ARM-Based NAS Is A Low Cost, Low Power Beauty

A NAS is always a handy addition to a home network, but they can be a little pricey. [Blake Burkhart] decided to create his own, prioritising budget and low power considerations, with a secondary objective to produce some router and IoT functionality on the side.

A Banana Pi R2 was a good choice to meet these requirements, being a router-based development board that also sports dual SATA connectors and gigabit Ethernet. [Blake] had some retrospective regrets about the performance of this particular SBC, but it does just fine when functioning purely as a NAS.

The enclosure for the device is a three bay hot-swap HDD module, with one of the bays gutted and used for the Banana Pi. It’s a simple idea, elegantly executed, which looks great. To access the ports of the Banana Pi, a custom acrylic side panel was laser cut, which also allowed LEDs to shine through – obligatory for any DIY server/computer build. When mounting this panel to the existing enclosure, [Blake] was reluctant to take his chances tapping the brittle acrylic, instead opting to melt the threads into the plastic with a pre-torched screw. We find that tapping acrylic is usually okay if you take it slow, but heat-tapping does sound fun.

The 12 V fan that came built into the hot-swap enclosure was too loud and awkwardly came in a non-standard size with a non-standard connector. What’s more, a buzzer alarm was triggered any time the fan was disconnected and 0 RPM was detected. [Blake]’s solution was to rewire the power pin of the connector to a 5 V rail; he found that running the fan at 5 V led to much quieter performance whilst keeping the HDDs sufficiently cool.

We find that when it comes to DIY network gear and routers, there are two approaches. Either create your own bespoke solution that perfectly fits your needs, like this perfect home router, or work around your current gear and build some tech to automatically reboot it for you.


40 thoughts on “ARM-Based NAS Is A Low Cost, Low Power Beauty

  1. ive been looking for some kind of low cost low power nas. big thing is i want the drive to be able to spin down when not in use. my router does have a usb port so thinking about just plugging an external drive into that but im not sure if the router is smart enough to spin down disks not in use.

    1. Go for the d-link 320, it’s cheaper than this project, has 2 bays, does have services for video streaming and also video recording from ipcams. It does put the disks to sleep while not in use, so they don’t spin, support raid and generally is a good product, a bit old, but that means you can find it cheap on the market.
      I have 2 of those on my network since 2013,never skipped a beat.

        1. It is quite tricky to activate encryption, since from firmware 1.07 (or 1.08 cannot recall correctly) it is an hidden option, so you need to edit one configuration file to enable it.
          On older firmware it was an option to tick on the setup procedure, no one really knows why dlink decided to go this way.

          1. From the little information I have, due to clueless people setting it up, then forgetting the encryptions keys. Too much problem for service people to endure when the units got restored to defaults, or had to be replaced under warranty.

    2. I bought a hard drive for surveillance systems, put it in a USB enclosure and use it for backing up. If I don’t read or write to it after several minutes it spins down. When you want to access it you need to wait several seconds for it to spin back up. I didn’t buy it for this feature, I bought it because of good reviews for reliability, this feature just happened to be there.

      1. Don’t use drives aimed at CCTV for data. I mean drives like the WD Purple series. They’re optimized for continuous video stream where a corrupted frame isn’t important as long as it is guaranteed that it will be written so that the disk has a playable video despite of errors here and there. Those drives should be used for video surveillance and nothing else.

      2. The auto spin down timeout is a feature that is available on most (maybe all?) HDD’s via the “smart” interface / protocol, and you can also set those timeouts in a volatile way, or commit it to permanent storage on the HDD. But beware, that if you set the HDD to not spin up after a power on, you also can not use it as a boot disk, but It’s fine (and may be preferred) for a data disk.

  2. I’m looking for such a solution for a long time but it is hard to find an ARM low-power board with many SATA interfaces. One solution is to use a FANTEC QB-35US3-6G (4 drives, a 8 drive model is available) It has an e-sata connector which can be plugged to an A20-OLinuXino-LIME2 board. This hardware runs fine with Debian (my home server is an A20-OLinuXino-MICRO). My NAS is not operationnal yet because of the large disks price…
    Maybe, the same disk boxes can be used with their USB3 connector. I’m planning a new home OpenWRT router. Few have USB3 interfaces and perhaps can act also as NAS.

    1. Those Allwinner SoC’s have gimped write speeds for some reason, support a less bandwidth efficient and old as hell s-ata multiplex standard and require a patch to support disks over 2TB.
      Though the last part should be mainlined by now.

  3. Nice DIY project. However a DS218 has 64bit 1.4Ghz quad core and is RAM upgradable. Also has an really good app market and is very hackable. And if can be afforded i would recommend a DS218+ with intel celeron and 6Gb RAM which supports virtualization out of the box

  4. An odrioid HC1 with openmediavault keeps cost under 60$ if you have a spare laptop HD. It is and ARM board with GB ethernet and SATA, you only have to add the power supply, a microSD for the Openmediavault image…and you are done.

    1. Sorry. Good project and perfect documentation. Just wanted to brig up a (maybe) simpler hw and sw alternative which even does not need housing because of the large aluminimum profile

  5. I notice in the article (following the link) he doesn’t say how much power it is using, or how fast he can transfer data over the network – both key statistics..

    I put my own together a few years ago with a micro atx sized board with and embedded processor and memory. Then I could just put ubuntu server (with everything removed that I didn’t want), lots of big hard disks (it’s got over 20Tbyes, which was big 4 years ago), and made sure all the disks powered down properly if not being used – ie shifted some of the unix stuff to a ram disk..
    End result was something that pulls about 14w with the disks spun down, and when spun up can saturate my gb network.. Been up for over four years now (just checked) and is on a small ups.. :-)

    The trouble with all these Pi based boards is that they simply can’t keep up with getting data accross the network. Or not that I’ve seen – I’d be happy to be proven wrong with something that may have come out recently..

    1. I haven’t done a proper benchmark of the speed, just reading speeds from the Windows file copy dialog for now. For single massive files I have gotten read speeds of 108MB/s (close to gigabit speed) and write speeds of 45MB/s. For median sized files (RAW photos) I was getting read speeds of 65MB/s which is still good. Accessing tiny files is horrible at the moment, I’m going to try tweaking filesystem settings.

      Not sure how to best measure power. Is just a Kill A Water style meter good?

  6. and unless you have tested it you can pretty much ignore the “GB ethernet” some of these boards ‘have’, as they don’t go anywhere near it.. They simply don’t have the power to put the bytes out over the network…

  7. For tapping into acrylic, I’ve always used some acrylic glue to soften the sides of the hole before cutting a thread. You have to leave it to harden, so it’s not as instant as using heat, but it does help especially when the holes are close to a corner where the tap can act as a wedge and break it off.

  8. With 5TB 2.5″ drives as cheap as they are now you could take a SFF system, pack it with a bunch of those 15mm drives, connect them up via USB3 or SATA with a SATA card or two and you’ll have a pretty low power, quiet solution. ARM boards are low power but also far more difficult to work with. Running a modern’ish x86, underclocked even, can give you a pretty good results wrt power consumption and flexibility.

  9. My new simplec setup is working pretty well at the moment.

    * ODROID XU-4 with Gigabit Ethernet
    * Anker 9-port USB3 Hub
    * 4x UGREEN USB to SATA Adapter with UASP Support
    * 4x 4TB 3.5″ SATA HDD

    I haven’t done much testing with multiple simultaneous drive read/writes but I can get 100 MByte/s write speed to single disk over the network, which is the same as the old AMD Phenom server I had previously.

    Only downsides are that it’s a little messy with all the PSU wiring, the UGreens (or XU4) spins down the drives too quickly and the UGreens need some sort of bracing to connect them securely to the disks. Hot glue FTW :-)

  10. I’m scheduled to implement a NAS this next week or two.
    Torn between an old Xeon server and a C.H. I. P. setup in an empty box.
    Perhaps in between, eh?
    I did find some 2 TB “Pulls” for $25,00 USD, and with a 5 disk RAID setup, it might work ok..
    I’ll check out the D-Link for availability..

    1. Is a Kill A Watt meter accurate for things like this? With the disks completely spun down it reads 8W idle. About 17.5W if the disks are spinning, but otherwise idle. And only like 22W or so while actually copying files from the NAS over the network.

  11. Odroid’s H1 and H2 do the spin down for you when not in use. And it uses openmediavault which is a pretty good nas manager.

    Also the bananapi R boards have a sata port, but it’s not a great idea to put storage and a firewall router together. It could of course be used for an internal router, but routers are best kept to just being secure and audited as secure. Any function added enables another set of potential exploits which have to be contended with and blocked.

    It does have a native SATA port integrated and is interesting for that. But the one I got only had support for openwrt and on the first version I have there was little support for the switch chip.

    Will be interesting to see if there is any followup for this.

    1. The Banana pi W2 seems promising since they omitted the switch, and that the SoC it’s based on is used in a couple of big name consumer NAS systems.

      It’s basically a NAS SoC dev board without all kinds of wonky stuff added, only downside is the chosen Sata port types despite there being “footprints” and holes for the less stupid types.

    1. If it’s being accessed over a network a ssd is irrelevant as one normal HDD easily saturates a GB link.. I’ve been keeping an eye on the 10 Gb/s stuff, but it’s still a little pricy for the home office..

      1. It’s not always about speed. Power usage, heat generation and noise are other considerations.
        Personally I wouldn’t use an ssd in a NAS setup as when they fail they just go, at least with spinning rust there is a small chance of lumping along. Of course you’d be mental to run without proper backup and snapshotting in place (I use backintime cos I’m lazy) so that’s probably an irrelevant point.
        I’m bored sitting in Ikea, so…

        1. I agree – not always about speed – but if you have TBs of stuff and are moving it around (either archive or backup) speed is good :-) I’ve got to the point that I’ll pull the disk from a server and stick it in the target box to copy stuff off it else it is just too slow over a GB network.. Yep, we are back to sneakernet…

          On a SSD, I disagree – I’ve used samsung 850 pros SSDs since they came out and have yet to have one fail.. The ones in NAS aren’t thrashed – I’ve made sure that they aren’t accessed at all after boot unless something significant happens – and have now been running 24/7 for years… I have another one in my main PC, which IS thrashed – though I’ve also given it 8GB of RAM as read/write cache in the OS – and it is still running fine after years.

          If you missed the final fail of the long term test of the 850 Pro it lasted for 9100TB of writes…

          Over the same time period I’ve had hard disks fail (sometimes badly).

          A bigger problem with these ‘modern’ ssds is time – though even with that I haven’t found (just did a quick Google) anyone who has a 850 Pro fail EVO yes, PRO no – and they have been out a bit over 4 years now.

          So I think a SSD is perfect for a nas or server as the boot drive – particularly as it gets written to so rarely.

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