My review of the FreeNAS Mini (part 1)

Here’s my review of the brand new Mini.

How did this review come about?  Well, lots of people in the FreeNAS forums have asked about my opinion of the new Mini.  If you are an avid FreeNAS forum reader you may know that I had some serious concerns with the old model.  But all of those concerns appear to have been washed away with the new model.  I’ve recently had the opportunity to review this product, so here it is.

You can buy the machine, ready-made with FreeNAS already installed on an internal SATA Disk-On-Module (DOM) for $1000 (cheapest design).

Here are the various retail configurations:

For a reasonable upcharge, you can upgrade the box to 32GB of RAM from the default 16GB configuration.

The unit I am reviewing is the 8TB configuration.  I opted for RAIDZ2 which subtracts 2 disks worth of capacity.  Others may choose to go with a RAIDZ1 or do a RAID10 equivalent.

Note:  These pictures are slimmed down to fit the webpage.  You can click on them to view the larger original versions if you want higher detail.

Below is what the Mini ships in:

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It’s fairly big, but that’s because there’s plenty of foam protecting your precious cargo!  Opening the box you can see how it is shipped….

 

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Below shows the foam removed which reveals the disks and other goodies.  The brown box on the right side of the picture contains the actual FreeNAS Mini.  You can see the 4 hard drives in the anti-static bags.

 

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 The picture below are the goodies you get with your purchase.  Woohoo for goodies!  You get Beastie (the BSD mascot), some FreeNAS stickers, a blinking headband, a wristband and a FreeNAS quick guide.  Also included is a sheet of paper that talks a little bit about Beastie, FreeNAS/TrueNAS, and iXsystems.

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If you buy the diskless configuration, the trays will be installed in the server.  If you buy a configuration with disks, the disks will already be in the trays, but they will be in static bags inside the foam I showed you earlier.  This is because iXsystems has taken the liberty of testing the disks for you for about 50 hours before the system left their warehouse.  They are all WD Red hard drives, which I, and nearly uniformly, any of the well-known participants in the FreeNAS forums recommend for home and small office server.

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Time to get to the meat of the purchase!  Below is the Mini inside it’s shipping box.

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And below it is completely unpacked…

 

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Here’s what it looks like from the front with no disks installed.

 

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Here’s what the front of the drives look like with the handle ejected.  To eject you simply slide the circular button to the right which ejects the handle.  Then you grab the handle and pull straight out.

 

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Here’s the box with all of my disks installed.  There’s two USB 2.0 ports on the front, power switch, reset switch, and a lock.  The lock prevents someone from easily accessing anything on the front of the computer.

 

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Here’s a view of the back.  The PSU fan and the (only) case fan is clearly visible.  I had some serious concerns that the fan might be too loud or not provide enough cooling, but as you will see it does the job very well.

 

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If you look closely the ports available on the back you’ll see VGA, a 9 pin Serial port, IPMI ethernet, dual Intel Gb LAN (which supports LACP and Jumbo Frames if desired), and 2xUSB 2.0 ports that have protective covers installed.  Most users should have a UPS for a server like this, which means you’ll have to remove one of those covers.  On the right is something you probably don’t recognize.  That’s an ID button.  You press it and the LAN port blink so you can find it on a switch if you can’t trace the wires by hand.

The case also includes the option of installing a small padlock to prevent access to the inside as well as a provision for standard laptop locking devices.  You can see the only available expansion slot on the right.  It’s a half-height PCIe 8x slot.  Later I’ll do some benchmarks with my 10Gb Intel LAN card installed.

In the event you need to access the interior of your case, only the thumbscrews need to be unscrewed to gain access.

Also for convenience is iXsystems phone number along with the serial number for the machine.

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You can’t see it too well in the above picture, but there’s a slot for adding a 2.5″ laptop drive to the case.  There’s only one, but later I’ll mention a place where you could optionally fit a second drive in here too.

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Above you can see a ton of SATA ports.  Yes, this thing has 12 of them!  Of course, you couldn’t fit 12 drives in this box even if you wanted to.  iXsystems includes 16GB of DDR3-1600Mhz ECC RAM in every box.  Lucky for us, they weren’t stingy and included 2x8GB modules instead of 4x4GB modules.  So installing 32GB of RAM only requires you to buy 2 more 8GB modules.  Win!

If you look closely on the right, there’s a 16GB Apacer SATA DOM installed in this box.  Believe it or not it, this box has FreeNAS pre-installed!  This makes things pretty easy since a lot of people have problems installing FreeNAS on a new machine.  I did some basic speed tests on it, and it clocks about 150MB/sec.  While it won’t set records, it does mean you’ll see some respectable bootup times over a standard USB stick.  The WebGUI will also be marginally more snappy.

 

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Here’s a view of the top.  The case has provisions for a slim CD-ROM.  I’d never add a CD-ROM to this box, but the option exists.  What would have been really fancy would have been an optional adapter to install a 2.5″ hard drive in that slot.  If you really like this idea you can buy an aftermarket adapter.  With the option of 2×2.5″ drives you could setup a mirror of SSDs on their own pool to run your jails.

 

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Here’s a view of the other side of the case.  The PSU is on the top right.  It’s a 250w PSU.  As you’ll see later that’s a whole lot of power for this little box.  It is only rated for 80+ Bronze, but I think that’s a very good choice.  Before you start screaming scam and wanting an 80+ Gold rated let’s put this in perspective.  A Gold rated PSU will command a significantly higher price than a Bronze will.  You’re going to see something in the ballpark of 7% power savings.  Well this box idles at 43w with hard drives installed.  So if it had been a Gold rated PSU you’d have saved at most about 3w.  Is 3w worth paying a lot more for the PSU?  I’ll gladly take the Bronze and eat that measly 3W.  Overall, I think iXsystems made a good choice by going with Bronze.

So is this new FreeNAS Mini evolutionary or revolutionary?

The old i5-based FreeNAS Mini had some significant problems.  In particular it didn’t have support for ECC RAM.  If you didn’t ever see the old Mini, here’s a review I found of the old one.  The old Mini was a disappointment because a user that is spending money on a pre-built, commercially-produced system by a company like iXsystems should expect to have expert-selected hardware, properly and conveniently configured for maximum reliability.  Instead the old Mini was nothing more than what you could have found from a typical lower-priced pre-built retail desktop computer.

Overall, on the surface this build has almost everything I want, and nothing I don’t.  I say almost, because it’s an Atom.  These are the latest generation of Atoms (codename Avoton).  They are quite a bit more expensive than the old Atoms.  They also have a TDP that’s about twice the old generation.  But these aren’t your old Atoms in the performance arena.  These are 8-core/8-thread CPUs running at 2.40Ghz.  The real concern has been whether these CPUs can handle the workload many people will throw at them.  That’s what I’ll find out on my second page!

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