Why Unraid beats TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS) for personal use

FreeNAS and Unraid work in fundamentally different ways and in this article I’m going to be telling you why, in my personal opinion, you should go with Unraid.

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A hard drive used in Unraid

At its core, Unraid is a Linux-based operating system which mainly uses the XFS filesystem and is heavily optimized for the storing of files. In other words, it is an operating system built for Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems. Other than commercial systems such as those from Synology and QNAP, Unraid doesn’t have any official hardware and doesn’t ship on a pre-built box. Instead, an Unraid NAS is built inside a computer or server case using off-the-shelf PC components.

I have personally been running Unraid on my NAS for the last two years. Before that, it was running what at the time was called FreeNAS and now is TrueNAS CORE. Through my experience with it, I came to realize that TrueNAS CORE, or any other operating system using OpenZFS or a standard RAID, isn’t best suited for use for home use. FreeNAS with its OpenZFS file system and Unraid work in fundamentally different ways and, in my opinion, the way Unraid works makes it the better choice for a NAS in the home.

This article will cover the major differences between the TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS) and Unraid operating systems. Once you know how each works, it will become obvious why Unraid is the better choice for home use.

Unraid vs TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS)

Before getting into the detailed comparison, I need to clarify that I am in no way affiliated with either Unraid or TrueNAS. Unraid doesn’t even have an affiliate programme, so there is no link I could share with you that would give me a kickback. What you install on your NAS is your decision. I don’t profit from you choosing one or the other. All I want to do is help you make a decision that you won’t regret in the future.

Where TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS) wins vs Unraid

Unraid can’t compete with TrueNAS CORE in terms of read/write performance. If you are using any level of OpenZFS, data will be stripped and written to multiple drives simultaneously. Because TrueNAS is more targeted towards businesses and not necessarily for home use, restoring data is made as easy as possible using the snapshotting feature.

A broken drive from a TrueNAS CORE system

TrueNAS has been around for what seems like an eternity, and thus has numerous support topics and guides online. Unraid by comparison is still in its infant years. While TrueNAS has many topics in their community, the Unraid community is steadily growing and very beginner-friendly (more on that later).

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Another plus for business owners will be the fact that TrueNAS CORE supports cloud data transfers out of the box. Setting up Amazon S3, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure is as easy as entering your credentials into the web-based dashboard.

Where Unraid wins vs TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS)

In my opinion, the biggest argument for going with Unraid over TrueNAS CORE for home use is the fact that you can add drives one at a time and the ability to mix-and-match drive sizes. As normal computer cases can only house a limited amount of hard drives, you might at some point not be able to add another three or four drives needed for TrueNAS Core. If you are using OpenZFS, increasing the storage capacity of your NAS always means buying multiple drives. For example, every RAID-Z2 group will need at least three drives.

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Being able to add drives one by one to your Unraid system means that whenever you see a good deal on a NAS hard drive you will not be forced to shell out for more than one if you don’t want to or haven’t got the financial means to do so.

In stark contrast to OpenZFS groups, where every drive has to be of equal size, Unraid only makes one limitation: the parity drive, which is used in case of a drive failure, has to be at least as big as the biggest drive in the array. Besides that, you are free to add drives of whatever size you want.

Don’t dare ask a question in the TrueNAS forum

While I said that the TrueNAS community is an area where Unraid takes second place in terms of the number of topics, the Unraid community is open to everyone and beginner-friendly. That is not something that can be said of the TrueNAS community.

After reading through a few of the replies on there, I vowed to never ask any questions myself. One of the most infamous mods of the TrueNAS Forums has been described as “an absolute pen*s of a human“. I have also read reports that the hostile community put people off using TrueNAS. If you are looking for a nicer experience, the TrueNAS/FreeNAS subreddit is, in my experience, a lot friendlier.

A heart, symbolizing the friendliness of the Unraid community

With Unraid, you will find a community filled with people from all walks of life. Some are absolute beginners trying to build their first-ever NAS, while others are experts who build Unraid machines on almost every day of the week. The community is enthusiastic and not at all condescending or hostile towards noobs.

The downsides of Unraid

With all the praise, I’ve given it so far, Unraid isn’t perfect. Most reasons have nothing to do with the quality of the OS, but are technical limitations of the file system and how it works. From a drive failure standpoint, drives in Unraid are not as secure as those in a TrueNAS CORE system. Your data isn’t spread across as many drives.

Unraid isn’t free. In contrast to TrueNAS CORE and many other operating systems (even Windows 10!), you will have to pay for Unraid. The cost will depend on how many drives you have in your system. For up to six attached storage devices it will cost you $59, for up to twelve attached storage devices $89, and for an unlimited number of attached storage devices $129.

Being a comparatively young operating system, Unraid doesn’t have quite as many advanced features for business users. If you need iSCSI, cloud backup, Active Directory, or Kerberos, you will find it built right into TrueNAS CORE.

About Liam Alexander Colman

I first heard of Unraid through the same medium as many of us did: The Linus Tech Tips channel on YouTube. At the time, I was running TrueNAS (or FreeNAS as it was called back then) on my DIY NAS built using a dual-core Intel Pentium G4400 at its heart. I was convinced, I had chosen the better operating system. After all, it was free and open-source and had a large community behind it. One day, after once again facing the need to buy another three hard drives, I seriously started researching Unraid and its features. I bit the bullet and gave it a go, transferring my data on to external hard drives that I later shucked and added to the Unraid array. Since that day, I have not looked back once, and I am now an enthusiastic and experienced user of Unraid. You can find out more about Unraid Guides right here.

5 thoughts on “Why Unraid beats TrueNAS CORE (FreeNAS) for personal use”

  1. Big diff: you can plop an Unraid drive into any PC and read data off it. Files can be spread around or limited to one disk. (Basically.)

    With double parity drives, you can lose 2 drives in the pool. So it protects pretty well.

    If you want faster reads/writes, you can use 2 or more cache drives so they can suffer a failure and your data is protected. If you use SSDs, most home networks will see max speed over gigabit networks anyway to/from SSD cache.

    IMHO FreeNAS advantages can be mostly made up by adding drives to Unraid for different reasons: parity and cache.

    Reply
  2. TrueNAS dose a pretty poor job of marketing themselves in my opinion. From the nearly patronizingly simplistic youtube videos (really?, click the link to download, wow, thanks!), to the scattered and sometimes conflicting documention knowing where to start and what to use is still kinda a mess.

    And yeah there is definitely an elitist attitude in the TrueNAS forums. I don’t find it as intimidating as I did when I first found it 6 years ago now but it still sucks to see and is doing them a disservice.

    As for TruNAS vs UnRAID. Personally I never actually put TrueNAS (FreeNAS then) to use as I thought the UI was pretty awful. The UI and user experience looks like its improved leaps and bounds but for my home use I may still not use as it looks like as the FreeBSD roots have some limitations with hardware pass through in regards to Jails vs the Docker Containers used in Linux based OSs.

    Reply
    • I am currently setting up a second (low powered) NAS for business files and backups beside my existing Unraid system (which is a power hungry 16 core machine). So far, Unraid was my one-stop solution covering nearly everything. Weaknesses in my opinion are the limited user management and the fact, you have to run the mover quite often to save your data with parity. But the rest is pretty nice to work with. I use a PCIe 4.0 NVMe for caching combined with two bound 10G network adapters – what great speed. Also the ability to have different disk size in one array is unique.

      I was really open to take the test with TrueNAS, and see how it behaves in daily business. I actually don’t really need ZFS with snapshots. But the tipping point is, that my new second machine should also run two docker containers (LMS and Iobroker). On TrueNAS I have to install a VM with Linux to run docker on it. FreeBSD isn’t capable of running Docker, as FreeBSD is a very limited Unix. Kiddin’ me, no Docker in 2021? They have an alternative named Jails – which is frankly said crap. I really don’t have a clue, why they haven’t ported TrueNAS to a modern Linux yet.

      With these points in mind, TrueNAS is no alternative to Unraid for me.

      Reply
  3. Quoting: “In my opinion, the biggest argument for going with Unraid over TrueNAS CORE for home use is the fact that you can add drives one at a time and the ability to mix-and-match drive sizes”

    As far as I’m aware, OpenZFS doesn’t require all drives being of the same capacity. Additional or replacement drives do have to be at least as large as the smallest capacity drive in the array though, or the total size of the array will be diminished based on the capacity of the lower size drive, as each of the larger drives will be limited to the same capacity as the drive of lowest capacity. However, (as I’ve just recently done), this will eventually work in the opposite direction if you gradually install larger capacity replacement drives into the array, but the total array size will remain unchanged until (over a period of time) all drives have eventually been replaced with larger capacity ones. At which point the array size will increase based on the larger capacity of the smallest “replacement” drive in the array (assuming you’ve always replaced pre-existing drives with larger capacity ones).

    So I’m assuming that the unraid system is only stringing the additional drives together, ifd it’s able to increase it’s total capacity just by adding extra drives of any size? I dont know anything about unraid, but I’m making the asumption based on the way I’ve percieved what your trying to explain. If my assuption is correct, how does this prevent data loss through redundancy, should any one drive fail within the goup?

    Cheers

    Rob 🙂

    Reply

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