Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An in depth look at running FreeNAS on an Acer EasyStore H340 - Part 1/3 - Background and Prepartion

Before we begin

I have wanted to build a storage solution for many years, and I finally broke down and bought some hardware.

I had looked at many options for a system including the Drobo, Thecus products, Acer EasyStore, and building my own machine.  My biggest concern was cost.  I wanted to get the most for what I paid.  I originally wanted a Thecus, but changed my mind because of its cost.  I later wanted to get the Acer EasyStore, but changed my mind after finding out that it did not have a video output so the idea of installing an alternate OS was out of the question.  Curiosity got the better of me so I did a little research and learned that you could in fact achieve video out on the Acer.

Why the Acer EasyStore H340?  There are several reasons why I chose this device.  Size.  This box physically occupies less space than my Shuttle PC.  I wanted something that was portable and compact, just like my Shuttle.  Price.  At $309.99 with a 1TB drive, it couldn’t be beat.  If I can sell the drive for around $100 (sounds a little steep but I’ve sold 1TB drives for $110 and higher), I’d get this for about $210.  I could pick up a mini-ITX board with an Intel Atom processor and 4-SATA slots on Newegg for $100 or more, add in a small power supply starting at $50, and find the closest thing to the non-existent mini server cases with hot swap drive bays that you likely have to produce yourself for at least $50, and I’m already at a starting point of $200.  I figured Acer already put this thing together, why should I try and recreate it?

Preparing the H340 for FreeNAS

Out of the box, the Acer H340 does not have video output.  The motherboard does have a PCI Express slot you can use to add a video card, but using this slot for a video card takes away from other options such as an additional SATA controller for more drives.

The enthusiast approach is to utilize the onboard video controller that requires a D-Sub 15 connector attached to it.  I found a site after googling "video on Acer H340" that had a lot of good information.  HappyBison provided a walkthrough on installing FreeNAS on the Acer H340.  My biggest interest was the pinout he provided for connecting a female VGA connector to the motherboard.  He got the info from a forum post on MediaSmartServer.net where a few people started investigating a header on the motherboard.  Apparently it wasn't documented what the connection was, so ymboc diligently mapped out the connections to determine what the header was.  It was finally determined that it was a multi-function connection, providing VGA output, PS/2 mouse and keyboard support, and a RS-232 serial connection.

I was only interested in the video output so I followed HappyBison's pinout.  HappyBison also provided a few parts that he used to build his cable.  Instead of buying a 15-pin female VGA connector, I used a VGA expansion with ribbon cable from an existing video card.  I picked up the 26-pin housing (DigiKey part 455-1178-ND) and 20 terminators (DigiKey part 455-1313-1-ND).  I technically only needed 13 terminators, but because of their size, and I wasn't going to buy the overpriced crimpers ($485.90, $591.85, $925.65), I wanted to have a little extra just in case.

Once I received my parts, I noticed how terribly small the terminators were.  I couldn't imagine how I was going to terminate these things.  Since my VGA expansion ribbon already had terminators on it, I tested to see if they would fit into the 26-pin housing.  And they did!  That was a huge step avoided.

After I matched the pins on my ribbon cable to the associated pins for the H340 header, I connected my adapter and fired up the H340.  I had video!  The next thing I needed was input via a keyboard.  I did not opt in for the PS/2 connection on the header, so I had to use a USB keyboard.

When I connected the keyboard and turned on the H340, I could not input anything on the keyboard.  I remembered reading something about that in the 13 page forum post over at the MediaSmartServer.net site.  I went back to the site and scoured the pages until I got to page 9.  It was identified that input via USB or PS/2 keyboard required the "debug" jumper to be on.

After jumping the connection and powered up, I now had keyboard access.  Since I now had a video output and keyboard input, it was time to get my OS loaded.

Part 2   Part 3


  1. has anyone posted screen shots of the BIOS? I only need to turn on USB/DVD boot once to install ZFSguru. I would like to navigate the BIOS blind

  2. JohnE - Did you ever find BIOS screenshots? If not, let me know and I will get some for you.

  3. no, but I found a solution I have enjoyed more. zfsguru.com will boot from a CD and then is configured from a web browser. it also can install the OpenBSD operating system onto one of the 4 hard drives making it a perfect solution for the Acer! I am running ZFS in a raid-z configuration on 4 x 2TB drives for 6TB usable (in a raid-5 type redundancy but better because of ZFS)

  4. Anyone have a debug cable for sale or know where I can buy one? I tried to make one - big expensive fail! Otherwise I’m replacing mini itx mobo and everything but that gets pricier.