The eTeknix Guide To Building Your Own NAS System For Under $220

by - 6 years ago

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Introduction


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There may be a lot of people like myself who have missed the “NAS bandwagon” and have made do with other fragmented storage solutions up until now: multiple storage drives on different devices (laptops, desktops, tablets, smartphones) with the gap being bridged between those multiple devices through space restricted cloud storage (Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive) or portable storage (flash drives, external hard drives, SD cards). However, there has to be an easier way to unify all your storage needs – and that’s what today is all about. Like many of our readers I am a technology enthusiast – I like to get hands on with things and do it myself rather than just buying pre-built solutions that often hold a significant price premium. Therefore, what better way than to get involved with the NAS (Network Attached Storage) craze than to build your own! Your own centralised cloud storage, fileserver, storage server, media centre or whatever else you want to do with it – how cool is that? And despite what people may tell you, or even what your own preconceptions are, building a NAS has never been easier. There’s a wealth of affordable hardware out there and more importantly an abundance of free software to help you configure your own NAS setup.

The aim of this guide is quite a simple one – to take you through my personal experiences with building a 6-Bay capable NAS within a strict budget of $220 using FreeNAS. Why $220? Well I wanted to build a 2 disk NAS box capable of streaming media and storing all of my files for the lowest cost possible, but I also want the scope to be able upgrade to 4-6 drives in the future. A quick search on somewhere like Newegg will show you that 4-Bay diskless NAS systems start from $300 and range all the way up to $700, so I wanted to better those NAS systems and do it at a lower cost. I am only a home user (like most of you will be) so I really do not need loads of advanced enterprise features and technologies – I just need a reasonably fast NAS server capable of meeting my storage and media needs. Enter today’s build which I believe meets all of those criteria at a hair under $220. This build was an interesting one as we independently chose all the parts for our NAS guide that we wanted to use and then went to the companies to see if they were interested in sponsoring our build guide. A few weeks of planning later and here we are – so a huge thank you goes out to AMD, ASRock, Kingston Technology, SilverStone Technology and Western Digital for providing the parts to our NAS build guide. At just $220 this diskless NAS has the potential to scale up to six hard drives and offers a variety of RAID configurations as well as support for on-chip transcoding. So without any further ado let’s introduce all the details of our $220 NAS system, we will start by analysing the parts we chose: how much they cost and why we chose them.

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Choosing The Parts & Part Pricing


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Our sponsors for this project were AMDASRockKingston TechnologySilverStone Technology and Western Digital. Between them they have provided us with all the components we need for our DIY NAS project. We will now go through each of the parts we have selected, explain why we’ve chosen them and what benefits they bring to the table.

The Case – SilverStone PS09-B – $40 (Newegg) | $37 (Amazon) | £35 (Amazon UK) | £30 (Scan Computers)

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The case is possibly the most crucial element to this build – it determines how many drives you can use, how big the rest of your components can be and how discrete your NAS build will be. We opted for SilverStone’s PS09-B chassis for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a micro-ATX chassis which means it offers support for the most cost-effective motherboard form factor on the market. Secondly, it has ample space for drives. There are five 3.5 inch bays, two 5.25 inch bays and a single 2.5 inch bay. In theory you could support 6 drives in the hard drive bays and further drives in the 5.25 inch bays. Some of the options for the 5.25 inch bays include three 3.5 inch drives, two 3.5 inch drives and two 2.5 inch drives, two 3.5 inch drives and four 2.5 inch drives or two 3.5 inch drives depending on the kind of adapters you use.  Our third reason for picking this case is the noise absorbing foam lining on the side panels. This is an essential feature for a NAS system that is likely to be on 24/7 – you will want minimal noise. At the incredibly attractive price point of $40 there is little else that can rival SilverStone’s PS09-B making it an ideal choice for a NAS build.

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Anyone looking for a larger capacity NAS-tailored case may also want to consider the SilverStone DS380. It offers eight hotswap 3.5 inch drive bays, mini-ITX motherboard support, three cooling fans and SFX power supply support. The mini-ITX motherboard may seem limiting but ASRock offer a 12 SATA Port mini-ITX Intel Avoton motherboard, the C2750D4I. You could also add a low profile SATA PCI Express add in card to a cheaper mini-ITX motherboard for a similar effect.

Power Supply – SilverStone ST40F-ES – $40 (Newegg) | $45 (Amazon) | £50 (Amazon UK) | £34 (Scan Computers)

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Any NAS system is going to have to run close to 24/7 to be useful – there’s no point in having a unified storage solution if it isn’t accessible by everyone all the time. 24/7 operation is going to require stable, reliable and efficient power so the PSU choice is crucial. There is absolutely no scope for cheaping out on an unbranded power supply – if you want your data to remain intact then you need to make sure it is protected. SilverStone’s ST40F-ES is an ideal choice as it offers efficiency, stablility and protection. The main reason we selected it is for the combination of its price point and features. This power supply costs just $40 yet has 80 Plus certification, active PFC, multiple protection circuitry and is rated for 24 hours of continuous power at 400W. Our NAS is unlikely to ever use more than 25-75W at any given time but this 400W SilverStone PSU was by far the best value for money – most 80 Plus 250 or 350W PSUs weren’t anywhere near as affordable and if they were they tended to be in the SFX form factor which is not useful when our case has standard ATX PSU mounting.

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Motherboard – ASRock FM2A55M-HD+ – $47 (Newegg) | $62 (Amazon) | £39 (Amazon UK) | £30 (Overclockers UK)

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Motherboard selection is hugely important to any NAS system because it determines how many storage drives you can run, how much RAM you can use and the speed of your network connection. This NAS system is a 6-Bay NAS primarily because it can support six SATA devices, the boot OS is a USB which leaves all six SATA ports for storage drives. More importantly this AMD A55 motherboard has support for RAID 0/1/10 whereas the equivalently priced Intel Chipset (H81) has no RAID support whatsoever – this is ideal for anyone who wants data redundancy from RAID 1. Additionally this motherboard has Gigabit ethernet which is important because the speed of data accessing will be limited by your network speed before your hard drive speed. This motherboard has six SATA II 3Gbps ports but the network connection is Gigabit (1Gbps) so there would be no advantage of going for a more expensive motherboard with SATA III ports. In terms of RAM this motherboard will support 32GB with two 16GB dimms, but we are using just a single 4GB DIMM.

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CPU & GPU – AMD A4-4000 (HD 7480D) – $45 (Newegg) | $45 (Amazon) | £30 (Amazon UK) | £27 (Scan Computers)

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A NAS system needs some processing power but broadly speaking all modern CPUs are overkill for small NAS systems designed for home use. As a result we went for the most affordable AMD APU on the FM2 socket to pair with our ASRock motherboard. The reason why we went for an APU and not a CPU is because graphics processing power is largely irrelevant so we didn’t want a discrete graphics card, however, we still need a display output so the integrated AMD HD 7480D graphics are perfect, not to mention they will consume less power than even a very basic discrete graphics card like a HD 5450 or GT 610. With two x86 Piledriver cores at 3.2 GHz the AMD A4-4000 is a powerful choice for our NAS. The TDP is 65W, which is actually quite high, but given the already high performance there is scope for underclocking and undervolting to find the best balance between performance and power consumption. For cooling we will simply be using the stock cooler as there is no need to spend money on extra cooling that isn’t needed.

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RAM – Kingston KVR16LN11/4 – $39 (SuperBiiz) | $43 (Amazon) | £32 (Amazon UK)

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RAM is very often the limiting factor to the performance of a NAS. In an ideal world you’d have as much RAM as your motherboard supports, especially when using the ZFS feature in FreeNAS, because RAM is important to caching data access which speeds up transfer times. However, we are on a budget so we’ve limited ourselves to 4GB. We chose Kingston’s KVR16LN11/4 module because it has a couple of key advantages: 1) it is low profile and 2) it is low power at just 1.35 volts. Of course the fact it can be had for as low as $39 is also a big plus for helping us stay within a tight budget. Users looking to access a higher level of performance should consider 8GB of RAM as a starting point, users looking for higher levels of data integrity should also consider getting ECC RAM.

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Boot Drive – Kingston DataTraveler SE9 8GB – $7 (Newegg) | $6 (Amazon) | £2.80 (Amazon UK) | £3.35 (Scan Computers)

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For our NAS build we will be using the popular FreeNAS operating system based on FreeBSD. FreeNAS is best run from a USB flash drive because it is a lightweight operating system and because running it from a USB drive means you can keep your hard drives free for purely storage and keep all your SATA ports freed up for storage drives. In theory you could use any number of USB flash drives for this but we opted for Kingston’s DataTraveler SE9 8GB version. Why? Well the first reason is that it is a capless drive so there are no parts to lose. Second, is that it has a metal shell which should aid with heat dissipation and finally it is a Kingston drive – from my personal experience Kingston USB flash drives have always been exceptionally reliable and robust.

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Hard Drives – Two Western Digital 2TB Red NAS – $110 each (Newegg) | $90 each (Amazon) | £72 each (Amazon UK) | £73.50 each (Scan Computers)

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The final component to choose for our NAS build was the hard drives. There are so many different hard drives to choose from – all the major hard drive brands have at least 3 or more different product lines. Of course we are looking for drives that are capable of operating 24/7 and are suitable for NAS systems, but we don’t want to pay the premium for enterprise hard drives. Thus the obvious choice of drive for this kind of scenario is Western Digital’s WD Red series. The WD Red series is optimised for NAS-like environments thanks to WD’s custom “NASware 2.0” firmware. The WD Red “NASware 2.0” package come with tested NAS compatibility for leading NAS systems and 24/7 operating reliability. Reliability is a key aspect because with each drive you add you add more vibration, noise and heat so the fact WD Red drives have higher tolerances to vibration, noise and heat is essential. Power consumption is also important – if your NAS is operating 24/7 you do not want your hard drives spinning at full speed when no data is being accessed – that’s where Western Digital’s Intellipower design helps minimise power consumption by reducing the drive’s power consumption through a combination of RPM, caching and transfer rate tweaks.

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So we’ve gone through all our components and we are left with two key figures: the price with drives and the price without. Without drives our 6-Bay NAS drive comes in at an impressive $218, this rises to $438 when we add two 2TB WD Red hard drives.

Price without drives: $215-220 | £155-175

Price with drives: $400-440 | £300-320

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Building The NAS


Putting together a DIY NAS isn’t really any different to a normal system build. This is because a DIY NAS is a basic computer system designed specifically for file storage and transfer functions. As such we started as you would start any PC system build: by fitting the power supply into the case with the fan facing downwards and we then followed this by installing the rear I/O shield.

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Next we installed the ASRock FM2A55M-HD+ motherboard with the AMD A4-4000 APU and Kingston 4GB DIMM attached. We installed the APU and memory while the motherboard was outside the case, we did not have to fit a backplate as we are using the stock AMD cooler to keep the cost down. If you were using a custom CPU cooler, such as a passive or low profile one, then you may be required to fit a backplate whilst the motherboard is outside of the case.

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Next we installed the stock AMD CPU cooler, this is fairly easy to do as you simply place it over the APU, align the two locking notches and then push the lever down to secure into place. We also installed the various motherboard power connectors and the CPU fan connector.

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Next we added the two Western Digital 2TB Red hard drives, we opted to space these our by just a single 3.5 inch bay to ensure improved airflow and less vibration transfer. You could spread the drives out even further but in our case the front intake fan is centrally located so we wanted to ensure adequate cooling. As we’ve already explained heat and vibration transfer shouldn’t be too much of an issue anyway because Western Digital’s Red series drives have unique firmware that minimises heat output, vibration output and ensures suitability for 24/7 operation. We also connected all the front panel headers and SATA cables at this stage.

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The completed system is far from a work of art. There is no cable management behind the motherboard tray, due to this being a compact budget micro-ATX case, and this results in a mess of cables being visible. You can stuff these cables into the drive bays and tie them down to clean things up a bit but the reality is you’ll only be able to keep things tidy by using a modular power supply with short cables and lots of cable ties, or by using a more expensive case with better management options. Cable management isn’t really essential though because there isn’t anything that runs particularly hot in this case and those cables are not obstructing airflow to the hard drives as the bulk of the cables are at the top of the case whereas the fan is in the middle.

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As you can see there is space for a further three 3.5 inch drives as well as a few more up at the top if you use some 5.25 inch to 3.5 inch bay adapters. The build only took 15 minutes because it is so simple to do, the hardest part was attaching the front panel connectors which you do not really need anyway – only the power button is essential and even this isn’t that important because once turned on you will likely have your NAS on 24/7, or if you put it to sleep frequently the waking mechanism of choice should be the Wake On LAN “magic packet” which does not require any physical interaction with the system.

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Installing The Operating System


We are choosing to use FreeNAS in our DIY NAS and the reasons for this are multiple. Firstly and most importantly FreeNAS is free which helps keep costs down allowing you to acquire better hardware for the same budget, instead of spending lots of money on an OS like Windows Server. Secondly, FreeNAS is incredibly compatible with a wide range of consumer hardware so is ideal for a DIY build where there are literally millions of possible hardware permutations you can choose from. Finally, FreeNAS is a well rounded NAS operating system with a complex and sophisticated range of features as well as great developer support and a huge community. To get started with FreeNAS you need to grab the latest USB image file from the downloads page here. I opted for the 64 bit FreeNAS USB image as the minimum requirement is 4GB of RAM which this system meets. Most users are also likely to upgrade from 4GB to 8GB or more RAM in the future so I definitely think 64 bit is the way to go in this instance.

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The next thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of Win32 Disk Imager from here and use it to write the USB image you downloaded from the step above. Ensure you extract the image file from its archive with something like WinRAR before you try and write the image file to your USB. Allow the program to write the image file to a blank USB stick, the program will notify you once the write procedure has been successfully completed.

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With your image file written to your USB drive all you need to do now is plug the USB flash drive into one of the rear USB 2.0 ports on your NAS motherboard and ensure the boot priority is correctly set. By correctly set I mean that the first device the system should try and boot from should be the USB drive and you should use a standard boot protocol (aka do not select UEFI boot mode). Once you’ve set the correct BIOS boot priority the operating system sets its self up on the server end (aka on the NAS), though you will have to wait about 3-5 minutes before the system gets running and online. On the first set-up you should ensure you have a mouse, keyboard, ethernet cable and display connected so can ensure the system sets up okay and check which IP address it has assigned the FreeNAS client to so you can access it via the Web GUI on another system (using a web browser and the IP address provided). Once your FreeNAS is online for the first time you will only have to take it offline to conduct hardware level maintenance so you’re unlikely to need the mouse, keyboard and display again. However, it is recommended that you wait until you have everything configured and set up how you want it before you stow away your file server in a cupboard or under a table because you may need the mouse, keyboard and display to troubleshoot or optimise certain things, such as power settings in the BIOS. Once you have chosen your default password on the initial FreeNAS setup you will greeted with a page that looks something like this.

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Configuring The NAS For Use


With your default administrator account and password set up you’ll want to setup the rest of the settings which are needed to use the operating system properly. The first of those are the global configuration settings found in the Network/Global Configuration area. The main settings you need to fill out are the IPv4 default gateway and the nameservers. Most routers will use 192.168.0.1 or 192.168.1.1 as the default gateway while your nameservers will vary depending on what DNS servers your ISP uses, or whether you use external nameservers like the ones offered by Google or OpenDNS.

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To easily access these settings you should use any Windows system on your network. From that system jump into the Windows Control panel, choose the network and internet tab and then check the properties of your local area connection. In the “Network Connection Details” tab it will detail your IPv4 default gateway and DNS servers which you should copy into your FreeNAS global settings.

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Next you’ll want to set up a volume from your disks where you can start storing data to. This is found under Storage/Volumes/View Volumes. From here you can create a volume using the ZFS Volume Manager option. We called our first volume “Primary”.

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Using the ZFS Volume Manager we would recommend that you simply name your volume, use all available disks and pick an appropriate volume layout. For more details on the ZFS volume manager and which volume to pick you can get further advice here. We recommend using either Stripe (RAID 0) or Mirror (RAID 1) for a two disk set-up like the one we are building. Stripe will give you maximum performance but no data redundancy, Mirror will give you slower performance but parity of your data across both disks in-case one fails. This is better for the user who is storing important files that cannot be lost. In our setup we used Mirror across our two 2TB WD Red drives as this NAS will be used to store important files such as work files, music recordings and family documents.

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With a volume created you now have accessible NAS storage available. However, you still need to set up a method of sharing this data storage to users of your local network. FreeNAS provides three options for data sharing: AFP shares, NFS shares and CIFS shares. These can be fund under the Sharing tab. CIFS shares is probably the sharing protocol most people will use as it supports Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and BSD devices so is a good all-rounder. To choose a sharing mechanism that best suits you the official guide will be useful, that can be found here.  Setting up a CIFS share is fairly easy if you make certain assumptions. For example I trust everyone on my local network so I have allowed guest access and chosen for my CIFS share to inherit permissions and owners from the volume. I have also made the share browsable on the network for easy movement of files, setting up your permissions is going to be key to mediating access to your storage.

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To more carefully allocate your permissions to your storage it is worth creating sub-volumes within your main storage volume. I created one specifically for downloads as this is one of many uses most people would use their NAS server for – a location to download things to such as torrents. Within this particular volume it is easiest to set the owner to nobody and nogroup and allocate all permissions to everyone. This means all guests on your local network can download and modify files in the downloads volume. Ensure you direct your CIFS share to the directory you want to share and then label it appropriately, in my case I have directed the CIFS share to the mnt/Primary/Downloads directory and called the CIFS Share “Downloads”. You can replicate the above process with multiple volumes for different things such as a music, films, documents, photos and so on. If you need to have your network storage secured more then you can set more advanced permissions. For example you may have a folder that you only want a few people to access (such as a folder for household financial information) so you might create a group (Adults) for that folder and allocate users (Mum and Dad) to that group. Or you might have a folder that you want people to be able to view files on only (except the administrator who puts those files on), this might include family photos.

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Up to this point I have covered how to set up your global network settings, create a volume and share these volumes with users on your network. Of course I have only skimmed through these processes in a very basic way because I am not an advanced FreeNAS user, I may revisit FreeNAS at a later date when I am more knowledgeable, but for now I am just guiding you through the basic processes that a new user will be going through. Once you have set up your volumes it is worth installing some plugins to more effectively use your NAS device. There is a wide range of plugins to choose from, as shown below. Most users will probably go for some form of download client (such as BtSync, CouchPotato, XDM, Transmission, etc) and a media playing client (miniDLNA, PlexMediaServer, etc).

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The first plugin you install will always take the longest. This is because it has to download and install the generic jail template for a plugin first. The overall process is very simple though and requires no user input other than for you to confirm that you want to install the plugin. Once the plugins are installed you can configure them through the plugins tab. You will need to turn their respective services on first before you can use them. For more details on plugins you can see here.

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You will also want to allocate storage to your plugins within the Jails tab, this is important because if you have a specific volume for Downloads (for example) then you will need to ensure that the Jail storage for your download client (such as Transmission) puts files into a storage folder available on your Downloads CIFS share that you created earlier. This would mean that downloaded files end up on accessible shared storage so you can easily access them once they have downloaded, whereas if you download them to the storage within the jail of that particular plugin then you’d need to create an additional share for the volume of the plugin jails…..and this can just get confusing as you’ll end up with way to many shares. To allocate plugin storage you go to the jails tab, select the jail of the chosen plugin, select add storage, choose the source as the folder where you’d like downloaded files to go and choose the destination as the folder within the plugin jail where files get downloaded to automatically. In most download clients you’ll save yourself a headache by just calling the default download folder in that plugin jail “downloads”.

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At the end of this brief configuration of FreeNAS I would like to make a note of a few things. Firstly, where I have not specified changing settings I have left things as defaults. In most cases you will want to do the same, the default settings are normally the best for basic users (like myself) and in the vast majority of cases they work best even if you have no idea why! Secondly, the official FreeNAS documentation is essential reading. Their documentation is extremely detailed and helpful and has saved my a$$ on numerous occasions so I really recommend keeping it at hand as you go through your configuration process, it will probably answer most, if not all, the questions you may have during configuration. Finally, this brief guide I have produced is just a distilled version of the processes I undertook: every user will be different and want different things and in that case the FreeNAS documentation is your friend (as well as Google!). In my case I’ve been more interested in having easily accessible network storage for all users to assist with downloads and media distribution such as streaming.

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BIOS Tweaking, Performance and Power Consumption


BIOS Tweaking

One of the advantages of a purpose-built NAS is that it is built from the ground up in terms of software and hardware to be a NAS. Conversely that means one of the weaknesses of a DIY NAS like this is that it isn’t entirely designed to be a NAS, as a result you need to make smart hardware and software decisions to make it a better NAS. Some of those will need to be made in the BIOS to ensure more efficient operation as power consumption is a vital aspect of any NAS system as they will likely be on close to 24/7. Some of the tweaks I made and you might consider making are:

  • Turning off Turbo Technology: turbo speeds are great for desktop PCs but in a NAS you will see little benefit from it other than higher power consumption and more heat. This is a setting to keep off unless you are really pushing your NAS with lots of disks and constant demanding use scenarios.
  • Lowering the CPU multiplier: by default this APU runs at 3.2GHz across two cores which is total overkill. I have lowered this to the minimum 14X multiplier or 1.4GHz, this is still way more CPU power than is needed for 2 disk NAS. If you were adding more disks you should consider running a higher clock speed because more disks require more processing power when being accessed.
  • Lowering the CPU voltage: even at stock speeds most CPUs have scope for reduced voltage, the A4-4000 has a 1.325-1.35 stock voltage, I lowered this to 1.1 volts and the system is still stable.
  • Lowering the GPU Frequency: the use for the GPU is purely for display purposes when setting up, once you’re managing your NAS by the WebGUI the GPU is redundant so forcing the lowest clock will ensure the lowest power consumption.
  • Setting silent fan profiles: Most NAS systems will produce minimal heat and require only minimal airflow to dissipate the heat from the hard drives. You also want it to be quiet so setting a silent fan profile is a great way to minimise noise and power consumption.
  • Fixing integrated graphics memory: by default the APU will use 512MB or more video memory, as we’ve mentioned already the GPU is barely used so you can comfortably set this to a lower setting (64/128/256MB) in order to free up more system memory for hard disk management.
  • Disabling unnecessary devices: the onboard audio, serial ports, TPM ports, parallel ports and front panel USB are all unnecessary so you can turn them off in the BIOS to save power.
  • S.M.A.R.T: Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology allows hard drives to report system health to the operating system, turning this on is useful as it allows you to manage your disks better. Generally speaking hard disks aren’t “smart” enough to tell you when they will fail, but the SMART indicators can give some early warning signs of potential failures.

Performance

The performance of a NAS is going to be variable depending on a lot of things, these include: whether you’re accessing from a wired or wireless device, what standards of connectivity those wired and wireless devices use, what size files you’re moving, whether you’re reading or writing and so on. For our tests we’ve tried to simplify things a bit and show some realistic scenarios. Firstly, we tested LAN Speed Test Lite using a 1000MB file which is written to the NAS storage from an Intel-Gigabit enabled Windows 7 PC, then read back once the write is complete. On the upload the speed was very impressive and at 770 Mbps or 96.25 MB/s, this is able to take advantage of the Gigabit controller the NAS provides. In my honest opinion 96.25MB/s is probably a hard drive related bottleneck. On the download we achieved quite a lot more with 876 mbps which is 109.5 MB/s. This is more likely to be a network controller limitation as most hard drives will do 120-140MB/s on the reads and I know a lot of Gigabit NICs top out at 850-900 mbps on this test based on my experiences with a lot of motherboards I have reviewed.

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Onto a more real world test and I tried moving a 2GB 1080p film from an Intel-Gigabit Windows 7 PC to the NAS, then read the same file back from the NAS to a different directory on the Windows 7 PC. This test gave similar results to the LAN Speed Test Lite benchmark revealing the read is a lot faster than the write at 111.1 MB/s (888.8 mbps) while the write sat at 89.6 MB/s (716.8 mbps). Again I believe the hard drive is the limiting factor on the write while the Gigabit ethernet limits the read. Either way though these are some seriously fast speeds but the obvious thing worth noting is to get these you’re going to need:

  • Gigabit Network Interface Controllers (NICs) in all sending/receiving clients to the NAS server
  • Cat 5e or Cat 6 Gigabit rated ethernet cables
  • Gigabit rated switches or routers connecting the client to the NAS server

Remember any network file transfer is only as fast as the slowest link in the chain, the important thing is to consider the pathways taken between the server (the DIY NAS) and the client (the system sending or receiving files from the server). WiFi transfers (such as to phones, tablets, laptops and so on) will be limited by the speed of the wireless adapter on those client devices, typically these will be 802.11 N so will be much slower than wired transfers.

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Power Consumption

Moving on to the power consumption and the results are fairly impressive, even when compared to dedicated NAS systems. Despite this being a fully fledged computer system we see just 39.5W with the NAS server in idle and always-on hard drives. You can set the hard drives to sleep on inactivity but this is known to reduce hard drive life-span so we’ve left them always on. Below you can see that the NAS box never really exceeded 50W under load which is fairly impressive. These tests were all performed from one client machine, if you added additional read and write tasks from additional clients you would probably be able to add more to the power consumption, but I think the take home message is that the system is incredibly power efficient. This is down to two main things:

  1. The quality and efficiency of the SilverStone power supply.
  2. The quality and efficiency of the Western Digital 2TB NAS drives which have specific power optimisations for NAS usage scenarios.

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Final Thoughts


Having taken you on a brief journey of building your own NAS I think there are a few crucial reflections I want to share with you, in case you need any more persuading or dissuading as to whether this might be right for you.

Firstly, I think it is fair to say that component selection is crucial to any DIY NAS build. Throughout my build process it has been evident that choosing quality components gives you a quality build. The quality SilverStone power supply has allowed for solid power consumption figures and the peace of mind of knowing I have all the relevant power circuitry protections if someone goes wrong. The sound-proofed SilverStone PS09B case has allowed the build to be quiet but also discrete, the only minor blemish on an otherwise excellent budget chassis is the lack of cable management options which could be achieved by getting a larger case or a modular power supply with shorter cables (such as SilverStone’s PP05-E short PSU cable set for their Strider Series PSUs). I think Western Digital’s Red drives are also stars of the show because they have offered up incredible performance, low power consumption and almost no noise whatsoever which is something that has surprised me having used my trusty (and noisy) Samsung F3s for the past 3-4 years. A lot of the aspects of the quality won’t become evident because a lot of the quality is related to what won’t happen (PSU explosions, rapid component failure, excess power consumption and heat) rather than what you will notice. In this regard I think it is important to be aware of the risks of “cheaping out” on things like hard drives, power supplies and so on.

Secondly, I think it is also fair to say that while a DIY NAS isn’t rocket science, it certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted. Setting up a DIY NAS with something like FreeNAS is a steep learning curve. There is a lot of technical jargon and technical hurdles to be overcome at all stages, in fact the system build is probably the easiest part: which may seem daunting. It is also an iterative process because a few weeks after having used your NAS there are things you want to change and optimise, new ways of configuring volumes, altering permissions, reducing power consumption and so on. I think this is part of the enthusiast experience that you’ll either love or hate – a DIY NAS build is unlikely to be a set-and-forget style build, you will be endlessly tweaking and tuning it as you learn new things. Anyone looking for something that simple and hassle-free is better off looking to pre-built and configured NAS systems like the Western Digital EX2 or EX4 NAS systems (reviews here and here respectively) that even come pre-fitted with hard drives so you pretty much just need to plug and play.

So there you have it: our fairly in-depth DIY NAS build guide for enthusiasts on a modest budget. We hope you have found this guide useful and if you do have any questions then please post them in the comments below. We welcome and encourage all feedback, comments and criticisms as well as suggestions for improvement in future NAS guides. We will likely revisit the DIY NAS idea at a later date so please stay tuned for that!

Thank you to AMDASRockKingston TechnologySilverStone Technology and Western Digital for providing the components to make this build guide possible. I’d also like to say a big thank you to those companies again for their patience in awaiting the completion of this guide as I have struggled on through my university degree finals!

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. Choosing The Parts & Part Pricing
  3. Building The NAS
  4. Installing The Operating System
  5. Configuring The NAS For Use
  6. BIOS Tweaking, Performance and Power Consumption
  7. Final Thoughts
  8. View All

Author Bio

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12 Comments on The eTeknix Guide To Building Your Own NAS System For Under $220

  • Avatar conservative61 says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is the purpose of a NAS? We use cable broadband with WIFI in the house; all or computers have SSDs and/or HDDs. It appears a NAS is basically a local cloud storage system. My wife and I have three desktops, two laptops, two tablets (with WIFI only), and one smartphone. So what advantages would a home NAS offer that the “old fashioned” way lacks? I’m just looking to increase my fund of knowledge and know this is a great place to do so.

    • Avatar AndyM says:

      The benefit of a NAS is always on connectivity so any computer can access the data.

      For example to get something from your main computer to another PC would require having your main computer on when the file is needed.

      A NAS is designed for 24/7 access so you don’t have to go and switch a specific PC on for say a single file. Also, a NAS can be set up for low power consumption (as in this article) so it doesn’t run up a big electric bill.
      Your typical PC will consume much more power as you wouldn’t throttle the CPU/GPU every time you boot up to share a file whereas a NAS would be set up for low power mode all the time.

      My main PC uses around 150w just idling due to the fact it has a GPU, multiple fans, sound card, usb devices and a dvd drive. A NAS will have unnecessary devices disabled to save even more power.

    • Avatar Ryan Martin says:

      Yes pretty much what Andy says below. It’s effectively a centralised form of storage that all computers can access, it doesn’t have to be “always on” but that’s normally the easiest way to make sure it is always accessible to everyone. The idea behind a NAS is that it is designed primarily for mediating access to storage but obviously there are a lot of things you can do with this storage. You can set up internet gateways so you can access it when you’re away from your home network, you could host a website off it, you could use it to stream music, films, TV shows, photos. You could use it as the destination for automated backups from your laptops/PCs in the house. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination really. In most cases people will just use it as somewhere to dump large files when their device is low on storage. E.g. I use a tablet with only 32GB of storage, really difficult for me to store films on it but it is really easy for me to stream films onto it from my NAS. Hope this helps.

  • Avatar conservative61 says:

    Thank you, Gentleman. That was very enlightening. I can easily see advantages over our current system. Especially when I offload picks from our cameras and must upload to five computers just so they’ll be available when/if necessary. I’ve owned computers since the old TRS-80 and Commodore days and have been building them since 1991, but I’ve still not joined the 21st century as far as ease and practicality of connectivity; I bought my first cell phone from Walmart last February for $15 and have used it once. But a NAS, thanks to you guys, is something I’d like to do so I’m off to do some research. A new project with lots of benefits.

  • Avatar josephbagadoughnutz says:

    hey yall, welcome to the new century !!!

  • Avatar josephbagadoughnutz says:

    hey, good one, $220, a NAS with no NAS

  • Avatar Steve says:

    Gents thanks for the great write-up. One question; what do you reckon, would the FM2A88M Extreme4+ mobo be a viable alternative to the one you recommended? My trouble is sourcing all of these from one (decent) place is nigh’ impossible in Australia, and the aforementioned mobo is available (altho it puts the price up a bit, there’s nothing in the price range of the other one)

    • Avatar Ryan Martin says:

      Still a good option Steve. It has Gigabit LAN and 8 SATA ports so there’s plenty of room for expansion, you can have up to 8 drives with it. Remember that you could go even cheaper if you wanted to, it all depends on how many drives you need, for example you could use an AM1 motherboard if you only want to use 2 drives as most AM1 boards still have gigabit LAN. Best of luck!

  • Avatar Dave Wold says:

    Hi i’m new at this where does the black cable from pso9b plug into the motherboard

  • Avatar Roger Griffith says:

    for even less – sleek media center and expandable NAS – works great, super fast on over-clocked raspberry pi b+ http://www.ebay.com/itm/xbmc-Portable-Media-Center-Expandable-NAS-/171709257100?

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