TrueNAS Core vs. Scale: Detailed Comparison

  • Post author:WunderTech
  • Post published:April 1, 2023
  • Post last modified:February 10, 2024
  • Post category:TrueNAS
  • Reading time:18 mins read

In this article, we’re going to look at TrueNAS Core vs. Scale and compare both solutions for home lab and enterprise environments.

TrueNAS Core and Scale are two NAS operating systems designed and developed by iXsystems. While both, TrueNAS Core and Scale are similar, they differ in architecture, functionality, and performance. This article will compare TrueNAS Core vs. Scale side-by-side to determine the best NAS operating system you can run.

TrueNAS Core vs. Scale: Side-by-Side Comparison

Before comparing TrueNAS Core vs. Scale, we’ll take a look at exactly what TrueNAS Core and Scale are. Then, we’ll take a look at the major differences when comparing TrueNAS Core vs. Scale.

What is TrueNAS Core?

TrueNAS Core (formerly known as FreeNAS) is a NAS operating system designed on an OpenZFS file system and is based on FreeBSD.

As a NAS operating system, administrators can create shared folders that can be accessed via SMB, NFS, or iSCSI. You can also configure different permission levels, create groups, add users, and much more.

The biggest benefit of TrueNAS Core is that it’s incredibly stable. TrueNAS core has been around since roughly 2005 (though it went by the name FreeNAS for many years).

There are some specific features to TrueNAS Core like Jails and Plugins, but TrueNAS Core shares many similarities with TrueNAS Scale that we’ll explore below.

truenas core vs. truenas scale - truenas core dashboard.

What is TrueNAS Scale?

TrueNAS Scale also runs the OpenZFS file system and is the latest operating system created by iXsystems. TrueNAS Scale is very similar to TrueNAS Core, but it’s built on Debian-Linux as opposed to FreeBSD.

TrueNAS Scale provides HCI (Hyper-Converged Infrastructure) which allows you to create VMs and Linux containers. TrueNAS Scale also gives you a ton of options for scalability that TrueNAS Core doesn’t.

While TrueNAS Scale offers a bunch of benefits, the biggest downside is that it’s new. While TrueNAS Core was released in 2005 and has been a trusted NAS operating system for many years, TrueNAS Scale was released in 2022 and is extremely new.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if longevity or reliability is a concern, TrueNAS Core is better in both areas.

truenas scale dashboard.

Installing TrueNAS Core or Scale

The process for setting up TrueNAS Core or Scale is the same, though the version you download (TrueNAS Core or TrueNAS Scale) will be different.

After downloading the ISO image, you’ll have to write the ISO image to a USB stick using a tool like Etcher for Windows, Mac, or Linux.

After you download and launch Etcher, select the TrueNAS Core or TrueNAS Scale ISO image, select your USB stick, and then Flash! This will write the ISO image to the USB stick.

showing etcher application with the proxmox iso.

After it’s done writing, you’ll have to boot your machine from this USB stick. Every machine will be different, but if you’re having trouble, enter the BIOS and make sure that you can boot from USB.

Please remember that while you can install TrueNAS on bare-metal hardware, you can also install it as a virtual machine on a Hypervisor like Proxmox.

Features of TrueNAS Core and Scale

TrueNAS Scale is meant for large-scale environments and data centers. The whole goal of TrueNAS Scale is to give you the flexibility to scale out your setup to have hundreds of petabytes of storage space if needed. It also gives you the option of using high-availability, something that’s not available with TrueNAS Core.

From a home user’s perspective, this type of scalability is unnecessary, but one huge benefit of TrueNAS Scale is that it allows you to run virtual machines and containers directly inside of the OS. There are also awesome, easy-to-install apps like Nextcloud. This allows users to set up one flexible server that will run your VMs and Containers, and will also operate as a rock-solid NAS.

truenas scale applications.

Since TrueNAS Core is based on FreeBSD, a lot of the Debian Linux benefits of TrueNAS Scale are missing. However, you do get the benefit of having an incredibly reliable NAS operating system that has been around since 2005. Looking at this point alone, it’s reasonable to say that from a pure stability perspective, TrueNAS Core is superior (at least at this time).

You also have the option of installing plugins (there are iXsystems and community options) that will operate extremely similarly to TrueNAS Scale’s Apps. The main difference with plugins is that they are installed inside Jails.

Finally, you can create basic VMs, though TrueNAS Scale should be installed if you need more robust VM capabilities.

truenas core plugins.

It’s also important to note that while TrueNAS Scale may seem like it offers more as far as usability goes, the key to a NAS operating system is…to be a NAS. Since TrueNAS Core excels in this area, it’s reasonable to choose stability over features, especially if those features will all be “nice to haves”.

There are also tons of key features that both platforms share, like snapshots, bit-rot correction, replication, remote management, deduplication, and more.

Additional Features of TrueNAS Core

  1. Fusion Pools: The fusion pool (also known as ZFS allocation classes, ZFS special vdevs, and metadata vdevs) is a significant feature of the TrueNAS Core operating system. Fusion pools are ideal for speeding up file-based operations. One key benefit is that they can increase the speed of metadata requests.
  2. API Keys: The API keys feature of TrueNAS Core saves you from sharing the root password to your server. API keys simplify the automation of the TrueNAS Core operating system by allowing you to utilize them for services that interact with your NAS
  3. VPN Support: If you don’t want to use an enterprise VPN, you can benefit from the native VPN support feature of TrueNAS Core. TrueNAS Core gives you a simple OpenVPN configuration section that will allow you to connect to your local network from an outside location.
  4. Native Encryption: TrueNAS Core offers native encryption and can be used in a variety of ways.

Additional Features of TrueNAS Scale

  1. Scalable Software-Defined Infrastructure: TrueNAS Scale combines the capabilities of GlusterFS and OpenZFS to give scale-out ZFS capabilities with impressive data management. You can use a single hyper-converged node in your office or home to get a highly available and scalable software-defined infrastructure.
  2. Linux Container Ecosystem: TrueNAS Scale gives access to an established Linux container ecosystem, making application deployment much easier and faster. You can also make customized applications with the help of Docker containers and KVM virtual machines.
  3. Manage Storage Fleets & Clusters: TrueNAS Scale allows you to cluster many systems together and manage them all with the help of TrueCommand.

Feature Differences Between TrueNAS Core and Scale

Below are a few additional key feature differences between TrueNAS Core vs. Scale:

  • Scalability: TrueNAS Scale (Scale stands for “Scaled-Out”) is designed for horizontal scalability. It allows multiple nodes to be clustered together to deliver high availability, shared storage, and improved performance. In contrast, TrueNAS Core is more of a single-system solution.
  • Virtualization and Containers: Both systems support virtualization. However, TrueNAS Scale has integrated support for Linux-native technologies like KVM for virtual machines and Docker for containerization. TrueNAS Core utilizes FreeBSD’s bhyve for virtual machines and Jails for an isolated environment.
  • High Availability: Both TrueNAS Core and Scale offer high-availability solutions. However, TrueNAS Scale leverages Linux-based technologies to provide active-active clustering for real-time data synchronization and failover.
  • Community and Support: TrueNAS Core, being the successor of FreeNAS, has a more established community and extensive support documentation. TrueNAS Scale (being a newer project), is still building its community, but inherits the strong support structure from iXsystems.
  • Docker: Natively, TrueNAS Scale supports Docker while TrueNAS Core doesn’t. This means that you can run tons of different Docker containers (media servers like Jellyfin or Plex, or even VPNs like WireGuard or Tailscale) directly inside of TrueNAS Scale giving you tons of flexibility that isn’t natively available on TrueNAS Core.
TrueNAS CoreTrueNAS Scale
Based OnFreeBSDDebian Linux
File SystemZFSZFS
ScalabilityGood for small to medium setupsDesigned for high scalability
VirtualizationLimited (bhyve)Full (KVM, Docker containers)
Plugin SystemJails (FreeBSD-based)Docker-based
PerformanceStable and reliableOptimized for large scale
Best ForGeneral purpose NASLarge-scale, virtualization

Pricing & User Experience

When comparing the pricing between TrueNAS Core vs. Scale, both are open-source and free to use. However, if you intend on using TrueNAS in an enterprise environment, you can purchase hardware directly from iXsystems which will come with professional enterprise support.

From a pricing perspective, there really isn’t much of a difference between TrueNAS Core and Scale.

User Experience

When comparing the user interface for TrueNAS Core vs. Scale, they both offer a comprehensive web interface that you use to manage each environment.

They are both installed on a USB drive on bare metal (which is used as the boot drive) or can be installed as a virtual machine on a hypervisor like Proxmox or ESXi. Due to this, TrueNAS Core and Scale do not rely on the storage disks to run the operating system.

The key difference to be considered when it comes to user experience is the requirements that the user is trying to fulfill. With TrueNAS Scale, you have the option of running VMs and Containers, and while you can run VMs in TrueNAS Core, it’s not nearly as stable or feature-filled as it is in TrueNAS Scale.

With that said, if you’re strictly looking for a NAS operating system with the intention of using SMB, NFS, S3, or iSCSI with no intentions of scaling the environment, TrueNAS Core is a great option.

Please keep in mind that while TrueNAS Scale can operate with multiple nodes, it is not required, meaning that you can run TrueNAS Scale as an individual device if you’d like.

Which Should You Use: TrueNAS Core or Scale?

Picking between TrueNAS Core or Scale should be decided by their underlying operating system. If you’re comfortable with Debian-based Linux operating systems (Ubuntu being the largest and most known), TrueNAS Scale will be an easy transition.

However, if you’re used to a FreeBSD-based operating system, TrueNAS core is going to be easier to use.

truenas scale dashboard.

As of this point in time, most users will be more comfortable with TrueNAS Scale, though it’s important to remember that TrueNAS Scale is the newer version of TrueNAS, meaning that TrueNAS Core is tried and tested while TrueNAS Scale is the new kid on the block.

Another important thing to remember is that TrueNAS Scale was developed with scalability in mind. This means that for larger deployments (where you’d like to use clusters), it’ll be easier to manage with TrueNAS Scale as opposed to TrueNAS Core, making it the correct product for those types of environments.

If you simply want to set up an individual NAS, TrueNAS Core vs. Scale should really be boiled down to their underlying operating system to help determine which product to use.

Conclusion & Final Thoughts

This article looked at TrueNAS Core vs. Scale with the goal of explaining some of the differences. The biggest downside of TrueNAS Scale at this point is that it’s a brand new operating system, meaning that all of the improvements that TrueNAS Core received in prior years may lead to increased reliability and performance.

However, if you’re interested in an operating system that will allow you to use feature-filled virtual machines or containers, TrueNAS Scale is the one.

To be clear, you really can’t go wrong with TrueNAS Core or TrueNAS Scale as they’re both great operating systems, but the key differences above should be what sways you one way or the other.

Thanks for checking out the article on TrueNAS Core vs. Scale. If you have any questions or need to clarify anything on TrueNAS Core vs. Scale, please leave them in the comments!


Frank is an IT professional with 13+ years experience and the creator of WunderTech. He focuses on sharing his experience with others on computer hardware, servers, software, networking, and self-hosted apps. He has a BS in Computer Information Systems and an MBA. Learn more about Frank in his bio.