Building an Ultra-Low-Power File Server with the Trim-Slice

For the past several years, I've used a custom-built file server at my house. I've upgraded it many times, but it began life, as near as I can recall, in April 2000. When I say "upgraded", I mean the internals have been swapped completely on at least two occasions among other things. The most-recent major upgrade was in 2006 (or thereabouts) when I added a software RAID5 with three 500GB hard drives (later expanded to six). It has chugged along merrily for years, but lately it has begun showing its age. For starters, two terabytes of space isn't all that much anymore. Also, it's not as efficient power-wise as I would like (in my measurements, it draws between 1.8 and 2.0 amps continuously, depending on load). Finally, the case for this server takes up way too much space (it's a full tower).

As an experiment, and finally to get rid of that large, inefficient and ugly tower case, I decided to use the new Trim-Slice as the base for an ultra-low-power, ultra-small replacement file server. The Trim-Slice is built on the NVIDIA Tegra 2 platform, and the specific model I purchased features a 1GHz dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor, 1GB of RAM and a 32GB SATA SSD. Did I mention that it's really small? You know, teeny—like, I-can't-believe-this-is-a-full-computer small. The dimensions are 130mm x 95mm x 15mm. For comparison purposes, a standard 3.5" hard drive has dimensions of approximately 146mm x 102mm x 25mm.

Figure 1. The Trim-Slice and Everything That Comes in the Box

Figure 2. Size Comparison: the Trim-Slice Next to a Nokia N900 and the Ben NanoNote

On the outside, it has an RS232 serial port, SD and microSD card slots (both SDHC-compatible), four USB ports, HDMI and DVI-D video out ports, 802.11n and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Inside, it comes with Ubuntu pre-installed on the SSD (10.10 "Maverick" was installed on the one I received, but there is now an update to 11.04 "Natty", which I applied and which I expect is now shipping on newly ordered units).

The full Ubuntu Linux inside is what set this solution above alternatives like the Drobo FS, ReadyNAS and others, at least in my mind. The price is in the same ballpark too. The model I ordered, complete with shipping from Israel, came to $335.

The main downside for my purposes is that there is no place to connect internal hard drives. I have to make do with external USB drives instead. I don't like the thought of running a software RAID over USB, so I further decided simply to use multiple large external USB drives (each with at least one corresponding backup drive).

To start with, my goal was to replace the old tower server, which just requires the Trim-Slice and two 2TB external USB hard drives. Yes, a single hard drive, especially a USB drive, is not as reliable or nearly as fast as a RAID5 array, but it's a compromise I'm willing to make for the power, space and noise savings. USB is plenty fast for my needs, and besides, with two drives, I have a backup.

Anatomy of a File Server

The purpose of a file server is to serve files over a network. There are many ways to do this, but I focus on the most common ones here.

First, there is classic "file server" software: NFS and Samba. These systems don't care what your data is. All they see are files, and no file is any different from the next (apart from size and permissions).

The new kids are content-aware file servers like UPnP and DAAP. This type of file server software does care about content types, and it serves up metadata about your files along with the files themselves. It will refuse to serve files it doesn't recognize or support. But, it can do some tricks that NFS and Samba can't, like alter data on the fly for clients who can't read the original data. So, they're more fussy than classic file server software, both to set up and run, but they do have advantages.

UPnP and DAAP are designed specifically for serving audio, video and image files. DAAP is built-in, or available as a plugin, for many popular audio jukebox apps, such as Rythmbox, Amarok and Banshee, but there also are standalone server applications available. UPnP Media Server support is built in to various consumer devices, such as the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and various handheld and set-top media players.

______________________

Comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I have my TrimSlice running now.

loughkb's picture

I had some fun setting it up, really enjoyed the project. I am a bit dismayed by some of the comment thread here, the political skew is annoying.

Really, this is a technical forum regarding a shared interest in warm and sometimes glowing machines that do amazing things with electrons. People should be able to discuss and share their 'shared' interest in such without regard for governments. That belongs elsewhere. We're the people, we are separate from the egomaniacal stuffed suits that play their power games, sometimes to our detriment. We are not them, leave that bickering to those who want to get themselves dirty and smelly.

Now, back to the subject at hand. I am really happy with this little device. It's providing exactly the service I desired, and at a power consumption level I can't see matched in any other hardware without making big compromises in performance.

As to power consumption. I run it off a 12 volt DC supply system that is augmented and backed up by a solar battery system. For about 6-8 hours of the day, it and the external 1 TB hard disk are completely powered by the sun. The rest of the time, it's drawing 250 - 700 milliamps, depending on rather the HD has been spun down. That's WAY below what I could achieve with other hardware.

Mine is running off an SD card in the front slot, no internal SSD. Although I don't plan on rebooting or shutting it down any more than once a year for an fsck, I should point out something I discovered.

When you shut down the unit, it doesn't sync the filesystem, just goes into a kind of suspend mode. This will cause some serious file system corruption. I know this from experience with it.

So my tip is this. Before shutting down or sending a reboot, manually do a 'sync' to flush out buffers. The file system will still indicate it was not cleanly unmounted when you fsck it, but errors will be very minor and no data will be lost.

Kevin

That pretty expensive

Mace Moneta's picture

You can get one of these instead:

Google for yourself:
ASUS E45M1-I Deluxe AMD E-450 APU AMD Hudson M1 Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo

You can find it as low as $160. A lot more function and performance for a lot less money. The CPU, video, sound, gig-e are included; add 4GB RAM for $20, and you're still under $180. Power consumption with a couple of hard drives is about 25W.

You can get away with a lot

Anonymous's picture

You can get away with a lot cheaper hardware then a tegra2 powered system.
Why would you want that much graphics processing power on a fileserver anyway?

I would buy one today...

Sidney's picture

...if it wasn't made in Israel. I never buy anything from Israel, not even their avocado.

Cheers,
Sid

Curious

deandownsouth's picture

I don't usually care where something is made. Is there an issue with Israel made electronics over those from Asia or elsewhere?

No, there is an issue with

Sidney's picture

No, there is an issue with Israel and how they treat the Palestinians and get away with it.

This is really not a place

Webmistress's picture

This is really not a place for political discussions about Israel. If you have a problem with Israeli products because they come from Israel, please share those opinions somewhere else. If you think the technology behind them sucks/is awesome, then have at it.

Katherine Druckman is webmistress at LinuxJournal.com. You might find her on Twitter or at the Southwest Drupal Summit

i stopped watching mel gibson

Anonymous's picture

i stopped watching mel gibson movies due to mel gibson being an anti-semite.

Oh, I see

deandownsouth's picture

I do hate it when folks like you mix politics and FOSS. Like that idiot that does the Mint distro. He broke the rules, IMO, with his anti-Israel statement, of which he is free to do so, but not on a Linux forum. Linux and FOSS is open to anyone regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, politics, or sexual persuasion. It's a great example of how people from all over the world can come together regardless of who or what they are and communicate and contribute. There was no reason to post what you post as it had no bearing on the product at hand.

Politics and FOSS?

Sidney's picture

What's FOSS about the Trim-Slice?

No bearing on the product at hand? Isn't the Trim-Slice made in Israel?

Come on, get real!

Really?

markdean's picture

It runs Linux you dolt. On top of that, the hardware specifications are clearly disclosed, including reference diagrams and mechanical drawings, etc.

Israel

Anonymous's picture

Hmm, did you ever do some history leasons about Israel and Palestinians?
Did you know that the Jews actually bought the land in Israel before becoming a state? Do you care to know that there were no such thing as Palenstiaians before the Israel was declared a country.

It is fools like you that make the US looks stupid, ones that don't bother to do your own research, just go off on a tangent based on rumors and lies.

Incorrect. The British used

Anonymous's picture

Incorrect. The British used the term Palestinian to refer to people from Palestine since at least start of 20th century. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration 1917 and other documents of the era use Palestine/Palestinian terms.

Israel

Anonymous's picture

Oh it's made in Israel? Thanks for pointing that out, def getting a few now.

A1000 + Sata

PePa's picture

Not a fan of RAID for this kind of a setup. I would get a Mele A1000 ($70) with an external Sata HD (no USB, spins down, hot-pluggable). It's ARM, but Ubuntu is already running on it, I'm sure Debian won't be a problem. Or it can come with Android, but I wouldn't prefer that.

Do the same thing with my laptop

Tacra's picture

I do basically the same thing with an old lenovo T61p laptop. I put a 500GB hd in it, installed centos 6.0 (upgraded to 6.2 now), and setup it up like a functional desktop. Then setup nfs and samba, email, apache, mysql. I have a nice place to centralize all my data, ability to access anywhere in the world, enjoy all my content, and if the crap hits the fan, I can walk out the door with my system under my arm.

The T61p can take external usb hds and should be able to raid them if needed. If I were truly worried about a drive failure, I'd get say 6 usb drives, put them into 2 drive mirrors then stripe across the mirrors aka Raid 10. That setup can get me 4.5 TB today with plenty of speed and redundancy using common, off the shelf 1.5 TB hds I can buy anywhere. With lvm and xfs, I can grow the raid 10 as needed with the mirrors. Not bad for cheap commodity hd and a clone of RHEL.

I even run mediawiki off of it and can check email or cruise the web from anywhere else and have all my stuff on tap.

Asigurari Locuinte

pufos's picture

Great article!!

First, there is classic "file

Asigurari Locuinte's picture

First, there is classic "file server" software: NFS and Samba. These systems don't care what your data is. All they see are files, and no file is any different from the next (apart from size and permissions).

Price is around $350, but I

Asigurari Locuinte's picture

Price is around $350, but I bought mine on sale for $250. I've seen it go to that price at least 2x in the past 2 years.

Power consumption?

Kevin Loughin's picture

Hello,

My low power server for a few years has been an old maxterm thin client. One nice thing was the 12V power req. I run it off an old 12V PS, with a bleed over suplement from my solar power system. Most days it spends about 6 hrs totally powered by solar. (after my batts are topped off).

What is the amperage draw on the thin slice? I've been wanting to redo the server and this might just fit the bill.

I run on Debian currently, but the cpu is so weak that I can't take full advantage of Gb ethernet on my hardware.

Kevin

External RAID

Adam Casto's picture

Couldn't you use one of the external drives with built-in RAID? It's been a while, but I know I've come across some reasonably priced external USB to SATA hard drive cases with RAID options. I've been interested in them primarily for external backups with mirroring.

There are better alternatives

Vinh Nguyen's picture

I bought the Acer Aspire EasyStore (1.6ghz single-core atom) almost 2 years ago. It is energy-efficient, has a small footprint, and can hold up to 4 hard drives. I wiped out Windows and installed Ubuntu server. I serve files throughout my network via ssh, samba, and mediatomb (similar to yours). Price is around $350, but I bought mine on sale for $250. I've seen it go to that price at least 2x in the past 2 years. Seems like a better setup than yours. Just my 2 cents.

Dead tree

smitty1e's picture

A printer-friendly link would be a nice addition to a great article.

I agree :)

sis's picture

I agree
:)

White Paper
Linux Management with Red Hat Satellite: Measuring Business Impact and ROI

Linux has become a key foundation for supporting today's rapidly growing IT environments. Linux is being used to deploy business applications and databases, trading on its reputation as a low-cost operating environment. For many IT organizations, Linux is a mainstay for deploying Web servers and has evolved from handling basic file, print, and utility workloads to running mission-critical applications and databases, physically, virtually, and in the cloud. As Linux grows in importance in terms of value to the business, managing Linux environments to high standards of service quality — availability, security, and performance — becomes an essential requirement for business success.

Learn More

Sponsored by Red Hat

White Paper
Private PaaS for the Agile Enterprise

If you already use virtualized infrastructure, you are well on your way to leveraging the power of the cloud. Virtualization offers the promise of limitless resources, but how do you manage that scalability when your DevOps team doesn’t scale? In today’s hypercompetitive markets, fast results can make a difference between leading the pack vs. obsolescence. Organizations need more benefits from cloud computing than just raw resources. They need agility, flexibility, convenience, ROI, and control.

Stackato private Platform-as-a-Service technology from ActiveState extends your private cloud infrastructure by creating a private PaaS to provide on-demand availability, flexibility, control, and ultimately, faster time-to-market for your enterprise.

Learn More

Sponsored by ActiveState