FreeNAS Server Hardware

A Complete Guide to FreeNAS Hardware Design, Part I: Purpose and

ZFS is the Primary Focus of this Build! - ZFS Primer

Description & Purpose of Build:

This FreeNAS build is designed with the following mindset:

  • Take advantage of ZFS
  • Affordable Network Storage
  • Long Term File Storage
  • Video and Audio Streaming
  • Data Integrity
  • File Encryption
  • Low Power Consumption

Intro to FreeNAS

FreeNAS is an open-source solution to creating a resilient Network-Attached-Storage (NAS) solution for your data. In laymans terms it is a specialised computer designed to act as an external hard drive on your network. This build is going to focus on creating an enterprise grade NAS for home use. With that in mind the components for this build will focus on bringing out the full potential of FreeNAS and the ZFS file system at the least cost possible (at the time of this post) without sacrificing features.

  • DISCLAIMER: Can you build a FreeNAS box without ECC components? Yes you can! Why does this build not use Non-ECC components to save money? Because ECC takes advantage of ZFS which is the primary focus of the build. See more in Useful Links below.

Hardware Choices and Reasoning

CPU - The CPU MUST SUPPORT ECC in order to take full advantage of ZFS. The CPU does not need to be powerful so do not go all out on a high performance CPU. The CPU MUST SUPPORT AES-NI in order to take full advantage of Full-Disk-Encryption.

  • Any Haswell i3 Processor would work perfectly for FreeNAS: Supports both AES-NI and ECC.
  • Any Haswell Xeon Processor will work as well, but unless you plan on putting this in an enterprise environment the i3 Processor is the more economical route.
  • If you don't care about encryption then the Pentium G32XX series or G34XX series will give you ECC but will sacrifice AES-NI.
  • See Helpful Links for more details

Motherboard - The Motherboard MUST SUPPORT ECC in order to take full advantage of ZFS. At the time of this build ASRock has two Motherboards that support ECC that are inexpensive and work great for FreeNAS. The E3C226D2I and the E3C224D2I. The only difference between the two is that one has Six SATA 6Gbps ports and the other has only Four SATA 6Gbps ports.

  • If you want more ports then you will need to purchase either a different ECC compatible Motherboard with more SATA ports or get a RAID/HBA card that can have it's hardware RAID function disabled. YOU DO NOT WANT PHYSICAL RAID WITH FREENAS

RAM - The RAM MUST SUPPORT ECC in order to take full advantage of ZFS. Bad news is that most ECC RAM is expensive. TIP: If you want to know a trick for recognizing ECC RAM then look for the extra memory module on the side of the chip. Most RAM sticks have 8 modules on each side. ECC RAM has 9. The extra module is the parity module. ECC = Error-Correction-Code

Hard Drives - Mostly any Hard Drives will do. Since this is a File Storage box you would want drives that are low power, meaning low RPM. Basic physics tells us that the faster drives spin the more friction they create, more friction means more heat, and heat is the enemy. 5900 RPM or 5400 RPM drives are good. They don't play nice with ZFS.

  • Western Digital RED Drives are offically recommended by FreeNAS
  • Do your research on the drives you buy, it's your data so choose carefully
  • Smart shoppers will try to get most bang for their buck by buying drives with the lowest GB per Dollar
  • Several sites have debunked this study. Site1
  • Good Tip: Be sure to write down the Serial Numbers of each drive and draw a diagram for your setup. If a drive fails you will know exactly which one failed.

USB Drive - USB 2.0 is recommended. 16GB will be plenty for upgrades and other features. Do not buy a cheap off brand.

PSU - Make sure you have a PSU that can support all your SATA connections. Fully Modular is a plus because it removes cables for better airflow. Gold 80+ for higher is recommended, however going higher than Gold at the time of this post you would not get much return on investment from the power saving efficiency of Platinum or Titanium PSUs. Do not buy off brand cheap PSUs as again this is your data.

OS - At the time of this build: FreeNAS 9.3. There are others such as NAS4Free which was FreeNAS until iXsystems acquired FreeNAS code in 2011 and the old FreeNAS changed its name to NAS4Free. Both FreeNAS and NAS4Free and based off of FreeBSD which is an open-source Unix like operating system.

Case - This is a personal preference. For this build I wanted to go with small form factor so I used the popular "Fractal Design Node 304 Mini ITX Tower Case" The problem with going with small form factor cases is that you have very little room for cabling. This case is very small and cabling is a nightmare. It also impeeds air flow if you do not route the cabling correctly. A fully modular power supply is highly recommeded for these kinds of cases. DS380 is another great case, cost more but well worth it. (Thanks to Varean for finding this case)

After Thoughts

Here is the space that I will use to explain what I would have done differently now that I have built my first machine. First I would have gone with a larger case and added two, four drive hot-swapable bays. At the time of this post I am not fully aware if the Motherboard is Hot-swapable compliant It isn't you will need to add a Host-Bus-Adapter. Therefore I would also recommend possibly getting a Host-Bus-Adapter that is if the board is not hot-swapable or you want to utilize eight more dirves you will need more SATA ports. Also if you want, you can buy a good SSD and use the SSD as a cache drive.

Useful Links:

Useful Tools:

  • SpinRite - World's best Hard Drive recovery tool. Can possibly recover and repair failed Hard Drives. Newer Version is in the Works
MCSE Self-Paced Training Kit (Exams 70-290, 70-291, 70-293, 70-294): Microsoft® Windows Server™ 2003 Core Requirements: Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Core Requirements (Microsoft Press Training Kit)
Book (Microsoft Press)
AVG USA Technologies Inc. AVG - File Server 2 User 1Y Business
Digital Software (AVG USA Technologies Inc.)
  • AVG File Server Edition gives you simple, complete control over your files while keeping out online threats and maintaining peak Windows server performance. And...
  • When your file server is down, so is your business. Keep your business moving with AVG s award winning file security product.
  • Suffer less distraction and delay with our products, allowing you and your employees to focus on driving your business forward.
  • Single-location management for even greater control
  • Easy-to-action advice and alerts

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