FreeNAS Mid Range build

This week I’m looking at a build spec for running the excellent free Network Attached Storage solution, FreeNAS.

In its most basic form FreeNAS allows a computer to act as networkable storage. Getting more advanced, it will allow you to run other things on it, from a Minecraft server to an install of Linux and may more things inbetween by using FreeBSD’s Jails function.

FreeNAS can technically be installed on any old computer you have lying around, but to get the most out of it you’ll need certain things. If you’re building from scratch I suggest only one motherboard: The Asrock C2750D4I ITX motherboard.

Asrock C2750D4I

This board isn’t on PCPartPicker, so I’ve found it at Scan Computers for £319.02. “How much?!” I hear you scream. Wait, let me explain. This motherboard has A LOT going for it. In no particular order:

  • Support for 64GB ECC RAM
  • Intel Avoton Quad Core CPU already on it
  • 12 x SATA Ports (8 x SATA3, 4 x SATA2)
  • Dual Gigabit Intel network ports (with Teaming)
  • Very low power consumption
  • Remote control (IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface))

This board is perfect for a FreeNAS build. If you’re starting from scratch I wouldn’t bother looking at anything else. As for the rest of it, I’ve used PCPartPicker:

 

The RAM is 16GB of ECC DDR3. For a mid range build I wouldn’t recommend 8GB FreeNAS can be RAM hungry when using the ZFS file system (which is what we will be doing). The more the better.

There are 4 x 3TB Western Digital Red drives. These are built for a NAS so should be perfect. Because we’ll be using RAIDZ1 to span the data, we’ll actually lose the capacity of one of these drives for it to use as parity, meaning if one drive fails we can still retrieve all the data by adding a new disk – it can rebuild itself. If two drives were to fail at the same time…all the data is gone. Don’t be fooled into buying higher RPM drives (7200rpm for example) as these drive generate more heat and vibrations. We want to keep things cool and stable to ensure longevity and reliability.

The Node 304 is a super little case with room for up to 6 3.5″ drives to be installed. It also allows standard ATX power supplies to be installed. Plenty of room inside and good cooling.

The power supply needs to be either rated platinum or gold, as most probably it’ll be left on 24/7. I’ve picked the cheapest gold rated power supply, which just happens to be semi-modular to boot. Under no circumstances buy a no-name power supply. It’s just not worth it. This one is a reputable brand (Corsair).

The only other things you’ll need are 2 x USB drives. One to have the installer on and another for FreeNAS to be installed on. As it’s based on FreeBSD it’s fine to be used from a USB stick. This will also keep the power consumption down, which is a good thing for a NAS that’s never powered off. 8GB drives are available for about £5 each.

So the total cost of this build will be…approx £919.99. Add a little bit more on for SATA cables. It’s expensive for what is essentially 9TB of network storage, but the possibilities are endless once you delve into  what it can actually do. Of course you could swap the hard drives for bigger/smaller ones, but to use RAIDz1 you’ll need a minimum of three drives.

The on board network cards can be teamed together to give you a 2Gb link, but you will probably need a managed switch to make this happen.

Lower end: The motherboard could be replaced with a Z87/97 teamed with a cheap i3 processor. Chances are the board won’t support ECC RAM, so you’d have to skip that, too. If the motherboard didn’t have an Intel NIC you could do with getting a PCI-E card. You could drop a hard drive and/or lower the capacity. Don’t drop below 3 drives though – you’ll want to use RAIDZ1.

Higher end: Same motherboard, but up the RAM to 64GB. Swap the hard drives for 6TB Seagate Enterprise NAS disks. Up the number of drives to 6 or even 8 (you’d need a different case for that, maybe something like the Silverstone SST-DS380B. You could use an SSD to install FreeNAS on and use extra SSDs for caching.

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Tim

Had an interest in technology all my life. Network Manager by day; Techspert, husband and daddy by night/weekend. Currently the proud owner of a OnePlus One paired with a Pebble Steel, HTPC hooked up to the telly and Android tablets everywhere. Interests in coin mining, FreeNAS, gaming and photography.

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