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3 Minutes to 3 Terabytes: VIA ARTiGO and FreeNAS Store Terabytes in a Shoebox

3 Minutes to 3 Terabytes

April 17, 2009

It truly is a beautiful thing when something just works. This is especially true with computers. High capacity storage has become almost a commodity with the price of an external 1 TB USB hovering around $100. All you have to do is plug in the power and connect the USB cable, and you've got instant storage expansion. Works great for a single computer, and you could even unplug it from one and plug it into another. While that does work, it tends to get old after a while, and if you're using that method for backups, you will more than likely end up forgetting or just quitting altogether at some point.

Network Attached Storage (NAS) is one answer to sharing large storage devices over a network. You could buy a NAS device from your favorite local or Internet supplier, but chances are you'll wind up with

something less than what a "real" NAS has to offer. That's where VIA's ARTiGO A2000 comes in. The A2000 fits a full-featured computer with space for two 3.5" SATA drives in a package about the size of a shoebox. Add to the hardware the FreeNAS open source software and you've got a really capable storage solution.


Assembling the hardware couldn't be simpler. The ARTiGO A2000 has one screw on the rear of the box holding the case shell in place. Once that's out you can remove the front clip-on cover with two fingers. That exposes two slots for SATA hard drives and the CompactFlash slot. The hard drives slide easily on the rails and plug right into a connector at the back of the drive bay. Tighten two screws on each side to secure the drive to the frame, and you're all done. We used two Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5 TB drives for this review.

Getting the software up and running is a little more involved but not much. Step one is to download the FreeNAS software image from the project download page. The one you want is the latest FreeNAS Image file. For the VIA ARTiGO you'll need the i386 version. While you're on the download page you can also get a copy of the Quick Start Guide and User Manual. Once you have the image downloaded you must write the image to a CompactFlash (CF) device. The image itself is a little under 30 MB, so you could use an old 64 MB device if you happen to have one lying around.

Writing the image to the CF disk requires root privileges. The trick is to know that the .img file is actually compressed, requiring a gunzip command before writing to the disk. You can do it with one command as follows:

paul@paul-ubuntu:~/ gunzip -c FreeNAS-i386-embedded-0.69.4276.img | sudo dd of=/dev/sdc

The key here is the name of your CF device. In our case we used a small USB multi-card reader which assigns a unique device name for all the different slots. The CF slot shows up as /dev/sdc. With that piece of information you're ready to blast your image using the command line string above. You can also use the dmesg command to check yourself after inserting the CF card as in:

paul@paul-ubuntu:~/ dmesg | tail -n 24

That will show you the last 24 kernel messages and should contain a few lines that indicate the device name of the card you just attached.


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