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Building NAS or File/Media Server

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Last response: in Systems
February 17, 2010 6:11:43 PM

I need help laying out a plan to restructure my existing home network. I have tinkered with these and other systems for years and never really hunkered down and got a solidly performing network that I want. My current network is comprised of the following:

(A) Lenovo Laptop 3000 N100 0689
Core 2 Duo 1.66 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD
MS Vista Business, latest updates
Wireless-G
Used mostly for working and surfing on main screen and viewing video on ext. monitor

(B) Emachines Laptop M5305
Athlon XP-M 1.67 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB HDD
MS XP sp2 (tried Ubuntu 9.10, but brought it to a crawl)
Wireless-N
Used mostly for creating editing PDF files and other files. A headache for streaming video.

(C) Emachines Tower T2890
Intel Celeron D 2.66 GHz, 1.25 GB RAM
Seagate Barracuda 500 GB ST3500630A, WD 200 GB, WD 40 GB (old, slow)
FreeNas 0.7.1 Shere (revision 4982)
Wired to router
Headless
Used for file storage and serving video and audio (ideally)

(D) Emachines Tower W3609
RA Celeron D 356(3.33GHz), 2 GB RAM
120 GB Seagate ST3120813AS, 500 GB FreeAgent ST3500830AS (case broke, now internal SATA), Samsung 1000 GB HD103UJ
Windows 7 Ultimate
Wireless-G
Watching & editing Videos, working, file storage, video and audio serving, games, magic jack, etc.


(E) Acer Tower, Veriton M261
Intel Pentium Dual Core E2160 / 1.8 GHz , 1 GB RAM
ATA WDC WD800JD 80 GB
Ubuntu 9.10
Wireless-G
5-year-old Daughter uses exclusively for watching movies, educational games, and online games

Router: D-Link Dir-655 Draft N


I'm certain the more discerning of you guru's can see that I have a big mess at worst or a huge misallocation of resources at best. I've mixed and matched and added and subtracted components for some time between the systems. As it stands now, all of the systems are as they were purchased except for the addition of HardDrives and RAM. I have no add-on graphics or sound cards installed currently.

I desire to have one central computer that can store all of my movies and music, as well as a backup for some business files. This seems like a simple enough task, but it hasn't been, so here I am. System (C) which is currently the FreeNas OS, initally started off its role using Windows Home Server. WHS was simple enough to use, but I was using the Trial Version and when it expired I was over a barrel. Yes it backed up all of my other computers, but they wanted $$. I did a little research and read of testimonials praising AMAHI as a WHS alternative. I tinkered with it, but could not wrap my head around how I could fit it into my simple needs. Anyways, months passed without use, then I discovered FreeNas. Amazingly simple and quick to install, and a dead simple browser-based configuration page.

The problem is that it seems brutally slow for whatever reason, especially when pulling movies from it. The videos often stop, stutter, or shut off completely. Now I admit, I don't know what all that transcoding mumbo-jumbo is and maybe that would help. All I do is open the preferred media player on the viewing PC, then navigate to the network folder with the movie or video I want to watch, then simply drag it into the media player (usually VLC). Apparantly that's inelegant, but I don't know any better. I have NO problem “streaming” videos from System (D) to any of the other systems.

Questions:

1)With my current equipment, how can I configure a PC and or components to basically have a speedy media/file server that can be run headless. Considering I really want all of my media files on one system that handles all of that I would prefer stuffing as many drives as possible into it.

2)Will adding a Gigabit NIC to the whichever system ends up being the media server actually provide a measurable difference considering my file transfer between all systems maxes out at 1.5 MB/s. (I know, it's brutally slow, I've just learned to accept it)

3)If system (C)actually is improvable. I want to take the 1TB and 500MB drives out of System (D) and place them into(C). The 1TB drive is basically full and and I would simply like to “plug” it into the System(C).But I read somewhere about some file system mumbo-jumbo about not being to put a NTFS drive on a UFS system and listen to R.E.M. on WKRP. So, I need to know if that can be accomplished and how.

4)Based on utility of the PC's outlined above in specs, how would YOU reconfigure the PC's and components to be more efficient and provide better use?

My mind is not sorting this one out well.

More about : building nas file media server

February 17, 2010 7:28:53 PM

1. I was doing this with an ancient P3 and FreeNAS. I eventually just went with Xubuntu because I was able to make it be a printer and scanner server too. But this took quite some time compared to the 10 minutes for FreeNAS. (you may also want to try xubuntu on that athlon XP laptop)

2. That may be your problem all along with playing videos off of the computer you've designated as the server. I was using the 100Mbit lan card that I found in it to start with. This should result in about 10MB/sec. I then put in a gigabit card, but copying stuff to it would saturate the PCI bus since the sata drive was on it as well as the network card. The server has since been upgraded to my old 3200+ single core amd 64 and it gets me upwards of 60MB/sec depending on how many little files there are. (and even 720p mkv's were fine on the P3 with the original lan card)

3. IIRC FreeNAS said it wouldn't be happy running things not in its file system but I think I saw something that said it would use an NTFS drive to some extent.

4. I'm guessing A is your main. I'm not really sure what I would do other than make sure C is doing only serving and nothing else is. I mean, I have 3 computers personally, one my main gaming comp, a secondary gaming comp that literally sits at a friends house waiting for me to come over and play games on it (and also serve as a holdover main comp if my house were to explode or something) and my third is a gaming laptop that I use in the den for surfing while watching TV if I didn't take it somewhere. So I don't even have a specific use for all of them (the real reason the secondary is where it is.) I mean, it seems like if you had a good quick external to your laptop of the hard drives in D that you would be able to just use A for all that stuff.
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February 18, 2010 12:52:59 AM

Dmitry, thanks for your input.

I will look into xbuntu. I tried ubuntu server and got frustrated with the whole setup process and abandoned it. I may try xbuntu anyways. As long as it will achieve the result I'm seeking.
Quote:
2. That may be your problem all along with playing videos off of the computer you've designated as the server. I was using the 100Mbit lan card that I found in it to start with. This should result in about 10MB/sec. I then put in a gigabit card, but copying stuff to it would saturate the PCI bus since the sata drive was on it as well as the network card. The server has since been upgraded to my old 3200+ single core amd 64 and it gets me upwards of 60MB/sec depending on how many little files there are. (and even 720p mkv's were fine on the P3 with the original lan card)

This is a bit confusing, isn't the computer I'm using as the file server INTENDED to be the computer I play the files from? I don't mean I'm playing the files ON the server, I'm dragging them from a folder on the server into a media player on another computer on the network. Are you suggesting I upgrade the processor on that system and/or install a gigabit LAN card?

As far as you guessing System (A) is my main, you're correct. But it is MY main. My daughter has System (E) in her room, and System (D) is in a common room used heavily by my wife and myself as well. System (D) is often used for converting/editing home videos which really makes it sluggish when trying to serve a movie file(s). So we either have to pause a movie or pause the editing/conversion process. That is precisely why I wanted to NOT have system (D) have to serve files.

I guess what I really want to do is figure out if I have the equipment to build a file/media server that will suit our needs, and still be able to do our other computing at minimal compromise. For example would it make sense to reverse the roles of System (E) and System (C)? I don't mine relocating towers, components, drives, etc.
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February 18, 2010 1:54:19 AM

(A) Wireless-G
(B) Wireless-N
(C) Wired to router (presumably 10/100)
(D) Wireless-G
(E) Wireless-G


Here's what I would do ...


First of all, your router has 4 Gigabit LAN ports,
so (C) should be upgraded to a Gigabit network adapter
with CAT-5e cabling connecting the two (if a short run).

http://www.dlink.com/products/?pid=530


Ideally, (C) should also be upgraded to a dual-core CPU
with at least 2 GB of RAM, 4 GB would be even better.

When investing in a new motherboard, be sure to go
with PCI-Express, so that your entire network is
not hampered by the max headroom of the old PCI bus
(32 bits @ 33 MHz = 133 MB/second MAX for the entire bus).

And, consider upgrading to the fastest hard drives you
can afford in (C) e.g. WD 1TB SATA Caviar Black with 32 MB cache:

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


All wireless-G modems should be replaced with wireless-N
modems, because 3 of your 4 client machines are
communicating too slowly with that fast router.

(See router specs above.)

Then, the router must turn around and communicate slowly
with (C) at 100 MHz instead of 1,000 MHz: thus, you have
a double "latency" penalty happening all the time.


If you want the ultimate, try first upgrading one wireless-G client
to wired Gigabit Ethernet ("GbE"), using at least CAT-5e cabling,
or CAT-6 for longer runs.

For example, replace the wireless-G modem on (A)
with a GbE network adapter and compatible cabling
(CAT-5e or CAT-6, depending on total distance).

Then, design a performance test that measures the
difference in throughput before and after upgrading
that one machine to GbE.

If you are happy with this one experiment,
then upgrade all the other client machines
with wired GbE i.e. wired directly with CAT-5e
or CAT-6 RJ-45 to your D-Link Gigabit router.


I hope this helps.


MRFS



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February 18, 2010 2:05:09 AM

p.s. You might also want to upgrade the speed of your Internet connection,
because that is a physical bottleneck in your overall network topology.

(I presume that your router is your network's only connection to the Internet.)


Here is a slightly different topology that you may want to investigate.

It goes like this:

Internet --> D-Link Gigabit / Wireless-N router --> Gigabit switch --> wired GbE clients

In this topology, the D-Link is connected to the Gigabit switch using GbE cabling
(CAT-5e for very short distances).

All wireless modems talk directly to the D-Link router using Wireless-N,
completely bypassing the Gigabit switch for all Internet access.

All wired computers talk directly to the Gigabit switch using GbE.

Thus, all wired LAN clients talk to the server via GbE
without needing any services from the D-Link router.

Then, when wired computers need to talk to the Internet,
the switch simply passes packets to the D-Link router which
then forwards the packets on to the Internet, and vice verse.

Similarly, all wireless clients talk to the D-Link router directly,
which then passes packets to and from the server
via the Gigabit switch.


This topology will require that you also purchase a good Gigabit switch
(D-Link also makes these) and some GbE cabling, in addition to
upgrading all your wireless modems to 802.11n.


MRFS
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Best solution

February 18, 2010 2:48:00 AM

I was just suggesting to add a gigabit card to C. There is no reason it should be acting the way it is. Copying at 1 MB/sec is so slow that something is wrong. The guy saying to make the server a dual core and stuff- that's advice for gaming. I was able to do what this guy is wanting to on a pentium 3, there's no freaking way he needs more than what that system is. (It's not like he's trying to host a website or run a crapton of L4D2 dedicated server matches.)

So in other words try putting in the gigabit card first. Who knows, maybe what it's running now is broken or only 10Mbps (not that I've ever seen one)

That or the router has an issue and is limiting it. Bottom line is that it should be able to handle it.

Who uses B then, now that I know where and why for the rest?
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February 18, 2010 10:59:17 AM

MRFS said:
p.s. You might also want to upgrade the speed of your Internet connection,
because that is a physical bottleneck in your overall network topology.

(I presume that your router is your network's only connection to the Internet.)


Here is a slightly different topology that you may want to investigate.

It goes like this:

Internet --> D-Link Gigabit / Wireless-N router --> Gigabit switch --> wired GbE clients

In this topology, the D-Link is connected to the Gigabit switch using GbE cabling
(CAT-5e for very short distances).

All wireless modems talk directly to the D-Link router using Wireless-N,
completely bypassing the Gigabit switch for all Internet access.

All wired computers talk directly to the Gigabit switch using GbE.

Thus, all wired LAN clients talk to the server via GbE
without needing any services from the D-Link router.

Then, when wired computers need to talk to the Internet,
the switch simply passes packets to the D-Link router which
then forwards the packets on to the Internet, and vice verse.

Similarly, all wireless clients talk to the D-Link router directly,
which then passes packets to and from the server
via the Gigabit switch.


This topology will require that you also purchase a good Gigabit switch
(D-Link also makes these) and some GbE cabling, in addition to
upgrading all your wireless modems to 802.11n.


MRFS


MRFS,
Thank you for the wealth of information. You put it language I can understand, I appreciate that. I know you mention I should consider upgrading my "internet connection". I presume by that you mean my network's access to the internet. I have a 1.3 MB/s connection (advertised @ 10 Mbps). It is the fastest they offer in this area, and I don't know when fiber will be here. So that is not really an option.

After reading over your suggestions, it seems that you want me to take some processing weight off of the router and place it on a switch instead. So am I to assume that my current "topology" is bogging my router down, and it is in essence the bottleneck? If so, I'm all for getting a switch. If for no other reason than to add to all the computer parts I have laying around.

The router specs specifically state it is designed to run in mixed-mode i.e., N-G, G-B, etc. I do understand that it will perform optimally in a fixed mode though. Keep in mind any PC on my network if given full bandwidth can max out my available bandwidth of 1.5 MB/s (DL 700 MB in about 8 minutes). So upgrading the Wireless G's to N's would not improve that situation. I'm strongly considering the upgrade anyway just because I'm leaning toward uniformity, to see if performance is benifitted on the LAN level.

As far as upgrading System (C) to a dual core with Pcie.... could I not just swap (C) and (E) to achieve this?

Also as far as experimentation, you and D'mitri seem to agree on popping a gigabit NIC in (C) and see if speeds improve.
Quote:
Then, design a performance test that measures the
difference in throughput before and after upgrading
that one machine to GbE.

Okay, I'd love a suggestion on how to do that. I'll be ordering the card today.
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February 18, 2010 11:13:23 AM

False_Dmitry_II said:
I was just suggesting to add a gigabit card to C. There is no reason it should be acting the way it is. Copying at 1 MB/sec is so slow that something is wrong. The guy saying to make the server a dual core and stuff- that's advice for gaming. I was able to do what this guy is wanting to on a pentium 3, there's no freaking way he needs more than what that system is. (It's not like he's trying to host a website or run a crapton of L4D2 dedicated server matches.)

So in other words try putting in the gigabit card first. Who knows, maybe what it's running now is broken or only 10Mbps (not that I've ever seen one)

That or the router has an issue and is limiting it. Bottom line is that it should be able to handle it.

Who uses B then, now that I know where and why for the rest?


Dmitry,

Thanks again for input. System (B) has recently been having wireless stability issues, so in order to do any LAN or WAN it has to be wired into the router. The router is located in our den so it's not terribly inconvenient. My wife is the only one who uses it, mostly for light file editing for work and playing Missing Object games.. yawn.

I'll be getting the GigNIC as you suggested today, will report back as well.
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February 18, 2010 12:54:26 PM

MRFS said:
(A) Wireless-G
(B) Wireless-N
(C) Wired to router (presumably 10/100)
(D) Wireless-G
(E) Wireless-G




If you are happy with this one experiment,
then upgrade all the other client machines
with wired GbE i.e. wired directly with CAT-5e
or CAT-6 RJ-45 to your D-Link Gigabit router.



MRFS


I live in a three story older home. Running ethernet cable to all locations would be prohibitively labor intensive and expensive. Considering this, I'm content with wireless and its limitations, however I would like to maximize its ability.
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February 18, 2010 4:22:08 PM

There's also the powerline networking option instead of actually running cables. It can be faster than regular wireless, but only if the power wiring in your house happens to work between the locations you'd want it in.

As far as "designing a test for how fast it goes" just pick the same file or set of files and use a copy tool that tells you how fast its running. Do it from the server so that it's read speed limited if anything, and on multiple computers. Preferably before and after adding the new card in.

Oh, and unrelated - you said that you drag and drop the stuff you want to watch into the media player, why can't you just associate those files with the media player and double click them?
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February 18, 2010 4:54:26 PM

Powerline? Ok, that may be an option, except for the fact I'm just going to stick with what little I'm familiar with. My brain simply can't absorb all these new things. Besides... I just ordered D-Link DGE-530T 10/100/1000 Gigabit Desktop Adapter and D-Link DGS-2205 5-Port 10/100/1000 Desktop Switch and 3 of these as well as some Cat6 cable as a start. I'm actually shopping right now for a couple of decent graphics cards. I'm actually considering the HDD that was suggested as well.

I'm hoping this doesn't just become really frustrating. Because I still have not figured out what I'm going to run server wise. Like should I use (E) as the server and (C) as my daughter's computer being she doesn't need anything more than a video viewer, internet browser, and powerful enough to play flash games. Reading up on xbuntu, I see there is going to be a learning curve for me.

Well the significance of me mentioning that I Drag & Drop from whatever network folder I'm pulling from was to indicate how the file is being read. In other words, I threw that out there to see if someone said for my needs I should be having the media server transcode the videos to accomodate the network stream.. and then offer me a solution as to what to use to do that based on the equipment I have at my disposal.

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February 18, 2010 7:24:26 PM

I don't think you need to switch out computers. You would only need it transcoding if you were using something like a xbox 360 to play the videos. You would also have to run something other than FreeNAS to do transcoding work, and for what you want to do it really isn't needed.

You probably don't need xubuntu on it. I was only suggesting it because you had mentioned that you tried regular Ubuntu on B and xubuntu would perform better if that's what you wanted to try.
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February 18, 2010 9:07:48 PM

Best answer selected by TTbarDJ.
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February 19, 2010 4:09:14 PM

False_Dmitry_II said:
So... what happened?

Not much, I'm waiting for delivery of the items I ordered. Will keep updated
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