Hardware & Infrastructure
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3/23/2006
06:33 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: A Complete Terabyte File Server For About $500

Fred Langa shows you how to get amazing file server capacity at an amazing price.

What's In The Box?
The exact system I chose should be seen only as an example of what's available. I'm not recommending specific brands, units, or whatnot. The units offered for sale when you go shopping may well be different, and you may elect to make different choices.

But for me, I wanted to add massive storage to a PC, so I didn't want a preconfigured unit that already came with a hard drive. And because the PC was to be used first and foremost as a NAS, I didn't want to pay for high-end graphics, elaborate sound, etc. I wanted a basic, highly expandable system that shipped in more or less "bare bones" form, with no hard drives installed. I also wanted the system to be a decent PC in its own right, meaning a reasonably fast CPU and adequate RAM.

Web-based retailer TigerDirect.com always has "bare bones" bundles available, often with prices starting below $100. I found one for $180 that included:

Intel D865VHZL Socket 478 Motherboard
Intel Celeron 345 3.06GHZ 533FSB CPU
512MB PC3200 DDR RAM
450W Power Supply
Optical Mouse
Keyboard
Premium, Mid-Tower Steel Case w/ extra ventilation

I also added an Intel Socket 478 heatsink and cooling fan for an extra $10.

The heart of the system is this Intel motherboard, shown in Photo One with the 3.06 GHz CPU installed, the heatsink and cooling fan mounted, and the 512 Mbyte RAM bank in place. The motherboard has many features built in, including Intel Extreme Graphics 2, onboard 10/100 LAN connection, PATA and SATA support, six-channel audio, and the usual array of USB, PS/2, and other ports.


Photo One
The heart of the system is this very complete Intel motherboard, shown here with the 3.06 GHz CPU installed, the heatsink and cooling fan mounted, and the 512 Mbyte RAM bank in place.

(click image for larger view)

The heart of the system is this very complete Intel motherboard, shown here with the 3.06 GHz CPU installed, the heatsink and cooling fan mounted, and the 512 Mbyte RAM bank in place.

The rest of the bundle also looked good. The 450 W power supply was ample for our array of drives, and the capacious, well-ventilated case provided plenty of room to work in and to mount our drives. Although a mouse and keyboard came as part of the bundle, they really don't figure as central items in this story.

A hefty power supply, capacious case, and even an optical mouse and a keyboard complete the low-cost bundle. Cost for everything shown here and in Photo One: $190.
Photo Two
A hefty power supply, capacious case, and even an optical mouse and a keyboard complete the low-cost bundle. Cost for everything shown here and in Photo One: $190.

(click image for larger view)

Long-time readers of this column know I'm a bit of a fanatic about quiet cooling in PCs, so the case's oversized 120 mm main fan was very attractive. Cooler components last longer, and larger fans can be much, much quieter than smaller, higher-speed units.


Photo Three
The case's oversized 120 mm main fan was very attractive, promising ample cooling with low noise. (This photo is of the box the case arrived in, somewhat the worse for wear on the outside, but with the case perfectly intact on the inside.)

(click image for larger view)

The case's oversized 120 mm main fan was very attractive, promising ample cooling with low noise. (This photo is of the box the case arrived in, somewhat the worse for wear on the outside, but with the case perfectly intact on the inside.)

Small PCs can be attractive, but are harder to work with inside. This system's midtower case design with bays for up to 10 separate drives makes it easy to fit the drives inside. We can also get at connectors, jumpers, and the like without feeling like a contortionist.

If you're adding a lot of storage, you'll need a lot of room for drives--something this case design offers in abundance.
Photo Four
If you're adding a lot of storage, you'll need a lot of room for drives--something this case design offers in abundance.

(click image for larger view)

The case offers many other quality features as well, as shown in the next photo. Although this was a low-cost bundle, the overall quality was quite good.


Photo Five
Despite the low price, the case and all the components in our example bundle were very high quality.

(click image for larger view)

Despite the low price, the case and all the components in our example bundle were very high quality.

Four 250 Gbyte drives provided the 1 Tbyte (1,000 Gbytes) of storage for our system. Like everything else in this discussion, the specifics are intended just as an example. But in this case, I located 3btech.net via Froogle.com. They offered the drives for $81 each, including a six-month warranty. This was the normal price, not a rebate or special or a "one drive per customer" deal. Four drives, totaling 1 Tbyte of storage, cost me $324, bringing our running total so far to $514.

Here's what 1,000 Gbytes--a full terabyte--of storage looks like. Each of the 250 Gbyte drives cost just $81.
Photo Six
Here's what 1,000 Gbytes--a full terabyte--of storage looks like. Each of the 250 Gbyte drives cost just $81.

(click image for larger view)

The drives are generic, hence the low price. Of course, you can opt to pay more for brand-name drives, and in some instances and for some people that might be a reassuring choice. But these generic drives have excellent specs, seem well-made, and arrived well-cushioned and hermetically sealed in anti-static packaging, with silica gel inside the plastic to prevent moisture contamination. Time will tell over the long haul, but so far (two months as of this writing) the drives seem identical in performance to major brand drives.


Photo Seven
These drives are generic, which might give pause to some. But so far, in every way I can detect, the drives are behaving identically to branded units.

(click image for larger view)

These drives are generic, which might give pause to some. But so far, in every way I can detect, the drives are behaving identically to branded units.

The 450 W power supply is fairly standard and includes short-circuit protection on all circuits, over-current and over-voltage protection, and an Energy Star rating, as well as the normal UL and other safety ratings. It also has its own cooling fan, which will further add to our case's already-significant ventilation.

The bundle's power supply is quite vanilla and standard, but fully up to the tasks to which we'll put it.
Photo Eight
The bundle's power supply is quite vanilla and standard, but fully up to the tasks to which we'll put it.

(click image for larger view)

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