Introduction and Testing Methodology

The increasing role of computers and electronic communication has resulted in the need to manage large amounts of data. This need has been felt across a wide spectrum of consumers ranging from home users to big enterprises. In the home / small business space, one option is to use network attached storage units that are ready to use out of the box. Sometimes, it is also necessary to have a server with added flexibility to store the data. This is where storage servers based on Windows or Linux distros come into play. These servers can either be bought as an appliance or assembled in a DIY fashion. Today, we will be looking at a system based on the former approach - the Advatronix Nimbus 400.

Advatronix is a US-based vendor of computing server solutions. We reviewed their Intel Xeon-based Cirrus 1200 solution last year. The Nimbus 400 is a server solution targeting a completely different market segment. Based on the Intel Avoton (Atom) platform, the lineup's members targets scenarios where the primary need is to act as a file server and the general computing workload is not expected to be taxing. That said, the Nimbus 400 ticks the feature checkboxes that consumers usually expect from enterprise-level file server platforms:

  • ECC RAM
  • IPMI 2.0 with iKVM for headless operation and full management control over the network
  • TPM (Trusted Platform Module) provision

The Nimbus 400 provides plenty of customization options.

  • Choice of OS: Diskless w/o OS, CentOS 7.1, FreeNAS, Windows Home Server 2011, Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials and Windows Server 2012 R2 Standard
  • SoC: Intel Atom C2550 (4C/4T @ 14W TDP) or Intel Atom C2750 (8C/8T @ 20W TDP)
  • DRAM: 2GB to 64GB of DDR3 ECC RAM @ 1600 MHz
  • PSU: 250W or 660W Modular Gold Rated
  • Fixed / OS Drives: 1x or 2x RAID-1 160GB SSD
  • Data Drives: 1x - 4x 3.5" NAS Drives (2, 3 or 4TB) or 4x 3.5" Enterprise Drives (2 or 4TB)

The table below compares our review configuration against other systems that have been evaluated by us using the same methodology (and hence, serve as comparison points).

Comparative File Server Configurations
Aspect Advatronix Nimbus 400 ASRock Rack C2750D4I + U-NAS NSC-800
Form Factor 4-bay mini-tower / mITX motherboard 8-bay mini-tower / mITX motherboard
Platform Intel Avoton C2550 Intel Avoton C2750
CPU Configuration 4C/4T Silvermont x86 Cores
2 MB L2, 14W TDP
2.4 GHz (Turbo: 2.6 GHz)
8C/8T Silvermont x86 Cores
4 MB L2, 20W TDP
2.4 GHz (Turbo: 2.6 GHz)
SoC SATA Ports 2x SATA III (for two hot-swap bays)
4x SATA II (None Used)
2x SATA III (for two hot-swap bays)
4x SATA II (for one OS drive)
Additional SATA Ports Marvell SE9172 (2x)
Marvell SE9230 (4x) (for two fixed OS drives and two hot-swap bays)
Marvell SE9172 (2x) (for two hot-swap bays)
Marvell SE9230 (4x) (for four hot-swap bays)
I/O Ports 4x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
1x D-Sub
2x RJ-45 GbE LAN
1x RJ-45 IPMI LAN
1x COM1 Serial Port
3x USB 2.0
1x D-Sub
2x RJ-45 GbE LAN
1x RJ-45 IPMI LAN
1x COM1 Serial Port
Expansion Slots 1x PCIe 2.0 x8 (used by Renesas uPD720201 USB 3.0 Host Controller) 1x PCIe 2.0 x8 (Unused)
Memory 4x 4GB DDR3-1333 ECC UDIMM
Kingston KVR13E9/8HM
9-9-9-24
2x 4GB DDR3-1333 ECC UDIMM
Samsung M391B5273DH0-YH9
Data Drives 4x OCZ Vector 128 GB 8x OCZ Vector 128 GB
Chassis Dimensions 270mm x 200mm x 302mm 316mm x 254mm x 180mm
Power Supply 250W Internal PSU 400W Internal PSU
Diskless Price (when built) USD 767 USD 845

Evaluation Methodology

A file server can be used for multiple purposes, unlike a dedicated NAS. Evaluating a file server with our standard NAS testing methodology wouldn't do justice to the eventual use-cases and would tell only a part of the story to the reader. Hence, we adopt a hybrid approach in which the evaluation is divided into two parts - one, as a standalone computing system and another as a storage device on a network.

In order to get an idea of the performance of the file server as a standalone computing system, we boot up the unit with a USB key containing a Ubuntu-on-the-go installation. The drives in the bays are configured in a mdadm RAID-5 array. Selected benchmarks from the Phoronix Test Suite (i.e, those benchmarks relevant to the usage of a system as a file server) are processed after ensuring that any test utilizing local storage (disk benchmarks, in particular) point to the mdadm RAID-5 array. Usage of the Phoronix Test Suite allows readers to have comparison points for the file server against multiple systems (even those that haven't been benchmarked by us).

As a storage device on a network, there are multiple ways to determine the performance. One option would be to repeat all our NAS benchmarks on the system, but that would be take too much time to process for a given system that we are already testing as a standalone computer. On the other hand, it is also important to look beyond numbers from artificial benchmarks and see how a system performs in terms of business metrics. <a href="https://www.spec.org/sfs2014/>SPEC SFS 2014 comes to our help here. The benchmark tool is best used for evaluation of SANs. However, it also helps us here to see the effectiveness of the file server as a storage node in a network. The SPEC SFS 2014 has been developed by the IOZone folks, and covers evaluation of the filer in specific application scenarios like the number of virtual machines that can be run off the filer, number of simultaneous databases, number of video streams that can be simultaneously recorded and the number of simultaneous software builds that can be processed.

Our SPEC SFS 2014 setup consists of a SMB share on the file server under test connected over an Ethernet network to our NAS evaluation testbed outlined below. Further details about the SPEC SFS 2014 workloads will be provided in the appropriate section.

AnandTech NAS Testbed Configuration
Motherboard Asus Z9PE-D8 WS Dual LGA2011 SSI-EEB
CPU 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630L
Coolers 2 x Dynatron R17
Memory G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-12800CL10Q2-64GBZL (8x8GB) CAS 10-10-10-30
OS Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Secondary Drive OCZ Technology Vertex 4 128GB
Tertiary Drive OCZ Z-Drive R4 CM88 (1.6TB PCIe SSD)
Other Drives 12 x OCZ Technology Vertex 4 64GB (Offline in the Host OS)
Network Cards 6 x Intel ESA I-340 Quad-GbE Port Network Adapter
Chassis SilverStoneTek Raven RV03
PSU SilverStoneTek Strider Plus Gold Evolution 850W
OS Windows Server 2008 R2
Network Switch Netgear ProSafe GSM7352S-200

The above testbed runs 10 Windows 7 VMs simultaneously, each with a dedicated 1 Gbps network interface. This simulates a real-life workload of up to 10 clients for the NAS being evaluated. All the VMs connect to the network switch to which the NAS is also connected (with link aggregation, as applicable). The VMs generate the NAS traffic for performance evaluation.

Thank You!

We thank the following companies for helping us out with our NAS testbed:

Setup Impressions and Platform Analysis
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18 Comments

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  • jamyryals - Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - link

    This CPU has the "AES New Instructions" which I think would offload most of the encryption costs. In practice, I don't have any experience with it to know either way.
    http://ark.intel.com/products/77982/Intel-Atom-Pro...
    Reply
  • leexgx - Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - link

    all the encryption would be done at very high speed with AES hardware in the CPU (assuming the encryption software uses AES like truecrypt does) Reply
  • WithoutWeakness - Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - link

    Will you be doing a review of the Nimbus 2000? I've heard it's the fastest model yet! Reply
  • overzealot - Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - link

    You're a server, Harry! Reply
  • toyotabedzrock - Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - link

    The idle power usage seems very high. Is that while running Windows or Linux? Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, August 12, 2015 - link

    That was running Windows Server 2012 R2 with 4x SSDs in the drive bays. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Friday, August 14, 2015 - link

    Hi,

    1. Is the PSU ATX, SFX, or some other standard form factor?

    2. is there any dust filter in the front of the case?

    Thanks!
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 14, 2015 - link

    It's an ATX PSU. While not a filter per-se the door is a fine mesh that does block a fair amount of dust. Reply

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