbps which is 60 mBps. Hence I still have not reached the protocol's max speed. This led me to think that it is limitation of the drive.

Sent from my Galaxy Pro Duos via Tapatalk

I have also not seen speeds more 30-35 for USB. As per wiki Universal Serial Bus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, that's about it.
 

haisaikat

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I did some extensive testing today and and yes am happy to confirm that the drives are indeed capable for more. The results of the file copy are given below which concludes USB 3.0 gives slightly more gain than USB 2.0 but at the end GBLan gives highest speed. Probably I will check with a real USB 3.0 drive if there is much improvement over this.
 

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haisaikat

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@haisaikat, any reason why you went for windows+flexraid, why not unRaid?

I have been a windows guy since beginning and do not have the time in today's busy life to learn unix commands (even if from the excellant and extensive support forums) to do something out of the way and not supported by the Unraid GUI or any of its addons off-the-shelf

1. auto share of USB connected drives without any configuration

2. use any media server without thinking whether there will be portability issues

3. use custom transcoding for media server support if required, at least research can be done easily, on unix platform there will be N tweaks on adding n lines in n files (at least to a unix noob like me). On some forums the start line is like below when it comes to add-ons "It is IMPORTANT to note that all of the projects and scripts below are UNOFFICIAL and possibly UNSUPPORTED". I know many of them do work and have excellant community support but I have to learn unix to tweak them if required and if possible. Please note that I have also used DLink DNS 323 NAS for many years which is also run on a UNIX based OS and I have struggled to tweak it beyond what is offered off-the-shelf.

4. If I want a custom access protocol like FTP etc that I need to implement and is not natively supported by OS I can very well get the best user friendly freeware on net supported on my Windows platform and start using it, no worries on compatibilities and features offered since I have a plenty to chose from.

5. I can re-use the same box for other purposes like running media conversion, media ripping, streaming file downloader (youtube, etc) without dedicating the PC box completely.

6. Last but not the least, in Flexraid if I remove it, I get back my data in the underlying physical drives / partitions in NTFS formatted filesystem ready to be read / backed up easily which is not the case with Unraid.

Please also note, I do not mean to hurt sentiments of Unraid or UNIX lovers since I followed sam-s thread to come to this point who has made his journey on UNIX and Unraid only
 
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manny9

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Thanks, this is very useful information. I do understand that you are giving inputs as a windows user and much appreciate your inputs. I am sitting on the fence for building a NAS thanks to Sam's inspirational build and now yours. I am still not able to make up my mind of the OS and hardware, but soon I will build one and your inputs are of much help. thank you.
 

manniraj

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Even I was looking around to build a NAS based on either FreeNAS or UnRAID based on sam9s thread but both of them its a pain to configure (unless you know/dedicate the time/effort for unix commands) and use it. I build it with FreeNAS but never was able to use it to the fullest extent. So dropped the idea and instead built the music-pc with the same components. Now I got the ODAC assembled so even the music-pc has become redundant as I am using my existing htpc for both movies/music playback.

Having 2 minds either to sell off the PC or use it similar to what haisaikat has done.

thanks
 

haisaikat

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Has anyone used Toshiba 2.5 inch SATA drives before?

Toshiba 3.5 Inch SATA 2TB 7200RPM Internal Desktop Hard Drive DKTIN2TB7200 - www.hydshop.in

It seems that for 2TB drives in 6K INR range only Toshiba is offering 3 years warranty against WD Greens offering 2 years only.

Regarding the WD Greens there is something I read that its Intellipark feature reduces power consumption by putting the HDD to standby after 8 secs of inactivity and this can in turn reduce the life of the hard disk unless modified Fix For Wd**ea*s Green Drives Intellipark Found? - Hard Drive's, SSD's, Controllers - HomeServerShow Forums

Also the latest from WD, the Red series seems still not available in India and WD claims them to be ideal for NAS drives WD Red
 
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