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 Post subject: Silent NAS, looking for ideas
PostPosted: Thu Oct 05, 2006 8:25 am 
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Lately, I've been playing with the idea of building a combined MythTV backend and NAS server. Since it will be sitting on a shelf in my office / guest room, it would have to be near quiet - ie below ambient noise threshold from a distance of a few feet. Rather than sticking everything inside a big tower case I figure it will be easier to fit physically, and to soundproof, by having the HDDs in a separate case, and hooking them up to a PSU of their own.

What I'm looking for is a cabinet that will fit 3 to 4 regular 3.5" drives. None of the commercial solutions I've seen seem to account for noise in any shape or form, and so I am pretty sure that mounting four 7200RPM drives in one of those all-metal, big boys toys, racks is just asking for a bad case of tinnitus.


So I'm playing with some ideas of my own instead.

What I have in mind, and which I'm sure someone else must have thought of before me, is to build a tower of HDDs separated with rubber dividers of some sort, and enclose the whole thing in plexiglass or some other material with little to no resonance. Obviously, this creates a cooling problem since the heat tends to dissipate badly in these materials, but I have excellent experience using 120mm fans at low RPM - they move a lot of air with zero noise, and you can get manifolds that convert a 80mm fan hole to a 120mm fan.

The biggest problem with the solution would be the actual building of the chassis. Living in a city, I have no hobby room or utility shed nor easy access to one, so anything I can buy and use more or less off the shelf is a good thing.

So - any ideas?


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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 3:11 am 
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Have been thinking about this myself for a while.

Although have done nothing about it yet. :/

I would think a wind tunnel approach with a fan at one end sucking in air (at low speed), blowing air across/through drives stacked with maybe half a drive height seperation between each all in a boxed lined with egg-crate foam. The box would only be as big as it needs to be and the thing could be pointed according to where you site to direct noise away from you (but not reflecting off of some other surface behind it).

The 'stack of drives' would look like a ladder with some heatsink type material holding it together, as from what I've read, these things are designed to dissipate heat from the sides where they normally screw into a case.

One day I'll make this a reality with my fileserver ... but feel free to criticise the idea ... !


Arrikhan

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 6:42 am 
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There is a commercial product which does this: it is costly, but beautifully made (of solid metal) and both safe (in terms of temperature) and silent or near-silent for up to 4 drives. http://www.atechfabrication.com/product ... torage.htm
This cools the drives by conduction which is how drives are supposed to be cooled in a normal PC case (that is why they have metal bodies and substantial screws into a metal cage). Normally conduction leads to noise (in the same way that fear leads to anger and anger leads to hatred) but not with this case because of the internal isolation and the solid exterior casing.

For reasons of cost I have also been thinking about building my own solution. I came up with the idea of hanging the drives vertically off a pair of rails on an individual elastic sling for each drive - the rails and elastic would be easy to assemble, the only slightly part requiring skill would be the supports to go at each end of the rails, but I guess it could be wood or just about any other material. You could put that whole assembly in a plexiglass box if you like, but I can't see the point because the box will then have to be fan ventilated to keep the drives cool, and that will make more noise. Maybe you could use just a piece of solid material between the drives and the room, but open at the back and sides?

You can cool drives just by hanging them in free air (convection cooling). It is best to hang them vertically on the narrow end for best airflow up and down the largest faces of the drive. Convection cooling is helped if you fix metal heatsinks or fins to the drives (especially the sides of the drives) - this was tested on SPCR years ago when people mounted drives on foam pads on the base of their PCs. I'm not aware of any commercial heatsink of exactly the right size for a drive but you can buy small generic heatsinks in any good electronics store, and then I think you could drill holes in those and screw one onto each side mounting hole of the HDD.

It is difficult to avoid cabling for a home-built enclosure making an ugly mess. At least you can simplify power cabling by building your own SATA power cable - crimp-on SATA power connectors are available, for example in Australia: http://www.pccasegear.com.au/prod3336.htm or in the UK: http://www.kustompcs.co.uk/acatalog/SATA.html.

For the data connection, you could look for a pair of SATA multilane adapters with a SATA multilane cable between: http://www.cooldrives.com/sapciadsaian.html
Multilane eSATA (also called Infiniband) gives you a single, neat cable with a firm fastening each end and the drives can be 6 feet or 2 metres from your PC. Because of these adapters, there is no need for a costly multilane SATA controller, you can just use a standard cheap 4-port internal SATA controller.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:43 am 
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Thanks for the feedback to both of you.

Inti, that pizza box looks just fantastic. It's really expensive, but I'm actually debating wether to get one anyway.

Thanks also for the tips on optimum HDD orientation - if I do build a system of my own I'll keep it in mind.

I agree that cable management would be a Problem. And even though this is strictly a matter of practical problem solving, using proper cable routing, affixing sockets to the chassis etc might end up taking some considerable time. I guess anyone into this hobby do it partially because they like the process of building itself, and not just for the result.

Anyway; I'll keep thinking.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 7:59 am 
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inti wrote:
There is a commercial product which does this: it is costly, but beautifully made (of solid metal) and both safe (in terms of temperature) and silent or near-silent for up to 4 drives. http://www.atechfabrication.com/product ... torage.htm
This cools the drives by conduction which is how drives are supposed to be cooled in a normal PC case (that is why they have metal bodies and substantial screws into a metal cage). Normally conduction leads to noise (in the same way that fear leads to anger and anger leads to hatred) but not with this case because of the internal isolation and the solid exterior casing.

For reasons of cost I have also been thinking about building my own solution. I came up with the idea of hanging the drives vertically off a pair of rails on an individual elastic sling for each drive - the rails and elastic would be easy to assemble, the only slightly part requiring skill would be the supports to go at each end of the rails, but I guess it could be wood or just about any other material. You could put that whole assembly in a plexiglass box if you like, but I can't see the point because the box will then have to be fan ventilated to keep the drives cool, and that will make more noise. Maybe you could use just a piece of solid material between the drives and the room, but open at the back and sides?

You can cool drives just by hanging them in free air (convection cooling). It is best to hang them vertically on the narrow end for best airflow up and down the largest faces of the drive. Convection cooling is helped if you fix metal heatsinks or fins to the drives (especially the sides of the drives) - this was tested on SPCR years ago when people mounted drives on foam pads on the base of their PCs. I'm not aware of any commercial heatsink of exactly the right size for a drive but you can buy small generic heatsinks in any good electronics store, and then I think you could drill holes in those and screw one onto each side mounting hole of the HDD.

It is difficult to avoid cabling for a home-built enclosure making an ugly mess. At least you can simplify power cabling by building your own SATA power cable - crimp-on SATA power connectors are available, for example in Australia: http://www.pccasegear.com.au/prod3336.htm or in the UK: http://www.kustompcs.co.uk/acatalog/SATA.html.

For the data connection, you could look for a pair of SATA multilane adapters with a SATA multilane cable between: http://www.cooldrives.com/sapciadsaian.html
Multilane eSATA (also called Infiniband) gives you a single, neat cable with a firm fastening each end and the drives can be 6 feet or 2 metres from your PC. Because of these adapters, there is no need for a costly multilane SATA controller, you can just use a standard cheap 4-port internal SATA controller.

I'm not convinced that Atech 4-drive case would be that quiet. I'll believe it when I hear it and/or when someone I really trust tells me it is.

But I do think your idea has a lot of merit. That multilane eSATA is used in the Atech device; great solution!

I would build it a bit differently than you suggest. I'd basically make a box to replicate, roughly, the bottom chamber of the P180. The elements needed:

-- old/cheap PSU in back with exhaust going backwards, rigged to start w/o mobo.
-- 4 hdd suspended vertically
-- box has open slot in front, at bottom, with mesh filter and feet ~3/4" high
-- multilane eSATA port at back

The PSU fan would have to be a very quiet one -- set at a fixed speed where its noise is below that of the 4 HDDs. That one fan would be more than enough to cool the drives and itself -- the total load on the system would never be more than ~60-70W (at startup).

Dimensions would be a little wider and taller than a standard ATX PSU and perhaps 14" deep. It could be made out of wood, metal -- whatever you want, really, as long as it's sturdy and not resonant.

If you used 4 very quiet drives -- WD, Samsung -- I think the overall noise could be kept in the low 20s dBA/1m in idle. A bit of panel damping would probably help -- that would make the box a bit bigger, but no big deal if you have it out of the way with a 2m-eSATA cable.

If you wanted to go with different dimenstions -- say lower and wider with two pairs of stacked suspended HDDs -- then you'd have to either hack a standard PSU or, easier, go with a picoPSU.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Oct 06, 2006 8:45 am 
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I actually just bought the a-tech 4x Mass Storage case, so you'll know my thoughts in a few weeks.

I'm feeling very comfortable going into it as I've already talked to folks who have used all of their products for an extended period.

I've also had very good and straightforward conversations with the Atech owner over the years as I picked apart his offerings (but never pulled the trigger).

My HTPC setup is currently all passive and has been for over a year, with no problems (24/7 always on). I'm upgrading it in the next two weeks to finally go 64 bit and Dual core:

current:
Mcubed's HFX Case (all passive)
Aopen i915 Dothan Motherboard (Dothan overclocked to 2.33gz)
Zalman NB47 Northbridge thermal epoxied onto the motherboard
Single Seagate 400gb drive (housed in a home-built external case)
Silverstone passive psu
Video Card: 7800gt
TV Capture Card: ATI 550 Pro

New parts for the upgrade:
* Aopen i975 Yonah/Merom board
* Zalman NB47 Northbridge clipped on using the clips from the Zalman NB Flower model)
* Merom t7200 (2ghz stock)
* 7900 GS
* 3 Seagate 400 drives in Atech's 4x case

I've promised I'd actually write up this upgrade for SPCR, but had to wait for my new parts...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Oct 07, 2006 8:46 am 
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sgtpokey wrote:
I actually just bought the a-tech 4x Mass Storage case, so you'll know my thoughts in a few weeks.


Yes, please keep us posted. If the ATech case lives up to expectations then that is definitely the ultimate quiet disk solution so far.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Oct 10, 2006 8:27 am 
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I'm very interested in either the A-Tech case or MikeC's suggestion for a home built version (thanks for looking in on this thread, MikeC). I am thinking of placing an order for the A-Tech soon but I'll hold off a few more weeks as it is very costly, especially after factoring in shipping to Europe and the inevitable taxes.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Nov 12, 2006 3:27 pm 
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UP !

sgtpokey, did you actually get the A-Tech case and what are your thoughts about it now ?

I'd really appreciate any feedback on this case from a silent point of view while I am still hesitating to go for it, or not.

P.S : It would be a great idea to review this thing in spcr labs with all the growing demand for silence & htpc :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 27, 2009 3:07 am 
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Any updates on this thread? It would be great to hear comments from somebody who owns the A-Tech mass storage case, as I keep wanting to get one but the cost seems very high.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent NAS, looking for ideas
PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2012 6:53 am 
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I have now bought the A-Tech mass storage case myself, and have it working. I chose the option with an e-SATA to four SATA adapter mounted internally in the case, linked to my PC by a 2 metre e-SATA cable. Here are my impressions:

1. The case comes as a kit. Although all the tools you need to build it are supplied (apart from ordinary screwdrivers), the build process is of higher than average difficulty - you'll need to be fairly skilled and dexterous, or have a friend to help, and it will take around 1 to 2 hours including connecting the hard drives and packing the cabling in neatly.

2. It consists of an inner metal box in which the hard drives are very firmly mounted (with barely sufficient space for cabling) and an outer metal box which works as a sound barrier, heatsink and attractive case. Contrary to the manufacturer's build instructions, it is easiest to build the inner metal box completely - including all hard drives and cabling, and the lid on all that - before you attempt to place that assembly on its rubber buffers into the outer box. At this point the inner box will have SATA cables and SATA power adapter cables (with Molex plugs on the ends of them) sticking out of it. The cables can then be connected up to the back panel once this is in place.

3. A box of four hard drives with a single e-SATA cable is a beautiful thing to behold.

4. I configured it in Windows as dynamic disks. The four hard drives combine to create a single giant hard drive. (4 x 2TB = 8TB in my case: I have a lot of data!) Personally I do not like to use RAID. As I have posted previously on this forum, RAID is noisy, due to simultaneous seeking of lots of drives. I think RAID is also slower for seeks, although faster for sustained data transfers. I don't need to do super-fast data transfers, and data transfer speed is not the limiting factor in my system.

5. In use, the box is practically silent. Put your ear next to the case and you can hear a whisper of hard drive motor noise, but only audible if your PC itself is 100% silent (i.e. fanless and with SSDs). Seeking results in a very faint high-pitched chitter - I guess the case is better at attenuating the lower frequency sounds - but again this sound would be drowned out by any other sound you have in the room, e.g. PC fan noise or any 3.5" hard drive which is not in a soundproofed case.

6. To give an approximate idea, in use this case results in about the same sound level from 4x 3.5" drives, as you would get from one 2.5" drive. That is very acceptable, to me.

7. The case seems almost over-engineered in cooling terms. I opened it once to test the temperature, and the inner box did not even feel warm to the touch (after 2 hours of sustained transfers to the drives). The heatsink fins on the outer box are massive.

8. I am confident that my drives are the best protected they have ever been, it is like they are inside a safe. They are isolated from external vibration as well. I would expect these drives to have huge longevity. In my experience, it is usually heat which kills drives.

9. If using the e-SATA interface you have to have the drives switched on before booting up Windows, in order for Windows to 'see' the drives (otherwise you would have to go into Disk Management and manually use the command 'Re-activate drive').

10. The e-SATA interface never spins down the drives, they will be spinning all the time that the case is switched on. This may affect drive longevity. There's some debate about whether it is better for a drive just to leave it spinning quietly all the time, or to spin it down and spin it back up again when you need it (which stresses it).


Overall, I like the case a lot. It's costly - including shipping, it costs around the same as the four 2TB drives I have inside it - but worth it in my system. The noise of having those 4 drives inside my PC case would have been intolerable. (Other factors in favour of an external case: not much space in a PC case to suspension mount 4 drives - 4 extra drives inside my case would have needed an extra SATA adapter as my motherboard only has 5 SATA ports and 2 are taken with boot drive and DVD-ROM - and additional demands on the PC's PSU.)

I like this case so much, I expect that when I have filled the drives I will buy myself a second one, if funds allow.

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 Post subject: Re: Silent NAS, looking for ideas
PostPosted: Fri Nov 02, 2012 7:18 am 
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inti -- thanks for the excellent summary.

What was the price, exactly?

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 Post subject: Re: Silent NAS, looking for ideas
PostPosted: Tue Nov 13, 2012 7:23 am 
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Hi Mike.
The cost of one case was US $848 plus shipping plus taxes. (In my case international shipping to Europe was approximately $100, also I had to pay European taxes on delivery but no US sales tax.)

That was the price for the case itself (including e-SATA and power board options to be internally mounted onto the rear panel of the case), an external 12V 102W mains power adapter, and a 2-metre e-SATA cable. (The power board option on the rear panel is a picoPSU-120 but it looks like A-Tech have modified it so that the power board can be screw-mounted firmly onto the rear panel of the case: a standard unmodified picoPSU-120 is a bare-bones thing with an ATX plug to go onto your motherboard. Likewise, the e-SATA board can be screw mounted neatly onto the cutout in the rear panel of the case.)

I have the Mass Storage 2500 case - http://atechfabrication.com/products/ma ... e_2500.htm
It looks exactly like the images on the company's website, and the images there show you how little gap there is between the drives for wiring. I noticed that the newer cases (Mass Storage 4x) have the gap between the drives wider so the cabling must fit more easily, but they don't have heatsink fins on the case sides.

---

One update to points 9 and 10 in my post: so long as you booted up Windows with the case switched on, you can switch off the case power when the drives are not in use, switch it on again later and Windows will still 'see' the disks.

I am still very happy with the case after a few weeks of use, it gives my living-room media center PC a directly-connected storage capacity which it could not otherwise have without noise issues.

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