Fractal Design Case

Everything you need to build a DIY NAS and store all your data

Network-attached storage (NAS) has grown in popularity over recent years, but so too has the cost of prebuilt enclosures. That’s where building your very own DIY NAS can come into play. It’s similar to building a PC and you could even repurpose an old system with a few NAS drives and an operating system. Here’s everything you’d need to build a DIY NAS and why you’d want to consider doing so.

Why build your own NAS?

Front bays open on the TerraMaster F4-424 Pro
Opening the TerraMaster F4-424 Pro front bays. (Source: NM)

Building a NAS for the home or office shouldn’t be such a daunting task as it doesn’t require range-topping PC hardware. When comparing the specifications of a prebuilt NAS enclosure to a modern desktop PC, it’s easy to see just how much more powerful a computer is. By using an affordable Intel processor and some other cheap parts, you’re already ahead.

This helps keep costs down, especially against prebuilt enclosures that can easily cost thousands with more capable hardware. The best NAS for Plex is where specifications matter more. If your recipient client device, such as a TV, doesn’t support the files your media is stored as, the server will need to transcode, which requires a considerable amount of computing power.

Brands such as Synology and ASUSTOR make some excellent NAS enclosures. They’re purpose-built with storage in mind, but they usually come with a premium applied to the MSRP to cover the costs of development, support, software, and more. Building your own NAS is akin to building your PC — you can save money.

It’s not difficult either since a NAS is essentially a computer so building one doesn’t differ from when it comes to installing the OS. In this guide, I’m going to run you through precisely what you’ll need to build your DIY NAS.

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Prebuilt NAS vs. DIY NAS

Fractal Design Node 804
Inside the Fractal Design Node 804. (Source: NAS Master)

There are two routes to build your own NAS. The first is to go with a brand such as Synology. The second is to build your server from scratch. There are advantages (and drawbacks) of either method. If you want to get up and running in no time at all, I’d always go with a branded NAS.

For getting the most for your money, nothing beats a custom DIY NAS. It gets better if you’re able to repurpose an old system and save money by recycling older hardware. Check the comparison below to spot the differences between the two methods.

Prebuilt NAS

Better for beginners

Synology DiskStation DS923+
Synology DiskStation DS923+. (Source: Synology)
  • Easier to set up and use
  • Full support channels
  • First-party app support
  • Mobile app development
  • More expensive
  • Weaker specifications
  • Lacking customization
  • Weaker expansion support
  • Proprietary parts

Branded NAS have come a long way and it’s now possible to purchase enclosures with powerful specifications. There are also NAS enclosures with fewer drive bays and weaker specs to unlock more affordable price tags. They’re great for beginners (and more advanced users) but you will be paying more for the luxury.

DIY NAS

More for your money

SilverStone DS380B
SilverStone DS380B. (Source: SilverStone)
  • Better specifications
  • More for your money
  • Customize the NAS to your needs
  • Better expansion support
  • Standard PC parts
  • May need to build a PC from scratch
  • No official support
  • No first-party apps
  • No mobile apps for remote management

Custom DIY NAS is very much like building your desktop PC. It allows you to better customize the system for your needs with more powerful specifications, allowing you to get more for your money. Because it’s cheaper, you’ll need to troubleshoot problems and there will be limited first-party app support from the OS.

If you’ve never built a PC from scratch, it would be easier to go with a prebuilt enclosure. These are designed for more convenient setup and operation, requiring the installation of drives and the OS. Building a DIY NAS will need all the necessary parts. Using an older PC would cut cost and time. For beginners, prebuilt NAS is the way to. go.

Budget DIY NAS build

Fractal Design Node 804
Drive trays inside the Fractal Design Node 804. (Source: NAS Master)

Case

It all starts with the case. Any PC chassis will do, but you will need to take into account the number of drives that can be installed. The more bays available, the more drives you can install and the larger the available capacity will be.

I’d recommend something like the Fractal Design Node 804. It has support for up to 8 drives, though there’s no hot-swap support. There’s enough internal space for a graphics card and a SATA expansion card should fit if the Micro ATX motherboard has more than one slot.

Fractal Design Node 804

Fractal Design Node 804
Fractal Design Node 804. (Source: Fractal Design)

The Fractal Design Node 804 is quite the PC case. It’s designed specifically with NAS in mind, supporting ITX and Micro ATX motherboards and having more than enough bays for all your NAS hard drives. This is the case we’d go for as it provides good space for expansion.

Fractal Design Node 304

Fractal Design Node 304
Fractal Design Node 304. (Source: Fractal Design)

The Fractal Design Node 304 is (as the name implies) a slightly smaller version of the Node 804. It has support for up to six 3.5-inch drives and will work well with ITX motherboards. If you’re tight on space, this may be the better pick but you’ll need an ITX motherboard.

Motherboard

The motherboard is the most important component of a PC build and the same goes for NAS. We’d ideally want to pick a motherboard with countless SATA ports so plenty of drives can be connected, but that would mean going with an even bulkier case.

The GIGABYTE B760M C is a brilliant Micro ATX motherboard with plenty to love. It’s compact enough, has support for up to 128GB of DDR5 RAM, supports 12th and 13th Gen Intel processors, and wireless connectivity, and has multiple PCI slots for adding SATA expansion cards.

GIGABYTE B760M C

Gigabyte B760M C
Gigabyte B760M C. (Source: Gigabyte)

The GIGABYTE B760M C is an affordable motherboard that supports 12th and 13th Gen Intel processors. The four SATA ports can be complemented by an optional SATA PCI card. This won’t fit inside the Node 304 case, however, only the larger Node 804.

Processor

The processor (or CPU) is what’s used to … well, process everything. It’s the brain of the computer, responsible for handling calculations, carrying out tasks, and running software on the NAS. The more powerful (and expensive) the processor, the more you’ll be able to perform on the NAS.

We’re big fans of the Intel Pentium Gold G7400. It’s a 46W processor, meaning you won’t require much in the form of cooling, has two cores with four threads, and can hit a clock speed of 3.7GHz. Couple this with DDR4 and DDR5 support, as well as Intel UHD Graphics 710 and you’ve got an excellent processor.

Intel Pentium Gold G7400

Intel Pentium Gold G7400
Intel Pentium Gold G7400. (Source: Intel)

This 46W processor is all you need for a NAS. It has two cores and four threads, allowing you to do basic tasks and more on the server. Because it’s not too powerful, you won’t require advanced cooling.

Power supply

Being what supplies electricity to all the various components, the power supply is an incredibly important component. We’d always recommend spending a little more on a reputable branded PSU to ensure you won’t encounter any issues, especially with a NAS that will typically run continuously.

EVGA is a big name in the PSU business and the EVGA 500 W3 is an excellent powerhouse, offering up to 500W of power with an 80 Plus White rating for efficiency. It’s not the most efficient PSU available, but it will save you in the long run.

EVGA 500 W3

EVGA 500 W3
EVGA 500 W3. (Source: EVGA)

This 500W 80 Plus White-rated power supply from EVGA is perfect for a NAS such as this build. It’s not modular but comes equipped with a 120mm fan to keep everything adequately cooled. It’ll easily handle the Pentium or Core i5.

CPU cooler

To get the most out of the processor and other components inside our DIY NAS build, we’ll need to buy a CPU cooler. Intel doesn’t supply one with the Pentium or Core i5 processors we recommend. Because we’re using a more compact chassis, we’re going to need to be careful when picking out a cooler.

Luckily, there’s a low-profile cooler from Noctua that will do the job just fine for either CPU. Noctua is one of the leading brands when it comes to fans and the Noctua NH-L9i is about as good as it gets. It’s powerful enough to handle even a Core i7 processor.

Noctua NH-L9i

Noctua NH-L9i
Noctua NH-L9i. (Source: Noctua)

The Noctua NH-L9i may be a small fan but it’s incredibly powerful. Noctua even rates this cooler high enough to handle an Intel Core i7, meaning we’ve got headroom with a future CPU upgrade.

RAM

Random access memory (RAM) is what is used by a device to store data for quicker access. These modules are like super-fast drives, allowing the operating system to store software and other files that can be quickly accessed at request. All data stored on RAM is cleared when the device is turned off.

We’d recommend the Kingston Fury Beast Black 16GB module. It’s supported by both the Intel Pentium and Core processors, has more than enough capacity for most scenarios, and has a speed rating of DDR5-5200 with a latency of CL38.

Kingston Fury Beast Black DDR5-5200 16GB

Kingston Fury Beast Black 16GB
Kingston Fury Beast Black 16GB. (Source: Kingston)

This 16GB module from Kingston is all you need for a DIY NAS, whether it’s a simple server for storing backups or running Plex Media Server. It’s ideal for an Intel Pentium Gold or Core i5-13600K processor with a speed of DDR5-5200 and latency of CL38.

OS drive

The operating system (OS) drive is where we’ll be installing the main software that will manage the server. To free up all SATA ports for drives, we’re opting for an M.2 SSD since the Mini-ITX motherboard has an available slot.

The Samsung 970 EVO Plus is brilliant. It’s ideal for running an OS, including popular NAS solutions. It’s one of the best SSD for NAS, largely down to the excellent value and rapid transfer speeds for data.

Samsung 970 EVO Plus

Samsung 970 EVO Plus
Samsung 970 EVO Plus. (Source: Samsung)

We’re using an M.2 SSD for the operating system, which frees up all four SATA ports for data storage. Samsung’s 970 EVO Plus range is one of the best SSD for NAS for not only NAS but desktop and laptop PCs too.

Storage drives

The storage drive is what you’ll be using to store all your important data on the NAS. There are a few different models available and the two big players are Seagate and Western Digital. The differences between these two brands are negligible if you’re not too fussed about speeds, workloads, and other specs.

We’d recommend either the Western Digital Red or Seagate IronWolf range of 3.5-inch drives. They’re designed specifically for NAS use and are included in our best NAS drives collections.

Western Digital Red

Western Digital Red
Western Digital Red. (Source: WD)

Western Digital’s Red series of hard drives are excellent for NAS enclosures. Ranging between 2TB and 6TB, you can install up to eight of these drives in the NAS. they’re not the best around, but you won’t decimate your budget by buying a few.

DriveBaysSpeedWorkloadWarrantyPrice$ per GB
Western Digital Red 2TB8180MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$55$0.03
Western Digital Red 3TB8180MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$58$0.02
Western Digital Red 4TB8180MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$125$0.02
Western Digital Red 6TB8180MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$100$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 1TB8150MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$53$0.05
Western Digital Red Plus 2TB8175MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$70$0.03
Western Digital Red Plus 3TB8175MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$105$0.03
Western Digital Red Plus 4TB8175MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$135$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 6TB8185MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$130$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 8TB8210MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$130$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 10TB8215MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$180$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 12TB8196MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$229$0.02
Western Digital Red Plus 14TB8210MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$235$0.02
Western Digital Red Pro 2TB24164MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$80$0.04
Western Digital Red Pro 4TB24217MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$125$0.04
Western Digital Red Pro 6TB24238MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$169$0.03
Western Digital Red Pro 8TB24235MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$200$0.03
Western Digital Red Pro 10TB24265MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$200$0.03
Western Digital Red Pro 12TB24240MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$258$0.03
Western Digital Red Pro 14TB24255MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$230$0.03
Western Digital Red Pro 16TB24259MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$250$0.02
Western Digital Red Pro 18TB24272MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$330$0.02
Western Digital Red Pro 20TB24268MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$389$0.02
Western Digital Red Pro 22TB24265MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$500$0.02

Seagate IronWolf

Seagate IronWolf
Seagate IronWolf. (Source: Seagate)

I’m a big fan of Seagate’s IronWolf series of NAS hard drives. If you’re serious about storage, the Pro range offers a few advanced extras.

DriveBaysSpeedWorkloadWarrantyPrice$ per GB
Seagate IronWolf 1TB8180 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$62$0.06
Seagate IronWolf 2TB8180 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$103$0.05
Seagate IronWolf 3TB8180 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$91$0.03
Seagate IronWolf 4TB8180 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$75$0.02
Seagate IronWolf 6TB8180 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$130$0.02
Seagate IronWolf 8TB8210 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$148$0.02
Seagate IronWolf 10TB8210 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$281$0.03
Seagate IronWolf 12TB8210 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$200$0.02
Seagate IronWolf 14TB8210 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$240$0.02
Seagate IronWolf 16TB8240 MB/s180 TB/yr3 years$330$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 4TB24214 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$117$0.03
Seagate IronWolf Pro 6TB24214 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$180$0.03
Seagate IronWolf Pro 8TB24214 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$210$0.03
Seagate IronWolf Pro 10TB24250 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$230$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 12TB24250 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$225$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 14TB24250 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$240$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 16TB24260 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$279$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 18TB24285 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$300$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 20TB24285 MB/s300 TB/yr5 years$325$0.02
Seagate IronWolf Pro 22TB24285 MB/s550 TB/yr5 years$363$0.02

Operating system

The best operating system depends on personal preference and what you feel comfortable using. It’s possible to use a desktop-class OS like your favorite Linux distro or Windows, but we’d recommend something like TrueNAS, Unraid, or Open Media Vault if all you plan to do is store some files and maybe run a Plex Media Server.

There are a few operating systems out there and some even try to take what comes with a prebuilt NAS enclosure and replicate the user experience. Xpenology is a great example of this, taking Synology’s class-leading NAS OS and making it available to everyone.

TrueNAS

TrueNAS SCALE 22 Dashboard
TrueNAS SCALE 22 dashboard. (Source: NAS Master)

TrueNAS comes in a few flavors. There’s TureNAS Core and TureNAS Scale. The former was the first to launch in 2005 and is based on FreeBSD. It was known as FreeNAS before the rebranding. TrueNAS Scale was released in 2022 and is built on the Linux distribution, Debian.

Both are viable options for running a server, but I’d recommend TrueNAS Scale if starting with your first DIY NAS. Although the OS may have dropped the “Free” from its name, it still costs absolutely nothing to use, making it a good choice for those looking to save as much as possible.

Unraid

Unraid
Unraid main screen. (Source: Unraid)

Unraid is an interesting operating system as the software works differently from others, including those bundled with prebuilt NAS enclosures. We’d typically recommend some form of RAID to be used, which ensures drive parity and data protection against drive failure, but Unraid breaks the mold by using parity disks and only saves a copy of a file once.

Should a drive fail, another can be installed and data retrieved. It’s also more flexible in how drives can be added and removed, making it easier to manage for beginners. The main drawback of Unraid is the commercial license. Dockers can be installed, which act like apps on other systems, and it’s very much a NAS you can grow accustomed to using.

Open Media Vault

OpenMediaVault
OpenMediaVault 6. (Source: OpenMediaVault)

Open Media Vault has been around for what seems like an eternity. That’s for good reason as it’s an amazing operating system for running a server. Based on Debian, just like TrueNAS Scale, this is a powerful piece of kit and while it may not have as much of a refined user experience, it’s very capable.

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