Using 2006 MBP As An NAS/Home Server

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by steiney, Sep 29, 2015.

  1. steiney macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    Hello all,

    I posted about this a couple weeks ago in the OS Mac OS X Server, XServe and Networking subforum, but unfortunately I received no responses. I have always had very good experiences in this subforum, so I figured I'd post my question here, since it involves an old MBP, and hopefully someone will be able to lend some thoughts or insight! I'll provide the original post plus a couple thoughts I've had based on what I've tried since writing the original post.

    Original post:

    I did some searching around Google and this forum but couldn't find anyone asking specifically about this. I have an unused late 2006 2.33GHz MBP Core 2 Duo with effectively 3GB RAM and I have been wanting to get a RAID file server. I was going to buy a Synology but it occurred to me to do it with my old MBP.

    I just would like to explain what I am planning to do, so if there are any problems, someone might be kind enough to point them out to me. So, here it goes:

    -Using MBP as brains.
    -Computer has ExpressCard34 port.
    -Using dual port LaCie SATA II Expresscard34 for maximum throughput.
    -Plugging an eight-bay enclosure into one SATA port.
    -Enclosure will have four 4TB HDs in a RAID 10 array (possibly expanding it to six or eight down the road).
    -Will use native Disk Utility app to format RAID array.
    -Will have an ASUS (top quality) wireless AC USB 3 dongle attached to a USB 3 to SATA converter which will be plugged into other ExpressCard port, so the slowest link in the WiFi chain will still be the wireless AC transmission rate.
    -Will just run the RAID array as the disk that is used for the AFP fileshare I've set up locally.

    I think that's everything. I want to make sure that RAID 10 is expandable. I did some Googling about it but am still a bit fuzzy. It seems like it's dependent on whether the controller chip on the enclosure can handle it.

    I looked into a couple other OSes that are created primarily for NAS purposes, namely NAS4Free and FreeNAS 8, but neither of them seem to provide me any additional benefit over using AFP on a Mac, considering what I intend to do. And by using OS X, I can have the file server computer still run as a regular Mac and be used as such.

    Also, I'm curious if there are any enclosures that are best for Macs (can't imagine why) or if anyone considers any specific enclosure brand to be "top notch" and why.

    Thanks in advance for any help!

    EDIT: This is the enclosure I've been looking at:

    Thoughts since original post

    I bought/received all the peripherals mentioned above, excluding the RAID enclosure, and have run into one issue so far. The SATA Expresscard 34 is recognized by the computer when I plug it in, but I cannot get it to recognized anything that I plug into it. I am using a SATA cable plugged into the Expresscard and a SATA to USB 3 converter attached to the SATA cable. I have tried plugging in the wireless ac dongle (mentioned above), a passive USB HD and an active (self-powered) USB HD. None of the devices are recognized by the computer or seem to receive any power from the SATA port.

    The fact that the computer recognizes the SATA Expresscard leads me to believe the Expresscard port works. And from digging around online, I understand that SATA does carry some voltage, although I don't know if it's enough to power the devices I'm plugging in, however I would have thought the powered external HD would be able to get around the electricity issue due to being self-powered but it is completely unrecognized by the computer.

    I'm a bit confused at this point and not sure where the problem is, or if there even is a problem vs. me just understanding the true capabilities of these peripherals, e.g. it occurred to me that maybe it's not possible to convert a SATA connection to USB?

    So, obviously I'm very lacking in knowledge in this area of computing and hoping someone more experienced/knowledgeable here is able to provide their thoughts and/or advice!

    Thanks in advance,

  2. ooans macrumors 6502

    Jun 4, 2011
    My experience with Macbook Pros and expresscard slots are very bad. First of all the slots I've used are all so loose that even if you do not plug or unplug the cables while having the expresscard inside the laptop in time it will detach itself. This causes a kernel panic. The best I ever got was like one full day of usage (with no one physically touching the MBP) but this too eventually led to a kernel panic.

    In addition to this the multiple ExpressCards I have themselves either do not work reliably from day one, or an OS upgrade screws up the drivers in some way.

    Lets hope your ExpressCards and slots are better.


    I used my Late 2008 Macbook Pro as my server for three years and it worked fine. Before I had had NAS's and such and I never liked them: slow, noisy and very limited in what you can do with them.

    I used an external 6TB 3.5" eSATA hard drive with my MBP by connecting it via an eSATA "adapter" to the main bay hard drive slot of the MBP. This worked fine and gave me good SATA II transfer speeds compared to USB 2.0 or Firewire. I had a small SSD in the OptiBay as my boot drive.
  3. duervo macrumors 68020


    Feb 5, 2011
    RAID10 is most likely going to have a lot of wasted IOPS mainly revolved around the typical usage pattern of a NAS (file and media storage.) The storage volumes do not need to be fast to stream media, and something like RAID5 will still net you more than enough to easily sustain transfer speeds on a 1GbE network connection.

    Looks like that's moot at this point anyway, as it seems that you've gone ahead with the plan anyway. Fwiw, I would have sold that gear and got something like a Synology or QNAP device. I have a Synology 1812 at home, and it does more than just file storage. VPN server, NFS, CIFS/SMB, AFP, iSCSI, SSD caching, DNS, LDAP, Email, CMS, Media Server, personal cloud (much like Dropbox or one drive,) VAAI support for both NFS and iSCSI (for my VMware host), etc. You can even plug in a non-AirPrint printer into it (via USB) and set it up as a print queue. The print server on the Synology unit will then serve out that print queue as an AirPrint compatible print destination.
  4. steiney thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    Thank you both for your replies!

    I have unfortunately had similarly abysmal experiences with the Expresscard slot. It's hard to believe Apple created such a universally terrible port. Oh well. I did try installing LaCie's drivers specifically for that card, which obviously did not help.

    Would you mine telling me more about the eSATA adapter you've got hooked up to the main drive bay on your 2008 MBP? Is it just converted an internal SATA connection to an eSATA connection? I'm guessing you had to cut a hole in the bottom case of the MBP to run the cable through. This is an intriguing idea for me as it makes me consider doing basically the same thing but through the optical drive, which also runs via SATA. My reasoning for considering setting things up backwards from your method is that I already have a small SSD in the main drive position, and if I use the optical drive for hooking up a RAID enclosure, I wouldn't need to buy on OptiBay/DataDoubler piece to be able to mount the SSD properly in the optical drive bay.

    I had been starting to lean towards using the two FireWire ports as the connection points for my set up. I was figuring I could use the FW400 port for the wireless ac dongle, since it carries a good amount of electricity, and I would use the FW800 port for the connection to the enclosure, assuming I could find a reliable eSATA to FW800 adapter. But I'm now much more intrigued by your method of hooking directly up to the internal SATA connection.

    I definitely understand what you're saying about 10 vs. 5 and I hadn't considered the extra IOPS. I was just figuring, if I'm doing a 4-8 drive set up, I might as well do 10, so I can get the benefits of the speed of 0 and the redundancy of 1. I just re-read the wikipedia entry for 5 as a refresher. I'll have to give it a bit more thought and weigh the pros and cons, but thank you for the suggestion!

    It's definitely not moot, as I have not bought the enclosure or drives, yet. I think I misspoke in my first post. I'm honestly trying as hard as I can to stay away from a turn-key NAS, as the ones that provide the size I need all seem to be $1000+ (especially Synology NASs), and I would much rather figure out a way to save money by repurposing my old MBP as the brains of my set up. I don't need it to be fast enough to stream 720p content and have a bit of headroom leftover for automated back ups.
  5. duervo macrumors 68020


    Feb 5, 2011
    Understandable. The cost is certainly nothing to sneeze at. I was on the fence in my purchasing decision for over a year before I finally decided to just go ahead and get it. Thankfully, I have not been disappointed. Synology does a decent job of supporting their products, releasing new versions of the DSM OS that runs on it at a steady pace, which tends to also add new functionality as well (ie: VMware VAAI support via NFS is a recent welcome addition, as well as the personal dropbox-style "cloud" storage, just to name a couple.)

    Another thing to consider is that re-purposing old parts for the function of something that stands a good chance of primarily being used to store critical data (precious family photos, for example) introduces a risk with which I wouldn't be comfortable. Old parts generally fail sooner than new ones (once you get past the typical infant mortality stage). Luckily, in the case of using the old laptop for compute power, the data is stored externally. But you may want to consider recovery of that data in the event that it's needed. ie: If the old mac fails, how will you be able to access that data via an external SATA connection through Expresscard? You may have to go to the used market to try to pick up an old mac that has an Expresscard slot in it. Also, archiving that data to something like DVDs might not be a bad idea in that regard. Of course, if you won't be storing anything "critical" on it, and instead are only doing it for learning and/or tinkering purposes, then that's probably not a concern, in which case I would say "go for it."

    My decision to spend the money back in Fall 2012 ($900 in my case ... got it on sale!) was based primarily on those concerns, but I also wanted something that supported VMware VAAI for my work-related "tinkering". Since then I have gradually replaced the desktop drives in it with WD Red NAS drives, as they went on sale. 5 of the slots have WD Red 3TB drives in them, and the remaining 3 bays ... 2 in a RAID1, and a 128GB SSD for cache for the RAID1 volume (that's the volume I use for my VMware stuff.) Warranty will be done in a month or two on my unit, but it's been rock solid the whole time, so I'm not anticipating any imminent failures, but if it does fail in a manner that makes recovery of the ext4 filesystems on it impossible (somewhat unlikely) I have the critical stuff backed up (via rsync) to my old whitebox NAS I built prior to getting the Synology ... just in case.
  6. steiney thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    That DS1815+ is looking better and better, the more I try to work through the headache of figuring out how to correctly rig up my NAS concoction using my old MBP. It would be nice, but at a certain point, I suppose avoiding further frustration is worth something, not to mention, the way I had the thing figured out in my head, it would still end up costing me roughly $400-500 in parts, so at that point, it might make sense just to get a legitimate NAS.

    Regarding using old parts, the only old part is the MBP, and like you said, all the data would be on new drives in a new enclosure, in a RAID set up, so I feel pretty impervious to data loss, not to mention I have all this data on separate external HDs at the moment, and I would keep them around as a back up. And I have also considered purchasing a separate Backblaze account just to sync my NAS with it as an offsite back up.
  7. ooans macrumors 6502

    Jun 4, 2011
    My setup is not pretty, but it works.

    Here are some pics to show how it works.

    Here you can see the MBP main hard drive cable coming out of the laptop. Because my MBPs battery stopped working some time ago, I actually run the laptop without a battery. That is why I can keep the battery cover not completely closed to have ample room for the cable.

    Here you can see the SATA to eSATA adapter I use. I had to find an adapter that I knew I could pry open a bit, because otherwise it would be impossible to connect the Macbook SATA Cable to the adapter.

    And here is the final setup onto which I connect the eSATA cable going to the eSATA hard drive enclosure. In order for the system to detect the eSATA drive I need to turn the enclosure on before booting up.
  8. steiney thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    That's pretty neat. Thanks for sharing the info and pics. That's definitely a viable option for me. If I go that route, I think I'd use a dremel tool to wallow out a little hole in the bottom corner of the case where the optical drive bay is so the wire could pass through that hole. I think I've seen that exact converter shown in your pic on eBay, so at least I know which one to get.
  9. steiney thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    Just posting back here to say I'm officially sold on the DS1815+. Thanks again to both of you for helping me work through this whole thing. I really appreciate it.
  10. Nicholas Savage macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2013
    Southern Wisconsin
    I used to run a similar rig to what you were shooting for years ago. A damaged 17 inch MBP unibody w/ a Sonnet Express34 Pro card. Can't say as to the issue with your particular card but I ended up using that pro version of the sonnet card due to it's FIS port replicator support. Ran it in tandem with an 8 bay SANS digital JBOD case; Using the ZEVO ZFS software w/ 10.6. 16TB (8TB formatted) Raid10. Pretty much maxed out the Express34 slot throughput. Rock solid for 2-3 years until the MBP died. Can't speak to compatibility with anything past 10.7 but all the Express34 stuff I dealt with was pretty rock solid back then. . .but I was mostly using Sonnet products.

    Check out that Express34 card and find out what SATA chipset it is using. If it isn't obviously branded; is some chinese random product or the vendor doesn't provide direct support anymore you can still get around that. Probably going either be a Jmicron; Marvel or Silicon Micro chip in there. Dig into system report : hardware and find out the device / vendor codes. etc shown as 0x05AC etc. You would input the 4 digit '05AC' . . Check on to verify the chipset vendor and chipset model. From there you can double check compatibility of the card(s) you have on hand. Some stuff has dropped off lately and there are often driver workarounds for this sort of stuff. Sometimes another vendor's driver can be made to work w/ a simple change of an ID in the Kext. If I recall correctly the Sonnet Express34 Pro was some flavor of Marvel chipset.

    Anyway. .You also might want to check the specs on your drive chassis. Find out if it requires it's host to have port replicator support and what sort. As for USB there are inexpensive USB3 -> SATA adapters floating around amazon for less than 50$ that support FIS PM. Not as good as a nice PCIe card but they work. Google has plenty of explanations on Command Based vs FIS switching. (FIS is better)
  11. steiney thread starter macrumors 6502

    Nov 6, 2009
    Thanks for the feedback and troubleshooting help! The computer I was planning to use is on 10.6, and the SATA Expresscard is made by LaCie and has the FIS port replicator support. I tried downloading their driver and installing it, to no avail. In my research on this here and elsewhere, I've heard so much negative feedback about the Expresscard port on macs that I've just chalked it up to a dead/defective Expresscard port. I've actually bought a USB 3 Expresscard a few years ago and could never get it to work, but I had just assumed that one was a driver issue because that card was a really cheap Chinese card. I'd be really happy if I could get it to work but at this point, I've given up hope!

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10 September 29, 2015