Top Picks for FreeNAS NICs (Networking)

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 hardware components. We are going to focus this guide on FreeNAS servers with under 30 storage devices and will periodically update the listing.

Since FreeNAS is based on FreeBSD (currently FreeBSD 10) network device driver connectivity is much better than in previous versions. With that said, we have a few tips in terms of which network cards to use with FreeNAS:

Top FreeNAS NICs

If you are deploying FreeNAS, we no longer recommend 1GbE networking. It may be essential in some situations, however in the SMB / SOHO networking space, storage should be on 10GbE. This is even if it is a single 10GbE connection to a 1GbE switch. Here are our current picks for top FreeNAS NICs in different speed categories:

FreeNAS 1GbE NIC Top Picks

1GbE NICs in the FreeBSD world generally see Intel as the top choice.

  1. Intel i350
  2. Intel i210
  3. Intel i211
  4. Intel 82574L

As a point of comparison, the Intel i350 is a $20+ IC that can be used in single, dual and quad port configurations (e.g. i350-t4). The Intel i210 is low single digit dollars in terms of cost and is a lower feature set 1GbE single port controller. The Intel 82574L is the single port NIC that the i210 replaced. We strongly suggest i350 or i210 based NICs. The Intel i211 is a reduced feature set of the i210 controller.

FreeNAS  10GbE (SFP+) NIC Top Picks

Moving to 10GbE and specifically the SFP+ interface, we generally look to Chelsio controllers as they are known to work extremely well with FreeBSD:

  1. Chelsio T520-SO-CR
  2. Chelsio T520-CR
  3. Intel X710-da2
  4. Intel X540-da2 / X540-sr2
  5. Chelsio T420-CO-SR

When going 10GbE, SFP+ provides solid performance and lower power than 10Gbase-T. Nowadays, there are many inexpensive switches that support SFP+ networking even on primarily 1GbE switches (e.g. the $250 MikroTik CRS226-24G-2S+RM Review – A super switch). If you can use copper SFP+ DACs, such as in data center racks, we highly suggest getting SFP+ as a minimum for your FreeNAS server.

FreeNAS  10GbE (10Gbase-T) NIC Top Picks

10Gbase-T is popular because it is backwards compatible with 1GbE networks. Here is our list of top picks for 10Gbase-T FreeNAS network cards:

  1. Best: Chelsio T520-BT
  2. Good: Intel X550-T2
  3. Good: Chelsio T420-BT
  4. Good: Intel X540-T2

With 10Gbase-T power consumption is a major concern. Newer network cards are better at using less power. Here we have the Chelsio T520-BT and Intel X550-T2 as the newer cards on the list and our top picks. Older generation cards such as the T420-BT2 and Intel X540-T2 are still very popular. There are older Intel cards and chipsets such as those based on the Intel 82598EB controller (2009 era) but those had significantly higher power consumption and required active cooling, even in server chassis. Stick to the newer X540 cards if possible.

The Intel X550-T2 is a newer generation Intel 10Gbase-T controller and will be popular going forward. It is also a similar NIC to what is onboard in the Intel Xeon D-1500 series.

FreeNAS 40GbE NIC Top Picks

40GbE is the fastest networking option we currently recommend with FreeNAS. Here our our top picks:

  1. Top Choice: Chelsio T580-LP-CR
  2. Works and less expensive: Intel XL710-qda2
  3. Lower performing/ less expensive T580: Chelsio T580-SO-CR
  4. Feeling lucky: Mellanox ConnectX-3 EN (MCX314A)

The Chelsio T580 cards are going to be the best bets for performance. The Intel XL710 card is going to be the lowest power of the group. The Mellanox ConnectX-3 VPI and ConnectX-3 EN and ConnectX-3 Pro EN cards are the top 40GbE options. If possible look for a part like the MCX314A so you do not have to specify Ethernet mode (on the VPI cards). They are generally less hassle but Mellanox support is nowhere near Chelsio/ Intel in terms of FreeNAS driver integration.

FreeNAS 25GbE / 50GbE / 100GbE Top Picks

Coming soon – we will likely update this with 25GbE and 50GbE options in the near future. We have heard work is ongoing improving performance above 40GbE and so we will issue top picks recommendations when the time is appropriate.

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

Last updated 2016/09/17