Gene Mills

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DIY NAS Box: FreeNAS

Posted on 18 Dec 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on DIY NAS Box: FreeNAS

I use a D-DLINK DNS-323 Dual Bay NAS at home. It was something cheap I picked up from a clearance table at Staples for $100 a few years ago. It houses two 1TB WD Black hard drives running in Raid 1 so if one drive fails the other should have my data as they are mirror copies of each other. It’s worked ok up until now but it’s not the fastest NAS box out there. Fonz’s Fun_plug helps add additional features to it and there a few hacks to get it to act as a Time Machine backup for OSX (although my experience with it was slow enough that I abandoned that function after countless hours of tinkering to get it to work).

Recently I’ve run into a few issues:

1. I have a Macbook Pro and recently built a desktop Hackintosh so having Time Machine work would be nice.

2. The hard drives have reached 75% capacity and I’m looking to upgrade. The DNS-323 only supports 2.2TB or less hard drives, although you can load ALT-F firmware on it to add support for larger drives. (I was hoping to upgrade to at least two 3TB drives in Raid 1.

3. On my new Hackintosh build I’ve installed SANZBD and Sickbeard. I’ve used SANZBD for years now it seems but only recently learned about Sickbeard. If you use Usenet for TV downloads this program is AMAZING. My wife and I cut the cable cord quite some time ago. Living in downtown Toronto with a good view of the CN Tower and a clear view across Lake Ontario, a $40 HDTV antenna brings in over 20 HD channels and with two Apple TV’s and other streaming devices (Xbox 360, PS3), it was a no brainer. Sickbeard is great that it automatically goes out and downloads our TV shows and copies them to the DNS-323 for us to stream over the network. But as I explained to her, the NAS box is really just a mini computer and it doesn’t seem efficient to have two computers (NAS and Hackintosh) doing two jobs (downloading and storage).

Time to buy a new NAS box. Something that maybe could house more than 2 drives and supported larger hard drives, perhaps Time Machine, and that I could run plugins or programs  on. I’ve heard great things about Synology and read some comparisons and reviews on the DS412+ and it seemed to be what I wanted. The solution was simple….or was it?

While reading some online forums I saw a guy looking for suggestions on buying a new NAS. He wanted something that could handle at least 4 drives. 2 to run in mirror Raid 1, 1 drive to act as a Time Machine backup for multiple Macs in the household, and another drive for misc. I thought that was exactly what I was looking for as well. One of the responses suggested since he seemed pretty familiar with computers he should build a FreeNAS box. It was the first I had ever heard of it, and since I had a Mini-Itx Dual Atom box with 4gb ram and a 500meg hard drive in it, I thought I would give it a test drive and immediately was hooked.

So new the dilemma became buy or build? The cheapest I could find the Synology for was $650 without hard drives. I figured I could easily spec out a build for similar that would be much more powerful. It may not be as power effective but I figured they would both use the same amount of power when running idle, which would be most of the time. Here are the parts I decided to use. I could have done this a lot cheaper but I feel the build is future proof for a few years. I also didn’t need server grade stuff (motherboard, ECC Ram etc). My data is critical, but not that critical. If a piece of ram or my board fails, I’ll just replace it.

Case: Fractal Design Node 304 White. $70 from Kijiji. My wife likes small and out of the way. I like pretty shiny stuff. This case is small enough to not take up too much room, house 6 hard drives, yet pretty enough to be left out in the open.

Motherboard: Asrock Z87E-ITX. $145 after rebate. The mini-itx case limits me to chose a mini-itx board. This board has 6 SATA ports and has an Intel NIC which works better with FreeNAS than a Realtek chipset. I really never plan on having more than 4 hard drives going so I don’t need a full size board with 8 SATA ports and a SATA card to do hardware raid. And again, small and out of the way was a factor here. This board also supports Haswell. Believe it or not I could not find an Ivy Bridge Board I liked in Canada, and the ones that were available were similar in price to this one.

Processor: Intel Core i3-4130 Dual-Core Processor. $125. I was gonna use the lower power model of this CPU but it was a bit more expensive and a little less power. Again, overkill but I’ll live with it.

Hard Drives: 2 x Western Digital Red 3TB drives. $220 after rebate. Designed for a NAS environment. I’ll also add in my older WD 1TB black drives.

Ram: Patriot Viper 3 Sapphire Blue 16GB (2x8GB). $150. The ZFS filesystem loves ram so I’ll feed it the max this board can handle. They say as a rule of thumb 1GB of ram for every 1TB so this ram was on sale so I scooped it up.

Power Supply: Coolermaster GX 550 . $50 from Kijiji. Plenty enough to power the system and it was cheap.

USB: You need at least a 2GB stick to run FreeNAS. I have more 4GB sticks laying around that I’ve gotten for free from places.

Total Cost: a little over $800 after taxes. I saved some money with rebates and buying the case and power supply from Kijiji and they were both brand new. When you look at the price of 4 bay NAS’ it’s right around the sweet spot where the cost is pretty close to the same as building. If you like to tinker, I say go for it and build and you could easily find a larger tower case and motherboard to fit up to 8 drives if you really needed and then you would really be saving.

Here’s a pic of all the parts that arrived today on top of my Level 10 GT Snow Edition case that I could have built this in if I was going to go build bigger. I’ll probably move my Hackintosh desktop into it someday.

IMG_0597

Assembly to start soon!