A few days ago, I mentioned that my home NAS box had failed, and that I was considering replacing it with a PC server running OpenSolaris and ZFS. I’ve read a pile of ZFS docs, and it looks like the best option available to me today, so I decided to order some suitable hardware.

At that point, pretty much everything broke down. I have a hard enough time keeping track of which hardware works with Linux this week, and OpenSolaris is completely new to me. Sun’s list of officially-supported hardware is pretty sparse, and digging through their mailing list archives gets frustrating quickly. From what I can tell, it boils down to:

  • Current Intel and AMD CPUs are all fine.
  • Most of Intel’s chipsets are fine.
  • Most of nVidia’s AMD chipsets are fine.
  • nVidia and Intel video chips are good.
  • Most common Ethernet chipsets are either supported natively or have drivers available.
  • The only SATA controllers that work are Intel’s ICH southbridges, Silicon Image’s PCI and PCI-E chips, Marvell’s PCI chips, and nVidia’s southbridges. It’s not clear that Marvell’s PCI-E chips work. Most motherboards with additional, non-southbridge SATA ports probably won’t work.
  • Venturing too far outside of this list will probably result in problems.

I was looking for a motherboard with 8 SATA ports, and was hoping that the Intel D975XBX2 (“Bad Axe 2”) would work, but 4 of its 8 SATA ports belong to a Marvell PCI-E SATA chip that doesn’t appear to be supported. I went through every single 8-port motherboard in Newegg’s database and ended up flunking all of them out for some reason–unsupported chipset, unsupported SATA chip, not enough slots, too expensive, and so on. In the end, I ended up ordering an Asus P5K WS (the ‘WS’ is important–the P5K is a different board). It only has 6 on-board SATA ports, but it includes a PCI-X slot. That’ll let me use the Supermicro AOC-SAT2-MV8, which is far and away the cheapest 8-port SATA card on the market. That’ll give me a total of 14 SATA ports, which should be enough for a whatever I want to throw at it. The Marvell PCI-X chip at the heart of the Supermicro card is the same one used in Sun’s Sun Fire x4500 48-drive server, so it’s safe to assume that Sun has put a lot of effort into the driver.

Most of the test of the system is fairly generic–a cheap nVidia 7200GS video card (the cheapest PCI-E card that NewEgg carries), a nice case and power supply, RAM, and a boatload of drives.

The one odd component that I’ve added is a Gigabyte GC-RAMDISK with 1 GB of RAM. The GC-RAMDISK is a battery-backed SATA ramdisk; it looks like a hard drive to the system and can survive up to 18 hours without power. I’ve had my eye on this thing for years, and it looks like it’ll be a perfect external log device for GFS. I had to ask to see how ZFS will behave if the device fails, and it looks like manual intervention may be required after an 18+ hour power outage, but it should be pretty minimal. I’m planning on posting some benchmarks here once I’ve had a chance to try it out.

Assuming that I’m able to get this whole mess to work at all, I should have lots to write about here over the next week or so. I’m going to start by explaining why I want to use Solaris instead of Linux or *BSD, and why I’m building something instead of buying a pre-build NAS box.