How to install FreeNAS to set up a file server

Are you looking to build a file server? FreeNAS is perhaps your best option because of its features and price (free). Here's how to install the OS.

Install FreeNAS

FreeNAS is a freely available and open source powerful Network Attached Storage (NAS) OS, which anyone can use to set up a server for home and office to share files and media with Windows 10 (and older versions) as well as with macOS and Linux devices.

Also, the OS is based on the robust OpenZFS filesystem, which allows you to access advanced features, such as data integrity, redundancy, early detection of faulty drive, and much more.

In this guide, you’ll learn the steps to install FreeNAS version 11.2 or higher on a device using USB, Solid-State Drive (SSD), or Hard Disk Drive (HDD) to share files and media across your home or work network. Actually, the installation process of FreeNAS is simple, you only need compatible hardware and a USB bootable media with the installation files. (After the installation, you can use these instructions to share a folder with Windows 10 devices.)

FreeNAS hardware requirements

FreeNAS is a light-weight solution based on the FreeBSD version of Linux that can run virtually on any computer or server, but they most meet the minimum requirements.

FreeNAS hardware requirements
CPUIntel 64-bit (recommended).
AMD 64-bit.
RAM8GB (minimum).
ECC RAM (recommended).
Storage (boot)8GB (minimum).
16GB (recommended).
SSD (recommended), SATADOM, or USB sticks can be used for boot devices.
Storage (files)NAS-specific hard drives like Western Digital (WD) Red are recommended.
Hardware RAIDHardware RAID cards are not recommended as they prevent direct access and reduce reliability.
NetworkingIntel or Chelsio 1GbE or 10GbE Ethernet cards (recommended).

Usually, when using this NAS OS, you want to have around 1GB of RAM for each terabyte of storage. However, after 64GB of memory, the performance increase after adding more memory will be minimal.

How to download FreeNAS ISO file

Use these steps to download the ISO file with the latest version of FreeNAS:

  1. Open FreeNAS website.

  2. Click the Download button for the “current stable release.” 

    Download latest version of FreeNAS
    Download latest version of FreeNAS

After you complete the steps, you can use Rufus to create a USB bootable media.

How to create FreeNAS USB bootable media

Use these steps to create a USB bootable media to install FreeNAS 11.2:

  1. Open Rufus website.

  2. Under the “Download” section, click the download link for the latest version.

  3. Double-click the file to launch the tool.

  4. Use the “Device” drop-down menu and select the USB flash drive option.

  5. Click the Select button.

  6. Select the FreeNAS ISO file.

  7. Click the Open button.

  8. Click the Start button.

    Rufus app to create FreeNAS USB boot drive
    Rufus app to create FreeNAS USB boot drive

Once you complete the steps, before you start your device with the tool, you need to make sure that your device can boot from USB.

Usually, you’ll need to access your device Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) or Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) hitting one of the functions key (F1, F2, F3, F10, or F12), the ESC, or the Delete key during boot.

Inside the first, look for the Boot section and make sure the boot order is set to the drive that contains the FreeNAS installation files, and save the configuration.

The BIOS/UEFI can be different depending on the manufacturer and even per computer model, as such make sure to check your manufacturer support website for more specific instructions.

How to install FreeNAS on USB, SSD, HDD

To install FreeNAS on a USB, SSD, or HDD, use these steps:

  1. Start your device with the FreeNAS USB install media.

  2. Select the Boot FreeNAS Installer option and press Enter.

    Boot FreeNAS installer option
    Boot FreeNAS installer option
  3. Select the Install/Upgrade option with the arrow keys and press Enter.

    FreeNAS console setup
    FreeNAS console setup
  4. Select the drive (USB, SSD, or HDD) to install FreeNAS and press Enter. (You can use one or more drives for redundancy, and you can even install the OS onto a USB drive, but it’s not a requirement.)

    FreeNAS choose OS installation location
    FreeNAS choose OS installation location
  5. Choose the Yes option and press Enter to continue.

    FreeNAS installation confirmation
    FreeNAS installation confirmation
  6. Specify a root password for installation and press Enter.

    FreeNAS root password set up
    FreeNAS root password set up
  7. Select the Boot via BIOS option whenever possible and press Enter. Otherwise, if you’re using newer hardware, select the Boot via UEFI option.

    FreeNAS install boot mode
    FreeNAS install boot mode
  8. Disconnect the FreeNAS USB bootable media and press Enter.

    FreeNAS installation complete
    FreeNAS installation complete
  9. Select the Reboot System option and press Enter.

Once you complete the steps, FreeNAS will start, and the “Console setup” will appear with options to manage the server using Linux commands and the TCP/IP address to manage the server using a friendly interface with any modern browser.

To connect to the FreeNAS web interface, type the IP address of the server on your browser, and login using root as the username and type the password you selected during the installation.