The Trip from FreeNAS to unRAID!



When I initially setup my PMS (Plex Media Server) I was an exclusive Windows user. I didn’t like Linux, I didn’t like the thought of any other OS hosting my home media server. (This was my first mistake)

I then upgraded from a relatively happy Windows 7 installation to Windows 10. Back in August 2015 iirc. (This was my second mistake)

The 3rd mistake was using FreeNAS. Yes, I’m well aware of the pro’s that FreeNAS brings to the table (and coming from me this will sound strange) but it’s OVERKILL! I love my data just as much as the next guy & I know that it truly does have a use case, it’s got an install base of millions upon millions. But for average Joe the IT guy, you really don’t need the incredible levels of protection that ZFS brings to the table 🙂 It’s an incredible OS but unless you know that you need it, you likely don’t.

My 4th and final mistake, sort of, was having two completely separate systems!! I mean, what waste of CPU?! At the time of this entire ordeal I had 2 SFF cases, a Fractal Design Node 304 (A very meh case IMO) & a Travla C158 (Yep! I’ve never heard of Travla either). Both rigs contained:

Node 304:

CPU – Intel i3 4170
Kingston 16GB DDR3 1600MHz ECC
Mobo –
AsrockRack E3C226D2I
Storage –
4x WD Red 3TB HDDs
be quiet! Pure Power L8 430w


CPU – Intel i3 4170
RAM – Kingston 8GB DDR3 1600MHz Non-ECC
Mobo – Gigabyte GA-B85N Phoenix
Storage – Kingston v300 60GB
PSU – AC/DC Power Brick to DC Power Board (80w)

So, if you’re clued up about your PC kit, you’ll have figured out that the Node 304 was running as my NAS. I’d loaded FreeNAS 9.3 onto it and I was quite unhappy with it. Primarily the poor performance. Once the LARC (RAM Cache) filled up (which didn’t take long) the write speeds plummeted, and carried on plummeting. I had my NAS setup with RAIDz2 I’d seen great performance with FreeNAS on forums so I was really looking forward to it! So I did spend a while (ish) on diagnosing, I applied some custom config from forums, I applied some ‘auto optimising’ settings hiding in the settings menus. But nothing got me close to saturating a 1gbps uplink, unfortunately. So after a lot of faffing I did eventutally give in, I continued using a sub-optimal NAS for months… Until I discovered unRAID!

I’m a very active watcher of LTT over on YouTube (because, who wants to pay for Vessel??) and when he uploaded his “2 Gamers 1 CPU” video, well let me put it this way – It was love at first sight! unRAID looked perfect. I was quite set on migrating over to unRAID from meer moments into that video.

I grabbed my Sandisk Cruzer Fit 16GB USB and went to the unRAID download page, first hiccup encountered :/ “Trial support for up to 3 drives only” … well great! I’ve got 4. *At the time of writing this Lime-Tech have changed their Trial policy to make it much better, supporting unlimited devices 🙂 * but at the time, I was pretty out of luck.

I then ran into my next hiccup, this time a much larger one! (With the trial, I could deal with 3 drives) but what I couldn’t deal with was the fact that I’d formatted all 4 HDDs as ZFS!!! Which isn’t exactly importable by unRAID. So I ended up, grabbing 3 external drives and a couple of USBs each with the same copies of my irreplaceable data. Thankfully I didn’t have too much data on my array at that point else I’d have been a bit screwed. I had everything split over a 2TB external HDD, a couple of 500GB HDDs and a handful of 64GB flash drives – Such fun!

I then went on to just purchase the basic version of unRAID, I didn’t want to mess with the trial just to buy it and add the 4th disk in. I wanted it to be perfect from the get go. I ended up formatting my array as btrfs with a single parity. Giving me 9TB of usable storage, a nice step-up from RAIDz2 which left me with 6TB (albeit that did have a fault tolerance of 2 drives) Even adding disks, which is a pretty normal task for a home-built NAS! was far superior to the circus act you need to perform with FreeNAS.

Now to be clear, I fully understood the workings of FreeNAS. I wasn’t just scared of it 😉 But it did far too much for my needs, it was overly complicated and was complete overkill.

Once that was done, I re-migrated all of my data back to my NAS, Raptor. Not the dinosaur, not the bird, but the NATO reporting name for my current favourite fast jet, the Lockheed Martin F-22. Let’s get back on topic though.

Well, that’s annoying, still not saturating a 1gbps link?? CPU usage still pretty much at idle?? Yep. Déjà vu, skip forward to now and there’s a feature known as “Turbo Write” which will not only allow you to saturate 1gbps fully… But fully saturate a 10gbps link! My understanding of its inner workings are lacking, but it works and that’s great. But instead of waiting over a year for that, I instead went out and bought a Kingston v300 120GB SSD, once I set that as my Cache drive, I had a 120GB ‘buffer’ of full 115MB/s writes to my NAS. YAY!

And that’s where I am now 🙂 Happily been running unRAID for over year, it’s a beautiful bit of software jam-packed with features and with wonderful community to help you out!

I dare go into more detail of the switch from 2 systems into 1 without spoiling an upcoming review of unRAID 😉 But it’ll be a good’n! Since doing all of this, I’ve performed a fair few upgrades to my lovely Raptor server.


Marcus, out.


7 thoughts on “The Trip from FreeNAS to unRAID!

  1. Dave

    I managed to get an Optiplex 990 (i7-2600 and 16GB RAM) off Craigslist for $85! I thought about it for a but and decided to try umRaid. And same story as yours, I had to store my data on multiple drives and flash drives while I checked all my drives for errors and set everything up. I’ve only had of for 2 weeks now but I love it!! Never going back to anything else!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Drake H Gould

    I know this is a older article, but I think this a a good one and will get people thinking.

    Now there are some issues that I think I should address, but FreeNas and Unraid both have the ability to run VM’s and Plug-ins like Plex. Though He was probably using a older version of FreeNas at the time, which I can’t comment on the feature set. I’ve only used Unraid in trial form, and like the author I didn’t get the write speeds I thought I should be getting. But I think it was a very friendly OS.

    Now I put together a more complex setup that was a bit more of a pain to get going. I run a new Ryzen system with ECC RAM, with ESXI as the OS. I then have FreeNAS along with other VM’s running on that. I have a LSI Raid Card in IT mode passed through to my FreeNAS VM, and 8 drives connected to that card. 4x5tb and 4x2tb. Each set of 4 is in a vDev raid5 style. The two vDev’s make up my pool. Read and Write is in the 300MB/s range after I got it all working, which took some time as my first raid card was defective. I also have a windows server VM with 2x8TB + 1x4TB mapped the raw drives to the VM in ESXI. So performance is decent. I run them in a Storage Space, and it is nothing more than a backup to my FreeNAS Array. As another layer of safety. I run Plex in a Ubuntu VM with a videocard passthrough to it as well. All together my combo works pretty well, but took a lot of time to setup. More time than I really wanted, and but I made it more complex than it needed. But I wanted a setup that I could easily transition to different hardware in the future without having to redo anything.

    My FreeNAS Speeds are great and I only have 8GB of ECC Ram dedicated to it so far until I can pick more up. As the rest of the ram I still need for other VM’s. The weakest Link in my config are the old 2tb drives i’m using. But I plan on swapping those out at some point to bigger and faster drives.

    Considering you have poor drive performance on both freenas and unraid, I think your drives are either the weak link or that you need a Raid Card flashed to an IT mode firmware for better performance. I used a Dell H310, Flashed to the IT LSI firmware it is able to run. As dell does nothing more than rebrand this LSI card as their own with a custom dell firmware. You shouldn’t have needed a SSD Cache disk to max out a 1gbps connection.

    My only issue is how Unraid will handle BitRot over time. This is the only reason I went FreeNas over unraid, as I know my long term data will be fine on FreeNAS and Bitrot won’t be a issue. Unraid is still new to the whole protect from bitrot, and will no doubt get better over the years. But BitRot protection doesn’t seem to be up to the same standard as freenas quite yet. As my Server is setup for long term storage.

    I still think Unraid is the way to go for the avg Joe that wants a easy to use system.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice comment!

      My system has seen a great deal of changes since writing this 😉 (some more exciting than others).

      FreeNAS offered really poor performance, my drives were (and still are) WD Reds, each drive can do 140MB/s reads & writes – more than enough to saturate gigabit LAN. In FreeNAS I experienced a performance drop the second I filled up my RAM write buffer… Unraid was also limited to ~30MB/s due to the parity calculation.
      In later Unraid version there’s a “turbo write” mode, which in basic terms means that instead of “read/modify/write” I can select “reconstruct write” … This equates to every disk being spun up and read from at full gigabit speeds whilst the parity & the disk I’m writing to do writes at full gigabit speeds.

      I still have a RAID 1 SSD cache (for my Docker containers) but there’s less of a requirement for SSDs in order to saturate my LAN connection 😎

      FreeNAS might be revisited in the future… It IS a more capable NAS OS but in the meantime, I love Unraid and everything I can use it for.

      Appreciate the time you put into your comment, it was a good read!


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