Of the old NAS and the new NAS

Posted: January 4, 2011 in Doing Hard Ware
Tags: , , , ,

It is not easy to admit, but a few years I made a bad buy – not a bargain; bought a NAS
(Network Accessible Storage) for over a thousand Euros, of an at the time well
respected brand (no, not anymore), and the device never operated properly. It
had a hibernation mechanism, which came in handy considering the noise level,
but frequently crashed the device during wake up, after which the system
executed an extensive disk check. The NAS had 2 Terabytes of disk space and the
disk check took over 12 hours, during which the system was not accessible. Also
storing large files or reading back file – large or small – frequently made the
system crash.

Many, many hours did I spend searching the internet for a solution. Without actual success. At some point I did find a review of the model on Amazon, from a buyer with
comparable experiences. And that was it for me. The NAS was going to be
demolished and destroyed! Well, the useful parts (4  Hitachi hard disks of 500Gb each) were to be reused, of course.

And so I did. The old NAS’ hard disks in their rack, and the fan of the power supply have
been reused, the other parts garbaged. An old Fujitsu Siemens Scaleo 600 is the
basis of the new NAS. In order to avoid needing an extra hard disk to carry the
operating system, I bought a  2nd hand Promise SX6000 SuperTrak RAID Controller (€ 45,- delivered at home). The OS is Windows XP Professional SP3. Management of the new NAS is via an Ethernet cable, other data transport is via WLan. The graphics card has been removed after construction and test (reduces power consumption, and in particular heat
dissipation). Management is via a Remote Desktop.

Below you’ll find some annotated pictures of it all.

Remainders of the old NAS

Picture 1. Remainders of the old NAS. The spaghetti on the foreground comes from the old power supply.

The New NAS

Picture 2. The new NAS based on a Fujitsu Siemens Scaleo  600. The DVD devices and floppy drive are not operational. They’re just there  to draw up a clean façade.

Rear view of the new NAS

Picture 3. Rear view. The 4 leds are the RAID  Controller’s. If the NAS is on, they do an nice imitation of Night Rider’s KIT.  The little white panel with cylindrical knob is the fan (noise, heat)  controller. The antenna is for Wi-Fi. The NAS has three fans and is
surprisingly quiet.

Interior of the new NAS

Picture 4. Interior. At the upper left is the power  supply. Below that the CPU fan (and CPU and cooler). The prominent horizontal  green slate is the RAID Controller. The gray block at the lower right is the  rack holding four hard disks, thoroughly screwed to the bottom of the case. Behind  the hard disk rack the extra fan, from the old NAS is just visible. DVD devices  and floppy drive are clearly not connected.

Firmware update of the Raid controller

A problem  to be solved when building the NAS was to furnish the RAID controller with the  latest firmware. Usually that is being done using a floppy drive, but that was
not possible in this case; see picture 4, the light blue floppy connector is
blocked by the RAID controller. The solution was to create and use a bootable
USB memory stick. But how do you make you USB stick bootable (DOS)? There are
many articles on the internet about this subject.  Most are useless. For me, this article from Microsoft (in Dutch) worked. The formatting  utility the article refers to has been replaced by HPUSBFW.exe that can be  found on the HP support site (try this link).

After  updating the firmware, the BIOS’ of the pc and the RAID controller were
compatible enough to have the RAID controller build a fast and safe RAID 1+0
configuration on the hard disks.

Installing Windows XP from  USB stick, including slipstreamed RAID controller driver

The next  problem was how to install Windows XP on the RAID configuration. Since we
cannot use a DVD device, a USB memory stick I the next alternative. However,
according to Microsoft, it is not possible to install Windows from USB memory /
drive. An additional challenge is that also the Promise RAID Controller driver
needs to be installed during the Windows install.

The  solution was found in the very adequate article (in English) by Roderick van
Domburg: “Installing Windows XP from USB”. The article presents clear steps. You need the BartPE environment and the RAM disk found in Windows Server 2003’s SP1. In order to ‘slipstream’ the RAID Controler driver into the installation package, one uses
the nLite tool.

BartPE is a  pre-configured Windows environment that you use to execute an nLite augmented  Windows XP install, following the directions by Roderick
van Domburg. A walk in the park, really.

Performance  of the new NAS

See the  graph below. The system reaches a transfer rate of almost 70Mb/s. Compared to
my new workstation (yes, also homemade 🙂 ), doing almost 300 Mb/s, that is
not much. But 70 Mb/s is also not that slow, so I settled for it.

Performance of the new NAS

Graph 1.  Transfer  speeds of the RAID Controller (RAID 10 on 4 hard disks).

Notice  however the flatness of the curve. Graphs of systems without extensive caching
(the Promise controller has a 128Mb cache) show a graceful (but continuous)
decay of performance as the heads need to make larger movements.


So, doesn’t  one ever get into trouble, when working with all these sensitive hardware
components? Oh, certainly you get into trouble.

CPU pins

If you  inspect picture 4, you may notice the completely clean interior of an over 10
year old pc. This is the result of an extensive cleaning operation. While
cleaning, I removed the CPU fan and cooler. It then turned out that the CPU was
stuck on the cooler (by the heat gel). At first I didn’t notice, and
consequently bent a whole lot of CPU pins when reinstalling the ‘cooler’ (No
sorry, no pictures available). For hours, sweating abundantly from distress,
I’ve been prying very carefully straight paths through the pins’ bases using a
magnifier (and reading glasses) and a potatoe peeling knife. At one moment the
CPU fitted its tray again, and as it turned out, everything still worked. Pfew!


Proudly I  showed my newly acquired Promise RAID Controller PCI card to my 11 year old daughter,  who seems to develop an interest in technology. She reached out and pointed at
some extending parts. A train of sparks jumped from her hand over to the Raid
Controller card. Actually, I thought it was lost, but surprisingly, it still
worked as well as before. Pfew!


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