Saturday, June 27, 2009

Media Server & NAS project - Part 2 Hardware

I've always liked buying new hardware and assembling new computers, it is my favorite part of a new build. Doing the research and figuring out the right components for my particular situation, just something about it that I have always liked.

I have been formulating my requirements for this particular project for quite some time. Mulling over the benefits of pulling the trigger sooner, or waiting and doing it later.

The Server


The server has always been on the agenda, it is shameful that I don't have a better way to keep my valuable data (read porn) safe from drive failures. As it stands I'm vulnerable if one of my drives fail, sure I may have backups someplace... but I'm not sure how current they are etc. Suffice to say I need something better.

For these reasons mostly, and also for the speed benefits RAID is one of the fundamental requirements for this project. I went back and forth with my self over weather I would be doing RAID in hardware or software, from the research I did it seems that for all but the most taxing scenarios software raid works as well and can be significantly less complicated when it comes time to restore your broke ass system. Add that to the fact that a true hardware raid card with capabilities of handling 4+ drives runs $600+ depending on your features and the choice was pretty obvious.

Originally I had intended the RAID setup to be something we could expand into a bit, however the addition of the media center and the plan to keep archival .ISO files of all of my DVD's means that I'll probably not be able to get by with the 4x1TB hard drives setup in a RAID 5 array (3TB of effective storage). So I added another 2 drives to the 4 giving me 6x1TB drives in a RAID 5 (5TB of total storage). Since the SATA capacity of my board is 6xSATA drives I needed something more for my 1 boot drive, and my 1 DVD drive. I had to pick up a separate SATA expansion card in order to accommodate. So I shall have a total of 8 SATA devices in my setup.

This puts me in a tight spot, I'll probably need to reconsider my setup if I plan to expand any farther. My options become somewhat limited, 6 is my maximum capacity, my original plan of dropping in a few more 1TB drives to expand my capacity doesn't work much past 6. There are other options but they might be a bit overboard.

Luckily for me I found a 4 port SATA adapter that has 2 external eSATA ports. This means I can use an external enclosure in the future to put my extra drives. I've seen these for around the $350.00 range for enclosures that house 8 drives in addition to what I already have.... DAYM that is a lot of hard drives. I'm not there yet, but it is good to know I have those options if I need them.

The rest of the setup is mostly mundane a pretty basic system. One area I did spend a little more was to upgrade the processor a few notches. This was mostly to allow for the ability of trans coding the video into another format at some point (iPhone version anyone?).

Total Cost for the Server:

  • ASRock K10N78 AM2+/AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 8200 ATX AMD Motherboard: $67.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157159

  • 6x Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS 1TB 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive $539.94 (6x$89.99) http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136317

  • CORSAIR CMPSU-400CX 400W ATX12V V2.2 80 PLUS Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply $59.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139008

  • G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $54.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231166

  • AMD Phenom 8650 Toliman 2.3GHz 3 x 512KB L2 Cache 2MB L3 Cache Socket AM2+ 95W Triple-Core Processor $78.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103253

  • SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD Burner $25.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827151171

  • Rosewill RC-218 PCI Express x4 (x8 and x16 slot compatible) SATA II 3G Controller Card/ 4 internal SATA with 2 external eSATA Design $69.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16816132018



Total: $897.88

Media PC


One of the main reasons that got me excited about the media center concept was the very exciting stuff I was seeing out of the NVIDIA VDPAU project on the MythTV mailing lists. Essentially it allows you to lower your overall hardware costs by using your capable graphics chip to do the heavy lifting when it comes to the High Definition Video formats. Traditionally these tasks were pushed onto the CPU which was not optimal and often meant that if you wanted to play HD content you needed a pretty beefy machine.

Well with the new VDPAU technology you can divert your funds of purchasing a beefy machine towards purchasing more hard drive space, or more HD content ;).

To compound the coolness Intel recently launched the ION platform that combines the Atom processor in a super small form factor which should allow you to play HD video without breaking much of a sweat. AWESOME!

One of the major factors in the construction of such front end systems is often the amount of sound that it makes. The ION package will surely help with that, but in addition the other components of the system should be selected while spending close attention to the amount of noise produced. Things like fans, power supplies, and hard drives all make noise when they are operating, so keeping that in mind is important.

Ultimately I went with a disk-less system which I plan to network boot from my server. The front-end should have minimal cooling requirements and pull all of its content from the back-end server.

At this time I decided to NOT get a remote control for the Media PC, maybe that is a mistake, but I figure I can use the keyboard for most everything, and if I find out I truly need a remote then I can pick one up later.

Here is what I came up with for the Media PC:


  • ZOTAC IONITX-A-U Atom N330 1.6GHz Dual-Core 441 NVIDIA ION Mini ITX Motherboard/CPU Combo $206.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813500027

  • JETWAY JC-300-B Black Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case 60W Power Supply $69.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811120015

  • G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory $46.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231122

  • i-rocks RF-6572-BK Piano Black 104 Normal Keys USB 2.4 GHz RF Wireless Slim Keyboard/Mouse Combo w/ Travel Pouch $42.99 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16823204012



Total: $366.96

Not bad

Closing Thoughts


The prices I listed above do not include shipping & handling or any rush order processing fees I had applied in order to get all the parts before my long weekend from work over the 4th of July holiday. They also do not include mistakes in ordering that I may or may not have made. On a side note, know anyone who wants to buy an extra 3 core Phenom II AM3 processor? :D (hmmm maybe I'll be doing a PC build here soon.

I'm excited to actually get it all put together and fire it up for the first time. I'm worried that with the amount of time it is going to take for the raid array to build that if (when?) I muck it up it could take me a really long time to do over again. We will have to see. Next will be basic setup tasks of the back-end... I have a feeling that is going to take the longest. It may have to wait until I have the time off from work, though I probably will try and get started to see how it all goes when I get the parts in.