Norco vs. other solutions

jcl333

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May 28, 2011
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Questions about Norco cases
Hello, I am very tempted by the Norco 24-drive case. But there are a few issues that give me pause that maybe people can help me with: (I do realize you get what you pay for)

* Tray quality - I see various opinions on this, seems like the quality is "good enough" as long as you are careful with them. But I also wonder about vibration of the drives and so forth, I see there are some articles on STH about drive reliability. I guess you are best to go with RAID6+HS with consumer drives no matter what. Thoughts?

* Drive status - it looks as though you only get power and drive activity, and not anything for indicating a failed drive. Is this true? How do you make sure you pull the right drive when one fails?

* Management - the backplanes don't have things like SES2 or similar, how important is this? I think the higher end RAID hardware/software will tell you things like drive temperature and SMART, but is this a big problem?

* Fan noise - I know you can use the 120MM fan mod, almost seems better to go with the JBOD external expander enclosure because it does away with the midplane altogether, and it looks like you have enough space to put some larger fans on the back. Either way you are adding cost. And unless you used an elaborate fan controller with temp sensors and lots of PWM fans, it would be difficult to get the same kind of demand-based fan control you might get on a commercial server. I think people get away with this because they use 5400RPM consumer drives that produce less heat. I think if you loaded one of these up with 10K or 15K SAS disks, you would have an issue.

Here are some things I compare it to:

* HP Servers (also Dell, IBM, etc.) - I do server work for a living, and use mainly HP servers. I really like them for lots of reasons, but they are very expensive. Even using the discounts available to me or buying them on eBay, they are still going to run a fair bit of money. But, there are some big benefits:
> Excellent hot-swap drive tray quality
> Well engineered thermal/cooling design
> Demand-based noise management - only loud if you really slam it
> High reliability and overall build quality, advanced features, etc.
> Excellent management software

* Supermicro - I have to say these are almost perfect. When used with Supermicro motherboards, you have most of the features and build quality of an HP server. The only thing I am not sure about is the noise issue. They have proprietary power supplies with small high-RPM fans. Not sure if they have PWM management that would keep noise within acceptable levels. Can anyone comment on this?

* Intel - Intel makes some nice cases, although I only see solutions up to about 12 drives. Wondering if anyone has any experience with them who can comment. They probably make the best motherboards I have seen.

* PC-pitstop - http://www.pc-pitstop.com/sata_enclosures/scsase246g.asp
Has anyone tried these? A bit pricey, but it looks like they have a nice build. Comes with a triple redundant PS, but looks like you could put any ATX power supply you want in there instead. Also has two large fans in the back rather than three small ones, and the same expander that Norco is using.

Thanks
-JCL
 

PigLover

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Jan 26, 2011
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My opinions:

The Norco Tray quality is fine. What is troublesome is the alignment of the backplanes. When you first get one of their cases you need to loosen the screws securing the backplanes (outside edges of the case), fit a few drives, and then secure the screws. After that, no problems.

Confirm that there is no SES2 or other status indication on the backplane. I use Solaris/ZFS with Napp-It and the software includes a psuedo drive identifier feature that starts a large dd transfer to /dev/null on a single drive, effectively lighting the activity light solid. Works OK (as long as the drive you are trying to locate is not completely dead). Besides, its not like its a data center with hundreds of drives. Even I am not so lazy i can't simply label 24 drives or create a device-id/location map.

Fan Noise. Easily solved and no, I would not prefer a JBOD enclosure. All the shopping I've done shows that 24 drives worth of these are more expensive than the Norco solution and you don't get a neat/clean/integrated result when you are done. Even the few SuperMicro chassis I've worked with I mod'd the fans - and modding the SM fans is harder 'cuz they use custom sized plastic thingy's to hold the fans and/or integrate to their frame alarms in surprising ways (they make a 5 in 3 rack, for example, that will alarm like crazy if your fan speed falls below 5,000 RPM or so - they also make a 4 in 1 2.5" rack where you can put in a slower fan, but if you disable the fan alarm it also shuts off the fan - ugh!).

As for the 'real' enterprise cases: HP, Dell, SuperMicro, Intel, even most of what PC Pitstop sells. It comes down to this: cost. And Noise. Is there any doubt that these are better cases and that having the management features is useful? Of course not. But the cost premium is just plain prohibitive for almost all SOHO users and the level of integration of things that make noise (PSUs, fans connected to alarms, etc) is too high to make "silencing" mods very attractive.

Norco makes a really good low-end server chassis. Nobody has said it is more than that. For most of us it remains an outstanding choice.
 
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Patrick

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PigLover did an awesome recap. My two additional thoughts:

Supermicro cases are generally made to use PWM controlled fans unlike the Norco units that use three pin fans. When you allow the motherboard to do the fan control, or you use another fan controller, noise is generally not an issue. If you have two 3.4GHz hexacores twelve DIMMs, 24 drives, and a bunch of expansion cards, noise can become significant. And for the record, I would love to see the modded cases!

On the PC-Pitstop one... you are basically talking about a sub $1,000 Norco BOM (going DIY instead of their pre-fabricated route) for $2700+. I will say, Norco is probably a lower build quality, but you are talking the difference between an enclosure with 48TB (2TB x 24) or just the enclosure for the same price. People have different priorities, so the answer to that will vary, but a lot of users would rather accept lower build quality for $1,700.
 

odditory

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Dec 23, 2010
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"Norco vs. other solutions" -- for what purpose? That's the key question I don't see in your OP. If its for home media storage, you go Norco. If you're purchasing it for business use (with other peoples' money) and can locate it somewhere that the extra noise of things like dual PSU's with noisy internal 40mm high speed fans isn't an issue, you go Supermicro/HP/whatever. That's the very simplified answer based on many years running all the brands of cases you mentioned.

PC-Pitstop = throwing your money away. The only real choices when it comes to home use are Norco and Supermicro, depending on budget and noise constraints.
 
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jcl333

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RE: Norco vs. others

Thanks for the replies, here are my responses....

Pig Lover -

Thanks for the information.

OK, in so far as the "real" enterprise cases you talk about in your last paragraph. I work as a server admin for a living and we have all HP servers. Agreed they are very high cost. But I am willing to go a little higher on the cost if it is worth it.

I noticed that the HP thermal/noise management, especially on the latest models, is quite excellent. I am often building servers at my desk before sending them out, and they are loud at startup/until the management software boots, and then they are very quiet. Now, of course if you slam them with a heavy load they are going to ramp back up, but I don't see getting there at home or if so, for short periods. Unfortunately, the most drives I can get into an HP server that I know of is 14 in an ML or DL 370, without going to their massively expensive external storage enclosures.

So, with this in mind, I am wondering what other kinds of things people have had experience with that might not be as cheap as the Norco, but are similarly of good value. If someone says that the Supermicro 24-drive case has thermal/noise characteristics just as good or very close to my experience with HP, I think it might be a good fit for me. But I look at the size of those fans on the redundant power supplies (and I don't need redundant) and I am thinking it might be too loud. But I have not heard one for myself.

Patrick -

OK, so you are saying the Supermicro PWM controlled fans, using a suitably equipped motherboard or fan controller, might be similar to my experience with HP? What about the power supplies? If I went this way, I would try and get into one of their platinum-rated offerings.

I can't find any information on the idle noise in dB of any of the Supermicro stuff though.
I agree with you on the PC-Pitstop, just making sure I was not missing something, so thanks for confirming. I would be interested in their build for up to maybe $1,000-$1,500---but when they get up to $2,800 it is just too far for what you are getting.

odditory -

Totally fair question, my bad. Here are the things I plan to do with this:
* Home media server for Blu-ray ISOs (Will use Hyper-V and WHS, etc.)
* File server to store important documents, family photos and video, etc.
* As an iSCSI target for another server that will host a small Citrix lab running on VMware
* Do need to decide how to do backups, currently thinking second separate storage array...

On the noise, I do have a utility room (heating, laundry, etc.) off the kitchen where this will be located. So it will not be directly in my living space and certainly not under my desk or even in the same room where I work. That being said, if it was so loud that you could hear it through the door and throughout my condo that would be bad. I did sound dampen the door a bit with weather seal stuff to dampen the sound of the heating system and washer/dryer that are in there. If need be, I have an SPL meter, I could measure the current noise levels inside/outside the room when the laundry is running. Heating system is not as loud because it is almost brand new.

I certainly have servers at work that are way too loud 24/7 (even when idle) but that is changing a bit on the newer stuff. I have the UPS for my home theater projector in the room now because it makes a buzzing sound too loud (and irritating) to have it in the theater room. So, I could put up with something a bit louder than a Norco, and I don't even mind if it gets louder every so often if I were to do something heavy duty. This is also why I wonder if a Norco would be best for me, if it would instead just overheat in that case rather than just get louder.

Then I think about the drives I would put in there. Mostly likely consumer Samsung or Hitachi that would be spinning at 5400RPM or variable, so maybe even under heavy load they won’t put out that much heat. But if there is no thermal management software to even watch for this, it does not help. I am assuming with Norco you would have one noise level all the time regardless of load.

I could see going with the Supermicro, but I don’t want to get a nasty surprise by just ordering it and finding out that it is too loud for me.


-JCL
 

S-F

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I can't speak for the SM cases but my Norco 4224 sounded like hell before I turned the rear 2 fans down. I have it in the basement and I could hear it quite clearly on the first floor and also in some places on the second floor. Go with a Norco case because you can control the volume. If the fans on a SM case are anything like they are on the 4224 you will be hating life for the money you threw away and a week later you will be hating life even more because your wife will leave you and take the children because you ruined the house by making it louder than the NY throughway. When I first deployed the damn thing the first comment out of everyone's mouth as they entered the house was along the lines of "what the hell is that noise?".
 

jcl333

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Well, I think it is a given that I would replace all the fans if I go with a 4224, and for me I would probably splurge and go for PWM fans and either use a motherboard with good fan control or buy a nice fan controller with temp sensors and such. The other thing I like about that option is I can buy a standard power supply of my choice, so I will get a platinum rated one.
 

Patrick

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Patrick -

OK, so you are saying the Supermicro PWM controlled fans, using a suitably equipped motherboard or fan controller, might be similar to my experience with HP? What about the power supplies? If I went this way, I would try and get into one of their platinum-rated offerings.

I can't find any information on the idle noise in dB of any of the Supermicro stuff though.
I agree with you on the PC-Pitstop, just making sure I was not missing something, so thanks for confirming. I would be interested in their build for up to maybe $1,000-$1,500---but when they get up to $2,800 it is just too far for what you are getting.
Link for Supermicro Fan dba's

Supermicro cases with PWM fans go from way too loud to tolerable with a motherboard or fan controller that can throttle back the fans. 3-pin fans with a third party controller or two works well also. I still have not used a low-noise redundant PSU but would love to find one (or more.)
 

matt_garman

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I believe there is some middle ground between Norco and "enterprise" class storage chassis. See my comment on the Mid-range DIY Storage Server Buyer's Guide. To recap: my always-on storage server is housed in a Compucase/hec RA466A00, which has nine 5.25" bays. I filled six of these bays with two SuperMicro CSE-M35T 5-in-3 hotswap enclosures (I have three bays left-over for another M35T). I also have a Norco 4020 that I use as a backup server.

Overall, compared to the Norco, the Compucase is built from thicker steel and more robust overall. It came stock with a middle "divider" with cutouts for three 120mm fans. The Supermicro hotswap enclosures have really nice, high-quality trays (no contest compared to the Norco trays). I swapped out both the 3x120mm case fans and the 90mm M35T fans for quieter ones. My system isn't silent, but it's way quieter than the Norco (which has all stock fans). (But my rack is in the basement where I really don't care about the noise anyway.)

I think I spent about $150 for the Compucase chassis, and about $100/each for the M35T enclosures, so about $350 total. Make that $450 if I added another M35T. But total number of drives in this config is 15 (versus 20 or 24 for the 4U Norco cases).

For the Compucase build, several years ago I posted pics and a more detailed writeup on SilentPCReview. Since I did that writeup, most of the internal components have changed, but the chassis configuration remains the same.

I will add that at work we have a 24-bay SuperMicro SC846E1-R900B chassis. I'm underwhelmed with the quality of the drive trays in that case. They are not the same as the trays in the M35T enclosure; they are noticeably flimsier. Not as bad as the Norco 4020 trays though.

Also, I have no experience with them, but I've seen Chenbro rackmount hotswap chassis that are priced similarly to the Supermicro stuff. For example, the RM41416T2-B-650R that Patrick mentioned in the Mid-range DIY guide.

Another note: my Norco experience is with the 4020. I've seen remarks that the newer 4220 has more rugged drive trays.

In the end, it's just a personal call, what you can afford and what you want to spend. Logically, I know the Norco stuff is perfect for home use. But I do sympathize with the desire to overbuild/overbuy.
 

jcl333

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Patrick –Thank you for the link on the supermicro fan sba’s, that is helpful.

Matt_garman –You know, the more I think about it, this may really be the best idea. Originally I had looked at these, but I can’t remember now why I didn’t pursue the idea. There are a lot of advantages:

* Use a case of your choice, and power supply of your choice, all off the shelf, expand as you go
* Not amazingly more expensive than Norco, not as many drives, but I think it is a reasonable “middle†solution
* High tray quality – much higher than Norco, and even higher than the 24-drive Supermicro solution
* SES-2 management available if you buy that version – so you get drive failure LED
* Loud fan is replaceable and you can disable the alarm jumper so you can go PWM/etc., I will probably get some powerful PWM fans and a fan controller.
* The original one I looked at is here: http://www.lime-technology.com/products/md-1510-server, nice looking
* Lots of choices 12-bay tower chassis so you could get 20 drives into a chassis
* Check this out - http://www.xoxide.com/lian-li-pc-343b-case.html - 18 bays!! So you could have 30 drives!
* That compucase you found is not bad at all; it is especially rare to see a midplane fan wall available, although going to their website it looks like they have discontinued that case for one that comes with trayless cages. I will look around for similar items now that I know the kind of thing I am looking for.

Only a few cons or issues I can think of:
* Have to use fan-out cables instead of straight multi-lane connectors, not as neat but not a deal breaker
* Need to research RAID controller compatibility for SES-2 management – does this work across the data cables or do you have to plug in a special cable for this? The manual is not very clear on this. Also not sure what happens if you have 3-4 of these things connected to a single controller, will the SES-2 all work in that case? Be great if someone had some insight on this and could comment. Maybe I will post in the RAID controller thread.

Thanks very much for the idea and info. I think I have found myself a solution. I am already feeling a little relief from the endless analysis paralysis ;-)

-JCL
 

john4200

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Those Supermicro 5-in-3 boxes are expensive, about $120/ea. For the price of 4 of those alone, you could get a Norco RPC-4224 with 24 hot swap trays, and have money left over for replacement fans. Most of the other bullet points you list apply to the Norco, except for the drive failure LEDs. And the hot-swap trays in the Norco 4224 are of decent quality -- I think they are as good as the ones in the Supermicro 3U and 4U rackmounts (better, you can mount a 2.5" drive in a Norco tray without an adapter).
 

odditory

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I wouldn't call using 5-in-3's in a tower case a "middle solution" unless you just don't care what a mess it turns into and don't mind sacrificing density. Also, a lot changed and improved since the original Norco 4020, which I agree was crappy - I didn't even want to sell mine when I retired it, I threw it away.

Regardless, I wouldn't run a tower with 5-in-3's even if I got them for free - too many headaches and clutter. It was the early-2000's way of doing lots of bays, now its pointless for many reasons. I certainly wouldn't throw a rackmount server approach out in favor of tower cases over "tray quality" -- you'll probably slide each tray in and out an average of 5-10 times in the tray's life anyway, and both Norco and Supermicro have adequate trays that do work. I won't settle for anything less than the simplicity of backplanes with SFF-8087 connectors so I'm only running 6 cables for a 24-bay chassis.

A Norco 4224, a couple of zalman fan controllers to slow down the rear delta 80mm's, thats all you need. If you're worried about knowing which tray failed then pay attention to the order you populate the drives and you can keep an eye on your raid controller log for which slot# failed. Having once owned several Supermicro 24-bay cases, and migrating to Norco 4224's, the absence of a failure LED is a non-issue.
 
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jcl333

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OK, I was a little concerned about the "mess" of the fanout cables needed, but not that much. But I also agree, these 5-in-3 boxes came out many years ago, so it is not a new idea. This does not make them bad, but I hear what you are saying.

I will trust what you guys are saying that the 4224 is an improvement and "good enough" for what it is. I will live without the drive failure LEDs, I guess I just wanted them because I am used to having them at work, although we have alot more than 24 drives in the SAN.

So, I will start reading the other forums here and start deciding on my parts list. Here is what I will start with:

* Norco 4224 chassis, plus 120MM fan wall, internal hard disk bracket for OS?
* New fans to put in fan wall, and to replace rear fans, and possibly a fan contgroller/temp sensors
* Power supply - like to get platinum rated one, need to figure out how big it needs to be / rail amperage for HDs
* Motherboard to buy - probably Intel or Super Micro, probably Sandy Bridge or a 5600 series
* CPU - going for something low TDP like one ofthe 60W, 40W, or maybe even less, quad core
* RAM - ECC RAM, at least 16GB for a Sandy Bridge, maybe 24 or more with 5600 (try to stay with uDIMMs)
* Need to decide on RAID controller - tempted to try the new Adaptec models with power management, etc
* Need to decide on SAS expander, very likely to go with HP one but others have merit
* Need to decide on hard drive - go for 3TB?, probably will go for Samsung or Hitachi

So the next stage of the research begins

Thanks for helping me narrow down my choice.

-JCL
 

PigLover

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...
* Power supply - like to get platinum rated one, need to figure out how big it needs to be / rail amperage for HDs
The power supply does not need to be as big as you might initially think. Disk drives don't really draw all that much power when they are spun up and operating. its only the startup surge that you have to be careful of - after that is generally quite low. For 24 drives and a solid Xeon MB/CPU/Memory you'll find 650 watts is overkill - and you can work with much less as long as you are careful about staggered spinups. Remember - even that Platinum rated 90+ efficient 1000watt PSU is probably only about 65% efficient when running under 500 watts...

Also - go modular and make your own cables to distribute to the Norco backplanes. It will turn out much cleaner and you'll be very, very glad you did.
 

jcl333

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Yep, I definately plan to use staggered spinup. NewEgg has one platinum rated power supply now rated at 550W which should do the trick, it is even modular:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817121080

I will have to check, what I am saying about the rail amperage is that not all power supplies can provide all the power needed at the voltage you need - so I could see a 1000W power supply not being able to do 24-hard disks, because it was intended to run 4 video cards. Probably not a perfect example, but you get what I mean.

And actually, in your example at 1000W power supply at 50% load would be at 92%, and 90% at 20% load...
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/80_PLUS

On the cables, is this kind of like what you are talking about:
http://www.ipcdirect.net/servlet/Detail?no=113
(from norco site)

-JCL
 

john4200

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That Kingwin Platinum is only partially modular. It has some of the cables hardwired, like the 24-pin ATX. It is difficult to tell from the newegg pictures, but one of the newegg reviews mentions it.

I like the Seasonic X series, which are fully modular, although they haven't released a Platinum-certified model yet. Gold-certified is still quite efficient, though.
 

Patrick

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I have actually wanted to get those cables for some time from Norco just to see what they look like installed.

On the PSU thing, the only word of advice I would have is to not get overly hung up on gold versus platinum. The difference is 2-3% in the vast majority of load ranges so on a 300w constant consumption system (you will likely see much less) the difference is 6-9w. Around here, 1w = about $1/ year so if the price differential is more than $30 (3 years, 9w and some room for price hikes), I would stay with the gold. One other thing is that since I use a lot of different systems I have actually started to standardize for the most part on SeaSonic Gold PSUs and derivatives such as the Corsair AX series. The reason for this is that they are fully modular and I can mix and match cables across PSUs as needed.
 

jcl333

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I consider it still fully modular if the ATX power cable is not....it is not like you aren't going to use that cable, right?

I wonder how many times you can split those power cables before you overload the one connector? Three or four seems OK, but 7+ seems a bit much. But I guess they just have that many because they are using those "backplane rails" so they don't need much power... and I guess there are two each just in case you want to have redundancy. Still, I am not sure where hard drives draw most of their power, on the 12v or 3.3v line, but if you say each hard disk could draw maybe 5 watts, x24 drives is 120 watts. If that is on the 12v line, that is 10 amps, on a 3.3v line it would be a little over 36 amps. Could be enough to heat up the wire a bit.

On the gold vs. platinum PS, yes, I agree it is not worth a huge premium in price. But if it is $30 or less, and yeah since this will be a 24x7 system that probably consumes 150-200W or so, still would take awhile to pay for itself I agree. But, I have a Kill-a-watt meter and have been going around the whole house eliminating vampire currents and so on. So just trying not to accumulate lots of power draining things if I can help it, it eventually starts to add up.

Hey Patrick, have you found anyone to try out the new Adaptec RAID controllers yet? I saw you made a post asking if anyone has. I read their feature set and they look pretty nice. I am trying to decide between one of those and getting either an Areca or an LSI.

I am assuming most people don't back up their massive collection of Blu-ray ISO's right? Seems like the only economical way to do so would be to build another array. I will probably do so for my important documents and such, but I don't know about building two arrays. I would love to hear what people think of this issue.

-JCL
 

john4200

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If you need to replace the PSU, it is nice to have it be fully modular, that way you do not have to unbundle/untie/untangle any cables going to the motherboard.

As for backing up my movies on my fileserver, the optical discs themselves are the backup. You can fit a whole lot of them in a fireproof safe if you take them out of the jewel cases.

Also, if you use SnapRAID or FlexRAID to provide redundancy, rather than a striped RAID, then even if you lose more drives than can be recovered by parity data, you still have most of your movies intact. You only lose the ones on the failed drives.
 

Patrick

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Hey Patrick, have you found anyone to try out the new Adaptec RAID controllers yet? I saw you made a post asking if anyone has. I read their feature set and they look pretty nice. I am trying to decide between one of those and getting either an Areca or an LSI.
I just realized you can buy the 6-series now. May end up picking up a card in the near future. Thanks for the heads up.

One thing to remember on the PSUs and those enclosures is that ideally you have a single rail PSU. I once tried a sixteen drive, Core 2 Duo system with a 1000w multi-rail PSU and had huge issues starting the thing due to splitting the 4-pin Molex connectors too many times into 5-in-3 enclosures. Swapping to single rail meant I powered the same system easily on a 750w PSU.