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How to Turn an Old PC Into a NAS Server

The Rising Home Media Server Market

Dear friend, have you found your media libraries and personal files outgrowing the storage on your laptops and desktops? You‘re not alone! Recent surveys show that over 63% of households now run out of space for photos and video content within a year.

The same report also found a 27% increase in streaming services subscriptions in 2022. With internet speeds improving globally, media consumption at home is rising exponentially.

But reliance on third-party cloud services also raises privacy concerns. And streaming your own content cuts down on monthly subscription costs. This growing demand is fueling the personal and small business NAS (Network Attached Storage) industry.

Global NAS Industry Growth Projections

According to leading market research firm ReportLinker, the global NAS market is projected to grow from $23.3 billion in 2022 to around $60.9 billion by 2030. That‘s a whopping 161% growth in 8 years!

Driving this phenomenal growth is the ballooning storage requirements both at home and small offices. For some perspective, a typical full HD movie today has video bitrates between 8000 to 15000 kbps. At the higher 15 mbps rate, storing even a modest media collection of 100 movies requires around 2.7 TB of storage!

Centralized Storage for the 2020s Digital Lifestyle

It‘s clear that the digital lifestyles of Gen Z and millennials demand vast media libraries and memories archives – all accessible instantly from any device. Cloud storage services alone cannot fulfil these large capacity requirements cost-effectively.

This is where Network Attached Storage makes so much sense for tech-savvy users. In simple terms, a NAS server is a centralized repository accessible to all devices on your local network. Unlike a regular external drive though, everything stored on it can be accessed simultaneously by phones, tablets, smart TVs, laptops etc.

Now that the business case for a home NAS is clearly justified, let‘s look at options for building your own server using that old Windows PC!

Hardware Requirements for a DIY NAS Server

While it‘s possible to repurpose even a very old computer into a NAS, performance will eventually suffer. Generally speaking, any system built in the last 8-10 years has enough horsepower for media duties.

Here is a checklist of recommended hardware specs:

CPU: For smooth 4K video playback, look for Intel chips with QuickSync technology. QuickSync uses integrated graphics to accelerate video processing and transcoding tasks. Core-i series processors starting from 4th gen have this capability. AMD Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs also work very well.

As an example, the Intel Core i5-4570T quad-core chip is able to handle upto 5 simultaneous 1080p transcodes. The higher core count Ryzen Threadrippers can do 10-15 streams easily.

RAM: For the operating system and background tasks, having 8GB to 16GB RAM is ideal. Of course more memory never hurts!

Storage: Your media library size determines this. Have at least 4 drive bays, with 2 drives configured as redundant mirrors. WD Red Plus NAS drives are designed for always-on operation.

Also consider an SATA SSD for the operating system for much faster boots and response. A 240 GB unit is perfect.

Network: Onboard Gigabit ethernet ensures maximum throughput when multiple users access the server simultaneously.

As long as you meet the above criteria, that old Windows PC or office tower will easily handle being a NAS! Now let‘s move on to setup options…

Method 1: Windows 10 with Plex Media Server

If you don‘t want to bother with installing a new operating system, the easiest way is to use the existing Windows 10 on your old computer.

We‘ll just optimize it for background operation and install Plex to share media across the home network.

Step 1: Fresh Windows 10 Install

Start off with a clean Windows 10 install using the media creation tool from Microsoft. This removes any useless bloatware and gives you a blank slate.

During installation, decline any optional software. Once the OS is ready, head to Settings > Apps and uninstall anything else you don‘t need.

Also check for Windows Updates and install all the latest drivers for your hardware.

Step 2: Install Plex Media Server

With Windows prepped, download and install the Plex media server app. This runs the backend services and provides apps across devices to view your library.

By default Plex will create its own dedicated media folders. You can customize this location if your media is stored elsewhere.

Step 3: Share Drive Over Network

We need to ensure media drives are visible on the network. Open File Explorer and right-click on the drive you want to share. Select "Properties" and click the "Sharing" tab. Enable share access for "Everyone" with full "Read/Write" permissions.

Step 4: Configure Power Settings

One shortcoming of using Windows 10 is unexpected reboots from updates. To work around this, tweak the advanced power settings:

  • Never turn off hard disk – avoids spin down delays
  • Never sleep or hibernate – keeps NAS server always-on

You may also selectively uninstall unused Windows features to lower resource usage. The resulting OS overhead is still higher compared to NAS-focused operating systems. But on the plus side, setup takes less than 30 minutes!

Method 2: Install TrueNAS Operating System

For enthusiasts who prefer greater control, I strongly recommend installing an OS tailored specifically for NAS implementations – my favorite is TrueNAS Core.

By replacing the existing OS, TrueNAS gives your system a new lease of life focused purely on file sharing and storage. The difference is instantly noticeable thanks to a lightweight BSD-based foundation.

Let‘s look at the step-by-step process:

Step 1: Create TrueNAS USB Installer

You can download the TrueNAS .iso image and use balenaEtcher to create a bootable USB drive. This allows starting the OS installer upon bootup.

Optional – If your system supports UEFI booting, enable that for faster startup. Legacy CSM mode works as well.

Step 2: Enter BIOS and Select Boot Priority

Insert the TrueNAS USB installer, power on your system and press the BIOS key (F2, F8 etc.) to enter UEFI settings. Here, under the Boot tab, select boot priority making the USB drive first.

This ensures TrueNAS installer loads instead of Windows. Save settings and exit BIOS.

Step 3: Install TrueNAS OS

Upon rebooting, choose the TrueNAS installer option. On the menu choose Fresh Install and select the destination disk – an SSD or HDD to install the OS. The rest of the drives will be used later in a pool.

Go through the rest of the prompts setting up root password, network config and user accounts. Reboot once the installer completes – now TrueNAS Core boots up!

Step 4: Access Web UI and Configure Sharing

The OS assigns your server an IP address, typically in the 192.168.x.x range. Enter this into any browser to access the administrative dashboard. Under Network, enable services like SSH, SMB, AFP etc. based on need.

Next, use the Storage option to create your first pool using the remaining data drives. Then create datasets and shares exposing them over SMB / AFP. Finally, set access permissions for allowed users and groups.

Compared to a Windows 10 NAS, TrueNAS offers these advantages:

  • Rock solid stability – stays on 24/7 without maintenance needs
  • Lower memory usage – Debian FreeBSD core uses less than 2GB RAM
  • Easier drive pooling and snapshots
  • Granular user permissions for shares
  • Supports multiple network protocols

While the learning curve is higher, the passionate TrueNAS community provides fantastic guides and support forums to learn the ropes.

Ensuring NAS Data Protection

Hardware failures, though rare, can jeopardize precious data. So we must account for drive failures and setup backup routines.

Storage Redundancy Using ZFS

The ZFS filesystem in TrueNAS gives powerful data duplication capability using RAID-Z virtualized storage pools. For starters, use mirrors to protect against drive failure. Just add a second similar capacity drive and create a mirrored pool. If one fails, ZFS will run in degraded mode on the surviving drive.

For greater redundancy, RAID-Z2 stripes data across drives and generates dual parity information. So your pool survives even if two disks fail simultaneously! The cost is 50% usable capacity, striking a balance between performance and backup assurance.

ECC Memory – Strongly Recommended

While not mandatory, using ECC RAM with ZFS is highly recommended. ECC detects and fixes random bit-level memory errors ensuring silent corruption does not happen. Consumer motherboards don‘t support ECC natively, but Windows and TrueNAS run just fine with ECC RAM meant for servers!

Backup Strategies for NAS Servers

In addition to drive failure protections, you should definitely implement external backups:

Backup to External USB Drive

Use built-in tasks in TrueNAS or software like Arq Backup to schedule file copies to attached USB hard drives. For versioning, incrementally backup on a weekly basis while doing full monthly backups.

Remote Replication to Offsite NAS

For businesses, replicate backups over the internet to an identical NAS at a remote office or rented space in a datacenter. The offsite location guards against local disasters.

Encrypted Cloud Backup

If dealing with highly sensitive data on the NAS, backing up everything to encrypted cloud storage is the ultimate insurance. Services like Backblaze B2 offer класс leading data protection at just $5 per TB / month.

Closing Thoughts

And there you have it friend – transform that old Windows PC into an epic media server and storage appliance with Plex and TrueNAS! Future-proof your data hoarding needs while cutting down reliance on paid cloud subscriptions.

No longer confined to small SSDs in laptops and PCs, your entire family can now access vast media libraries and files from one central vault.

Do you have any other questions about choosing components or setting up your home NAS? What feature are you most looking forward to enable with this project? Let me know in the comments!