In this article, we’re going to take a look at Unraid vs. TrueNAS.
Unraid and TrueNAS are two NAS operating systems that allow users to manage data on their network. There is a ton of different configurations and applications that can be run on both operating systems, and in this article, we’re going to look at the key differences. Before we get started, I want to be clear that both of these options are great and you’ll most likely be happy with either. However, there are fairly significant differences which we’ll take a look at below.
Unraid vs. TrueNAS
Before breaking down some of the differences between Unraid vs. TrueNAS, we’re going to take a look at exactly what they are.
What is Unraid? – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
Unraid is a proprietary-based network-attached storage operating system. Unraid allows you to create and manage shared folders, run different applications, and even create and run Docker containers if you’d like. Unraid gives you the ability to create virtual machines as well, though it’s not a traditional hypervisor.
The biggest benefit of Unraid is that it’s incredibly user-friendly. From my experience, most NAS operating systems are fairly confusing when you first set them up, however, Unraid makes sense, meaning that you’ll get accustomed to it quickly. Please keep in mind that Unraid is not free, so you’ll have to purchase a license based on the number of hard drives you intend on using.
What is TrueNAS? – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
TrueNAS is an operating system developed on the OpenZFS file system. What makes TrueNAS different is the fact that there are actually two different versions: TrueNAS Core and TrueNAS Scale. TrueNAS Core has been around since 2005 (formerly known as FreeNAS) and is built on FreeBSD. TrueNAS Scale was released in 2022 and is built on Debian-Linux. They’re both similar and different at the same time (if that makes sense), so I urge you to read about their differences if you decide to use TrueNAS.
Regardless of which version you use (TrueNAS Core or Scale), TrueNAS is free and open-source, unlike Unraid.
File Systems – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
The first, and biggest difference between TrueNAS and Unraid is the file systems that they use. By default, Unraid uses XFS or BTRFS (you technically have the option of using ReiserFS as well, but support is deprecated). On the other hand, TrueNAS uses ZFS, which has a ton of great benefits. These are entirely different and the biggest question you’ll have to answer is if you want to use ZFS. If you do, Unraid isn’t an option and you’ll be forced to use TrueNAS Core or Scale.
When you set up Unraid, you’re instructed to add your hard drives and select one (maximum of two) drive(s) that will be used as the parity drive(s). The parity drives selected are what will protect your array against data loss. If any of the drives on your NAS fail, the parity bits are what is used to rebuild a new hard drive. In its simplest form, if you have one parity drive, one hard drive can fail without data loss. If you have two (used for larger arrays), two hard drives can fail without data loss.
ZFS on TrueNAS is extremely different. When you set up a storage pool in TrueNAS, the majority of people will use RAIDZ1 or RAIDZ2. RAIDZ1 allows one hard drive to fail without data loss, and RAIDZ2 allows two hard drives to fail without data loss. There are so many benefits to ZFS that I cannot begin to list them here, but I’d highly suggest you check out this article to learn about some of the benefits.
Data Managment – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
Unraid and TrueNAS are extremely similar when it comes to adding or removing data from your NAS. In both operating systems, you’ll create shared folders that can be accessed through your network (SMB, NFS, iSCSI, etc). This is the most important function of a NAS, and while the setup process will be different for each, the overall functionality and end-user experience will be the same.
One minor difference is that TrueNAS allows you to create snapshots by default. Snapshots will freeze shared folders on your NAS at a point in time and allow you to recover them in the event of data loss, corruption, or even ransomware attacks. Snapshots are easily configured in TrueNAS thanks to the ZFS filesystem.
Unraid is similar to TrueNAS in the sense that snapshots are supported, but only if you are using the BTRFS filesystem. If you’re using the XFS filesystem, you will not be able to use snapshots. XFS has its own benefits, but more modern features like snapshots are not supported. This is a big difference that you must consider if you’re planning on using XFS with Unraid.
Applications – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
After setting up and configuring your Unraid server, there are tons of different services that you can run on your NAS, with a notable option being a media server like Plex. The way that applications are installed in Unraid is through the apps page, where you can browse or search for specific applications.
TrueNAS is very different than Unraid depending on which version you’re using. If you’re using TrueNAS Scale, you’ll have a ton of applications that you can install directly from the apps section.
However, if you’re using TrueNAS Core, you create plugins. They function extremely similarly, but plugins are installed in jails, which means that the service is technically isolated from the operating system.
Ultimately, the end result is the same. You can run various services on your NAS operating system and while the setup process and installation location (inside of a jail, in docker, etc) will be different, the end result will be the same.
Compatibility & Requirements – Unraid vs. TrueNAS
From a pure compatibility standpoint, Unraid and TrueNAS will generally run on various different types of hardware. This means that if you have an old device laying around or want to build a new one, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to get Unraid or TrueNAS working.
However, one key distinction is that ZFS is extremely memory hungry. The minimum amount of memory that you’re able to use on TrueNAS is 8GB, and most would suggest a minimum of 16GB. Unraid does not have these requirements and will run perfectly fine on systems with 2GB of memory (though at least 4GB is recommended).
Another point that is highly debated is the use of ECC-memory with ZFS. Without going too far into detail, ECC memory will detect and correct memory errors, while non-ECC memory will not. This is a huge benefit as ECC memory should not write any errors to the disk. Many feel that for ZFS, this is a requirement, and thus view ECC memory as a requirement for TrueNAS. This is important to point out because if you want ECC memory, your hardware options are minimal – at least compared to non-ECC options.
While many view ECC memory as a requirement for TrueNAS, the counterpoint to that argument is that ECC memory will help all filesystems. The question you have to ask yourself (and most likely spend hours researching), is if you need ECC memory for TrueNAS.
On a personal level, I don’t run TrueNAS without ECC-memory. If I am spinning up a system that has non-ECC memory, I am sticking with Unraid, but everyone will have to make their own decision which is why I’m pointing it out.
Conclusion: Unraid vs. TrueNAS
In this article, we looked at Unraid vs. TrueNAS to try and determine which NAS operating system you should run. The core functionality of these systems is extremely similar, meaning that you’ll create shared folders and access them on your network. You’ll also be able to install applications that can help utilize some of the data that exists on the NAS (like running a media server with Plex). From a core functionality standpoint, you’ll be happy with either.
Where these two operating systems differ (and what you should ultimately base your decision on) is the filesystem that you want to run. If you’re interested in running ZFS, you need to use TrueNAS Core or Scale. Please keep in mind that as mentioned above, there are generally higher system requirements with this setup and many view ECC memory as a requirement.
If you want to run XFS or BTRFS, you should install Unraid, however, you must purchase a license based on the total number of hard drives you plan on using – something not required with TrueNAS. You also have the benefit of requiring fewer system resources, as Unraid runs extremely well with 4GB of memory (though the official requirement is 2GB). Also, though ECC memory will always benefit NAS devices, many don’t view it as a requirement for XFS or BTRFS, as they do with ZFS.
I’m hoping that this article on Unraid vs. TrueNAS helped you make a more informed decision. If you have any questions on Unraid vs. TrueNAS, please leave them in the comments!