Whether it’s too many family photos or an ever-expanding movie collection, you’re going to need enough data storage. If you need a safe place to save your data, using a network-attached storage device is the way to go, but high-quality NAS devices can be costly.
Thankfully, you can build your own at a much lower cost if you’re using software like FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault, and Amahi, but which is best for your DIY NAS? Let’s compare them and find out.
FreeNAS is probably the best known NAS operating system out there. It’s been in development since 2005 and has over 10 million downloads to its name. It’s also got the biggest development team, thanks to corporate backing from its parent company, iXsystems.
Unlike our other two contenders, FreeNAS is based around FreeBSD, a Unix-based cousin to the Linux kernel, used in Amahi and OpenMediaVault. It uses the OpenZFS file system, which supports pooled and scalable storage.
FreeNAS has features you’d find in enterprise-level NAS devices, like data snapshots and practically unlimited storage limits. Whatever your disk management, FreeNAS supports it; RAID, hot-swapping, and disk striping are all supported under the OS.
It covers almost every data sharing protocol, such as Samba and NFS. This means it’ll work great with devices running any OS—Windows, macOS, and Linux included. It also supports integration with cloud storage providers like Amazon S3 and Google Cloud out of the box.
Want to add other features? FreeNAS has support for third-party plugins to expand your NAS capabilities further. You can even control virtual machines and Docker containers through the FreeNAS web interface to turn it into a server. The web interface isn’t complicated to use, thanks to a clear breakdown of features, and it’s the most modern of the three.
It’s well supported, regularly updated and the active development means you get cutting edge features when they’re stable enough for release. The downside? This isn’t an OS for low powered systems.
FreeNAS recommends at least 8GB of RAM and a multi-core processor as a minimum. You should also invest in reliable storage drives to keep your data safe. If you don’t want to DIY it, the company offers it’s own NAS devices for sale.
OpenMediaVault has a strong NAS pedigree. It’s been around since 2009 and was created as a successor to FreeNAS by one of its original developers when that project was facing a major re-write. It’s open source, so it’s completely free to use and distribute and has had over 4 million downloads.
Unlike FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault is based around Debian, one of the best Linux distributions thanks to its stability and active development. Talking of active development, OpenMediaVault gets minor updates on a monthly basis, with major releases occurring nearly every year.
OpenMediaVault and FreeNAS have some crossover features, such as storage monitoring, Samba/NFS file sharing, and RAID disk management. However, it doesn’t have some of the more advanced features that FreeNAS has, like hot-swapping or the OpenZFS file system. As it’s Debian-based, ext4 is the default file system, but you can install others like JFS or XFS.
Using Debian as it’s base means that OpenMediaVault installations get to take advantage of the large number of Debian packages available. You don’t get cloud integration included as standard with OpenMediaVault, but you can add this with additional plugins, or by using a relevant Debian package.
You can set up a web server, BitTorrent client, or even a Plex media server if you wanted to, thanks to OpenMediaVault plugins.
There’s only one primary developer for OpenMediaVault, but others play a small part in developing patches and creating plugins. One of OpenMediaVault’s best features, compared to FreeNAS, is it’s low system requirements. You can run OMV on low-powered devices like the Raspberry Pi, where you can combine it with media software like Plex to create a Raspberry Pi Plex server.
FreeNAS and OpenMediaVault are both NAS-focused, but Amahi is a little different. It doesn’t try to just be a NAS operating system—it wants to be the only Linux media server OS you’ll ever need.
Amahi is based around Fedora, another well known Linux distro. Stable releases of Amahi are based around stable Fedora releases, the latest being Amahi 11 matching Fedora 27. Five main developers form a core team keeping Amahi up-to-date and with new features.
It’s not a technical OS, and the web interface is designed to be simple for end users. You can install “apps” that extend Amahi, from media server software like Plex to game servers.
You can use Amahi as a VPN server for your network, set up a local wiki or calendar for your family, and turn it into a backup server for all of your PCs. It supports all the standard file sharing protocols like Samba and NFS as standard, and these can be easily configured in the web interface.
On a technical note, Amahi uses typical Fedora file systems such as ext4 and XFS. Amahi even competes with some of the enterprise-level features that FreeNAS supports, with storage pooling using Greyhole. This combines all of your storage into one to help prevent data loss.
Stable updates and a wide feature set make Amahi a good choice for beginners who want a NAS server that does everything.
Download: Amahi (Initial signup required)
The Best NAS Software for Your Needs
Which of these would make the best operating system for a NAS device? That depends on your own requirements, as they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Choose the best NAS software for your own needs:
- FreeNAS: Best for enterprise users or home users with lots of storage.
- OpenMediaVault: Best for home users and small businesses, especially with low powered equipment.
- Amahi: Best for users looking for a full media server experience with NAS features included.
Whether you choose FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault or Amahi, you’ll have software that’s in active development, well supported and with plenty of available features. You’ll just need to make sure you choose the best parts for your own server to make sure it’s reliable to use as an always-on storage solution.