Network storage on the cheap for the home


Corporate servers have used network storage, ranging from fileservers, to SAN for several years. Now, with USB IDE external drive cases selling for as little as $20, people are using external drives on their PC, and get pretty good response with 400 mbit USB 2 or with 1394/firewire. You can get most of the capacity of a 7200 rpm drive over USB 2.

So I want to call for the production of a cheap home external storage box. This box would have slots for 4 or 5 drives and cooling for them, ideally as big a fan as possible to keep the rpms and noise low in the desk model, and an even more powerful fan in the basement model. The desk model might have sound insulation though that's hard to combine with good cooling.

While this box could and probably should have USB or 1394, even better would be gigabit ethernet, which is fast enough for most people's storage needs, especially if there is a dedicated gigabit ethernet card in the PC just for talking to the storage.

This could allow for a radical redesign of PC cases of all types, with no need for the space and heat of drives. And of course these diskless PCs would be much quieter. You could put your disk cube under your desk (and thus have it be a bit quieter) but ideally you would like the basement model, to which you string cat5e cable and get a mostly silent PC.

read on... Now I haven't talked about how these disks could be shared among machines, though that's an obvious win, if the software can be created to make it easy for ordinary users. Even today, though, they could plug one in with USB with no special software in modern computers.

And of course, since the chips for it are now cheap, a unit with 3 or more disks is ready for RAID-5. Disk drives are so cheap now, they not only make RAID-5 affordable, they also make it more important. Failure rates are up as disk prices have been driven down, so ordinary people start to need it. Slot in 3 or 4 cheap drives and away you go.

You could also have SATA as an interface, though its maximum length is only 1 meter, so it would definitely be for under-desk at best. It also would plug in without software changes in OSs and BIOSs that support SATA.

Of course, to run over gigabit ether, unless you want to play games emulating USB over ether to get you going (not out of the question) you would need an OS ready to run over the network, which linux can do, and people have also done it with Windows and possibly the Mac but they all need some work. Gigabit ether is not as fast as SATA but it's close enough, and more than the capacity of most drives though perhaps not reading RAIDs.

Some other benefits that come from this:

  • It's much easier to upgrade a computer, the drives stay in the box.
  • The boxes would serve everything, Mac, Windows, Linux, Workstations
  • They would be particularly handy for hard disk video recorders, Windows MCE, MythTV etc. which need a lot of disk space (though they don't need the RAID as much) and really benefit from the ability to put the noisy disk in another room.


you mean like
- except that it's 3x as expensive as buying four 250GB drives and a RAID card.

For now it's easier to buy a PCIe RAID card and stack the disks in the PC case (given that you spend up big on the case to get one that will take 6+ hard disks).

What I'd like is a small box with a 100/1000MB/s network connection plus SATA and a switch mode PS. I will not accept another brick that draws 5-10W when the PC is powered off (it's bad enough needing 12V for the modem and router).

The price of that unit ($3100) is ridiculous. As I noted we're seeing the external enclosures at $20 with USB. So if we forget about RAID and other cool ideas, there is certainly no reason you couldn't build a box to hold 3 or 4 drives for $50, with just one power supply, just one box, just one fan, just one USB hub.

Of course, such a box would be poor when you want to access multiple drives at once (read from one, write another, or to stripe, etc.) but there are many applications out there -- in particular video recording and storage, photo archiving, music collections -- which are the big consumer drivers for lots of storage where a single 400 megabit channel is more than enough, and a gigabit is enough for even the more serious applications.

So $50 for the box without RAID, and really how much more with RAID? Where does $3100 come from?

On an unrelated search I noticed this
4 SATA case for $Oz265 (about $US200) that holds four drives and because SATA allows hot-swap you could use it exactly as you're describing with many systems (my 6 month old system has an external SATA connection on the back, for instance, and XPsp2 lets you do it).

OK, there's no smarts in the box and it uses power from the PC, but it gives you some idea of what a box to hold four drives and a fan can cost even when manufactured in tiny numbers. Sell them via a big chain and that cost would halve. Add a bit of logic (a $16 network card and a $40 SATA controller) and you get four disks appearing on your network. Right now you need a PCI backplane etc to link the cards...

You're right, it should be very do-able.

This site has some USB and Firewire multi-drive cases with their own power and cooling. Most are reasonably-priced. Some models are hot-swappable, which makes even a 2-drive case infinitely expandable (just buy extra drive caddies). This makes it easy to rotate backups off-site. I have a 2-drive case with USB 2.0. I don't keep it permantly connected, mainly using it for weekly backups and archives.

I too would like to see an inexpensive multi-drive cabinet with gigabit ethernet.

But once again, somehow the 2-drive units cost more than twice the one-drive units. They could at least cost the same, they are saving on having only one power supply, one box, one (very slightly more advanced) controller, one (better) fan, one USB interface etc.

Those units are all advertised as hot swap but I'm almost certain that's a lie. They are probably warm swap -- all USB drives can be warm swap -- but hot swap requires one of the redundant RAID plans or similar.

Currently thinking about this too, and started thinking that a RAID 5, standalone box on Gigabit that I can put in the garage... as if to answer my request Buffalo has this:

I know - too expensive, but it's possible... and with 4 x 250Gb drives this'll give > 500Gb of reasonably fault-tolerant storage

I know, I know too expensive, but something to shoot for. Supposedly these are almost silent too because of the large, slow spinning, fan

Netgear WGT634U wireless router has USB 2 port.

Linksys do an ethernet to 2 x USB 2 ports.

But you still have to buy 2 enclosures and this box to get going. I'm saying put it all in one box -- space for 3-4 drives, fan, and ether/usb. Those are boxes that use the usb drives.

Here's a pretty slick looking Raid-5 unit with 5 drive bays, USB 2 and 1394, a 200MHz 64-bit RISC processor. Kinda pricy at $1099 but it looks well-built. You can even configure it via the front LCD panel. Sturdy handle for transport to file-sharing parties LOL

Look around that cooldrives site; they have encryption hardware, forensic hardware, some inexpensive USB multimedia devices, and tons of drive enclosure cases.

I'm totally with you on this. Check out this DIY hot swappable 4 drive box that Mashie made (UDAT1) which is RAID 5. The next project is the UDAT2 which should be gigabit NIC transfer.


If you are looking for network storage, then take a look at for the absolute lowest possible cost solutions. I have a naslite server that has been running flawlessly for over a year now. An old PC, big drives and naslite is the best solution i can think of for the money.
1TB for $US1200. And it has RAID5. So prices are getting better. Note the comments in there about the Buffalo Terrorstation which is cheaper with more features and kind of works after a fashion.

Back to the original inspiration. Wouldn't it be nice to have a 2 drive USB to IDE case with a USB hub in it for 30 bucks or so. John

Why not just take all those cheap IDE disk drives, put them in a box with a motherboard and run Linux on it? Then you can easily share it over Ethernet with all the machines in your house using standard protocols. If noise is a problem, then stash it in your garage.

Well, of course I already have linux boxes. Another one is going to draw perhaps 60 watts on top of the drives, perhaps more. The hardware in drive enclosures is dirt cheap, a couple of chips. Putting multiple controllers on one little board in a box with fan is going to be cheaper, and lower power.

Each 24/7 watt is about 9 kwh, about a $1.50/year at incremental electricity rates. 60 watts is $90/year, more than the cost of the drives these days.

- I've got a Linux box sharing 500GB right now, but it's got a 350w PS running 24x7 just for that. I'm poking about the 'net looking for NAS alternatives that will put at least two, and preferrably more, drives on the LAN with minimal power overhead.
- I like the idea of building my own, and Mashie's site is a real gem in that regard. Perhaps I'll wind up going that route, rather than using an old laptop for the sharing, which will still take a good 60w for the same task.
- Nice blog...

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All this sounds good I have a couple of old external boxs and want get a ethernet - ATA/SATA controller to put in it. Where do you get it?

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