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FreeNAS 8 review

by Koen Vervloesem

FreeNAS is a popular FreeBSD-based operating system for network-attached storage (NAS). Thanks to the easy-to-use web interface, you don’t have to know anything about the FreeBSD base under the hood to share your files…

Pros: FreeNAS is an advanced NAS operating system with an easy-to-use web interface, especially if you love to use ZFS as your filesystem.
Due to the complete rewrite, FreeNAS 8 has lost some interesting functionality for home users, and upgrades from a previous FreeNAS release are not possible.
FreeNAS home

FreeNAS supports sharing your files using FTP, NFS, CIFS (Samba), AFP, rsync, iSCSI, and so on, and it also offers software RAID (0,1,5). With many advanced features, including Oracle’s ZFS file system, it’s the perfect companion to store files for your Linux desktop computers in a central place. Moreover, FreeNAS has very low system requirements, as it needs only 128 MB of RAM. This makes it attractive to blow the dust off an old Pentium 2 or 3 PC, put a couple of hard drives in it and make it a NAS. Of course, for high performance the machine still needs enough RAM and CPU horsepower, especially if you want to use ZFS, which needs a minimum of 4 GB RAM to offer some decent performance.

FreeNAS 8 review
The installer is very basic, but extremely quick

The FreeNAS installer is bare-bones, but it gets the job done. Essentially, you only have to select the medium where FreeNAS will be installed. Note that FreeNAS needs a full disk for its own, so you can’t store any data on this disk. Therefore, it’s recommended to use a small disk (such as a USB stick or a CompactFlash device) for the operating system and add bigger disks to store your data. Installation is extremely quick, and after FreeNAS has booted for the first time, it shows you a simple menu in the console to set up your network configuration if this hasn’t already happened automatically. If the machine has been assigned an IP address (as you’re probably using DHCP on your home network), it also shows you the URL to access the web interface. Log in into this web interface with the username admin and the password freenas.

The web interface gives access to a plethora of information and settings. By default, you’re seeing tabs for system information, settings and some usage graphs. By clicking on the icons at the top or on the left, other tabs will be opened. The configuration settings give access to some really advanced features. For instance, the network settings even allow VLANs and link aggregation, and the iSCSI part in the settings is extremely comprehensive, allowing FreeNAS to act like a storage area network (SAN). All this can be done with a few clicks.

FreeNAS 8 review
The new web interface gives access to all advanced features without becoming bloated

The central part of the FreeNAS configuration can be found in the Storage tab. The focus is on ZFS features, but you can still create UFS volumes if you don’t need the advanced features of ZFS or if your hardware is underpowered. If you select more than one disk when creating a new volume, FreeNAS automatically asks you if you want to group them as a mirror or a stripe. After this, you can replicate your ZFS datasets to a remote system, you can manually create snapshots of your data, and you can even schedule automatic periodic snapshot tasks, so you can always restore a previous version of a file.

FreeNAS 8 is a complete re-write of FreeNAS: the previous release was 0.7, which was based on FreeBSD 7.2 but had an architecture that was not flexible and modular enough to add new features. When the core developer announced that this led him to abandoning FreeNAS, the company iXsystems stepped in and announced it would take on FreeNAS development and give it the long-awaited re-write. This finally makes FreeNAS 8 a future-proof NAS operating system, based on FreeBSD 8. However, in the short-term this has some disadvantages, and you can see this clearly in this release: some functionality that was present in the previous FreeNAS release, such as iTunes/DAAP, BitTorrent and UPnP, has been taken out, and they will later be added as plug-ins in the FreeNAS 8.1 release. Also, it’s currently not possible to upgrade a FreeNAS 0.7 installation to the latest release, but the 8.1 release will get a migration utility that imports configuration settings and data volumes.

FreeNAS 8 review
Periodically create ZFS snapshots to be able to restore previous versions of your files

Verdict: 4/5
iXsystems has turned FreeNAS 8 into a modern, modular and future-proof NAS operating system. The new web interface is really easy-to-use without hiding the advanced features. Unfortunately some features didn’t make it through the re-write, but they are promised to reappear in FreeNAS 8.1. All in all, this makes FreeNAS currently the most advanced NAS operating system for home networks.

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    • FWIW: iXsystems are working on multimedia plugin (PBI) that will bring back former home functionalities in 8.1 that are currently missing. Looking forward to see FreeNAS become even more grown up with a selection of iX and community developed plugins

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    • Sounds good, but I’m not about to upgrade from Freenas 7 until I know that 8 is really stable… and there’s an easy upgrade path.

    • Rob Duran

      Well, after extensive testing i have to sadly say freenas 8 is terrible, not only the GUI sucks, it is slow, bugs without end…. WTF ????? I played around with some raidz2 testdata volumes, in 4 different attempts simulating disk or hw failure i lost EVERY time all my (test)data !! changing controller, changing disk order, changing mainboard…. all went bad. This is not only not a stable system so far, this is really terrible! freenas 7.2 did pretty much what was expected, freenas 8 stable is not even an alpha release, don’t waste your time

    • Yatti420

      8.0.1 Beta got some speeds out of my WD20EARS with 4k option checked no jumpers on drives.. That being I think the hardware requirements are way higher for 8 vs 7…

    • Devnet09

      I’m going back to 7 … FreeNAS 8 is too buggy and very high memory requirement (4GB+)

    • Wtf did they do to FreeNAS?

      I really liked FreeNAS, I really did… But when I tried out FreeNAS 8 I was like … WTF? Where is the encryption? Which was actually one of the things which pisseed me of the most as it’s one of the primary reasons to have a NAS For me… To keep everything centrally safe, both in terms of drive failure but also in case of data security.

      And the resource utilization raised itself way beoynd what it should. No way I’m upgrading to that crap, I’m staying with FreeNAS 7 which is still the most stable and lovely little NAS OS I’ve ever seen.

      But then it get’s obsolute with time I’m properly moving myself for a Linux box. I just don’t know which one yet.

      I’ve actualyl considered Windows (yeah, Windows before FreeNAS 8 lol) but due to some unknown factors (or well the factor is Windows), I get slow networking speeds all the time. And I guess I don’t need to talk about resource utiliziation on that ****** either…

    • MC Cuneta

      Is it possible to install windows Xp in an existing Freenas PC?because im having a problem right now i can’t install windows Xp on my freenas PC…cd is not bootable….is there anyone who can help me on this matter?

    • MrGrowly

      I had the same problem i had to use the western digital hardrive tool disk to reformat the drive to put xp on it again.

    • Winanjaya

      I tried FreeNAS 8.0.4 p1, but I was disappointed since the LACP not working!.. I was stuck on that problem for 2 weeks, googled and found many tips and tricks and also got youtube video guidance for doing LACP or LAG.. but no luck..
      I posted to FreeNAS forums and got no luck!… then I got OpenFiler and it works what I need! .. bravo to OpenFiler..

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    • VoidMan

      I spent a day and a half trying to get 8.2 (release) working. Countless issues with permissions getting messed up and the plugins support is just impossible to get working. Can’t do anything willout jumping into a shell to fix something. Time to stop adding features and get this product working again. 8.3 doesn’t look any better. Finally after all of these hours I don’t have any faith it will work for an extended period of time. A product like this must never compromise quality when people’s data is on the line.

    • Roberto

      I will try CryptoNAS!

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