When it comes to network-attached storage, there are two routes to go down for setting up your own server. The first is by using the best NAS enclosure and installing a few hard drives. The second is to go it alone and build your own NAS from scratch.
Why build your own NAS?
Building a NAS for general home use, be it for storing files or managing some home security hardware, doesn’t require range-topping PC parts. You can easily get away with an affordable Intel processor and some other cheaper parts that help bring the cost down compared to enclosures.
For building a NAS for Plex, this is where specifications matter more. If you’re considering 4K transcoding, you will require a considerably powerful processor (or a dedicated GPU). Everything else can largely remain the same as the home NAS build. But why build one when you could buy a prebuilt enclosure?
Brands such as QNAP 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 own PC — you can save money.
It’s not terribly difficult either since a NAS is essentially a computer as so building one doesn’t differ aside from when it comes to installing the OS. In this guide, we’re going to run you through precisely what you’ll need to build your own DIY NAS.
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 SilverStone DS380B. It has support for up to 12 drives, four being fixed 2.5-inch bays and eight supporting hot-swappable 3.5-inch drives. There’s enough internal space for a graphics card though you will need to use the PCI slot for SATA expansion as only a Mini-ITX motherboard will fit here.
The SilverStone DS380B is quite the PC case. It’s designed specifically with NAS in mind, supporting ITX motherboards and having more than enough bays for all your NAS hard drives.
Should you want to use a dedicated GPU and other expansion cards, you’ll need a larger motherboard than Mini-ITX. The Fractal Design Node 804 is another chassis designed with storage in mind, thanks to the 10 drive bays and excellent cooling options.
Fractal Design Node 804
It’s larger than the SilverStone DS380B, but Fractal Design’s Node 804 supports motherboards up to Micro ATX, which unlocks additional possibilities with a NAS build.
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 a bulkier case.
The ASUS ROG Strix B660-I Gaming WiFi is a brilliant Mini-ITX motherboard with plenty to love. It’s compact enough, has support for up to 64GB of DDR5 RAM, supports 12th Gen Intel processors, wireless connectivity, and has a PCI slot for adding a SATA expansion card.
ASUS ROG Strix B660-I Gaming WiFi
The ASUS ROG Strix B660-I Gaming WiFi is an affordable motherboard that supports 12th Gen Intel processors. The four SATA ports can be complemented by an optional SATA PCI card.
Should you have space for a Micro ATX motherboard, we’d recommend the MSI MAG B660M Mortar WiFi. It’s larger than the ASUS ROG board we recommend above, has the same chipset, and has two additional SATA ports, as well as support for up to 128GB of RAM.
MSI MAG B660M Mortar WiFi
This is quite the compact motherboard. Packed full of features, including six SATA ports, DDR5 RAM support, multiple PCI slots, and a solid power delivery design for the latest Intel processors.
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
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.
Should you require something with a little more performance, the Intel Core i5-13600K is a fantastic processor. It’ll work just fine with the motherboard we’ve selected above for the compact case, comes with 10 cores and 12 threads, and has beefier graphics for enhanced media consumption.
Intel Core i5-13600K
The Intel Core i5-13600K processor is a mid-range CPU. It has 14 physical cores and 20 threads, which makes it perfect for running a media server and so much more. This is also the best CPU for gaming, in our opinion.
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.
SilverStone is a big name in the PSU business and even manufactures units for other companies. The SX500-LG is an excellent powerhouse, offering up to 500W of power with an 80 Plus Gold rating for efficiency. The single 120mm fan is more than enough to keep it cool, not that you’ll hear it spin up.
This 500W 80 Plus Gold-rated power supply from SilverStone is perfect for a NAS such as this build. It’s fully modular with a 120mm fan to keep everything adequately cooled. It’ll easily handle the Pentium or Core i5.
In order 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.
The Noctua NH-L9i may be a small fan but it’s incredibly powerful. In fact, Noctua even rates this cooler high enough to handle an Intel Core i7, meaning we’ve got headroom with a future CPU upgrade.
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 kit. It’s supported by both the Intel Pentium and Core i5 processors, has more than enough capacity for most scenarios, and has a speed rating of DDR5-4800 with a latency of CL38.
Kingston Fury Beast Black 16GB
This kit 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 i5-12600K processor with a speed of DDR5-4800 and latency of CL38.
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 on, 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
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.
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’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.
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.
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 good 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.