Create your own network drive with FreeNAS

A NAS is a central file storage for all your computers in your (wireless or wired) home network. You can purchase a ready-made NAS, but in this article we will build one ourselves. For this we will work with the operating system FreeNAS, a discarded computer and one USB stick.


Tip 01: FreeNAS

NAS stands for 'Network Attached Storage'. In other words, an external hard drive connected directly to the network. A NAS gives the computer in your home network a central storage space. It is often also possible to access the files on the NAS via the internet. A NAS is available in stores ready-made, but we're going to build one ourselves with FreeNAS.

FreeNAS is a computer operating system based on FreeBSD: a kind of Linux, but different. Don't be put off by these terms. Although installing FreeNAS is difficult for beginners, we'll walk you through it as best we can. Next, FreeNAS can be fully operated and maintained via a web browser.

Tip 01 A 'real' NAS may be nice and compact, but functionally speaking, FreeNAS will do just as well for your old PC.

Tip 02: Old computer

In this article, we give our old computer a new lease of life as a NAS. Our test system once ran Windows Vista, has an AMD Athlon 64 X2 processor, 1 GB of RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. FreeNAS also works better with more memory! FreeNAS runs on a 32bit processor, but the 64bit version is better supported and has more plug-in capabilities. The SecurAble tool shows whether your old computer is capable of running the 64-bit version.

In principle, a bare computer case is sufficient, but a monitor and keyboard are useful during the first installation. FreeNAS is not installed on the hard drive in the computer, but runs from a USB stick. A 2 GB stick is sufficient. We make the preparations on our current computer with Windows 7. The FreeNAS USB stick is prepared on this. The FreeNAS system will be wired to the home network and will soon be accessible both wirelessly and wired.

Tip 02 Recycle your old hardware: turn your previous PC into a NAS.

To recycle

Green thinking and acting is popular. In this article, we recycle our old computer and repurpose the device as a NAS. Sound green? In any case, we save the purchase of a new product and therefore also a lot of energy: from production to transport from the other side of the world to your living room. Recycling old computers has one drawback: old hardware is often less energy efficient. You can, however, take energy-saving measures, such as using the storage drive's sleep mode.

Because laptops use less energy, an old laptop with FreeNAS is usually more energy efficient than an old desktop PC. So if you still have a laptop lying around, you can get started with it! Do switch off the display with the special Fn hotkey (varies by brand/type of laptop).

Tip 03: Download FreeNAS

Get FreeNAS via the blue Download button. When asked whether you want to subscribe to the newsletter, you can choose to enter your e-mail address or click on the button No thank you, let me download FreeNAS please. By default, the website offers a bootable CD (iso), but we need the download for the USB stick. It is important to scroll down and click on the image with the USB stick, only then will the version be prepared for USB! There is a 32 and 64 bit version of FreeNAS.

At the time of writing, FreeNAS 9.1.1 was the most recent version. The 64bit variant of this is called FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img.xz. The 32bit version is called FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x86.img.xz. The 64-bit version is preferred, but must be supported by your processor. We are using the 64bit version in the steps in this article. Create the folder on your desktop FreeNAS preparation and save the downloaded xz file in it.

Tip 03 Download FreeNAS for usb and save the xz file in its own folder on your desktop.

Tip 04: Extract image

The file we need to create the USB stick with FreeNAS is packed in the xz archive file. You need the 7-Zip program to extract the xz file. Download and install 7-Zip. Browse to the folder using Windows Explorer FreeNAS preparation on your desktop. Right click on the file FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img.xz and choose 7-Zip / Extract here.

The FreeNAS image file has an .img extension and is extracted into the folder. Our image file is called FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img. 7-Zip is no longer needed from now on. You may uninstall the program. The xz file can also go to the recycle bin.

Tip 04 Extract the xz archive file with 7-Zip.

FreeNAS without additional computer

Since FreeNAS is not installed on a hard drive and works from a USB stick, it may seem that you can experiment with this directly on your own computer: this is not correct! FreeNAS empties the hard disk (tip 11) and that is not desirable with your own computer! Don't have a second computer at your disposal? Then you can still experiment with FreeNAS on your own computer, but in a virtual environment. This can be done, for example, with VirtualBox.

Tip 05: Install on USB

Connect an empty USB stick of at least 2 GB to your computer. Check the drive letter via Home / Computer. On our test computer, the USB stick has the drive letter G. To get the image file FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img on the USB stick, you need the program Win32 Disk Imager.

Download this program, extract the download and run the program. Browse at Image file to the folder FreeNAS preparation and point the file FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img at. Choose at Device the drive letter of your USB stick and click write to create the USB stick. From now on you no longer need Win32 Disk Imager and the image file FreeNAS-9.1.1-RELEASE-x64.img.

Tip 05 Create the FreeNAS USB stick with Win32 Disk Imager.

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