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xj25vm 08-28-2013 10:29 AM

ARM Linux inexpensive/small file server with SATA support?
I have been wondering for a while if there is some option out there for a small and inexpensive ARM server. Mainly file server - but it could be put to some other uses as well. I'm talking about something which would slot below the Intel Atom boards in terms of energy usage and price - for those projects where the power of Linux is needed - but not the full CPU strength of the Atom - where something slower will do.

I have been looking into either using one of the wifi routers with OpenWRT on them, or one of the other similar platforms (RPi, WD TV etc.) for the purpose. In terms of power consumption, CPU speed and price, these options are pretty spot on. The biggest drawback as far as I can work out seems to be that none of them have SATA support. For me, a server which has to act as a file server as well, without SATA support is a no-no. I have used USB for file storage over the years, and as a permanent fixture, with root partition and storage partitions on it is:

a. A bit too flimsy and unstable, subject to the quality of implementation of the USB chip and driver, and the amount of power provided etc.
b. Does not support SMART and the hardware monitoring this brings.

Point b. is the stickiest point really - as without a way to monitor constantly the health of the hard-disk, the device wouldn't be suitable for even the smallest or least significant file server.

Am I missing something in my analysis - or is there some ARM based, commodity device out there which could be put to good use as a Linux file server?

Shadow_7 08-28-2013 12:20 PM

Why do you "need" the monitoring?
- peace of mind?
- high usage / commercial interests?

With most ARM devices you're dealing with storage over a network, or through USB. So which ever of those options gives you what you want I guess.

I've been looking at a cubieboard 2 myself. But I'm not really in the market atm, so I can wait for better options. Not quite an atom, but dual core and 64 bit, which is new-ish for ARM based things. Plus 1GB of RAM, which is more than double RPi spec wise.

xj25vm 08-28-2013 01:02 PM


Why do you "need" the monitoring?
From my point of view, it is rather useless having any form of permanent data storage (used continuously, not for backup) which can't be monitored and alerts issued automatically in case its health deteriorates. No matter what device you use to store data, sooner or later it will wear out/go faulty. With hard-disks, predictably so. Having a server humming away for months, just to discover that the hard-drive has been developing bad sectors and loosing data for a while without any warning is just unacceptable. With modern SMART hdds, and smartools software for Linux (for example) - I get warnings when a hard-disk is going south - and get a chance to replace it in good time. Heck - I even enabled smart monitoring and smartools (with regular automatic scans and email alerts) on my laptops - I don't want to wake up one morning to a screen with funny error messages on it. That is why I don't think any form of USB storage is good enough for a server as permanent storage (as opposed to just using external usb hdds for backup).

Shadow_7 08-29-2013 02:03 PM

No data storage that I know of is permanent. I wouldn't trust any of them to hold a message for a hundred years. Punch cards might come close, but hardly a model of efficiency. At least we have 3D printers now. One step closer to stone tablet grade data storage.

ARM motherboard option - AR6MXQ / i.MX6
1x sata port

Something I stumbled on that has a SATA connector. Most everything else with SATA and ARM is meant to be rack mounted in a server room. With multiple power supplies, dozens of SATA drives, and just as many CPUs.

xj25vm 08-29-2013 06:30 PM


ARM motherboard option - AR6MXQ / i.MX6
1x sata port
Thanks for that. Not exactly commodity stuff - but an interesting option.


No data storage that I know of is permanent. I wouldn't trust any of them to hold a message for a hundred years.
I agree. However, I wasn't talking about the longevity of data storage. I was talking about the possibility to monitor the storage hardware efficiently so that I can be warned when things are going pear shaped. Ideally, in good time before significant data corruption happens - which can easily creep also into backups. SATA and SMART offers that. USB doesn't - at least not within feasible parameters. For example doing an fsck -c for bad blocks on a usb hdd takes, well, I'm not even sure how long as I had to cancel it after a good number of hours.

Shadow_7 08-30-2013 10:11 AM

It looks like that ARM board is being used pre-bundled and cased by this place.

Kind of pricy for me, but the SSD it has is probably most of that price.

Shadow_7 09-04-2013 05:23 PM

And this place seems to have a variant and cheaper option. eSATA and IrDA.

xj25vm 09-04-2013 05:52 PM

Without eSATA and RTC battery for the first two options - only the third option would be useful for a server, really. Shame, as the first option, with the slower processor, without the GPU and HDMI, but with the eSata and RTC battery would have been a really interesting proposition for a low power server.

DarkLordSauron 12-02-2013 05:22 PM

I have used a Tonidoplug2 for this works very well added 250GB HDD runs samba and OpenVPN etc

propofol 12-04-2013 12:46 AM

This may be of interest: cubietruck. It has a sata port.

xj25vm 12-04-2013 02:23 AM

Thanks propofol. At 49USD, the cubieboard 1 with SATA is actually quite an attractive proposition. Do you have one and if yes, have you had any issues with it? It would be interesting to know if, out of the box, it is compatible with one of the ARM flavours of Slack.

propofol 12-05-2013 01:11 AM


Originally Posted by xj25vm (Post 5075094)
...Do you have one and if yes, have you had any issues with it? It would be interesting to know if, out of the box, it is compatible with one of the ARM flavours of Slack.

No I do not have it - I have a Raspberry Pi. I have been looking for something with a sata port as well for mobile wifi file sharing. So far this seems like a good option. If anyone has used it I would also like to know if they found it useful. I would like to be sure that Debian is well supported.


xj25vm 02-03-2014 02:24 PM

I've just stumbled over another cheap ARM board with SATA - the Olimex Lime:

It is slightly cheaper than the cubietruck (€30). I'd be curious if anybody here has any experience of these things - specially how reliable and robust they are.

It would also be interesting to find out if, at least in theory, based on specs, Slackware has some chance of running on one of them one day.

sgosnell 02-04-2014 04:30 PM

I have a CuBox-i. It has a SATA port, as well as USB, etc. I have full Debian desktop running on it, and the only downsides I've found are that some apps I want to use have no ARM ports. Pretty much all the Debian packages are available for ARM, but a couple of proprietary third-party apps like Dropbox and Teamviewer don't. If you don't need those, then the CuBox-i should work for you. I bought the i4Pro, because I wanted the extra memory and processor power for desktop use, but the cheaper models should work for a server. Debian certainly will run on most armhf devices, and it should be possible to run distros like Slackware, Arch, etc without much trouble.

xj25vm 02-04-2014 05:21 PM

Thanks for that - quite interesting. I noticed that only the two most expensive ones (i2Ultra and i4Pro) have SATA support. At $105 and $125, it is unfortunately fanless Intel Atom motherboard territory - even if one factors in the extra price for the RAM. Also, when taking into account the power supply for the HDD etc., the overall power consumption will most likely be quite similar. Though the CuBox-i is a lot smaller in size.

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