WHS System Build: Drive Cage Tribulations

Antec EasySATA dockI have most of the parts in house for my WHS System build and I started putting things together and testing Windows Home Server V2 (Vail). I talked about the the case I picked and plans to try out the EasySATA docks. The good news is I ordered the docks from Amazon and as I said in article about my case choice:

Amazon also has a better return policy (and no restocking fee) so if I open the first one and it doesn’t meet my needs I should be able to return them without a problem.

The Antec EasySata isn’t a bad dock. I liked it, but it wouldn’t work for me. Even though it’s a fairly open design I was still concerned about heat once 5 of these were stacked in the case. Now, I knew that when I ordered them but I didn’t go far enough to know how well they handled heat.

The bigger problem I had with them is that the drive stuck out quit a bit. To far for me to cover them with a face plate or door. And if I did rig something it might keep in the heat. So I did keep the one I opened for use in my test PC where I’ll want to swap drives. But the rest went back.

So I hit the web again to do some research. I still wanted something where the drive could be removed externally. I don’t specifically need hot-swapping for my Windows Home Server, but the reality is anything I get will at least claim to support hot swapping. So I decided to include some X in Y type cages. For example, a cage that stuff four 3.5” hard drives into three 5.25” bays (or 3 in 2 or 5 in 4).

XClio SS035Here’s where I made a stupid mistake. It was stupid because I knew of the problem but didn’t check for it this time. I ordered a XClio SS035 5 x 3.5″ HDD in 3 x 5.25″ Cage from Newegg. It crams five 3.5” drives into three 5.25” bays by putting the drives on their side. I arrived yesterday. It’s well made and seems solid. It’s got a fan to cool the drives (in theory). But I won’t be installing it.

The problem? My case, like many (most?) cases includes little metal brackets that stick out to support what’s in the 5.25” bay. The cage has completely smooth sides that can’t handle the bracket. I’m not willing to molest the case by removing or bending the brackets. So this isn’t suitable for my Windows Home Server. It’s clear from the pictures that it won’t fit.

So after some more searching I ordered one SNT SNT-125B Black 3.5″ SATA Hard drive to 5.25″ Bay SATA Mobile Rack Removable Hard drive kit from Newegg. It’s cheap and if it doesn’t work for me I’ll still find a use for it. If it works I’ll order 4 more. It’s got a fan which should help in cooling. Reviews are good, considering the low price. It’s currently winging it’s way from the other coast and isn’t due to arrive until next week so the jury is still out.

Cooler Master 4 in 3 drive cageI’m also reconsidering the whole hot swap/externally accessible requirement. The case is big so there’s lots of room inside. I use the Cooler Master 4 in 3 cage in my current WHS so I may move it over to this new server and use it. It holds 4 drives with a fan that ventilates from the outside, unlike other units with a fan that would be inside the case. Also, it’s one fan will probably be quieter than 5 fans if I go with the xxx. While there are certainly other multi-drive hot swap bays out there this has the benefit of not costing me any more money.

Looking inside my Cooler Master HAF 932 there appear to be plenty of room to remove drives from the internal cage without anything on the motherboard getting in the way. This eliminates my main concern with drives that can only be accessed internally. After all, I already accepted 5 internal drives since they are easy to access.

So the Xclio SS035 will go back to Newegg and I’ll have to pay the restocking fee.  Early on I had excluded some cages because of this very reason, but I got stupid at the last moment. I can’t see using this in the near future so I might as well get some of my money back.

Turn Down the Heat

iStarUSA-BPU-2535The iStarUSA BPU-2535V2 1 x 3.5″ to 2 x 2.5″ SATA I/II Hot-Swap Drive Cage I’m using to hold the two 2.5” drives seems to be working well. I’ve been testing the drives in a mirrored configuration which means that I’ve been unable to read the SMART data (at least with the software I have and the chipset combos I have on the mobo). That is until I got to a higher end controller that I wanted to test.

By the time I got the software installed and got around to checking I saw the temperature was at 61 degrees (Celsius). This was for drives with a 60 degree operating temperature ceiling. The drives had been running for a long time building the mirror so there was a reason to run warmer than idle, but not good. I closed up the case to improve airflow and the temp cam down about 7 degrees. Acceptable, but sill to warm.

I picked the Western Digital Scorpios because of their reputation of being quieter and cooler than typical laptop drives. After sitting at idle overnight with just minimal activity from the OS the temp was 40 degrees. A full 8 degrees warmer than the next warmest drive in the system but much more acceptable.

So I’m looking for a cage that includes a fan. At this point all I find are bays that allow 4 drives which would work for me. I’m still debating whether I want to go the mirrored laptop drive route for the OS, but if I do I’ll need to do something about the heat.

Lessons Learned

Ordering the Asus EasySATA wasn’t such a bad idea. It cost me a little time but no money. The Xclio was a different story. I’m out about $25 (with shipping & restocking) and nothing to show. The lesson learned here is research! research! research! and remember the caveats. I had earlier excluded cages for this very reason, yet never considered it for this one.

It’s always the simple things. All the high tech stuff was fine. The drives work, the motherboard, memory and CPU work well together. It’s the little pieces of sheet metal that got me.

WHS System Build: The Case

The Cooler Master HAF932 CaseAfter starting my evaluation of Windows Home Server Vail on my test server I became more eager to get going on my next system build, a new home server that will run Vail (Windows Home Server v2) once it’s released. I’ve been researching the parts I think I’ll want for the server and decided it was time to start buying them. I made a decision on the case and placed the order this past weekend.

My choice was the COOLER MASTER HAF 932 RC-932-KKN1-GP which is a nice big ATX Full Tower. This will be my first full tower build and I’m looking forward to having the space inside. The case is made of steel which makes it heavy, the specs say it’s a tad over 29 pounds. Just because it’s steel doesn’t guarantee quality, but the Cooler Master rep and the reviews I’ve read does lead me to believe it’s a quality case which will last many years and several builds.

I had been looking to set up all the drives to be hot swappable and I’ve been hoping to have a rig with at least 12 drives in the case. The Cooler Master doesn’t meet that requirement but the cases that did had other issues I was concerned with. With so many drives with external from openings there wouldn’t be a fan blowing outside air over the drive. For example, the Antec 1200 could handle the drives but I’d lose two fans.

Then another big concern was expense, the LIAN LI PC-P80 case has 12 external 5.25” bays with good airflow over them. This was a serious contender as my case but at over double the price of the Cooler Master I was turned off. Lian Li is a quality case maker so I doubt I would have been disappointed. If the Cooler Master ends up being a bad choice for my Home Server it will certainly be suitable for my Windows PC upgrade and I can get the Lian Li for the home server.

As for the disk arrangement, the Cooler Master HAF 932 has:

  • 5 external 5.25” bays. There’s a sixth that’s convertible between 5.25” and 3.5”.
  • 1 external 3.5” bay. This is convertible to a 5.25” bay
  • 5 internal 3.5” bays. I like the arrangement of these bays as they face sideways. While I do have to open the case to access the drives I won’t need to slide the drives into or across any other parts to add or remove them. This was the clincher to get me to ease off the externally accessible drive requirement.
  • There’s also a bracket for attaching a 2.5″ SSD drive internally, although I don’t be using it.

To handle the 12 drives I’ll be adding the following to the case:

  • The iStarUSA BPU-2535V2 1 x 3.5″ to 2 x 2.5″ SATA I/II Hot-Swap Drive Cage takes one external 3.5” slot and can hold two 2.5” hard drives. My plan is to put two hard drives in this puppy and then set then mirror them to handle the Windows Home Server operating system. So this will go into the 3.5”/5.25” convertible bay.
  • My plan is to put a Antec EasySATA dock in each of the external 5.25” bays. These take a 3.5” drive and allow it to be hot swapped. There’s also a eSata port but I won’t be using that. If you do want to use the eSata port you’ll need an additional SATA connection for it. The two drives in here is what gives me the 12 drives in 11 bays.

So the case parts are on order and should arrive later this week. Everything except the EasySATA docks came from Newegg. The EasySATA docks were ordered from Amazon because they had them in stock for the exact same price but with free shipping due to Amazon Prime. Amazon also has a better return policy (and no restocking fee) so if I open the first one and it doesn’t meet my needs I should be able to return them without a problem.

The tab for this part of the build was $281.66 – $139.98 for the case (from Newegg), $36.68 for the iStarUSA drive cage and the EasySata’s were $21 each (I need 5).

Once the case arrives I’ll be hard-pressed to resist ordering the remaining components, so I may have more updates this week if I order more parts for the Windows Home Server build.

Feel free to comment about my selection (good or bad) or offer alternatives. Once I get the case and start using it I’ll update this article to reflect anything new that I learned.