How To Build Your Own NAS From Scratch (With Parts List!)

Oct 1, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

How To Build Your Own NAS From Scratch (With Parts List!)

Oct 1, 2016

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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DIY Build Your Own NAS

Computers and data storage are almost as important to photographers and cinematographers as cameras. If you’re serious about keeping all of your photos and videos safe and secure in one place – sooner or later you will want a network attached storage solution (NAS).

There are many commercially available NAS options, but with a little elbow grease you can also build your own high performance NAS from scratch and save money – continue reading to learn how!

The following article has been re-published with permission from Chicago based photographer and film maker Gabi Bucataru. Gabi’s work can be licensed through his portfolio at Stocksy United.

The Gabstor

So, what do you do when your storage bursts at the seams with your ever growing photo, audio and video library? You could do of course several things beside drink and forget. One of them is falling for a dedicated NAS (Network Attached Storage) as I did about 1 year ago which works just fine, if you have nothing to do with your cash. Second is to actually build yourself a storage that will overshadow any consumer dedicated NAS systems in speed performance, storage, price and plain fun.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

I bought my 27″ iMac (made mid 2010) right after Apple announced Thunderbolt. Looks like I always have that luck, thinking that I am getting the greatest and latest, only to discover the next day that the world moved on. No complaints, it’s a great machine, really. It runs daVinci Resolve just fine with 1080p 24 fps ProRes 422 HQ footage (176 Mbps at 1080p24) at real time pulled off my current Synology DS214+ via a gigabit connection, with read speeds averaging 110 MB/s. Which is really what’s expected from a gigabit connection (theoretically we should be getting 1gigabit/8bits = 125MB/sec).

So, considering with my limited iMac connection ports USB2.0/firewire800/gigabitLAN, the LAN is at this point the fastest one.

For a dedicated video editing environment, a NAS (Network Attached Storage) connected via a 1gigabit is usually a no-no and should be avoided if possible due to it’s limited 125MB/sec bandwidth. A Direct Attached Storage (DAS) via a Thunderbolt connection (10Gb/sec speeds) would be ideal. Or if you can wing it, getting 10 gigabit network cards on your NAS and computer (and switch of course).

But again, my only option was to only use my existent 1 gigabit network connection. You might be a little more luckier.

DIY Build Your Own NAS

BUY OR BUILD?

As I mentioned, I currently own a 2-bay Synology with 2x 3Tb drives in a Synology Hybrid RAID, totaling 3Tb capacity (with data protection of 1 disk fault-tolerance). All good, except that it runs at 91% capacity with my ever-growing photo and video library. So I thought of just buying a 5-bay expansion unit that connects via an eSATA connector. Problem solved, right?

Well, not really. The RAID configuration would not extend to the expansion storage so the unit will end up just to be a pricey way of just make more room.

I tripped over numerous Youtube videos detailing how to build your own NAS server even from an old computer you might have laying around (like the folks at Tek Syndicate NASFeratu). All this at ridiculous small prices.

It started becoming more obvious that you can build a system that’s much cheaper, more performant and ultimately more fun than actually invest cash in a dedicated NAS out there. And it’s really not that intimidating as it looks. You simply need to know how to match the components features and have some basic knowledge of computer hardware.

DIY Build Your Own NAS

THE GABSTOR

So I thought of a system that would serve me well, pulling as much as I can out of this aging iMac with it’s connection port limitations. In the mean time I thought that if I’m already building a pretty performant NAS media server, I might as well plan on use it as a Direct Attached Storage (DAS) though a Thunderbolt connection, in which case it’ll be lightning fast (pun intended). My main inspiration was the NASFeratu which the folks from Tek Syndicate built beginning of 2014 and use that as a starting blueprint for my build.

Everyone, please welcome… The GABSTOR!

I started with the Fractal Node 304 case for housing, having a mini ATX form factor, and great airflow (two smaller fans in the front and one bigger in the rear). Noise is a big factor in these builds (with 5 HDD) and as mentioned by others who are using this case, it’s pretty minimal considering all the fans and spinning going on. The HDDs are sitting on rubber grommets, efficiently isolating them from transmitting the whirring noise to the chassis.

To make easier for you, I documented my build so you don’t have to spend time on matching processor sockets with motherboards, cases, PSU wattage, etc.

DIY Build Your Own NAS

FREENAS

Free what? Every computer needs an operating system. The GABSTOR being just that, needs one also. Luckily, there’s an amazingly stable and able operating system out there called freeNAS, which will fulfill all your NAS interfacing needs (like creating datasets, UNIX, Windows or Apple shares, setting permissions, end so on). And yes, it is FREE, and backed up by an amazingly helpful community, on which I depended like water for all the quirks I encountered along the way installing freeNAS.

I installed version 9.10 using two USB sticks. One on which I created an image of the download (becoming the installation USB) and one on which the installed freeNAS OS lives. Took me a while to figure out the steps but it’s primarily:

1. Download the current stable release of FreeNAS (.iso)
2. Prepare the installation USB by burning the downloaded .iso file
3. Boot your freeNAS from this USB and install it to the secondary USB

Detailed process to prepare the installation USB in the freeNAS 9.10 documentation here.

I have to mention here that I ran into some trouble by initially installing version 10 ALPHA of freeNAS. That was a no no, since it’s still in development. So I installing version 9.10 (stable) I had trouble crating a RAIDz2 volume since the manager got confused seeing some remnant signs of the initial freeNAS 10 installation. I ended up re-installing freeNAS 9.10 on a brand new USB drive and that did the trick.
The lesson here is no NEVER install a version that’s in development.

PERFORMANCE

So, I ended up reading up quite a bit about making this box as efficient as possible and pulling the most storage I could without sacrificing data integrity in case something fails. There are lots of talks about the RAID configurations one should use, so I won’t go into details here. I ended up going with a RAIDZ2 where I have 3 drives for storage and 2 for parity out of my 5 total. Plenty room.

And getting 110MB/sec read and 110MB/s read speeds is plenty for me to deal with ProRes 422 HQ in daVinci Resolve.

DiskSpeedTest
DiskSpeedTest

THE GABSTOR’S SPECS

Processor: Intel Core i3-4160 Haswell Dual-Core 3.6 GHz
RAM: 16Gb
Storage: 9Tb (RAIDz2 double-parity configuration)
Enclosure form factor: Mini-ITX
PSI power: 500W

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core i3-4160 3.6GHz Dual-Core Processor $117.99
Thermal Paste Arctic Silver 5 High-Density Polysynthetic Silver 3.5g $8.49
Motherboard ASRock H97M-ITX/AC Mini ITX LGA1150 Motherboard $93.44
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory $76.20
Storage Western Digital Red 3TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $109.00
Storage Western Digital Red 3TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $109.00
Storage Western Digital Red 3TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $109.00
Storage Western Digital Red 3TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $109.00
Storage Western Digital Red 3TB 3.5″ 5400RPM Internal Hard Drive $109.00
Case Fractal Design Node 304 Mini ITX Tower Case $89.99
Power Supply Corsair Builder 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply $49.99
Other 5x SATA III 6Gb/s Data Cable,Red $8.99
Other 2x 10ft. 24AWG Snagless Cat 6 Network lan Cable $9.79
Other Intel PRO/1000 Pt Dual Port Server Adapter $39.89
Other 2x Sandisk Cruzer Fit 16GB USB Flash Pen Drive $13.96
Total $1053.73

Have You Built Your Own NAS?

Have you built your own NAS? How did it go?

What would you change or do differently from this build?

Would you only trust a commercially available NAS solution?

Leave a comment below and let us know!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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22 responses to “How To Build Your Own NAS From Scratch (With Parts List!)”

  1. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    Yup! xD
    Not that I need to say it since a post of mine already showed up here… :P

    But to keep things simple for other people reading, I built a NAS with Amahi, then with FreeNAS (using an old desktop PC) and ended up with a Synology DS214play.

    How to decide what’s best for you? Here’s the basics: for backup purposes only, going the FreeNAS/Amahi route will probably be enough and not all that complicated. Do note the parts where JP talks about community dependance and troubleshooting… might not happen to you if you’re lucky, but it also happened to me. It was a while ago, but I also had to go through some rounds of troubleshooting and learning to make it work properly. It wasn’t a setup and start using thing, but it wasn’t like going into Linux command line typing cryptic stuff too… for the basics.

    If you want any other more complex app and/or service, and have no technical ability and knowledge on the area, I’d just advise going for the commercial solutions, which is what I personally did. Examples: running a personal mail server, hosting webpages, connecting your NAS easily to cloud services, making your NAS content available on the Internet outside the local network, streaming content, etc. That is to say, even FreeNAS and Amahi have several apps that does things like that, but configuration and troubleshooting can become way waaay harder. Again, unless you manage to get lucky and get everything working without much configuration.

    Amahi in particular was made to deliver packaged apps via a store application much like commercial solutions… but the catch is that while Amahi is free, some of it’s apps are not. FreeNAS is completely free if I’m not mistaken, but it’s a bit harder to deal with.

    To be honest, things have changed from the time I tried those… which was a couple of years ago I think. But they probably changed on both sides: FreeNAS and Amahi are probably more advanced and easier to install nowadays, but so are commercial NASs. I was just looking at some models from another company few days ago… QNAP.

    While Synology goes more towards a mini server configuration with tons of stuff aimed towards server type applications, QNAP seems to be looking more into building a full HTPC solution for home users, even including a remote control in their latest solution:
    https://www.qnap.com/en/product/model.php?II=239&ref=product_overview

    Things are going in an interesting direction, and I think it has to do with the switch from HDDs to SSDs that some very big companies (like Samsung) are predicting to happen in a huge part of the market. The idea is that a vast majority of common users will have desktops, laptops and tables with only a reasonably sized SSD in it, and users in other areas that needs bigger storage will migrate towards a strategy of using external devices.

  2. Melbar Avatar
    Melbar

    yep why not building a second small system that holds the data.. why a NAS?

    i build an FTP system in a small case that holds 4×4 TB harddisks and it did not cost me much more than a qnap NAS.

    i have a full second PC and all the functionality of a NAS.

    to be honest i never got the why NAS are so attractive to some.
    expecially when it´s DIY anyway…..

    1. TheInconvenientRuth Avatar
      TheInconvenientRuth

      Hol up, I’m a bit of a computer n00b, so you’re syaing I could use an old PC to do the same thing by adding the right drives and some other bobs? I have an AMD3.0 Quadcore with 8GB of ram sitting around gathering dust, if I bought the correct drives and controller it could work?

      1. Melbar Avatar
        Melbar

        sure

    2. rozbujnik Avatar
      rozbujnik

      It is all about form factor and power draw. My NAS drive is small nearly noisless and according to my power meter it consumes about 8W of energy (if that is possible).
      I assume that you have a PC, so most probably your power supply unit is 200W, etc etc.

      NASes are small and sexy.

  3. Step Fuchsi Avatar
    Step Fuchsi

    I would choose raid 5 12tb Storage.

  4. Gordon Monk Avatar
    Gordon Monk

    Fit a UPS – I lost my first NAS unit because the power went out when the NAS was writing. They’re cheaper than new drives!! I got one of these cheapies – it provides enough time to shut everything down safely or for the power to come back on if it’s just a glitch https://www.amazon.co.uk/APC-Back-UPS-400-Uninterruptible-protected/dp/B000GL19BW/ref=sr_1_2?s=computers&ie=UTF8&qid=1475350074&sr=1-2&keywords=ups+power+supply

  5. Mike McIntire Avatar
    Mike McIntire

    Good luck with FreeNAS. I tried it for some time and gave up on it. I just ended up buying a raid5 enclosure to plug in directly to my machine. Windows 10 Storage Spaces also work well and seems so far, to be more reliable. Maybe FreeNAS has made improvements in the last year though.

    1. Arnold Avatar
      Arnold

      or maybe you are just not very tech savy….?!

      1. Mike McIntire Avatar
        Mike McIntire

        LOL, not the case. I assure you. I’m just saying I found it more simple to build up a large array of storage directly attached and share it for my portable devices.

        1. Charles Avatar
          Charles

          I’ve found Windows Storage Spaces to be lacking in the performance department. Quicker than a NAS, but losing so much direct attached storage performance for no apparent reason.

    2. larry randle Avatar
      larry randle

      the problem i had with freenas is that they recommend using a usb stick for the boot drive. i used a new stick and it lasted a few months before it failed. thus far i have not been able to recover the volumes on the raid 0 drives. google it and you will find this is a common problem. i switched to arch linux with a more conventional file system and again raid 0. boot drive is a hard disk. using smb (samba) protocol it serves linux, windows and mac clients. however, setting up the samba config file is a bit of a challenge. another problem with freenas is that their file system is overly complex and requires a lot of memory.

      1. Mike McIntire Avatar
        Mike McIntire

        I’ll probably get roasted for this, but I found windows storage spaces to be the right solution for me since this post. Easy to maintain and expand. Also benefits from an OS that can do other tasks for me off my main machine like converting all my raw files to dng, etc.

      2. siklopz Avatar
        siklopz

        the reason that file system, ZFS, requires a lot of memory, is that it’s “self-healing”. it keeps track of bit rot by constantly checking your data against a backup, and replacing damaged data. that means, ideally, that none of your data will be lost or corrupted over time. that’s why ZFS has long been the choice of cloud and server administrators. i guess it just depends how important the integrity of your data is to you.

  6. Greg Avatar
    Greg

    There’s no USB 3 cards available for the enlightened Mac platform? That would be 640 MBps.

  7. ramin Avatar
    ramin

    Several years ago I bought a HP ProLiant N40l microserver in which I put a 256GB drive in the optical drive enclosure for the OS (Openmediavault) and the 4 drives in the main drive bays for mirrored RAID datastorage of images, media vault (mp3s, movies etc) and time machine backups. It was quite simple to set up and works well enough with every device in the house – especially after adding plex to the openmediavault packages to better stream stuff to different devices.

  8. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    “theoretically we should be getting 1gigabit/8bits = 125MB/sec”; WRONG, there are 1 start bit and 1 stop bit in addition to the 8 data bits; therefore it’s really 1gb/10bits = 100 MBS..

  9. Sean Avatar
    Sean

    Don’t get it. If you want to build a NAS this is great. But for the cost in the article you can pick up a 5 bay Drobo and 5 drives for about $100 less and save the hassle…you don’t even need to use the same size drives with a Drobo.

  10. Shiharan Choudhury Avatar
    Shiharan Choudhury

    7200 RPM HDD would ensure better performance & data transfer response.

    1. Mark Woolfson Avatar
      Mark Woolfson

      …. at the expense of power consumption and general inefficiently relative to a NAS device’s usage. Since the drives are not used constantly, negligible performance gain with 7200 rpm drives would be achieved relative to write durations and/or cycles. A better investment would be an LSI adapter (eBay is your friend) put into IT mode as the dedicated write circuitry on the adapter improves write performance by 25% compared to the motherboard SATA ports – and with virtually no increase in power consumption.

  11. Patrick Mellin Avatar
    Patrick Mellin

    Would it be possible to add more drives if you added a PCI SATA controller card and a bigger case? Also, do all the drives have to be the same size or is there a configuration that will allow drives with different sizes?

  12. Dallas Watt Avatar
    Dallas Watt

    Hi JP, you mentioned that you were building this back then to be both a DAS and A NAS. how did using Thunderbolt for the DAS go?? Are you able to connect directly to the NAS and use the disk array as a DAS??