SFF (Mini-ITX) NAS Build using Intel Avoton

While searching for parts and ideas for my FreeNAS build, I came across Intel Avoton. Per Intel’s page on Avoton:

Intel® Atom™ Processor C2000 product Family (codenamed Avoton and Rangeley) is the next generation System-On-Chip (SoC) built on Intel’s 22-nanometer process technology. This highly-integrated SoC contains up to 8 64-bit Intel® Atom™ processor cores …

Okay, so far so good.

These SoCs were created to address the needs of the Microserver, Entry Communication Infrastructure and Cloud Storage markets

Perfect! This sounds like it fits the bill perfectly for a low-powered NAS build.

I was drawn by just how little power the Intel Avoton family of chips needs. To give you an example, the most powerful chip of the Avoton family, the C2750, is rated for a max TDP of a paltry 20W. I’ve reproduced the table from the Intel Avoton page below:

Product Name Launch Date # of Cores Max TDP Recommended Customer Price
Intel® Atom™ Processor C2750
(4M Cache, 2.40 GHz)
Q3’13 8 20 W TRAY: $171.00
Intel® Atom™ Processor C2730
(4M Cache, 1.70 GHz)
Q3’13 8 12 W TRAY: $150.00
Intel® Atom™ Processor C2550
(2M Cache, 2.40 GHz)
Q3’13 4 14 W TRAY: $86.00
Intel® Atom™ Processor C2530
(2M Cache, 1.70 GHz)
Q3’13 4 9 W TRAY: $70.00
Intel® Atom™ Processor C2350
(1M Cache, 1.70 GHz)
Q3’13 2 6 W TRAY: $43.00

Motherboard + CPU: The Intel Avoton family of processors are available as SoC. One should make a selection of processor based on the NAS’s anticipated workload. At the time of writing, the C2750 is available with boards from Supermicro starting at $377 USD.

These products would pair nicely with Silverstone’s DS380B and that company’s fully modular 450W SFX PSU.

Case: Silverstone Tek DS380B Mini-ITX Small Form Factor NAS Computer Case, Black (Amazon)

The Silverstone DS380B is pretty unique – it provides users building on the Mini-ITX platform with a SFF box that features support for up to 12 drives: 8 hot-swappable 3.5″ or 2.5″ SAS/SATA and 4 fixed 2.5″ drives. It has earned strong reviews from a litany of hardware review sites.

PSU: Silverstone Tek 450-Watt SFX Full Modular Power Supply, 80 Plus Gold ST45SF-G (Amazon)

I like that Silverstone put out a fully modular PSU because space is at a premium in any SFF build. The ST45SF-G’s 80 Plus Gold certification doesn’t hurt, either.

I am confident that these parts will result in a very compact, quiet, and energy-efficient NAS that will cover basic needs. The cost of a SFF NAS will exceed that of a comparable, larger machine, but the smaller footprint does lead to interesting possibilities.

Mini-ITX AMD AM1 Motherboards

I started researching available Mini-ITX AMD AM1 motherboards for my upcoming SFF NAS build. Admittedly, this work was all done in the hopes that the AMD AM1 “Kabini” platform would make for an ideal low-power, 24/7 home NAS. A visit to the FreeNAS forums and some investigation into the hardware recommended for use with FreeNAS has changed my mind, but I leave this table of Mini-ITX AMD AM1 motherboards here for anyone looking for it.

They all use DDR3 and all have two slots for RAM, as is expected with motherboards of this form factor.

Manufacturer ASRock ASRock ASUS MSI
Model AM1B-ITX AM1H-ITX AM1I-A MSI AM1I
Max RAM 32GB 32GB 32GB 32GB
HDMI? 1 1 1 1
DisplayPort? 0 1 0 0
DVI? 1 1 1 1
D-Sub / VGA? 1 1 1 1
Serial / COM? 0 0 1 0
Parallel / LPT? 1 0 0 0
SATA 6Gb/s 4 4 2 2
Onboard Audio Realtek ALC662 Realtek ALC892 Realtek ALC877-VD Realtek ALC887
Audio Channels 5.1 7.1 7.1 7.1
Onboard LAN Realtek RTL8111GR Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8111GR Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8111GR Gigabit Ethernet Realtek RTL8111GR Gigabit Ethernet
PS/2? 1 1 2 2
USB 3.0 2 2 2 2
USB 2.0 4 2 4 2
S/PDIF Out 0 1x Optical 0 0
Expansion 1x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot @ 4x mode 1x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot @ 4x mode 1x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot 1x PCI Express 3.0 x16 slot @ 4x mode
Mini Card Slots 0 1x Mini PCIe 0 1x Mini PCIe
Notes Motherboard has header for additional USB 3.0 ports, additional USB 2.0 ports Supports either ATX or DC-In power supplies, motherboard has header for additional USB 3.0 ports, additional USB 2.0 ports Motherboard has headers for additional USB 2.0 ports

I was thinking it would be very nice to have the ASRock AM1H-ITX equipped with an AMD 5350. This, I reasoned, could get me a livable number of SATA ports, with some room for a PCIe SATA controller. Budget for the build, including case, would have come in at around $500.

While such a machine would serve well in a HTPC environment, it would not be ideal for FreeNAS. ZFS calls for a minimum of 8GB RAM, and prefers ECC RAM to non ECC. It is reported that the AMD AM1 platform should support ECC memory, though none of the Mini-ITX boards mentioned above have explicitly stated that they support this technology. Couple that with the fact that AMD AM1 “Kabini” APUs only allow for single channel memory, and I’m not immediately sold on this platform. However, that hasn’t stopped at least one person from building it..

http://www.techpowerup.com/forums/threads/am1-athlon-5350-freenas-file-server.201676/

He even uses the Silverstone DS380 Mini-ITX NAS case that I had been following, reporting that its stock fans are noisy. Maybe not for me!