Helios4 Personal Cloud DIY NAS Supports 3.5″ Hard Drives, RAID, and More (Crowdfunding)

A few months ago, we covered GnuBee Personal Cloud 1, a NAS that runs on open source software, and that supports up to six 2.5″ SATA drives. The crowdfunding has been successful – after lowering the funding target -, and backers should hopefully get the NAS right after summer. But at the time, some people complained about the  memory capacity (512MB),  the lack of support for 3.5″ drives, and a few other items. A new project called “Helios4 Personal Cloud” addresses many of those concerns. It comes with 1 to 2GB RAM, enclosure supporting four 3.5″ drives, supports RAID, and is powered by Marvell ARMADA 388 processor that has been specifically designed for this type of application.

Helios4 NAS specifications:

  • SoC – Marvell ARMADA 388 dual core Cortex A9 processor @ up to 1.866 GHz with RAID5/6 acceleration engines, security acceleration engines, etc…
  • System Memory – 1 or 2 GB DDR3L
  • Storage – 4x SATA 3.0 ports, 2x HDD power connectors for 3.5″ drives using the provided DIY enclosure; micro SD slot supporting SDHC/SDXC cards
  • Connectivity – 1x Gigabit Ethernet
  • USB – 2x USB 3.0 ports, 1x micro USB port for serial console only
  • Expansion – 14-pin GPIO header, 4-pin I2C header which can be used for an LCD screen & control buttons.
  • Misc – 2x PWM fan headers + 2x fans provided with DIY enclosure
  • Power Supply – 12V/8A via 4-pin jack

The basic kit comes with an Helios4 board (shown below), 4x SATA data cables, 2x Molex to dual SATA power cables, and a 12V/8A power adapter. The full kit adds a case available in black or blue, two 70mm PWM ball bearing fan, and a fasteners set.

The NAS will support Armbian Debian and Ubuntu images, OpenMediaVault open NAS solution, and SynCloud open source app server. The developers (Kobol Team), based in Singapore, also promise to release software and hardware design files for the project. For now, they have Armbian build scripts, as well as Linux and U-boot source code on Github. The board has been designed in collaboration with SolidRun, which has experience with Marvell via their MACCHIATObin / ClearFog boards and system-on-modules.

The project has just been launched on Kickstarter, where Kobol aims to raise 150,000 SGD ($106,000 US). All prices are in SGD, but I’ll use the USD equivalent going forward. An early bird pledge of $125 US should get you the basic kit with 1GB RAM, while $149 is required for the 2GB version. If you want a full kit with enclosure, you’ll need to pledge $139 (1GB RAM) or $169 (2GB RAM). Worldwide shipping adds $39 or $43 for respectively the basic and full kit, even if you are in Singapore. Delivery is scheduled for September 2017.

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Jeroen
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Jeroen

A bit expensive if you ask me, for al litte more you have a synology.

zoobab
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Interesting microusb format for the TTL console 🙂

tkaiser
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tkaiser

@cnxsoft: Just a small correction and an addition: ESPRESSOBin is not related to Solid-Run (it’s GlobalScale instead). On the Kickstarter page only kernels 3.10 and 4.4 are mentioned while we (Armbian) made best experiences with mainline instead (with Solid-Run’s Clearfog Base/Pro that share the A38x MicroSOMs with the Helios4 NAS unit here).

I would assume by the time Helios4 will be shipped all reasonable OS images will rely on 4.12 anyway.

tkaiser
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tkaiser

@zoobab
Integrated Serial-to-USB adapter available as Micro USB is ‘standard’ with all those Marvell designs.

GourouLubrik
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GourouLubrik

I don’t know why, instead of 125$, I see a 175$ for the early bird basic 1GB kit, + 55$ shipping (France), that’s a 230$ total… That’s quite far from the 125$ advertised :/

hoothoot
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hoothoot

@GourouLubrik
Kickstarter shows the price in SGD not USD as the above article does

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

GourouLubrik :
I don’t know why

Just read the last sentences above starting with ‘All prices are in SGD, but I’ll use the USD equivalent going forward’.

In other words: as soon as you start to convert from Singapore’s currency (or use the correct $ value) into your own and add shipping, customs and taxes you are at approx. 2/3 the price of a comparable commercial NAS: Synology’s DS416j for example (uses the same Armada 388 SoC — so you can use Synology’s software too — but is less OSS friendly and lacks GPIO/I2C as far as I know).

I still hope Helios4 will be a huge success so Kobol folks can add ECC DRAM as a stretch goal since otherwise an HP MicroServer (eg. Gen8 with Celeron G1610T and 4GB ECC DRAM) looks more appealing too me.

zoobab
Guest

@tkaiser
is there a USB-serial chip on board, or just the TX RX GND VCC on the 4 USB pins?

GourouLubrik
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GourouLubrik

Haven’t seen the “S” on the kickstater interface. I’m quite used to SGD acronym. And my ba, didn’t read the end of the article. Whip me!

Then, it’s not that pricy. it’s quite a good plateform for a nas-only use for really really low power usage.
I agree with you, for adding more services to the NAS (that mean more ram/power), better step up to an hp gen8 or an apollo lake mini-itx board.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@zoobab
It’s usually an onboard PL2303 on those Marvell designs connected to the UART providing early boot console exposed through Micro USB. So all you need is any Micro USB cable, connect it to your host and then it’s just using screen/minicom with the usual 115200 baud settings to get a serial console on /dev/ttyUSB* or /dev/cu.usb* or /dev/cuaU* depending on host’s OS (as usual no idea about Windows).

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

GourouLubrik :
nas-only use

Well, let’s not forget that we’ve on this board a reasonable amout of GPIOs exposed and 1 x I2C (so it’s just adding an 1Wire-I2C bridge and this thing can also directly connect to a bunch of DS18S20 and become center of your home automation and so on).

Wrt low power: If you do a web search for 0ab4712d63ef1dd34fade8fe870c9de0ce41c1ac you get the commit id of a patch we added few weeks ago to Armbian’s build system and now at least DFS (dynamic frequency scaling) works on Armada 38x boards with mainline kernel. I’m still hoping we get DVFS (dynamic voltage frequency scaling) working within the next few months. Then idle consumption can be really low and only then it starts to make some sense to measure consumption (I wasted already hours doing this but trashed the results all the time since not matching new situations later).

Since you can use full OSS distros with this device and disks are connected through SATA you always have full control over disk spindown behaviour (sending them to sleep/standby states manually or based on inactivity). If I would not have already a Clearfog Pro I would’ve already pledged for Helios4 (even if I still want to see ECC DRAM as stretch goal upgrading my pledge later)

zoobab
Guest

Any idea why they are using this weird 4 pins PSU header? Last time I saw this on a board, it had 5V and 12V on different pins.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@zoobab
3.5″ disks need 5V and also 12V and those connectors are for ‘2x Molex to dual SATA power cables’ being part of every kit. The whole design is really well done if you consider space requirements, cable runs and airflow 🙂

BTW: anyone thinking about using 2.5″ instead of 3.5″: stay away from expensive ‘adapters’ since you just need a mechanical solution that can be mounted safely (the 12V on some of the SATA power pins don’t hurt 2.5″ HDD/SSD since they simply do not use these 3 pins). Something as cheap as this is sufficient.

willy
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willy

tkaiser :
@zoobab
It’s usually an onboard PL2303 on those Marvell designs connected to the UART providing early boot console exposed through Micro USB.

And on marvell boards, the USB-to-serial is powered by the USB host, not by the board, which means that you can get the very first characters at boot when you turn the board on with USB already attached. Some boards (memories of the snowball) can’t do this and make it very hard to enter the boot loader.

willy
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willy

They’re clearly using SolidRun’s microsom modules (which is nice). But I suspect they use the ones without eMMC given that they installed the micro-SD slot and that both are exclusive. For such a use case I’d prefer to have the OS onboard than on a micro-SD (eventhough I know that boot-strapping a virgin microsom is quite of a pain). But the eMMC ones also have a NOR flash on which it’s possible to pre-install u-boot and then the problem is solved.

I would possibly have bought this a year ago but I ended up with Synology’s DS116 which uses the exact same hardware for slightly more dollars (plus shitty software). Hmm however there’s an important difference for some users, the DS116 only has one bay (which is what I wanted) while this one has 4. The price difference is not the same then.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@willy
I collected some experiences with OpenMediaVault on ARM boards the last weeks and was confronted with the fear of wearing out SD cards too fast. So I did some research (monitoring of writes below filesystem on block device level) and found that combining a high commit interval for the OS installation (Armbian eg. uses 600 seconds here) with folder2ram service dramatically reduced both writes in general and lowered also write amplification a lot for obvious reasons (only drawback: sudden power off causes some data loss).

You can also let these 38x boards boot from USB or SATA directly (there’s a DIP switch) but I would use a Samsung EVO or EVO+ instead.

BTW: Wrt Synology: adding to shitty software and too expensive they’re also the most antisocial NAS vendor at least based on my experiences being a former Netatalk developer (they only take from open source community, never gave anything back). I’ll never buy anything from them for this reason alone.

And in the meantime Armada 38x with 1 SATA port could also be a Solid-Run Clearfog Base (inserting an ASM1061/ASM1062 for 20 bucks into the mPCIe slot it’s even 3 real and performant SATA ports). And we’ve Armada 3700 too in the meantime 🙂

willy
Guest
willy

tkaiser :
@willy
I collected some experiences with OpenMediaVault on ARM boards the last weeks and was confronted with the fear of wearing out SD cards too fast. So I did some research (monitoring of writes below filesystem on block device level) and found that combining a high commit interval for the OS installation (Armbian eg. uses 600 seconds here) with folder2ram service dramatically reduced both writes in general and lowered also write amplification a lot for obvious reasons (only drawback: sudden power off causes some data loss).

But here we’re speaking only about the rootfs, it has no reason for being written to at all, and the wear-out is not an issue (mine are 100% read-only by the way).

BTW: Wrt Synology: adding to shitty software and too expensive they’re also the most antisocial NAS vendor at least based on my experiences being a former Netatalk developer (they only take from open source community, never gave anything back). I’ll never buy anything from them for this reason alone.

I suspected this but was not sure. I wondered if people using such devices really use them given the horrible instability of their software. However I found the hardware OK (but no surprize, I knew and trusted the SoC) and that was all. I was a bit irritated to find an undocumented microcontroller on board connected to the second UART and to have to reverse all of its actions by hand to find how to reset/power on/off and enable/disable the fan… Even the console port is not documented, you need a voltmeter to guess which pins to use.

And in the meantime Armada 38x with 1 SATA port could also be a Solid-Run Clearfog Base (inserting an ASM1061/ASM1062 for 20 bucks into the mPCIe slot it’s even 3 real and performant SATA ports).

I considered this with my clearfog, but not having an enclosure and having to add extra boards for a single SATA connector led me to look for the cheapest NAS using the same SoC instead 🙂

And we’ve Armada 3700 too in the meantime

Yes, but very recently. And no enclosure yet. Nor did I test the SoC. Also its low frequency makes me doubt it will sustain gigabit between SATA and ethernet under rsync… Still I thought about it.

Sajal Kayan
Guest

Since this comes with 2 HDD connectors, if I were to use 4 X 3.5″ disks, I would need to arrange power for 2 of the disk by myself. Is that correct?

Sajal Kayan
Guest

@cnxsoft
Ah thanks a lot.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

willy :
But here we’re speaking only about the rootfs, it has no reason for being written to at all

Well, I was speaking about default OMV installations and there the rootfs needs to be read/write since settings are stored there (OMV has a web interface), logfiles and if one activates monitoring also monit’s RRDs. And I discovered that they’ve a somewhat problematic default setting for macOS users (TimeMachine backup target) since afpd’s so called CNID databases are also located on the rootfs (as soon as I’ve an idea how to solve that I’ll send a PR upstream to OMV developers so this will be resolved everywhere).

CNID == Catalog Node ID, a mechanism used by macOS clients to reference files/directories not only by path but via a unique ID (so you can rename or move stuff around and the macOS equivalent to symlinks — so called aliases — still point to the correct objects). Unfortunately especially when OMV is used as TimeMachine backup target these CNID databases are heavy write targets.

adem
Guest
adem

the whole point of having a arm cpu nas was so that it would be cheap and this is not cheap $60 shipping to australia is very baaaaadddddddd.
i hope they will do something better on the price and cheaper option for the shipment.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

adem :
the whole point of having a arm cpu nas was so that it would be cheap

Huh? The point of not x86 (eg. ARM) for NAS use cases is lower idle consumption. If you want to buy as cheap as possible first get familiar with currency conversions 😉 and then try to get eg. an ASRock C70M1 (discontinued now but few months or even weeks back you got it for less than 40 bucks) or the next cheap x86 board with 4 native SATA ports if you need that much: https://geizhals.de/?cat=mbson&xf=2962_4&sort=p (as soon as you ‘need’ more SATA ports it gets pretty expensive already).

And as soon as you add all the other ingredients for a complete NAS you end up with much higher idle consumption but a similar or higher price than Helios4. I just gave it a try combining ASRock T48EM1, Zalman M1 enclosure, Corsair TW3X4G1333C9A memory kit and a Thermaltake W0391RE PSU + some cables = 200 bucks (US, not Singapore), wastes both way more energy and space.

These Marvell SoCs can not be compared to the cheap ARM SoCs you find in low end tablets or smartphones lacking bandwidth but they are tuned for high throughput and low latency. That makes them rather expensive and most of Helios4’s price is related to this: https://www.solid-run.com/marvell-armada-family/armada-som-system-on-module/#buynow

me
Guest
me

I like the idea of Helios4 but the price is not good. I can have Zyxel NAS542 for that money, that has better case, bigger fan and two gigabit ports (RJ45) but has just 1GB of RAM and different ARM CPU. Anyway, I think that case for Helios4 could be designed better, disk drivers should go to the bottom, motherboard on the top, fan should be bigger than just 70mm, maybe disks should be placed vertically, etc. I think about that Zyxel NAS542 but it doesn’t support XFS filesystem, only EXT4 and XFS is better option for large multimedia files, large backup archives, iSCSI disks, etc…

Gauthier
Guest

Just wanted to post an update to announce that we just launched a Helios4 Lucky Draw to help us get some attention.

Simply enlist to WIN one of the following prizes:

1x Helios4 Full Kit 2GB with a bundle of 4 HDD WD Red 4TB
1x Bundle of 2 HDD WD Red 4TB
1x Helios4 Full Kit 2GB
4x USB 3.0 External HDD WD Elements 2TB
4x USB 3.0 Memory Stick Sandisk 128GB

Anyone can register to the competition: http://win.kobol.io/lp/29509/Helios4

adem nacakli
Guest

@tkaiser
thamks jean i did not know.

adem nacakli
Guest

@cnxsoft
thanks jean i did not know i thought it was us dollars.

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@Gauthier
IMO you should more focus on a ‘psychological’ problem with your Kickstarter: a vast majority of potential users not being able to extract relevant information from walls of text. And the most important piece of information is hidden for them: Pledges in Singapore and not US dollars.

Unless you don’t address this problem I fear you loose a lot of backers (why isn’t that FAQ item 1? Why don’t you emphasize on this with your ‘Lucky Draw’? Maybe those people that want freebies are mostly those having those text extraction difficulties so you could explain there what they miss: Helios4 being priced competitively)

Gauthier
Guest

@tkaiser
We added at the top of our FAQ, as you recommended, an explanation on the currency issue.
We have also a big disclaimer at the begin of our campaign page since couple of days.
This new Kickstarter strategy / policy to only allow local currencies is quite a mess for all project based out of US.
Actually we wanted to use Indiegogo for this specific reason, since it doesn’t really arrange us to get paid in SGD since all the factories will be payed in USD.
But we still went ahead with KS because of the traffic.
Thanks for feedback anyway 😉

Gauthier
Guest

Hi All,

A little update that might satisfy some of you (@tkaiser) 🙂

We have just introduced a new KIT with 2GB of ECC memory.

We have received quite a lot of demands for an ECC option, while it was quite a premium feature (cost wise) we finally decided to offer the option for a little extra money.

Only 10 days remaining to snatch Helios4. We need your support guys.

Cheers.

linda
Guest
linda

I’m thinking of building my own NAS and I was considering Helios to secure mainly large photo albums after doing some research it seems like CNX software is the blog where there is the most interactions on the helios topic.

tkaiser :

GourouLubrik :
I don’t know why

Just read the last sentences above starting with ‘All prices are in SGD, but I’ll use the USD equivalent going forward’.
In other words: as soon as you start to convert from Singapore’s currency (or use the correct $ value) into your own and add shipping, customs and taxes you are at approx. 2/3 the price of a comparable commercial NAS: Synology’s DS416j for example (uses the same Armada 388 SoC — so you can use Synology’s software too — but is less OSS friendly and lacks GPIO/I2C as far as I know).
I still hope Helios4 will be a huge success so Kobol folks can add ECC DRAM as a stretch goal since otherwise an HP MicroServer (eg. Gen8 with Celeron G1610T and 4GB ECC DRAM) looks more appealing too me.

@tkaiser @cnxsoft @willy
I see that the Helios has launched ECC option. @tkaiser @cnxsoft @willy @willy can someone tell me why would it matter if the redundancy covers full data mirroring on standard HDD ? is it worth the 15 extra dollars (not much but more for the ECC drives cost) ?

Jeroen :
A bit expensive if you ask me, for al little more you have a synology.

Can you share a link can’t find a Synology 4 bays for a cheap price? Thks

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@linda
ECC DRAM is important if you care about data integrity or just don’t like ‘bit rot’. Tried to explain it a bit in OMV forum: https://forum.openmediavault.org/index.php/Thread/18597-Helios4-community-developed-ARM-4-bay-NAS-device-received-important-upgrade/?postID=146225

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

They didn’t get funded in the first round but immediately relaunched now with better shipping conditions and only focussing on the ECC DRAM variant any more: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/helios4/helios4-personal-cloud-the-worlds-1st-open-source/posts/1914449

tkaiser
Guest
tkaiser

@Gauthier
What about CE/FCC certifications BTW? I guess the MicroSOM is certified but what about your baseboard? Does it need additional?