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Building no-budget home server, maybe htpc

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May 22, 2012 1:00:55 PM

So, that's the best I have gathering dust here:
- Pentium 4 3Ghz HT, two slots for ram, 1gb DDR533 and 2x512mb DDR800, two sata ports, onboard vga and dedicated agp vga (Radeon 9600 Pro). This thing used to run HL2 and NFSU2 quite happily.
- Pentium 850mhz, probably 128mb of RAM, no sata ports, dedicated pci vga and hopefully onboard vga too
- SATA: 500gb, 120gb, 80gb (one of each)
- PATA: Not sure about size, but probably I can find something around 20gb. Enough to install system and boot.

Requirements, in decreasing order of importance:
a - Energy efficient. Must spend as little energy as possible, since it will be online 24/7. If too costly to run, project will probably be vetoed
b - Must run Linux or something alike, but I'd like it to be easy to configure too. I'm reasonably familiar with Ubuntu. I guess freenas and xbmc are okay too.
c - Basic expected functions: home NAS, file server, print server, FTP, torrent machine, play mp3 or a web-radio all day long.
d - It would be good if I could run a shoutcast station, a LAMP web server, maybe even a lightweight virtual machine. Nothing too demanding, though.
e - It would be awesome if I could have a HTPC to use sometimes, but it could be mostly powered off

Budget:
- For now, basically none. Probably I can spare enough to add a pci-to-sata or pata-to-sata adapter to the 850mhz pentium, if needed. And, if the setup proves to be useful and works reasonably well, I may even get a budget to buy more current hardware in a year or so!

Options I came up with:
1 - Give up, I'll never do anything non-tragic with that equipment (violating all requirements)
2 - Use the 850mhz "beast" to attend objectives a-b-c-(d?), and be grateful if I manage to do it
3 - Option 2 + make an HTPC using the Pentium 4 with Radeon 9600 Pro (maybe running XBMC), achieving also objective e
4 - Force the pentium 4 to attend objectives a-b-c-d-e, acting as HTPC+server+torrent machine+toaster+coffee machine+electric shaver+walk over waters+...
5 - Forget the HTPC dream, I'll be lucky if I can attend objectives a-b-c-d using the pentium 4
6 - Even though I might meet some of my requirements, the always-on gear will irreversibly be a power hog, violating requirement a.

Considerations about each option:
1 - Probably the most mentally sane option
2 - Seems reasonable. I guess I don't need much processing power to achieve objective c (and d, if I'm lucky). I might even be able to underclock the processor, in order to save even more energy. But I'm not sure if that ancient processor architecture would be very energy-efficient. Maybe a 850mhz processor at full load eats more energy than a 3.2ghz HT at half load?
3 - The most reasonable one to me, with greater potential to satisfy all my needs. Keep underpowered hardware to lightweight tasks a-b-c-d, and boot the most powerful (and power-hungry) rig only to do the task that demands more processing power. Maybe even wake-on-lan!
4 - Very likely to work, but I guess it's also very like to violate requirement a.
5 - Well, if it at least attends requirements a-b-c-d, I guess I can't complain
6 - Also something that crosses my mind frequently, and that's why I've been postponing this project so much

General considerations/questions:
- I don't demand top-notch speed. I'll use mostly a 802.11g connection to access the server.
- In order to reduce energy to a minimum, I'm considering how to keep hardware to a minimum. No pci cards, only one memory module, only one hd, no optical drive, no dedicated vga (except for requirement e), disable everything in bios, maybe even underclock the processor and ram?
- I once bought a small NAS/print server/FTP which only consumed 5w of power, but it was painful to manage and also very slow, with mere 300mhz of ARM power. And then its voltage regulator fried.
- A Raspberry Pi would be an awesome substitute for the HTPC, but after shipping to Brazil and some taxes, it doesn't sound so interesting anymore...
- I MIGHT get a HP DV6000 notebook, which would most likely be the best thing in terms of alternative a.
- If it runs a web server, I'll probably use it for some very basic home automation project
- How would be the most responsive way to manage the server remotely from another pc in the network? Is there a way better than VNC?
- I heard about zfs, but I guess it's far from adequate in my case, right?
- Would the 850mhz pentium 3 be significantly less power-hungry than the pentium 4?
- What you think is doable with my hardware, and what's not? How would you do it?

That's it! Im ready for all your opinions, considerations, comments, tips on software, and for the inevitable laughing at my hardware. :) 
May 22, 2012 2:26:13 PM

Option 1 - The hardware is unsuitable for a server, performance sucks, energy efficiency sucks

For a £100 or not sure what price slike in Brazil, you can get a cheap AMD CPU+Mobo+Memory combo that will more than enough.
May 22, 2012 3:08:18 PM

Get something like a motherboard which has the CPU+IGP installed (Embedded solutions).
Related resources
May 22, 2012 3:56:07 PM

Option 4 but forget about energy effeciency.

If energy efficiency is a must then its option 1

I know hardware costs alot more in Brazil so "a cheap AMD combo" to us translates as "An overpriced bundle of low end parts" but depending on the cost of energy it may still be the way as it might justify itself in that area.
May 22, 2012 5:06:33 PM

I must say that a p4 setup is not going to be energy efficient. I actually tested an old dell dimension with a p4 2.8 or 3 ghz 2gb of ram and a single 40gb ide hdd (no expansion cards) and at idle the thing was using ~95 watts (tested with a kill-a-watt meter). I'd look for a more energy efficient solution as others have said or maybe a notebook/netbook as you stated. My msi wind something netbook uses ~15 watts under load and this is a model with a mechanical hdd.

for an OS I would also take a look at amahi www.amahi.org
It has TONS of features and apps and is super easy to setup. It can be managed by simply typing the ip of your amahi server into your browser.
May 22, 2012 5:19:33 PM

copy paste from another thread, so excuse my laziness. This doesn't meat your budget requirements of 0$ but:

You can get some prebuilt small form factor PCs from newegg that may be much nicer for what you are trying to do:
http://www.newegg.com/Store/SubCat [...] ne-Systems

I didn't realize these things existed until I saw one in a shell shocker, but they are a pretty good value, you can find some that have an empty 2.5" drive bay at the least.

As an example:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6856107081

It's got an empty 2.5" bay, 2 ram slots, built in wifi, and USB ports where you can plug an optical drive, mouse/kb etc. I think you can find cheaper ones with a similar setup though.
May 23, 2012 2:50:11 AM

das_stig said:
Option 1 - The hardware is unsuitable for a server, performance sucks, energy efficiency sucks


wr6133 said:
If energy efficiency is a must then its option 1


Pretty much what I feared.

das_stig said:
For a £100 or not sure what price slike in Brazil, you can get a cheap AMD CPU+Mobo+Memory combo that will more than enough.


refillable said:
Get something like a motherboard which has the CPU+IGP installed (Embedded solutions).


djscribbles said:
copy paste from another thread, so excuse my laziness. This doesn't meat your budget requirements of 0$ but:
(...)
It's got an empty 2.5" bay, 2 ram slots, built in wifi, and USB ports where you can plug an optical drive, mouse/kb etc. I think you can find cheaper ones with a similar setup though.


wr6133 said:
I know hardware costs alot more in Brazil so "a cheap AMD combo" to us translates as "An overpriced bundle of low end parts" but depending on the cost of energy it may still be the way as it might justify itself in that area.


For the cheapest POS mini-itx Atom D525 (chipset Intel NM10, two sata, no pata/ide and no RAM), I'd have to shell out R$205, plus R$80 for a generic 4gb DDR3 module. Considering I'd repurpose an old case and PSU and already have a reasonable HDD to begin playing, I'd spend R$285, which is about US$140. May not sound like much, but it's 46% of the brazilian monthly minimum wage (R$2,83 per hour, around US$1.40), so for my standards that's not spare change at all. A prettier barebone system, such as suggested by DjScribbles, would be a bit more expensive also.

flank21 said:
I must say that a p4 setup is not going to be energy efficient. I actually tested an old dell dimension with a p4 2.8 or 3 ghz 2gb of ram and a single 40gb ide hdd (no expansion cards) and at idle the thing was using ~95 watts (tested with a kill-a-watt meter). I'd look for a more energy efficient solution as others have said or maybe a notebook/netbook as you stated. My msi wind something netbook uses ~15 watts under load and this is a model with a mechanical hdd.

I haven't measured power drained because I haven't mounted any system but yeah, that's a whole lot of power. I hope you didn't include the monitor in your measurement. Certainly buying a more energy-efficient setup would pay for itself in the long run.
Using your numbers, I'd be spending around 80 watts more with a old-desktop setup. If a month has 30*24=720 hours, that would be 720*80=57.6kWh spent unnecessarily. Energy costs R$0,61 per kWh here, so I'd be wasting R$35 per month, which means the R$280 system would pay for itself in 8 months if it eats 80w less than the desktop setup.
If I can manage to get an abandoned notebook, this will be probably the best thing because it would be free, small and notebooks are usually designed to be power-efficient. If I can't get one, it's probably a better idea to buy a new setup, as all of you guys have pointed out. A Raspberry Pi could chug on processing performance, but for $35 would surely be a good alternative - too bad it would end up costing some R$200 after shipping and abusive taxes, so the Atom system would be a better option for packing much better processing performance and flexibility.

flank21 said:
for an OS I would also take a look at amahi www.amahi.org
It has TONS of features and apps and is super easy to setup. It can be managed by simply typing the ip of your amahi server into your browser.

Never heard of it, I'll look into it. Hopefully it can integrate well with my linux pcs at home.

Initially I considered going for option 2 or 3 as a definitive setup, but now I'm thinking of going for option 4, as suggested by wr6133, but as a temporary setup; even because it would be close in performance to a current Atom. If I can prove its value in a month or two, I might be able to gather some "funding" to buy a new Atom setup. I'm still not so totally sure about which software should I use though, since I don't even know properly the available options.

Edit: I've been looking into Amahi and I think I'm in love. How come I never heard of it?
Anyway, what are the other options I should be researching? FreeNAS? Some version of linux server (such as Ubuntu Server)? XBMC (which would greatly aid in the process of downloading and classifying multimedia content, since it does much of it by itself)? Any major setback for any of these options? Is there other good option I'm not aware of?
!