I have a spare computer with an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ CPU, plus 1GB of memory. The motherboard has six SATA connectors: is there any software available to turn the computer into a NAS device?
The obvious candidate is FreeNAS, a free Linux-type operating system that’s designed for precisely this purpose, which was recently updated to version 8. It lets you create and access regular Windows shares over your LAN, as well as supporting connections over FTP and other protocols, and it’s managed via a simple web-based GUI.
One particularly alluring aspect of FreeNAS is its support for ZFS, an advanced file system that supports RAID striping and mirroring, as well as automatic filesystem snapshots for easy disaster recovery.
Unfortunately, such sophistications are memory-hungry – the developers recommend a PC with at least 4GB to use ZFS. For more modest systems such as yours, the simpler UFS is a more appropriate choice, but this means missing out on some of FreeNAS’ best features. Still, by all means give it a try: you can download the software, and obtain help and documentation, from http://freenas. org. You’ll need a 1GB USB flash drive to install and run it.
FreeNAS uses a simple web-based interface to turn a spare PC into a network storage device. to be as neat and unobtrusive as a “real” network storage appliance.
If you fancy a more fully-featured option, it’s also worth looking into an OEM version of Windows Home Server 2011, Microsoft’s latest consumer server OS. You’ll have to be patient, though: the software was only released to manufacturers in early April, and hasn’t yet been made available for sale to individuals. Pricing is as yet unknown.
Home Server has several advantages over a plain NAS system. Not only do you get shared and private network storage, but also a fully automatic backup system. You can access files remotely over the internet, and this latest edition adds new media-streaming features, making it a convenient way to store a shared library of music and video.
The only disappointment is that the popular Drive Extender feature – which in previous editions of Home Server allowed you to combine lots of little drives into a single virtual volume – is no longer available. And it’s worth noting that the OS officially requires 2GB of RAM, so installing it on an old 1GB system such as yours may lead to poor performance or limited features.
Whichever route you take, remember that your five-year-old PC is likely to consume much more power, and produce a lot more noise and heat, than a modern, dedicated NAS drive. You may be able to mitigate this slightly by reducing the CPU clock speed, but realistically a repurposed PC is never going to be as neat and unobtrusive as a “real” network storage appliance.