Posted by: Mike | July 28, 2008

Fun with the Atom & FreeNAS

Well, I bought Intel’s D965GCLF mini-ITX motherboard with it’s 1.6GHz Atom soldered on.  The funny thing is that the chipset uses roughly 5 times the power of the CPU and is the only thing requiring a fan on the board.  If you look at a picture of it, the little heatsink is the chip, and the giant (by comparison) one is the northbridge.

There’s good and there’s bad with it.  It’s cheap.  Supercheap.  So it’s perfect as a project board.  I think I paid under $70 for it.  It only has one IDE controller like most new-fangled boards, which has made my project a little, um, interesting.  But it led me to a better solution.  It also only has 2 SATA ports as well, which I’ll have to deal with later.  Most annoyingly it only has 10/100 Ethernet.  I mean, really people, it’s 2008 and it’s not like a gigabit controller would have cost more or used more power.  But it’s cute, in that “damn I’m lucky I’m getting married because I think mini-ITX is cute” kind of way.

So I’m sticking FreeNAS on an old compact flash card I have lying around, attached via a IDE compactflash adapter I also happen to have lying around, because I thought it was nifty and never had a good use for it.

The setup is w/ approx prices:

  • Mobo: Intel D965GCLF ($70)
  • CPU: Intel Atom 1.6GHz (w/ board)
  • RAM: 1GB Crucial DDR2-667 ($20)
  • Boot drive: Cheap compact flash card, via IDE ($15)
  • Storage drive: Western Digital WD5000AAKS ($75)
  • PSU: Random proprietary “P4” MicroATX-esque PSU out of dead IBM (free)
  • Case: umm none yet…  more on that later

If all goes well, I’ll add more drives.  I’m testing out the FreeBSD 7 based FreeNAS in hopes of playing with ZFS/RAIDZ.

The goal is to build a cheap NAS for backup and media storage.  Speed is not critical since, hey it’s 10/100 and most of the computers connecting to it will be on 802.11g.  Given my luck with wireless routers, I don’t want something slapped together by Buffalo or Netgear, or whoever, I’ll do the slapping myself, thankyouverymuch.

And besides, I need at least one more OS to add to the Messmore household computer lab.  We have the Macbook, the Dell laptop and my desktop running Ubuntu, the old AMD machine running Windows XP, the Sun Ultra workstation sitting idle right now, but destined to be running Solaris 9 any day now, and the EeePC running Xubuntu.  I think that’s plenty for two people a dog and a cat (kitty uses the EeePC). I’ll be happy to have 4 flavors of *nix in the house ;).  Oh and I left out the WRT54GL router with DDWRT, and the Wii, which mostly plays pinball right now.

The problem I’ve had is writing the Embedded image to the flash card.  First the Macbook wouldn’t write to it because either a) the filesystem was mounted so couldn’t be written to, or b) the card reader turned off when it wasn’t mounted.  A fun little catch 22.  Then it took me a couple of hours to figure out that the .img file should be called a .img.gz, which was lovely.  Finally I have it written, or so fdisk seems to tell me.  I can’t know for sure until I try to boot it tomorrow.

By the way the command to write the image is

gunzip -c FreeNAS-amd64-embedded-0.7.3514.img | sudo dd of=/dev/sdd

Since I couldn’t find any info on it, outside of using an image writing program for m0n0wall (which I’m sorry, but sounds too 1337 for me).

I’m going “embedded” because a CD-ROM is just a waste (both energy and space) for something like this.  I have plenty-o-RAM for an application like this, since RAM (at least DDR2) is cheap (yay!).  Plus I have a freaking compact flash adapter doing nothing because I’m a sucker for a cheap dorky gadget.

We’ll see how it goes, and if I’ll drop another $75 for another 500GB drive or 3. I really want to put 3+ of them in a RAIDZ, but I’ll need a IDE SATA adapter for that one.


  1. Thanks for putting this up. I have been thinking about the exact same sort of project. I bought an iomega 2x500gb nas because I needed something and it was on sale. However it sucks (noisy, does not power down drives, limited functonality). So I was thinking of canabalizing it and using the drives with an epia board or this one. The objective is minimal power usage, minimal noise, file sharing/backup and (hopefully) some basic web server.
    Looking forward to reading more of your experiences – such as power consumption.
    I am trying FreeNAS 0.686 but I haven’t figured out a way to permanently set PACKAGESITE since ‘export’ doesn’t seem to be included. Have you had any luck?

  2. I’m still a FreeNAS neophyte, but I’ll take a swing at it. Right now I’ve only test-run the thing on a VM, and on the actual Atom board on my fabulous brick-esque flooring. Over the next week or so I’ll be assembling my ugly-but practical case I only have mocked up in cardboard form.

    My guess is one of two things:

    1) all the config is loaded at boot time from the XML config files by PHP scripts. I would first look there and try and see where other environment variables are set up.

    2) If I remember right, it’s set up with csh (or tcsh, etc.) as the default shell. ‘export’ is a bash built-in command. The equivalent-ish csh command would be setenv, although Bourne and C shells handle variables a little differently.

    Here’s an intro I found quickly that looks decent:

    Hope one of those tips helps.

  3. I’m hoping to do something similar. I’ve been pricing out Mini-ITX boards.

    I’m sure I’m going to sound horribly ignorant with this, but isn’t the Atom a 64 bit chip? I thought FreeNAS was 32-bit only (but then I can’t find where I read that, so maybe it’s not really the case) Of course, it looks like you’re building your own…

  4. Well, the Atom runs 32 and 46bit, and FreeNAS comes in both flavors. I’m currently playing with FreeNAS-amd64-embedded-0.7.3514.img, which can be downloaded here.

  5. I have this board too, which I picked up intending to run OpenSolaris 10 + ZFS. Having trouble there, but I didn’t know FreeNAS supported ZFS! Will try that tonight and see how it works.

  6. […] out, downloading and re-downloading different images, and almost giving up before I finally found this blog post and was finally able to get a bootable FreeNAS install.  I have no idea why the FreeNAS guys chose […]

  7. Hello Mike,

    How’s your FreeNAS with Atom project going?

  8. Wow, it’s a compressed image! I never would have figured that out. Thanks for the dd command line, it was exactly what I was looking for.

  9. I’m thinking of using an Atom Z series main board cuz it’s chipset uses practically little power, eg used by fit-PC2. The N Series’ chipset uses a bit more power it seems but still reasonable. I hate the fact they do not support 64-bit instructions. Only the Atom 2xx & 3xxx do, but their chipset needs fans and consume way too much power. May be an old laptop is the best solution. 😦

  10. […] Mike Messmore blog […]

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