Today we have an article that stems from a personal project. Ever since I first saw the CS381, even before our SilverStone CS381 review, I wanted to turn one into a ZFS storage server. Usually, these types of builds are extremely easy. This ended up being harder precisely because of the mATX form factor. In this article, we are going to talk about the thought process behind the build, and what you can take away from it. The particular system was planned as a FreeNAS build, but we are going to let this system run TrueNAS Core starting with nightly builds. You can apply everything here to FreeNAS today, or we expect TrueNAS Core in a few months as that is launched.
Building a FreeNAS TrueNAS Core ZFS mATX Appliance Video
Since this is one where you may want more angles, we have an accompanying video to this article.
For more information, including part numbers, we have the rest of this article.
Getting Started: Choosing the Form Factor
The SilverStone CS381 is a chassis we first saw from SilverStone at Computex 2018. It promises an 8-bay storage platform for mATX servers with large (quiet) fans and room for features such as GPUs.
During our review, we found that there were a few updates, but that system still works exceptionally well.
Aside from the internal 3.5″ drive bays, the platform has access to 2-4 additional 2.5″ mounting points for SSDs, making it a great hybrid platform.
As we saw in our FreeNAS Mini XL Plus Review 8-bays and 10GbE, the 8-bay FreeNAS platform works very well, so we wanted to replicate in a system with larger fans. One major note here is that the CS381 is a 28L design measuring 400mm (W) x 225mm (H) x 316mm (D) or 15.75″ (W) x 8.86″ (H) x 12.44″ (D). It feels like a large system even though it is based around a mATX size motherboard.
Motherboard and CPU Selection
This was a surprisingly tricky system. On the consumer side, there are plenty of mATX options out there. On the server-side, mATX, once a popular size, has become significantly less so. Since this is designed to be a server, we wanted something with remote management capabilities as well.
Intel Atom C3000 Series Option
The original thought was to go with an Intel Atom C3000 series solution. We could get 16 cores, 10GbE, and have a very low power server.
One of the biggest challenges here is that the Atom C3000 platforms are generally mITX or FlexATX size. As a result, they can be handled in smaller form factor chassis, and one does not need the larger CS381 size chassis. For some context, in the 8-bay ZFS server world, the Atom C3000 series is probably the best-fit solution from a SoC perspective, but we needed the right platform. We could, of course, use a smaller platform in the CS381, but we wanted to use mATX.
Perhaps Bigger: Intel Xeon Scalable Solution
If we could not get an mATX Atom C3000 solution, the next thought was going big. Specifically, getting an Intel Xeon Scalable solution. We have dozens of Xeon Scalable CPUs to use, so this seemed like an easy option.
We reviewed the Supermicro X11SPM-TPF mATX Intel Xeon Scalable Motherboard, and it seemed like a perfect fit. It had SFP+ 10GbE, multiple expansion slots, enough onboard SATA to power all of the drives, 6x DIMM slots, and plenty of PCIe all perfect to go bigger and do a converged storage and virtualization platform.
Then we found a snag. Due to the positioning of the CPU socket and memory, we could not get an easy and quiet cooling solution for the Xeon Scalable CPU. We would effectively need a liquid cooling solution. The closed-loop solution on the market for the LGA3647 120mm fan applications is the Dynatron L13. We tried for two months and were unable to buy one. That would have worked and made for a unique solution; alas, it was not available. With LGA3647, one affixes the CPU to the heatsink then installs the assembly into the socket. As a result, other liquid coolers that would fit the chassis do not work on LGA3647. We could have used a lower profile solution, but I did not want a loud NAS.
Intel Xeon E-2200 Series
This was perhaps the most logical option. There are a lot of Xeon E-2100/ Xeon E-2200 series platforms on the market, especially in mATX. Cooling is not an issue here since there are many low power options.
The challenge here is that these chips felt a bit like no-mans land. We know that the eight high-speed cores offer excellent performance, but it is not exactly inexpensive, it is not exactly low power. We do not get RDIMM support for higher capacities for a server that could use that much power with enough memory. Maybe it was the fact that we had just done over two dozen pieces on the series, but I just did not feel this was the right fit for me especially given the lower-cost pre-built solutions out there based on Xeon E-2200 series.
Still, this is one that we think you should look at. In the space, mATX options were more popular until 2015 or so when Intel started introducing single-chip embedded solutions (Xeon D-1500, D-2100, and Atom C3000.) Removing the PCH from the motherboard greatly reduced motherboard footprints. It also dropped volumes for the server entry Xeon series. As a result, we saw the number of mATX platforms here shrink. Still, this is probably one of the most vibrant mATX ecosystems. The Supermicro X9SCM-F was an absolutely killer platform I look back on fondly.
Let us continue by looking at some other options.