Help a Novice Build a New Home Media Server

I originally had this posted in Homebuilt Systems, but after browsing this category more, some of the questions might be more appropriate here. Sorry if they shouldn't be.

Let me start by saying I'm completely green when it comes to servers. I've searched around for info on the subject and I've really just come away more confused. Please be gentle, I'm a complete newb when it comes to media streaming and servers. I'm kind of using this, this, and this as general guides/intros.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: I'm looking to purchase parts within the next two to three months. I'd like to keep the build around 300-400 (not including multiple hard drives). If I can use lower powered parts for cheaper, that's fine too. I'm not completely sure if I should build one or just buy a Mediasmart server or something.

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: First and foremost, I'd like to use the server for automatic backups. Just under that is using it for media streaming (iTunes synching, recorded television, etc.). Anything else is just icing. Right now I have a gaming PC, a HTPC, a general work computer, a work laptop, and a Macbook for photo editing and organizing. I have several questions related to the two important usages (sorry if this is a little scatterbrain):

1. I've read about server OSes and WHS and FreeNAS seem appealing. I think I'd prefer to use WHS just for ease of use. I have access to free copies of Windows Server 2003 (and 2008 if need be); would I be able to use one of them in place of WHS? I was thinking the difference would be akin to the different flavors of MS Office, but I don't know if that's true. Normally, I would try out both OSes before even attempting a build, but I just don't have a spare computer right now.

2. I'd like to backup all the above computers but I don't know how feasible it is to backup the Macbook. I've found that WHS seems to be a popular choice, but how does backing up a Mac work? Everything I've found seems a little hackish for my tastes. What about read/write capabilities on the server for the Mac? Is FreeNAS a better choice if backing up the Mac is necessary?

3. How easy is it to implement the types of streaming I mentioned above. Would I be able to sync my ipod from any computer connected to the server? I record over-the-air TV on my HTPC using Win 7 WMC; can I store the recordings on the server and play them on any attached computer? Can I organize and touch up photos on the Mac and then view them on the PCs?

4. Do I need to run the server in RAID? Should I have a small HDD for the OS and a large HDD for backups and media?

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: This build would be completely from scratch. The only thing I wouldn't need are the basics: a monitor, a mouse, and a keyboard. I'll likely install the OS with a USB key so I don't think I'll need a DVD drive either.

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I like using, but and work also. Those three seem to consistently have the best pricing. I'm really open to good pricing with free shipping and good customer/return service.


PARTS PREFERENCES: I'm looking at running an AMD chip with an Asus Mobo, 2GB DDR2 800 RAM (this may be able to be lowered to 1 GB?) and initially just a 1.5 TB HDD.


MONITOR RESOLUTION: N/A. I'm assuming I'd use a WebGUI after the initial installation.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I really just want parts that are low on power and heat production. Quiet parts are always a nice bonus.

Parts I'm looking at:

AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz 2 x 1MB L2 Cache Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor - Retail

ASUS M4A785-M AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail

G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F2-6400CL5D-2GBNQ - Retail

Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

COOLER MASTER Elite RC-330-KKR1 Black SECC ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 350W Power Supply - Retail

I don't think I need too much else. Correct me if I'm wrong or if there are some better parts I should be looking at. Thanks for any help and guidance.
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More about help novice build home media server
  1. I'm trying to build a similar system myself. The only thing I'd say about your parts is that if a low-power machine is your goal, why not go with a 45W processor? Either the Athlon 4850e/5050e, the Athlon II 235e/240e (edit: preferable but hard to find right now), or even the single-core Sempron 140 would all be sufficient. File servers aren't very CPU-intensive.

    EDIT: I'll probably wait for the Atom D510 for my low-powered NAS/media server myself:
  2. I thought about using a 45W processor, but the 4850e/5050e are difficult to find. The same goes for the 235e/240e. I don't even know if you can buy them. While I'm not an expert on TDP of processors I'm willing to bet the 240e is just an underclocked 240 sold at a premium. Given how much a server will likely idle, I wouldn't think it would ever come close to hitting 65W; I imagine I could always underclock the 240 myself if I really wanted to. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

    As far as single core, it doesn't seem like it would be adequate for any video transcoding. I'm not sure that it means that much to me, but I rather have the extra core. I don't know much about the Atom D510, so I don't know how adequate it would be for a server.
  3. Oh, well if you're doing video transcoding then you're right, those probably won't work for you. What you picked out seems fine.

    (The 240 and 240e actually have the same clock rate--not sure how that works.)

    Anyway, that was my only comment. Good luck with your build.
  4. It seems you have it mostly figured out. I am not sure about underclocking the A2; there is also undervolting. Some people on AMDzone have done both with PhenomII; also just undervolting alone.

    I see the Mac compatibility as the big issue - perhaps that's cos I don't know how to turn a Mac on, etc. etc. :)

    But it seems like you are building a simple file server w a big HDD and a dual core.

    Another thing - re power saving - Cool n Quiet - should save lots of power by downclocking automatically when idle, or when low usage - and it's instantaneous at full clock when you demand it - should be seamless. Choice of OS might be a factor in that however.

    I would copy and paste your original post in a thread at AMDzone - they really know AMD hardware, and a lot of them are serious server freaks and programmers, Linux gurus, all kinds of help. And maybe even some Mac experience.

    Those e models - are they even released yet?
  5. Thanks for the info about AMDzone. I'll have to check it out.

    I have an updated list of parts:

    I haven't looked at memory in awhile. I didn't realize how similar in price DDR3 and DDR2 are now. 2x2gb of DDR3 is as cheap as DDR2 and seems to be the best value. I might just breakdown and spend a bit more for 4gb DDR3. Here's an updated build:

    AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADX240OCGQBOX - Retail

    ECS Black Series A785GM-M AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
    I'm a little skeptical of this mobo since I've never used ECS before, but the reviews seem decent, and 71.00 (after mail in rebate) isn't too shabby.

    Patriot G Series ‘Sector 5’ Edition 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Desktop Memory Model PGV34G1333ELK - Retail
    Any other suggestions for memory?

    Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

    CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail

    Antec Two Hundred Black ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
    Front-loaded hot swap 3.5" SATA hard drive caddy
    Cheaper case alternatives that don't need additional fans would be appreciated.

    While backup of the Mac would be nice, it's not the biggest issue. I could always just buy an external drive and connect it to the Macbook. It's just a pain to remember to plug it in all the time. My bigger concern is reading and writing to the Win Server network volumes (so all the photos on the Mac can be edited/organized and then shared to the PCs if need be). It should work, but it looks like lots of Mac users are having problems with SMB. Like I said, I know nothing about servers and thus nothing about correctly implementing SMB. FreeNAS and its UFS should play nicer with all operating systems, but I just feel like it will be much more hands on than I want it to be. I might just have to post in a mac forum. Anyone have any other suggestions for a server OS?

    I think my original post was a little overzealous. I was hoping to get lucky and have some server guru tell me the exact solution(s) to my problem(s). I might just have to post individual questions in more specialized areas or just buy the parts and figure it out as I go.
  6. Would the INTEL SS4200-E work? It's a little power hungry for what it is, but it's cheaper than what I could build.
  7. depending on the OS u use on the macbook, i believe you can (at least) copy files to and fro with a macbook on an otherwise pc network.
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