Build Your Own HD Enclosure Part 2: Starting at $205, up to 20 drives!

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by slughead, Mar 18, 2014.

  1. slughead, Mar 18, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014

    slughead macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    A while back I posted a thread showing how you could use a PC case, a PC PSU, and a Mac PCIe external controller to build an extremely reliable, high-capacity, and extremely fast drive setup. Many external solutions use "power bricks" / "Wall worts" which are of dubious quality. Most are overpriced. Some use inferior and overpriced USBIII. This thread is about how to make your own. Though this is mainly directed to people with PCIe slots, nMP users may eventually be able to use this information to escape the insane premiums they're paying for external storage (as TB2-> SATA controllers come available).



    The first question you must ask is what kind of controller to buy. This question requires you to answer more questions: How many drives do you want, how fast do you want them, and how much money do you have. From what I can tell, most eSATA III cards for Mac use the same or similar controllers by a company called Marvell. This includes the Highpoint RocketRAID 644L and 642L as well as the Syba cards (search the forums for more information on those).


    These cards seem to work extremely well. They sleep, most of them support TRIM (see my review of the 644L, which is an exception), and they generally function without issue.

    The problem with these cards (if you even want to call it a problem) is that some don't support port multiplication which is often desirable and they are all limited on throughput to 1GBps -- that's PCIe 2.0 1x. You can put them in the 4x port in your Mac Pro but they will never go faster than 1GBps. On my 644L, I was only able to get around 700MBps.

    There are also SATA 2 options, and for platter drives that seems to be fine.

    Port multiplication is a feature supported on a lot of eSATA cards including the RocketRAID series from highpoint. Basically you have a circuit board which shares one SATA channel into 4 or 5. I have been using two Addonics controllers for years and they work great! Here is the latest model which is even SATA III!


    eSATA price tag:
    Port multipliers are around $75, 4 port eSATA cards are < $100. Therefore, the totals are as follows:
    $100 - 4 drives (no PM)
    $175 - 8 drives (1 PM)
    $250 - 12 drives (2 PM)
    $325 - 16 drives (3 PM)
    $400 - 20 drives (4 PM)


    Another great option is MiniSAS. MiniSAS is basically four SATA III ports in each port. You use a simple adapter to split the port with no performance loss. It's controllers like these you see demonstrated with SATA SSDs getting 500MBps per drive (4 drives in RAID 0 getting 2GBps!)!

    Does MiniSAS support port multiplication? Why yes, yes it does. Usually they call them "expanders" and there are a lot of them out there that do 1 -> 4, allowing you to plug in 16 drives to every MiniSAS port (instead of 4)!! They are pricey, however, but keep in mind this is 33% more bandwidth than three SATA III 5-port multipliers, has 1 extra port, and costs 40% more.

    I'm going to use HighPoint cards as they've been reviewed at several Mac sites and generally receive good marks.


    This card by Highpoint is the RocketRAID 2722. It supports Two MiniSAS connections capable of up to 8 drives for a total of 4GBps (realistically probably around 2600MBpS with PCIe overhead). I found it here for $279.


    This card by Highpoint is the RocketRAID 2744, which requires a PCIe 16x slot and supports FOUR miniSAS connections capable of up to 16 drives for a total of 8GBps (realistically probably around 5,200MBps with PCIe overhead). I found it for $427.

    MiniSAS price tag:
    $280 - 8 drives @4GBps - RR2722
    $427 - 16 drives @8GBps - RR2744
    $594 - 20 drives @4GBps - RR2722 + SAS Expander
    $741 - 28 drives @8GBps - RR2744 + SAS Expander
    $908 - 32 drives @4GBps - RR2722 + 2x SAS Expander
    $1055 - 40 drives @8GBps - RR2744 + 2x SAS Expander

    And so on. You can see that it's possible to have an insane amount of drives and bandwidth with MiniSAS.


    What I'd recommend looking at first is a backplane, especially if you're using 3.5" drives. 2.5" drives can be adapted to work in 3.5" bays for about $15. While you don't need one, they make it easier to access the drives, give you indicator lights, and often include a fan to keep your drives cool. It's kind of like a miniature PC case inside your big PC case dedicated to taking care of your drives.

    There are two models that have great price/performance: a 4 in 3 and a 5 in 3

    First let's show a cheap one so you can get an idea of what we're talking about. Here's one that is less than $25 by coolermaster, it holds 4 hard drives, has an included 120mm fan, and is SILENT (I own one):

    Here is an example of these in use:

    There it is, a silent 12 drive enclosure for $75 + case + PSU (get to those later).


    Here is another one by Icy Dock which is about $130, holds 4 drives, requires no screws, is hot-swappable, and has an 80mm fan. This is probably what I'd recommend most.


    And then here come the 5 in 3 models. You shouldn't pay more than $150 for these. They hold 5 drives, usually have a 92mm fan, and work fine. The disadvantage is you have to bend down the fins on the case you use to throw these in. Also, unlike the 4 in 3 models, you have to screw each drive into a carrier to use it.

    Here is an example of this kind of setup:

    Personally I use two 5 in 3 because I needed the extra drives, but if you can make do with the 4 in 3, your life will be easier :)


    The easier (or harder) choice is coming up with a case to throw your drives into. When you see how cheap these are, you'll never buy a pre-made enclosure again. Watch out though, some of them look pretty silly... But they work!

    If you're using a backplane that fits into three 5.25" bays, you're going to want a case with bays in multiples of three. Here is a 12 bay model for $155.

    If you're really trying to save money, just look for any old PC case that has 3.5" (or 2.5") bays. You can pay as little as $25 for one (that one holds 5 hard drives).

    Power Supply

    Power supplies are better than ever in the PC world. Always make sure you have an UPS.

    Some good brands: Thermaltake, Antec, Rosewill (yes, Rosewill), Corsair.

    The 80 Plus Silver, Gold, Platinum monikers refer to efficiency only. For reliability, I'd recommend jumping onto and looking at the reviews--some have over 1000 reviews!

    You want at least a 450W PSU, and I'd recommend a single 12V rail so you don't have to be clever with your wiring. I found a 80 Plus Platinum 550Watt Rosewill PSU for $80!


    If you pay more than $5 a cable, you paid too much (accepting the MiniSAS to SATA cables)

    Bottom Line

    Here are some various examples of setups. I'll use my Rosewill PSU I mentioned above though you can get cheaper than this!

    I included the bandwidth/drive but note that these setups are using shared bandwidth--therefore the max MBps listed here are under a scenario where you're running all the drives in a RAID-0 or are otherwise using all the drives at once. Each individual drive (especially on the MiniSAS cards) should be able to get up to their full SATA III potential (500-750MBps) as long as other drives aren't using the bandwidth on the channel.

    $210 ($53/drive) - 4 drives @ 1GBps (250MBps/drive)
    - $100 eSATA + $25 PC case + $80 PSU + $1x4 SATA cables
    - (Add $120 for one 4 in 3 screw-less back plane)
    $401 ($40/drive) - 10 drives @ 1GBps (100MBps/drive)
    - $100 eSata + $75x2 Port Mutlipliers + $65 PC case + $80 PSU + $1x6 SATA cables
    - (add $300 for two 5 in 3 back planes)
    $480 ($59/drive) - 8 drives @4GBps (500MBps/drive)
    - $280 RR2722 + $65 PC case + $80 PSU + $15x2miniSAS/sata cables + $5x2 MiniSAS cables
    - (add $240 for two 4 in 3 screwless back planes)
    $1227 ($77/drive) - 16 drives @8GBps (500MBps/drive)
    - $427 RR2744 + $160 PC case + $80 PSU + $15x4miniSAS/sata cables + $5x4 MiniSAS cables + $120x4 four-in-three screwless backplanes
    $1,264 ($64/drive) - 20 drives @1GBps (50MBps/Drive)
    - $100 eSATA + $160 PC case + $80 PSU + $75x4 port multipliers + $1x24 SATA cables + $150x4 five-in-three backplanes
    $1,510 ($76/drive) - 20 drives@4GBps (200MBps/drive)
    - $280 RR2722 + $320x1 SAS Expander + $160 PC Case + $80 PSU + $15x4 MiniSAS->SATA cables + $5x2 MiniSAS Cables + $150x4 five-in-three backplanes

    And finally, just to demonstrate the versatility of this kind of setup, here's what it would take to hook 64 drives up using this method, with more bandwidth than all the TB2 ports on the nMP combined. This combination is basically four separate enclosures hooked to a single controller. In the old Mac Pro, you could throw this into Slot2, but if you didn't mind having a 4xPCIe video card, you could potentially have two of these setup for a total of 128 drives at 16GBps!!
    $4,847 ($76/drive) - 64 drives@8GBps (125MBps/drive)
    - $427 RR2744 + $320x4 SAS Expander + $160x4 PC Case + $80x4 PSU + $15x16 MiniSAS->SATA Cables + $5x4 MiniSAS Cables + $120x16 four-in-three screwless backplanes

    This requires very little technical knowledge, will give you more reliable hardware (power bricks? are you freaking kidding me?), and will save you a bunch of money.

    I should note that what inspired me to re-write this post was seeing another thread talking about 12 bay dual port Thunderbolt 2 enclosures retailing for $2200 ($183/drive, 334MBps/drive). As you can see, you can get a product for almost $1000 less which has 4 times the bandwidth as TB2, holds 33% more drives, and is upgradable and adaptable. Since the new Mac Pro only has three TB2 controllers, an 8GBps MiniSAS controller will actually have 33% more bandwidth for drives than all six TB2 ports combined. This really indicates the need for cheaper and al a cart TB2 to SATA options, which are insanely overpriced at the moment.
  2. chrisn123 macrumors member

    Nov 26, 2011
    Awesome post. Thanks! OTOH, if you have a old-style MP and are trying to save a buck, do you really need more than 4 X 4TB, maybe with an SSD stuffed in there for boot volume? On the nMP most people can get by with USB3 solutions.

    But, if you want maximum speed plus reasonably high availability and configurability for a nMP, the picture is pretty different.

    In addition to the build you describe, you'd need a Thunderbolt-to-PCIe chassis + fast Raid Controller. That combo could add ~$1000 to your parts list, and would leave you with a messy and unsupported solution. So, for many people, the premium for a clean one-box solution with a single TB cable to your machine is worth the (admittedly steep) premium.

    For others, using a JBOD box plus software RAID1 may be a good solution.
  3. FireWire2, Mar 18, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2014

    FireWire2 macrumors 6502


    Oct 12, 2008
    SATA III Port Multiplier

    Here is my two cents
    Nothing wrong with DIY, but you can improve a bit if using SATAIII bridge instead and out of date SATAII PM
    Here is it
    eSATA (6Gb)

    SATAIII bridge

    The above solution is not a HARDWARE raid solution, and tt takes days to rebuild a degrade RAID

    Here is another 100% hardware RAID DIY project that I did 5x years ago base on Port Multiplier - still in service

    Just for reference
  4. Gav Mack macrumors 68020

    Gav Mack

    Jun 15, 2008
    Sagittarius A*
    I also have one of these exact Coolermaster Stacker cases:


    Gathering dust in my cellar if someone in the UK, particularly around South London wants one as I don't have the box and its rather large for £10 collected. The i/o multiplug for the top control USB ports etc went wrong but the power button works absolutely fine. No PSU as it went in the black Coolermaster Stacker version of that design that replaced it.

    Think it has 9 front 5.25 bays and that cage goes in the bottom of the unit iirc. It's quiet, especially so right now and will need a good vacuuming out :D
  5. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    I don't see how nMP owners are paying an "insane premium".

    You can get 4X drives, with RAID in a turnkey solution for some $700 with the Pegasus2 ($630 with my non-Apple employee discount :) ).

    You can get a cheap eSATA tower with either a TB->eSATA dock for less than your solution (I have this for a mere $400 - 8 bay.) Or you can use one of the many external TB-PCIe cages.

    Yours has the benefit of being relatively cheap and relatively fast, but it's an obsolete solution requiring internal PCIe slots.

    I doubt the Pegasus2 4 bay empty will ever drop in price much. It's a really full featured and performant piece of gear. Compare to the various NAS's you see out there which have it much easier. An approximately equivalent Synology 1311+ costs about the same. It also has one more bay, granted, but it has MUCH lower IO throughput too and pays no TB licensing fees either.
  6. slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Can you link me to a $400 8-bay with the controller included? Last time I checked they were incredibly expensive.

    I'm looking at the Applestore now, I see a 4 bay Pegasus 2 for $700 and includes no hard drives. I can get the same functionality with the $205 option, $400 if you want it to look just as pretty. Roughly twice as expensive. Am I missing something?


    What's the difference between those port multipliers and the SATAIII port multiplier from addonics?

    Very nice setup by the way.
  7. slughead, Mar 19, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014

    slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    I added the following sample configurations for those who are interested:

    $1,510 ($76/drive) - 20 drives@4GBps (200MBps/drive)
    - $280 RR2722 + $320x1 SAS Expander + $160 PC Case + $80 PSU + $15x4 MiniSAS->SATA cables + $5x2 MiniSAS Cables + $150x4 five-in-three backplanes

    $4,847 ($76/drive) - 64 drives@8GBps (125MBps/drive)
    - $427 RR2744 + $320x4 SAS Expander + $160x4 PC Case + $80x4 PSU + $15x16 MiniSAS->SATA Cables + $5x4 MiniSAS Cables + $120x16 Four-in-three Screwless backplanes
  8. mvmanolov macrumors 6502a

    Aug 27, 2013
    How would one go about doing this same thing but with USB 3.0 as the connection and not eSATA?
  9. slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    You could use something like this inside the enclosure:

    It's SATA II but that probably wont matter much.
  10. slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Uh this thread deals almost exclusively with PCIe-based solutions. It belongs in the Mac Pro forum.

    Are we going to move the Video card-flashing guides out of the Mac Pro forum too? After all, an iMac user might be able to throw one in a thunderbolt PCIe chassis. It's a peripheral!

  11. Wild-Bill macrumors 68030


    Jan 10, 2007
    Uggh...... This thread should not have been moved. It belongs in the Mac Pro forum. It's bad enough we have to endure the countless "accidental" posts in the MP forum from people looking for help with their Macbook Pros, now this?

    Excellent post slughead.
  12. ABCDEF-Hex macrumors 6502


    Feb 15, 2013
    How many people do you know who ......

    need 64 drives and choose to DIY?
  13. slughead, Mar 19, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2014

    slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Obviously it's really more of a thought experiment :)

    I was just pointing out that you can start with a relatively small investment and build up over time using the same equipment (just more of it). MiniSAS can do 8 meters (26 feet).

    On a side note, I wonder how much a 64 drive solution would cost if using "server-grade" hardware.
  14. FireWire2 macrumors 6502


    Oct 12, 2008
    This is good project to learn, but I would be careful about this, because:

    1 - RR2722 is not a hardware RAID, very slow rebuilt
    2 - If there is more the 10 drives, i would consider RAID6 or ZFS
    Certainly not RAID5 from HPT card it too much of a risk
  15. slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Yes I probably should mention not to use the "hardware" raid on those particular cards. I prefer Soft RAID for 1, 0, and 10 anyway. There are RAID-on chip options from highpoint.

    Does OS X support ZFS yet?
  16. FireWire2 macrumors 6502


    Oct 12, 2008
    RR2722 is software RAID, they call it hardware assisted. RAID calculations depend on host's CPU, just same as software RAID

    Here is the MAC zfs:
  17. slughead, Mar 19, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014

    slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Yes, that's why I put "hardware" in quotes. You said Highpoint rebuilds slow, by contrast I've found Apple's software RAID to rebuild pretty quickly (well as quick as 2 terabytes will copy). Plus if your controller fails or sucks, you can get a new one with soft raid. I went from a Highpoint SATA II card to a SATA III and didn't have a lick of trouble because I was only using Apple software RAID.

    I could understand the appeal of hardware raid, and those options are available from highpoint and others.

    ZFS looks pretty neat, I wonder if I should try it out...
  18. westrock2000 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 18, 2013
    Don't forget about putting a switch on "PS_ON"...aka "Pin 14". This is what tells the power supply to actually turn on.


    I would say 450 watts at the max. Western Digital Blacks are rated in read/write mode at 10 watts max and the Green are rated at 6 watts max.
    The highest current draw is during initial startup where all the drives will be spinning up at the same time. But, for instance, with MacZFS once the system is up and running it will bring the sleeping drives back up in staggered arrangement. So it takes a little while to get all the drives up and running, but it keeps the load low. You can also disable sleep as well if you want...but I don't mind waiting 10 seconds for the array to come up.

    But I completely agree with this idea. It is something I am considering doing to expand my array beyond what can fit inside my Mac Pro.
  19. slughead, Mar 20, 2014
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2014

    slughead thread starter macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Yes, that is the exact reason I recommend 450W -- so there will be absolutely no issues with the startup of drives. Plus it really isn't that much more money to get an overrated PSU, especially when compared to other external enclosures :)

    Also, a couple other things I experienced/noticed:
    1) 450W PSUs seem to be more common, have more reviews / have been tested more
    2) If you want to turn this little box into a NAS, you can just add a mobo, proc, RAM without upgrading the PSU! That makes 450W more of a future-proof thing.

    You're right though, HDs use like no power. A lot of external enclosures use < 100W for 4-6 drives. Those "wall-wort" models are extremely low power. I have had some extremely "bad luck" with coolgear PSUs though, especially coming out of sleep.

    Anyway, it's not like if you get a 1000W PSU it's going to use 1000W. You know, because physics.

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