There has never been a better time than now to build a high capacity mini NAS system. In this post you’ll find a step by step guide to building your mini NAS using Fractal Design’s new Node 304 case.
Mini ITX systems are becoming very popular with hardware enthusiasts and it’s not hard to see why. Hardware designers are packing tons of powerful features into ITX motherboards leaving no compromises for builders.
Many of the mini ITX boards have just as many features as their full ATX counterparts with simply less PCIe slots. ASUS is even building mini ITX boards such as the Maximus VI Impact designed for overclockers
This build addresses many of the issues with FreeNAS Mini clone build I posted last year. The Node 304 chassis has much more room, and provides better airflow than the ARK ITX chassis in the previous build. The Node 304 doesn’t have hot swappable drive bays but the many benefits of this chassis outweigh the loss of this feature.
What This NAS is Designed For
This build is intended to be a high performance yet efficient home data storage system. By using the mini ITX form factor the overall size of the system is very small yet provides plenty of flexibility and room for future expansion. This NAS runs both cool, and quiet making it ideal for placement almost anywhere.
Keeping size and noise in mind this NAS still aims to maintain high performance data transfer speeds. The intel Core i3 processor combined with 16GB of ram provide plenty of power to run the ZFS filesystem.
This configuration maxes out the memory capacity of this motherboard at 16GB but still leaves room to add two additional hard drives
- Storage Capacity – 12TB 4 x 3TB
- CPU – Intel Core i3-3220 3.3GHz
- Memory – 16GB DDR3 ( 2 x 8GB)
- Network – Intel 1Gb
- Operating System – FreeNAS 8
- Power Usage – 45 watts (idle) 65 watts (under load)
- Size – 9.84″ x 8.27″ x 14.72″ (H,W,D)
Below you’ll find a complete list of all of the parts I used to build this NAS. I chose to use high quality components since I wanted this NAS to last a long time and I didn’t want to put my data at risk of being lost.
The ASUS motherboard I used does have onboard LAN but since it uses the Realtek chipset I chose to include a dedicated Intel network card. Unlike Realtek the Intel ethernet cards have a proven record of reliability with FreeNAS. While there are cheaper ITX boards available I think this ASUS board is well worth a bit of extra money. As many people have discovered the cheaper boards like ASRock just can’t compete with the quality of ASUS products.
|Component||Item||Quantity||Unit cost||Extended cost|
|Chassis||Fractal Design Node 304 Black Aluminum Mini ITX Case||1||$54.99||$54.99|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX430M 430W ATX 80 Plus Power Supply||1||$52.99||$52.99|
|Motherboard||ASUS P8H77-I LGA 1155 Intel Mini ITX Intel Motherboard||1||$100.06||$100.06|
|Processor||Intel Core i3-3220 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz LGA 1155 55W Dual-Core Processor||1||$118.99||$118.99|
|Memory||CORSAIR Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600||1||$144.99||$144.99|
|Boot Drive||SanDisk Cruzer Fit 8GB USB 2.0 Flash Drive||1||$9.31||$9.31|
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Red WD30EFRX 3TB IntelliPower 64MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s Hard Drive||4||$134.36||$537.44|
|Sata Cable||OKGEAR 10″ SATA 6Gbps Cable||2||$5.09||$10.18|
|Network Card||Intel EXPI9301CTBLK Network Adapter 10/ 100/ 1000Mbps||1||$27.99||$27.99|
|Total Project Cost||$1056.94|
If you’re looking to trim costs and you don’t plan to start with 12TB of storage you could potentially drop the memory from 16GB to 8GB. It’s easy to add in another 8GB module at some point in the future. Although if you do plan to use 12TB of storage with ZFS I highly recommend sticking with 16GB of ram. ZFS is very memory hunger and the file system performance is directly correlated to the amount of RAM available.
The video below will give you an idea what to expect from the Node 304 chassis.
Remove the Drive Bays
To get started remove all three hard drive bays in order to provide extra room to work while mounting the motherboard and power supply. Each bay is secured to the chassis with 2 thumbscrews and 1 Phillips screw.
Install the Motherboard Standoffs
Install the four motherboard standoffs to support the ITX motherboard. I used a ratchet for this step since the threads were such a tight fit.
Install the Processor
When building an ITX system its easier to install the CPU before the motherboard has been mounted in the case. This makes it much easier to make sure that the CPU is properly mounted before securing the tension lever.
Install the IO Shield
Install the IO shield included with the motherboard into the chassis by snapping it into place. It should fit nearly flush with the chassis when its installed correctly.
Mount the Motherboard
Place the motherboard inside the chassis and press it up against the IO shield. Secure the motherboard to the chassis using the 4 flat black screwed that came with the case.
Install the Processor Heatsink / Fan
I recommend installing the heatsink on the processor before it starts to get too crowded inside the case.
Intel heatsinks normally come with thermal compound pre-installed so it can be placed on the processor right out of the box.
Line up the heatsink with the four mounting holes around the processor and press down on the black pads to snap it into place. Its best to snap them into place in a diagonal patern to make even contact on the processor.
Connect the fan cable to the CPU fan header near the VGA port on the board.
Install the Memory Modules
Install both of the 8GB memory modules into the board and snap them into place.
Install the Power Supply
Unlike most cases the power supply in the Node 304 mounts toward the front of the case.
Mount the power supply with the fan facing downward. This may seem counterproductive but there is a air inlet with a filter directly below the power supply which allows the flow of air.
Since the power plug is in the back of the the case the designers added a power extension cable to complete the connection.
Connect the main ATX power connector to the motherboard.
Connect the additional 4 pin CPU power connector to the board. The 8 pin cable provided by Corsair can either be separated or simply plugged in with the other 4 pins hanging over the side.
One of the nice features included in the Node 304 is a 3 port PWM fan speed controller. The fan controller has three speeds settings to control the two front intake fans, and the rear exhaust fan.
The fan controller is powered through a single molex power connector.
Connect the Motherboard Headers
Connect the front panel USB 3.0 Header to the blue header port on the motherboard.
Connect the power switch, power LED, and HDD activity LED to the front panel headers. The node 304 doesn’t have a reset switch so that header will go unused.
Install the PCIe Network Card
Remove the expansion slow cover closest to the IO ports on the board and install the Intel PCIe network card.
Mount the Hard Drives in the Bays
Use 4 of the long screws for each drive to secure them to the bays. I decided to leave the bay on the right side empty since it was near most of the excess cables.
While you could remove the unused bay I think it’s best to leave it in for cable management.
Connect the Power and SATA Cables to the Drives
The Asus P8H77-I has a total of 6 SATA ports, 4 SATA 3G (blue ports) and 2 SATA 6G. (white ports).
You might be wondering why I connected all four drives to the blue ports (3G controller). Like most mechanical drives the WD Red drives are not able to even saturate all of the bandwidth available on a 3G port making 6G just plain overkill.
The SATA 6G ports might be useful for connecting one or more high speed SDDs for use as a ZFS cache drive to accelerate performance.
The Finished System
The end result is a stylish, and compact home storage system!
In this build the Sandisk USB drive servers as the “hard drive” for the FreeNAS installation. The Sandisk Cruzer Fit drives are extremely small and can barely be noticed on the back of the NAS. If you want to internalize the USB boot drive you can purchase an internal USB port header like the Koutech USB header adapter. The internal adapters are useful if you’re afraid someone might unplug the USB drive potentially taking the NAS offline.
The quickest way to load the FreeNAS operating system is to load the OS image directly to the USB drive. Once the USB drive is imaged set the BIOS boot order to boot via USB and FreeNAS should start automatically when the system boots.
I was able to achieve data transfer rates of ~100MB/s which is very close to the upper limit of gigabit ethernet.
Regardless of how fast the disks are a NAS can only move as much data as the network card allows which is why it’s important to test pure network throughput.
Testing with JPerf showed the system had no issues fully saturating the Intel gigabit network card.