How To Build A NAS Server For Free!

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We are storing more data than ever before, that’s why I decided to introduce you to a solution that will keep your data safe and accessible. I will show you how to build a NAS Server for Free or considerably cheaper that going out and buying one.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking what on earth is a NAS Server and why do I need one? You’re in the right place as in this tutorial, I will show you exactly what a NAS Server is and how to build your very own.

What is a NAS Server and why is it better from an external hard drive?

In simple terms, a server is a computer designed to provide functionality to other computers. It usually has its own dedicated operating system. NAS stands for Network Attached Storage and if we combine these two together we have a server dedicated to storing files on your home network.

External hard drives are a great alternative for storing your data safely, however, they are very limited in terms of what they can do. For example, if I connect the hard drive to my computer, my family wouldn’t be able to access the files on their computers until I have finished.

NAS servers can also perform other tasks, such as hosting movies, music and photos making them available on your TV. Plex Media Server is a great example of this.

Backing up data is extremely important, as storage devices do fail and it happens more often than you might think. NAS Servers are great for backing up files and precious photos. Depending on the device you have, you can set two hard drives to Raid 1 which will mirror both hard drives so that if one hard drive fails, the data is still available on the second hard drive. There’s a saying in IT that if you don’t back something up, it doesn’t exist and that couldn’t be more true! As someone who works in IT, I can tell you that storage devices fail, that’s exactly why I follow the 2 is 1 and 1 is none rule. it basically means that two copies of a file are the equivalent of one copy and one copy is the equivalent of having no copies of that file. At the end of the day, you can’t call it a backup until you have at least 3 copies!

Don’t get me wrong having a backup copy on an external hard drive is fine too, but a NAS server is still better.

Is A NAS Server at home necessary?

That would depend on the circumstances, but usually, the answer is yes! If you live with multiple people in your household then having a NAS will enable you to store and back up all your files in one central place.

Even if you live on your own, a NAS server can be great for use as a backup system.

How do I build my own?

Now I am fully aware that you can just go out and buy a NAS server such as this 4 TB Synology DS218 Play or you can just buy an enclosure such as the Synology DS220j 2 Bay and add your own hard drives inside. However, going this route can become costly, especially since you can potentially build a NAS for Free or at least for a very low cost.

So what’s the catch?

Well, you’re going to need an older computer or laptop, but ideally a computer tower of some form. If you don’t have one, it’s not really an issue because you can buy a cheap one online. I tend to recommend looking for ex-business PC’s such as the Dell Optiplex range on eBay. Check out my post on buying ex-business PC’s I also recommend that you get a larger tower if you plan on putting more hard drives inside. However, if you are not looking to put more than 2 hard drives inside, a smaller SFF (Small Form Factor) PC will be a nice fit for a household. The screenshot below shows a perfect example of a computer that can be turned into a NAS server, not only is it small, but it’s powerful enough to become a server. By the way, if you are interested in this listing, I found it on this URL.

Screenshot of Dell Optiplex computer perfect for a server

Screenshot of Dell Optiplex PC on eBay. Listing available here

The PC doesn’t need to be powerful and most lower spec machines will do. You can even install Open Media Vault (OMV) on a Raspberry Pi!

The other option is to use a Raspberry Pi, however, you will need to find a way of connecting a hard drive to it. A Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer which you can purchase cheaply and they are powerful enough to do a lot of things. You can also do some very interesting projects with them. I currently have one running as a Home Bridge so that I can control incompatible devices with Apple’s Home Kit. But there are countless other projects you can do. In the past, I even built a NAS server with a single portable hard drive.

We’re going to use a free Linux-based operating system called Open Media Vault, which can be downloaded here. The instructions for a Raspberry Pi are slightly different, so in this tutorial, we are concentrating on a laptop or desktop computer.

You Will Need

  • Old laptop/computer or Raspberry Pi
  • Hard Drive (At least 1)
  • Small USB drive for the boot media (1 GB +)
  • Large USB Drive for the system drive (High Performance 32 GB is ideal) or 120 GB SSD if compatible
  • Ethernet Cable
  • Open Media Vault (OMV) Image
  • Etcher
  • Monitor/TV
  • Keyboard

Let’s get started…

1. Create a bootable USB Drive

To begin with, you will need to download the Open Media Vault ISO which you can find here. I recommend downloading the latest stable release.

You then need to prepare your USB drive. Due to the fact that the operating system is extremely slow any old USB drive will do the trick. I recommend one with at least 1GB of total storage space. Please be aware that you will need to completely format this USB drive, so if you have anything stored on there, please back up!

In order to make the ISO file bootable, you need to download another program called Etcher. Once, you’ve installed Etcher, do the following…

  1. Press “Flash from file” and attach your freshly downloaded ISO
  2. Press “Select target” to select your USB drive. Make sure you select the correct drive, as you can potentially wipe the wrong drive by accident! – The one thing I like about Etcher is that it will tell you if the drive is large to minimise the chance of wiping the wrong hard drive.
  3. Press Flash!

Image showing how Etcher should be setup

2. Prepare your computer

To begin with, make sure that you’re not storing anything on the old computer that you may need to back up. If you are ready, then power off the computer.

Once your computer is ready, connect a monitor, ethernet cable and keyboard to your computer.


If you are planning to add more hard drives, follow this guide, if not go to step 3.

  1. Disconnect the computer from the mains
  2. Disconnect anything that may be connected to the computer
  3. Press the power button a few times to get rid of any remaining electricity
  4. Open the case
  5. Make sure you have enough SATA cables to connect the drive or drives
  6. Connect and shelve the drives
  7. Close the case
  8. Connect the display, power, Ethernet and keyboard

Just a side note, if you are not sure how to perform the above steps, YouTube is packed with videos of specific models and tutorials on connecting hard drives.

As a second side note, I would also recommend removing any unnecessary hardware components such as graphics cards or sound cards as you won’t need them.

3. Installing Open Media Vault

Start by connecting your OMV flashed USB drive to the computer and boot to it. You may have to enable USB boot in the BIOS. I can confidently say that the BIOS can be entered using the “F2” key on most models but if for some reason it isn’t, you should be able to Google it, the same goes for the boot menu key.

Once you’ve made sure boot from USB is enabled, reboot and go to your boot menu and select the USB drive, you should be treated by the screen below…

Open Media Vault Boot Screen

Select “Install” and follow the steps below…

  1. Select installation language
  2. Select your location
  3. Select your keyboard layout
  4. Enter a Hostname, this can be whatever you like
  5. Enter a Domain name
  6. Set Root password, this will be for the systems administrator account
  7. Re-enter the password on the next step
  8. Select your system disk, this should be the high-performance memory stick or small SSD
  9. Select your location for the package manager
  10. Select a mirror for the package manager
  11. Leave Proxy blank and continue
  12. Install Grub boot loader to make the system bootable
  13. Reboot system
  14. Whilst still connected to the screen/monitor make a note of the IP address as this is how you will access it from the browser interface

4. Configure the NAS using the web interface

One of the main advantages of NAS servers is that they don’t need to be connected to a mouse, keyboard or monitor to work, they are accessed using a web interface.

To access the web interface, simply type the IP address you made note of in the previous step into a browser and press enter.

You will then be treated with a login page and will probably think oh, okay, how do I log in?

Open Media Vault Log-in page

The default log-in details are as follows:

  • Username: admin
  • Password: openmediavault

You will then be treated with the Dashboard page. This will be where all the configuration will take place.

4a. Change your Web administrator password

Let’s start by changing the password, to a more secure one. You can do this by going into General Settings> Web Administrator Password. Set your new password and press save.

4b. Set Static IP address

I would recommend setting up a static IP address just in case the IP address changes and you lose access to the server. So to change from DHCP to Static, you simply go to Network > Interfaces > Select your interface > press edit.

You then scroll down to IPv4 and under method, select static. You then do the following:

  1. Under the Address field, type the IP address of the server

To get the Netmask and Gateway do the following:

  1. In Windows open CMD by pressing the Windows key and R
  2. Type cmd and press enter
  3. Type ipconfig and press enter

This will bring up the information needed for you to fill in. You then press Save > Apply > Yes

4c. Setting up the storage

  1. Under Storage, go to Disks

    1. Select the storage disk and press Wipe
    2. Select Yes > Quick
    3. Once it says Done, press close
  2. Under Storage, go to File Systems

    1. Select the disk and click create
    2. Under device > Select your disk
    3. Give it a name in the Label field
    4. I would leave the File system as EXT4
    5. Click Ok > Yes > Close
    6. Click the newly created Storage area and click mount and follow the steps
  3. Under Access Rights Management, go to Shared Folders

    1. Press Add
    2. Give the share a name. e.g. Media
    3. Under device select your mounted-storage drive
    4. Optional: You can set the permissions
    5. Press Save > Apply
  4. Under Services, go to SMB/CIFS

    1. Select Enable
    2. Press Save > Apply
    3. Go to Shares
    4. Press Add
    5. Under Shared Folder select your drive
    6. Set your public permissions
    7. Press Save > Apply

    5. Accessing your storage from Windows

    1. Open a Windows Explorer Windows
    2. Type your IP address in the Quick access bar in the following format: and press enter
    3. This will take you to your server and you should be able to browse and upload files to it.
    4. It’s worth mapping the drive under this PC for easy access. You can do this by:
      1. Copy the directory tree
      2. Go to this PC
      3. Go to the Ribbon and Select “Map network drive”
      4. Give it a Drive Letter
      5. Make sure Reconnect at sign-in is ticked
      6. Press Finish

The drive will now appear under this PC for easy access.


This guide explained how to build a basic Open Media Vault Server. There are many other cool things that you can do with Open Media Vault, but I guess I’ll leave that for future posts and tutorials. I highly recommend checking out Techno Dad Live’s YouTube channel who has made a lot of interesting videos about Open Media Vault and has taught me a lot of what I know today about the system.

I built my very first Open Media Vault NAS a few years ago on a Dell Optiplex 380, which was running on some variation of the Intel Core 2 Duo, 4GB of RAM and a 1TB WD Blue Hard Drive. Since then I’ve pieced together more powerful server from hardware I had lying around and below are the results…

Photo my current Open Media Vault Server

What I have here is a budget case I found on eBuyer, an Intel i5 2nd Generation CPU, 8GB of RAM, 120 GB System SSD, 2x 2TB Hard drives setup in Raid 1 which mirrors them. I use this as my backup share. I also have a 3TB hard drive which I store things that I don’t need to have backed up on.

My review of the above case can be found below:

As I’m in the middle of setting up a new home lab, I will likely be rebuilding my NAS server, at this stage I’m thinking of staying with Open Media Vault, but I’m also considering other free options such as TrueNAS (Previously FreeNAS). As of writing this article, I haven’t really looked into the options as I was busy building and configuring builds on my ESXI server but, I want my new NAS solution to be able to backup the backup share to some form of cloud solution, so if you have any recommendations, let me know!