The Ultimate *cheap* Server Setup (Usenet, NewzNab, Couch Potato, Sickbeard, IIS, PHP, FreeNAS and so much more ...)

Update July 2016
This setup has been running for years now, most of the time as Ubuntu 12 then 14 with ZFS installed on it, 8GB RAM and 4 x 1TB since purchase, 24/7. Now it runs pure FreeNAS as the feature set has really grown and is very stable, still running 24/7. 

There is also a new generation of the HP Miicroserver Gen8 which you can still get the offers as discussed in this article but better hardware (if you go for the i3 chipset)

This post was inspired by repeated questions about setting up the best server on FreeNAS/ FreeBSD and using Virtualization on Techsnap over at JupiterBroadcasting. Now Allan- If you are reading this please keep an open mind, Windows is not that evil :)

Thanks to Allan and Chris for the great shows!


Towards the end of 2012 we have already been affected by many Usenet indexers closing down, like out favourites nzbmatrix or newzbin.

Myself - I have stopped using torrents a very long time ago. Mainly because it clogs bandwidth and things like Skype and mmorpg gaming becomes impossible.

But recently I justified that even more. In UK and possibly other countries you read articles about people
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 getting fined for downloading certain "tagged" torrents, ISP's sending out warning letters about suspicious activities(hundreds of connections to known torrent servers). Three warning and you get banned form the ISP for life, in the UK at least (Not all do this pro actively but all have to comply with court orders- where fines must be issued)

So I use ZFS, on FreeNAS Ubuntu 12.04 with ZFS as my storage server. And nothing else. Why? Because it was built to be what it is and nothing else. So I embraced that. And that is the best thing to do in my opinion.

I also use Windows 7  Microsoft Server 2012 for everything else. Why? Because I can share my printer over the network, and running/installing SABnzdb, couchpotato, sickbeard is MUCH easier, that is my opinion made up from bad experiences. Also Server 2012 offers me the newest IIS and plenty of other services at a click of a button, with no messy setting up. It is also allot faster than using Windows 7 as a "server"

What kind of bad experiences am I talking about?
(You can skip this if you want, I just rant about things I do not like on FreeNAS)
The kind that whenever I wanted to make my own FreeNAS plugin, FreeNAS bombed out - I am no BSD geek and I try to follow tutorials as close as possible. But one command can ruin your whole FreeNAS. Like upgrading PHP in the root will brick your Admin panel and trying to revert that is impossible? But is required for some plugins. OK, OK! So the jailsystem is amazing idea.. but its a nightmare to configure, install  etc etc.. I do not have time for all that.I ended up reinstalling and reimporting my ZFS like a thousand times. Also I cannot share my printer on FreeNAS (And a still a nightmare to setup on Ubunut headless) - Everybody at home uses Windows.I do not want everybody coming in an unplugging the USB from my server so they can print a page; and they leave it unplugged afterwards. I have a nice laser printer for now - In the near future I will upgrade to a WiFi /Lan enabled inkjet.

So how can I run Ubuntu (FreeNAS)  and Windows on a single server/machine?
Virtual Machines (also allot of questions on Techsnap about this - I think this is a prime example in home use). I went through many days of hell trying to configure al this and the best application for Virtualizing FreeNAS is VMWare.

My idea of simplicity.
FreeNAS as it is is very stable and powerful for the things it can do! I love ZFS! I love SSH! And the other built in features. It is really really fast when configured properly and when it has enough RAM. So- I left it to do what it is designed to do. Be a NAS! Not an indexer, not a nzb grabber, not a IMDB scrapper, not a Print Server, not a VPN gateway (although I SSH into here and tunnel into my network from outside)! And never had problems with it since!

Windows is easy and simple enough to do the rest. And as I am .NET developer I love the idea of Running IIS7 server for development but also have XAMPP for any PHP development I do for other people. Yes, XAMPP! Here is something new for you usenet lovers. newznab pro, that needs XAMPP on Windows- So that is what I used. And it runs without problems! except the same problem you would get in a Linux/BSD machine.

What the heck is NewzNab Pro?
It is a usenet indexer. Trust me. Get the Pro version for a few bucks, you get everything you need. Regular expressions and a massive collection of NZB's requested on the Chat page. The only pain with nn+ is that creating a database of year or two behind is a real pain in the arse; Because the database bloats up and crashes. You got to clear it and start from the last place again. There are scripts to safely backfill and hopefully a safe way to import NZB's. Go and read their site and you will know what I am talking about.

Hardware! We love it!
For well over a year I ran Windows 7 Pro x64 as the main OS and FreeNAS in a VMWare on a HP Micro server. Dual core 1.5Ghz, 8gb DDR3, 4 x 3.0G SATA BAYS (expendable with hacks to allot more) I used a BIOS hack to enable ODD (CDRom Bay) for SATA 1.5G, this is where Windows lives. It is a small 80GB, quite hard drive that runs 24/7. My 4 Bays are populated with 1TB various makes and models of hard drives. They are purely used in FreeNAS and they are configured to spin down after 5 minutes of inactivity. That is because about 90% of the time it they are unused, we are either at work or not using it any way. Plus I have a really bad vibrating Samsung hard drive that annoys us when we sleep. Spinning up allot of times (on 3.5") does not wear out the hard drive more! You can read about it somewhere on another post I made during my Data recovery ventures. 2.5" hard drives have other problems that are more serious so I do not use them. Obviously the best Hard drives to use would be the WD RED 2TB - I would let them run 24/7 because they are made to do that and are ultra silent!

The HP Micro server cost me last year, after cashback £130, delivered, with a 250GB Seagate and 2GB DDR3 and no OS.It hs no loud fan on the CPU but uses a nice quite large fan for full ventilation. Full speed PCI-Express and Mini-Pci Express. Built in RAID0,1,10 controller. eSata, many USB's, even on the Motherboard for booting FreeNAS! WakeOn lan, auto power on after power off and mony more after unlocking the BIOS. No other NAS box comes close to these specs at this price. It is bigger but in reality is mega compacted. You cannot stick you finger in anywhere after is is fully populated! 

I love this Server (As it IS A SEVER - A Micro Server! :) and not just a PC ) I love it so much that I went and bought another one! Wait! What?! January 2013. With cash back it cost me £80 delivered!
What the hell! I could not resists that price!

OMG! What now?Now my dear friends ...

  • One machine will only run FreeNAS with 6GB DDR3, 4x1TB with ZFS- It will be hidden in a safe place out of reach of children, connected via LAN doing what it does best. Be a kick ass NAS!
  • The other one will now become dedicated for Windows 7 Pro 64Bit, 8GB DDR 1333, 2X250GB RAID1 -  and 2 spare HDD's lying about for Temp storage. And this will serve my family well as it integrates into all the other Windows PC's and Laptops we use. All I do is make a Favourite Link in the sidebar to "//NAS" and they can access their Photos, documents and our community media  saved on FreeNAS :)
Why not Windows Server? Because allot of free apps do not work on server editions and configuring it for home use is pointless. I do not need DNS manager, a full blown IIS or Active Domain. Windows 7 Pro can do it all after installing the add-ons if I ever needed to. I can SSH into freeNAS then Remote Desktop over a tunnel into Windows and use, what is familiar to me to do various task remotely. Queue NZB's! Hehehe.

But, I can also expose newznab on a special port using and just forget SSH and Remote desktop altogether.

The next step is streaming movies over the internet to my iPhone.. wait? Did somebody say Plex? :)

So that is my office / guest room. Blown up into Geek heaven with motherboards, hard drives and new stuff! Basically I am separating the two machines and moving over the drives from one and installing new ones. Hardly took me 30 minutes to do it as everything fits the same in both machines.

After about 15 years of looking for the ideal NAS. I found the ideal server which is very cheap for what it can do! I found the perfect NAS OS/Distro and put it on there! I asked the same question about how to get FreeNAS to do everything I wanted it to do. After 2 years of using Windows and FreeNAS virtualized on one machine. I call that the perfect server setup - for this particular or similar hardware. You can't expect Zeon server performance but I had no issues watching HD movies over Wifi N on my TV,  streamed from within a Virtualized FreeNAS. Just make sure SAMBA is set up properly.

Obviously you can setup everything I spoke about on FreeBSD/ Linux. Execpt IIS :( - But that takes knowledge and time to do it. Every geek knows how to install Windows and booting FreeNAS of  USB Stick is a joke. No configuring for a great NAS!

My goal was... to serve my TV/ Tablet/ Notebook with media by mounting a share, share printers, files for my family and guests that use Windows. And have a sophisticated system for indexing usenet, automatically grabbing series and movies using Couchpotoat and Sickbeard and saving it to my NAS, quickly searching on newznab and clicking a button to queue it in SABnzdb. The circle is closed and I need not lift a finger to do any of it. Best of all and I have piece of mind that ZFS keeps my data safe!


Anonymous said…
Hi, where did you buy your HP Micro Server from, im struggling to find a HP Preferred Partner seller online (as needed when applying for the cashback from HP). Any links to where you bought it from would be appreciated.

Anonymous said…
My bad, the claim form form specifies that the stock needs to be sourced from: "authorised UK distributors. HP will not be responsible for claims rejected if partner stock is not sourced from the UK."
Piotr Kula said…
You can always find a friend in the UK and get him to ship it out cheap. Something like reship in USA. :) But usually people do not import from the UK because its at least twice as expensive than anywhere else. Except for this ...