Top Picks for FreeNAS Hard Drives

FreeNAS is a FreeBSD based storage platform that utilizes ZFS. The fact that it uses a thoroughly enterprise file system and it is free means that it is extremely popular among IT professionals who are on constrained budgets. At STH we test hundreds of hardware combinations each year. From this experience, we are going to keep a running log of the best FreeNAS hard drives. We are going to focus this guide on FreeNAS servers with under 30 storage devices and will periodically update the listing.

Like most ZFS systems, the real speed comes from caching. ZFS is designed to make effective use of RAM and solid state drives for caching but data is still generally stored on slower and cheaper hard drives. Here our are our top picks for FreeNAS hard drives.

Top Picks FreeNAS Hard Drives

Hard drives are the storage tier where (virtually) all data ultimately resides in FreeNAS. While they are the lowest cost tier of storage, hard drives are important for data integrity. Here are our current top 5 picks:

Supermicro SYS-5028D-TLN4F open with WD Red
Supermicro SYS-5028D-TLN4F open with WD Red
  1. WD Red 4TB to 8TB ($140 to $330 on Amazon)
  2. Seagate NAS 4TB to 8TB ($150 to $320 on Amazon) or Seagate Iron Wolf 10TB NAS ($440 on Amazon)
  3. HGST He8 or He10 8TB to 10TB ($330 to $450 on Amazon)
  4. Toshiba X300 5TB or 6TB ($150 to $200 on Amazon)
  5. Seagate 4TB 2.5″ 15mm laptop drives ($100 to $125 based on color and day)

The WD Red and Seagate NAS drives are the two drive families specifically made for NAS applications, like FreeNAS. We no longer recommend drives under 4TB in size and for 3.5″ disks 4TB drives are both the sweet spot and the capacity points we expect to see less of in the future.

If you are wondering why we are not recommending 7200rpm drives or enterprise SAS 10K / 15K RPM drives, the reason is simple. They cost more and use more power. Faster spinning disk performance is not where major speedups will come from in a FreeNAS system. Instead, spend money on more RAM, a L2ARC drive, a ZIL/ SLOG device and higher speed networking. Those that look to faster drives for increased storage array performance are living the realities of a decade ago. For a visual explanation, here is thermal imaging we did of a 4TB WD Red drive and a 4TB WD RE 7200rpm hard drive:

WD Red and RE 4TB Thermal Imaging
WD RE 4TB and WD Red 4TB Thermal Imaging

Skip the lowest cost drives such as the WD Green/ Blue series. You want drives that have successfully been used in these types of applications. The Toshiba X300 series is not marketed as a NAS drive but the feedback is generally good and 6TB pricing is 20% less than the WD/ Seagate NAS variants. They are also 7200rpm drives which means they will use more power, require more cooling and be louder than other drives, but they will also have higher performance.

The 2.5″ 4TB Seagate drives are a relatively new entry. They can be “shucked” for around $99-$110 each, significantly less than 3.5″ NAS drives. Here is a guide with video on extracting these 4TB 2.5″ Seagate drives. They are slow. They are not meant for heavy I/O. On the other hand, for smaller (4-16 drive) arrays that are serving “home NAS” duty, they are working well. For performance, one will want ZIL/ SLOG devices as well as L2ARC drives. There are other 2.5″ drives on the market but STH forum members have hundreds of these drives in their storage systems. STH was ground zero for putting these 4TB ST400LM016 drives into FreeNAS systems.

You can see more of our FreeNAS Buyer’s Guides here.