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Build a NAS Device With an Old PC and Free

January 4, 2008
By Joseph Moran
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If you've ever considered purchasing a NAS (short for network-attached storage)

device to add storage to your home or small office network, you may have balked
due to the relatively high prices they can command. If you don't have hundreds of
dollars to spare on a commercial NAS product, but you do have an old or unused
PC lying around, you might consider pressing it into service as a NAS device.

If you have the time and are comfortable with basic network technology, one way to convert that spare
PC into a NAS server is with a free utility called FreeNAS. Like many commercial NAS products,
FreeNAS is built atop FreeBSD (a compact Unix-based operating system). FreeNAS offers pretty much
all the features common in a ready-made NAS device and then some, but best of all, it can run on pretty
modest hardware the main requirements are a system with a minimum of 96 MB of RAM, a bootable
CD/DVD drive, and, of course, at least one hard drive (external USB drives are also supported).
There are a few versions of FreeNAS available, but here we'll focus on the basic setup of the LiveCD
version. The nice thing about this version is that you don't need to permanently install it onto your
system. Instead, you can boot FreeNAS directly off of a CD or DVD it will run from a RAM drive
(using only around 32 MB of memory) and can save its configuration data to either a USB Flash drive or
even an old-school floppy disk.
To get FreeNAS, go here and download the most recent version listed under FreeNAS ISO (as of this
writing, it was version 0.686b2, dated 11-18-2007). After you've downloaded the approximately 44 MB
file, you'll need to create a bootable CD from the ISO image file (as opposed to simply burning the file to
a disc). Windows built-in burning tools won't do this for you, but pretty much any commercial burning
software such as Nero Burning ROM or Roxio Easy Media Creator will. (If you need it, ISO Recorder is
a free utility that works with XP and Vista you'll find it here.
Before loading FreeNAS, make sure your system's set to boot directly
from its CD or DVD drive. You can do that from the system BIOS,
which you can access by pressing a key when prompted usually
F2 or Del right after powering up the system. The exact menu
options will vary slightly by system or BIOS vendor, but you're looking
for settings that refer to boot order; when you find them, make sure
that CD/DVD or optical drive is listed as the first boot device. (If you
have any external drives you want to use with your FreeNAS system,
you can either connect them now or wait until later.)

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Installation and Network Configuration

After you've configured the system's boot order, insert a blank formatted floppy disk (or connect a Flash
drive), insert the FreeNAS CD and then reboot your system. FreeNAS will start loading and eventually
display a boot menu on a 5-second timer. Leave the default option selected, and within a few seconds a
splash page will appear. After a few more moments there will be high-pitched beep, which means

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Build a NAS Device With an Old PC an

FreeNAS is loaded and ready to configure.

After you hear that beep, press ESC to gain access to the Console setup menu. Select option 2, Set
LAN IP address, and you'll be prompted about using DHCP for IPv4 and then AutoConfiguration for IPv6.
Choose Y in both cases, and after a moment FreeNAS will display the addresses that have been
assigned for each. The IPv6 address isn't really important, unless you're running IPv6, but take note of
the address listed for IPv4 this is the address you'll use to access and configure your FreeNAS
You can test FreeNAS's network connectivity by returning to the setup menu and then selecting option
5, Ping host. Enter the address of your router, and if you get responses, you'll know your NAS
system's link is up. If so, point your browser to the FreeNAS system's IP address, enter admin as the
username and freenas as the password, and you'll be granted access to the configuration screen.
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Preparing Disks and Creating Shares

There are three basic steps to preparing a disk for use with FreeNAS:
identifying it, formatting it and mounting it. Start by going to the Disks
menu, selecting Management, and clicking the plus sign button.
From the Disk pull-down menu which will list all disks connected to
the system) select one that you want to use, click the Add button and
then click Apply changes.

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Now go to Disks|Format, select the disk you just added, and click the
Format Disk button. (As you'll be warned, this will erase the contents
of the disk.) Then go to Disks|Mount Point, click the plus button,
specify the drive, type a volume name into the Name field, then click
Add. Again, Finally, click the Add Changes when it appears.
Now we need to activate file services and set up a share. Head over to the Services menu and choose
CIFS/SMB (this is the protocol used by Windows Networking, a.k.a. Network Neighborhood/Places).
Put a check in the Enable box in the upper right and give your server a name in the NetBIOSName
field. (You can also change the Workgroup name from the default of WORKGROUP if you use
something else.)
Click the Save and Restart button, and then return to the top of the page and click the Shares tab. To
create a share, click the plus button, enter a share name and description into the Name and Comment
fields, respectively, then point to your newly created volume in the Path field (you can use the ellipse
button to browse for it). Click Add and then Apply changes, and you're done. You can make sure your
FreeNAS share is visible from an Windows system by or browsing for it within Network Places. (If your
system has a software firewall and you can't reach the FreeNAS system, you may need to configure it
to allow Windows File and Printer Sharing.)
Wait, There's More
We've only covered a basic configuration of FreeNAS here, but there's a lot more you can do with it. For
starters, you can use it to share out multiple drives, including CD or DVDs. Like most commercial NAS
products, FreeNAS will let you set up user accounts and rights, or you can have it authenticate users
from an existing Windows domain (2000/2003 Active Directory only). You can also enable other network
services including UPnP, FTP, NFS (for Linux), or AFP (for older Macs) and set up encrypted volumes
or one using (software-based) RAID 0, 1, or 5. For more information on these and other FreeNAS
features consult the product manual, which is surprisingly useful (it's available in PDF format from the
download page).
Using FreeNAS to build your own NAS server won't necessarily make sense for everyone. As you can
see, it requires a bit more configuration effort than a commercial NAS product, so you have to have the
time and inclination to play with it and tweak it to your needs. It's also worth nothing that since a PCs is
usually much larger than a typical NAS device, it may be harder to tuck a FreeNAS system away
somewhere if space is tight. Also, that any PC-based NAS is likely to be nosier and consume more
power than than a ready-made NAS (worth keeping in mind considering your NAS device will probably
need to run 24/7).
But if you've got more time, space, and equipment than you do cash, FreeNAS is an excellent way to
set up effective and inexpensive network storage.
Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a
freelance product reviewer. He's also work ed in technology public relations and as a corporate IT
manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla.
He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).

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14 Comments (click to add your com m ent)



Build a NAS Device With an Old PC an

By anonymous November 5 2009 8:03 AMPDT

nas information is good

Reply to this comment

By Brian November 17 2009 9:23 PMPDT

Thank you for the report... good to know about homemade NAS
Reply to this comment

By IT Mark March 31 2010 12:10 AMPDT

Can you provide another free NAS product other than FreeNAS and Openfiler? I need the one is
allowed to develop one more function mail services.
Reply to this comment

Reply by Bob April 26 2010 7:43 PMPDT

You can use any Linux distribution. I use Ubuntu now and have used Fedora before. Add
Samba for file sharing, or NFS, and a mail server program like Dovecot. But be warned, it
takes a lot of work to set up properly.

By Larry Huang May 1 2010 1:37 PMPDT

I am come from a business family and I am also a business road side salesman in many years
ago. I meet the computer task and start begin to study the world language since 2006 and begin
my first time to surf the internet since from the middle of 2007 But really have so many thing or
task too bother at me even is very steal my importances away and so I am still too late myself can
not catch up with my team. I am just for the money problem too waste me too much. how can I?
just encourage myself hope sometime or someday I am really can sweat it out.
Reply to this comment

Reply by Roadside Romeo May 8 2010 10:40 AMPDT

??? What the heck is this ???

Reply by MS May 29 2010 7:46 AMPDT

He sounds like someone who does not speak english as his native language, but the whole
post is nonsensical and completely unrelated to the article.

By Raj May 6 2010 8:37 PMPDT

Excellent article. This can save couple of 100s of bucks. But can you please tell me what will be
the speed. Is it similar to an external disk, or slower than that?
Reply to this comment

By Dan June 7 2010 2:46 PMPDT

Could you elaborate how one extend an old PC to add 4 sata hard drives?
i'd like to build my own NAS out of an old PC but am not sure about the hardware extensions
Reply to this comment

Reply by Nick August 23 2010 3:48 PMPDT

Dan, if you want to extend your NAS to include more hard drives, you should get a controller
card. The majority of them use PCI, PCI-X, and PCI Express (and up), so it depends on how
old you're talkin.
You can get them with internal connectors, external connectors, or both.
I hope this helps!



Build a NAS Device With an Old PC an

By George Kirk June 9 2010 9:22 PMPDT

A NAS built out of a PC will be considerably faster than any of the consumer-grade NAS devices
(eg: D-Link DNS-321 or 323) because it will have more memory, processing power and throughput.
I get about 20Mb/sec tops out of my DNS-321 on a gigabit network, but between my Windows
machines I'm getting over 170 Mb/sec xfer rates. I'm going to start using the DNS-321 as a backup
for the NAS I build using FreeNAS. Hope this helps.
Reply to this comment

By kanav July 27 2010 1:29 AMPDT

hi.. would like to know if i installeld scsi pci card on a older pc to support scsi hdds, would the
server os recognise and use the scsi drives installed on this system??
Reply to this comment

By gogojuice September 20 2010 4:14 PMPDT

would like to know how to access the drives to put files on them or to access to read from
networked computer..
Reply to this comment

By Krishna October 7 2010 2:38 AMPDT

Hi, I have an old system containing only IDE connectors for harddrives, is there a PCI slot provision
for adding SATA cables( since i have SATA harddrives and no IDE)
Reply to this comment

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