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Help a Newb Build a Budget Home Media Server

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December 30, 2009 4:49:11 PM

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 newegg.com, but amazon.com and buy.com 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.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: U.S.A.

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.

OVERCLOCKING: No

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
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ASUS M4A785-M AM3/AM2+/AM2 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

G.SKILL 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model F2-6400CL5D-2GBNQ - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

COOLER MASTER Elite RC-330-KKR1 Black SECC ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 350W Power Supply - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

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.
December 31, 2009 2:38:03 PM

1. Use WHS for ease of use & maintenance. I have no experience with it. Ask this question again in server/windows forum.

2. Each computer needs to have backup software installed and that must be able to read/write to server. Choice is not limited.

http://www.ghacks.net/2009/04/26/the-10-best-windows-ba...

I don't think FreeNAS does OS backup. If the server does it, it must have both server & client apps running at all times on both server & clients.

http://freenas.org/features

3. You need both server & client apps on both server & clients to be running at all times for the services you wanted. i.e. iTune. My suggestion is to run a client app on each computer to access the shared folder of iTune files. It can be done for OS backup as well. Create subfolders called itune, backup, etc. and make them accessible (permissions) to the computers. This is what I do with my home server, but we use WMP. Basically, the media player thinks the remote folder is local. File Sharing must be on on the pc even if the pc doesn't have files to share. They need the service to access the server.

4. Nope. It depends on the server OS. FreeNAS can run on even a USB stick. I run a headless Ubuntu server so I should have a separate HDD for OS. Most people don't care. WHS is not small, and should reside on a separate HDD. The file access speed is limited to mostly the harddisk speed. Say, you have 5 people accessing the same harddisk on the server and you're updating server OS, all those LAN-to-CLIENT speeds will be reduced significantly. The best way to do it is to have a separate HDD for OS so that you can update, install and remove software on server without speed penalty cuz you'd the only person using it at any given time. You could even apply this strategy to different type of files. Say 1TB for videos, 500GB for music, etc.

PARTS:

Your specs look good to me for a home server. The weakest link in your low-power build would be the psu. While the other parts idle at low wattage, the psu is wasting electricity. Best get a 80%+ efficiency PSU. 400W will be enough. They're not cheap, BTW. You want green. You pay the price from the get-go.

Oh wait. You're buying DDR2 why? You should get DDR3 which can be reused in a future upgrade.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

GeIL Green Series 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Desktop Memory Model GG32GB1066C8DC - Retail

* Cas Latency: 8
* Timing: 8-8-8-20
* Voltage: 1.3V
* Your Price:$55.99

MSI 785GM-E51 AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
125W, HDMI DVI w/ ATI Radeon HD 4200, DX10.1, OC Switch(limit 5 per customer) what's this?
$79.99

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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January 1, 2010 7:57:31 PM

Umm, it's my understanding that FreeNAS is capable of rsync which is backing up right? Also I think WHS and Windows Server for that matter has auto-backup built into the OS without use of a third party program. I might be wrong on that though.

I'm not sure I understand your comments on running software client side and server side. I thought that each OS had add-ins for doing things like streaming iTunes, (e.g. Firefly in FreeNAS, TVersity in WHS), etc.

A quick browse of Newegg showed some 80 plus certified PSUs:

CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Rosewill Green Series RG430-S12 430W Continuous @40°C, 80 PLUS Certified, Single 12V Rail, Active PFC "Compatible with Core i7,i5" Power Supply - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Would either of those be acceptable. I'd probably switch the case to an Antec Two Hundred (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...) if I need to purchase my own PSU.

I opted for DDR2 because I didn't think speed was a big deal for servers; I thought quantity of memory outweighed speed. But I guess, DDR3 is pretty comparable in price to DDR2 now. However, finding cheaper DDR2 supported mobos (from more reputable brands with more robust features) seemed easier than finding similar models that support DDR3. Thanks for the help.
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January 1, 2010 9:58:58 PM

rsync will work for os backup. I don't do that since my pcs aren't on long enough, and when they're on, they're being used. I do offline os backup by booting up a backup software disk and save to a different partition. Way faster than any affordable network. IMO, online backup is TOO slow still even on 1 Gbps. Maybe 10 Gbps is more acceptable to me. Even 10 Gbps isn't guaranteed. It is usually slower than that unless you're talking about business-class equipment which is too expensive.

Nope, Windows doesn't do iTune out of the box unless you slipstream (another topic) iTune onto the CD. However, it does WMP out of the box. Regardless, iTune & WMP play music files and all kinds of files are the same to the computer. So if you have a network folder, it doesn't matter what you want to share. Just save your stuff on the same folder so every computer will be able to access 'em. Again, it can be mp3, avi, txt, etc.

You have got to look at network files like local files on a floppy. Once you do that, there's no limit as to what you can do and cannot do with 'em. Network just means it's on all the time as opposite to a floppy that's off/out when not in use. Think of a network folder as your floppy disk. You edit a file on network, and you can open it on another computer.

The Corsair is a better psu than the Rosewill. Get that.

If this server won't be upgraded or the server parts won't be used in any future upgrade, then DDR2 is ok. Say, you'll sell the whole server minus the storage when it comes time for upgrade. DDR3 can be reused in any desktop/server.
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January 2, 2010 7:56:41 PM

Interesting. I usually just put my computers to sleep, so I'm not sure I'll have to use third party software as long as the computers can be woken up for backup. I'll just schedule backups during the night.

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
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

ECS Black Series A785GM-M AM3 AMD 785G HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Any other suggestions for memory?

Western Digital Caviar Green WD15EADS 1.5TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Antec Two Hundred Black ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail
Front-loaded hot swap 3.5" SATA hard drive caddy
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
Cheaper case alternatives that don't need additional fans would be appreciated.

If anyone has cheaper or better alternative to what's listed above, I'd appreciate it.

I'm still a little unsure on what OS to use. I might just have to bite the bullet, buy the parts, and try them out unless someone can offer any insight as to the differences between WHS and Windows Server 2008 and the ability to backup/use a Mac on the network. Last time I looked, Macs and write to an NTFS drive which I think WHS requires. I could be wrong though.
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January 3, 2010 1:47:09 PM

You don't have to go with any newer chipset for the mobo since it's a headless server. You already have a HTPC. Any of these will be fine:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

WHS for you for ease of everything. I'm a Linux diehard. I use Ubuntu for my headless server. The difference is that if something is new to me, I have to dig around google for hours to make it work. Windows software is more like download, install & setup. That's it.

I don't believe the client OS must know how to write to the server filesystem (NTFS/FAT, etc.). It's the job of the server. The client just asks the server for a file. The only requirement for the client is that it knows how to access the server. In Windows, it's called File Sharing. In Linux, it's SAMBA. Same thing with downloading/uploading files in web browsers on clients - they don't need to know how to write to server. Server does it by itself.

http://www.redmondpie.com/how-to-access-windows-home-se...
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January 3, 2010 3:09:58 PM

For what it's worth, this is what I'd do:

Buy a pre-built for your first system.
http://www.buy.com/retail/product.asp?sku=210980894&lis...
It's $245 shipped, and includes WHS. It's a reasonable price considering it includes the OS and is expandable.
Here's the user manual:
http://h10032.www1.hp.com/ctg/Manual/c01735781.pdf
Here's a review:
http://hothardware.com/Articles/HP-MediaSmart-Server-LX...
All this for less than 5 watts when idle.

Become familiar with it. Then, when you run out of backup storage, decide whether you want to build your own, or just plug in a USB hdd. WHS allows you to plug in additional drives at any time without disturbing your current backed-up files.

If you decide to build your own, you may want to stay away from green drives in a server because they suck at RAID. The exception to that is if you plan on building 1-hdd servers or you do not want RAID. WHS doesn't use RAID per se, but it does have simulated RAID-1 (mirroring), you just have to check some boxes and have to have more than 1 hdd. Since it's not conventional RAID, green drives would work with WHS.

In a business environment you would almost certainly be using RAID. In a consumer environment you can get by without conventional RAID as long as you keep an eye out on failing HDDs, replace them when they fail, and restore files immediately. Since you have a copy of all of your important files in at least two places this backup strategy can work. And since WHS can do simulated RAID-1 (if you remember to check a few config options) you would have a copy of your work on three hdds, which is ideal.

And, yes, WHS does mac, time machine, and itunes
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January 3, 2010 3:10:14 PM

Thanks for the info. I think I've been going with a newer chipset because I'm freaked my foray into building a server is going to be a disaster. I could at least salvage the build and make a nice PC if it doesn't workout. I'm probably just paranoid though. Any recommendations from that list?

As far as WHS vs. Linux:
1. I only have free access to he standard windows server, I'm afraid it might be more complex than WHS. If it's more complex, it might just be easier to wrangle with a Linux distro; but I do understand your point of download and install with Windows.

2. I feel like I might regret or miss out if I don't use Linux. WHS does have some cool add-ins but I don't know if those add-ins work/are designed for the standard releases.

I agree with you characterization of how the server and client interact. But apparently the Snow Leopard implementation of SMB is a little messed up and people have been having problems with it. I was thinking that the UFS of Linux would play better with a Mac since a Mac should be able to write directly to UFS. For backing up the Mac, I might just have to use an external drive because I haven't found anything concrete about backing up on a network. I think Apple likes to sell Time Capsules. Maybe I'm just confusing things a bit.

Edit: vanekl, I didn't see your post before I posted. I was actually looking at the LX195 when I first started contemplating a build. It just seemed like for a little extra I could have better parts with more expandability. The HDD is just too small too. I would be over 640gb without even doing backups. Expanding with USB drives just seems like more clutter. Also from what I've read, the mediasmart software that comes with the HP is what allows Mac backup (doesn't allow bare metal without a new $25 update) and iTunes streaming. I don't know that those features are native to WHS. Maybe that's more reason to go with a prebuilt.
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January 3, 2010 3:45:48 PM

The direction you want to head and the direction I recommend are different. Your solution is reasonable but not as practical as the atom platform. The reason why I say that is that the amd platform is going to use 10X to 20X more energy, and in the long run will cost you.

Also, a pre-built Media Server means you will not have a disaster and fail. If you do not like the server, you can return it.

I'm personally a Linux type of guy and like tinkering, but I do not recommend it to others unless you they have the same type of personality and time to spare. I also think that in a mixed environment WHS gives you the most complete solution out-of-the-box. If you value your time, WHS is the way to go, at least for your first back-up system.

The windows standard server will not do what you want it to do, at least not easily. You really want to go with WHS if you want to stay with Windows.

I cannot say one way or another whether WHS or Linux will interact better with mac. Sometimes you just bite the bullet and proceed ahead. Also keep in mind that your investment is small, and that you can always add another back-up server when this first server fills up.

I know Linux has very simple yet powerful back-up facilities (I think you've already mentioned rsync). I use rsync myself; every night it runs automatically. It's great. I think WHS would actually be better for your environment. My guess is that if Media Server doesn't pan out for you you could wipe its OS and just install Linux on it.

I know what you mean about hooking up external drives. I have 4 HDDs in my main computer and they cross-copy files every night using rsync. It has worked well for me and I have no complaints. I don't use a Mac, though, so I'm a little out of my league there.

There's no reason why you cannot use a combination of methods of backing up that we've discussed. Time machine -- extra HDDs -- Media Server -- Linux server -- backing up to the cloud.

I personally don't think backing up media files is very important, but if you have important files that you currently aren't backing up, you really need to make a decision soon. Make it one of your New Year's resolutions. Any decision is better than none as long as you follow through quickly.
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January 3, 2010 4:22:41 PM

I must admit, I do like to tinker quite a bit. Part of my reason for building the system myself is that I just like building computers. Sort of a frivolous reason, but it's the truth. Part of me really wants to tinker with Linu
x but it just seems so time consuming.

I'm interested in how you come up with the 10x to 20x greater power consumption. The reason I started looking at an AMD system with the 240 was all the DIY builds I've seen online have been AMD. I was under the impression that running Cool n' Quiet would lower power consumption issues. Could I build a DIY with a dual core Atom?

Part of my posting here was to get some differing opinions on my methods and goals and to give myself some peace of mind, so thanks. I think I've already assumed in my mind that I'm going to end up having to figure it out as I go.
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January 3, 2010 4:40:37 PM

That HP media server consumes 4W at idle. An AMD platform, on a real good day, will consume roughly 80W at idle (when you include the full board).

Just because Cool'n'Quiet is supported by the CPU doesn't mean that CnQ can be used. Some motherboard BIOS's don't even support CnQ. You have to download the motherboard manual and look through it, and then sometimes you have to follow up with the manufacturer and email them about it. For example, MSI supports CnQ in one of their BIOSs, but you have to ask for it.

You could certainly build a dual-core Atom system. Normally, when you go Atom, you don't buy the cpu separately, you look for the board/cpu combo. Newegg has these systems. You also would want to go to the Zotac site; they have a lot of good low-energy boards, but are slightly pricey. (Keep in mind that the wireless that Zotac uses sucks, however, so don't count on it.)
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January 3, 2010 7:17:50 PM

I see. The ECS board that I listed above appears to support CnQ. The various reviews for it show the enable/disable toggle in the BIOS and it's mentioned in the mobo's manual. How much of a power saving does that give?

I actually thought you could only buy an atom by a board/cpu combo. I used a Zotac board for my HTPC and while it's functional and has been working well, support and updates seem hit or miss. And the wireless they use definitely sucks. I was afraid an Atom wouldn't be able to handle video transcoding, but if it does, that certainly is an option to consider. Do the dual core Atoms handle transcoding?
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January 3, 2010 7:49:30 PM

CnQ is a major energy-saving improvement for the CPU, but doesn't help with the board or any other peripherals. The atom will wipe the floor with the amd when you consider the entire system as a whole.

It's not a question whether the atom can do transcoding -- it can -- the issue is that if you do heavy processing with this chip it will make you wait. If it's only an occasional occurrence, I wouldn't worry about it. If you have heavy processing to do you would normally move that work to one of your full-bore computers (that aren't Atom-based), and leave your backup server to do the things that it does best.

Dual-core, if you can afford it, will certainly be a big step up. You don't need it, however, if you are going to primarily use this server for back-ups and file serving.
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January 4, 2010 4:01:23 PM

If I was going to build a home server with an AMD motherboard I'd use this for the CPU: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168.... I'd stick with something 35W-45W. That dual-core is overkill unless you're doing some kind of streaming/transcoding stuff.

When I built mine, I went to the Dell Financial Service website and picked up a cheap Optiplex GX280. Besides the HDDs, and Windows Home Server, the only thing I've had to add since is a cheap PCI SATA card since the Dell only had 2x SATA. I think I paid < $100 for the machine. The case is huge, toolless, tons of airflow and has room for at least 4 HDDs. No complaints.
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January 6, 2010 12:06:08 AM

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.
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January 6, 2010 1:18:02 AM

After you include the additional cost of two HDDs, the total cost of this unit will be more than the atom system, cost more to operate, and have fewer features, but it will do the basic backups and file serving that you want.
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January 6, 2010 3:28:28 AM

My big beef with the aforementioned HP is there's very little room for any kind of upgrading (I don't count USB ports) and I know for myself as I purchase more DVDs, CDs (and now Bluray), take more pix, more videos of the kids, etc. I am putting a new HDD in my WHS every 6-9 months!

As for pre-built, I personally like this guy: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168.... It has room for 4 HDD and if that's not enough, it has an eSATA port on the back that you can plug a port multiplier/enclosure into and add a bunch more HDDs to.
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January 6, 2010 5:55:50 AM

vanekl said:
After you include the additional cost of two HDDs, the total cost of this unit will be more than the atom system, cost more to operate, and have fewer features, but it will do the basic backups and file serving that you want.


I hadn't read the manual before I posted that. For $135 I didn't think it was bad, but I didn't realize it had to have either two or four HDDs to run.
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January 6, 2010 1:18:17 PM

Dougie, love the Easystore form-factor, but it looks a little pricey and I think it's out of ServerNewb's price range.
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