Build NAS for Mac Machines Using PC Components & Running FreeNAS

Discussion in 'Mac Accessories' started by SharkGirl, Jan 16, 2014.

  1. SharkGirl macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA
    I'm looking to build an NAS and am waffling about whether to go the Power Mac G4 route or the old PC bits route. I have an early 2008 MacBook Pro running 10.8.5 and an early 2011 MacBook Pro running 10.9.1, plus iPad and iPhone. This is what I want the NAS to do:

    1. Wireless, scheduled backups (I forget to to do them manually)
    2. Create bootable backups (so I need to use something like Carbon Copy Cloner rather than Time Machine)
    3. Store media I don't keep on my internal drives (TV, movies, music, photos)
    4. Act as a media server (so I can watch media on my HDTV via my PS3)

    Redundancy would be great, but I really don't want/need a RAID. My primary need is for a backup solution and I keep reading that RAID is not a backup. I can make additional backups of the really important files. I'd also like the ability to expand in the future, by adding drives and/or swapping in larger ones. So, I think I'd be good with JBOD rather than RAID.

    Cash is an issue, of course. I haven't found any pre-built NAS boxes that are highly-recommended in my price range, or much in any price range for that matter. Ideally, I'd like to start with 4TB of storage but not sure if I'll be able to swing it.

    On the G4 side- It's been years since I've worked with PCs so I'm more comfortable with Macs. Seems like File Sharing is a very easy way to go. However, Mac stuff is pricey and harder to find with fewer options. I don't have access to a PC to flash a SATA card or a monitor to set the system up...

    On the PC side- The components are SO much cheaper, easier to find, easier to replace in future, etc. I can probably find one that already has SATA ports on the motherboard, thus ruling out the need for a SATA card. FreeNAS is a very attractive option as it seems to have more versatility than File Sharing, but I've never used so I maybe I'm wrong. As long as I don't have to run Windows, I'll be ok.

    I'm also getting contradicting recommendations regarding going RAID vs JBOD. My budget is really limited right now, so maybe I start with JBOD and turn it into a RAID array down the road if needed?

    I'm not a computer idiot and I have a little home network, but I've never set up an NAS. I'd greatly appreciate feedback! So many variables...

    I started an earlier thread focusing on the G4/G5, which I haven't ruled out. I just felt like I should probably start a separate thread for a discussion including non-Power Mac options.

    If you want to contribute to that thread (and please do), you can find it here:

    Maybe this is less effective, but I'm trying to keep threads appropriate to topic.

    People are making good arguments for both options. The prebuilt HP ProLiant Microserver has been suggested as well. It looks like an easier and cleaner way to go. I just don't think I can afford to go that route at this point.

    I have enough knowledge to be dangerous, but not yet enough to feel confident in knowing what is best for my needs. I want the NAS to do the things I listed above. I want it to be reliable, effective, adjustable/expandable in the future, and cost effective.

    It doesn't have be lightening fast (though I'd prefer it, of course). It just needs to connect to my wireless router via ethernet so I can do everything over WiFi, and it CANNOT slow down my internet access. Most of my work is online so I need constant access.

    My original budget was $300 (the cost of the 2 TB Time Capsule), which now seems totally unrealistic. I could probably go up to $400 but that would be the absolute max I could manage, including cables, knick knacks, tax, whatever.

    Please help! (Now I feel like Leeloo from Fifth Element) Thanks!
  2. SharkGirl thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA
    Moving this response to the new thread...

    Why?? It'll run hotter and be noisier? The huge benefit of going this route is that I think I can actually afford it.

    Awesome and starting to make FreeNAS look better than OS X File Sharing.

    This means I need a monitor to set it up before I can run it headless? I'm guessing plugging it into an iMac or MBP won't work. I need a stand alone? Not sure I can get access to one... :(


    I definitely have a dormant geek inside. It's been focused on on other projects and hasn't tackled anything like this for a good long while. The really scary thing is that other one friend who lives nowhere nearby, I am tech support in my circle. I don't have access to real live geeks if I get into trouble. :p

    I like the idea of redundancy, it's the cost that is an issue. Even if I go cheap PC tower route, I don't know I can afford the extra disk. My other concern is that I've been told it is not easily upgraded or expanded in the future.

    Is this true with FreeNAS? My friend who uses unRAID gets around these limitations because of unRAID. With FreeNAS, can I set up JBOD now and then reformat to RAID down the road when I can afford to add another drive?

    Argh! Getting frustrated with my inability to commit to a solution and concerned about the physical build itself...
  3. micahgartman, Jan 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014

    micahgartman macrumors member


    Feb 22, 2005
    Houston, TX, USA
    Just out of curiosity (and my infernal nosiness), what's your budget for all of this?

    EDIT: Never mind—I just re-read you post. Do you happen to have a used computer shop in your area? It may be worth your while to shop for some surplus goods just to get your project going.
  4. snarfquest macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2013
    I've been a long time user of FreeNAS and find it to be a really great product.

    It is based on zfs and you can easily create AFP, SMB or NFS shares. It also supports timemachine natively, as well as being a iTunes and Windows Media server. So it can stream your media from a single source to both Apple and Windows devices. It can be your Timemachine destination as well.

    It's pretty easy to setup and their website has great walk throughs. It's managed via a web gui quite easily.

    You can also take all your drives and dump them into a zfs pool. If you have an SSD you can use that in the same pool as zfs cache or zil cache. zfs also gives you snapshots and you can define the snapshot schedule. Fantastic for point in time backups.
  5. SharkGirl, Jan 17, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2014

    SharkGirl thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA


    Wow. Great link!

    I'm now leaning back toward the PC route because everything is just so much cheaper and more available. It kinda makes me feel dirty but it's not like I'm going to run Windows, which is my actual issues with PCs. It would never be as pretty as using a Power Mac, but most of the motherboards already have SATA ports and if they don't have enough, the cards are so cheap.

    After a quick google/yelp search, I see there are some stores that seem to handle both Mac and PC. There is a large university about ~15 miles away, so that's probably why. It's probably a good idea, but I'm not really sure what to look for.

    I've gotto decide whether or not to go Mac or PC components for the NAS and commit. Right now I feel like I'm just floundering.

    Do you think my price range is totally unreasonable?
  6. SharkGirl thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA
    ZFS and Backups

    I've never used zfs and know nothing abut it other than it exists and is what FreeNAS is based on. I usually have a relatively short learning curve when it comes to apps and such. Is FreeNAS relatively easy to learn?

    I'm not planning on using Time Machine, unless I have enough space, because it doesn't create bootable backups. I'll likely go with Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Do you know if either of those will work?

    Do you have a suggestion on building the NAS with Mac vs PC components? As far as installing FreeNAS, I know it doesn't matter. I think...
  7. snarfquest macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2013
    For Freenas it doesn't matter. You make a bootable USB stick and the Freenas O/S exists on the USB. That way you get 100% usage of your disks for the NAS.

    I have no idea what your techie skill level is. So it is hard to say how hard or easy Freenas is. If you've got a PC or Mac that you're willing to totally erase and play around with, defiantly give Freenas a whirl. I think the hardest step for most is probably creating a bootable USB stick. The website has a very good walkthrough. However, basically the procedure is downloading their .ISO file and loading it up in Disk Utility and restoring the image to a USB stick. Then you take the USB stick to the machine you're turning into a Freenas box and boot from it. If it is a MAC press "option" if a PC then you may have to go into the BIOS and set it up to be able to boot from USB.

    Once booted from the USB you answer a few simple questions about networking to get the Freenas box on your network and from there you do everything else via a web browser. I find the whole thing remarkably simple. However, I'm a UNIX admin of 20+ years so a BSD based Freenas box is rather straight forward to me....

    Speaking to ZFS. Unlike MacZFS or some of the other ZFS products that have been trying to make a ZFS file system for OSX (ie Zevo) with varying degrees of success and trouble. FreeNas is built on a very new BSD kernel and the latest ZFS. It is very feature rich. The best part IMO is being able to create hybrid RAIDZ volume pools that also use a SSD drive as L2ARC cache and zil. This makes for some blazing speeds. In a lot of ways you gain the speed of SSD by using a smallish 80-120 SSD drive and then a bunch of cheep slow 5400 RPM SATA drives. Your frequently used data ends up on the SSD and when the volume is less busy it stages the data to the slower disks in the background. Also a RAIDZ pool is also fault tolerant. Assuming you have more then 1 physical disk drive. All data is protected from a disk failure. It is kinda like a RAID 5 but isn't. It is much more advanced.

    Freenas with ZFS also supports dedup and disk compression and of course snapshots. But I'm going to end this novel of a post here :)


    Oh I just noticed your old MAC is a Powermac G4.

    Freenas will require an Intel Based MAC or a PC.
  8. SharkGirl thread starter macrumors newbie

    Jan 14, 2014
    Los Angeles, CA
    Hard to say. I've always been good with computer stuff, but since switching back to Mac, I've had much less of a need to problem solve. Some things are intuitive for me and others aren't. I'm more comfortable with software than hardware nowadays because I've been using only laptops for years. So the build concerns me far more than learning FreeNAS.

    I have a PowerBook and an old iBook. Have to double-check specs, but I'm sure they are not Intel-based. Not willing to erase either MBP.

    Sounds super easy. Just made an OS 10.9.1 install USB stick last night. Y'know, just in case. While I like not having to store additional discs, I had an issue once 10.8 that could have been much more easily resolved if I had an bootable install.

    Some of this is over my head right now, but I'll get it. It's a matter of piecing together the random bits of info I'm gaining and filling the holes. Then I'll absorb it. Truthfully, this type of stuff I learn better by doing or via images. I have NO sense of direction at all. The only way I get around without google maps is by having a mad in my head that I can visualize. Similar idea.

    S'ok. Just met with my building manager to discuss borrowing his monitor for the FreeNAS setup when the time comes and things took a drastic turn. I knew he was geeky but hadn't realized he has shifted over mostly to Mac and built several machines.

    New plan. Gotta find the cheapest Mac Pro I can with a working motherboard, CPU, and PSU. Oh no. Does this mean I have to start a new thread?! :confused:

Share This Page