FreeNAS i3 setup

Just finished building some new hardware to run FreeNAS 8.0. As there’s not a huge deal of info kicking around the internet about working hardware configurations I thought i’d post my experiences.

Last time I built a PC I almost built a NAS box at the same, but looking at the increase in cost of building a separate network attached PC and the decrease in performance from accessing storage via a LAN I decided to put a RAID array inside my PC instead. The RAID array (on-board Intel Matrix RAID from my motherboard) has served me well and seen me through 2 drive failures in the past 5 years without issue – fortunately the Western Digital Caviar RAID Edition drives I purchased come with a 5 year guarantee with Advance Replacement (Western Digital will ship the replacement drive within 3-5 days, without receiving the faulty one first as long as you provide credit card details). Luckily my Samsung Spinpoint boot disk has not failed thus far!

I recently upgraded my network to gigabit ethernet, so network attached storage now seems more viable, plus I have filled up the RAID storage on my PC (which is probably close to wearing out anyway and I don’t fancy having to find a compatible motherboard to get my data back out again)… ZFS seems to be all the rage these days, and so it seems like hardware RAID is redundant. Some forum research seemed to indicate that ZFS needs a reasonably powerful CPU and plenty of memory, which ruled out my hopes of building a low-power fanless Intel Atom system. Therefore I decided to go with an i3, and the Zotac H55 Mini-ITX motherboard as it has 6 SATA ports.

As for a case, I looked at a few options including the Fractal Design Array R2, the CFI A7979 and the Lian-Li PC-Q08, but in the end decided to go with the Chenbro ES34169.

I also managed to find a Transcend 2GB USB drive intended for industrial use which fits onto a standard motherboard 10-pin USB header to avoid having a USB thumb drive sticking out of the back of the case.

A review appeared to confirm that the ES34169 would work nicely with the Zotac motherboard and an i3. When all the parts finally arrived and I built the system, unfortunately it would not boot. Some swapping of PSUs eventually confirmed that the Chenbro PSU was fine (it would boot a lower wattage system) as was the Zotac board, CPU and RAM (it would boot on another PSU), so the only conclusion was that 120W was not enough for the system.

Fortunately, Kustom PCs were very understanding and shipped me a 180W ES34069 (which has an external power brick) whilst I shipped the 120W ES34069 (which has an internal open-frame PSU, and is not available in a 180W version) back to them.

I had already purchased a low-height CPU cooler after reading the ES34169 review, and this fitted without issue. The only issue I did have building the case was that the SATA cables on the ES34069 were shorter than the ES34169 and two were not able to reach the SATA ports on the motherboard, so I had to replace these with some longer cables. After building the system, initially two of the HDDs did not register with the BIOS. These were the two bays I had switched cables for so I assumed there was an issue with the cables, however after ejecting and re-inserting the HDD caddies the drives appeared.

The ES34069 looks good, the translucent front allows the blinkenlights inside to be visible, which include a power and activity light on each individual disk caddy, somehow magically driven through the backplane (I had always assumed these would need a proprietary connection to a RAID controller).

On booting FreeNAS from a USB stick I initially had an issue with the system hanging whilst trying to load the network card driver, which seems to be a problem with the i386 BSD driver, however it works fine with the amd64 build (which is required for 64 bit support anyway).

So, I can confirm without further ado that the following setup works with FreeNAS 8:

The Transcend USB drive actually took a little while longer to arrive (as had to order it in specially), so I initially installed FreeNAS onto a USB thumb drive and later transferred it to the Transcend USB drive with dd.

FreeNAS seems pretty easy to use so far. FreeNAS 8.0 is a complete rewrite so unfortunately it only supports basic storage/sharing at the moment, however many more features are on the way in 8.1. Now to copy my data on and start using FreeNAS!


  1. James
    Posted May 31, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Just the information I was looking for. I know FreeNas does not run on any hardware, so I was looking for recent builds. Thanks!

  2. Tony Dew
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I’m looking at building almost EXACTLY this for myself. How has yours panned out? What kind of read / write speeds you getting? Anything you’d change if you were going to do it again?

  3. James Furness
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I’m very happy with the setup, no issues. Would probably go for more RAM in retrospect though, have since seen some guides recommending 8Gb.

    Never got round to benchmarking – partly due to time, also partly because I know I can’t change anything without having to spend more! Did spend a bit of time playing around with jumbo frames and buffer sizes to try and increase the transfer rates over gigabit as I think that’s where the major bottleneck is, on the charts the CPU seems barely utilised.

  4. Sergey
    Posted October 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Please take a look at SMART, which drives the temperature in continuous operation for read / write.

  5. Brent
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    I noticed that this board does not have onboard video but yet the ZOTAC H55ITX-A-E has a DVI and 1 HDMI
    how is the video processed ?

    I’m interested in purchasing either of these boards for a FreeNAS build

    MSI 870A-G54 AM3
    MSI 870A-G46 AM3

    but… they say they don’t have onbord graphics so do I need to buy a graphics card?


  6. James Furness
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Yep the Zotac has a DVI out which works as long as the CPU has integrated graphics:

    Without graphics support you would have to either run headless or perhaps you could use the serial port as a TTY, you’d have to ask on the FreeNAS forums as i’ve got no idea if either is possible:

  7. Brent
    Posted June 7, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh so the processor does the graphics work interesting…

    Well the boards I found are AMD based systems, I guess I need to find a AMD
    processors that has integrated graphics…


  8. Slaytanic
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Hi James, what do you think about the following setup, it should work with FreeNas, right?

    – ZOTAC Motherboard H55-ITX WiFi socket LGA 1156 chipset Intel H55 Mini-ITX
    – 2 x KINGSTON Memoria Dimm ValueRam 4 Gb ddr3 1333 Mhz Non-ECC CL9
    – INTEL Processore Core i3 560 (Clarkdale) Dual Core 3,33 Ghz socket LGA 1156 32 Nm Chipset Grafico Integrato Boxato
    – SILVERSTONE Case Lascala LC17 HTPC Desktop ATX Nero (
    – 3 x SEAGATE Barracuda 7200.12 2 Tb Sata 600 Buffer 64 Mb 7200 Rpm
    – power-supply, usb drive for OS, additional stuff

  9. James Furness
    Posted July 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Can’t vouch for any setups working other than my own, but the spec looks similar so hopefully you should be alright!

One Trackback

  1. […] part of my FreeNAS 8 build, I purchased a Transcend 2GB USB drive which fits onto a standard motherboard 10-pin USB header […]