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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 7:30 pm 
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Slowly filling up the 1.5TB of hard disk storage on my main desktop computer plus the advent of the first laptop in the family made me think about new strategies of how to keep pace with the ever growing need for data and backup storage and the desire to have instant access from the laptop to all data and a printer/scanner.
Screening the different options I eliminated most solutions:
- Letting my desktop run 24/7 was not an option because it is too loud and too hot for always on
- Same was unfortunately true of my desktop-clone in the living room: too warm and too loud
- USB/Firewire/e-Sata drives were no solution either, as they require a main computer to run 24/7
- A NAS (network attached storage) looked more promising as I could easily bung it to my home network, and some even include a printer server via an additional USB interface. I took a long hard look at these (esp. the Buffalo Linkstation Duo Pro with 2x 1TB) but decided in the end against it. Why? The printer server lacks the ability to scan from the USB port and the cost of the bare NAS (subtracting the cost of the hard disks) was around 180 EUR incl. 19% VAT)
- A notebook/laptop running 24/7 would certainly qualify as cool & quite plus it has keyboard, mouse and screen attached for complete stand-alone operation. But hard-disk space is limited to 500GB (costing 100 EUR) on all reasonably priced laptops and even cheap NetBooks cost you around 300$/EUR.

This was when I finally stumbled across these so-called NetTops, specifically the MSI Wind PC (which has also a nice NetBook sister). What did this NetTop offer?
- Just enough computing power to surf the net, play music and video
- Powered by an Intel Atom 230 1.6GHz single core hyperthreading processor (with 4W power consumption max)
- Onboard low-power graphics Intel GMA 950 (don’t expect to play Unreal Tournament with this)
- 1GB of RAM
- Bookshelf style case around 30x24x6.5 cm
- 320GB SATAII hard disk
- DVD burner as opposed to many NetBooks
- Gigabit LAN plus 6xUSB interfaces
- Cheapest version with Linux for 230 EUR (incl. 19% VAT)

What I didn’t know when ordering this “mini-computer” was the extendibility with larger and more drives and more RAM. But I assumed that the hard drive was 3”5 sized so at least I could swap it for a 1TB drive.
As soon as the Wind PC arrived I took it to the screwdriver and ripped it apart to get a good look at its innards. The first thing to note is that no guaranty-seal has to be broken to get into this little machine – very convenient. Just take off both screws at the back and off goes the top. Upon first inspection a few things became clear, good and bad:
- The hard drive was of the standard 3”5 variety –> easy to exchange for a 1TB drive :)
- There was another SATAII interface on the board -> easy to bung in a second 1TB drive :) :)
- The CD/DVD-drive had an SATAII interface too -> so I was limited to either a 2nd hard-drive or an optical drive :(
- There was no second RAM-slot like purportedly in some of the Wind NetBooks. But you can swap the 1GB memory for 2GB should you feel the need for more RAM. For standard operations under Linux or Windows XP 1GB is enough.
- The box had a single 6cm fan at the back and ventilation holes on the right side where the board and RAM are located. The processor had cooling fins mounted without the aid of an additional fan. This could be either good or bad, as small ventilators tend to produce more noise. On the other hand the low-power design had my hopes high on very low ventilation needs. We’ll see later how these hopes turned out.

What I immediately did was swapping the built-in 320GB disk with the Linux system for a Samsung SpinPoint F1 1000GB, 32MB Cache, SATA II (HD103UJ) drive with all my backup data on it. Booting from a Windows XP DVD I quickly had the system installed. After downloading the specific drivers for the LAN, sound, video-controller, and chipset from MSIs website I was ready to go in just under two hours plus some time for the full caboodle of Windows updates which ran fine apart from IE7 refusing to install. Printer/scanner drivers and Opera installed without a hitch. But:
During installation the little fan turned up to a deafening 4000 rpm and could hardly contain its excitement about the new cooling job. I was not amused :roll:
Even switching to standby the little fan didn’t stop rotating albeit at very low speed and barely audible. But I put aside any further investigation as I knew from my former DIY projects that better/larger fans could do a lot to silence a computer.

Next up was the test whether the power-brick style external power-supply could bear a second hard disk. Out came the optical drive and in went a test-installation of another hard-drive. I postponed the task of drilling the correct mounting holes for later. Yep, everything went ok. Out of curiosity I also measured the power consumption of the Wind PC. Here is what I found with one hard-disk:
- switched off: 8W. I was quite surprised to see the high power draw of the power supply alone
- Stand-by: 22W. The additional 14W explain why the cooler had to expel some air from the PC even at stand-by
- Idle (but hard-disk still spinning): 29W
- Full load/boot: 35W (compare this to a fully rigged desktop at 350W or more)
- The additional hard-drive is expected to add around 5W to the load
Btw.: Playback of MPEG4 videos while Prime95 was loading RAM and processor to the hilt was free of stutter
All in all an idle consumption between 25 and 30 Watt (assuming both hard-disks spinned down) looks not bad to my eye. Btw.: the external power adapter is sid to be good for 65W.

During the various tests I also tried some different fan configurations: Having the small 6cm fan blowing straight onto the cooling fins of the CPU (with the top cover removed) resulted in an immediate reduction of fan-speed and thus noise. Even fully loaded the noise was much better. An 8cm fan was even quieter. So I know I can solve the noise-problem but will have to decide where to drill additional holes in the cover and how to mount the fan. The 5cm fan might fit on the inside (although barely). If I decide to take the 8cm fan I’ll have to bung it on the outside as a “hump”.

Finally I was convinced that this project would eventually be successful and thus ordered another Hitachi 7K1000.B drive to finally end up with 2x1TB in a small fully operational box serving as backup, central data-hub and printer/scanner server for our little home network.
Costs so far: 400 EUR (230EUR for the MSI Wind PC plus 170EUR for two 1TB hard disks). An old monitor, keyboard+mouse (need USB-versions!), LAN cable, and Windows licence were left-over’s from earlier computers. If you stay with the original 320GB drive and just add one 1TB drive you end up with 315 EUR for a 1.3TB server.

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Last edited by Thomas on Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:52 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 8:06 pm 
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To give you an impression about the case here are some photos plus remarks about disassembly. Be warned: Doing such modifications voids your warranty!

Back (the important screws are marked):
Image

Inside:
Image

Get off the front-panel by slightly lifting the three top latches (marked in the previous picture) and swinging the front-panel forward and down 30 degrees then pull it off (no cables attached)

Two screws (marked) on the front secure the drive cage.
Image

Pull the power and e-SATA cables from the drives, pull the drive-cage 2 cm forward and than swing it upwards using the green handle. Watch-out: there is a short cable underneath the cage connecting the power-button and LEDs in the cage with the main board. Gently pull the cable off and remember where and how it sat on the board!
Image

The only hard part when re-assembling the case is putting the front-panel back on. The lower three latches need some push to get them back in. Try the right forward angle (similar to when you pulled it off) and get those latches to snap in first before you bother about the top three latches.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 9:28 pm 
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Is that CF reader...on the board?

that is somewhat bizzare...

just below the red sata port.


I like the idea Thomas.

How do you get the data onto this system? Ethernet, and if so is it a 100Mb or a 1Gb network?

We have 100Mb in the house but its just to slow, so we're thinkin about re-wireing the cable in the house to Cat6 and using a 1 or 10Gb network (using a 10Gb Switch, and 10Gb ethernet cards)

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:04 pm 
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Yes, that looks like a fully functional CF-card reader on the left side. But there is no way to access it through the case :(
I have it on gigabit LAN with a Gigabit switch, but it provides only 20% of max speed. That translates into some 20 MByte/sec which equals only 1/3 of that what direct disk-to-disk transfer rates could yield. But still:
I have tested keeping only the Lightroom2 catalogue on the laptop and fetching the original images from the server. That works almost as fast as with the images directly on the hard-drive of the laptop. I was quite impressed!

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Last edited by Thomas on Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:25 pm 
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are you using Cat 5e cable or cat 6? maybe try cat 6 that should maybe help a bit with speed?

I think haha!

Im gonna build a seperate box for backups over the network but with a short cable (under 5m) but with cat 6 (if you happen to have any lying around..or is that just me haha) would you be able to try it?

I'd love to backup via a network, but i get the feeling 20MB/s for a weekly backup is just to slow =(

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:40 pm 
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Eh, I have 5m Cat 7 (!) and it does nothing to speed transfers up!
Unfortunately :(

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Last edited by Thomas on Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 10:52 pm 
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Thomas wrote:
Eh, I have 5m Cat 7 and it does nothing to speed transfers up!
Unfortunately :(


With only 5m length even CAT5e works fine for GBit and 10GBit over Ethernet. I still got a few metres of CAT5 cabling here and it allows a 100MB/s and more without problems.


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:08 pm 
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You should at least get Cat 5e cable to get the benefit from Gigabit Ethernet. I think it's ok up to 10m. Above that get Cat 6 cable.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:16 am 
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Cat 7 holy cow...

that is strange, maybe rubbish NICs?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 9:21 am 
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What does the CPU loading look like during a network file copy operation?

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:51 pm 
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It's around 20%. Which means 40% effective load in most of the CPU (remember this is not a dual-core but only a dual-thread CPU).
You think the CPU-load limits the transfer rates?

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Last edited by Thomas on Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:15 pm 
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If it was maxed out by a network copy then that might indicate a driver problem. I have to wonder if there might be a limitation of a bus somewhere in the path but if that was the case I'm not sure what to do about it. Next time I do copies I'll have to compare.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:57 pm 
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The same test switching the Wind PC with a laptop with Core 2 duo at 2.26GHz was not significantly faster: Transfer rates peaked at 30% but were much more erratic. So in the end the transfer took almost the same time. CPU usage was naturally lower in the 10% range.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 4:41 pm 
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Try better Network cards?

Coz 802.11n should get higher transfer rates than that!

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 5:59 pm 
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I've just did a little surgery on the drive cage to make the second HDD fit the ODD bay. Drilled some holes and used rubber grommets to isolate the HD from the case a litttle. That silenced the seek-noise considerably. Very good!
The other thing that came up: If I swap the HDD to the left of the case there is room for a 8cm fan inside the case over the CPU.
And as the right HDD cage is fitting like a glove you have no chance to
(a) decouple the drive from the case and
(b) provide airflow for cooling
So I'm currently mulling over the idea of stacking both HD drives in the left part of the case with some room between them for proper cooling (provided I can guide the airflow through them) and leave the original HDD bay empty. Perhaps using the 5cm fan at it's original place in the rear to suck warm air out of the case.

That should lead to the quietest and coolest solution :)

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Last edited by Thomas on Sun Feb 15, 2009 7:26 am, edited 1 time in total.

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