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FreeNAS FTW!!!

04-12-2012, 12:33 PM
This is not a spambot. I just completed building my FreeNAS box and had to share this with you all. I'm been on a quest to find a decent server or NAS with the right combination of cheap, low power, easy, fast, and flexible for probably 4 years now. I've tried almost everything. I've tried NAS enclosures, networkable USB hubs, fake file servers you name it. Up til now, the best solution was using a dirt cheap Acer Revo net-top with Windows 7 and butt load of usb external hard drives. But even then my transfer speed to the drives over my network was abismal. And I'm running gigabit 100% in my home.

Fast forward to last month. A co-worker pointed me to FreeNAS. It's an open source, 100% free, mega-power system that builds a NAS off any old hardware you have lying around. Think of is like converting an older computer into a glorified hardware NAS box. Instead of a small controller board in a dinky box, you are using the power of a PC motherboard, processor, and memory. Can you imagine if Western Digital used a dual core processor and 8GB of ram in their My Book Live? yeah. Not gonna happen.

Best parts. It boots from a thumb drive. Not a hard drive, a thumb drive. So you take up 0 space on your networked drive. It's hardware irrelevant. If you smoke the MB, just replace it. FreeNas doesn't care what brand you use. It's super low resource requirements mean nearly any old machine you have will suffice. I know guys running Pent 4's with spectacular results. It's technically software RAID, but in reality it's more like a gigantic purpose built hardware RAID. Only instead of a controller card, you have a CPU, MB, Mem, etc.

So my personal experience.

I have an eMachines EL1352G-41w. It's a compact format personal PC I was using as an HTPC. Nothing flashy, dual core AMD X2 220. 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive. So for kicks I decided to convert it to a FreeNAS box. Here's the best part, because it operates from a thumb drive, I was able to install it to the thumb drive without altering the Windows drive! I changed the BIOS boot order to boot to the thumb drive instead of the hard drive. Booted into FreeNAS and viola! It uses a Web interface from any other PC in your house. Set-up a windows share on the 500GB drive and within 15 minutes had a new shared drive on my network.

Bare in mind this was all a "test" run to see if I liked it. Read speeds from the drive were 30Mb/s. about the same as my current server. But write speeds were horrific. Literally like 200Kb/s. Not good. Did some digging and found out that FreeNAS doesn't like NTFS formatted drives. BUT, since it's a NAS, it doesn't need to be NTFS formatted. After advice from the FreeNAS community I re-formatted the 500GB drive to UFS. (Unix File System). Lightning struck and I ended up with 50MB/s sustained read AND write over my network. Holy COW! With my old server, I was lucky to get 5Mb/s writing to it. I was sold.

I have 5 1TB drives I use in various computers including my home server. I wanted to build a RAID 5 using all 5 together. Guess what, FreeNAS supports not only RAID 5, but RAID Z1. RAID Z1 is a much improved version of RAID 5. But my little eMachines box only has one drive bay. And it it only has 2 SATA ports. SO. Off to the store. I picked up a new cheap ASUS M5A78L-M Plus open box for $35, mainly cause it has 6 Sata ports on it. Got a new stupid cheap case that holds 6 internal drives for $20. (Side note, not a great choice cause the case SUCKS and i got cut 3 times working on it.) Picked up 8GB of the cheapest DDR3 RAM I could for $30. I needed a new powersupply because the eMachines only had 2 power outs, so I got a el cheapo 500W for $25. And finally because the eMachines is stupid, I had to buy a heat sink because the proprietary one won't work on my new board, $20. Grand total, $130.

Brought it all to the kitchen table. Gutted the eMachines of what I still could use. Installed the 5 1TB drives, hooked it all up and powered it up. Changed the BIOS to boot to thumb drive. And within 20 minutes I had a fully functioning RAID Z1 NAS on my network. Mounted the shared drive on my computer and time to play. I had previously backed up EVERYTHING I had on those 5 drives. Best test in the world to see what kind of speed I'd get is to move it all back on the NAS. 1.4 TB of stored data from my PC to the NAS. Remember on my old server that was 5MB/s write speed. No joke at that rate it would take 77 hours to copy everything back onto the drive. But I was getting 50MB/s with my test set-up. So if I'm lucky maybe 7-8 hours now. No. After I started the transfer, I was getting NO JOKE, 110MB/s. Write speed. Not read. Write. do the math. It took about 3 hours to transfer 1.4 TB of data. A 4GB video file transfers in less than a minute. Read speeds are identical. It's like the drive is literally connected directly to my computer. Delay is non-existent.

AND it's all in "RAID-5", so it's as secured as I need it for a home network. I can lose one drive and not suffer any data loss. And if I do lose a drive, I'll just power it down until I can get a replacement. AND since it's actually RAID Z1, I can replace the drive with a 2TB drive. Once all 5 drives are 2TB instead of 1TB, it will automatically size the array up to fit the new larger space.

And here's the deal sealer. Since I don't really need a dual core 2.8GHZ processor to run this, I underclocked it and under volted the CPU. I figure (if my math is right) I dropped a 65W power draw to around 23W. So the thing doesn't even get hot. If I add the hard drives in and some misc losses in the system, I figure I'm running about 150 Watts. Now, time to compare. My old server ran about 30Watts by itself. But I had 2 external enclosures attached each with a little power puck adapter. I believe they each drew about 60-80 Watts, but I'll check later. So grand total I was looking at running 150-200Watts before. I'm suspect it might have even been higher as those power adapters are notoriously inefficient. They might have been 1A units, which meant closer to 110Watts each.

Bottom line of this hugely long novel? I LOVE this thing. I was prepared to spend $300 or more ($500 for a good one) for a NAS to replace my arrangement. Now, for $130 (and only because I had to get some space parts) I have something that is even better than what I would have gotten for $300. My co-worker (the one that told me about FreeNAS) chose to buy a Netgear ReadyNAS instead for $200. And while it's a decent package, it only holds 4 drives max and he is constantly complaining about how slow it is. And he is 100% gigabit also. He's talking speeds around the 10-12MB/s.

I won't post a link, but you can find it by doing a web search for FreeNAS.

04-23-2012, 07:40 AM
bumped. just to try to bury some spam on this thread. Sorry.

04-23-2012, 08:01 AM
Surprised it took you that long to find it as FreeNAs is specifically mentioned in the wikipedia article that explains NAS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network-attached_storage)

04-23-2012, 08:44 AM
I discovered another very low power solution the other day using my WDTV Live with a powered USB hub. See WDTV Live - Media Player and also a NAS device (http://www.highdefinitionblog.com/?p=594) for some detail.

Don't know about the speed though. It works fine for my video storage and it was pretty much plug and play.

04-23-2012, 11:00 AM
Surprised it took you that long to find it as FreeNAs is specifically mentioned in the wikipedia article that explains NAS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network-attached_storage)

Well to be honest, I knew what a NAS was so I never bothered to look it up on Wikipedia. I suppose I could have just searched for an open source NAS, but in the back of my mind I always saw server style NAS as a cost prohibitive solution so I never bothered. In fact I still wouldn't know about it unless my friend mentioned it.

I'm still waiting/hoping for the multi-media side of the NAS to become functional, they pulled it out when they bumped to 8.0 and are just now trying to put it all back in. But so far, the system is working like a dream. I still have to use the media server I was before as a head to the NAS. Instead of using USB drives I have the NAS attached as a network drive. But I had to fool Windows into accepting the network attached drives into the library which was a challenge, but I got that done and now it reads fine.

04-23-2012, 11:13 AM
I discovered another very low power solution the other day using my WDTV Live with a powered USB hub. See WDTV Live - Media Player and also a NAS device (http://www.highdefinitionblog.com/?p=594) for some detail.

Don't know about the speed though. It works fine for my video storage and it was pretty much plug and play.

The main difference I wanted was that I use my NAS to stream to a PS3, and I've never found an out of the box media server solution that does that right. I use my storage as a central server to all my PCs for files and 3 PS3s for media. I don't use an HTPC at each TV, that's where the PS3 comes in. Windows Media Center is the best solution I've found so far because the PS3 plays well when you share the media from it. I haven't tried the lates WD stuff, but I read a couple issue with the WD and PS3 that kept me away.

The other MAJOR benefit to me on this set-up is the ability to RAID drives and have a level of in-line data security. I know it's not a 100% solution for a corporate world, but I can lose a drive in my array and not lose a bit of data. Just replace the drive and I'm good to go. So if I ever lose a drive, I'll shut it down until I get a replacement. That way I know all my videos and music and pictures are as secure as I need them to be in my arrangement.

OH, plus I can stream all my HD home videos from my camera. Once I pull them off and store them on the FreeNAS, I can stream them to any PS3 in the house without converting them.

AND I can expand the storage capacity without losing anything or having to copy files off and back on. Stuff like that.

05-04-2012, 10:34 AM
just a fwiw update. I found manufacturer specs on my drive. I have 3 that run at 8.4 watts under load and 2 that run 5.4 watts under load. Grand total is 36 watts under load. So 36 + 23 watts for my CPU, plus a little for the mother board (remember there are no peripherals on this machine, no cards, nothing. I'm figuring 60-70Watts under load, but closer to 50Watts in idle. The thing has no heat coming out of the case. And PSU is so under loaded that I doubt i'll ever have issues. Granted with efficiencies, the PSU is probably running at 70-75% efficient since it's so lightly loaded, so maybe at the outlet I'm seeing 80Watts.

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