Norco RPC-4020 4U Review

ajmatson - 2010-04-15 17:19:09 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: ajmatson   
Reviewed on: August 18, 2010
Price: $320.00

Introduction:

In the world of computers there are many reasons why you would want to build your own servers, including gaming, file sharing, or backing up your files to a central and secure location. While you have a lot of choices in case sizes, such as small form factor styles or mini tower case designs, they might not always do the job. When space is important, having tower style cases can take up a lot of room. In this instance a rack mounted solution might be better suited for the needs. More and more people that I know are trying to save space, while having multiple systems running by their work area. Rack style cases are not just for servers anymore they can offer a variety of uses. Larger designs allow you to place full sized components into a 4U or 5U design and do the same job as a tower case would. Some even will accept the same hardware at a full size tower would, such as large graphics cards and towering heat sinks.

Not too long back we took a look at our first rack mountable case with the In Win IW-R300, which proved to be a great server chassis. While it was a 3U case there was still a small amount of room which left us a bit cramped. Today we are going to review a larger rack mountable server chassis, this time from a well known server parts manufacturer Norco Technologies. This chassis is the Norco RPC-4020 and it is a 4U rack chassis, which offers a wealth of options including removable hard drive cages, plenty of space, and easy manageability. While not a grand 5U size, the RPC-4020 has the perfect balance of space and size and knows how to maximize the areas available to work in. If you are as excited to dive into this baby as I am, then let's start off with a good look at what it has to offer.

Closer Look:

The Norco RPC-4020 comes well packaged in a double cardboard box with Styrofoam inserts. This keeps the chassis protected during transportation.  With the size and weight of this beast, it needs to be protected. Even the FedEx driver needed help getting it off the truck when he delivered it to me. When you open the box, you can really see the care that went into keeping the case safe. Norco put the time into keeping it from being damaged. Included with the RPC-4020 are several accessories to help get you started. There are heat sink adapters for single and dual processors designs, slim floppy adapter, screws and standoffs, standoff install tool, and four rubber feet for placement on a desk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Norco RPC-4020 is a very large case. It measures 7 inches tall (4U rack size), 19 inches wide and 25.5 inches deep. The total weight of the case is 46.7 pounds empty, making it one of the heaviest cases I have ever owned. Rails are not included with the chassis, which is a big drawback considering the sheer size of the chassis. For the price of the case and the weight of it, rails are a must and should be standard with the RPC-4020. There are rails that are available for an extra charge from Norco should you need to get them. You can use either RL-20 or RL-26 rails which are designed for the bulk of the chassis. The case is made of steel and ABS plastics and is designed to be abused and last a long time. The RPC-4020 is made with a tool-less design (for the most part). The cover uses no screws, which allows for easy removal for maintenance and upgrades while in the rack. To remove the cover, just press in the two black and gray tabs with your thumbs and slide the cover toward the rear of the chassis. The front of the case is where the twenty removable hard drive bays are which we will look more at in the review. The rear of the chassis looks like a desktop design with seven full size expansion slots, a normal size back plate for the motherboard, ventilation holes for fans, and the ATX power supply cutout.

 

 

 

On the top front of the case above the hard drive bays are where the optical and floppy drive is kept. The RPC-4020 supports one slim floppy drive and one slim optical drive. One thing of note is that no converters's are included so if you are using an IDE optical drive you will need to purchase the back-plate separately, adding additional costs to the case. In between the slim drives are the front panel controls. From the left to right there is the power button, a reset button, one USB 2.0 port, and the indicator lights. For the indicator lights you have the power LED, main OS hard drive activity LED, and two NIC LED's (providing your NIC cards have LED headers).

 

 

Now that we have had a look at the outside, let's remove the cover and see what the inside has to offer.

Closer Look:

The size of this case makes it great for working inside the chassis. There is so much room to work in that big finger people like me will have no issues working in the main motherboard area. This motherboard mounting area accepts mATX, ATX, CEB, and EEB motherboards up to 12 inches by 13 inches in size. The standoffs are installed, but they can easily be moved around depending on the motherboard installed. There are seven full size expansion slots on the rear of the chassis so no slot adapters are needed and thus cutting off access to neighboring slots. Next to the expansion slots there are two 80mm x 25mm exhaust fans - the same model as the ones on the fan bracket. The back panel bracket is full size so any motherboard panel protector can be installed. The RPC-4020 can accept a full size standard ATX power supply or an ATX Mini Redundant power supply for additional protection against downtime. For the front panel leads there are only the standard Power, Reset, HDD activity, NIC activity, and one USB 2.0 lead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To work with the hard drive connections, you have to remove the fan section. This is a big downside to the design because you have to wire the case for everything in the beginning and if you don't you will be sorry later. Even if you are not using all twenty SATA ports I highly recommend wiring them all up if you have the cables or you will have a fun time later trying to add them. Above the hot swap bays is the additional drive storage. There is room for one slim floppy on the left and one slim optical drive on the right. The mounting hardware is included in however; if you plan on using an IDE slim optical Norco does not include the adapter with the case. You will need to purchase it separately from them or a third party vendor. Luckily I had a spare on available to me when I tested the chassis. In the center is a cage for a 3.5-inch hard drive. This is where you install the OS drive, which is needed if your hot swap bays are attached to RAID controller cards. If you look at the drive backplanes, you can see there is one for each level of drives. On the left of the backplanes are the power plugs. There are two of them on each back plate. Only one is needed for operation the second is for a redundant power supply if you install one. On the right of the backplanes are the SATA connectors. There are four lined up next to each other corresponding to the slots on the front.

 

 

 

On the fan bracket there are several holes at the bottom. This is where you can route your cables to the motherboard or controller card for neat cable management. There are five 80mm x 25mm fans installed on the bracket and are the same type as the two installed on the back panel of the case. Each one is plugged into a power distribution strip mounted above the fans and powered by a single 4-pin Molex connection. There are six headers on the strip, which I am unaware why that is and there was no documentation I could find on it since there are only five fan slots. Unfortunately with this type of setup there is no way to control the fan speeds from the motherboard so they are running full speed all the time. You could install a PCI bracket fan controller with a 3-pin to Molex adapter, which means you have to go to the back of the case each time you adjust. Another idea which works is to install the fans on the opposite side of the bracket and plug them directly into your motherboard for thermal control. The fans are manufactured by a company called Kenon Motors. They are part of the KMF08D series (model number KMF08DHD1B) and rated for 37.65CFM at 12 volts. They produce a static air pressure of 3.53 mmH20 and have a noise level of 32dB each. When all seven fans are running at the same time, they are a bit loud, but tolerable. I have had some server fans that sound like a jet engine and these are moderate compared to those.

 

 

 

The drive section is where the magic of the RPC-4020 is. There are a total of twenty 3.5-inch hard drive bays available. Each one has a removable cage allowing the user to easily swap, move, or replace drives as needed. If your motherboard or controller card supports it, you can also hot swap the drives as well. Each drive gets installed and slid into their respective bay. The drive connectors connect directly to the SATA backplanes in the rear of the bay. There are ventilation holes in the front of the cages which allow air to be pulled in from the front of the case by the fans. Since the drives themselves plug into the backplanes you cannot use 2.5-inch drives unless you have an adapter such as the Icy Dock MB882SP. A bracket adapter does not work because the connectors do not align up correctly. With 2.5-inch drives becoming a standard it would be nice to have some type of adapters either included or available from Norco.

 

 

 

Finally, we have a shot of the case filled with the goodies. I also wanted to show you how it looks when placed in a rack and the individual LED lights for the bays. I could not get the blue activity lights to show because they were going so quick, but under the green power LED there is a bright blue one that shows drive activity. Please forgive the cable mess in my rack, I am in the process of moving things around.

 

 

Now that we have taken a look at the chassis, let's close it up and test it out.

Specifications:

Drive Bays:
20 x hot-swappable SATA/SAS drive bays, 1 x slim CD-ROM bay, 2 x 3.5" OS HDD brackets
Cooling: 5 x 80mm middle fans, 2 x 80mm rear fans
Switch: Power ON/OFF x 1, System reset x 1
Indicatiors:
Power ON/OFF x 1, HDD x 1, NETWORK X 2
Connections:
One front accessible USB port
Motherboard Compatibility: Support EEB (12"x13"), CEB(12"x10.5"), ATX (12"x9.6"), Micro ATX (9.6" x 9.6")
Power Supply Options:
Standard ATX power supply, mini redundant power supply (H x W: 5.91" X 3.39")
Dimensions ( W x D x H ):
16.9" x 25.5" x 7 " (430mm x 650mm x 176mm)
Packaging:
Double boxes
Weight:
8 kg/39.7 lb (NET) 21.2 kg/46.7 lb (GROSS)
Environment Temperature:
0/55 °C, 32/131 °F (Operating) -20/60 °C, -4/140 °F (Non-Operating)
Relative Humidity:
5% to 95%,non-condensing
Vibration:
( 5-500 Hz ):1 Grms (Operating), 2 G (Non-Operating)
Shock:
10 G(with 11ms duration, half sine wave) (Operating), 30 G (Non-Operating)

 

Features:

 

All information courtesy of Norco Technologies @ http://www.norcotek.com/RPC4020.php

Testing:

Now we get to the part we have been waiting for. To test the Norco RPC-4020 server chassis, I will be taking temperatures from several of the systems components. The first temperatures will be when the system is idle for 30 minutes and the second temperature will be taken while running Prime95 for 30 minutes to simulate heavy load. The ambient room temperature was kept the same during all tests to keep any variation from interfering with the test temperature readings. All hardware was run at the same speeds, frequency, latency, and voltage for every test to keep the scores as fair as possible.
 

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Cases:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the exception of the hard drives, the Norco RPC-4020 was as good as, or better than, the In Win R-300.

Conclusion:

The Norco RPC-4020 is a piece of work, but in a good way. A lot of work had to go into this type of quality design for a server chassis. The amount of space in this 4U case is impressive. There is so much room and expansion space your server possibilities are endless. The airflow, for the most part, was really well planned. The hard drives do get a bit hotter than when in an open case but that is to be expected. The CPU and other components remained cool even when placed in an enclosed server cabinet. The amount of hard drives space is impressive. With the size of hard drives today in the 2TB capacity, you have the potential to have 40TB+ of space not counting the OS drive. That is, if you have the controller boards and number of SATA ports that can handle all those drives. The Norco RPC-4020 is a bit expensive, running around $320, but you get what you pay for and, in this instance, that is definitely true.

As good as the chassis is, there are several things that pulled it back from being top dog. First for the size and weight of the case, let alone the price, a set of rails should be included. The case is too heavy to keep removing from a rack when needing to perform maintenance or upgrades. Getting it into the rack in the first place takes at least two people and the rack ears seem to hold it, but for how long? Second, every other rack case I have bought had an IDE optical adapter included for older optical drives. This isn't a large issue, but for the price of this chassis, an adapter is something I feel that should have been put into the mix. Finally, albeit great for cooling, the fans can get a little annoying after a long time. There is no way to control them. With the design that went into the fan strip, some kind of speed control knob or other thermal control would be nice.

With the exception of these minor things, the Norco RPC-4020 is a case among cases. There are few other rack mountable cases that I have found, which offer the features and space that this one does. If you are looking to build a server as a NAS or just with a lot of storage then this is your go-to option. Even for the price, I highly recommend this chassis and would definitely buy one if I had enough drives to fill it.

 

 

Pros:

 

Cons: