The Trip from FreeNAS to unRAID!

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Backstory:

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

C158:

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.

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