Hardware Recommendations for System Builders

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unRAID® Server OS will run on a large range of hardware configurations.  In general, if it’s 64-bit and supported by Linux, it’s supported by unRAID Server. However, some features of the OS are hardware-dependent, and what you want the system to do ultimately determines the features you will need.   This page is designed to act as a guide to provide helpful information when considering component selection for building your system. There are many different types of systems you can create, and here are a few common ones:

  • Traditional NAS – Basic “store and protect” functionality; no use of unRAID Server OS extensions; network storage appliance only.
  • Application Server – Serves applications through plugins and Docker containers;  ideal for media serving (Plex), file sharing (ownCloud, BT Sync, Dropbox), voice communications (TeamSpeak), game servers (MineCraft, Team Fortress), and more.

As more system types are added to this page, each new type will build on the capabilities of the previous.  You don’t have to choose between an Application or a NAS with unRAID, if you want both, you can have both!

Traditional NAS

At the very heart of unRAID Server OS lies a traditional network-attached storage system that is focused on providing two essential services:  serving and protecting your data.  If your requirements do not involve adding any 3rd party applications to your system, you will have the lightest hardware requirements for usage. 

Traditional NAS Hardware Recommendations

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  • For businesses:  server-class x86 64-bit CPU (e.g. Intel Xeon); 2 CPU cores
  • For home users:  x86 64-bit capable Intel or AMD x86 CPU; 1-2 CPU cores

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  • For business users:  4GB dual-channel ECC RAM
  • For home users:  2GB dual-channel RAM

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  • For businesses:  server-class motherboard (SuperMicro); Xeon-class CPU support
  • Ports.  number of SATA ports for expansion capability.
  • CPU support.  Make sure the motherboard you purchase supports the CPU you’ve selected.
  • On-board gigabit Ethernet.  This is important; you won’t be happy with only Fast Ethernet (100Mbit).
  • On-board video.  You need video to configure your BIOS and provide a console.  You could also just install a cheap VGA controller.
  • Operating system bootable from USB Flash.  These days, virtually all motherboards support this capability.  One rule of thumb: if the motherboard includes on-board GigEthernet, then it’s probably new enough to support USB boot.
  • PCI/PCIe device slots.  These slots can be used to install additional storage controllers that will add more SATA ports to your unRAID Server (consideration for future expand-ability).
  • An internally mounted female USB port.  This lets you prevent your boot device from being accidentally dislodged while connected other cables / devices.

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  • Ease of disk replacement.  Make it easy on yourself to replace drives when they fail and get a system that has tray-less drive bays built into the chassis of the system.
  • Placement / cooling.  If your putting this in the basement, it probably doesn’t matter how many fans you have in there or how loud it is, but if you’re putting it somewhere in earshot, consider a system focused on low-power usage and passive cooling (heat sinks).
  • Rack vs. tower.  If you have an AV rack, note the depth of any rack mount systems you look to purchase as AV racks are only 2/3 the size of a typical server rack (19″ vs. 30″).  If you don’t have a rack, you should probably buy a tower.
  • Drive cages.  If you can, go “tray-less” and our personal review is that SuperMicro makes the best cages, followed by iStar, then Icy Dock.  Only typically applicable to tower-based chassis (quality rack-mountable enclosures typically have built in tray-less bays).

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  • Check the forums.  Users love to discuss their experiences with various brands of storage devices.  Read up before making your selection.
  • Size matters.  The larger a drive, the longer it will take to clear it as well as replace it in the event of a failure.
  • Network performance and SSDs for cache-devices.  SSDs can go much faster, but a typical 1 Gigabit network limits write performance to ~125MB/s anyway (within HDD capabilities).

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  • Since peripheral bus speed quickly becomes a bottleneck for parity sync/check, if parity sync/check speed is important to you, try to use PCI-E disk controllers.
  • For a less expensive solution, you can use PCI disk controllers.
  • Your parity sync/check speed will not be as fast, but all other normal operations (read/write of media data) will be just as fast.
  • Since parity sync/check can be done during times when your server is not being used, parity sync/check speed is less important.

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  • The general rule of thumb here is to not go cheap and make sure to use a single +12V rail design.
  • This is because split-rail designs may not direct full power to the peripheral connectors used by the hard drives.
  • There is a good article on the unRAID Wiki that discusses this further.
  • Many obscure, intermittent hard disk problems may appear as you add hard drives in a system with a cheap power supply.

Application Server

As processors and memory have grown faster and faster over the years, the desire to tap into the underutilized resources of a traditional NAS have pushed people into installing third party applications onto their systems.  When done correctly, applications can be installed that add value to the user without unnecessary exposure to data loss.  The trick is in properly sizing the system with enough resources and using server-grade resources if you can afford to (ECC memory, Xeon-class processor, server-grade motherboard).  The key properties of an Application Server system is the use of Docker containers and Plugins.  Depending on the number of applications and the type you intend to install will determine your actual resource requirements, but generally speaking, media serving and transcoding applications are the biggest consumers of CPU and memory typically used on an unRAID Server.

Application Server Hardware Recommendations

cpu-icon_text-grey-v2-s

  • For businesses:  server grade CPU (Intel Xeon); 4-8 CPU cores
  • For home users:  Intel i3 or better CPU; 2-4 CPU cores

RAM-icon_text

  • For business users:  8GB dual-channel ECC RAM
  • For home users:  4GB dual-channel RAM

Motherboard_Circuit-icon_text-v2

  • Ports.  number of SATA ports for expansion capability.
  • CPU support.  Make sure the motherboard you purchase supports the CPU you’ve selected.
  • On-board gigabit Ethernet.  This is important; you won’t be happy with only Fast Ethernet (100Mbit).
  • On-board video.  You need video to configure your BIOS and provide a console.  You could also just install a cheap VGA controller.
  • Operating system bootable from USB Flash.  These days, virtually all motherboards support this capability.  One rule of thumb: if the motherboard includes on-board GigEthernet, then it’s probably new enough to support USB boot.
  • PCI/PCIe device slots.  These slots can be used to install additional storage controllers that will add more SATA ports to your unRAID Server (consideration for future expand-ability).
  • An internally mounted female USB port.  This lets you prevent your boot device from being accidentally dislodged while connected other cables / devices.

enclosure-icon-grey_text

  • Ease of disk replacement.  Make it easy on yourself to replace drives when they fail and get a system that has tray-less drive bays built into the chassis of the system.
  • Placement / cooling.  If your putting this in the basement, it probably doesn’t matter how many fans you have in there or how loud it is, but if you’re putting it somewhere in earshot, consider a system focused on low-power usage and passive cooling (heat sinks).
  • Rack vs. tower.  If you have an AV rack, note the depth of any rack mount systems you look to purchase as AV racks are only 2/3 the size of a typical server rack (19″ vs. 30″).  If you don’t have a rack, you should probably buy a tower.
  • Drive cages.  If you can, go “tray-less” and our personal review is that SuperMicro makes the best cages, followed by iStar, then Icy Dock.  Only typically applicable to tower-based chassis (quality rack-mountable enclosures typically have built in tray-less bays).

storage_devices-icon_text4

  • Check the forums.  Users love to discuss their experiences with various brands of storage devices.  Read up before making your selection.
  • Size matters.  The larger a drive, the longer it will take to clear it as well as replace it in the event of a failure.
  • Application performance.  Using SSDs in your cache pool can improve the performance of applications.

storage_controller-icon_text4

  • Since peripheral bus speed quickly becomes a bottleneck for parity sync/check, if parity sync/check speed is important to you, try to use PCI-E disk controllers.
  • SATA3 is recommended if you intend to use SSDs in your system.
  • For a less expensive solution, you can use PCI disk controllers.
  • Your parity sync/check speed will not be as fast, but all other normal operations (read/write of media data) will be just as fast.
  • Since parity sync/check can be done during times when your server is not being used, parity sync/check speed is less important.

power_supply-icon_text

  • The general rule of thumb here is to not go cheap and make sure to use a single +12V rail design.
  • This is because split-rail designs may not direct full power to the peripheral connectors used by the hard drives.
  • There is a good article on the unRAID Wiki that discusses this further.
  • Many obscure, intermittent hard disk problems may appear as you add hard drives in a system with a cheap power supply.

Additional Information

Enclosure (Chassis)

There are two primary types of system enclosures:  rackmounts and towers.  Rackmount enclosures are designed to install in a…well…a rack.  They typically come with rail guides that mount to their sides, and access to the internal components is typically provided in two forms:  disk drives are typically mounted towards the front of the chassis that would be exposed outward from the rack, allowing disk replacements to be performed without needing to slide the system out of the rack at all;  internal components (CPU, Motherboard, RAM, PCI devices) are accessible typically from the top of the chassis, and require you to slide the unit outward from the rack (pulling towards you).  Rack’s are typically found in small to medium businesses, data centers, and in homes of professionals requiring such equipment (developers, engineers, systems administrators, etc.).  And important distinction to call out about racks in general is the difference between a server rack and an AV (audio/visual) rack.  It really all comes down to the depth of the rack.  A full server rack is typically over 30″ in depth.  An AV rack, however, is typically only 19″ in depth.  This is because an AV rack is designed to house receivers that are typically much smaller in size than a full blown server.  This is an important distinction to consider when building a system designed for a rack.  One of the unique benefits of Lime Technology’s AVS 10/4 Mass Storage Server is that it is actually designed to fit in a standard AV rack as it meets the depth requirement.  It also supports up to 10 x 3.5″ drive bays and 4 x 2.5″ drive bays that support a tray-less method of disk installation and replacement.  This means you don’t have to first mount your disks into a “caddie” before installing them into your server, which can be a hassle and add time to the disk replacement process.  However, if your need is for far less capacity and/or you don’t have a rack of any kind, you might consider a tower chassis instead.  You can get towers that support very large quantities of disks and of various sizes in a form factor of a large PC.

USB Flash Device

unRAID Server runs entirely from RAM, minimizing writes to the Flash device; however, it is also used to store vital system configuration data and must remain installed in your server during operation.  In addition, to obtain a registration key for unRAID Server OS, your flash device must contain a unique GUID (Globally Unique Identifier) and needs to be at least 512MB, but no larger than 32GB in size.  Also, please make sure you are using a well known brand and not using a card reader.

A few of the well-known brands that have GUIDs include:

There are a number of USB Flash devices that do not have a valid serial number and can not be registered:

Since the Flash device needs to remain plugged into your server, you should consider utilizing a motherboard header adapter in order to mount the Flash device inside your case.

Server Builder Gallery

Take a look at some of the images of systems that our very own community members have created!

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