In this article we look at how to install Unraid and troubleshoot some of the issues you may experience along the way.
But first, lets have a little overview of what Unraid is and why you might want to install it.
What is Unraid?
Are you tired of struggling with traditional RAID systems that just don’t quite cut it for your home server or lab needs? Well, let me introduce you to Unraid, a home server operating system that’s perfect for managing file shares, VMs and docker containers with a really simple to use GUI. Imagine having an OS that can seamlessly combine different-sized hard drives into one secure and easily manageable storage array. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, it’s not a dream anymore; it’s Unraid! Stick around as we dive into the nitty-gritty of installing Unraid and discover how it can revolutionize your home server or lab experience. Ready? Let’s get started!
How to install Unraid
The Unraid installation is relatively straightforward, with only one real prerequisite – You need a USB drive that is devoted (stays permanently connected) to the server you are installing Unraid on.
Get your USB stick ready
I used a 16GB USB thumb drive I had laying around, ideally I would have used a low profile, brand new drive, but I didn’t have one and I didn’t want to wait for delivery.
Download the USB Creator tool
Start by downloading the Unraid USB Creator for either Mac or Windows, you run this on your PC/Laptop, not the server.
Go here https://unraid.net/download
Prepare the USB stick
Ensure you have the USB stick attached to your PC/Laptop, then open the Unraid.USB.Creator.Win32-2.1.exe that you just downloaded and select the version of Unraid you want to install, most likely the most recent, stable version.
Select your USB stick and click Write, this will erase everything on the USB stick.
Place the USB stick in your server
Once you have prepared the USB stick you need to install it in the server you are going to run Unraid on. Remember, it needs to stay in the server at all times, so place it in a USB socket that’s out of the way.
If all goes well, you boot up your server, establish which IP address your Unraid install has (likely DHCP from your router), access the web GUI and continue with the setup. If like me it wasn’t as simple as that, take a look at some of the issues I came across and see if they help you.
Issues! Pre boot..
Up until now it’s either gone swimmingly, or you are met with a lot of additional hassle! In my case, I had to do a bit of trial and error config as I was met with a plethora of random issues, likely due to the odd hardware I had chosen to use for this install. I was using a SFF PC, with quite frankly over-spec’d hardware which could of been the reason for some of the issues, you’ll likely not have these issues but I’ll document them here in case they are any help to anyone.
Change boot priority
The first issue I had was that the USB stick wouldn’t boot, even if I manually selected.
This was fixed by changing the boot order in the BIOS to ensure that the USB stick took priority.
Again this issues wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the hard drives I had installed had a Windows installation on it!
Disable secure boot
Even after changing the boot priority I still couldn’t get Unraid to boot. It turned out there is an issue with secure boot, which was enabled by default in the BIOS.
Again, fortunately this was an easy fix, simply boot to BIOS and turn off secure boot.
After this, I was able to boot to the Unraid setup.
How to setup unraid
If you’ve got to the point where your unraid server has successfully booted, you should then be able to continue the installation by navigating to the IP address of your unraid server.
I got the IP address from my DHCP table from within my routers admin settings and proceeded to follow the installation setup guide.
Install the My Servers! plugin
One of the first things you are asked to do is to install the My Servers plugin, I don’t like installing unnecessary plugins but chose to install the plugin regardless.
Create an account / login
You’ll then be asked to either login or create an account.
I didn’t have an account so I created one, the process was relatively easy.
Link your unraid install to your account
After registering and logging in you will be asked to register your unraid install with your account, this too was a simple process
Setup your disks
Considering the purpose of unraid, I actually found this bit really complicated (or at least it wasn’t very obvious what to do).
It didn’t help that I had some issues where unraid could not see some of my disks, but either way I think unraid could do a better job of explaining this part of the setup process. I actually turned to youtube to find a guide. The one I used is linked below.
You need to assign disks to certain features of unraid, my setup is below
The key takeaways are that;
A parity disk is important!
Picture this: you’ve got your Unraid server up and running, storing all your precious data. But what about protecting that data from potential drive failures? That’s where a parity disk comes in!
A parity disk in Unraid acts as a safety net for your data. In simple terms, it’s an additional hard drive that stores a special kind of “backup” information for all the other drives in your array. Instead of storing complete copies of your files, the parity disk calculates and saves a unique mathematical representation of your data. This magical process helps Unraid keep your data safe without taking up as much space as traditional backup methods.
Now, let’s say one of your hard drives fails. Don’t panic! The parity disk comes to the rescue. Using the parity data and the remaining good drives, Unraid can rebuild the lost data from the failed drive. So, even in the face of disaster, you won’t lose a single byte of your precious data. How cool is that?
The caveat is that the parity disk must be the largest disk you have available in unraid.
In summary, a parity disk in Unraid is important to ensure your data is protected, but it does use up your largest disk.
An array is where your data is stored
In Unraid, an “array” is essentially the heart of your storage system. It’s a clever way to combine multiple hard drives into a single, unified storage space, making it easier to manage and access your files.
The beauty of Unraid’s array is that it allows you to mix and match drives with different sizes and brands, giving you the freedom to build a customized storage solution. This flexibility is a game-changer, especially when compared to traditional RAID systems, which often impose strict requirements on drive size and configuration.
An Unraid array comprises two main components: data disks and a parity disk. Data disks are where your files are stored, while the parity disk acts as a safety net, protecting your data in case of drive failure. As you add or remove drives, Unraid automatically adjusts the array to maintain optimal performance and data security.
Pool devices are not part of the array but have some benefits, primarily caching
In Unraid, “pool devices” refer to the individual storage drives that are not part of the main array but instead are used to create one or more separate storage spaces called “cache pools.” These cache pools are designed to enhance the performance and efficiency of your Unraid system.
Cache pools, made up of one or more pool devices (usually SSDs), serve as a high-speed intermediary storage space for your data before it’s written to the main array. When you’re writing new files or modifying existing ones, the data is first saved to the cache pool. Later, during a scheduled process called the “mover,” this data is transferred from the cache pool to the slower, larger storage drives in the main array.
Using pool devices in Unraid has several benefits. Firstly, it speeds up read and write operations, as SSDs in cache pools typically offer faster performance compared to traditional hard drives. Secondly, it reduces wear and tear on your main array drives, as they’re not constantly being accessed for small, frequent write operations. Lastly, cache pools can also be used to store frequently accessed files or even run virtual machines and Docker containers, ensuring you get the best possible performance from your Unraid system.
To sum up, pool devices in Unraid help you get the most out of your home server or lab environment by optimizing performance, improving efficiency. These aren’t completely necessary, especially in my use case where my primary disks are NVMes, but if your setup primarily consists of spinning rust this will increase the overall speed.
All data will be deleted
Remember that any data on the disks will be deleted, irrespective of which role you assign them.
Start the array
The final thing left to do is start the array and then you are complete. If you have got this far you can now look at additional things to do after install.
So, I’d successfully booted to unraid, registered an account, logged in, installed the My Server plugin and was ready to start allocating disks, only there was one slight problem, unraid couldn’t see 2 of my 3 disks!
Unraid can’t see NVMe’s
I was using m2 NVMe’s and they were not recognised within Unraid, luckily the solution was simple;
Switch your BIOS from RAID to AHCI mode to use them.
Unraid didn’t like my raid setup
Again, odd use case / setup, but I was using 2 m2 NVMe’s which I’d configured in raid 1.
As I had changed from RAID to AHCI I had to delete the raid volume I had previously setup. I booted into the BIOS, entered the raid manager and deleted the raid volume.
This in conjunction with AHCI mode allowed unraid to see my 2 NVMe drives.
Constant errors about the NVMe drives overheating
I noticed I was receiving errors about the NVMe drives overheating, considering the server wasn’t really doing anything I thought it odd that the disks would be overheating. Knowing that NVMes tend to run hotter than SSD’s and spinning rusts I thought it might be a red herring.
I googled the operating temperatures of NVME’s and was greeted with this answer from Quora;
“The operating temperature range for an NVMe SSD is typically between 0 and 70 degrees Celsius (32 and 158 degrees Fahrenheit). It is important to keep the SSD within this temperature range to ensure optimal performance and longevity.”https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-regular-temperature-range-for-an-NVMe-SSD#:~:text=The%20operating%20temperature%20range%20for,ensure%20optimal%20performance%20and%20longevity.
With this information I thought it would be safe to ignore, but I didn’t want to constantly receive errors so I changed the warning values.
How to change the temperature warning values of a disk in unraid
From the ‘Main’ tab click on the disk that is giving a warning
In the SMART settings you can set the values
Based on the information I had googled I set the values to 70 and 75 (I take no responsibility if you copy this and it fries your setup!)
Additional things to do after installing
Once you have got though the basic setup and setup your disks you’ll want to start making th e most of your unraid server, here are the first things I did.
Change the logo of your unraid server to match the actual hardware
This is completely unnecessary but a really nice feature, from the ‘Dashboard’ section you can click on the icon associated with your unraid server and upload a custom icon. I downloaded an image of the SFF PC I was using and set the background to opaque.
Install the community applications plugin
This is almost essential as this is where you will find the useful applications you want to install on your unraid server. This has seemingly become an easier process in recent version of unraid, navigate to the ‘Apps’ section and install Community Applications plugin.
Map existing file servers / NAS (QNAP, Synology etc)
I have been using a trusty QNAP for my file storage and I have no intention of getting rid of it, my primary use case of Unraid is for running VM’s and Docker containers, therefore I wanted to find a way of utilising my QNAP within Unraid.
This is where a useful plugin called ‘Unassigned Devices’ come into play, which I read on the following reddit post https://www.reddit.com/r/unRAID/comments/n196wz/using_unraid_to_access_hd_space_on_qnap_nas/
Providing you have installed the community applications plugin (above) you should be able to search for Unassigned Devices from the Apps section in unraid
Once installed you can map SMB Shares and NFS shares
In conclusion, Unraid is a powerful and flexible operating system that makes an excellent choice for a home server or lab . Its unique approach to storage, combining drives of varying sizes into a single array, makes it a great choice for tech enthusiasts and beginners alike. As a home NAS solution it is excellent, with the added benefits of an easy to manage docker and virtual machine environment, Unraid offers a well-rounded solution for managing and protecting your data. The only thing that will put people off is that unraid is not free, although pricing is relatively cheap.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the hardware requirements for installing Unraid?
Unraid can run on a wide range of hardware, from off-the-shelf PCs to custom-built servers. Key requirements include a 64-bit capable processor, a minimum of 2GB RAM, and a USB flash drive (1GB or larger) to install the Unraid OS. You’ll also need at least one hard drive for data storage and an optional drive for parity protection.
How do I install Unraid on my system?
To install Unraid, first, download the latest version from the Unraid website. Next, use a USB flash drive creator tool to write the Unraid OS image to a USB flash drive. Then, plug the USB drive into your server, configure your system’s BIOS to boot from the USB drive, and follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation.
Can I install Unraid on my existing RAID array?
Unraid cannot be installed directly on an existing RAID array. You will need to dismantle the RAID configuration, back up your data, and then set up the Unraid array. Make sure to copy your data back to the Unraid array once it’s set up.
Can I use Unraid for free?
Unraid offers a 30-day free trial, which allows you to test its features and compatibility with your hardware. After the trial period, you can choose from three different license tiers (Basic, Plus, or Pro) based on your storage needs and requirements.
How do I add or remove drives to my Unraid array?
To add a new drive to your Unraid array, first, make sure it’s connected to your system. Then, access the Unraid web interface, navigate to the “Main” tab, and assign the new drive to an empty slot. Click “Start” to begin the process of adding the drive to the array. To remove a drive, simply reverse the process: unassign the drive from its slot, click “Start” to remove it, and then safely disconnect it from your system. Always remember to back up your data before making any changes to your array.