To NAS or not to NAS, that is the question.

Yes! Being horribly behind the times has worked in my favor once again - now I know which drives not to buy. So, much like @Dave was two years ago, I'm out of space on my current media drive, and I need to increase my capacity, run everything through the Plex or VLC interfaces to stream to TV my Chromecast, and provide file storage and backup capacity for our website. Is NAS the right route, or do I need something more like the full-blown server like Gas had for running Empyrion?
 

GasBandit

Staff member
If you want to run Plex, you're going to need a PC. It doesn't necessarily have to be server-grade (though, I bought my server for like $240).

So really, you could just get the cheapest PC you can find and stick some USB drives in it.

But, on the other hand, you could just use NAS storage, and run VideoStream for chrome on your regular PC, and map its libraries to the shared storage. That's what I was doing before I got my server.
 
If you want to run Plex, you're going to need a PC. It doesn't necessarily have to be server-grade (though, I bought my server for like $240).

So really, you could just get the cheapest PC you can find and stick some USB drives in it.
Perfect. Cheapest PC I can find and USB drives is right in my price range.
 
If you want to run Plex, you're going to need a PC. It doesn't necessarily have to be server-grade (though, I bought my server for like $240).

So really, you could just get the cheapest PC you can find and stick some USB drives in it.

But, on the other hand, you could just use NAS storage, and run VideoStream for chrome on your regular PC, and map its libraries to the shared storage. That's what I was doing before I got my server.
My TerraMaster F4-220 runs "Terra-Master TOS" as the controller/configuration shell. It's linux-based and will run plex, so I was able to move my plex instance over to it. So, you don't technically need a full pc if you're getting a NAS device that'll run plex.
 
I also want to put in that if you know how to read spec sheets (UDIMM v RDIMM, PCI v PCIe v PCI-X, etc), you can find some reasonably good deals (dimes on the dollar) at places like discountelectronics.com, LabGopher.com, ServerMonkey.com, etc.

--Patrick
 
Thanks. Money probably isn't going to be a massive issue with this purchase, because we should be getting a rather large infusion of cash shortly, but a penny saved is like 50 pennies earned these days, so I'll probably take some time to pick through deals as much as I can, right up until I get too frustrated and just go online and buy the rest of the hardware in one fell swoop. What I'm looking for here is at least 32GB of RAM (and as capacity goes up, speed going down is fine), a decent processor, and more hard drives and fans than I know what to do with, yes?
 
What I'm looking for here is at least 32GB of RAM (and as capacity goes up, speed going down is fine), a decent processor, and more hard drives and fans than I know what to do with, yes?
RAM speed probably doesn't matter as much for NAS/Plex function, it's the amount that's important. I would try to stay at 16GB or above. Usually it's not the CPU, etc that really drive up the price, it's the purchase of 5x8TB (or whatever) drives that really tacks on the $$$, especially since they need to be built to handle the transmitted vibration(s) from other drives in the system.
Some other advice:
-DO NOT get a machine whose CPU lacks AES-NI support. Just don't. For one thing, it'll make encryption/decryption MUCH faster if you use it, and the other thing is that you probably don't want to use any CPU so old it doesn't support it anyway.
-Get ECC memory if you plan to use the machine for NAS, it reduces the risk of data corruption.
-Try to balance the hardware choices against how much you will be using it. If you are going to be leaving it running 24/7, you're going to want to skip the 130W CPUs and pick more energy-efficient parts and/or remove/disable anything you're not going to use.

I spent the last year digging about NAS and ZFS, so I could go on for quite a while about this, obviously.

--Patrick
 
Just an FYI for anyone else who, like myself, is thinking of going the "roll-your-own" route for building a NAS machine. Later this year, when the free and Open Source NAS package "FreeNAS" moves from v11.x to v12, it will also be changing name from "FreeNAS" to "TrueNAS CORE." They promise that this is more about unifying the brand and it will still be 100% free, still Open Source, and it will not result in any "Nerfing" of its functionality. Additionally, it looks like they are trying to move to something of an OS-independent model though "TrueNAS SCALE," which is (I guess?) a version they have running atop Debian to allow for a more Linux-friendly package.

--Patrick
 
This time, the issue has been resolved by the simple answer of "when I ordered the parts for Aislynn's new computer, I got a free 2TB WD Green SSD, which I will now be adding to my system as a second storage drive."
 

Dave

Staff member
So Pat. If YOU were to pick out a mid-ranged NAS and drives. And that NAS had to support Plex.

What would you choose?
 
What would you choose?
Well, I'm cheap (AND I honestly don't know that much about Plex), so I'd probably just download the Plex plug-in for FreeNAS, since one exists and I already have a box set up running FreeNAS.

BUT if I wanted a more turnkey NAS that I knew would support Plex out of the box AND had some room to grow? One that prioritized the goal of storing and consuming media above that of long-term archival storage? I'm guessing it would probably come down to a choice between one made by Synology or QNAP. Only problem is, since SOHO boxes usually ship with anemic processors, transcoding 4K footage is going to be an issue. Some of them have built-in hardware assistance, but that's something that will only work with whichever specific codecs are built into the hardware, meaning if your device requests any codec that's not built in, it might stutter or just drop out entirely. Not a big problem right now, but HEVC/H.265 is growing in popularity, and will no doubt replace H.264 someday. Also, turns out the version of Plex that supports hardware transcoding costs extra money anyway.

THEREFORE I would choose one whose processor is capable of transcoding in software, since all it takes to add new codecs in software is just to update that software. I would also pick a NAS that's relatively new so that it's not in danger of being discontinued/unsupported any time soon. Consulting the Plex people's compatibility list, there are not very many that can decode 4K UHD HDR in software. In fact, there are only three, all made by QNAP:

QNAP TS-877-1700 (Ryzen 7 1700) - US$2500
QNAP TVS-882BRT3-i7 (Core i7-7700) - US$2700
QNAP TVS-1282T/1282T3-i5/i7 (Core i5-7500/i7-7700) - US$3700-4500

These prices are all without any drives installed, by the way. Clearly, if I want something I can actually afford, the solution is either going to be to noticeably lower my standards, or else roll my own. But since this is an exercise in choosing an off-the-shelf solution, I will continue to ignore the DIY side of things. So how low can I go? A quick check of the ones that can decode 4K UHD SDR still puts those at or near US$2000, but I'm looking for something closer to $1500* (or lower), so it looks like we're going to be looking only at the ones that say they can do 1080p in software. Hardware assist would be nice, but again since it is an extra cost (to upgrade Plex), I will not consider it essential.

Most people have sizable libraries of media, so I will also not even look at any NAS with less than 4 bays, preferably not less than 6. I'm also not going to consider any NAS that only ranks "some" in software decoding of 1080p. It must be a full "yes."

Ah, now we're getting into the sub-US$1000's-ish. Again, sticking with only the models on the Plex list:

Asustor AS-4004T - US$450 - Wow what a price!
QNAP TVS-473e - US$1050 - BUT...
QNAP TVS-673e - US$1100 - Same as the above but you get 2 add'l bays for under $100 more.

Pretty much every other NAS in the list was either too expensive, didn't have enough bays, was too old, or got passed over for some other reason. I really wasn't expecting to narrow the list down to so few, and I was expecting there to be more of a fight between models from Synology and QNAP, but either the Plex people just haven't tested enough Synology NASes yet, or else Synology's lineup is too focused on business use instead of SOHO/Personal.

So based on all this, I guess the QNAP TVS-673e is the one to compare everything else against, with the Asustor as a dark horse competitor based solely on its remarkably low price. There is the VERY REAL possibility that manufacturers have released newer models that have not yet made it into the Plex compatibility list, and that I therefore could not compare. If so, check their hardware specs against other similar models that are on the Plex list to get some idea what they're capable of. One NAS with a Core i7-7700 performs much like any other with the same processor, and in the case where the CPU has been upgraded or changed in the newer model, there are sites like Passmark's CPU pages where you can estimate how much difference the new CPU might make.

--Patrick
*I know I said I'm going to avoid the DIY method, but once the price goes noticeably over $1500, it REALLY starts to make more sense to roll your own if you don't need integrated hardware.
 
incidentally, for what it's worth, when I rip CDs to the library, I use Handbrake (a free tool) to transcode it into a Roku-friendly format so no transcoding work is necessary by my TerraMaster
 
Alright, @PatrThom, we've seen what you would buy off the shelf - what would you do if you wanted to roll your own? Assume it doesn't have to work with Plex, because I'm too much of a lazy bastard to set up my Plex server appropriately right now. Apparently Newegg was out of free 2TB WD Green drives, so I got a 120GB drive. On the one hand, it's free. And on the other, what am I going to do with a 120GB SSD?
 
since SOHO boxes usually ship with anemic processors, transcoding 4K footage is going to be an issue. Some of them have built-in hardware assistance, but that's something that will only work with whichever specific codecs are built into the hardware, meaning if your device requests any codec that's not built in, it might stutter or just drop out entirely. Not a big problem right now, but HEVC/H.265 is growing in popularity, and will no doubt replace H.264 someday.
AAAAND they've now announced H.266/VVC and all its wonderfulness. Half the data rate of H.265/HEVC, but again it needs either more horsepower or dedicated decoding blocks in the processor/GPU in order to take advantage.
what am I going to do with a 120GB SSD?
They make good boot drives for FreeNAS/TrueNAS/PFSense or whatever other purpose-built boxen you put together.
Failing that, they can also be dropped into an enclosure to use for sneakernet file transfer.
what would you do if you wanted to roll your own?
Funny you should mention that. After putting together my training box, my next step was to tape out something a bit more... robust. I haven't built it yet because money, of course, but I wanted the satisfaction of researching the parts to be ready to go.
Let me see if I can find where I put the HW list... ah, here it is:

MLB - ASRock Rack C236 WSI (Mini-ITX w/ 8 on-board SATA ports!)
RAM - 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400 unbuffered ECC (or slower if slower is a lot cheaper)
CPU - Intel Xeon E3-1225 v6 (the v5's use lower power, with the Xeon E3-1235L v5 the lowest, but v5=Skylake, v6=Kaby Lake)
HSF - Noctua NH-U12S
SSD - StarTech PEX2M2 2xM.2 PCIe adapter (with paired SATA3 M.2 drives to create a mirrored boot volume)
HDD - 7x whatever HDD mounted in 7x5.25->3.5 shock-absorbing drive mounts
CAS - iStar USA S-917
OS - FreeNAS/TrueNAS CORE

I am not sure the case is still available, but it looks like it's made for NAS.
I have seen some reviews complaining about the reliability of that MLB, but I have not searched to see if it's the board or just some guy badmouthing it everywhere.

A reminder that my intent was to make a RAIDZ3 (4 data + 3 redundancy) for maximum data integrity/longevity, so 7 bays fit perfectly for my requirement.
Using the M.2 adapter means I won't be able to drop in a 10G Ethernet card later, but since those are $$$ right now I didn't think it'd be a big deal.

--Patrick
 
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Let me see if I can find where I put the HW list... ah, here it is:

MLB - ASRock Rack C236 WSI (Mini-ITX w/ 8 on-board SATA ports!)
RAM - 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4-2400 unbuffered ECC (or slower if slower is a lot cheaper)
CPU - Intel Xeon E3-1225 v6 (the v5's use lower power, with the Xeon E3-1235L v5 the lowest, but v5=Skylake, v6=Kaby Lake)
HSF - Noctua NH-U12S
SSD - StarTech PEX2M2 2xM.2 PCIe adapter (with paired SATA3 M.2 drives to create a mirrored boot volume)
HDD - 7x whatever HDD mounted in 7x5.25->3.5 shock-absorbing drive mounts
CAS - iStar USA S-917
OS - FreeNAS/TrueNAS CORE

I am not sure the case is still available, but it looks like it's made for NAS.
I have seen some reviews complaining about the reliability of that MLB, but I have not searched to see if it's the board or just some guy badmouthing it everywhere.

A reminder that my intent was to make a RAIDZ3 (4 data + 3 redundancy) for maximum data integrity/longevity, so 7 bays fit perfectly for my requirement.
Using the M.2 adapter means I won't be able to drop in a 10G Ethernet card later, but since those are $$$ right now I didn't think it'd be a big deal.

--Patrick
Not too shabby. For about $2100, all off of Amazon - and I'm sure I can find better deals than that. Thank you. It is definitely time for some tech upgrades around here. Replacing the Samsung S7s that were mostly dead before we were done paying them off was a great start.
 
At the time I first built that list, 4TB Seagate NAS drives were going for about $100/ea, and buying $700 worth of 'em (for about 30.5TB usable storage) would've been almost 40% of the system's entire budget, but then again the drives usually end up being the majority of any NAS's price. Nowadays I think I might look into pricing it out with 6-8TB.

As you might be able to tell, half the thrill for me of building a new system is hunting down what I believe to be THE most relevant/appropriate parts for whatever purpose I'm pursuing. :D

--Patrick
 
At the time I first built that list, 4TB Seagate NAS drives were going for about $100/ea, and buying $700 worth of 'em (for about 30.5TB usable storage) would've been almost 40% of the system's entire budget, but then again the drives usually end up being the majority of any NAS's price. Nowadays I think I might look into pricing it out with 6-8TB.

As you might be able to tell, half the thrill for me of building a new system is hunting down what I believe to be THE most relevant/appropriate parts for whatever purpose I'm pursuing. :D

--Patrick
A man after my own heart. My biggest issue always seems to be that I can spec out the best there is, but then I sit and debate whether or not it's really necessary and wind up with something half-assed and a dollar short that dies after a suspiciously short amount of time because I'd tried to save money, and then I wind up spending even more money to fix or replace what I bought the previous time. Of course, it doesn't help that every brand in the last forty years has seemed to spend their history building up a good rep, and just before I buy something from them, they get bought out by a corporate raider and their product and service goes to hell. In the last decade and a half I've been burned by Samsung, Phillips (sp?), KitchenAid, Whirlpool, Black & Decker, Craftsman, Sony, HP, Bissell, Hoover, Amana, and of course, Amazon. If I run into this problem in a couple weeks when I start looking to replace the flooring in my house, I'm gonna be pissy.
 
it doesn't help that every brand in the last forty years has seemed to spend their history building up a good rep, and just before I buy something from them, they get bought out by a corporate raider and their product and service goes to hell.
Dude!

--Patrick
 
Oh relax, nobody's buying anyone else right now.
I mean, you're wrong there (and don't get me started on the whole Virgin/Sprint/Boost/T-Mobile/Dish thing), but I was just expressing my sympathy since it's something I also stumble over frequently.
The only defense I've found is to research the absolute hell out of something until my notes look like that Always Sunny meme, and by then frequently any of the older "good" ones have skyrocketed in price.

--Patrick
 
Oh, there's one very important piece I need to upgrade, speaking of upgrades. What's the best wifi router these days? Mine was supplied by my ISP.
 
I'm still bumping along on 2013 802.11ac er I mean WiFi 5-based gear, but that's mainly because none of the client stuff in my house is new enough to be able to use WiFi 6 ("ax") capability (nor will it any time soon), and as it is I think I only have TWO devices that can even use WiFi 5/ac.

I therefore may not be the best person to ask, since I'm pretty much moving towards a topology where I have a homebuilt wired router hooked up to APs (which right now are just my old ac routers but dumbed down to bridge mode) rather than a single central unit coupled to my ISP's box.

I think the NetGear Nighthawk AX line is, like, the poster child for 6/ax, but people also won't shut up about some ASUS model, though. Hang on a sec...
Ok I think they're talking about the RoG Rapture AX11000 ($450), which looks more like a conference table out of a 90's SciFi show, but if you're going to go ASUS, I think the RT-AX88U ($400) looks more appealing (less G4M3Z0RR). There's at least one review showing the performance of the ASUS routers has issues under AX, but they seem to think this is an underlying Broadcom thing, and not an ASUS problem. MAYbe this has something to do with the fact that Broadcom was bought out by Avago Technology about five years ago, buuuuuut... you never know.

The above is all off-the-cuff, no real research done, reputation only, but one thing is becoming clear even over the last 20min of searches: I would NOT get any new 6/ax router/AP that does not support OFDMA.

--Patrick
 

GasBandit

Staff member
Oh, there's one very important piece I need to upgrade, speaking of upgrades. What's the best wifi router these days? Mine was supplied by my ISP.
I've been pretty happy with my TPLink Archer A7.

It's just 802.11ac, but I mean really, do you need your wireless to be faster than 1300mb/s?
 
I've been pretty happy with my TPLink Archer A7.

It's just 802.11ac, but I mean really, do you need your wireless to be faster than 1300mb/s?
+1 for TP-Link. I have an AC4000, and it fits our house well (2-story, 4 users that are constantly connected with multiple devices each doing bandwidth-intensive stuff).
 
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