Whether it’s too many family photos or an ever-expanding movie collection, you’ll need enough storage space. If you need a secure place to store your data, it’s best to use a network-attached storage device, but high-quality NAS devices can be expensive.

Luckily, you can build your own for a lot less if you use software like FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault, and Amahi, but which is best for your NAS? Let’s compare them and find out.

FreeNAS

FreeNAS Web Portal Popup Page
Image Credit: FreeNAS/iXsystems

FreeNAS is probably the most famous NAS operating system. It has been in development since 2005 and has over 10 million downloads to its name. It also has the largest development team, thanks to support from parent company iXsystems.

Unlike our other two competitors, FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD, the Unix cousin to the Linux kernel used by Amahi and OpenMediaVault. It uses the OpenZFS file system which supports pooled and scalable storage.

FreeNAS has features you’ll find in enterprise-grade NAS devices, such as data snapshots and virtually unlimited storage limits. Regardless of your disk management, FreeNAS supports it; RAID, hot-swapping, and disk striping are supported in the operating system.

It covers almost all communication protocols such as Samba and NFS. This means it will work great with devices running any OS, including Windows, macOS, and Linux. It also supports integration with cloud storage providers such as Amazon S3 and Google Cloud.

Want to add other features? FreeNAS supports third-party plugins to further enhance the capabilities of your NAS. You can even manage Docker VMs and containers through the FreeNAS web interface to turn it into a server. The web interface isn’t hard to use with a clear breakdown of features, and it’s the most up-to-date of the three.

It’s well maintained, updated regularly, and active development means you get the most up-to-date features when they’re stable enough to release. Back side? This is not an OS for low-powered systems.

FreeNAS recommends at least 8 GB of RAM and at least a multi-core processor. You should also invest in reliable drives to keep your data safe. If you don’t want to do it yourself, the company offers its own NAS devices for sale.

Download: FreeNAS

OpenMedia Vault

List of OpenMediaVault web interface services
Image Credit: OpenMediaVault

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 the project went through a major rewrite. It’s open source, so it’s completely free to use and redistribute, and has over 4 million downloads.

Unlike FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault is based on Debian, one of the best Linux distributions. thanks to its stability and active development. Speaking of active development, OpenMediaVault receives minor monthly updates, 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 lacks some of the more advanced FreeNAS features, such as hot swapping or the OpenZFS file system. Since it’s based on Debian, ext4 is the default filesystem, but you can install others like JFS or XFS.

Using Debian as a base means that OpenMediaVault installations can take advantage of the large number of Debian packages available. OpenMediaVault does not come standard with cloud integration, but you can add it using additional plugins or using the appropriate Debian package.

You can set up a web server, a BitTorrent client, or even a Plex media server if you like thanks to the OpenMediaVault plugins.

There is only one main developer for OpenMediaVault, but others play a small role in patching and creating plugins. One of the best features of OpenMediaVault compared to FreeNAS is the low system requirements. You can run OMV on low power devices like Raspberry Pi where you can combine it with media software like Plex to create a Raspberry Pi Plex server.

Download: OpenMedia Vault

Amahi

Amahi Server Web UI Repository
Image credit: Amahi

FreeNAS and OpenMediaVault are NAS focused, but Amahi is a little different. It doesn’t try to be just a NAS operating system — it wants to be the only Linux media server OS you’ll ever need.

Amahi is based on Fedora, another famous Linux distribution. Amahi stable releases are based on Fedora stable releases, the latest being Amahi 11, which corresponds to Fedora 27. Five core developers form the core team to keep Amahi up to date and with new features.

This is not a technical OS and the web interface is 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 your computers. It supports all standard file sharing protocols such as Samba and NFS and can be easily configured in the web interface.

From a technical standpoint, Amahi uses typical Fedora filesystems such as ext4 and XFS. Amahi even competes with some of the enterprise-grade features that FreeNAS supports with storage pools using Greyhole. This consolidates all of your storage into one to help prevent data loss.

Consistent updates and a wide range of features make Amahi a good choice for beginners who want a NAS server that does it all.

Download: Amahi (pre-registration required)

The best NAS software for your needs

Which one will create the best operating system for a NAS device? It depends on your own requirements as they each have their own strengths and weaknesses. Choose the best NAS software for your needs:

Whether you choose FreeNAS, OpenMediaVault, or Amahi, you will have software that is under active development, well supported, and has many features available. You just need to make sure you pick the best parts for your own server to make sure it’s safe to use as a permanent storage solution.

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