My FreeNAS Project Part 2: The Parts

August 15, 2009

To be honest, I’ve not built, technically assembled, a computer in over six years.  I used to build all of my own computers when Windows was my primary operating system and I was developing a lot of Windows applications.  Back then it made sense to build your own because it was more cost-effective.  These days, unless you’re a gamer or have very unique desires, it’s way cheaper (and less frustrating) to go to a big box store and buy off-the-shelf or order online.

Like I said in my last post, the reason to build this is to understand my solution and learn something.  Additionally, aesthetically I want this to look more like a stereo component than a box on my desk or another computer tower on the floor.  So on to the parts list.

I should mention now that I was not trying to build this cheaper than an off-the-shelf NAS.  So if you’re going to do this and money is an issue, I’d strongly advise just ordering a pre-built NAS from an online store.  You’ll probably save money and tons of time (which is money) and frustration. While I did do a little bit of comparison shopping, I ended up ordering most of the parts from Amazon to take advantage of Amazon Prime shipping (free 2-day shipping).

If you have an old or unused computer (of the wintel variety), that’s a good place to start your build.  I acquired an unused HP xw4400 workstation for free with the following specs:

  • NAS - Donor PartsIntel motherboard w/ NH82801GR/SL8FY chipset:
    • Intel Core 2 Duo @ 1.8 GHz, 800 MHz front-side bus, 2MB L2 cache
    • 1.5 GB RAM (DDR2/667MHz)
    • 82801GR/GH SATA RAID controller w/ 4 SATA ports
    • Gigabit Ethernet
  • A dual port video card
  • DVD optical drive (only needed for install)
  • 80GB SATA disk (not needed)
  • 460W Power Supply, Chassis Fan and SATA cable

That’s plenty of hardware for a FreeNAS build which requires a minimum of only 128MB RAM.  So now to fill the hardware gaps…

NAS - SilverStone CaseI want my NAS solution to look more like a stereo component than a typical computer or NAS device.  I bought a SilverStone LC10S Aluminum Front Panel ATX/Micro ATX Computer Case (Silver) for $85.49.  It has four 3.5″ bays to hold the hard drives, but cooling may become an issue even though it has front and rear chassis fans.

Next, instead of using a spinning hard drive to boot the FreeNAS operating system, I found this link which utilizes a Compact Flash card as the boot disk. This is a good solution because a normal hard drive can fail and uses more power and generates more heat.  You can also boot from the LiveCD or a USB keychain drive.  FreeNAS basically loads the operating system into RAM and only needs a writable drive to store configuration files.  NAS - IDE-to-CF Adapter w/ Compact Flash Card In order to get the BIOS to recognize the Compact Flash card, I’d also need an IDE-to-CF adapter.  I bought the Syba Ultra Adapter Dual IDE 40/44PIN To Compact Flash for $13.98 and the smallest, cheapest Compact Flash card I could find in two minutes, TRANSCEND 2GB Compact Flash Card for $17.29.  2GB is way overkill considering FreeNAS only needs 32MB, but whatever, I was in a meeting when I ordered these two parts!

The hard drives that I’ll use in a RAID5 configuration were the easiest parts to select.  I went with the Western Digital Caviar Green 1 TB Hard Drive 3.5″ for $79.99 each.  I ordered five of them—four will be used in the array and one will be a spare that I’ll keep in case I encounter a drive failure.  I went with the WD Caviar Green because it’s an efficient drive that uses less power and runs cool and quiet. To connect the drives, I got three Tripp Lite P940-19I Serial ATA (SATA) Signal Cable (19 Inches) at $9.00 each. The fourth cable is from the donor machine.

To handle the removable drive component of my plan, I needed to get a FireWire card since the Intel motherboard from the donor machine does not have FireWire built-in.  It does have built-in USB, which will be handy, but I wanted a bit more speed for the replication. I got the Allegro 3PORT Firewire 400/800 Pci Card for $64.78.

Here’s the list of the components with totals:

Component Quantity Price Total
Donor Machine: Intel chipset w/ Core 2 Duo 1.8GHz, 1.5GB RAM, 460W Power Supply, DVD optical drive, GigE, 4x SATA RAID 1 0.00 0.00
SilverStone LC10S Aluminum Front Panel ATX/Micro ATX Computer Case (Silver) 1 85.49 85.49
Syba Ultra Adapter Dual IDE 40/44PIN To Compact Flash 1 13.98 13.98
Allegro 3PORT Firewire 400/800 Pci Card 1 64.78 64.78
TRANSCEND 2GB Compact Flash Card 1 17.29 17.29
Western Digital Caviar Green 1 TB Hard Drive 3.5″ 5 79.99 399.95
Tripp Lite P940-19I Serial ATA (SATA) Signal Cable (19 Inches) 3 9.00 27.00
Shipping 0.00


Total $608.49

So there’s the parts list we need for the build.  Next up, I’ll build this thing.  Stay tuned…

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