That dude writing stuff about that thing.


Home NAS Refresh

I think that, in this day and age, everyone should have a NAS at their house. For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about, NAS stands for 'Network Attached Storage'. A NAS is handy for storing all sorts of things, primarily backups of your computers and your media. In my case, I have a lot of movies and TV shows for my various media players. I also have a ton of photos and videos from over the years, as well as from my drones. Having a large NAS means that I don't have delete anything. My NAS also acts as a server for various other things that I'll get into in another post.

For your NAS to be effective, it needs to have lots of space and have enough room to expand. You also need to have an effective operating system running the NAS. For this build, I'm going to use FreeNAS. I had been planning to build this thing for a while, but didn't get around to finally getting everything setup and running until July 31, 2015. Since then it's been running pretty stable, but I used an Intel G3220 and 8GB of RAM when I first put it together and I've outgrown that processor and RAM, so it's time for an upgrade. Here's the hardware list of everything that's going into the machine:

  • Intel Core i7-4790K CPU
  • ASRock Z97 EXTREME6 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard
  • G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
  • 6x WD Red 3TB 3.5" 5400RPM HDD
  • Rosewill R​SV-L4412 -​ 4U Rackmo​unt Server​ C​hassis, 12​ SATA / SA​S Hot-swap​ Drives
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 1000G2 1000W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply

The only thing that's carrying over from the previous build are the 6 WD Red 3TB hard drives and the actual FreeNAS install. I was going to just upgrade the CPU and the RAM, but some pins got bent on the ASUS Z87-A motherboard I had, so it needed to get upgraded too. I also figured that while I was at it, I'd put it in a nice rackmount chassis too.

The build went rather smooth. I pulled the hardware out of the old mid-tower case and moved it into the rackmount chassis. I had originally planned on using some M.2 SSDs for boot drives, but ran into some issues. First, the drives I bought weren't compatible with the Ultra M.2 slot on the motherboard. Secondly, the other M.2 slot ate two of my SATA ports on the motherboard. Because I didn't bother to read the manual, it took me quite a while to figure out why those two drives weren't being seen by the BIOS. Ultimately, I got everything put together and all 6 drives were being recognized. FreeNAS booted right up without any issues. I'll probably pick up an Ultra M.2 SSD in the future to use as L2ARC since it's so freaking FAST.

More info will be posted soon on how I'm going to automate my media collection and sharing.


FreeNAS, Plex, and Plex Automation – Part 1 – Getting ready

With the start of a new year, I've decided to start a series on setting up a FreeNAS server at home along with setting up Plex as a media server and various other applications to help automate Plex. By the time I'm done with this series, you'll be able to setup all the following:

  • Install FreeNAS on a bare metal server
  • Install the following programs to manage your media
    • Plex Media Server
    • Transmission - A Bittorrent Client
    • Sonarr - Automatically downloads TV Shows
    • Couchpotato - Automatically downloads Movies
    • PlexPy - Provides in depth monitoring and reporting for Plex
    • PlexEmail - Send newsletters to your Plex users
  • Setup your own domain using dynamic dns from
  • Install and configure nginx to work as a reverse proxy and act as a traffic cop for incoming requests

I've been working on this setup for a few months now, and I've done quite a bit of customization to all these different items to make them work. As this series goes on, I'm going to try to recreate what I've done in a VM so I can have screenshots to show you exactly what you should be doing. In the meantime, I'd suggest you start thinking about what hardware you'd like to use for your build.

Filed under: FreeNAS 2 Comments

FreeNAS, Plex, and Plex Automation – Part 2 – The Hardware

WARNING: The hardware specs you are about to read are NOT needed and are complete overkill for a normal FreeNAS build. It is simply me living by the adage of "anything worth doing is worth overdoing."  You can find the FreeNAS hardware recommendations in this thread on the FreeNAS forums. I suggest you spend some time doing your own research into what will be best for you and your situation. I've also gotten a lot of heat from folks on the forum for some of my choices. I'll admit that some choices aren't ideal, but I'm also trying to reuse the hardware I already own as much as possible to lower the cost.

This will be the 3rd (actually the 4th) hardware iteration of my FreeNAS server and it's taken me quite some time to decide on what I wanted to be in this build. When I first decided to build a NAS for my home, I wanted to use some of the hardware still laying around from my bitcoin/litecoin/altcoin mining days. I had sold off many of the GPUs, but still had a few different CPU/Motherboard combos that were collecting dust. This video gives you a very small idea of what things were like back then. After taking a quick inventory of what was available, I decided to go with this:

  • Intel G3220 CPU
  • ASUS Z87-A Motherboard
  • 8GB DDR3-1600
  • Thermaltake Commander G42 mid-tower case
  • 6x WD Red 3TB HDD in RAIDZ2 (~12TB useable storage space)
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 1000G2 80+ Gold PSU

The only thing I needed to buy were four of the hard drives since I already had everything else. Two of the WD Reds were sitting in my ESXi host, unused. After I put everything together and got it running, I realized I needed more RAM due to ZFS's use of RAM for ARC. 32 gigs went in. I then realized that the G3220 wasn't powerful enough to handle multiple Plex streams, so I wanted to upgrade it. When I was swapping it for a Core i7-4790K, I bent some pins on the motherboard, so while waiting for a new motherboard to arrive, I put in an AMD FX-4130 CPU and Gigabyte GA-990FXA-UD3 mobo in order to keep things running. That was technically iteration #2, but it was only that way for about 10 days. At the same time I ordered the new motherboard, I also ordered a rackmount chassis for it.

Iteration #3 is what is running currently. Here's those specs:

  • Intel Core i7-4790K CPU
  • ASRock Z97 Extreme6 Motherboard (bought because it had 10 SATA ports)
  • 32GB DDR3-1600
  • Rosewill RSV-L4412 Rackmount Chassis
  • 2x A-Data Premier Pro SP900 64GB 2.5" SSD
  • 6x WD Red 3TB HDD in RAIDZ2 (~12TB useable storage space)
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 1000G2 80+ Gold PSU

I moved to SSDs for the boot device because I was having issues with the USB drives constantly getting errors. I had two 64GB SSDs that were purchased for a previous project and ended up not being used, so I threw those in there and I haven't had any errors on my boot devices since. You DO NOT need SSDs for your boot devices. A couple high quality USB drives will be fine. Even though I have those drives in the computer and mirrored, I can't use that space for anything other than the FreeNAS operating system, so it's wasted. As you can see, I'm currently only using 1GB of space.

Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 11.23.11 AM

I have multiple reasons for creating iteration #4 and for picking the parts I ultimately chose.

  • I want to be able to consolidate my ESXi host and my FreeNAS server into one unit
    • The ESXi host is also running an i7-4790K maxed out with 32GB of RAM.
    • Haswell can't handle more than 32GB of RAM and I need more than that to run the VMs currently installed.
    • FreeNAS can act as a VirtualBox host. I don't know how well it works, but we'll soon find out.
  • I want to be able to handle anything I can throw at Plex.
  • I want to be able to use this server for a long time.
    • I should build something that has enough horsepower that I don't need to build another one in 3 months. That stuff is starting to get old pretty quick.
    • Making it last means making sure I can add more CPU and RAM in the future. The i7-4790K's are the most powerful processors I can use with the Z87/Z97 chipset and 32GB is the most Haswell can handle. I can't upgrade further without changing out motherboards and RAM.
  • I don't want to have to worry about running out of storage space anytime soon.

With all these things in mind, I spent some time looking into what would not only fit my need, but also be able to use as much of the gear I already have as possible. I knew I was going to have to buy something that can handle ECC RAM and I wanted dual CPUs for the 4K transcoding. So, without further ado, here's the hardware that will be going into Greg's FreeNAS v 4.0:

  • Dual Intel Xeon E5-2660 CPUs (used hardware)
  • Dual Supermicro 4U Active CPU Heatsink Cooling for X9 UP/DP Systems SNK-P0050AP4
  • SuperMicro X9DR3-F Motherboard (open box)
  • 128GB (2x 64GB kits of 4x16GB) Kingston KVR16R11D4K4/64 DDR3-1600 Registered ECC RAM
  • 2x A-Data Premier Pro SP900 64GB 2.5" SSD*
  • 6x WD Red 3TB HDD*
  • 6x WD Red 6TB HDD**
  • LSI SAS9921-8i HBA**
  • 24 port expansion card for the 9921-8i (don't eBay while drinking, kids)**
  • Rosewill RSV-L4412 4u chassis*
  • EVGA SuperNOVA 1000G2 PSU

*Reused Hardware
** Purchased before I decided on the CPU/Mobo upgrade

Yes, I'm going with dual Xeons and 128GB of RAM. Complete overkill and I love it. The only "new" hardware is the CPU, motherboard, RAM, and coolers. Everything else was already purchased with the idea to upgrade the old server. The parts have already started arriving and should finish getting here next week, which means I'll probably build it out on a test bench on the weekend of January 16th. The plan is to build the new box with the six 6TB and a spare PSU on the test bench, do some testing and burn-in, then move everything into the rackmount chassis. I'll use my current FreeNAS config on the new server, add a new zpool with the 6TB drives and go from there.

The guys on the FreeNAS forums are giving me a hard time about two things, the chassis and the power supply. They really think I should have redundant power supplies in the server, and while I'll probably look into it, I doubt I'll do it. First off, I have redundant power going to that PSU in the form of dual APC SMX1500RM2UNC UPS systems and a Tripp-Lite PDUMH15ATNET Auto Transfer Switch. Secondly, a redundant 600w power supply isn't cheap. Even if you have dual PSUs, you only have 1 motherboard and 1 set of wires from the PSU chassis, not to mention the backplane of that chassis. You still have multiple single points of failure. As far as the chassis is concerned, they think it's garbage. Here's a couple quotes from the forums:

"I do have to say that building out that much of a server and not going with a better case and redundant power seems like dropping the ball."

"Considering the amount of money you're sinking into this, why not just return or resell the Rosewill clunker and find a nice Supermicro 846 or 847 chassis on eBay? It would be a shame to build a Ferrari powertrain and drop it in a Pinto chassis."

Well, they're not paying for all this hardware, and adding redundant power and one of those Supermicro chassis would add another $1,000 to the cost. If I need to add more hard drives in the future, there are ways of doing that. I could use an HP SAS expander and put another chassis with nothing but hard drives in it, or I can get one of those Supermicro cases at that point and transfer all this hardware into it. I just don't foresee needing more than 12 bays. Also, I'm starting to think that Supermicro must secretly pay the people on the FreeNAS forums. Those guys absolutely LOVE Supermicro hardware. It's the only thing they ever want to talk about. The reason I picked the Supermicro X9 motherboard was because I realized it wouldn't be hard to get support for it from the forums. That's something you might want to keep in mind too. If something doesn't work in your build, you'll wish that you had picked hardware common on the forums, otherwise you'll spend a ton of time trying to figure out the problem.

Well, that's where we stand as of today. I'm thinking about documenting the build on YouTube as well as here, so keep your eyes peeled for links, should I decide to do that. In the meantime, head over to the FreeNAS forums and start reading so you can be informed enough to pick out your own hardware. The decisions you make on hardware will be the most important decisions you make with the whole thing. It can be the difference between a relatively quick and painless setup or an absolute nightmare. Whatever you decide, make damn sure it'll support ECC RAM!!!

Filed under: FreeNAS 4 Comments

FreeNAS, Plex, and Plex Automation – Part 3 – The Build

Now the fun starts! All the parts arrived and it was time to put them on the test bench to burn things in. This is my first ever dual processor build, so it was definitely a learning experience. Nothing is really different, it's just twice as much. When the motherboard arrived, it was absolutely beautiful.


I couldn't wait to get everything put together and get it on the bench. The RAM had arrived a few days earlier and I knew the processors were supposed to be arriving via USPS later that day. I was antsy with anticipation! Then the letter carrier arrived and my CPUs were ready to go into the board.


Now that I've got the processors and RAM installed, lets put on the coolers, get it mounted to the bench, and get it wired up.


Thank God I sprung for the EATX version of this test bench. For those of you that are curious, this is the Highspeed PC Half-Deck Tech Station XL-ATX and it's a great little test bench. There's no metal parts to come in contact with the motherboard, so no worries about shorting things out.

Now that everything was together, it was time for the smoke test. In case you didn't know, computers actually run on smoke. If the smoke escapes, it stops working, and the first POST of a new computer, especially one with an open-box motherboard and CPUs from eBay, is the time when that smoke is most likely to escape. Luckily, this one passed the smoke test.


I slapped the 6x 6TB drives into a carrier and put the LSI 9211-8i HBA in to start burning everything in. I added a USB fan to keep the HBA cool since there wasn't any airflow on that side of the board. The HDD rack has it's own fan. Getting the HBA flashed to the IT firmware was quite the pain, but I'll save that for it's own post.

First up was to run memtest86 and check the 128GB of ECC DDR3. I ran this for a few days to really beat up the memory, as memtest86 runs over and over and over again until you stop it. After the first pass, I knew I was going to be good because there were no errors found, but I let it run for a while just to be safe. I love this picture because it shows 32 CPUs found and 16 started (It's 16 physical cores with hyper-threading for a total of 32)!


After burning in the machine for a while, it was time to transplant it into its permanent home, the Rosewill rackmount chassis. Problem was, there was already a computer in there.


So, I pulled out the old motherboard (which will actually end up being my new gaming rig) to have a fresh case to start with.


After moving some standoffs around, the motherboard fit in perfectly.




My original plan was to use the onboard SAS ports for the six 3TB drives and use the LSI HBA for the six 6TB drives, then use the onboard SATA3 ports for the two SSDs. I ended up using all 8 onboard SAS ports instead. FreeNAS doesn't care what controller the drives are plugged into. I'm not sure if that was a good idea or not, and I plan on looking into it more. If it turns out it is a bad idea, I'll just move all the 6TB drives to the same controller.

Once everything was put together, it was time to boot it up in the chassis for the first time. I hit the power button and... nothing. The fans spun up for a second, then the whole thing shut down. I had no idea what was going on. The first thing that came to mind was the fact that I couldn't find the second CPU power cable for the EVGA power supply, so I "borrowed" one from a Corsair PSU I had. I went ahead and unplugged all the drives to see if maybe something there was shorted and it wasn't. I grabbed the Corsair PSU and plugged it into the second CPU and the computer booted. Ok, maybe it was the cable...

I pulled the EVGA PSU out, put the Corsair PSU in, kinda redid all the cable management, and hit the power button...


Nothing. WTF??? This thing was working fine on the test bench! I did a little more troubleshooting and figured that if it was working fine on the test bench, I'd just go grab that PSU and use it. Out with the Corsair PSU, in with a Rosewill 1000W that I use for the test bench. I hit the power button and... IT'S ALIVE!


The drives are all recognized, FreeNAS boots up without a problem, and we're good to go. My wife actually did the cable management in the chassis because I was fed up with dealing with it. I was originally going to start with a fresh install of FreeNAS, but since it booted up with no issues, I decided to just stick with the current install, though I found out pretty quick that I needed to delete all the tunables created by autotune as they didn't update to the new hardware. My ARC was still limited to 12GB.

The box has been up and running damn good for over a week now, minus a few reboots with me doing stuff.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.24.11 AM

I built the new volume with the six 6TB drives and started moving some stuff to that new pool.

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.28.41 AM

Screen Shot 2016-01-15 at 10.26.56 AM

So, that's the hardware build of my new FreeNAS server. Next, we'll get into the software part of the whole thing. Even though I already have FreeNAS installed and running on this machine, I'll run through the install procedure using another box and we'll get into the meat and potatoes of getting FreeNAS, Plex, and all the Plex Automation setup.