Getting started questions

I am a veteran of building individual PCs, have been for over a decade. Thing is now with my wife in the picture at home and having multiple computers where there wasn't before, I am seriously thinking of making a file share server and going to SSDs only in our primary machines.

I gotta be honest though I have never built a file-share server...

What types of technologies should I be looking at getting if I plan on building a stand-alone machine as a server?

I have 4 HDDs, so I am thinking of a RAID 5... Is that a good way to go with that few number? Would it be better to just do a RAID 1?

How critical is RAM? Should I just get a comfortable amount (~4GB) and call it a day?

What about mobos? Do I just want one with a solid ethernet controller, onboard video and be done with it or are there other factors that play a more critical role in a file server (I am converting my house to a dual-band n-wireless)?

What about the CPU? How critical is performance on the operation of the server? What aspects are most important... Cores? Speed? Do I want to invest in a higher end CPU or will getting a mid-level AMD be fine?

Thanks in advance for any answers you can provide. I am trying to better understand the thought process in approaching this problem.
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  1. Best answer
    There are 5 computers on my network at home. I use one to share a small amount of files that all computers can access. It is a Pentium 4 2GHz with 768MB of ram and windows XP (I intend to reduce the ram to 256mb). It also serves to download any files needed for access by all computers. If I need to download a file, I connect to the computer with VNC viewer and control it that way, no monitor needed, except for initial setup.
    The drive is an 80GB IDE drive split into two partitions: one for the OS and one shared on the network. I also have the computer folding 24-7. The network is unfortunately limited to 100 megabit (12.5mb/s) speeds because of the older equipment. (in practicality, 10-11 mb/s). There is 1 router and two switches. I intend to add up to 3 more computers to the second switch (which only connects the pentium machine for now). I have a pentium III machine that once I connect, will be able to run a dedicated cod4 server for the network.

    From the sounds of your needs, you could use pretty much any computer that has enough SATA ports and Gigabit (125mb/s) ethernet in it. There is no issue with low ram and even a single core processor.
    I have heard that a dedicated and good quality ethernet card can make a big difference in network speeds but have not tried this myself.
    Make sure your router supports Gigabit speeds and any networked computers have a gigabit ethernet port. My networking education is limited by comparison to some so someone else might have more information.

    There's also the possibility of setting up a linux-based server rather than windows. This will result in less memory demands and likely better uptime. I've not dabbled in that though.

    So in my opinion, the only important factors (to a degree of course) in a file server are items relating to network speed.

    This changes a bit if you intend to stream video from the file server, or do other things that would involve more resources from the file server.

    Edit: forgot about the raid. It's up to you really. I don't know much or have much experience with RAID but it looks to me like with raid5, if more than one drive fails, all data is lost but raid 1 would have less space for data (being limited to the size of the smallest disk for total size). Someone might have more insight into this.
  2. Best answer selected by JPorem.
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