NAS on an old PC

So having now got my new PC set up, the old one is to be converted into a NAS server to hold all the kids’ home videos, photos and all our other files that need sharing. (No, I’m not in the fiscal mood to go and buy a Microsoft Home Server.)

There seem to be a few different free or cheap options.

Requirements? Well the machine I’m looking at is an old P3-500 with 192Mb RAM (though I may be able to scrounge some more for it). RAID 1 would be nice (though I’m going to have to check my drive sizes), for some redundancy. Web interface definitely good. User-level permissions so the kids can’t accidentally delete my files.

FreeNAS appears to be very lightweight, and run well on old hardware. This review gives it a good rap, though the people who have commented on it give it mixed reviews. It’s still a beta product (quite possibly a perpetual beta), which makes me somewhat wary to entrusting my files to it. I tried it out. Despite its beta status and small volunteer dev team, it seems quite polished. Boots up fast, and bleeps when it’s ready, which is handy if sitting out of the way, not plugged into a monitor. Haven’t actually created any shares etc yet, but will keep playing.

OpenFiler seems to need more resources (256Mb, they say) and seems to boot a bit slower — about 90 seconds in my test on the old box — but appears to be more mature and fully-featured, with commercial support options behind it.

There are other cheap (but not free) options such as NASlite, though it’s a little hard to judge if it would work on my old hardware, and there doesn’t seem to be an evaluation copy available.

ClarkConnect comes in a freebie (community) version, and also has a whole bunch of other groupware features, as well as things like firewall and print services. Probably a bit over-the-top for my needs, though you can choose just to install the stuff you need. Print services might actually be quite handy.

And of course I could chuck on any Linux distro I chose and configure it with Samba (as per the APC Mag article last month that got me thinking about this). Which would mean I had a full Linux installation to muck about with when I wanted, and/or host dev tools like Apache and MySql on. Though it sounds too much like hard work to me, and it might be a strain on the old box.

What other options should I look at? Or should I just stick with FreeNAS, which appears to be the most promising so far?

One interesting comment I read: that for home use, old PCs (that may not have been designed with modern power conservation in mind) may suck down a lot more power than the average dedicated NAS device. Good point, hence I want a quick boot time so the box doesn’t need to be left running permanently.

Handy link: How to: Install FreeNAS

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1 thought on “NAS on an old PC

  1. Dave

    Daniel
    To me it seems fairly clear. FreeNAS is, well, free. It appears to work very nicely
    with your lowish ram number. The setup instructions seem fairly straight forward.
    And you have it running. What is there to change?

    You mention caution when entrusting your files to it. Fair enough. But why is
    that a significant problem? You do have a reliable backup process in place, right?

    Unless you wanna start sharing a printer from that PC. Or, as you say, start
    messing with other things like MySQL. In which case, I’d strongly suggest lots
    more RAM.

    A while ago, I played with a P600 doing something similar. But I managed to
    boost it to 768 Meg. With that amount of RAM, Windows XP ran OK as did a
    Linux distro with full GUI desktop – although both took a while to boot. That
    then allows for printer sharing, MySQL tools and so on… if, as you say, you
    can be bothered going that way.

    Dave

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