Choosing the right mobo got the first six drive interfaces
When looking for a motherboard, I had one simple requirement: lots and lots of SATA ports. Okay, I had a second requirement: relatively inexpensive. I wasn’t about to go buy a multi-thousand buck enterprise-quality motherboard. That would blow the whole budget in one go. I still needed to build a second backup Tank (and we were saving to buy our house).
I wound up settling on the ASUS M4A88T-M motherboard (now discontinued), which as you’ll notice sports six (count ‘em, six!) SATA ports. The board also has USB 3.0 (which was nice for future growth), HDMI, and a bunch of other yada yada. The nice thing was that the entire board (six SATA ports and all), was $94.
Processor didn’t matter much, so I threw a hundred buck Athlon into it, along with 4GB of RAM. I was running 32-bit XP, so RAM also didn’t matter much.
The drive cages
I’ll come back to the drive interfaces in a minute, but first let’s talk about the drive cages. There was a physical issue: how many drives could I fit into one mid-tower case? As it turned out, I found a set of very slick drive bays, the iStarUSA BPU Hot-Swap Cages. Each cage holds five hard drives, and fits where you’d normally put three 5.25-inch drives (think CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive).
These beasts were $115, and – if I could find a case with six open, full-size bays, I could use two of them. That’s how I got to my ten drive requirement for the Media Tank. Each drive screws into a sliding carrier and can slide in and out of the Tank body without opening the whole thing up.
One note: I actually bought four bays (one set for the main Tank and one set for the backup Tank). One of the drive slots in the backup Tank just doesn’t work. It’s unfortunate, but it was just such a hassle putting all these parts together that I’ve just ignored that drive slot for now. If it ever becomes a storage issue, I’ll deal with it.
Extra SATA ports
By now, you’ve probably done a tiny little bit of math. You’ve calculated that with ten drive bays, and only six SATA ports, there’s a shortfall of four SATA ports. I needed to add ports.
This time it was off to Amazon, where I scored two StarTech.com 2 Port PCI Express internal SATA II controller cards for under $25 each.
Each card uses up a single PCI Express port and as luck (and my purchasing choices) would have it, the ASUS mobo I picked up had two PCI slots. Two 2-port SATA II cards would buy me my extra four ports.
These cards are also designed to work as RAID devices, but I just configured them to give me ports. I now had SATA ports for each of my drive slots.
Next up, the case, power and the price/performance curve...