Low-powered NAS upgrade

An old Intel SS4200-E NAS (Intel Celeron 420, 2GB RAM, 35w TDP, PassMark 457pts) was replaced with a custom-built system with an Intel J1900 CPU (Intel J1900, 8GB RAM, 10w TDP, PassMark 1930pts). Resultant disk performance numbers are included with a Windows Server 2012 R2 Storage Pool with 3x Samsung HD204UI disks in parity configuration (and 1 additional drive as hotspare), with a Samsung 840 Pro SSD acting as a system drive.


The Intel SS4200-E[1] chassis is solid, and made drive swaps easy. But the proprietary layout of the case and the aging processor left much to be desired; the Celeron 420 is slow, runs warm, and consumes a lot more power than it’s modern counterparts. The USB 2.0 ports on it also put a hard limit on expansion.

I decided to upgrade. Here’s what I used, cobbled together from various leftovers:

The board I used is likely suboptimal – I would likely not do this again with this board. It only has 2x 3Gbps SATA ports (insufficient for a NAS), a fullsized 32-bit PCI slot, but a Mini-PCI-E x1 slot, which I adapted to attach a fullsized PCI-E x1 card. The 4x 3.0 USB ports will be nice for expansion, though.

The low-powered Celeron is great for this chassis; the low airflow is fine considering how little heat is generated. I see the chassis as an investment; even as everything moves to 2.5” solid state, the 6Gbps hotswap trays should still remain somewhat useful, assuming space is not at a premium.

Getting the Motherboard to Behave

This board was ridiculous. Even with BIOS build F3, it’s unstable. I downloaded the F3 BIOS http://download.gigabyte.us/FileList/BIOS/mb_bios_ga-j1900n-d3v_f3.zip via http://www.gigabytenordic.com/wordpress/update-bios-gigabyte-brix/ and flashed it using a Windows 98 bootable USB key. The buggy F1/F2/F3 BIOSes (yes, the latest one is still unstable) will randomly decide to hang as you attempt to boot via UEFI or legacy. This is what worked for me: CSM support=Enabled, Boot option filter = UEFI and Legacy, Option ROM execution order: Network=Do not launch, Storage=Legacy only, Video=Legacy only, Other PCI devices=UEFI first. I had the USB 2.0 header attached to the front USB ports on the chassis, and was able to get the system to boot using one of those 2.0 ports to flash the BIOS. Immediately after the flash, remove all USB keys before rebooting; leaving USB media would cause the system to hang on reboot, and the “UltraDurable” BIOS recovery would kick in, and ‘fallback’ the newly flashed F3 BIOS back to F1 (sigh.) I spent around 2 hrs fiddling with this but was eventually able to get the board flashed, and reliably boot into my installation (via USB) environment.

I found that power loss during BIOS/UEFI boot may cause the system to lockup/corrupt itself, so it’s probably best to use this board interactively, or at least on UPS.

Multi-threaded CPU benchmarks [2]

This data puts the new CPU in context of other Intel CPUs currently available/that have been popular in the past, and provides some indication of the power savings from this upgrade.

Disk Performance

Storage Pools in 2012 R2 with parity aren’t particularly fast. But they’re suitable for this mostly-read environment, and minimizes the disruption in case of disk failure. I usually don’t have physical access to this machine, so resiliency to hardware failure is important.

Hardware: Celeron J1900, 8GB RAM, Samsung HD204UI disks on a 6Gbps controller with Windows Server 2012 R2

With no cache, and a transfer size of 8192KB, QD=4, overlapping I/O, the array managed 27142KB/s write, 113025KB/s read.

[1] http://www.intel.com/support/motherboards/server/ss4200-e/sb/CS-028562.htm via http://www.intel.com/p/en_US/support/highlights/server/ss4200-e [2] http://www.cpubenchmark.net/