Building a Home FreeNAS Server - Hardware Upgrade

Submitted by nigel on Wednesday 7th November 2018
A Late 2018 Upgrade
FreNAS Server

Since I built my FreeNAS server six years ago I have come to utterly depend up it. All the media I have resides on it (I won't use the cloud!!). I can access the server from everywhere in my apartment. My Plex server uses it. My Android TV device uses it. I have a dedicated HiFi laptop that streams FLAC files to my TEAC DAC. It is absolutely crucial to my life. 

My hardware was initially from 2007 although in the intervening years I did upgrade it to a new motherboard albeit that too was secondhand. The chassis was the same and the power supply was the same. It has become unreliable over the years and needs a reboot about once a week. The console messages are suggesting that power is the issue. Hardly surprising considering it is in a tower case from 2007 with minimal power. 

So the decision was made to upgrade the hardware to new products. Radical! But since I depend upon it so much, it must have good hardware. My disks are still on 30% capacity so there is no urgency to upgrade those - thankfully - since a weakness of FreeNAS is it is seriously difficult to add new drives. 

So let's have a look at my (sometimes strange) hardware decisions!

Motherboard
motherboard

I decided upon using an 8th generation Intel chip, and wanted a socket LGA 1151 as a consequence. Ideally I was going to go for a Supermicro dedicated server motherboard. However my enthusiasm was somewhat tempered when I couldn't find a new board under £200. That quite frankly was too much for my budget. If this was a commercial machine, I would have spent the money, but since this is a hobby machine I can't really justify the expense. So I decided upon a gaming motherboard instead that was a fraction of the price. It had the prerequisite 4 SATA connections and a capacity of 32GB RAM - just what I wanted. 

RAM
RAM

Whilst I wanted my motherboard to have a capacity of 32GB, I was only ready to buy 16GB this time around. I was looking for one stick, DDR4 2400MHz. The Corsair chip above came in marginally cheaper than its competitors so got the nod. 

CPU
CPU

I wanted an 8th generation Coffee Lake Intel chip, and the i3 8100 is a tremendous compromise between performance and cost. It offers 3.6 GHz yet costs only just above a £100 which is fantastic value. 

Chassis
Chassis

Ok so mea culpa. I decided to have some fun with the chassis and I got a gaming chassis complete with multiple fans and neon lighting. It can even be used as the base of a water cooled rig! The capacity for 3.5" drives is a stupendous 10 drives however so this case should stand me in great stead for the next decade regardless of how many additional drives I need to purchase. The model is the Cooler Master Mastercase MC500M and is considered a mini tower yet weighs a ton and has an enormous footprint. 

I lucked out with this case. I got it 30% cheaper than list price because it had been returned by a previous purchaser to Amazon with all the original packaging intact and totally unopened. Bargain. 

Of course both this chassis and the motherboard could be repurposed as the backbone of a gaming machine at a later date if I want to go for  a more orthodox server architecture. 

PSU
PSU

I used an online power requirement calculator which suggested I was going to need 300-350 watts. I elected to give myself a little more headroom and went for the Corsair VS450 450W. It was a good price and quiet too. 

Fans
Fans

Yes so I wanted my FreeNAS server to be the most fun serious server, and I bought three Corsair CO-9050024-WW Air Series SP140 LED 140mm fans. I am not going to add this frippery to the bill of materials below. 

Boot Drive
Boot drive

Since I built the FreeNAS back in 2012, I've been booting it with a USB stick. This is in fact the orthodox way - the loader contains the FreeNAS system which is hosted on a bootable freebsd image. However in latter times it has become more normal to use a small SSD drive instead. The only corruptions I've had on my system have been in the loader rather than the data volumes, and of course a sticking out USB drive can easily be knocked and broken. SSDs on the other hand are considerably more durable, and of course quicker although since the drives are only used in the boot process, that isn't significant. 

Thankfully I had a 64GB SSD which I bought in 2011 and had never used. It was in its original box waiting for a home theatre project to come along. Home theatre PCs are now obsolete since the advent of systems such as Kodi and Plex. Time to use my SSD! 

Bill of Materials
Motherboard GIGABYTE H310M S2H £53.48
Chassis Cooler Master Mastercase MC500M £103.83
RAM Corsair CMK16GX4M1A2400C16 DDR4 16GB 2400MHz £118.97
CPU Intel i3 8100 Coffee Lake £129.95
PSU Corsair VS450 450 W Active PFC 80 PLUS £40.50
Fans Corsair CO-9050024-WW Air Series SP140 LED 140mm fans x 3 n/a
Boot Drive SanDisk SSD 64GB £0
  TOTAL £446.63

Of course I can't guarantee you'll get the same deals I got, but the pricing should at least be indicative.

The Build
build

Ok so 3 out of 10 for cable management. This was a large case and a small micro ATX motherboard, and as a consequence practically all of the cables were too short to use the correct cable management channels and features built into the case. I could have bought a bunch of extension cables - but that would have taken more time and probably extended the costs substantially. 

BIOS
CPU Speed
Boot order

Once the build was complete the machine can be spun up. The first image shows rather skewed representation of the CPU temperature - the case is open, the fans are spinning and the CPU is doing nothing!

The second image shows the boot order and we can see that the first choice will be the SSD drive (actually manufactured by Hitachi and not SanDisk). The second option is actually a spare USB memory stick I used to store the screenshot. The third is the first volume in the FreeNAS RAID - but that can't be booted. 

Software upgrade too!
GUI

I used the opportunity to upgrade FreeNAS from 9.10-STABLE to 11.2-STABLE during the process. This is one of the major attractions of FreeNAS - the software upgrade process is simplicity. Providing your config has been saved somewhere, you can trash your old USB FreeNAS knowing full well you just have to download the latest version of FreeNAS, install it, then import the saved config and you are good to go! Furthermore when I was moving my old drives to my new machine I didn't have to make a note of which disk goes in which SATA drive. FreeNAS sorts all this out for you.

If you are still using the cloud to save all your personal media - think again. There are so many compelling reasons the cloud is a BAD PLACE. Either buy a NAS or build a FreeNAS! 

blog terms
Freenas Hardware