Homemade NAS Box

So back in 2008 I started on a project to build a media/storage server. The whole thing was for a senior capstone project with lots of research, hours of configuring/testing, and finally presenting. Using Windows Home Server and FreeNAS I showed the pros and cons of each. Unfortunately I lived on campus so setting up a real server was frowned upon. Instead, everything was simulated using Windows Virtual Server running on my now gaming PC.

This year I thought it was time to finally build a physical media server and move all of my music, videos, and old documents off my PCs. The original plan was to build a server using a mini-ITX motherboard with 4 SATA ports, and 3x 2 terabyte hard drives in a RAID 5 configuration, stuffed inside the smallest case possible. The system, in theory, would sit behind my TV and share everything out using FreeNAS.

Unfortunately, those plans have not worked out so now I’m falling back on an alternative. Why not take an old computer I already have and turn it into the storage I want?

The Base System:

What I’m starting with is my 2001 Quicksilver PowerMac G4. It is by no means a fast computer by today’s standards, but all I need it to do is store/share files. For that the system should do fine. If you are looking at the photos and thinking that doesn’t look stock then you are correct. Over the years I replaced many of the components so let me get you up to speed.

  • 2001 Quicksilver PowerMac G4
  • 2x 1.8 GHz PowerPC 7447 processor from GigaDesigns
  • 3x 512MB PC133 SDRAM
  • ATi Radeon 9800 Pro video card w/ Artic Cooling ATi Silencer 1 NVIDIA Geforce 2MX
  • Pioneer 111D DVD burner
  • Generic USB 2.0 PCI card from CompUSA
  • Silenx iXtrema Pro fans

So that is the base system I’m starting with. To get the PowerMac ready I need a little bit more hardware. Namely a PCI hard drive controller. If anyone has upgraded G4 PowerMacs then you may know that every system before the 2002 Quicksilver PowerMac does not have 48-bit LBA on the PATA interfaces. In simple terms it means the motherboard cannot read hard drive beyond 137GB. To get around that a PCI hard drive controller is required. My choice is the FirmTek SeriTek/1V4 SATA controller from OWC. It adds four SATA ports that operate at 1.5Gb/s with ability to boot from a SATA drive. The 1.5Gb/s throughput may create another bottleneck, but I want to get off of booting from a PATA drive since that will be even slower. If I didn’t care about the ability to boot from a SATA drive then an alternative would be the Rosewill RC-217 controller that had 3Gb/s support. The Rosewill controller is built off of a Silicon Image 3124 SATA controller, which has OS X drivers.

The Parts:

  • FirmTek SeriTek/1V4 SATA PCI-X controller
  • 2x 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green 3.5” hard drives (3Gb/s)
  • 1x 320GB Western Digital Scorpio 2.5” hard drive
  • Molex to SATA power adapters
  • SATA data cables (2 provided with FirmTek controller)

The Installation:

The installation of all the new hardware isn’t very difficult. I did rearrange the hard drive trays so that everything was as low in the case as possible. I went with a laptop hard drive for the boot drive mainly because I wanted something with low power and not very large capacity wise. Ideally I should have bought a drive bay adapter, but this computer shouldn’t move from its current location. The SATA controller plugs into an empty PCI slot and the hard drives connect through regular SATA cables. Power comes from using some adapters that convert Molex connectors to SATA.

Finally the last thing to do is install OS X, in this case 10.5. I had contemplated running a variant of GNU/Linux, but most major distributions have dropped PPC support. There are still ways to get the most up to date versions of OSes like Ubuntu and Fedora, but that is more work then I wanted to put into this build. Yes, I have installed GNU/Linux on both my PowerMac and PowerBook before, but there were issues (especially getting booted up from the install media).

In the next post I will go into detail about the software I’m running.

Note: You may see the strike through above for my PowerMac’s video card. In initial testing I plugged a Kill A Watt up to see the power draw of the system. I was surprised to find the computer was drawing 200 watts of power both during idle and peak usage. That told me that 1. the computer’s power management isn’t very good with all the upgrades I’ve performed and 2. over the course of the year I would pay an extra $125 to power it. For fun I replaced the ATi Radeon 9800 Pro with the OEM NVIDIA Geforce 2 MX. The Kill A Watt said the computer was using 160 watts after the downgrade and equaled $25 in savings.