Life hack

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

With the passage of time, in the end all PCs and laptops end up becoming obsolete and we have to buy a new one. In that case, what should you do with your old PC ? In this article we are going to tell you the steps you should follow to convert an old PC into a home server of what you need, and without spending any money.

The concept ” home server ” is tremendously broad, and there it will depend on you and your needs. For example, you could create a server for streaming multimedia on your home devices, a file, download, FTP, Minecraft server … whatever you can think of. That is in your hands, because what we are going to explain next are the guidelines and recommendations when preparing the old equipment to turn it into what you need.

Thoroughly clean your “new” home server

With use it is inevitable that dirt enters the PC, and if we talk about an old PC it is quite likely that it is quite dirty. The first step you should take is a thorough cleaning of your old PC and, in fact, if you have some experience in assembling hardware, you should completely disassemble each one of its parts to be able to clean them correctly, and reassemble everything again. time clean.

Even if you do not have experience, you should open the equipment and clean it well inside, being careful not to damage or disconnect anything, in order to keep it as clean – and quiet – as possible and so that it can continue working for as long as possible .

Optional: install more disks

Since you are going to open the equipment to clean it from the inside, and always depending on the use that you are going to give to your “new” home server, it may be a good idea to take advantage of installing more storage, as long as you have unused hard drives at home. In this way, you will provide the pc with a greater storage capacity that you can take advantage of, and this will be especially useful if you intend to use it as a file storage server or as a multimedia server.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Likewise, this optional step will depend on whether you have hard drives available, as well as if there is space in the box to install them, if the board has enough SATA connectors, and if you have cables (both power and data) available.

Format the PC

Based on the fact that you have bought a new PC and that you already have it working with everything you need, we assume that you no longer have to back up any data from the old PC that you are going to reuse, so the next step is to format it. . In this way, you will have a clean and ready-to-operate operating system, with no remains of programs or documents.

If you are clear about what you are going to use your home server for, you can take advantage of the situation to install the operating system that suits you best. For example, if you want an FTP or Minecraft server you don’t need Windows and a Linux distribution will work better for you, actually. It depends on your needs, preferences and knowledge, but in any case the recommendation is that if you are going to reuse an old PC as a home server, format it to have it “clean” also at the software level.

Set up your home server

You already have the equipment clean inside and out, so now it’s time to configure it. A server can serve many different things, but the recommendation is that you configure it for a single purpose. In other words, if you want to use it as a domain controller, for example, don’t configure it at the same time as a Minecraft server , and of course don’t install unnecessary software like the Office package.

Taking into account that we are talking about an old PC, surely its performance is not too high, and therefore the fewer things you have installed and the fewer tasks we require, the better.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Using Windows 10 as a home server has a few perks. First of all, you might have been eligible for the free upgrade. Even if you weren’t, Windows 10 is far cheaper than legal editions of Windows Server (especially if you buy an OEM version). Besides, Windows 10 is Microsoft’s vision for the future, for better or worse. The company has become less focused on consumer versions of Windows as a cash generator, so they aren’t trying to sell us the latest and greatest OS every three years anymore. What that does mean, though, is that Windows 10 is updated often and should be around for a long time. This is a win for the consumer.

Another benefit is using an operating system you’re already familiar with. You don’t have to learn complicated server software. Even WHS 2011, which was designed from the ground up to be an “easy-to-use-at-home” server, had a fairly steep learning curve. I had to learn about Server Manager, Remote Apps, and how to configure ports so I could access the Remote Web Access page. Windows 10 doesn’t come with any of that shiny server stuff.

With all that said, Windows 10 is not server software. It is not intended to be used as a server OS. It cannot natively do the things that servers can. But, with a little help from 3rd party software, it does a pretty good job. I highly recommend the Pro version of Windows 10.

After I decided to rebuild my home server, I was faced with the bitter reality that WHS 2011 was now an unsupported operating system. I didn’t want to spend countless hours learning Linux, and I wasn’t sure if Amahi would deliver for my needs. I’m one of the few people in my neck of the woods that actually likes Windows 10, but I wanted to keep the features of WHS 2011 that I actually used:

  • File server for my LAN
  • Remote access to my files
  • Media streaming (local and remote)
  • Automatic client backups

Also note, this article is written with the intent of using Windows 10 Pro as the OS of choice, not Windows 10 Home. With that said, let’s get started setting up Windows 10 as a home server!

Windows 10 as a File Server

This sounds pretty easy. We’ll just set up a HomeGroup, and uh, what’s that? HomeGroup has been discontinued as of the latest version of Windows (build 1803)? Well I wouldn’t have recommended HomeGroup anyway. In WHS 2011 we created users, then those users were assigned permissions that allowed access to our shared folders. This is pretty much what we’re going to do, we just won’t have the nice Dashboard interface that WHS 2011 gave us. We’ll do it manually.

First, create any users that you want to have access to the shared folders. For a home server, this will probably be just a handful of people. The larger your user group is, the more time you will spend managing file access. First, create your users- these can be either Microsoft accounts or local accounts.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

As an office technology company, we specialize in setting up technology like copiers, servers, networks, mailing equipment, video surveillence and such in our clients' businesses. But for many here who work to implement such technology in others' businesses, innovative use of technology is not just for the workplace, but for the comfort of home as well.

Take for example Robert Taylor who works in our IT department and, among other things, routinely sets up businesses with managed network and cloud-based services, back-up and disaster recovery systems and so on. But go to his house and you'll find him reclined in a chair on his back patio, watching movies or a favorite show on his iPad or maybe just chilling to some tunes. When those fall breezes turn too brisk, he'll wander into his room and watch the remainder of the movie on his HD flat screen.

How does he do that? No, not through Netflix, AmazonPrime, Hulu or whatever, but rather through a media server. He has a computer which hosts his movies, music library and all of his other media, and that he streams it to his device, be that laptop, desktop PC, tablet or phone. That connectivity is not limited to inside the walls of his house, but is also available from the comfort of a hotel room when he is back East on holiday. All he needs is web-access.

Though he is a techy, he says you don't have to be one to set up a similar system at your home.

Here are his instructions on how to do how to turn a computer into a home media-sharing machine:

o you have an old computer sitting around and don’t know what to do with it? How about building your own media-streaming server for your house (or wherever you are, with a little extra setup)?

Here is all you need:

  • An old computer (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 Ghz or better, 2 GB of RAM)
  • A network connection
  • Some version of Windows (for this guide)
  • Something on which to play your media after connecting to the server. Plex supports mobile devices, tablets, TVs, Mac’s and computers, but there is a small $5 fee for the mobile apps (But remember, you are supporting development with these purchases).

Let’s get our Plex Media Server set up.

Step 1 — Download and install. Let's download the Plex Media Server installer, which can be found at Just click the link under Plex Media Server that says "Computer." You will get a pop up screen. Make sure you have the Windows tabs selected then click download English. Once the download completes (It’s around 60MB and should take only a few minutes on most connections), go ahead and start the installer, then click install on the first menu (Hint: If you hit "Options," it asks you where you want to install. The default location is C:\Program Files (x86)\Plex\Plex Media Server) and hit "Launch" when it finishes.

Step 2 — Add Libraries. After you hit “Launch,“ a web browser will pop up to the media management page (which can be accessed by opening any browser on the machine that is running Plex. Navigate to and click “Agree” on the Plex Terms of Service. You will then receive a page to name your Plex server. Let’s just call it Home-MediaServer (the Friendly name field) and click “Next.” After that, it will want you to add libraries which will be where our media (movies, music, TV shows) will reside. Just click “Add Library” then choose the type of media that will be in the library (I’m going to choose movies for this example), then click “Next,” select “Add folder,” and select the folder where you store your movies. Then rinse and repeat for your other media types. Once you have added all your libraries, hit “Next” to continue. On the next page you can install channels that stream from online sources. Then hit “Next” and “Done.”

Step 3 — Connect your TV, tablet or computer. Link your Plex Media Server to your mobile, tablet, TV or computer by installing the Plex mobile app, Plex for TV or Plex Home Theater. Once this is installed, it should automatically detect, connect to and be able to stream media from your Plex Media server. If you sign up for a MyPlex account via and sign into it on your Plex media server and Plex playback devices, while making sure uPnP is enabled on your router (enabled by default on most home routers), your Plex playback devices should be able to find your Plex media server and stream from it even when you are not home, wherever you are.

Step 4 — Enjoy! Relax on your back porch on those pallet-turned-benches, a warm, buttered slice of pumpkin-bread in hand, and your favorite sci-fi playing on your tablet in the other.

Remember, Plex has lots of other features like using your Plex mobile app as a remote for your Plex app on your TV.

To learn more about this and other capabilities, be sure to browse the site at and the user forums at

If you are interested in what we do as a business, feel free to browse the website or you can click the button below to be contacted by one of our reps! Also, be sure to keep watching our social media channels on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a old or cheap computer laying around you should put it to work and create yourself a nice home media server. In this video we will be using Ubuntu server 20.04 and PLEX to easily stream media throughout your home and even when you’re out on the go. Once you have everything set-up you’re not just limited to media. You can use this to run Nextcloud or any other server applications.

With that said lets get started.

Installing Ubuntu on your Machine

First, we are going to want to download and install a boot-able disk image of Ubuntu server edition onto a USB flash drive. If you’re on Windows I’d recommend you use RUFUS and if you’re running on a Linux machine the Popsicle USB Flasher is my go-to tool.

Download Ubuntu Server Edition

Once the disk image has been flashed onto the USB you are going to want to boot into that USB. Depending on your hardware you are going to need to hit a key to get into your boot when when the manufacturer splash screen has displayed.

Once booted in you’re going to want to run though the Ubuntu server setup. This is fairly straight forward.

  1. Select your Language.
  2. Select ‘Continue without updating’, we will update the system later.
  3. Select your keyboard layout, if using ‘English (US)’ click ‘Done’.
  4. Select your network adapter. Ensure you have a valid connection and IP address. Since this is going to be used as a server I’d recommend using a direct Ethernet connection. This will make this way easier.
  5. Leave the proxy address blank.
  6. Leave Ubuntu mirror at default.
  7. Select the disk you’d like to use. For this demonstration we will be using the entire disk and deselecting the LVM group option. You will be able to see a summery of the file system changes.
  8. Set up your name, server name, username, and password.
  9. **Select ‘Install OpenSSH server’.
  10. Skip Snap installs for now.

From here you’re going to want to remove the USB drive and restart your Ubuntu server. After the first boot you’re going to want to login with the user and password your created when setting up the machine. Once you’re in run the commands to update your system.

When booted into server run apt update commands

Setting up Ubuntu for SSH

Once your system is updated were going to need to get the local IP address to SSH into the system. You could do all this on the server machine, but using SSH will make it way easier to copy commands and easily move media files to your new server. First to find your IP run the following command.

Your IP address will be after after ‘inet’ and will likley be the first address that doesn’t end in a 0 or 1. For my machine the local IP address is, so that what I’ll be using for the rest of this article.

Once you have this done you’re going to want to make sure you have OpenSSH installed on your main computer. You can run “ssh” in the terminal to check. As a reminder this will only work on your local network. In order to connect to a machine outside of your home network you will want to set up port forwarding and add additional security to your systems.

Once you have OpenSSH installed you can SSH into you new server.

It will ask you for your password and once you are in it will look like a normal terminal instance, but it will be for the server as it display as [email protected] Once you are in we can setup plex.

Download and Install PLEX

Download using this command. This may be an older version, but we will set-up updating shortly.

Introduction: Make Your Computer Into a Server in 10 Minutes (free Software)

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

By leevonk Follow

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

This covers how to quickly set up your computer (running Windows) as a server. This will allow you to host your own website from your computer and will let you to make web pages with ‘buttons’ allowing you to control things in your home (robots, cameras, etc) from the internet (I’ll cover that in future instructables).

We’ll be using apache: very popular, free, open source server software.

While making your computer into a server will be very quick, you should read through the Apache http server software documentation to learn about how to set it up securely (so that people don’t hack into your computer). I’ll give this advice but read elsewhere for more:
1) best to install this server software on an old computer that you don’t use for anything other than as a server.
2) best to create a seperate user account in windows with limited system access and install this software in that account.

If you want to do this on linux instead of windows (more secure, slightly more complicated) the best combination would be puppy linux and xamp for the server software. Puppy linux can be loaded off a usb jump drive or a CD, so you don’t need to uninstall windows, just boot the computer with one of those. Here’s easy setup videos for puppy linux:
See this instructable for how to install xamp once you have puppy linux (or some other linux) working:

Step 1: Download Apache Server Software

Download the apache http server software from this apache mirror site:
_Or_ go to, navigate to the download from mirrors page, pick a mirror and download from there. As you can see from the above link, you’ll want to navigate to the mirror’s apache, httpd, binaries, win32 folder.

What To Download:
= You should download the newest version (highest version number), it’s 2.2.6 as I type this. Check here to see what the newest version is if you want:
= You want the .msi file, this is a windows installation file (like an .exe)

Step 2: Install It

Double click the .msi file you just downloaded, it will install, use the default settings, typical install (unless you want the source code, then do custom install).

It should automatically fill in some form boxes with your DNS server name (in my case it was during the installation.
for server name, put whatever you want, I don’t think spaces are allowed though. and make sure after your name you have (or whatever DNS name is).
for email, put in your email (or don’t doesn’t matter much).

Step 3: Run It

Once it’s installed I think it starts the server running right away. You can see if it’s running by looking for the icon in the lower right of your task bar (see pic). If it’s not running and you want to start it, or stop it, just navigate in your start menu (see pic).

if you get an error message when you try to start the server write down the error# and look it up in the documentation or google.

Step 4: Test It

Test it out, when you’re sure the server is running open a web browser and type:
into the address bar, this should show up (see pic).

Yay, it works, now do something useful with it (will be covered in future instructables. maybe)

Step 5: Change the Webpage

Here’s an answer I gave to a comment a while ago asking how to change the webpage that pops up when you go to the localhost address.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Although many council recycling depots will now accept electronic equipment, if you can put your motley collection of old CPUs and motherboards to good use, then so much the better.

So, the idea is to turn an old PC into a media server – something that will allow you to listen to and watch your music and video from any networked PC in your house, and can preferably be hidden away out of sight.

If you’ve chosen to reuse an old PC then the chances are it already has a version of Windows installed on it. Although it’s possible to use Windows XP in conjunction with Windows Media Player as a media server, it’s not a particularly flexible option and in our experience it’s pretty flaky, too.

There’s also the fact that Windows tends to become increasingly unstable unless it’s rebooted every few days.

The alternative is to go for a free solution, and Linux is the obvious choice. Although many people are put off by the mere thought of the OS, distributions such as Ubuntu are now easy to use, and while you may need to venture to the command line once in a while, we’ve tried to keep that to a minimum here.

Using Linux also means that you should be able to reuse the Windows licence associated with your old PC elsewhere, provided it’s only been activated once.

1. Install Ubuntu

Head to, download the ISO image for Ubuntu (currently at version 9.04) and burn the image to a CD. On your media server PC, change the BIOS settings to boot from CD, pop the disc in and let the Install wizard run its magic.

EASY LINUX: Using Ubuntu for your media server is simple, effective and free

You’ll need to enter some basic information, such as your name, the name of the system (as it will appear on the network) and a password. Once the installation has finished, Ubuntu will probably grab some updates, after which you’re ready to start setting things up.

2. Install MediaTomb

For this project we will be using MediaTomb, which is a UPnP server application for Linux. It will allow you to share media with any compatible device on your network, including Windows PCs, Macs and even an Xbox 360 or PS3.

MEDIA DATABASE: Install MediaTomb from Ubuntu’s package manager to get started

Thankfully a ready-made package is available for Ubuntu 9.04, so you don’t need to do any command-line installing. Go to the top bar and click on ‘System | Administration | Synaptic Package Manager‘.

Type MediaTomb into the Quick Search box and tick the three entries shown to mark them for installation. Next, click the green ‘Apply‘ tick and MediaTomb will download and install.

3. Choose file locations

Now you need to choose where to store your media, so click on ‘Places | Home Folder‘. Like Windows, Ubuntu uses dedicated folders for music, pictures, documents and videos. It makes sense to use these rather than creating new ones.

DEDICATED FOLDERS: The default options in Ubuntu should suffice but you can add more if you like

The only reason you would want to do that would be if you wanted to use a small drive for the OS installation and then a larger or external drive for media storage. If this is the case, make a new folder in your chosen location; you’ll assign it the appropriate function later on.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Everyone loves getting a new computer. Switching on a brand-new and more powerful PC is a bit like playing in freshly-fallen snow. For a little while at least, a lightning-fast new computer offers endless possibilities.

However, there is one nagging question that everyone has when purchasing a new computer: what do you do with the old one?

Today we’re going to explain how to extend the life of your old computer by turning it into a media server.

How to Access Movies, Music and Photos Stored on Your Old Computer

Most people have at least one old computer gathering dust in a cupboard or the bedroom closet. Old PC’s can be recycled, but it’s a bit of a pain to lug them out to the car and drop them off at the dump. As well, many people are fearful about throwing out a hard drive with its accumulated passwords and sensitive banking information that can be retrieved by crooks.

The hard drive also provides another clue about why so many people avoid recycling their computers: old computers are often filled with priceless photos as well as priceless music and video collections. And it can take some work to transfer all of these precious files to your newly purchased computer, so a lot of people just put the whole thing off, saying they’ll retrieve those photos and movies “someday.”

There is one relatively quick and easy way to quickly access and view all of these old files without ever having to do the hard work of getting them off your computer. By turning your old computer into a media server you can access your files anytime and virtually anywhere you have an internet connection.

Turn Your Old Computer Into A Media Server

Until recently it was challenging to turn an old computer into a media server. In theory it should be easy to access any Windows computer on your home WiFi network, find the file you want, and then watch it on a different computer, a device such as a smartphone, or even on your WiFi-connected TV. In practice, however, the Windows file system is not particularly intuitive, making it confusing to find and play the files you want. On top of that, trying to play a movie can be a real challenge, depending on the codec that’s being used.

This is where media server software comes in handy. This open source software can transform your PC into a media server that can stream your content anywhere over the internet. And the content such as movies and music doesn’t necessarily have to reside on your old computer either: a media server will allow you to send content from your newer computer or device to it to stream onto your TV or home theater.

One minor caveat here: setting up a media server can be challenging. In theory you can take advantage of Windows’ native DNLA capability, but it takes a bit of effort and some trial-and-error to make it work properly. There is free media server software to choose from, such as Universal Media Server or Serviio, but these are often difficult to set up and may lack some important features.

This is why Plex is such a great choice.

How to Install Plex as Your Media Server

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Plex is probably the most popular media server platform available. The basic version of Plex is free, it’s easy to installand set up, it works on older computers, and even has smartphone apps that let you access your files just about anywhere. In a nutshell, Plex will let you set up your old computer as a central media server from which you’ll stream content to your tablet, phone, set-top box, game console or television.

What You’ll Need to Set Up Plex

You’ll need a few basic things to set up with Plex on an old computer, including:

  • A home WiFi network
  • A working computer with a functional keyboard, mouse and monitor
  • Some way of connecting your television to your home network

For this last requirement, while Plex will allow you to connect your old computer to the internet, you’ll still have to figure out how to connect your television to your WiFi network and Plex.

Luckily, the paid version Plex works with a number of third-party devices including:

  • Roku
  • Chromecast
  • Amazon Fire TV stick

These three devices are pretty handy because they all have apps that allow you to turn your smartphone or tablet into a remote control for your television. On the downside, if you have a smartphone or tablet you’ll have to purchase these apps for a nominal fee.

You can also connect your old computer to your television using an HDMI cable or even a VGA connection if both your computer and a TV have those ports. You can then send content from other devices and computers to your media server to play on your TV.

Plex Download Options

When you check out the Plex downloads page, you’ll want to download the download the Plex Home Theater option. This will allow your old computer to act as the base station for everything else on the network, storing media and distributing it to any other device that runs the application. As part of the installation process, you’ll set up your Plex account, allowing you to register all of your devices and server together.

Final Notes

The performance of your old computer may affect playback quality on your television. For example, an older computer with an older chip and less RAM may have a bit more difficulty streaming HD files. However, Plex should be able to handle the job with flair.

As well, if you’re going to use your old computer as a media server, it’s going to need tobe left on. Computers tend to “run hot” when streaming media, so this means that you’ll have to choose a well-ventilated spot to keep things cool. As well, cooling fans can be noisy and distracting, so keep this in mind when deciding where to locate your old computer-turned media server.

To post your HTML documents in the World Wide Web, you will need a Web server and also some server files to host. While the common solution is to buy an external server space from some hosting company, many people are not aware that they can turn their own home computer into a web server. Microsoft has a feature called IIS (Internet Information Server), which comes as default with almost all the Vista operating systems ( there are some exceptions, as discussed below ) all Windows 2000, XP and Vista.

How to turn an old pc into a home file server

Basically, IIS provides free web server functionality for any PC with one of the above Windows operating systems. IIS supports HTML and ASP (Active Server Pages), which is a scripting language on the server side allowing you to add dynamic content to web pages. Read on for the steps to turn your PC into a Web server. Things you’ll need is a computer with Windows 2000, XP or Vista (Note: Some versions of Windows do not apply; see their individual characteristics of the operating system for more information)

Steps to Turn your Old PC into a Web Server :

Step 1 : Open Control Panel :

Follow the path Start=> Settings=> Control Panel. Note: Some versions of XP does not have a choice ” Settings ” in the start menu, but you can simply go straight to ” Control Panel “.

Step 2 : Add or Remove Programs :

Double-click on the ” Add or Remove Programs ” option in the control panel.

Step 3 : Add / Remove Windows Components :

Now double click on the ” Add / Remove Windows Components ” option.

Step 4 : Activate Internet Information Server :

Click on the checkbox named Internet Information Server (IIS). Note: Some versions of XP does not have IIS available. If you do not see the IIS check box in the ” Windows Components ” dialog box, then your computer does not have that capability.

Step 5 : Service World Wide Web :

Select ” Details ” and then click on the check box entitled as ” Service World Wide Web “. Then click ” OK “.

Step 6 : Start the Installation Process :

Now return back to the Windows components dialog box. Now just click on ” Next ” to start the installation process of IIS.

Step 7 : Successfully Established the Server :

There you have it! Formally established your PC as a web server! Be sure to try a basic ASP test page to ensure that you are serving the page correctly.

PC lovers tend to collect a lot of hardware as the years roll by. Instead of leaving it to collect dust, why not repurpose it as a file-slinging server?

Several free and open-source operating systems run extremely well on a wide array of older hardware. One in particular, FreeNAS, is extremely stable, easy to set up, and laser-focused on storing and sharing files across your home network. All you need is a working system with a reliable hard drive (or three) and a little time to configure everything.

What is FreeNAS?

FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD, itself born of BSD, a version of Unix developed at the University of California, Berkeley. FreeBSD is a full-fledged server operating system, but FreeNAS has been optimized strictly for file serving and storage. It supports SMB/CIFS (Windows file shares), NFS (Unix file shares) and AFP (Apple File Shares), plus FTP and iSCSI. FreeNAS also works with an array of plug-ins for things like automated network backups, BitTorrent downloading, a Plex Media Server, MiniDLNA and much more. The FreeNAS website has an extensive FAQ and community section that’s definitely worth checking out.

What you need to build a FreeNAS server

FreeNAS is compatible with all supported FreeBSD hardware—virtually every x86 platform (per the FreeBSD website), and it supports an extensive array of chipsets and network controllers.

Ideally, FreeNAS should be installed on a small SSD or even a flash drive (though standard hard drives also work fine in a pinch), and the system should feature one or more reliable hard drives for bulk storage. To emphasize reliable: We’ve framed this article around using spare hardware, but you shouldn’t use abused or utterly ancient drives for mission-critical storage.

When using the UFS (Unix File System), FreeNAS doesn’t require much memory or processing power. Just about any system with 2GB or more of RAM should do.

The more advanced ZFS (Zettabyte File System) is highly reliable and offers an array of features to preserve and protect data, but it also has much more overhead. FreeNAS recommends at least 8GB of RAM for optional performance with ZFS.

Getting FreeNAS to boot

To set up FreeNAS you’ll need to download the installation ISO file from the FreeNAS website. If you have an optical drive, burn that ISO to a disc and then boot from it the way you would any other bootable CD.

Installing the OS to a flash drive is handier, and it frees your actual hard drives to store your files. It’s a bit more complicated to set up on flash: Though it requires only minimal storage space (we ran it on 4GB and 8GB flash drives), it can’t share the drive with other data.

If you don’t have an optical drive available, FreeNAS can be installed directly to a USB thumb drive (or other drive) using a couple of free utilities, such as WinRAR.

For flash drive installations, you’ll also need a file compression/decompression utility (or file archiver), like WinRAR or 7-Zip, that can open ISO files, plus a disk image writing utility—I’d suggest Win32Disk Imager.

Once you’ve downloaded the ISO, mount it in Windows by right-clicking its file icon and selecting Mount, or open it in your file archiver (we used WinRAR) and extract the file named FreeNAS_x64.img.xz. You’ll wind up with an image file named FreeNAS_x64.img, which you’ll need to write to the flash drive to install the OS and make the drive bootable.

Writing the FreeNAS OS image file to a USB flash drive takes only a few seconds. The entire image is only 1.86GB, though it requires a drive with a capacity of at least 4GB to boot and run reliably.

Next, insert your flash drive, run Win32 Disk Imager, and select the FreeNAS_x64.img image file. In the Device drop-down menu on the right, make sure your flash drive’s drive letter is selected. Hit the Write button, and Win32 Disk Imager will take care of the rest. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two to write the disk image to the drive. Insert the flash drive into the machine you want to use with FreeNAS, boot to the drive, and the OS should launch. Whew.

Setting up FreeNAS

When FreeNAS initially boots, you’ll be presented with a simple text menu with 11 options.

After booting to the flash drive, you’ll ultimately see a simple text menu with 11 options. By default, FreeNAS will be configured to use DHCP. Assuming that’s how your network is set up, it should acquire an IP address and list it right at the bottom of the menu. That’s how you’ll access FreeNAS’s browser-based interface. Command-line jockeys can configure many options right from the text menu, but it’s definitely easier and more intuitive to log into the web GUI.

The first time you access the FreeNAS Web GUI, you’ll be prompted to set a new password.

The first time you hit the FreeNAS IP address, you’ll be prompted to set an administrator password. Note, however, that the default user name is not “admin” or “administrator,” but “root,” which is the Unix system’s rough equivalent of a Windows admin.

You’ll have to follow a few steps to configure your storage volumes and make them accessible to other systems on the network. First, hit the Storage > Volumes > Volume Manager section and select the hard drives you’d like to use with the operating system. Critical note: Any hard drive you select to use with FreeNAS will be utterly wiped.

Which drives to use, the preferred file system, permissions and share names need to be configured before you can access the storage volumes on your FreeNAS server.

You’ll also need to select the file system, enable any services or protocols of choice, create and name a shared folder, and set folder permissions. It’s pretty straightforward, and this article walks you through the process. You can access your FreeNAS server just like any other shared PC on your network (typically via Windows’ Network settings).

If you’d like to enable advanced FreeNAS capabilities—like hosting an FTP server, or installing some plug-ins—the FreeNAS community is a great place to start, as is PCWorld’s own guide to advanced FreeNAS configurations.