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What is Unraid and how to build an Unraid media server

Show off your HTPC builds, NAS Servers, and any other hardware. Great place to ask for hardware help too.
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Jamie
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What is Unraid and how to build an Unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:35 pm

Hi,

I have been playing around with Drobo boxes for over 10 years and 4 -5 of these cruddy machines have died after a few years service. This time not only did one of my Drobos fail but it took my data with it. These boxes are expensive but cheaply made. I have had PCs running 24 hours a day for over 8 - 10 years without failing.

Over the last year Paul has been encouraging me to build an unraid box for my media server. Since I have now lost some data on one of my drobos and also having to deal with their limitations, I am more receptive to building a new box. Paul said it would be nice to post my need here to get some advice on what type box to build with the following specs.

Right now I have about 75 TB of drive space encompassing all my Drobos. My goal is to have a least 20 - 24 drive bays of capacity. I currently am using 31 drives in my Drobos but they are mostly 3 - 4 TB drives plus Drobo overhead.

My goal is to try not to spend more than $2500 - $3000 for just the device without the drives costs added in. The less expenisve the better though. It does not need to be pretty or decked out with lights.

I have experience building PCs before and the only difficulty I've had is determining how much thermal paste to use. Usually I use too much.

If someone has an idea on a prebuilt machine I will consider it.

I know a really quiet rig is a little too much to hope for, but if that can be considered let me know.

Just use this thread to post whatever advice that you can give me and if you have another device that is not an unraid solution just let me know. Just don't tell me to use a Drobo.

Jamie
Last edited by Jamie on Fri Mar 01, 2019 3:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Jamie
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Tue Feb 19, 2019 1:30 pm

for those who do not know what unraid is, here are some links that should explain it.

https://lime-technology.com/wp/unraid-server/

https://lime-technology.com/wp/what-is-unraid/

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Pauven
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Pauven » Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:59 pm

Hey Jamie, I'm happy to help.

In one of our earlier conversations you mentioned that you don't plan to run any VM's or Dockers on Unraid, that you want to use this for storage only. Is that still true? If so, you can go very low end on the motherboard/cpu/memory.


Jamie wrote:
Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:35 pm
Right now I have about 75 TB of drive space encompassing all my Drobos. My goal is to have a least 20 - 24 drive bays of capacity. I currently am using 31 drives in my Drobos but they are mostly 3 - 4 TB drives plus Drobo overhead.

Unraid is very efficient with regards to storage space lost due to parity. With that many drive bays, you'll definitely want to use dual parity (two drives). Assuming you had all 3TB drives in a 24 bay enclosure, that would be 22 data drives for 66TB. If you had half 3TB and half 4TB drives, that would be 77TB. If you had all 4TB drives, that would be 88TB. As you can see, with similar capacity drives to what you have now, with only 24 drives you can easily have a similar total storage to what you have across 31 drives in your Drobos.

In Unraid you can also mix and match drives, and you get 100% of the capacity of each drive. For example, I have 18x 3TB + 2x 4TB drives for a total of 62TB - no space lost. The only requirement is that your parity drives must be as big as your biggest data drive. My parity drives are currently 8TB, so I can pop any capacity data drive in up to 8TB, mixing and matching how I please. I already have 3 spare 8TB drives I plan to swap in to replace 3TB data drives as they fill up. If at some point I need to go bigger than 8TB, I'll have to swap out the parity drives first to the larger size.

I don't use all 24 drive bays for parity+data, rather I only use 22 of them. I like to keep a couple slots open so I can pop spare drives in there, and verify they work with a stress test and "pre-clear" before I add them to my data array. I would suggest you do the same. That means a 20 bay server will provide you 18 usable bays (16 data + 2 parity), and a 24 bay server nets you 22 usable bays (20 data + 2 parity). Just factor that into your target space calculations.


Jamie wrote:
Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:35 pm
My goal is to try not to spend more than $2500 - $3000 for just the device without the drives costs added in. The less expenisve the better though. It does not need to be pretty or decked out with lights.

Wow, that's a big budget! I wasn't thinking anywhere near that high. Your case will be the biggest expense, possibly even up to $700-$800. I think the final tally will be closer to $1500, maybe up to $2000 depending upon your final choices. Here's some ballpark price targets.
  • Case: <$800
  • Motherboard: <$200
  • CPU+Fan: <$100
  • RAM: $50
  • Power Supply: <$100
  • SATA Port Multiplier or SATA Controllers: <$200
  • Unraid Pro license: <$130
That leaves some room in your budget for goodies like extra fast cache drives or some bigger storage drives.


Jamie wrote:
Mon Feb 18, 2019 9:35 pm
I know a really quiet rig is a little too much to hope for, but if that can be considered let me know.

This is a little bit of a curveball, and before we get too deep into component choices, we need to talk about noise, size and weight.

If you've never owned a 24-bay 4U rackmount server case before, you probably don't know how loud these can be, nor how much they weigh.

My case, with 16 HD's in it, was too heavy for me to move by myself. With all the HD's removed, I can barely manage it. I'm not sure what the actual weight is, but it is closer to 100 lbs than 50 lbs!

The case itself is huge: 26" deep, 17" wide, and 7" tall. And it's too ugly for living room duty. Not sure where you plan to hide this thing.

My case, is an X-Case RM-424 Pro, which comes with 3 high powered 120mm fans that suck air past the HD's to keep them cool, and these fans are the main noise maker in the server. I control the fan speed with the chassis fan header on the motherboard, and noise levels go from an audible breeze at the quietest to a annoying drone at the loudest. Typically the fans only speed up when all drives are accessed during the monthly parity check which takes about 18.5 hours on my build (depends upon HD sizes), but in general the thing is too loud for me to stay in the same room with it, so I hide it in the basement.

If that type of case doesn't sound ideal to you, we may want to consider going a different route. Instead of building one giant server, you could build 2 12 bay servers, or 3 8 bay servers. Each would be smaller, lighter, and cheaper than a full blown 24-bay server. The total cost may be higher than the $1500 I alluded to above, but may not be as bad as you think, since you're also eliminating the big expense of that 24-bay case and possibly the extra SATA controller cards.


So that's probably enough for now. Read through all that carefully, and then give me your thoughts on doing a big 24-bay server rackmount case, or trying to go with multiple smaller builds.

Paul
President, Chameleon Consulting LLC
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Jamie
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:33 pm

Pauven wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:59 pm

In one of our earlier conversations you mentioned that you don't plan to run any VM's or Dockers on Unraid, that you want to use this for storage only. Is that still true? If so, you can go very low end on the motherboard/cpu/memory.


Yes, my main goal is to have a large storage device, or 2

I was wondering whether I could dual boot into windows to run MM CM and CMC? I will have to do some research to check this out. What do you, or others, use your unraid machines for other than storage?

Pauven wrote:
Tue Feb 19, 2019 6:59 pm

Wow, that's a big budget! I wasn't thinking anywhere near that high. Your case will be the biggest expense, possibly even up to $700-$800. I think the final tally will be closer to $1500, maybe up to $2000 depending upon your final choices. Here's some ballpark price targets.
  • Case: <$800
  • Motherboard: <$200
  • CPU+Fan: <$100
  • RAM: $50
  • Power Supply: <$100
  • SATA Port Multiplier or SATA Controllers: <$200
  • Unraid Pro license: <$130

$2500 - $3000 is the max I would spend. If you could get it down to $1500 that would be superb


I was looking at this case and it's under my consideration.

I also saw these cases and saw that some people got 17 drives in them. I have to do some more research. Any other advice, recommendations would be appreciated.

https://www.fractal-design.com/home/pro ... lack-pearl

The antecs would be nice but are no longer made

http://store.antec.com/gaming-series/ni ... green.html#
http://store.antec.com/gaming-series/tw ... ed-v3.html#

I have been thinking that maybe I could get 2 boxes eventually. One dedicated storage device and one to replace my current desktop if dual booting is possible. If I dual boat, or use a windows VM, I would like access to my storage area from other PC's while I'm on windows whether it be inside a VM or dual boot. I don't think a dual boot would operate that way, but a VM should be able to work.

My basement gets dusty and damp. Sometimes in the spring it gets flooded with 2 inches of water. I was thinking about using our storage/laundry room. I used to have a 486 in my bedroom and that sounded like a jet engine most of the time so I can deal with some noise. I was just wondering if I could keep one of these in the bedroom. I can place it in the laundry room which is secluded. It has an ethernet line running to it with a GB switch.

What does the unraid OS require for compatibility??

MB?
CPU, AMD, Intel?
GPU, Motherboard embedded would be great, but I could buy a cheap card unless I dual boot with windows.

RAM? 8, 16, 32GB?

I would have to do some numbes,r but I expect a 650 - 750 watt Corsair or EVGA power supply?

Jamie
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Thu Feb 21, 2019 8:09 am

Seeing the size and weight of a full tower. I could get one of these dedicated to storage. They would be okay in our laundry room.

https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product. ... 6811147164
https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product. ... 6811219033
https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product. ... 6811219038

Also, your case Paul.

X-Case RM-424 Pro

Any recommendations on this type of server case?

What would be the advantages, disadvantages of these cases? How do you move them around. Like you said they are heavy.

Jamie

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Pauven
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Pauven » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:01 am

I do like the idea of putting it in the laundry room. Obviously your basement is a no-go with your water issues down there.

That Nanoxia Deep Silence 6 Super Tower Case is an amazing case. I wish I had known about it a few months back when I bought a new workstation case, it might have been a better choice. But as nice as this case is, in my opinion having external hot-swap bays is a critical requirement for this type of build. If you were doing a small Unraid server, with only 4-8 drives, I would be more agreeable to internal storage. You're currently using Drobo's with external hot-swap, and I think you would find this Nanoxia case to be a major step backwards in maintainability, especially when you consider the number of drives you are wanting to incorporate. Also, I think you would struggle to get to even 20 drives, and you'd have to buy a $100 5-bay hot swap module to expand the 3.5" storage, so this is really a $400 case, plus shipping.

The Define XL R2 Black Pearl has all the same shortcomings of the Nanoxia. Looks like it could handle 14 drives fairly easily, not sure how you get to 17.

I don't like the Rosewill RSVL4500. It's the same size as my X-Case, but it only has space for 15 drives, and they are all internally accessed. This would be a bad choice.

My previous case was the Norco RPC-4220, and it is certainly an option. This was many years ago, so my memories of it are vague. It is a relatively cheap case. I had several drive bays that worked inconsistently and caused me many headaches. Cooling wasn't that great, it was loud, and actually wiring up the 20 drives was a pain, and sometimes data cables would work themselves loose. I think there are reviews mentioning similar issues, and having to replace control boards. I have zero regrets spending a few hundred more to upgrade to the X-Case. I had no idea how cheap the Norco was until I got the X-Case.

I looked long and hard at the Norco RPC-4224, and came very close to buying it before discovering the X-Case. The Norco is $460 shipped, and the X-Case (depending upon model) may only be $100-$300 more including shipping. They are approximately the same size and weight. This Norco has the same problems as the 4220: subpar cooling, difficult wiring, data cables that can shake loose, flaky drive bays/backplanes, and lots of sharp edges that you will cut yourself on.

All things considered, if the RPC-4220/4224 are on your list, then I think the X-Case is the obvious pick. You get a better quality product, ready to go out of the box, all external hot-swap for easy maintainability, much better cooling, much better construction quality. I know it has to ship from Britain, but mine showed up in a shockingly quick 2-days, and was super well packaged.

The only problem with the X-Case is that they seem to be going out of stock. Not sure what is going on, but some models are no longer available. In fact, the one I was going to recommend, the RM424-EX Pro ($640) is sold out. The EX models include an Expander, which allows you to control all 24 drives from one data cable, and you would only need one 4/8 port HBA controller card, saving you lots of money even though the case is more expensive: https://www.xcase.co.uk/collections/4u- ... 424-ex-pro It might be worth reaching out to them to see what is going on.

My case isn't made anymore, but the replacement is the RM424 Pro-V2 @ $550: https://www.xcase.co.uk/collections/4u- ... erver-case It has SAS backplanes, which means that I only have 6 SAS data cables running from my controller card to the backplanes (each data cable has 4 SATA lines built-in). This was a huge upgrade over the wiring mess that the Norco provided. The problem is that my controller card cost $700, so if you go this route you're at almost $1400 just with the case and controller card. This is a maximum performance setup (every drive gets dedicated data lanes, unlike the expander that shares data lanes across drives), but for our usage I really don't think this makes a difference. If I had it to do over, I would go the expander route above.

If you can't get your hands on the RM424-EX, then I think the next best option is the RM424 eXtra Value, only $351 plus shipping: https://www.xcase.co.uk/collections/4u- ... tswap-bays In total I think you could get this for under $500, and it is so much better than that Norco. But to be clear, this case is very similar to my case, and requires the same type of HBA controller cards. I need to do some shopping around to see what the good options are. While you can still get my controller card for about $650, I believe there are much more affordable options available.
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Pauven » Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:42 am

Jamie wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:33 pm
What does the unraid OS require for compatibility??

MB?
CPU, AMD, Intel?
GPU, Motherboard embedded would be great, but I could buy a cheap card unless I dual boot with windows.

RAM? 8, 16, 32GB?

I would have to do some numbes,r but I expect a 650 - 750 watt Corsair or EVGA power supply?

Unraid is Linux, so it runs on pretty much anything and everything. There are a few components for which drivers are flaky in Linux, but for the most part you can use anything.

I'm a huge AMD fan, and while I would normally highly recommend an AMD Ryzen processor, there is a bug with AMD processors and Linux/Unraid. I know first hand. There are workarounds, but I would still recommend Intel CPU's for an Unraid build. Anything from Atoms to XEONs all work. Atoms are plenty, unless you want to do Dockers/VM's.

You will need graphics/display output, but it can be extremely low end, or embedded/built-in.

8GB of RAM is plenty, unless you want to do Dockers/VM's.

I think a 750W power supply is about right. The biggest power draw is all 24 drives spinning up at the exact same time (Unraid does NOT have staggered spin up - I've asked for it years ago). So when you do the power supply size calculation, you should calculate based upon the load 24 drives will induce at simultaneous spin up. That alone will probably put you at 650W, then add in some extra for a safety margin.

I'm running a high-quality 650W in my build, with 23 drives, an AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, 64GB RAM, a 1TB NVMe drive, and very low end graphics (nVidia GT710), and I've never had any problems, though I should probably have a 750W in there. I chose the 650W when I had my previous Intel Celeron board in there, and I was trying to build a very power efficient 24 drive server.
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Jamie
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:09 pm

Pauven wrote:
Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:01 am
I do like the idea of putting it in the laundry room. Obviously your basement is a no-go with your water issues down there.

Okay, I have given up on the desktop replacement idea and decided to do the 24 hotswap rack mount system as originally planned when we discussed this a year ago. The laundry/storage space has plenty of room. The only concern I have is the long ethernet drop that I have to that room. It's about 100 feet from the router in my bedroom where I keep most of my equipment. As I stated I am using gb switches and routers with cat 6 cables.

Now to the case,

Pauven wrote:
Thu Feb 21, 2019 10:01 am

If you can't get your hands on the RM424-EX, then I think the next best option is the RM424 eXtra Value, only $351 plus shipping: https://www.xcase.co.uk/collections/4u- ... tswap-bays In total I think you could get this for under $500, and it is so much better than that Norco.



I will look at xcase especially the RM424 Pro-V2 and the above as you suggested. What are the shipping costs from the UK to the east coast??

I will probably go with intel and a cheap graphics card since this device will only run unraid for storage purposes only.

I noticed that a lot of former computer case manufacturers are stopping production. Antec no longer does cases it seems, or there is very little selection left. The same for lian li.

Now for the controller card and MB. Any suggestions there ?? I will do my research. Just need some experienced what to watch out for advice.

For CPU, you mention the atom processors as being acceptable. So the Zeon is really not necessary for doing just what I need to do which is storage?

Jamie
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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Jamie » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:17 pm

I have decided that I will watch the availability of the RM424-EX Pro in the x-case site and if I can't get that I will seriously look at the RM424 eXtra Value.

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Re: Need advice on building an unraid media server

Post by Pauven » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:41 pm

Jamie wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:33 pm
I was wondering whether I could dual boot into windows to run MM CM and CMC? I will have to do some research to check this out. What do you, or others, use your unraid machines for other than storage?
Jamie wrote:
Wed Feb 20, 2019 9:33 pm
I have been thinking that maybe I could get 2 boxes eventually. One dedicated storage device and one to replace my current desktop if dual booting is possible. If I dual boat, or use a windows VM, I would like access to my storage area from other PC's while I'm on windows whether it be inside a VM or dual boot. I don't think a dual boot would operate that way, but a VM should be able to work.

You definitely do not want to dual boot an Unraid server, even though technically you could. Since all your drives would still be attached, you risk Windows having direct access to these drives and writing something/anything that could corrupt your array. It's not worth the risk.

Originally, Unraid was used only for storage, all the way through Unraid v5. It was just a really nice storage server. Essentially the same as a network Drobo.

Then in v6 LimeTech added VM and Docker container hosting, and that changed everything!

Some users will install a nice video card and pass it through to a Windows VM, and essentially have a fullblown Windows desktop running inside Unraid. Some users take this to the next level, install multiple video cards, keyboards, mice, sound devices, etc, and run multiple Windows desktops on one machine. It is simply amazing that it can do this, and to see how far you can go, check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXOaCkbt4lI . But, and this is a BIG BUT, you have to be in the same room with the Unraid server or have some really long cables passing through walls, as this isn't doable over the network.

Now I do run multiple Windows Server VM's, which I use for developing enterprise software. I access these VM's via RDP over the network, since I don't care about the desktop experience. But if you wanted to do anything with video, audio or photos, this is not a good solution.

Long story short, you could very easily take a desktop PC, run Unraid on it, and run a Windows 10 VM inside of it, passing through your graphics & audio & keyboard/mice, and it would be better than dual-booting, because you are running both at once, and you would even have great performance. But the main requirement would be the PC needs to be where you are, and not in the laundry room. You also would need a more powerful PC (more cores, more RAM, and with virtualization support) so that you can run these VM's on top of Unraid. As I wrote earlier, you can run Unraid on an Atom - many users do - but you won't be able to do a VM on an Atom. My previous Unraid build was a Celeron G1610, and it could almost run a Linux VM, but certainly not a Windows VM, it was too slow and lacked virtualization features.

To run VM's, you MUST have a CPU with either Intel VT-x or AMD-V capability.

Now, as cool as VM's are, Dockers are even cooler. If you don't know what a Docker is, it's halfway between a VM and an App. I needed DLNA storage for my Silicon Dust HDHomeRun to record shows, so I installed the binhex-minidlna Docker on my Unraid server, and voila I now had a DLNA storage appliance on my network. I also wanted to set up my own Git server for version controlling my software, and installed a nice Gitea Docker that gives me a free local Git service with very little setup, and without the headache of a full-blown VM install.

Here's a great video on Unraid and Docker (and this user has a lot of great Unraid videos): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISJczs06pD8

Now, what kind of Dockers would you want to run? There's so many to choose from, it's hard to say. But here's just a few examples out of hundreds of what's possible (there are currently 460 app, most are Dockers and others are plugins):
  • Backups: CrashPlan (back up all your PC's)
  • Backups: Syncthing (sync your data to the cloud)
  • Backups: Ripper (detects & automatically rips optical disks)
  • Cloud: Dropbox (set up a synced data folder)
  • Cloud: ownCloud (access your own files through a web interface)
  • Downloaders: sonarr (downloads shows via RSS for Usenet/BitTorrent users)
  • Downloaders: Webgrabplus (downloads EPG/program guide data)
  • Home Automation: DashBtn (Amazon Dash Button interceptor)
  • Home Automation: UniFi (UniFi controller software)
  • Network Services: so many kinds of services from Web Servers, DNS, FTP, Proxy, VOIP, and more
  • Media Applications: Emby, Plex, Handbrake, MythTV
  • Media Applications: Zoneminder (manage and monitor your security cameras)
  • Media Servers: EmbyServer, PlexMediaServer, PhotoShow, XMBC Headless
  • Productivity: Flickr uploader (upload pics to flicker)
  • Productivity: MySQL database server
  • Tools/Utils: Bjonness406 convert2mkv (autoconvert videos to mkv/mp4)
  • Tools/Utils: CUPS (internet printing to local printers)
  • Other: FileBot (organizes and renames movies/TV shows/anime/music and downloads subtitles/artwork)
I have a UniFi wireless network, and just last week I bought a UniFi controller for $120. It's awesome and I love it, but I could have saved myself $120 and just installed that UniFi Docker (DOH!!!). Should have checked the repository before I spent my money.

The other nice thing about Dockers is that you don't have to have a VT-x/AMD-V capable CPU, and don't need as much horsepower to run these things. Right now my two Dockers (Gitea and minidlna) are using 0% CPU and 0.26% memory, combined. True, I have a lot of CPU and memory on my server. But 0% CPU of a lot is still 0%, and 0.26% of 64GB is about 170 MB of RAM. While requirements change from Docker to Docker, in general you could run a half-dozen of these very easily even on limited hardware.
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