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Additional software for FreeNAS is available via plugins. There are three free plugins online for download: Firefly, MiniDLNA, and Transmission. Firefly is a media server for serving files to a Roku box or to iTunes. MiniDLNA serves media files to DLNA compatible devices over your home network. Transmission is a BitTorrent client.

Getting any of these plugins to work involves a few steps. In this case, I found the FreeNAS 8.3.1 instructions helpful, but missing a few details. For example, as part of installing the plugins, you first have to configure a "jail" on your Mini Plus. This "jail" is an environment separate from the FreeNAS operating system. You have to give this "jail" a unique IP address on your network, one that is not in use and ideally outside the range of the DHCP server on your LAN.

Once I had the jail properly configured, I tested the MiniDLNA server. The steps involved included uploading the software, applying some simple configs and activating theMiniDLNA server. I also found I had to check the box for Rescan on (re) start in the MiniDLNA configuration screen, shown below, for the Mini Plus to actually serve the desired files. After this exercise in trial and error, I was able to view family photos saved to the Mini Plus from my DLNA-capable TV.

DLNA server configuration

DLNA server configuration


We tested the FreeNAS Mini Plus with four Western Digital 3TB drives (WD3000FYYZ) using our standard NAS test process on RAID 0, 5, and 10 four-drive volumes. Below is a screenshot of the results from our Benchmark Summary, which you can also see here.

Benchmark summary

Benchmark summary

To get a feel for how the FreeNAS Mini Plus compares, I put together the below table from our performance charts. The first column is the name of the benchmark test. In the second column, you'll see the performance numbers for the Infortrend EonNAS Pro 500. This isn't really a fair comparison, since the EonNAS Pro 500 is powered by a dual-core D525 Atom CPU with 4 GB of RAM. But since the Infortrend is the only other ZFS-based NAS we've tested, the comparison is useful to see the difference CPU and RAM make for ZFS.

Column three shows the FreeNAS Mini Plus' results. Column four shows the Mini Plus' rank compared to other four-bay NASes we've tested, and column five shows how many devices were tested.

Benchmark (MB/s) EonNAS Pro 500 Mini Plus Top 4-bay NAS Mini Plus RANK Devices Tested
File Copy Write 69.1 100.3 107.5 5 17
File Copy Read 72.0 104.7 104.8 2 17
RAID 5 File Copy Write 66.3 97.3 102.4 3 19
RAID 5 File Copy Read 71.2 105.5 105.5 1 19
RAID 10 File Copy Write 73.2 95.9 103.6 6 15
RAID 10 File Copy Read 65.0 104.1 104.1 1 15
[NASPT] File Copy to NAS 37.1 54.6 133.3 13 15
[NASPT] File Copy from NAS 48.8 96.1 96.1 1 15
[NASPT] Directory Copy to NAS 14.7 7.5 20.0 14 15
[NASPT] Directory Copy from NAS 19.0 34.6 34.6 1 15
[NASPT] Content Creation 3.0 12.7 13.2 3 15
[NASPT] Office Productivity 41.7 51.5 51.5 1 15
[NASPT] HD Playback and Record 52.5 104.7 104.7 1 15
[NASPT] 4x HD Playback 80.6 116.2 116.2 1 15
[NASPT] RAID5 File Copy to NAS 33.6 54.4 129.9 12 17
[NASPT] RAID5 File Copy from NAS 53.1 95.4 95.4 1 17
[NASPT] RAID5 Directory Copy to NAS 14.3 5.9 19.3 15 17
[NASPT] RAID5 Directory Copy from NAS 19.9 34.1 34.1 1 17
[NASPT] RAID5 Content Creation 2.3 12.6 12.6 1 17
[NASPT] RAID5 Office Productivity 39.7 51.3 51.3 1 17
[NASPT] RAID5 HD Playback and Record 50.8 104.7 107.4 2 17
[NASPT] RAID5 4x HD Playback 70.8 116.1 116.1 1 17
[NASPT] RAID10 File Copy to NAS 35.3 54.5 128.2 11 14
[NASPT] RAID10 File Copy from NAS 42.0 95.8 95.8 1 14
[NASPT] RAID10 Directory Copy to NAS 14.6 6.1 19.9 13 14
[NASPT] RAID10 Directory Copy from NAS 17.9 34.5 34.5 1 14
[NASPT] RAID10 Content Creation 2.5 12.3 12.7 2 14
[NASPT] RAID10 Office Productivity 38.9 51.0 51.0 1 14
[NASPT] RAID10 HD Playback and Record 45.9 105.5 105.5 1 14
[NASPT] RAID10 4x HD Playback 74.9 116.2 116.2 1 14
iSCSI Write to Target 59.9 100.8 101.1 2 16
iSCSI Read from Target 51.0 96.9 96.9 1 16
Table 3: Performance comparison

The first six tests in the chart above are Windows File Copy results. As you can see, the FreeNAS Mini Plus is head and shoulders faster than the EonNAS and near the top of our charts. The Intel NASPT File Copy tests produce different results, though.

In the Intel NASPT (NAS Performance Toolkit) tests, the FreeNAS Mini Plus is at or near the top of our charts in all categories and head and shoulders above the EonNAS, with the exception of Intel NASPT RAID 0, 5, and 10 File and Directory Copy to NAS tests. In these six tests of copying data to the FreeNAS Mini Plus, it ranked near the bottom of our charts. In the six companion tests of copying data from the FreeNAS Mini Plus, the FreeNAS Mini Plus ranked #1 in our charts.

"Copy to" tests measure NAS write performance. The NAS Directory copy test is 236 MB of data in 2,833 files stored 44 folders, which is a lot of small write operations. Recall in my earlier discussion on ZFS, one of its strengths is the ability to write both a data block and parity block simultaneously, which preserves data integrity. My guess is the additional data integrity of ZFS results in lower file write performance when dealing with lots of small files.

The Mini Plus also turns in top-notch performance in our iSCSI write and read tests. iSCSI write operations at 100.8 MB/s are almost the fastest we've tested, and read operations at 96.9 MB/s are the fastest we've tested for any NAS.

Another view of the Mini Plus' performance is provided via the new NAS Ranker, where it ranks #1 among all uP-2 (dual-core general purpose CPU) class NASes. This class has some pretty powerful competition, including Thecus' Pentium G620 powered N6850 Top Tower and QNAP's i3-2120 based TS-1079 Pro.

NAS Ranker Performance summary

NAS Ranker Performance summary

You can again see the effect of ZFS's write method in the Mini Plus' #4 rank, i.e. last place, for Write benchmarks.

Pricing, Closing Thoughts

iXsystems lists the Mini at $795 and the Mini Plus at $995 and it is available only direct from them. For this price, iXsystems assembles the components, loads the operating system and drivers and provides 1 year of hardware support. 4x1TB, 4x2TB, and 4x3TB hard drives add $300, $500, and $700, respectively. A two-year warranty is $95 and a three-year warranty is $190. 1 year of 8x5 problem resolution support with a 4 hour response is $395.

If you can build a PC, you could physically build this NAS. The exact parts are relatively easy to acquire online; this article provides the parts details. Note that the motherboard used in the Mini Plus is a newer model than described in the article.

I searched around and priced out the parts in the Mini Plus for about $650, plus hard drives. The challenge in building your own FreeNAS is loading the OS and the drivers and iXsystems has done that for you with the Mini and Mini Plus.

By comparison, the ZFS-based five-bay Infrotrend EonNAS Pro 500 runs $710 without disks. As we see in our performance charts, the FreeNAS Mini Plus blows it away in all but three benchmark tests.

I was initially a bit intimidated by the FreeNAS Mini Plus. Open source products can be a real chore to get working as desired. Documentation for most open source software and devices is out there, but finding what you need requires patience and initiative.

The FreeNAS Mini Plus surprised me with its easy to use menu system and well written documentation. Add to that a wide range of features built on powerful off-the-shelf hardware and open source software and I think the FreeNAS Mini Plus is quite an impressive (and top-performing) NAS!

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