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How to turn an old PC into a NAS server

Have an old PC lying around somewhere doing nothing but collecting dust? This guide may be for you. I’ll look at what you’d need to turn an old PC into a NAS server. After doing so, you can create a custom file server, media streaming platform, or surveillance system. You’ll be limited only by your imagination!

Why create your own NAS?

Creating your DIY NAS is a great way of saving money or getting more for the amount you’re willing to spend. It’s no secret that the best NAS enclosures from reputable brands such as Synology, TerraMaster, and ASUSTOR, are not cheap. They’re excellent at allowing anyone to buy a NAS enclosure, a few drives, and be up and running in no time.

Building your DIY NAS will provide additional freedom through the use of off-the-shelf parts. Everything from the motherboard to the PC case will be available to just about anyone, making it easy to create a NAS that suits your needs. It’s not as user-friendly as a prebuilt enclosure, but you can save money and you will be able to create some powerful systems.

There aren’t too many NAS enclosures with Intel Core processors. QNAP provides a few, but these can cost $2,000 and above. It’s possible to build an Intel Core-powered NAS for less than $1,000.

Why use an old PC for a NAS?

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

As a population, we’re consuming more and more every year and the world is struggling to cope. We’ve all seen the devastating climate catastrophes taking place and it’s only right we limit our impact on the planet. An easy way of doing this is by reducing electronic waste. An old PC is a perfect candidate for recycling into a NAS.

Not only will you feel better about yourself for extending the life of all the components inside your PC, but it will keep the system within your household longer, allowing it to remain part of the furniture. Then there’s the point we raised above, by using a DIY NAS, you’ll often have way more performance than required.

Even a PC from a few years prior will perform better than most prebuilt NAS enclosures available today. Tasks run on NAS enclosures don’t require too many resources either. Plex Media Server will happily run on the best Plex NAS or a PC with an Intel Celeron processor. The only part that may require replacing is the storage drives, but we’ll touch on that later.

How to turn an old PC into a NAS

How to turn an old PC into a NAS
You’re going to need some NAS drives. (Source: NM)

While having an old PC ready to go is the largest part of the puzzle, we don’t have everything we need to transform an old PC into a NAS. The basics are the same between a PC and a NAS. To begin, you’ll need a motherboard, processor, case, and RAM. Most computers have these already.

Invest in the best NAS drives

When using your NAS to store data, you will rely on drives to not fail for millions of hours. Mechanical hard drives and SSDs purchased for desktop or laptop PCs aren’t generally designed for heavier use inside a server, including NAS. Laptops and desktops are typically used for a few hours and then powered down.

A NAS is run continuously like a server. I recommend Seagate IronWolf or Western Digital Red drives for NAS enclosures. Both companies also offer SSDs but they’re more expensive than consumer-grade drives. It’s usually fine to use existing SSDs so long as you’re not writing a lot of data to them daily.

Seagate IronWolf

Seagate IronWolf 2TB
Seagate IronWolf. (Source: Seagate)

We’ve used countless Seagate IronWolf drives in a variety of applications, including many of our reviews here on NAS Master. They’re excellent for storing lots of data.

Western Digital Red

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

Western Digital has a rather confusing Red series of NAS drives, consisting of Red, Red Plus, and Red Pro. We’d recommend Red Plus drives if possible, leaving Pro for later upgrades.

For storing data, it’s recommended to use some form of RAID. This helps protect data against loss due to a drive failure. And you will encounter a drive failure. It’s best to use at least one drive in a RAID. This does increase overall cost, but you will appreciate the additional protections in the long run.

Choose an operating system

TrueNAS SCALE 22 Dashboard
TrueNAS SCALE 22 dashboard. (Source: NM)

It’s possible to run a NAS with your existing copy of Windows. This is an OS you’re perhaps most familiar with and it’s good to go if already installed. Some issues with a desktop OS such as Windows are unnecessary bloat running in the background, slowing the NAS down, and Windows does not support RAID.

Luckily, there are a few server environments available without paying a penny! One of the most popular is OpenMediaVault. It may not have the flashiest user interface, but this robust OS has excellent hardware support and is incredibly easy to use. Another great OS is Unraid, which acts differently and more as just a bunch of disks (JBOD).

Finally, there’s TrueNAS CORE. This is another free server environment that offers excellent performance and reliability. It’s geared toward those with advanced knowledge and experience but can be mastered in a few hours with handy guides if you’re building your first DIY NAS. TrueNAS SCALE is the better option for running apps.

Purchase a PCI adapter (or two)

There’s a good chance your motherboard has limited SATA ports and M.2 slots. This is where PCI adapters come into play. So long as a few PCI slots are free, you can install a networking card to add 5GbE or 10GbE connections, an M.2 card for super-fast NVMe SSDs or a SATA card to add more 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives then you’ll know what to do with.

What you can do with a NAS

Plex Media Server. (Source: NM)

Running a NAS is a great way to save money on subscription services. Have an active account with Spotify, Netflix, and Google Drive? Cancel them all and run everything from your single NAS server. This will cost a considerable upfront sum of money but will save you much more in the long term. Plex Media Server can catalog all your photos, movies, music, and shows for streaming to almost any device.

Then there’s the potential for hosting websites from the server. Play Minecraft or some other online games with custom server support? That’s possible too! Then there’s security with some surveillance system apps on your old PC-turned-NAS. Last, you can use the NAS for storing data such as backups.

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