Ever since I built my first Windows Home Server I knew I was going to have a problem with storage space. My motherboard only has 4 SATA ports and the case only has space for 4 drives. Since then I have put in 4 1TB drives and I was in desperate need of more storage space. That is when I ran across the Norco RPC-4220. This server case has 20 hot swappable hard drive bays, which should provide plenty of expansion for future storage needs.
- 4U rackmount design
- 20x hot-swappable SATA (I or II) / SAS drive bays, one 2.5″ drive bay
- Five internal SFF-8087 Mini SAS connectors support up to twenty 3.5″ SATA (I or II) or SAS hard drives;
- Hot-swappable HDD tray with special designed power-off and lock mechanism.
- 1 x slim CD-ROM bay,1 x FDD bay, 20 x 3.5 ” hot-swappable drive bays, 1 x 2.5″ drive bay.
- Six ball-bearing cooling fans for better ventilation
- Support EEB (12″x13″), CEB(12″x10.5″), ATX (12″x9.6″), Micro ATX (9.6″ x 9.6″) motherboard
- Screwless top cover
- Smooth border prevent lacerating your skin
Having lots of storage in a small space is really important. Norco has fit 20 hot-swappable hard drives into a 4U server chassis that is only 25.5″ long.
To connect all these drives Norco has chosen to use internal SFF-8087 Mini SAS connectors. SAS connectors are very well suited for this environment because up to 4 drives can be attached to a single SAS connection.
Each drive bay has a built-in lock and power-off mechanism. Each drive port saves power by turning its self off when it is empty. This is especially useful when you are running this case without all the drive bays filled up because it will cut down on overall power usage.
There is also space on top of the drive bays, inside the case, for a slim CD/DVD drive and a 2.5″ hard drive.
Did I mention that the case was big? Well it is, and it is big enough to support the 4 most popular motherboard form factors, which are EEB (12″x13″), CEB(12″x10.5″), ATX (12″x9.6″), and Micro ATX (9.6″ x 9.6″) .
If you ever had any concerns about not getting enough airflow through all those hard drives, then put those fears to rest. The RPC-4220 has a total of 6 80mm fans. There are 4 that are for pulling air over the hard drives and two more in the rear for pulling air out of the case.
Even though the top cover has 4 screws that hold it into place it does not need them. The top cover will stay in place with the locks that are built-in to the top cover. The screws can then be used to add extra security.
Norco has also attempted to roll or smooth the edges of the metal in the RPC-4220 case so that you do not cut yourself when installing parts. It’s not perfect, but it is appreciated.
The first thing you are going to notice is that this is a really large and heavy case. With dimensions of 19″ x 25.5″ x 7.0″ you are going to need a large shelf or a big server rack to hold this. Add to the dimensions a weight of 39.7 lb, when empty, and you are going to need to make sure that shelf is really stable and strong.
The front of the RPC-4220 case is the most interesting, and the most dominant part is the 20 hot-swappable drive bays.
Each bay has its own drive tray with lights and a lock. There are two lights on each tray, the top light is blue and indicates power, the bottom is green and indicates activity. The lock is simply a handle that you pull to open and push to latch and secure.
Above the hard drive bays are a power button, reset button, lights, and a USB port. On either side of the buttons are two slots for either a slim DVD drive or a 2.5″ hard drive. On odd thing I discovered is that the USB plug is non standard. Normal internal USB plugs have two rows of pins, but the one on the Norco only has one. I don’t know if this means the plug is not powered or if it is not USB 2.0, so if anyone knows please tell me about it.
The back looks no different than any other computer.
The top is where the removable cover is. There are 4 screws on the side that need to be removed, and then two buttons on top that have to be pressed before the top can be removed.
The inside of the RPC-4220 has a very large space for the motherboard. This is great because it allows support for all the most common motherboard form factors.
Separating the motherboard space from the hard drive bays is a panel of fans. There are 4 fans in total and they are all 80mm. These particular 80mm fans are about twice as deep as a normal case fan. This allows the fan blades to be bigger and move more air, but it also makes the fans much louder. All 4 of these fans are plugged into a power strip that uses a single 4 pin power connector.
The fan panel can be removed fairly easily by removing 4 screws from the top and another 4 from the bottom of the case. Once it is removed we get a good look at the back of the hard drive bays and the connectors that are used. The first thing I noticed is that each of the 5 rows of hard drives are powered by 2 4 pin power connectors. This will make it difficult to power since most power supplies are moving to SATA power connectors and getting rid of the 4 pin power connectors. Norco has a link on their website to a 7 way power splitter, but splitting one 4 pin connector to seven 4 pin connectors seems like it would overload the power supply. It would be nice if there was the option to use either the 4 pin or a SATA connector to power the drives.
On the other side of the hard drive bays are the SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) connectors. If you work mostly with Desktop computers, like me, then you probably don’t know a lot about SAS. Needless to say, the Norco RPC-4220 uses 5 SFF-8087 Mini SAS connectors to interface with the 20 hard drives. I have not been able to find a single motherboard with 5 SFF-8087 SAS ports built-in, so you are going to need adapters. The most inexpensive adapter is a 4 to 1 cable that makes 4 SATA connectors into 1 SFF-8087 SAS connector. This is not ideal because it requires a motherboard, or motherboard and adapters, to have 20 SATA connectors, in addition there would be a giant mess of cables to deal with.
So how am I putting together my own system. I am using this case to built the “Ultimate” Windows Home Server. Since I already have a Windows Home Server that I built several years ago, I was hoping to reuse as much of the hardware as possible.
So the first thing I did was take everything out of my old case. Since I did not need to remove the CPU, I was able to leave it and the heatsink attached and carefully moved the whole motherboard to the RPC-4220 case.
Next I moved the power supply over. At this point I realized that the motherboard and power supply were switched in this case so the CPU plug was a lot closer. Also the power for the hard drives is on the same side of the case as the power supply, this made it so I did not have to stretch power cords all over the case.
The last thing to do is plug in the SAS connectors. Since this motherboard does not have any SAS connectors I had to use adapters. The adapters that I used are cables that turn 4 SATA ports into 1 SAS port. I got two of these cables because I also used a 4 port PCI card to give myself a total of 8 SATA ports. For now this will only give me two rows, or 8 drives, but I only have 7 hard drives for now. As I look to expand I am going to need more power and SAS plugs.
Another thing I did was replace the fans that cool the hard drives. The fans that were pre-installed in the case are extremely loud and were too much for me to handle. So I got some fans that are much quieter and I put them in. The case is far from silent, but it is much quieter and I don’t get a headache every time I go in that room.
So now that it is all put together what kind of performance do we get from the case? Since I am not going to be pushing a ton of data I am not particularly interested in the throughput of the hard drives. I am more interested in how loud it is and how cool the hard drives stay when in use.
To test the performance of the hard drives I put a large, 4 GB, file on each drive and then started a copy process to my desktop. My desktop has two drives that are in a RAID-0 configuration so it should be able to keep up with 4 simultaneous copies. As you can see from the image below, the hard drives were all putting out a fair amount of data, but they stayed relatively cool.
As far as sound goes, here are two audio files. The first one is with all the default fans installed and going. As you can hear it is quite loud. I found that I had to yell to talk to anyone that came in the room. The next file is after I replaced the 4 fans that cool the hard drives with smaller fans. The case is still loud, but it is now possible to carry on a conversion without yelling.
What about power usage? I was convinced that a server running this many hard drives would suck down electricity. Fortunately, I was wrong. As you can see from these images the power usage increased as I added drives, but even with 7 drives in the case the overall power usage stayed fairly low.
The RPC-4220 comes with a 1 year warranty which covers parts and labor. This really bothered me at first, but then I thought what could possibly go wrong with a case? Either it is in good condition when you get it, or it’s not. I really don’t think anyone is going to have problems with this case. The major point of failure will be the drive bays. However, you should not be opening and closing the drive bays very often. Once a drive is installed it should stay until it dies.
To get support for the case, Norco provides only an E-mail address. This is not my favorite form of contact because you don’t know if the E-mail was received or how long you need to wait for a response.
Overall I am really impressed with what Norco was able to do for a relatively small price. You can get the RPC-4220 at Newegg for only $350, but be prepared to pay a lot more to get it working correctly. The rolled edges in the case are nice, but they don’t go far enough. Some of the edges are still quite sharp and I ended up with at least two cuts to prove it. If you are looking for a case so you can build a huge data storage server than the RPC-4220 is the case you are looking for.
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