When you buy a new computer what do you do with your old computer? With my old computers I make them into something new and this time around I am going to turn an old computer into a  File Server.

A Network-Attached Storage (NAS) usually comes as a small box built especially for you to put one or more hard disk drives in and store files on it; movies, music or a back-up of your computer. You do not have to spend out lots of money on a new NAS box, it does not have to be pretty or on view; so an old computer can do! 

We are use a free piece of software called FreeNAS to build your new computer server from your old computer. If a FreeNAS computer server is not what you want to use your old computer for, why not find other uses for old computers!

Equipment to Build Your Backup Server

Building your new storage device will need:

Item # Item Notes
1 Your Old Computer It must be in Working Order
2 A Monitor, Keyboard and Mouse This will only be used in the initial installation; you can even use your new equipment if that is all you have to hand
3 A CD Writer and Blank CD This can be on any computer, it can be your old computer, new computer or even someone elses computer
4 (optional) USB Key  If you want to run FreeNAS from a USB Key it must be 2GB or larger
5  Hard Disk Drives You need enough hard disk space to back up everything you want to back up

There CAN Be a Small Cost

A Western Digital Hard Drive - Green EditionCredit: Amazon UKIf you have bought a new desktop computer or laptop with a large hard drive, you will find that to back it up might need a new hard drive to go into your old computer. Hard drives have been expensive over the last 18 months due to flooding in east Asia in 2010 but prices are coming down and it is perfectly reasonable to get a drive suitable at less than £100.

Any new Hard Disk Drive does not need to be lightning fast, but power efficiency and storage is an essential issue and having a really good history with the manufacturers products. Unless you have a very, very old computer you should have a SATA Connection on your old computer; but you should make sure before you buy.

If you have to buy a new Hard Disk Drive then you will find taht unless you have an old computer that is more than a decade in age; you will be able to take advantage of the faster SATA connections.

How to Set Up your New Server

1. Download FreeNAS

There are two different builds of FreeNAS that are popular at the moment. FreeNAS 8 is the latest edition of the back up software which although is fully updated[4148], is flawed in that it does not support media streaming to games consoles, etc via uPnP; There are a number of free alternatives, but another option would be to look at Ubuntu Desktop.

The first thing you need to do is download the FreeNAS CD Image. This will come as an image file with extension .iso and you need to burn this to a blank CD. Most computers now come with a CD (or DVD) writer and software and you can do this from ANY computer, even someone elses - with their permission.

2. Install FreeNAS on Your Old Computer

We come on to installing Linux onto your donor computer; connect up a keyboard, mouse and monitor as you will need it for this bit. Whether you have chosen to install Ubuntu from a CD or a USB flash drive the set up on the screen is dependent on where you live and your language; but the installation process is (thankfully) very easy.

Installing to a USB Drive

Using any computer you need to put your newly burnt CD into the drive and reboot your computer. Your computer needs to be able to boot from the CD and not start loading Windows; so you need to make sure that your computer knows this. On some computers this can be easily done by pressing F8 at the boot screen and this will take you to a list of locations on your computer to look for the boot information (as easy as scroll to it and select return!) on others you have to change your computers boot order; easy, but takes a few minutes.

Letting the CD Load it will present you with a menu where you need what is currently option 1: Install to a Hard Drive or USB and by following the prompts to install to your USB key. Once this is complete you can remove the FreeNAS CD and USB key and restart your computer, it will boot into Windows as normal.
Note: If you have a wireless keyboard and mouse, it will not let you do much here. The option menu actually has a countdown to select the most common option which is the one we want.

Installing to a Hard Disk Drive

Installing to and running FreeNAS from a hard disk drive is also possible and part of the FreeNAS process would be to create a small partition on your hard disk drive to install the operating system and a second partition for the data. Inserting the CD with FreeNAS into your old computer and setting up your computer to boot from CD (again usually by pressing F8 when your computer boots or via the BIOS) and following the on-screen steps.

3. Configure Your Router

When you are configuring your NAS and locating your new NAS drives it is good to have an IP address assigned by your router that is fixed so you don't forget it. Most routers have an option to assign static IP addresses to some, or all devices on your network, which your donor computer has now become. You router documentation will come with specific instructions on how to do this and I have previously discussed the security of allocating an IP for home security, but I have also produced a guide to the generic configuring of router IPs.

Amazon Price: $199.99 $142.44 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 22, 2014)
If you have already decided that building a NAS from an old computer is too complicated then you will want to buy a dedicated product like this one.

I use one of these D-Link Share Center's as a media server in the home. I can watch videos from it ona range of comptuers and smart TVs and it copes really well.

If I am out and about I can stream from it as well (you will need a static IP or use a dynamic IP tracing service) so I even tend to treat it like a DVR and record shows to it (using my computer as the recorder and the NAS as the storage)

4. Configure Your NAS

FreeNAS is great in that it allows you to undertake almost all configuration from a user friendly interface in your web browser from any computer on the network that you want to allow. As we have configured and assigned an IP for the old computer / FreeNAS server, we already know what the IP is; this is the way that we access the graphical interface (GUI) for FreeNAS.

I have used the IP, so I will type this in the address bar of my Chrome (or any other) web browser. On the first run of FreeNAS there is no password enabled on your old computer FreeNAS server; there is no prompt to insist on changing your password but the first step of any project like this must be to make it secure and you should change your password to do this.

FreeNAS home screen(104552)The graphic interface for the NAS is simple to understand. The image to the left shows that I have accessed my storage screen and my test hard drive is showing correctly.

Creating a new volume (or importing an old one) is really simple from the storage menu on your FreeNAS graphical interface. Once you click on "Add Volume" or "Import Volume" then you can follow the simple instructions to add volume names, identities and sizes.

Note: when selecting a file system, ufs and zfs are similar; but zfs offers more options for those that want to learn how to use FreeNAS completely and introduces such features as self-healing.

5. Mount Your Drive

In your Windows (or other) computer installation you have the option to mount a network drive. In Windows 7 you can do it from the "My Computer Screen"; even on an Android Tablet there are programs that allow you to mount network drives.

* Android's built in File Manager does not have LAN access on all model's ES File Manager is a reasonable alternative.

Mounting the drive in your old computer means that it will appear as a normal hard disk drive would.

6. Install Your Back-Up Software

You have an abundance of back-up software on the market. If you have certain versions of Microsoft Windows 7 you can do it from Windows; if you can afford to pay out for professional back-up software then you get what you pay for. 

You have to install your back up software to your new computer; nothing needs to go onto your New NAS server. 

7. Start Backing Up!

It is as easy as this, you can now back up your new computer, your media or your documents. You have your very own back-up server built from an old computer and a recovery solution should your new computer hard drive fails.