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Build Guide

FreeNAS Box (2016)

by Zenjiro


Revision History


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
  • ASRock has a product line called ASRock RACK which specializes in server grade motherboards
  • See Helpful Links for more details

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. STAY AWAY FROM WESTERN DIGITAL GREEN DRIVES 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
  • Hitachi and Western Digital have the least amount of Failed Drives Case Study Several sites have debunked this study. Site1 Site2 Site3
  • 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.
  • See Helpful Links for more details

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:

  • MemTest86+ - Used to Stress Test RAM and check for errors in the RAM
  • SpinRite - World's best Hard Drive recovery tool. Can possibly recover and repair failed Hard Drives. Newer Version is in the Works
  • Win32DiskImager - Tool used to install FreeNAS to USB Drive

FreeNAS & Encryption:

Part List Customize This Part List

Compatibility Check: No issues/incompatibilities found.

Estimated Wattage: 162W
Component Selection Base Promo Shipping Tax Price Where
CPU $179.69 FREE $179.69 OutletPC Buy
Motherboard $209.99 $4.99 $214.98 Newegg Business Buy
Memory $104.16 $3.84 $108.00 Amazon Buy
$104.16 $3.84 $108.00 Amazon Buy
Storage $99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
$99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
$99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
$99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
$99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
$99.89 FREE $99.89 OutletPC Buy
Case $78.38 $8.99 $87.37 Newegg Buy
Power Supply
Operating System FreeNAS (Purchased)
Custom USB Flash ​Drive (OS ​Drive) $7.99 (Purchased)
Base Total: $1275.72
Shipping: $21.66
Total (Not Yet Purchased): $1297.38
Total (Purchased): $7.99
Total: $1305.37
* Using your selected merchants and only including nearby in-store pickup prices)
* Some physical dimension restrictions cannot (yet) be automatically checked, such as cpu cooler / RAM clearance with modules using tall heat spreaders.

Comments Sorted by:

GrumpyTanker 3 points 42 months ago

Excellent guide. Very much appreciate the simple explanations for why you chose the components.

I will be using this as a starting point to construct my own ZFS/FreeNAS build.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 42 months ago

Glad that you found this guide helpful. Something I did not have listed in this guide that I would recommend is that for each hard drive you have, make sure you write down the serial number, as when a drive fails FreeNAS will report the S/N. So a good practice would be to write them down, maybe keep a copy inside your case with a hand drawn diagram. That way it will be easier to identify the failed drive.

It would be bad if you replace the wrong drive by mistake and loose all of your data.

Zenjiro submitter 2 points 42 months ago

Updated guide

taterbits 2 points 37 months ago

Excellent guide indeed!! I built my system base on this. Thank you :)

I have almost all the same parts. I changed the case to a Silverstone SST-CS01W-HS and the HDDs respectively to 6x 1TB 2.5" WD Red disks. It looks amazing and performs just like advertised. PS. The case case fit a max of 110mm tall CPU cooler. So I got the Noctua NH-D9L to keep the noise down in the living room. There is an actual difference in the ambient noise level compared to the stock Intel one.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 37 months ago

Glad to have helped.

Varean 2 points 35 months ago

I noticed that both in your Guide and in the comments you have stated you would have gone with a larger Case. I've seen other builds and I noticed that a few were using the Silverstone DS380, would it be an acceptable replacement to the case in your original guide?

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 35 months ago

That is a great case for this kind of build. Yes I would recommend this kind of case, a bit expensive though but excellent. Golden star for you!

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 35 months ago

Updated the guide to include this case in the "Case" section. Thanks again for finding it!

Varean 1 point 35 months ago

No problem! I was looking at different FreeNAS guides and yours kept coming up, but I was concerned with how small of a case the Fractal one is and wasn't sure it would support all my drives.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 35 months ago

It is small, but good enough. If I get the money I might get that case simply for the hotswap bays

digitalbravo 2 Builds 1 point 42 months ago

No mention of the RAID level you're employing?

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 42 months ago

I did not mention which RAID level I would be running because each person who would build something similar to this might have different needs, or trying to accomplish a different task then what I was trying to do.

But I am using a RAID-Z2 (RAID6) setup, for my needs.

faiaz.h 1 Build 1 point 2 months ago

Would you please be able to elaborate on how you set up your RAID? Is it done through the Free NAS software? Thanks

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 2 months ago

Yes it is done through FreeNAS. The beauty of FreeNAS and ZFS is that it is all done in Software. You do not want any RAID setup at the hardware level, on a RAID card or Motherboard.

Depending on your needs RAID-Z1 (essentially RAID-5) or RAID-Z2 (essentially RAID-6) will suffice. Don't use the the wizard when creating your volume if you want to enable encryption. Setting up the Volume manually is the way to go.

FreeNAS has implemented a new GUI since I made this so some things have change.

faiaz.h 1 Build 1 point 2 months ago

Thanks for the info! Just for my knowledge, why do you suggest not setting up RAID at the hardware level (on a card or motherboard)?

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 2 months ago

Because that would completely defeat the purpose of FreeNAS and ZFS.

It's fine to use hardware level RAID, but not if you are using FreeNAS or NAS4Free.

You if you did use Hardware level RAID with FreeNAS then your performance would suffer. You are essentially using RAID on RAID at that point.

RootFunction 1 point 42 months ago

Thanks for making this guide. I'm looking to put together a FreeNAS machine. I have three questions.

  1. For this type of build, are you aware of any after market coolers that would be worth getting to replace the stock one? I'm primarily thinking about reducing noise levels.
  2. Are you aware of any SSDs that don't play well with FreeNAS?
  3. Do you know of any Skylake compatible Mini-ITX boards that support unbuffered ECC RAM? So far I haven't found any. Also, the 8 GB unbuffered ECC sticks listed on PCPP are only DDR3 right now.
Zenjiro submitter 1 point 42 months ago
  1. I used stock and from what I can tell the noise level is near inaudible. In truth it is a personal preference, so any aftermarket that supports the socket you go with will be fine. Just make sure you have room as with the case I went with was very cramp.

  2. FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD and was designed to work on Flash based devices like USB drives. If I were to use an SSD for anything it would be as a caching drive, and I would go with an SSD that supports a very high write tolerance, since a cache drive will have a lot of reads and writes. But you really only need this if you are running something like a large SQL database on the box. If you are just storing movies, music, and pictures that are not going to accessed quickly then it is not really necessary.

  3. None that I know of. You might want to check to see if SuperMicro has any, but again depending on your reasoning to go with Skylake is, I would say it is unnecessary. Skylake just came out so stuff is still rolling off the factory lines, but for most uses of FreeNAS you do not need the latest and greatest. Most actually Frankenstein old computers together to make a FreeNAS box. This guide was made to take full advantage of ZFS as much as possible and I think I still have not done it justice.

SuperDudeMan64 1 point 41 months ago

Is there a wireless adapter you would recommend for this build? I would love to use this as a "family server" and wireless is the easiest way to get everyone in the house to use it.

Fantastic guide and I love all the advice!

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 41 months ago

I would not recommend wireless on the FreeNAS box itself. I would recommend having it hooked up to your wireless router or like device, and access it that way. Basically using your wireless router/AP as the middle man for your content.

SuperDudeMan64 1 point 41 months ago

That makes sense. Thank you!

lavjr 1 point 41 months ago

Excelent post do you run Plex on it please? If yes do you transcode? Thanks


Zenjiro submitter 2 points 41 months ago

I do, but not in the way you might think. I know FreeNAS has a Plugin/Jail for Plex. However, I did not want to bog down the FreeNAS box I built solely for storage with anything else. Storage is Storage and I did not want it to be anything else. So my solution was, I have an ESXi Server box I built earlier for IT training and spun up a Lubuntu VM with 4core, 4GB RAM, and shared the CIFS share, and had the VM run Plex. Which I hope is better at encoding since the ESXi Box has an i5 and were as the FreeNAS box has an i3. On an off note: I prefer KODI over Plex for HTPC machines because Plex is actually a fork of KODI. I primarily use Plex as a backend instead of a frontend.

cconz 1 point 38 months ago

Is 16GB of RAM sufficient for an 18TB (original size) setup? I thought you need at least 1GB of RAM for TB of original storage?

Zenjiro submitter 2 points 38 months ago

That's a rule of thumb, and probably more directed at corporate users. Technically the usable space I have with this setup is around 11.4GB as a RAID-Z2 (RAID-6). I have not had any issues with performance, and at the time of this post I have been using it for close to 4 months.

JannesV 1 point 38 months ago

Would this CPU be powerful enough to run a plex server ? Probably in combination with SabNZBd and Sonarr.

Zenjiro submitter 2 points 38 months ago

I don't use this machine to run my Plex Server, so I have not tried. See the response to "lavjr" above.

JannesV 1 point 38 months ago

Oh thanks I must've missed it !

mrjefflewis 1 point 38 months ago

This guide is fantastic, thanks so much for making it. I'm thinking a lot about my own build using this. Question- you stated in your last paragraph that if you were to start over you would go with a bigger case. I've been looking at maybe a Fractal R4 but was curious if you came across some bigger cases that would fit this build well.

mrjefflewis 1 point 38 months ago

I guess to expand on what I want to do- I'd like to follow your advice here more or less, but upgrade the chip to a Xeon and the RAM to 32gb. I want to build an 18tb pool like you have done here, but I'd like to be able to be able to expand another pool of 6 drives in a few years if possible on the same server.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 38 months ago

You would need a case that can support 12 3.5" hard drive bays possibly in sets of 3, if you plan on using 3TB drives. Or just go with bigger density drives 4TB, 5TB, etc and you can go with less bays.

Also a case that can support something like this is ideally what I would have done differently since access to the drive is much more easier with this kind of setup.

To note you would have to ensure that the Motherboard and drives are also HotSwap capable if you want to replace the drive while the server is running. Otherwise you may still need to power off the machine to swap the drive but it will still be easier than using the small case I am using.

neryroger 1 point 34 months ago

Hey Zenjiro, just a question — For now, I just bought one WD Red 6TB… Is there a problem installing FreeNAS with this only disk? Should I wait to install when I get the other two extra disks? What do you recommend? Can you help me with this?

Thanks for your excellent guide and your patience! :)

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 34 months ago

FreeNAS is designed to be installed on a flash-based media such as a USB flash drive. If you install this on a 6TB drive then you will not be able to use it for storage. They will be adding a feature to install the OS across all your drives in the near future in FreeNAS 10 (I think).

cmcasanova 1 point 34 months ago

Just to add a note, the i3-4160 does NOT work with the e3c226d2l motherboard! Found this out the hard way... >:(

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 34 months ago

You might need to update the Motherboard before it will recognize it. I updated mine as soon as i booted it up to BIOS 3.3. Also that CPU is not listed on their page: http://www.asrockrack.com/general/productdetail.asp?Model=E3C226D2I#CPU

neryroger 1 point 31 months ago

Could you do a tutorial showing us how to install step-by-step? It would be very helpful for those who are getting issues on first steps... Thanks in advanced.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 31 months ago

Of the hardware or the OS Install? For OS install I just youtubed how to install to a USB Drive. Then it is just finding the IP address your DHCP server hands out and gets displayed onscreen, or the one you gave during its setup. After that everything is managed through the WebGUI.

neryroger 1 point 31 months ago

Could you share this link with us, please? Thanks buddy!

sc76 1 point 30 months ago

Thanks for postings this guide. Any thoughts on NAS using M.2 drives?

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 30 months ago

Using one for a caching drive or all the drives be M.2? Since M.2 uses PCIe lanes you will need to keep that in mind when looking for expansion cards and what system chips you are using.

sc76 1 point 30 months ago

All m.2. Isn't m.2 slot part of motherboard nowadays. Pardon my misunderstanding if any.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 30 months ago

I have only seen a maximum of 2 - 3 M.2 slots at a time on a motherboard. The one I just bought for my new gaming rig has 2, but only one uses PCIe lanes while the other uses up 3 SATAIII ports, as in those ports become disabled if used.

I have not seen any server grade board that supports ECC with M.2 yet, but that is because I have not looked.

nir.s 1 point 29 months ago

Thanks for the awesome guide. I'm new to FreeNAS and DIY NAS in general. My requirements for storage is not too large. Is it possible to leave out 2 drives in this list and setup the NAS box with 4 drives initially? I know FreeNAS needs a few parity drives so I'm not too sure.

Zenjiro submitter 1 point 29 months ago

Short answer: Yes

You just have to decide which RAID setup is best for you.

Note: Wattages are estimates only. Actual power draw may differ from listed values.
Component Estimated Wattage
Intel - Core i3-4130 3.4 GHz Dual-Core Processor 6W - 54W
Kingston - 8 GB (1 x 8 GB) DDR3-1600 Memory 9W
Kingston - 8 GB (1 x 8 GB) DDR3-1600 Memory 9W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Western Digital - Red 3 TB 3.5" 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive 3W - 15W
Total: 162W