Intro to a DIY NAS
So you want to consolidate your data and have been looking for the ability to store and serve to all the computers in your home. What better way to do this than creating your own NAS (network attached storage)? One could buy a preconfigured NAS such as the well reviewed Synology DiskStation 5-Bay DS1512+, which comes in at a hefty $800 without any disks! However, I have always been an advocate of DIY projects that can save you money and maybe teach you something along the way. Building your own NAS is a perfect candidate for the consummate “DIYer” and with a little planning and background knowledge you will save a lot of money and get that warm fuzzy feeling when your build is complete. This build is directed toward using FreeNAS but will work with other NAS software solutions as well.
Key features of a DIY NAS
- Low power consumption – electricity can be costly on a 24/7 appliance and will not get any cheaper. Some preconfigured solutions pull way too many watts and that will show on your monthly bill.
- Choice of hardware components – you can look for the best deals to give your NAS the power that you need through careful planning for immediate and future storage needs.
- Choice of OS – there are many different free and paid options out there to manage your NAS and each has their strengths and weaknesses. I will review a few of the popular ones later in this article.
- Expandability – being able to easily upgrade your storage when the time calls for it is definitely a plus.
- Reliability – your data is obviously important and redundancy is key to making sure you can survive a hard drive failure and recover and rebuild.
Motherboard and CPU
While almost any old hardware you have available would work well for a NAS, one of our main key features included low power consumption. A poor choice here could cost you more money spent in electricity the first year than the cost of the component itself.
The ideal board and CPU would:
- be energy efficient
- have as many sata ports as possible for expandability
- have a gigabit lan connection
- not cost an arm or a leg
- handle the data load reliably
- have a form factor that will keep our NAS footprint small
Taking the above points into account I found a perfect CPU/Motherboard combo that meets all of our requirements. The Asus C60M1-I going for a mere $80, has a dual core AMD C-60 processor and is based on the AMD Brazos platform. The mini ITX form factor will help keep our footprint and power consumption down and having 6 x SATA 6Gbs ports, it seems like it was destined to fill the role of a low power server or HTPC. Another plus is how quiet this board will run with its fanless heatsink design. While only “officially” supporting only 8GB of ram you can run 2x8GB sticks to get 16GB without any trouble. The onboard Realtek 8111F Gigabit LAN is not the greatest but is supported and works with most of the NAS software solutions available.
Total cost so far: $80
According to FreeNAS hardware recommendations using the ZFS filesystem, as much memory as you can throw at it will increase performance and reliability. Our motherboard can “unofficially” handle 16 GB total, so we will fill both slots and take advantage of the situation as memory is still fairly cheap. I chose Kingston HyperX Blu 16GB Kit (2×8 GB Modules) 1600MHz DDR3 to round out the memory and at $110 isn’t a bad deal and slow 1066 MHz memory is hard to find. The board will only clock the memory to 1066 MHz, so having the faster memory is irrelevant.
Total cost so far: $190
Now we are going to need to find a suitable place to house all of our components while keeping things compact and easy to work with. The Lian Li PC-Q25B is a most righteous case that easily fills this role with aplomb. It’s a bit pricier than many other cases at $120, but it more than makes up for it in features, aesthetics, and build quality. This mini-ITX tower chassis has a built in 5 bay hot swap cage for 3.5″ drives and can hold a total of 7 3.5″ hard drives. The hot swap capability is easily worth the price of admission and with the ability to use a standard ATX power supply you have one of the best compact NAS cases to be found.
Another option would be the Fractal Design Node 304 for around $110. It has 6 hard drive bays and can also accept a standard ATX power supply
Total cost so far: $420
With the NAS running 24/7 we need to efficiently supply power to all of the components. The best way to do this is to size your power supply so that the total system idle/load watts are between 20-80% of power supply rating. To help you figure this out a good calculator can be found here. Any supply with an 80+ rating would be beneficial so I chose an 80+ gold rated supply for our build as the payback on a platinum rated model is still ridiculous. I have chosen a Seasonic SSR-360GP 360W 80PLUS Gold ATX power supply. It has plenty of clean juice for all of our components and will run cool, quiet, efficient, and for $60 is a good deal on a quality power supply.
Total cost so far: $480
FreeNAS requires a minimum of a 2 GB flash drive for installation as the system is a running image (runs directly from drive), 1 GB is partitioned for the operating system and the other 1 GB is reserved for upgrades. I opted to go with a $7 SanDisk Cruzer Fit 4 GB USB Flash Drive to use for my FreeNAS installation. Here is the official guide for installation.
Total cost so far: $487
This is where the little NAS box will get expensive. Storage isn’t cheap and reliable drives are even more expensive. I would suggest starting with a RAIDZ1 configuration and using the 5 available hot swap bays. Using RAIDZ1 will mean that if one disk fails you can replace it and “resilver” or rebuild the drive and maintain the array. There is always a certain amount of risk when using any type of raid and if you want more of a safety net check out the other RAIDZ versions here. For the disks I have chosen 5 WD Red 3 TB NAS Hard Drives at $158 each ($790 total). The Reds are purpose built for a NAS system and are well worth the extra money. This will give us 1 drive for parity and 4 drives for storage that is a gross of 12 TB or 10.5 TB net (useable) storage with 3TB for parity. If you don’t have the money for that much storage just substitute the 1 TB ($390 total) or 2 TB ($580 total) versions in the same quantity of 5. Check this article for why you need a purpose built hard drive
Total cost so far: $1277
If you want better network throughput and have the managed switch to take advantage of link aggregation of two gigabit interfaces together then I suggest using a dual intel network interface card. They are rock solid and reliable and the best deal I have found is a Intel PRO/1000 Pt Dual Port Server Adapter at $80.
There are many different NAS software distributions that you can try. Here are a few to check out:
- unRAID – very easy to upgrade, low hardware requirements, slower transfer speeds than other NAS software, after three disks a license must be purchased.
- OpenMediaVault – easy to install, full featured, free, and good performance.
- Nas4Free – very similar to FreeNas using the ZFS filesystem.
Well I hope I have shed some light on the hardware and software needed to get a home NAS running. By building our own box we can expand in the future and saved over $300 compared to the Synology system at the beginning of the article if we used the same disks. The hardware chosen will give you a NAS that will serve almost any home users needs. I will be doing a post about the setup of FreeNas in the coming weeks.
Check out my other article on an Affordable DIY NAS!
Let me know if you have any questions or comments!