DIY NAS for Under $200: A Complete Build Guide

I’ve had various storage solutions over the years. I started with a 60 GB external drive that cost me $200 in 2004 and my last major investment was a Buffalo Hard Drive enclosure. After I killed my Buffalo enclosure (wrong power adapter, whoops) I decided I wanted to invest in something that would allow me to “easily” expand my storage as my need for additional space grows. This led me to building my own DIY NAS based on UnRAID.

UnRAID gives me the ability to easily have redundancy and install it on pretty much any hardware. My other goal was to keep this DIY NAS build under $200, excluding the cost of the hard drives.

The low price point gave me a pretty limited number of options. I opted to base this build on an AMD A8 7600 CPU, and mini ITX motherboard/case. This gave me the small size that I wanted with the ability to upicycle parts later.

Cheap DIY NAS Parts List

The CPU I chose was the AMD A8 7600. I primarily went with this CPU because of it’s low cost, like most everything else in this build. But I also liked that it is an APU, meaning it has decent graphics performance. So if I ever wanted to repurpose some of the parts and build a “proper” PC, I could with relative ease. I will be using this NAS to store backups of my three computers and as my Plex media server.

The motherboard I chose was the ASUS A68HM-E, for the simple fact that I got it in a combo deal on Newegg. What I don't like is that it only has 2 slots for RAM, but I've put 16GB of RAM and haven't run into any issues as of yet. Plex and a single Windows VM doesn't take up that much RAM. What I like about it is that it's pretty cheap and has 4 SATA ports. This gives me enough SATA ports to get started and I can add a cheap card in it later if I want a few more SATA ports.

For my case I went with the Rosewill Ranger-M. It’s a very cheap mini ITX tower with space for 3 x internal 3.5 in. drives and 2 x 5.25 in. drives. With some cheap 5.25 in to 3.5 in adapters this gives me space for 5 standard size hard drives. This will probably be more than enough for quite sometime.

My power supply of choice was the Lepa MX-F1 350 watt edition. With 3 SATA connectors and a few molex adapters, I can power all of the hard drives that will fit in this case. According to a power supply calculator I should only need around 150 watts under max load, so the 350 watts should be plenty to power my small build.

Update: After getting my NAS built I realized the Lepa had a short in the SATA cable. I ended up running to Staples, cause I’m super impatient, and bought an Antec Earthwatts 450 Watt power supply. This one worked fine,but did put me over my $200 price point. Not a huge deal, but was a bit annoying. This also has the added benefit of having 4 SATA power cables, meaning I could easily get to a 6 drive array if I used additional molex adapters and a SATA card later on.

I had 2 sticks of 8 GB Corsair DDR3 RAM left over from another project, so that was my obvious choice for the RAM for this machine. If you needed to purchase this RAM it does add $100 more to the cost of the build. I would recommend going with 8 GB of total RAM if you want to save $50.

I also had a 240 GB Intel SSD that I took out of my main PC a few months ago. This will be my cache drive and allow me to get the most out of my gigabit home network, transferring to the HDD array nightly. For my storage drives, I’m using Western Digital’s 4 TB Red drives. These have great reviews and are built for a NAS environment.

I also want to try and conserve as much energy as possible, and since I sleep about 8 hrs a night, I will be putting my server into sleep mode during my daily slumber. Thankfully an awesome unRAID community member has a plugin that allows me to easily set my sleep schedule.

DIY NAS Build Process

  1. The first part of my DIY NAS build was putting the CPU on my motherboard. This was very straightforward. AMD and Intel both have helpful marks on their processors and the motherboard to help you line up the CPU with the motherboard slot. Then placing the RAM, easy task. Note: One thing I do want to note is that the motherboard I chose only has two slots for RAM. This may be an issue for some people, especially if you’re planning on using FreeNAS. For me this shouldn’t be an issue, since I’m using unRAID and don’t plan on doing more than one Plex stream at a time.
  2. The next step was putting the standoffs into the case. Again, a very straightforward process.
  3. Now I can put the motherboard into the case and screw it down.
  4. Then I placed my HDD into the case, since it’s so small and would be annoying trying to get the drives in after I installed the power supply.
  5. Finally I mounted the power supply into the case and did some basic cable management. This is my major gripe with the Rosehill Ranger-M case. There is virtually no options for cable management in this case. But, I think the size and price of the case outweighs this limitation.

Setting Up unRAID

unRAID has some great getting started videos on their YouTube channel. My first usb drive kept giving me an error when I booted into unRAID. I found out that it was an error caused by the drive itself, so I switched it out for a Sandisk USB drive I had lying around. After fixing that error, I was able to easily get unRAID onto my USB drive and get it installed. The “tricky” part, meaning it took more than 5 minutes, was getting my motherboard to actually boot from the USB drive. After some trial and error I did get it running. I recommend learning how to disable secure boot and fast boot on your motherboard. These were causing issues for me.

One of my major concerns with this build was power consumption, I don’t want the electric bill to skyrocket. So after getting unRAID installed I downloaded the community applications plugin, basically an app store for unRAID plugins, and then installed the Dynamix S3 Sleep plugin. This allows me to set my sleep time quickly and easily. I have my NAS sleep for 12 hours a day, while I’m sleeping and while I’m at work. This basically cuts the cost in half.

Final Thoughts

After building the NAS and getting my hands dirty, I’m really happy with this build. If I were to change anything about this build it would be the case. I think I will have a harder time than I expected adding hard drives to the array later on. I also wish I would have thought more about the video outputs on my motherboard. This motherboard only has VGA and DVI. Neither of which does my monitor support. Luckily I had a DVI to HDMI cable lying around. This wasn’t a big deal, just something I didn’t think about until I was actually in the process of building my DIY NAS.

Disclaimer: The links in this post use my Amazon affiliate link. This costs you nothing. But if you decided to buy something that I linked to I do get a small kickback. This helps me pay for my hosting bill and other personal projects. :)