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Here's what FreeNAS network storage is and what it can do for you

Commercial products aren't always the best option, sometimes free and open-source alternatives offer just as much (if not more) than paid counterparts. FreeNAS is a platform for setting up Network Attached Storage without forking out countless pennies on smart drives and cloud services. We'll run you through exactly what FreeNAS is, what one can do with it and why you may want to consider deploying it.

What is FreeNAS

FreeNAS

FreeNAS is essentially an open-source platform built atop of Linux. This operating system can be installed on a PC with adequate components, but it can pretty much work with most modern PCs due to reasonable requirements (you just need more than 8GB of RAM and storage). The main advantage of installing FreeNAS on a machine you wish to connect to a home (or office) network and share files is it has pretty much everything you need to get started.

The OS also makes full use of ZFS, an open-source file system, RAID controller, and volume manager in one. It's a flexible solution that ensures data is protected, which is ideal for sensitive information, personal media, and system backups. It's possible to deploy FreeNAS as simple home file storage and work in features like FTP and secured external access so you can access files when not on the local network.

Interestingly, FreeNAS doesn't necessarily need to be installed on hardware and can work perfectly fine within a virtual machine like VirtualBox, so long as you have a powerful enough machine to handle it. When it comes to connected clients, Windows is supported by FreeNAS, alongside Linux distributions and even Mac OS, which is ideal in a world where consumers own devices running a different OS.

Here are the minimum requirements:

  • Multicore 64-bit processor.
  • 8GB Boot Drive (SSD recommended)
  • 8GB RAM
  • HDD for storage
  • Network port

Should you have a machine available that meets the above requirements, it's really easy to get setup and ready to go. Once everything is installed, there's even a handy web interface that can be used to alter settings and manage the OS.

Plug into your life

FreeNAS Plugins

FreeNAS is much more than a simple file storage solution, even though it's perfectly fine to use it for exactly that. The OS can handle torrent downloads, Plex, and more to transform any device into a connected hub for clients to stream data and media from. It's based on FreeBSD, an incredibly secure platform, though the developers do recommend utilizing a solid firewall and other protective measures to keep the network secured.

It's worth noting that you may wish to bump up the components inside your FreeNAS machine if you plan to turn it into a media hub for live streaming and high bitrate viewing. Here's a list of plug-ins that are available for FreeNAS:

  • Bacula
  • BitTorrent
  • Couchpotato
  • Crashplan
  • Gamez
  • HTPC-Manager
  • Marachino
  • MiniDLNA
  • Mylar
  • Owncloud
  • Plex
  • SABnzbd
  • Sick Beard
  • Transmission

There are even more with the ability to create your own should you have the skill and knowledge to do so.

Download FreeNAS

Rich Edmonds
Rich Edmonds

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

12 Comments
  • Anyone know if Sonarr is supported?
  • A quick search found this: https://forums.sonarr.tv/t/sonarr-on-freenas-instructions/2939 So I'd say, yes, you can install it on a FreeNAS system.
  • Excellent! :) I do recommend Sonarr to everyone that is interested in TV by the way. Since Sickbeard died... Sonarr has grown into a great service.
  • Perhaps I missed something, but I didn't see much in the article telling me why I might want to consider using it. The normal NAS stuff is there, but I am really wondering why this vs QNAP, Synology etc. It seems that once you get the hardware the cost is about the same. If you reuse old hardware then there is a cost savings, but then it is older hardware.
  • I wonder the same thing.  I reached the end of the article and felt like it was lacking.
  • You'll need ECC RAM and a supporting CPU in order to get the necessary and advertisied reliability of the system.
    Something you'll most likely NOT have lying around as old hardware.
  • Wow,, the hardware requirements sure went way up since I last set one of these up. Not sure why 8GB is required to serve files to what will amount to a tiny handful of users and devices in the average home.
  • In general, if you're looking for a NAS to serve files, you don't need that much RAM.  The RAM is there to help cache files that need to be written to disk, to prevent a bottleneck at that point.  Although RAM can help with read-caching, it's typically not as critical. Still, I wouldn't want to set up a system with 1 or 2GB of RAM, and then complain about performance issues.
  • Not sure how many open source NAS setups are out there but there are quite a few to choose from OpenNAS, NAS4Free, openfiler, Rockstor, Amahi, OpenMediaVault and others. Making things more complicated is that some of the NAS hardware vendors support running a couple of these on their hardware. Basically once you figure out what you need you can determine what to spend. An old computer with a couple of large hard drives and one of these open source packages can make a good starter NAS system.
  • I agree with DragonPoo that this article is seriously lacking. For one thing, FreeNAS is built off of FreeBSD, not Linux. As to the intense hardware (mostly RAM) requirements, a more detailed understanding/explanation of ZFS is necessary. None of the benefits of ZFS/FreeNAS are mentioned in the article, such as the ability to do N-way mirrors, software implementations of hardware RAID setups, datasets, shadow copies, etc, nor why these features can be helpful or essential components in a comprehensive backup strategy. I run a FreeNAS server precisely for N-way mirroring and maintaining shadow copies of my data. I use three 2TB drives in a three-way mirror and have separate datasets (with separate shadow copy settings) for documents, photos, movies, and music. I use the ZFS "exporting" feature to back up my data to an off-site ZFS system. If you have more questions about FreeNAS and ZFS, I would suggest doing more reading before going off on comments to the effect of "no file server needs this much RAM".
  • Mobile nations aren't really about "news", they're more about "writing just enough to attract people to their advertising". 
  • I just use a Raspberry PI as a NAS server. I even built the PI and the HDD into a CD-ROM case and added couple of buttons to it for shut down, power on and for two services to either start or stop. I even added two LED's, so that they turn on if the service is running.