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iXsystems FreeNAS Mini NAS Review

iXsystems' FreeNAS Mini incorporates enterprise features, an advanced file system and a flash cache to deliver superior performance in its price range.

A Closer Look

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The FreeNAS Mini ships in two boxes. The first one serves as an outer shell, with the hard drives and accessories enclosed form-fitted foam. A second box holds the NAS in a foam shell so its edges are safely secured from corner drop damage. 

The FreeNAS chassis is commercially available; you can purchase it as a standalone product like all of the components used to make this product. That makes upgrades and modifications easy, but would void the warranty.

The front of the case is mesh so air can pass through to cool the hard drives and inner system components. The FreeNAS Mini front cover has a lock to keep your drives secure. The power and reset buttons are also on the other side of the door for extra security.

The system has four status LEDs on the front next to the power and reset buttons. Two of the three USB 2.0 ports are also on the front. The system does not have a one-touch copy function though, a popular feature on many new NAS products that allows users to back-up storage devices with a physical button next to the USB ports.

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Air passes over the hard drives and system components to keep them cool. On the bottom, four rubber feet isolate the platform from whatever surface the machine rests on. This keeps vibrations from transferring and amplifying to other objects.

The system ships with a large 140mm fan in the back to circulate air. Of course, larger fans can move air at lower RPM than smaller fans, which keeps noise to a minimum. In our testing, the FreeNAS Mini was very quiet.

The FreeNAS Mini uses two Intel gigabit Ethernet ports that can be configured independently or together as a team to increase bandwidth or reliability. A third gigabit Ethernet port allows administrators to log into the base system to configure BIOS options, check system status and use the console for out-of-band management.

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The system uses an internal power supply, so you don't have to find a hiding spot for a power brick. The PSU has dedicated cooling, though its small fan is located deep inside the case and not on the outer edge.

A Kensington lock mount on the side of the system not only gives you a way to physically secure it, but also acts as a lock for the chassis cover as well.

Our sample shipped with 16GB of DDR3 ECC RAM and two of its four slots populated.

On the other side of the system, we found a free PCIe 2.0 x8 slot. It's possible to add 10GbE to the system, but you need to find a 10GbE NIC with driver support and should consult iXsystems about warranty issues.

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Our system also shipped with two FreeNAS-branded SSD drives. The ZIL SSD is for caching data writes and the L2ARC caches frequent reads. We'll be testing the NAS with and without cache. If you purchase the FreeNAS Mini without drives, you can still purchase iXsystem's ZIL and L2ARC SSDs on Amazon.

Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.