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Build Your Own Network-Attached Storage System

Nate Ralph | Oct. 18, 2011
With cheap storage readily available, the temptation to build vast libraries of music, movies, photos, and documents is ever present. But when each PC in your home is packed to its aluminum gills with gigabytes upon gigabytes of digital goods, managing all of that data can be a hassle.

With cheap storage readily available, the temptation to build vast libraries of music, movies, photos, and documents is ever present. But when each PC in your home is packed to its aluminum gills with gigabytes upon gigabytes of digital goods, managing all of that data can be a hassle.

Network-attached storage can make wrangling data much easier. Imagine a single machine on your network slinging files to every PC in your home, managing backups, and safeguarding all of your important memories or sensitive data.

Plenty of network-attached storage appliances on the market are ready and able to tackle your storage needs, but buying one can be an expensive option--particularly if you have only a few files that you want to share with a few machines. Things get even more problematic for those users who have terabytes upon terabytes of data: You can expect to pay dearly for a NAS that’s equipped to handle your digital hoard.

Fortunately, building your own NAS is simple. And doing so offers a lot of advantages over forking over your hard-earned cash--build your own, and you can dictate its size, feature set, and storage capacity, and change things on a whim.

Choosing the Software

A wide variety of operating-system options are available for setting up your own NAS. Many popular Linux distributions offer a server-oriented variant, with instructions on getting your file server up and running. But we’re going to keep things simple and go with FreeNAS.

FreeNAS is a popular choice, as it’s fairly easy to configure once all of the hardware is in place. You can download the latest version from the FreeNAS website. Burn the .iso file you download onto a CD or DVD; in Windows 7, just right-click the file and select Burn disc image. For other versions of Windows, you can use the free ImgBurn utility.

Choosing the Hardware

Now that you have a copy of FreeNAS, let’s talk hardware. FreeNAS will run on just about anything, so an old PC you’re not using anymore will work just fine. For optimal performance, you’ll want to have at least 4GB of RAM.

For my FreeNAS build, I pulled a few spare parts together. My NAS centers on a Gigabyte E350N motherboard, equipped with an AMD E-350 processor. I picked this motherboard because it's small, it draws little power, and it can fit into small spaces, yet it offers four SATA ports for my hard drives. When choosing a system (or building your own), make sure that the motherboard has room to support all of the drives you want to use for storage.

I collected three spare 1TB drives for storage, plus a spare DVD drive to handle the installation. When FreeNAS is installed, it takes over the entire drive you install it on. To keep all of the storage drives available, I also grabbed a 2GB USB key, to host the the operating system.

 

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