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Old May 16, 2012, 10:30 AM   #1
Dadioh
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Drobo or Mac Mini for File Serving?

Hopefully this is the right forum for the question. I am looking for some advice on setting up a file server in my home. I am an "almost" exclusively Mac home with 2 higher end PC's that are strictly for gaming. The other machines are MacPro1,1, 2 X iMacs, 4 X Macbooks, 2 X iPads, and various iPhones/iPods.

Current Situation Server
MacPro2,1 8-core 16GB Memory 120GB Boot SSD, 3 X 2TB WD Green, 1 X 1TB WD Black. Attached to this is an external 2TB FW800 drive for Time Machine on the MacPro and critical data. Also attached is an eSATA 4 bay array with 3 X 2TB WD Green (Movies) and a 500GB (Home Videos). The Movie disks are backed up to matching disks that I keep separate from the machine and use SuperDuper to update occasionally in my eSATA disk dock.

So I have 6 X 2TB drives and a 500GB drive for movies. Back when I was ripping my entire collection from DVD's to DVD images plus MP4's the Mac Pro 8 cores came in really handy with Handbrake. But now that the collection is done I am only adding new material infrequently so I have this huge powerhouse machine acting as a glorified file server 99% of the time. I am looking for a more power efficient solution now and free up the MacPro to someone who can better utilize its power.

I currently have a 21.5" iMac Core2Duo but am considering replacing this with a 27" i7 quad core that would allow me to still do the odd Handbrake run relatively quickly. That would remove any requirements I have for keeping the Mac Pro.

Options

1) Get a Mac Mini and modify it with an eSATA so I can re-use my external 4 bay array. Use the Firwire port to attach the external FW Time Machine disk and possibly get a FW800 enabled 4 bay enclosure to round out the full disk storage I currently have.

2) Drobo FS. Add 5 X 2TB drives. I no longer need drives for OS X so it would be strictly Movies and critical files. I could always add more drives to my Airport Extreme Router which currently hosts a 2TB drive for Time Machine for the rest of the Macs in my home.

3) Other ideas?
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Old May 16, 2012, 12:24 PM   #2
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Seems that, after doing a bit of reading that the internal SATA ports on the Mac Mini do not support Port Multiplier which means I would not be able to use my eSATA enclosure. Firewire 4 bay enclosures are quite expensive so that would be a fairly solid strike against the Mac Mini solution.
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Old May 16, 2012, 12:28 PM   #3
rbrian
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I recommend the mini. Last year, after I filled up the 1TB drive I'd fitted in my MacBook Pro, I looked into getting some kind of NAS. The mixed reviews drove me away from Drobo and onto QNap and Synology - but for not very much more than an empty 4-drive NAS, I could get a mini with 4 USB ports, FW800, and Thunderbolt (and an excuse to sell the Pro and get an Air...). With USB drives often inexplicably cheaper than bare drives, I could have a much more flexible setup.

The most important reason to get a mini though is Home Sharing - no NAS will play your iTunes videos, only music. I have it under my TV, where it also replaces an Apple TV. Not having Front Row isn't a problem, the iOS Remote App works perfectly well.

The power consumption is more than a NAS, but not a lot more - and way less than a Pro.

If I were you, I'd wait a couple of months though. The iMacs and MacBook Pros are due to be updated any time now, and the chances are the mini will be updated too, with the same internals as the 13" or 15" MacBook Pro. That means Ivy Bridge, which will bring USB 3, increasing your cheap storage options, and lower power consumption, as well as increased speed. I wouldn't be surprised to see FW removed though - if you need it, waiting is still a good idea, since you'll be able to get an end of line one cheaper.
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Old May 16, 2012, 12:43 PM   #4
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I use a MAC Mini and have 9TB hanging off it in 2 enclosures (Raid 5) like these.
http://eshop.macsales.com/item/Other...g/MEQX2KIT0GB/

I can stream a couple of movies and music simultaneously without an issue.

Works great a very reliable - at least for the last 2 years.
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Old May 16, 2012, 01:01 PM   #5
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Bummer

For a minute I thought you could use the Lacie eSATA hub off the Thunderbolt port but I've found out it doesn't support port multipliers

http://www.lacie.com/products/product.htm?id=10574

Sigh.
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Old May 16, 2012, 01:33 PM   #6
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I put a drobo FS at work and a synology DS411j at home. For me there is no comparison, I like the synology better for basically everything. The disadvantages of the Synology are it only takes 4 drives instead of 5, no hot-swap, and I am pretty sure you can't have a hot spare like in the DROBO. The main advantage for me is a much better control interface (web based not the buggy installed software crap that DROBO requires that doesn't work on half the computers I try it on, tech supports official solution was to find a computer it would work on and use that to control the DROBO). I use the synology as a media/itunes/satellite radio distribution device as well as for storage. The Drobo is just used for storage so I can't comment on it's ability to serve media.
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Old May 16, 2012, 01:36 PM   #7
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If you really just need a file server, as opposed to an iTunes server for an ATV or an AirPlay compatible AVR, Get a higher end NAS like a QNAP or Synology.

I have a QNAP 659 Pro II (which is a rather expensive device) and it has 6 drive bays, is configurable as RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 or JBOD, is very quiet, supports every file protocol known to man (AFP, SMB, NFS, etc) as well as having several app server protocols built in (DLNA, FTP, TimeMachine, etc). It has 2 GigE ethernet ports and gives me 100 MBs writes and 130 MBs reads over a single GigE wired connection with 6 Samsung 2TB drives in a single RAID 5 volume. The drives run cool and I haven't ever rebooted it in over 6 months since I bought it except to install a firmware update.

It is as trouble-free and high performance solution as you will get.

The Drobo has exactly one thing going for it - the ability to use any bastard combination of drives you can throw in it. However, it is unimpressive otherwise - loud, slow and expensive.

And how/where do you mod a Mini to add eSATA? Never seen that, not sure where on earth the controller would even fit in it - I've had a couple apart.
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Old May 16, 2012, 02:05 PM   #8
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I use a Drobo II attached by Firewire to an existing Mini. I have not had any problems with it at all in about 8 months so far. It replaced a dual drive enclosure from OWC that was just too finicky (drives would randomly dismount). For me:

--a NAS was way too expensive and not flexible as a replacement (eg for adding ever larger drives/creating larger array), nor can it function as an Itunes homeshare for ATV.
--Drobos can be WAY cheaper than a NAS (maybe not the FS). Shop around for a Drobo II--I got mine for $250 online. For me it has been stable and runs cool as well.
--Fan noise: it is mostly quiet but it is possible for the fans to kick in during heavy use but I only notice it if the TV is off in such cases anyway. I keep mine in a cabinet under the TV but honestly the OWC enclosure could be noisy too. It is fast enough to serve 1080p no problem (about 30MB/s) but yes slower than NAS/hardrive. BUt that is not the point of it.
--you provision 16TB up front as your potential storage size but you can start with 1 disk if you like. Right now I use 4x 2TB WD green drives which is about 6 TB after redundancy but I could add 3TB+ drives in the future if I want without changing anything.
--no maintenance. I haven't done a thing except the initial setup to get all the firmware up to date etc. Otherwise there is dashboard app you can install to monitor/manage the Drobo but I haven't had to do a thing with it. The Drobo mounts on my iMac like a regular harddrive.
--The concern is that if the whole thing fails (eg the Drobo hardware fails) then you need a new Drobo to read the files...but you could also lose a RAID array too so to each his own.
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Old May 16, 2012, 02:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by khollister View Post
If you really just need a file server, as opposed to an iTunes server for an ATV or an AirPlay compatible AVR, Get a higher end NAS like a QNAP or Synology.

I have a QNAP 659 Pro II (which is a rather expensive device) and it has 6 drive bays, is configurable as RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10 or JBOD, is very quiet, supports every file protocol known to man (AFP, SMB, NFS, etc) as well as having several app server protocols built in (DLNA, FTP, TimeMachine, etc). It has 2 GigE ethernet ports and gives me 100 MBs writes and 130 MBs reads over a single GigE wired connection with 6 Samsung 2TB drives in a single RAID 5 volume. The drives run cool and I haven't ever rebooted it in over 6 months since I bought it except to install a firmware update.

It is as trouble-free and high performance solution as you will get.

The Drobo has exactly one thing going for it - the ability to use any bastard combination of drives you can throw in it. However, it is unimpressive otherwise - loud, slow and expensive.

And how/where do you mod a Mini to add eSATA? Never seen that, not sure where on earth the controller would even fit in it - I've had a couple apart.
We mostly use Plex on the various Macs in the house to view movies rather than going the iTunes route. I like the Plex interface. So that means a plain file server works for me.

Right now I have standardized on WD Green drives and I am not sure if they "officially" support RAID and I have heard of issues in trying. Right now I use them in a cheap eSATA enclosure hanging off an eSATA card in my Mac Pro. Dead simple and no RAID concerns. I back up the drives manually to duplicate drives I keep in a separate location.

If I went the NAS route I guess I save the cost of the Mini but am paying more for the NAS. Any idea if the WD Greens will be OK in RAID in a NAS?

As far as modding the Mac Mini's for eSATA I found a few guides by googling them. For the older units it was a matter of replacing the DVD drive with a sled (often used in Macbooks to add a second internal hard drive) and tapping off that with a SATA to eSATA cable. However it quickly became apparent that Apple did not implement PM support so that is no solution for me.

If I get a Mac Mini solution I will need to toss the eSATA enclosure and go with a more expensive FW800 enclosure.
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Old May 16, 2012, 03:36 PM   #10
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I bought a MacMini in hopes of doing just what you want and right now am disappointed. The Synology NAS is a reluctant partner and for some reason is refusing to work nicely with my network. I also have eSATA external enclsoures, but one solution, Sonnet's ExpressCard, is more expensive than the eSATA external drive cases, so I've been reluctant to go that route. Addonics has a handy eSATA to USB 3.0 converter, but it is not compatible with the bridge board in the external drive case that I wish to connect (an Addonics storage case). I haven't tried the Rosewill's that I have yet, so I don't know if those would work. I suppose I should. In any event, given that it downshifts from SATA speeds to USB 2.0 that isn't the best solution either. Ideally, someone would have eSATA to FW800, but I haven't seen it.

Fortunately, I still have may Mac Pro, which is expandable and I have an add-on eSATA card for the external drive boxes, but one of these days I hope to have a cleaner and more efficient network solution than the various direct connections. It happens that I am too cheap to go more direct route just yet.
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Old May 16, 2012, 03:49 PM   #11
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Smile

Just found that DatOptic now offers, though out of stock, a USB 2.0 to eSATA adapter that supports port multiplier. I believe that's where Addonics got their bridge boards for my storage box, so I might try this one, only $20.
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Old May 16, 2012, 07:34 PM   #12
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What about this Netgear ReadyNAS NV+ V2 unit. It only has 6 reviews and some of them are not great but I wonder if the things they are complaining about would affect me? I will have a very simple setup as far as I know. Basically 4 X 2TB WD green drives streaming video to the Macs in the house.

http://www.newegg.ca/Product/Product...82E16822122095

Price seems good at $279 and free shipping. Thoughts?
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Old May 16, 2012, 09:20 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LorenK View Post
Just found that DatOptic now offers, though out of stock, a USB 2.0 to eSATA adapter that supports port multiplier. I believe that's where Addonics got their bridge boards for my storage box, so I might try this one, only $20.
The reason it is out of stock is because it was replaced by a 2.0/3.0 to eSATA adapter for $24.95. Looks interesting.
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Old May 17, 2012, 12:29 AM   #14
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I have been using a drobo now for three years. And I must say I have not had any problems. I now have two Drobos attached to my Mac mini. they are serving just movies and TV shows via Plex. I have my iTunes media collection served by a HP media smart server.

That system works very well.
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Old May 17, 2012, 08:30 AM   #15
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so I ordered the ReadyNAS NV+ V2 last night. For my simple uses it should perform adequately and $279 with free shipping seems like a good price.

Then I noticed this morning the Thecus N5500 5 bay unit below is on sale for $449 at ncix.com. Seems quite a bit more feature rich and has an extra bay. Is it worth $170 more however? I should just be happy with the ReadyNAS but I can't help it


http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1827/1/
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Old May 17, 2012, 08:22 PM   #16
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The bottom line is you will NEVER be able to make a better media server with a NAS device as you would with a Mac. The Mac Mini + Drobo is the ultimate home server. Native Mac apps with an infinite, automagically protected hard drive that can serve 1080p all day long. Not sure what is better than that.

I did decide to go with a Drobo FS vs. Drobo for the flexibility of NAS and could not be happier. I have my iTunes and iPhoto libraries on the FS with shares mounted on the iMac and that setup has worked beautifully for over 2 years.

I love the guys that come on here bashing Drobo for performance based on some unrealistic RAID 0 config that no sane person would ever use. As others have stated, 30MB/s is more than enough to stream multiple 1080p while Time Machine is doing its thing. I am not trying to edit 2K video nor do I plan to anytime soon.

The benefits Drobo delivers with BeyondRAID is a LOT more that simply using different sized drives. Do your homework. It is a very sophisticated piece of kit when you know what it can do. Self healing. Virtual hot spare. Thin provisioning. Cool, cool stuff. And it should be the only storage device I will need to buy for a very long time to boot.

For those of you looking for a Unicorn device that does everything, good luck. It does not exist. I have used Synology, QNAP, and Netgear and none of them work as well as the iMac plus Drobo for a home server.

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Old May 17, 2012, 09:44 PM   #17
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Add another to the Mini + Drobo fan club. I have a 2010 mini with two Drobo 4-bays connected to it. They're each filled with WD20EARS drives for 10.88TB of useable storage. It's the best of both worlds. The Drobos provide an immense amount of upgradable storage, and the mini--while modest in specs--is up to the task for transcoding (or simply serving) media to client devices around the home. The mini is also light on energy consumption, so running it 24/7 is no problem.
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Old May 17, 2012, 10:57 PM   #18
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Good info guys. Thanks. So many tough choices
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Old May 18, 2012, 06:14 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Dadioh View Post
so I ordered the ReadyNAS NV+ V2 last night. For my simple uses it should perform adequately and $279 with free shipping seems like a good price.

Then I noticed this morning the Thecus N5500 5 bay unit below is on sale for $449 at ncix.com. Seems quite a bit more feature rich and has an extra bay. Is it worth $170 more however? I should just be happy with the ReadyNAS but I can't help it


http://www.legitreviews.com/article/1827/1/
I just ordered that Thecus N5500. Absolutely outstanding deal for that unit at $449. I own 2 of the NV+ units and I'm pretty sure at the price you just paid they are first gen like mine, not the new Atom based V2's. You may want to verify that. They are dog slow at 19 to 20 megs per second and support is starting to lag. Seriously, those NV+ units are getting very long in the tooth. They can only accept 2TB drives max and will never be able to go to 3TB drives or higher unless they are V2's.

If you can return the NV+, do it and definitely grab the Thecus deal. Much more up to date product and even works with 3TB drives. Thecus writes at 50 to 60 Meg's per second and has more capabilities including iscsi support and an extra drive bay which is easily worth the extra bucks by itself. Thecus also has an esata port to connect an external drive for high speed backup.

I also own the Drobo FS which will become my backup to the Thecus. Drobo so far is ok and really intended for the novice user. Not very fast though and writes around 25 to 27 Meg's per second on average. I don't like that Drobo encrypts their log file either so you have to call them for support when there is a problem. The Drobo email alerts are pretty vague so Drobo has to interpret the log file for you. Drobo also has no integrated support for a UPS backup and no USB or esata for external drives. Cheers!

James
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Old May 18, 2012, 08:21 PM   #20
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It is definitely the V2 version so it is a good deal at $279. I think it will do what I need. I think the Thecus is also a fantastic deal. Probably more than I need though.
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