If you are building a DIY network attached storage, then choosing the right motherboard is the first step.
A DIY NAS can end up being a much cheaper option as well as a more powerful one than a pre-built NAS station. The beauty of a DIY NAS is that you can choose the number of storage drives, the processor as well as the RAM, among other things, for your setup.
Whether you want to build a NAS for your home or for your office, there are a few things that most DIY experts take into consideration which we will review below.
In short, here we will look into the best motherboards for NAS and also into some tips and pointers that can help you with building your NAS.
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What are People Looking For in NAS Mobo?
While the beauty of a DIY setup lies in the fact that you can make your ideas come true, there are still a few pointers that can get you started with sifting through the NAS motherboards if you are new to building them.
High Number of SATA Ports Matters!
It goes without saying that SATA ports are single-handedly the most important ports for NAS motherboards. The higher the number of SATA ports you have, the more hard drives you can fit into your NAS system.
Therefore, you can follow this notion as a rule of thumb that the higher the number of SATA ports the better.
A higher number of M.2 Slots also matters. NVME SSDs are FAST and data stored on an NVME SSD can be fetched multiple faster compared to a normal hard drive.
However, unless you have a huge budget to spare in procuring expensive NVME SSDs, the M.2 slots matter little for a media, home or an archival NAS system.
Mini ITX Form Factor – Great for NAS Motherboards
Many love the idea of their NAS builds being as compact as possible. That is where the form factors matter.
A smaller form factor of a motherboard would mean that you can fit it into a small chassis.
The smallest form factor available for consumer-grade use is the mini ITX. It has a dimension of 6.7 inches x 6.7 inches.
Therefore, the holy grail is to find a Mini ITX form factor with the highest possible SATA ports – this is actually quite a tough find.
Other Factors to Consider
Balance between SATA Count and Price
Of course, the number of SATA ports is not the only main consideration. You have to balance the cost of the overall build as well.
For example, certain high end motherboards do feature up to 13 SATA ports. However, such motherboards are not just expensive themselves, but the processor they require is also significantly expensive.
As such, here it would be illogical to invest in such a premium setup as you would otherwise practically be able to build multiple smaller NAS storages for the price of a single setup with the premium motherboard and processor.
Not Processor Hungry – Particularly True for Home NAS Systems
A NAS setup is NOT really a processor-hungry setup. However, in the end, it does depend upon what you want to accomplish.
If you plan to use the setup as a workstation or perhaps build working VMs, then a faster processor may be best.
On the other hand, if you are going to use the NAS as a static storage space, then budget processors would do just fine. Many users are okay with suggesting low key processors i.e. Pentium, Core i3, etc. as ideal for most NAS.
The type of hardware that you get would depend a lot upon your use case. Do you want a home NAS motherboard or a business NAS motherboard?
A Home NAS motherboard would obviously be cheaper with low-key components installed. A server-grade NAS motherboard would have more expensive components.
More than 8 Ports = Workstation Motherboards
The same is true if you are looking for more than 8 SATA ports on your motherboard. You will need to settle for rare workstation-grade motherboards and they can get expensive.
Hence, if you are looking for native 8 x SATA ports on the motherboard, I recommend sticking with the mainstream commercial motherboards.
You can always expand the number of SATA ports using expansion cards and storage controllers.
Are Storage Controllers worth it?
A simple PCIE SATA expansion card adds another SATA controller apart from the controller you have on your motherboard.
This offers 4 x SATA 3.0 slots.
Storage controllers are basically add-in cards that you can attach to your PCIe slot to expand the number of SATA ports available to you on your motherboard.
Many find these to be an excellent alternative to getting a motherboard with a large amount of SATA ports built in.
With this strategy, you can simply get a very cheap motherboard and add these to the expansion slots.
There are two drawbacks to expansion cards, however. For starters, they require a free PCIe slot with at least x4 lanes in most cases and are also quite expensive.
Secondly, if you are looking for an enterprise-grade SAS controller, then they can cost quite expensive.
A good storage controller capable of RAID such as the LSI Logic SAS 9207-8i can cost more than a motherboard itself.
Logic controllers such as this LSI Broadcom SAS 9300-8i can expand the number of SATA ports you have signed but are expensive.
On top of that, you will need to invest in separate SAS to SATA cables. A SAS cable can basically connect a PCIe Controller like the one above to 4 discrete SATA hard drives.
Therefore, the total cost of acquiring this controller plus the cables can get quite expensive for those on a budget.
For basic home or multimedia NAS, I recommend sticking with the basic PCIe SATA expansion cards.
If DATA is of paramount importance, then SAS cards are recommended due to their reliability factor.
Simple SATA Port Multiplier Cards are NOT Recommended
You will often find cheap and affordable port multiplier cards that connect to a single SATA port and multiply it into 2 or 4 SATA ports.
These are NOT recommended and they do not increase the bandwidth. In other words, all the multiplied ports will divide the speed of the one SATA port they connect to.
Plus, they have issues with support on many motherboards.
Also Read: Best Motherboards with Integrated Graphics
Here we looked at some of the best motherboards for NAS in our opinion while taking into consideration the most common pointers for a DIY setup.
All in all, your NAS system does not have to be expensive. It just depends upon what you want to accomplish on it. For basic NAS, any budget motherboard with an entry-level processor would do just fine.