I am getting ready to build 3 brand new audio streaming computers to power a 50,000 watt talk radio station. We currently have 3 machines running Windows 2000 and it is time we upgraded to faster processors, memory, storage, etc.
With that said, we run a very "mission critical" business and down time isn't an option. This is why we always have two computers with the mirroring playlists so if one crashes, the second can instantly be brought online without any down time. We have learned to never trust just one system and we always have two. The third will be streaming to our remote shoutcast server.
With all of that said, I am wondering what would be the benefit of using a server-grade CPU and Motherbard. We are not going to be using any graphically intensive applications. The only the we need to render is Windows and our broadcasting software. Integrated video is just fine! However, I'm wondering if we would benefit from having ECC compatible RAM and the other benefits of using server-grade equipment.
But then on the flip-side, if we use consumer/desktop grade equipment, it will be easier to replace and maintain in the long run?
We were looking at using the latest Z68 series motherboards along with the latest Core i (LGA 1155) series from Intel. And using fast hard drives and high end audio cards, we should be all set!
Server grade MBs and CPUs are all about bandwidth and dealing with multiple simultaneous connections. You can also have some very stable power supplies and redundant power supplies in a server.
Then of course there is the support. You pay in part for superior support of those products.
Since you already have redundancy worked out and you don't have a bunch of users, it seems to me that your requirements are not that high. You will want to migrate to Win 7 Pro, possibly 64-bit depending on software compatibility.
Seems like you might benefit from high quality SSDs and certainly high quality PSUs. Is everything on a UPS? I would guess so.
How much data storage do you need?
I can certainly suggest parts, but ultimately you want to find a local business that will have stock on hand. Most areas have companies doing office and network business that have a small storefront and a stock of parts.
I don't want to hazard any guesses on commercial audio cards though. I think you must have some idea of where to go for that.
I am about to test our broadcasting software in Windows 7 x64. I might be forced to run Windows XP just for software compatibility sake.
However, high quality is what we are going for. We have already selected some "High Air Flow" cases that will keep things nice and cool and high quality power supplies. Even though the Core i Series (particularly the Core i7-2600) is marketed as a consumer product, I believe that it can successfully be used in a professional environment such as our own. I love my personal Sandy Bridge system at home.
Each system will have 3 drives (one for operating system and two for audio files).
I'm still unsure if a RAID is appropriate for our setup due to the fact that our current workflow requires us to move drives between systems. (We use full size tower cases and 5.25inch hot swappable hard drive carriages). Incorporating RAID into each system would break our work flow as moving RAIDed drives between machines (RAIDS) would effectively break each RAID. Not possible.
We already have commercial audio cards that are tested and known to work perfectly with our software.
What is avoiding one or two crashes worth to the radio station? If your redundant systems make a crash relatively painless then stick with the consumer stuff and enjoy the better price performance. If each crash risks a few hundred bucks of advert revenue (someone spending $$s tunes in just in time to hear dead air for a few seconds) then go server. The improved ECC on memory and chipset will save you at least once in the life of the machine.
Having used consumer grade SSDs (sandforce and intel) I'm not sure I'd be in a rush to go that way. Running audio playlists is not exactly bandwidth intensive. A pair of spinning raid HDDs is a good choice, if one fails then the other keeps the system running. Consider server HDDS like "WD RE4 enterprise SATA hard drives" vs. a WD Caviar Black of the same size. You pay more for the RE drive, in theory you get better availability. Performance is great on both.
I would try compatibility mode in Win 7 first. You can run into all sorts of driver issues with new hardware and XP. Perhaps even virtual XP found in Win 7 Pro and up... although I'm not sure I would trust a VM for that.
Would USB 3.0 satisfy your drive transfer needs? I really don't see RAID as needed, but then you didn't say how much data you have.
Better to have some high quality Intel or OWC SSDs for your data, unless the size is prohibitive.