Monday, May 13, 2013

1.3.1 CPU / Motherboard Selection

Posted by at Monday, May 13, 2013 Read our previous post

The CPU / Motherboard is the backbone of your NAS. We have to be picky on this one. Ok, I need something that is cheap, powerful and energy efficient. In chinese: 又便宜又大粒还几漂亮! (malaysia ascent). Just like below =D

Hello! this is a NAS blog, not adult blog, come back JTSF!
Right, we have quite a few features to consider carefully:

1. To make our NAS compact, the size has to be Mini-ITX.
2. I need as much SATA ports onboard for scalability. Ideally 6.
3. SATAIII 6Gb/s is good to have, not a must. Typically, the bottleneck is on the HDD itself and not the SATA port.
4. For scalability, the motherboard should support up to 16GB of RAM. You may feel this is overkill but you will find out later when we discuss about RAID.
5. The energy efficiency of your build will highly rely on this component. I need to find the right balance - a processor capable enough to serve as a NAS (or more) and yet power efficient when paired up with the motherboard.
6. Gigabit Ethernet - all modern motherboards support this and should not pose a problem.

The components of the NAS are closely dependent on each other. Choose wisely or you will be constrained by the deprived feature later on. My studies also reveals that an onboard processor would lower the power consumption of the system. In contrast, socket-based processors are TDP 35W on average, a tad higher than onboard processor. It also increases the total cost when paired with a separate motherboard. It is clear that my choice will be a motherboard with integrated processor

1st Candidate - ASUS E35M1-I
After some hunting, I first set my eye on ASUS E35M1-I
This is a perfect board for NAS setup. AMD E-350 dual core 1.6GHz, TDP 18W, 6 SATA ports, passive cooling, Mini-ITX all for an affordable price of USD93. With my target set, I began searching high and low for this fellow. Unfortunately, the board is not available in Sinapore. I sent an email enquiry to ASUS Singapore distributor, but they didn't even bother to reply. Some days later, I finally found it at Amazon and made my purchase on the spot. To my dismay, the seller contacted me the next day and informed that they do not have this board and it's a mistake on their posting. I finally gave up after another 4 nights of fruitless search. I am aware that it's bigger brother E35M1-I DELUXE is available but the costly price of SGD $245 does not justify it's price tag.

2nd Candidate - MSI E350IA-E45
The lost hope of a perfect NAS board make me scout SLS (IT Mall). I chanced onto MSI E350IA-E45 displayed at one back alley shop. It offers similar specs to ASUS E35M1-I.
I was quoted $165, slightly cheaper than other stores which is going for around $180. At that point of time, I could not convince myself the idea of active cooling, 4 SATA ports for $165. Furthermore, reviews of the motherboard showed signs of a noisy fan. Hence, I shortlisted this board as a backup.

3rd Candidate - Gigabyte GA-C847N-D
At this point of the search, I was getting a little lost; having cross thoughts of getting a socket based processor & separate motherboard. I reviewed my requirements once again and restarted the search, this time staying away from AMD E-350. From the stacks of pricelists I've collected from SLS (IT Mall), there is Gigabyte GA-C847N-D.
This NM70 Intel chipset motherboard looks very promising - Dual core Celeron 1.1GHz,  TDP 17W for about $150. Most notably, it offers you 2 Gigabit Ethernet ports which is a rare feature among budget boards. However, I was very turned off by it's way out-dated PCI expansion slot. I needed this expansion slot to scale to 6 HDDs in total and the performance of my NAS must not be constrained by a 133MB/s shared bus. Wake up Gigabyte! It is 2013 now! Are you are still living in Millennium 2000?

Reviewing Intel Celeron 847 - NM70 
Reading these reviews helped me made up my mind to get one of these NM70 boards:
Guru 3D reviews Intel 847 NM70
Madshrimps reviews ECS-NM70-I2-V1.0
Xbitlabs reviews Celeron-847
Madshrimps reviews BIOSTAR-NM70I-847
German Compares 4 different platforms of low power motherboards

The Computing Power of Intel Celeron 847 - NM70
Let's take a look at the processing capabilities of Celeron 847
Source: CPUbenchmark - Intel Celeron 847, 1.10GHz 
Source: Guru3D - Intel 847 NM70 Performance 
Source: Celeron 847 Computing Performance 
The Intel Celeron 847 takes the lead over AMD E-350 & Intel Atom processors in most of the benchmarks. It also performs well in memory and multimedia tests. We can be assured that it can handle NAS operations comfortably. What's more, we might be able to use it as a HTPC too. It's an option that everybody likes.

Power Consumption of Intel Celeron 847 - NM70
Next, we compare the power consumption between Celeron 847, AMD E-350 & Intel Atom 2700
I am contented to have 21W idle. The choice is clear now. =)

4th Candidate & the Chosen One - ECS NM70-I2 (V1.0)
The final choice is narrowed down between Biostar NM70I-847 and ECS NM70-I2 (V1.0). Both boards offer similar specs - nice processor, low power consumption, supports up to 16GB of memory. The only downside is 4 SATA ports onboard. To scale to 6 HDDs, I would need to add a PCI-Express SATA card. Any of the first few cards on sales here will do the job.

After a quick check with Convergent Systems, I was delighted when they informed that ECS NM70-I2 (V1.0) will be arriving in 1 month's time. I waited patiently and finally purchased it in May 2013. The acquisition of this board concluded my motherboard hunt. Special thanks to Mr Low Eng Choon from Convergent Systems, he informed me first hand when it arrived on shore. The cost is a modest SGD $107 and this leaves me with $343 for other components. Let's move on. =)

TDP - Thermal Design Power; Wiki - List of CPU Power Dissipation Figures


  1. what do you think of the Giada N70E-DR?
    6 SATA ports, dual GBE, Celeron 1007U

    one of the HWZ/VRZ members carries this board...

  2. I considered including Giada N70E here as a reference.

    Highlights of this board are:
    - Dual gigabit ethernet ports
    - 6 SATAs
    - Onboard RAID

    Cost wise, for the price of SGD$180++, it's almost twice the cost of ECS NM70-I2. 1x memory slot means you can't add ram, only to replace. I will say go for this board only if you need those 3 features above.

  3. Think I go for :
    Can't find your choises.

    1. Note that MSI C847MS-E33 has the size of M-ATX. Make sure it can fit into your enclosure.

      If you are based in Singapore, contact Convergent directly to acquire the ECS NM70-I2

  4. hi jascent, how bout asrock ad2550r/u3s3 motherboard?

    1. This is a really good find --> asrock ad2550r/u3s3
      What attracts me are:
      Passive cooling
      7 sata ports!
      esata port
      Dual LAN

      Do check the cost for this board; if it's budget enough, it's better than the ECS NM70-I2

    2. Will the max amount of RAM suffice? (4GB)

    3. More than enough! 2GB is already sufficient.
      Take a look at Synology Diskstation specs, they are 1GB by default, upgradeable to 2GB.

  5. have you seen this board
    ASUS F2A85-M-LE Motherboard
    seems promising

    1. With regards to ASUS F2A85-M-LE, you will need to fork out extra dough for a CPU
      I recommend integrated CPU for NAS boards.
      Check out asrock ad2550r/u3s3

  6. Know of any decent mITX boards that support ECC?

    1. Not that I know of yet. Think ECC will add up a bit more on the costing.

  7. To my mind, a "perfect NAS motherboard" simply must support ECC. Part of the goal of a good NAS is to protect my data, not potentially corrupt it.

    1. I agree on your stand about data protection.
      Let's go back to the drawing board of BYON:
      1. Keep the cost down
      2. Scalability and replaceable components

      A ECC feature board adds up the cost. It is also subjected to availability. We gotta strike a balance and go the best bargain.

  8. Anyone buying the asrock ad2550r/u3s3?


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