About a year ago, I published a series of blogs about building a DIY NAS (Network Attached Storage) which has been a pretty popular series of articles judging by the traffic it sees. Looking at my Google Analytics many of the search queries that drive traffic to my blogs seem to be from people who want to do something similar. Since my original articles are over a year old, I thought it would be a good subject for an additional article to write about building a NAS at the beginning of 2013.
So far, I couldn't be happier with my NAS. I use it primarily for the backups of all of our PCs. Additionally, I upgraded my computer at the end of 2012 and the NAS came in pretty handy there in holding backups and offloading nearly 2 terabytes worth media storage onto the NAS.
If a friend were building a NAS today, I would suggest very much that he go the same route that I went; to start with FreeNAS and then to either use spare PC parts lying around the house or to build a new PC using inexpensive, low-power parts and as many hard drives as he could afford. Assuming my friend didn't have a cache of spare PC parts like I seem to perpetually have, here's a summary of new parts that I'd suggest:
Motherboard & CPU
Motherboard wound up being the most difficult decision that I made last time, and this time was no different. The ideal motherboard is a unique creature something inexpensive, low-power, with gigabit Ethernet and as many SATA ports as possible. In my research, I found the ASUS C60M1-I AMD Fusion APU C-60 which features: a mini-ITX form factor, an integrated AMD dual core 1.0GHz processor, on board gigabit Ethernet and a whopping 6 SATA ports for a really reasonable price of $79.99.
Even if you have a ton of spare PC parts lying around, this may wind up being a better deal in the long run. The power-sipping features of the mini-ITX form factor mean your daily operational costs for running the NAS are going to be cheaper. In my original research, I determined that the amount of power the mini-ITX motherboard would save me over a traditional motherboard amounted to about $75.00 a year, which means combined the motherboard & CPU would nearly pay for itself in the first 12 months.
Running Total: $79.99
The hardware recommendations page for FreeNAS says that the best way to get the most out of your FreeNAS box is to give it as much RAM as you can. The motherboard I picked can support up to 8GB of RAM, so I went ahead and priced out the maximum amount of memory that the motherboard would support. A two piece set of the G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB DDR3 1066 F3-8500CL7D-8GBRL would wind up costing $51.95.
Update: It was pointed out to me in a Tweet that this motherboard will actually support up to 16 GB of RAM. For an additional $70 you can bring the system RAM up to 16GB. Seems like a very worthy upgrade to me. Thanks, @plgelinas!
Running Total: $131.94
In my original build, the case is something I splurged on buying, a nice Lian-Li micro-ATX case. The case looks great in my office and I'm pretty happy with it. But this time around, I wanted to try and build an inexpensive NAS to show how much prices have fallen in the past year. Since I only bought four drives last year, I reduced the number of bays in my search criteria. The COOLER MASTER Elite 120 matches the criteria (mini-ITX, at least 4 drive bays, inexpensive) very well at $49.99. This case doesn't come with a power supply, so I tacked on an additional $33.86 for a 250W mini-ITX power supply.
Running Total: $215.79
In a typical FreeNAS installation, the OS & FreeNAS is installed and configured on a separate drive than the actual storage drives for the NAS. The suggested drive for attaching FreeNAS is actually a USB drive. In my build, I wound up buying a USB header that I plugged right into the motherboard and then zip tied the thumb drive inside the case somewhere inconspicuous. I recently bought another USB storage device for holding my music library in the car and at it's size it's entirely unnecessary to install this in the case. It can plug right into one of the USB ports on the back of the computer without getting in the way. The SanDisk Cruzer Fit - 8GB is more than adequately sized to hold what's needed for FreeNAS and it only costs $7.99.
Running Total: $223.78
Here's the meat and potatoes of any NAS build. If I recall correctly, my drives accounted for around 66% of the cost of my entire build last time around. This time, that percentage went up, because I didn't splurge in some of the areas I splurged in for the last build. To reduce the impact of bad drives in particular batches, I wound up picking two of two different 3TB model drives:
Update: robvdl brings up a good point about the Western Digital drives in his comment below. I was previously unaware and researched a bit and have discovered this is an issue with WD Green and WD Black drives. However, I've been using two WD Green 2.0 TB drives in my FreeNAS box and haven't had any issues so far in the year that I've been using it. The Western Digital Red 3.0 TB - WD30EFRX carries a heftier price tag of $156.86 (an additional $26.87 per drive). Based off of my research, I would recommend finding a different drive than the WD Green or WD Black drives despite the fact I've been using them now for over a year without any issues.
Altogether, these four drives account for an additional $539.96. Each drive is in the ballpark of the prices that I spent last year, but comes with the added 1TB of additional space on each drive, for a total of 4 additional TBs. That's a pretty significant boost in storage compared to the NAS I built at the beginning of 2012.
Final Price: $763.74
In 2012, I paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $850-$900 for my FreeNAS machine. It wound up containing a total of 8TB of storage space. By juggling around the prices a little bit this year I was able to price out a fairly equivalent machine with an additional 50% of usable storage space for the NAS. Dropping this machine down to an 8TB FreeNAS would've brought the price down between $20-$30 per drive down to a very reasonable price range of $650 to $685. Because of FreeNAS and falling hardware prices, it's getting quite affordable to build a very functional NAS for your home storage needs.