How to Turn an Old PC Into a NAS Server: 2 Methods That Work

best nas for macs

How to Turn an Old PC Into a NAS Server: 2 Methods That Work

Key Points

  • You can turn an old PC into a NAS server in a few simple steps, allowing you to stream movies directly from your home network and share files with others.
  • A NAS server is like a remote computer that you can access over your network, and it can be used for streaming media or collaborating on files.
  • The easiest way to turn an old PC into a NAS server is to use Windows with Plex Media Server, while TrueNAS is a more customizable option that keeps the system on at all times.
  • Data redundancy is important for NAS servers, and it’s recommended to mirror your hard drives to protect against drive failure.
  • Backing up a NAS server can be done manually to an external hard drive, to another NAS server dedicated to backups, or to a cloud storage service like Google Drive or One Drive.

Do you have an old PC lying around? Don’t throw it away! You can turn an old PC into a NAS server in a few simple steps. With a NAS server, you can stream movies directly from your home network, and you don’t need to rely on streaming platforms. Even better, everyone on your home network (and even outside it!) can access the server to watch media or share files. In this article, we will walk you through how to turn an old PC into a simple NAS server.

What’s a NAS Server?

NAS (Network Attached Storage) is a separate machine that users on the local area network can access for data storage. You can use a NAS for streaming media or collaborating files with team members. In simple terms, a NAS is like a remote computer that you can access over your network. You can move your library of downloaded movies and TV shows to the NAS to save lots of space on your machine. Take a look at our top NAS machines here.

Before we begin, there are a couple of points to keep in mind. For starters, the operating system that your NAS uses is important. You can use make a simple NAS with Windows or you can install a separate lightweight operating system such as TrueNAS, UnRAID, or OpenMediaVault. Using Windows is the easier option.

Secondly, your system needs to have capable hardware and enough storage. It’s a good idea to use Intel CPUs because they have integrated graphics, which is needed to transcode high-definition media. You don’t need a very powerful processor, something with at least four cores should do the trick. As for RAM, 8GB should be enough. We recommend installing Windows on an SSD and using at least two HDDs for storage.

How to Turn an Old PC Into a NAS Server

Method #1: Windows with Plex Media Server

The easiest way to turn an old PC into a NAS server is to use Windows with a file-sharing or media streaming program. To start, install a fresh copy of Windows 10 or reset it to clear out any bloatware. We also recommend installing Windows on a small SSD for the best performance. Make sure you have all the latest updates and drivers before you begin.

Install Plex Media Server

turn an old PC into a NAS server
To set up your Plex server, you need to download the Plex Media Server software.

To set up your Plex server, download Plex Media Server and assign a folder as your main library. If the folder contains media, Plex will automatically sync the media. Now, you can log in to Plex from any other device to stream your media. Plex is available on practically every device and platform. It even runs in a web browser for Chromebooks that don’t support Android apps.

Share Your Main Drive with Windows File Share

turn an old PC into a NAS server
To share files over a LAN, you can use Window’s built-in networking sharing features.

For file sharing, you can use Window’s built-in networking sharing features. Just keep in mind, Windows file sharing only works over the local area network. Next, share your computer’s main hard drive with your local area network. Open File Explorer, right-click on your main storage drive and select Share. Set the permissions to Everyone and make sure the Permission level is Read/Write.

On a separate computer, the drive you shared should appear under Network in File Explorer. Now you can drag files from your other computer into that folder and it will be sent to it over the network. To access and configure your old PC without a monitor, you can use either Google Remote Desktop or Microsoft Remote Desktop.

Of course, there are some downsides to this method. For one, Windows will go into sleep mode when idle for a long time. Plex can’t wake a computer up from sleep mode. Remote tools can wake up a computer, but you probably don’t want to do that every time. You can try changing your Windows power plan settings to never turn off hard drives or hibernate.

turn an old PC into a NAS server
You can change the sleep mode settings on the computer to suit your needs.

Open Power Plan and select Advanced Power Options. Expand the Hard Disk tab, type in 1, and then click on the down arrow to change it to Never. Next, under the Sleep tab, change Sleep After and Hibernate After to Never. With these options, your old Windows computer should stay on for a long time. Other factors such as Windows updates can force it to restart though. That’s the easiest way to turn an old PC into a NAS server!

Method #2: Use TrueNAS Operating System

TrueNAS will completely replace your operating system and the user interface can only be accessed remotely. Using TrueNAS is a little more difficult because it requires more customization but the advantage is the system will remain on at all times. Let’s walk through the process. First of all, make sure to back up the data on your old PC because the drives will be wiped clean.

Create a TrueNAS Bootable USB

See how to download and install TrueNAS.

Since we will install TrueNAS as an operating system, we need to create installation media. To start, download the TrueNAS software on a separate computer. It will be an ISO file. Next, download Belana Etcher, free software used to burn ISO files to external storage devices, such as USB drives. Now, insert your USB drive, open Etcher, and select the TrueNAS ISO. Next, set the Target to your USB drive and wait for the flashing process to complete. Now you have a bootable TrueNAS USB drive.

Install TrueNAS Operating System

Now, insert the USB drive into your old computer. You might need to access the BIOS to select the Boot from the USB drive feature. When you boot from the USB drive, you will start the TrueNAS operating system installation. Select Install/Upgrade in the Console Setup and make sure to select your boot drive (ideally an SSD) as the operating system drive. From there, follow the prompts and set a password. The installation should only take a few minutes because it’s a lightweight operating system. Once it’s installed on your main drive, remove the USB drive, and reboot the system.

Configure TrueNAS

You can follow this instructional video to set up your TrueNas server.

The way you configure TrueNAS will depend on how you plan to use your server. We will walk you through a simple setup for file and media sharing.

When you reboot the system, TrueNAS will launch from your drive, and you’ll be given an IP address you can use to remotely access the user interface. Type the IP address into a web browser on a separate computer to begin configuring your new NAS machine. The first thing you want to do is create a new Storage Pool. Select Storage, Pools, and Add New Pool. Select all the drives you plan to add to the new Pool, besides your operating system drive. Assign a name to your new pool and click on Create Pool.

Now create a Data set. In the Pools tab, select the three dots next to your new storage Pool, and select Add Dataset. Choose a unique name for your Dataset and use all the default settings. Once created, it’s time to create a new account and assign permissions. Under the Accounts tab, select Users, and add a new account. Enter a unique name and password (remember this for later!) and make sure to check the Microsoft Account under authentication.

Now head back to pools and assign the new account to your data set. In the Pools, select the pool you created, and click on the three dots in the corner to add a new Dataset. Once created, select the second Dataset and select Edit Permissions. Under User, select the account you just created. The group should also match your user. Make sure Apply User and Apply Group are selected. Now you have your Dataset configured. Using TrueNas to turn an old PC into a NAS server is a bit complicated but it can be worth it.

Enable Microsoft SMB on TrueNas

turn an old PC into a NAS server
To make the dive accessible, you have to share it on Windows.

To make your drive accessible from Windows, expand the Sharing tab, and select Windows Shares (SMB). Add a new share path and expand the path to select the lowest level you created. Enable the service and configure the ACL. In the next Window, select a Preset ACL and choose Restricted. Save the settings.

On a separate Windows machine, open Windows Explorer, and select Map Network Drive. Choose a drive letter and enter the IP address that TrueNas assigned to you followed by the name of the Dataset you created. For example, If your TrueNas username and password are different than your Microsoft account, select Connect Using Different Credentials. Enter your username and password and click OK and a window to your network drive should appear. Now you can write data to the folder as you please.

Using TrueNAS on your old computer is great because it will keep the computer on and it won’t be interrupted by updates or other issues. It’s also extremely lightweight. The downside is the user interface is a bit tricky and you need to spend some time configuring the settings. However, you only need to configure the settings once.

For media streaming, you can install Plex Media Server on TrueNAS. To do that, enter the TrueNas user interface for a web browser, and select Plugins. Plex Media Server should be on the main page. You might want to make a new Dataset called Media or something similar where all your movies and TV shows will be installed. Once you have everything set up, Plex should automatically sync your media, and you’ll be able to stream it from your Plex account.

NAS Server Data Protection & Backups

Data Redundancy

Once you have your NAS server up and running, you should consider data redundancy. If you plan to have your server running indefinitely, it’s a good idea to mirror your hard drives. That’s why we recommend installing at least two hard drives for storage. In the case that one of your drives fails, the data will remain on the other drive.

One software you can use is Stable Bit Drive Pool. With it, you can create a storage pool and select the drives to mirror data. While it’s rare for a hard drive to fail, it can happen. Bear in mind, this isn’t the same as backing up a server. It’s more of a short-term solution in case one of your server’s hard drives fails.

How to Backup a NAS Server

Backing up a NAS server is tricky because you need a separate machine that has the same storage capacity or more. There are a few options you can consider. For starters, you could backup your NAS server manually to an external hard drive. This is acceptable if your NAS server isn’t particularly large. Of course, it gets tricky when your NAS server has 20 TB or more.

Another option is to back up your NAS server to another NAS server that is only used for backups. Granted, it’s pricey to buy or set up an entirely new machine just for backups. However, if you’re dealing with personal files, it may be your best option.

Finally, there’s the option to backup your NAS server to a cloud storage service such as Google Drive or One Drive. These require paid subscriptions, and the price varies depending on the amount of storage needed. Cloud storage is generally the safest option because the data is spread across multiple data centers. However, not everyone is comfortable with having their personal media stored in the cloud.

Wrap Up

Turning an old PC into a NAS server is a good idea but it takes a bit of planning and customisation. For people who want a simple way to share media, using Windows with Plex Media Server is the best choice because it’s easy to set up. TrueNAS is also good. However, it takes a while to get TrueNAS up and running. It’s not very user-friendly. Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose a method that suits your needs.

Summary Table

Method #1: Windows with Plex Media Server1. Install a fresh copy of Windows 10 or reset it to clear out any bloatware. 2. Install Plex Media Server and assign a folder as your main library. 3. Share your computer’s main hard drive with your local area network. 4. Change your Windows power plan settings to never turn off hard drives or hibernate.
Method #2: Use TrueNAS Operating System1. Create a TrueNAS Bootable USB. 2. Install TrueNAS Operating System. 3. Configure TrueNAS. 4. Enable Microsoft SMB on TrueNas. 5. Install Plex Media Server on TrueNAS.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much RAM should a NAS server have?

A NAS server that’s used for basic media streaming and file sharing only needs about 8GB of RAM.

Can I turn a laptop into a NAS server?

Yes. You can turn a laptop into a NAS server but it may overheat because the airflow is not as good as PC.

Is it worth having a personal server?

It depends on your usage. If you download a lot of TV shows and media, it’s worth having a server to host those files.

How much does it cost to build a NAS?

A fairly basic NAS will cost the same as an entry-level PC. You can expect to spend around $300 for basic hardware. You can also buy prebuilt office PCs and reconfigure them for a NAS server.

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