Norco ITX-S8 nas case - 1

September 20, 2016

As you may or may not know, I have been designing my own computer/nas case. My old nas is getting older by the day, it works fine, but I wanted to put something else together. Unfortunately I have also ran into a problem with my 3D printer. I had to send my main board back to Hungary for repair and well, the printer has been down for a while now so I can't work on that nas even if I wanted to. I sold an old car I had so I decided to start looking into a new nas to backup my old nas. Unfortunately, the new, ready to go disk-less nas boxes are still pretty expensive and very proprietary. I wanted to stay away from the proprietary nas boxes so that I could change parts more easily if the need arises. This way I don't have to wait for support with hardware. Not to mention proprietary parts are not cheap. Not that putting something like this will be cheap either but it's just a trade off you have to decide on before you buy a single item. I decided that I also wanted to get something with more drives. Now my current nas only has four drives which I still haven't even filled but getting there and the drives max out at 2 terabytes each. So in terms of the physical nas, I'm done there because the hardware itself won't support it. This is what got me started looking around for a new nas or nas case and to have something to back up my old one as well.

I started looking at the 4 bay, 5 bay, 6 bay, 8 bay nas and cases and the asustore 10 bay nases. They all looked fine, but as I read more and more about each, the less I liked them. I read from proprietary parts being so expensive to bad support and not liking their software. I also have an Asus router and even though they said they would keep working on the firmware which then sometimes do, the firmware online doesn't even match what I have. So things haven't been very consistent with asus which is the reason I decided not to go that route for example. So when other hardware that someone has doesn't quite get updated you can be sure that another may not get updated either. So I kept digging and found two cases that looked interesting.

The U-nas found in the link below. I first saw their 4 bay a while back and was smitten by it but never bought anything. I then started looking at build videos of their 8 bay case and well, things got really tight inside and not to mention all the screws you have to remove first just to install parts, so this turned me away from it.
http://www.u-nas.com/product/nsc800.html

The next case I found that I thought would work for me was the norco 4 bay nas. But it was tight for a motherboard as I like to use the stock cpu and fans. It also didn't have usb 3 ports. So these are the reasons the smaller one didn't jump at me even though it looked pretty good. I then found the 8 bay nas they currently have which is found in the link below and they did add one usb 3 port in the front. Of course the motherboard may have a few as well, but I just like that it came with that. Unfortunately they don't include a psu on these cases which makes no sense for their price. Lower price cases do, so that would be one less thing to worry about if they did. I do have a slim psu, but of course I can't find it right now so I can test fit it.
http://www.norcotek.com/product/itx-s8/

The case came in today and I have taken all the pictures that you won't find on their site. So let me get to the pros and cons to keep this as simple as possible because this is what I was looking for before deciding to go this route. It's always tough when you're the first one taking the plunge into a new piece of hardware. Not to mention the cost of adding all the parts and deciding which way to go which I'm still working on.

Pros:
-The case is a nice small size. It's not tiny, but it's still a bit smaller than a regular pc case. You could say it resembles a small pc case.
-8 drives and space for my own choice of motherboard. Assuming a stock cpu and fan fit in the available space.
-Slim power supply.
-HD trays seem to work well.
-All metal parts look well made.
-Front door honey comb structure looks nice. Plus the hole door is a metal perforated grill which should help with cooling.
-LED light clear transfer plastic pieces are built into each hard drive tray.
-Hard drive trays are well ventilated at the front. I like the design. Although once a hard drive is installed, the whole front is covered.
-Locking front door with two keys included. Good if you have kids around.
-Clean internals with just a few cables.

Cons - may not necessarily be bad things, just things I may have noticed about the case:
-Two SFF-8087 ports without any cables included in order to complete the package. I say con because not including any cables leaves you to find the right cable which is not stated anywhere since no instructions are included. Even if they are not used, it would be nice to see something added or both types included so there's no guessing.
-Again, no instructions or diagram. I'm still not sure where the small brackets go and what the large one is for. So at least a diagram letting you know what is what would help. It only has a few parts but still, I don't want to have to guess where those brackets go.
-Hard drives are horizontal and not vertical. Hard drives tend to stay hotter in this configuration even with fans and specially in smaller spaces as it's the case here. So make sure you leave the case out in an open area.
-No rear security lock cut out. Not a huge deal but it would be nice to see one built-in.
-No LCD panel built-in, just a metal cover. I would love to see an lcd panel there. The cover is also not perforated which may not help with cooling even though the sides of the cover are. A grill type of cover may be better to help with cooling or the same metal cover with just holes in it. I think this will definitely be needed.
-LED holes in the front with nothing in them but also drilled at an angle. It would be fine if they were used for now you just get three empty holes at an angle.
-Smallish power button and reset button. People with large hands will not like this. Power button works fine for me.
-Front door frame is plastic. The grill is metal.
-Door lock tab is plastic
-Front of case is plastic, this could easily be broken by a toddler or worst, holding it or grabbing the case from the wrong place. I accidentally put the whole case front facing down on my right hand and it started getting pushed in. I pulled it back up since it just felt pretty weak. Nothing happened, but the front is just not as strong as you would think.
-Drive trays locking tabs are all plastic
-Front door feels flimsy and easy to break. I have to push it in three places in order to make sure it is seated correctly. I would rather see an all metal frame along with the grill, lock tab and front of the case. Everything else is metal so why not complete it that way.
-No available parts list.

Pictures:

The box this was shipped in. Nothing but the name which is fine with me since it just looks like a plain small pc box.

Opening my package.

This small box came in one side.

This includes all the screws and some brackets. There are no instructions or diagrams included so I have no idea what any of the brackets are for. This definitely needs a bit more description. You don't really need a manual but something to at least let you know what each component is for would be nice.


As it comes sandwiched in the box. So far there was no damage that I could see. I still need to test the actual case, but that will be later once I have all the parts.

So far so good.

Here's a view of the front.

The front of the door is a metal grill, but the frame is all plastic. I found the door to be a bit flimsy as you will see later. I do like that most of the front door is a metal grill since that will help with air circulation. Specially on a case with this many drives.

And here's the reason I went this route. I can install my own mini itx board and operating system. I also like how they used a slim power supply. It's also on the side and away from everything which is nice. Even the small block psu's tend to take a bit too much space. The purple thumbs screws work fine, but I rather have the metal type which I do have. Not a big deal but still, they look a bit cheap. They seem to be well made though. So the detail is nice, maybe it's just the purple color I don't care for but they are easy to find like that too. There is also room for an expansion card too which is nice. I usually like to use the internal video since I just need something that will let me do some basic cad work which really won't be needed here. A 10 Gigabit port would be nice, but then you lose the port to the sas so these are the trade offs unless you spend a lot more money for a board with one. Those are still not as inexpensive yet, but I can see them going down. Do you need that, no, but I like to open up everything I can as much as I can even if I don't use it. I don't have to worry about things getting bogged down there later on and it's ready if the need arises.

Ahhh, the grill, It's a nice honeycomb. Unfortunately the door feels a bit on the flimsy side since both the frame of the door and the front of the case are all plastic.This will definitely benefit with an upgrade to metal. That will give it a more solid feel. Even if I push the door straight in, I find myself pushing the middle, top and then the bottom of the door to make sure it's seated. So I'll be checking out their updates on this. I did read about the norco cases and read good things about the cases.

Here's a closeup of the top tray locking tab. It's all plastic but seems to work fine. I'm not sure how well that will last though. Although this is not something you'll be taking in and out too often hopefully, but still.

Only the inner piece is metal, everything else is plastic. Don't get me wrong, it works well, the design is actually very simple which I like. It's just a matter of time to see if the plastic will hold up since this is not a case you will not be changing too often.

Here's a shot of the top of the back plane.

This is the side that will hold the power supply. I'm not sure how the psu will be held other than the screws at the back, but maybe this is where the large bracket will come in. I see two standoffs towards the front of the unit, so we'll see how that goes. Again, no instructions are included so I have to guess at the moment. Sure you can figure out how the psu mounts but sometimes you can miss something without a diagram of some sort or even a picture with one installed to show any extra brackets for example.


And here's the large front usb header plug. There's one usb 3 and one usb 2 port. The usb 3 port has nine wires and the usb 2 still uses the usual four wire setup. The rest will be on the back of whatever motherboard is used. I don't know why a new type c wasn't used instead of the usb 2, but maybe it's due to when this case was made since the new usb is fairly new.

Here's a nice single cable with all the different connections. The one thing I found a bit odd was the third icon for a nic on the front of the case and the fact that they start a number 3 from left to right which is backwards for us in the USA and most of the world. Boards usually come with one or two, but three just seems a bit odd. Either way, it's there so we'll have to see about that later. Of course you don't have to use all of them either or may not even need everything depending on the motherboard. Then again, now that I mention it, I don't recall ever having an LED nic connector on any board. So we'll see how this works out later on. I later found that some server boards have a management port as well, so this makes sense now but still not sure where you would plug these led's into since most nics have built-in led's.

Here are the two fan headers. These are only three wire plugs even though there are are four spaces. I read one motherboard manual stating that you need the four pins for temperature control which means these are just going to be on all the time at whatever speed they work at. So they may be loud as well. So these may need to get updated as well in order to take advantage of this or they may just work best as they are. Hard to say until I get this running.


Here's a top shot of the back plane. I wanted to see how much air will be able to get through the board.

The holes look a bit small but I like the simplicity of the back plane. It only has two power connectors.


And here are the only other two SFF-8087 ports on this case. This is where things get interesting because you have to figure out which way you want to go with this. There is a reverse sas cable that can be purchased directly from norco in order to go from these right into the individual sata connectors on the board. Or you can use a pcie sas card too to minimize the cable clutter even more. Now the bad part of this is that considering the cost of this case, it would have been nice if they had included these cables to complete the package. It just makes no sense not to do so even if you decide to go the sas to sas route which would be using a sas card and just connecting two cables which would be pretty cool. This would leave all that sata cable mess out of the case. Well you would still need to connect the system hard drive to a sata port but still. So this is something you have to figure out before you get your board so you can at least get what you need if you go the sata route instead of the sas route. Either way you'll need to get some cables which is fine because these are pretty common nowadays but still. So a lot of choices out there. I decided not to buy any cables with the case just yet because I still need to figure out how I will proceed with this. That will also depend on the motherboard as well.


Looking at the right side of the ports are the tabs that hold a 2.5 inch hard drive. Now I'm not sure why they didn't just make the tabs for a second one under the first one in order to place a second drive in case you want to make a raid OS setup for example. That would mean you need to connect 10 drives. Anyway, it is what it is and one less drive making heat is not a bad thing either. The key is finding the right card with the amount of ports needed. Which is the challenge when you go with something like this with more drives. But technology advances and these challenges are getting easier to deal with. If you decided to go straight to sata you can always just add a pcie sata card as well to add the rest of the drives. Simple, but you still have to figure how to best do this before you buy anything.

Here's the bottom of the internal hard drive cage.

I chose this case over something like the U-Nas because it looks like there may be a bit more room under here. And working on a tower like this seems to be much easier to do compared to the other builds I saw on youtube with something like the u-nas 8 drive case. I have now lost track of how many computers I have built and worked on over the years, so this works just fine for me. Simple and functional is what I like myself.

And here's the very bottom. It comes with four long plastic feet with rubber at the end.

Here's a shot of the front panel. It looks like you could put an lcd here which would be nice to have, but this is only a cover for the hole. You can't really install anything here since there are no tabs to hold anything. But you can always get creative if you need that.

Now for the part I wanted to know. How much room is there for a motherboard and stock fan. Well, here's all you get. I can't find my old board I was using to check, but I think there will be just enough room. I like to use the stock cpu and fan to get an idea of the clearance. If that fits then things should fit  fine. I should also note that there may not be space to add a side fan at the bottom here. However, the side of the case covers are perforated with holes at the bottom which it just now dawn on me why that is. You need that for cooling and this is exactly what I did on my own case design or things will heat up pretty fast. It made a huge difference. So nice call by the designer on this. Having both sides of the case open all the way to the top should also help with cooling.

Here you can get an overall idea of the height. So it's just a bit taller than the ruler. All the specifications are on their site.

Another closeup of the back plane.

Now for the hard drive trays. As I said before, they work just fine and I also found that they fit well even though they don't stack up well as you can see here. There was nothing funny or loose on the trays that I could tell when inserted in the cage. There is sort of a metal guide on each side so they go in fine and smooth. I just tested each one again and sure enough they are.


Another closeup of me trying to stack them up. They don't, so don't bother. Again, they work just fine in the cage but you just have to be careful with them. Once you add a hard drive they're the same height.

Nice to see holes on the trays and internal drive cage. Here you can also see the small four holes in case you want to just use 2.5 inch hard drives too. I'm not sure why you would at this point since you can get much more space with the larger hard drives but it's there which is a good thing too.



All plastic but seems to work fine.

Nice front air openings. The hard drive will block all this once it's installed.




Here's a look at the empty cage. I'm still having a hard time believing that there are eight bays on this. But I love storage cases so it's all good even if I don't use all that space. Depending on the motherboard and cpu I may be able to even do some virtualization on this too. I currently have a separate machine doing this, but having just one machine on all the time would be even better. I actually prefer to turn the nas off when I sleep now to save power and the hardware. At least it should last longer by not having it on 24/7.  I don't have a lot of space so I have been trying to maximize all my space with smaller computer parts and components. This certainly helps a lot in my case.



Something to note is that the numbering of drives starts from the bottom to the top. Here you can see the top says HD8. I thought this was odd at first, but it makes sense, you don't want a top heavy case. You can still configure it that way, but now that makes sense. Well, it's what came to my mind so I figure why not start at the bottom to keep it from being top heavy. I mean if I'm only planning on two or three or even four drives to start, then starting at the bottom makes sense. If you're filling it up at once, then this won't even matter. Of course getting it all filled up at once would be ideal. Then you can really test things out and see how it holds up and just forget about it.



Now here's the front panel I want to address. The power and reset buttons look so darn small, I had my doubts about them. Now that I had a chance to physically push them myself I can tell you they work just fine. It's a real hard click on both. Even though the power is small it's still easy to push. You can still do the same with the reset button but that one is not as easy to get to so most people will probably need something to push that one. Obviously this is fine since you probably won't be doing this anyway. At first you think you want a large normal button, but when you think about it, maybe that's s not such a great idea. Maybe a little bigger buttons wouldn't hurt, but they work fine as they are and it's also nice not to have to reach behind the case in order to power it on and off.

Aside from the not so great looking slot are these three holes on the side next to the bottom door tab hole. There's nothing there. The weirdest part is that they are angled, so if you're thinking about putting some kind of LED's on there, you may need to drill them out. Plus they are open so they just look weird without an LCD and those three holes. Of course I'm just being picky here since maybe they will be making their own nas just like their four drive nas with all this included. Or even if they come up with something that can be used for an lcd and led's that would be cool too. Not that you can't hack your own. Now I really like to have front panel usb ports as they make it easy to work on things. Why they decided to keep one old usb port is beyond me but that's what they did here. Usb 3 and newer would have been better, but I'm sure the design was done a while back. Either way is nice to at least have ports here.

Here's a closeup of what these two sas connectors look like. The picture should have been turn 90 degrees to the right though.

Here's a closeup of the front headers. It's hard to get a picture of these since they are under the cage.

That little spanner you get is just something you can use for the thumb screws. I guess you can use this if you can't find a screw driver. Then again you usually don't tighten these more than with your thumbs, hence the name.

Now, here's everything you get in that little box I showed you at the start of the pictures. Like I said earlier, there was no diagram sheet of any kind to tell me what the heck these brackets are for. I'm sure I'll figure it out later, but it sure would be nice to see where they belong. I'm going to just make a guess for now that maybe they go with the psu and/or the hard drive somewhere. But, this is just my guess. The two smaller ones look like cd drive brackets which this case doesn't have.

Now for the door lock. It's nice to have a lock, but as you can see the tab is plastic.

Here's the hole for the plastic lock tab which is also plastic. Why is this not such a great idea? Well, if you have kids in the vicinity you know they can really pull on things hard. This would be no match for a toddler if it got close enough. Obviously that's the sort of security I think of when I see these because if anyone really wants to access your nas, well, it's game over either way. Not only that, but if you look at the back of the unit, there is no place for one of those lock holes that you can attach to computers. That seems to have been missed with this case, but you can still make some holes if you really want above the psu or anywhere for that matter. It looks like they were thinking of dual power psu units, so you have that space up there since you just need one in this case. One more thing to notice here is the blue on the tray locking tabs. Those are just stickers on there. I would like to see them in red, of they can just make a bunch of colors and leave them off and include them for you to use whichever color you like. That would be a nice touch. It's not a huge thing, but I just thought about it.

Now for a real size comparison. Here's my old nas and the new norco case. That little nas weights a lot with four drives. The new nas is twice the size physically and 8 drives vs. 4, but still small enough to fit in front of my monitor. With drives, board and power supply expect it to get much more heavier. Which brings me to my next point. The plastic parts. You need to be careful where and how you grab it, or you will literally tear the front door apart. If the hard drive holders wear out, your hard drives may fall out too which is going to be a really bad day. Obviously if you're the only one working on this at home, this may not be too much of a problem, but it's something I'm noticing as I write this. Since my other nas is all metal and heavy but I always take it out to clean it once in a while and also has a handle on the back, it's something that just came to mind. I will really need to be extra careful just because of the front plastic parts alone. The rest of the case is metal but it would be nice to see that upgraded in future models. I still like the case, but I can see this is something to keep in mind or you will literally tear that front apart.


The new case also sits a bit higher than my old nas which is good for air flow. You may not think about this part, but it does help. I also know because the later replacements psu I got for my old nas actually had higher feet as well. This just allows more air around the whole unit.




Lastly, the drive cage. I still prefer my drives vertical as you see them in my old nas on the top. This new case has them horizontal. The reason for this is air flow. Hard drives tend to get hotter when they are horizontal like on the new case because the heat can't move out. This is actually more important here because of the back plane as you saw earlier. And even with the vertical drives, things can still get hot if there's not enough air flow. The holes on the back plane are small. Sure, the fans probably spin very fast and also make as much noise to boot, but the air restrictions are still there. So this was another reason I had a hard time deciding on this case. It looks great, but the real test is, will the drives stay cool enough specially on super hot days where I don't have air conditioning? So it's a trade off that you have to consider. You do get more hard drive space, but will the drives stay cool or overheat? I also like to use 7200 rpm drives or higher. Well, this will be a question for later on and of course you want to keep something like this in a more open area to make sure it gets enough air circulation. Just because it's small don't go sticking this into a very small tight space, you will be sorry. I want to be able to use the nas from outside so that's where the motherboard choice also comes into play along with everything else.

I looked over the nas case again and thought I add these other pictures.
 I installed an old sata drive to one of the adapters to check to make sure the drives all went in smoothly. They did. The tiny screws sit below the plastic. Just don't lose these screws or this won't work. So far it works well.

 I did find that the cover holes didn't quite lined up on my case.



I only noticed that the right side just needs to be slightly pushed up in order to get this on correctly. Just a very minor detail but this still needs to be addressed so that you don't have to fight with the case cover.
Update: I eventually fix the holes with my dremel. I got tired of having to push the cover up every time I had to put it back on.  Now I don't have to do that anymore.

I hope this is helpful or at least an interesting read.

Norco ITX-S8 nas case 2 - The build
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 3 - The build
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 4 - The build (Software)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 5 - The build (Software continued)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 6 - The build (Fan replacements)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 7 - The build (Fans continued)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 8 - The build  (2.5 Hard drive update)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 9 - The build (2.5 hard drive update continues)
Norco ITX-S8 nas case 10 - The end (OS and hard drives)

3 comments:

  1. Great work on this.

    Huge help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. Everything about this case is on here unless you use a different motherboard. Other than that it's pretty much the same.

      Delete
  2. nice work - thanks

    what motherboard and other items went into your design

    ReplyDelete