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I've looked at this question and gotten some ideas from it. Assume I want something that runs quietly with raid support. I see the choices as being buy a home NAS solution most of which appear to be $400 or more, or build my own low powered PC and install a Linux or BSD distro on it with software raid. Any comparisons of the price I can expect to pay for hardware in the buy verses build choice would be appreciated. I have some Linux and BSD experience and to much free time since I’m a student so setup difficulty isn't an issue. all other things being equal I'd like to build my own for the experience assuming reliability won't suffer.


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What specific question do you have that isn't already answered in the question you linked to? – Brent Ozar May 18 '09 at 12:47
cheep --> cheap – Kyle Cronin May 18 '09 at 14:21

10 Answers 10

The main advantages I see in building your own server / NAS:

  • Speed -- The benchmark results of most the cheaper NAS boxes will show one common trait; they are slow. By building your own server with a fast CPU and a ton of memory, both very cheap these days, you can get much more predictable performance results.
  • Flexibility -- Like other posters have said, you'll gain the ability to add features without being limited by the NAS vendor. (iSCSI, ATAoE, etc.). Also, you'll have an extra PC to run many different programs. (PVR/DVR, VPN/SSH gateway, version control repository, web/mail server, etc.)
  • Expansion -- A standard PC case can provide much greater expansion room for additional drives.
  • Reliability -- By using software RAID on your server, you are not limited to a particular hardware controller to access/recover your data. If the controller dies a few years down the road, there are no guarantees that the hardware manufacturer is still making that NAS device, or that they haven't changed the RAID / FW implementation of their new devices that make it impossible to recover your data. Software RAID will let you plug your drives into any Windows/Linux box (depending on which you choose) and easily give access to your data.
Yes, NAS boxes are slow. Some years ago I bought an Intel SS4000 box to store backup on, but I was not satisfied with it, backups took like 10+ hours. Recently have set up a backup storage pc with some disks in RAID6 configuration, with very decent performance and together with rsnapshot I now finally have a fully automated backup system I am satisfied with. – hlovdal May 18 '09 at 14:11

Some differences between using a full PC and a dedicated NAS:

The full PC is going to use a lot more electricity (it's on 24/7), and have a lot more points of failure. This goes double if you try using some old desktop - you'll get a large, power hungry (100-200w, compared to 15-25w) box that probably isn't well designed to operate for long stretches of time without a lot of heat build up (bad for harddrives).

A full PC is much more noisy then a dedicated NAS, especially when the NAS goes idle (many dedicated NAS have near silent cooling even when active, it's the harddrive you'll hear).

Further, with a NAS you have a choice between a consumer grade NAS, of which a descent one (like the DLink DNS-323) starts at about $150, or server solution, which is your $400+. The server solution provides faster speeds (even over a gigabyte network a consumer NAS won't give you full transfer speed, though if you are on 10/100 it doesn't matter) and can often provide more harddrive options.

However this really comes down to what you want to use it for. The tags say you want to use this for home backup - what about just buying a SATA harddrive case (do some research and get one that doesn't require you to format the device inside the device) for about $50, and then drop in a harddrive of your choice. You'll have a full speed solution without any of the drawbacks.


The only question you have that isn't answered in the question you linked to is the cost difference. You can build your own home server with any hardware you'd like to pick up. Generally with NAS distros of Linux, older hardware is better because it's more likely to have drivers built in already. You can pick up something like an HP D530 off Ebay for under $100 and get started pretty easily.

One other advantage to rolling your own is that it's easier to get iSCSI support. Generally in the off-the-shelf NAS devices, you have to spend over $400 to get iSCSI support.

Update - the other posters are talking about noise of a PC, which is why I suggested the HP D530. They're really quiet - just about as quiet as anything you'd build yourself. Use silicone isolation grommets to mount the hard drives and get yourself a cheap, quiet fan, and it can be silent.


have you looked at openfiler? it's an appliance based server that offers NFS, CIFS (samba), FTP, and iSCSI support so it's both SAN and NAS. I use it to Vmotion VMs between ESX machines. Also I boot Linux and windows guests over iSCSI (any iSCSI storage server supports that of course). Look at drobo HW appliance, SVsan (free), and obviously ZFS is the best because it supports thin provisioning...just like the Virtual Windows XP. ESXi mmemory overcommit and ZFS storage overcommit a natural fit?

But really, if you were just going to backup some windows boxes, the HP solution is amazing because it's a 4 drive NAS and a (partially limited) windows server in the size of a very large book. You can have 8TB in the box and use it as an iTunes and media server...not so bad for a ~$500 box. How much value is there in the knowledge gained by making your own storage server? (huge, i'd say) A $99 silent low-power KPC-K45 shuttle box makes a great platform or an SG31G2 and both have integrated gigE lan. Don't forget a gigE jumbo frame ethernet switch! 8 ports only $50 from SMC. I'm not affiliated with VMware, Sun, SVSAN, Openfiler, Linux, Apple, HP, Microsoft, Shuttle, or SMC.


Rolling your own NAS device has it's pros and it's cons. When I built my server, it came down to having the ability to add features that you need easier than an off-the-shelf box, and I liked the ability of modifying some of the things myself. Kara also mentioned a big plus for me, learning the functionality and construction of this box is a great thing to have later on rather than just having another black box in the corner.


It depends on what you want to do. I tend to like building versus buying because with building I get:

  • Better disks and better warranties on the disks. (Usually 5 years vs. 1 year)
  • More features. (Whatever Linux/Windows can do)
  • To tinker in the basement with new hardware, which I still get a kick out of.

The downside of building is that you're probably going to have a bigger case, more noise and probably more power consumption, unless you're really take those issues into account and are willing to spend money to address them.

The biggest question IMO is "what do you need?". If you're just looking to backup a computer or dump a bunch of big files, a home NAS or consumer product is probably fine. For the shared home iMac and my wife's MacBook, I bought an Apple time capsule because it just works.

Several free/inexpensive NAS products can be used as Time Machine targets as well... Google can help you find links to the tweaks to OSX to run backups to "unsupported" targets. – Robert Novak Feb 7 '11 at 7:37

I would suggest the HP Media Smart Windows Home Server if you want minimal time investment, or building your own Windows Home Server.

Drive Extender > Raid as far as home use concerns go in my opinion.

Windows Home Server allows for automating backups and restores of your windows based machines. You can ensure that the files that you really want redundant are stored on multiple disks with drive extender. Also if you'd like it provides a nice easy web interface to access your files remotely if the need arises.

I was hesitant to buy it, but its probably my favorite software purchase I've personally made.

One problem is that the new version of WHS will do away with Drive Extender.… among others has details. I'm running the original WHS with power packs, and I like it, but I haven't tried to restore yet. – Robert Novak Feb 7 '11 at 7:36

I'd say that building your own is worth its weight in learning value - but for something that runs quietly, you may have to do some research on gaming/overclocking sites to find the best options in quiet fans and power supplies. is a great way to tally up costs once you know which parts you're picking up.


Take a look at Netgear NAS systems. They are pretty expensive but have a real hardware raid inside so the benchmarks should be very nice. Also, according to the reviews they are quiet. I would buy this one for home use but I have a 19" rack and it doesn't fit :)


Take a look at the Data Robotics (Drobo) products which have some very nice features at a reasonable price point (IMHO).

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