A well designed and installed home theatre network is plainly awesome. Frickin’ awesome in fact. It frees you from being stuck in one place to get your fill of movies or music.
I have always thought that one integral part of a proper network is a good server built with a sound hardware foundation. This is the focus for this part of my adventure whilst setting it up and recommended software is in the next part. However, I would caution that if you’re going to attempt this, you should have some knowledge or experience in building computers from off the shelf parts. Otherwise, getting the parts and getting them assembled or buying a similar prebuilt system from an OEM (such as Dell of HP) would also suffice. Be warned that an OEM system will likely need additional parts such as hard drives and their warranties don’t cover any modifications users make.
Firstly, the requirements of a server computer are actually quite varied. There obviously has to be lots of storage space or built in such a way that storage is expandable. However, multiple hard disks can generate lots of heat in enclosed environments. Next, the thing has to be quite as well and also cool so no parts are damaged. Finally, depending in the situation in every home, space could be at a premium.
So how do we balance these requirements to get the outcome we all want? Luckily, the hardware we need is not only cheap, but commonplace.
The biggest enemy to our server is heat generated by internal components which could accelerate the wear rate of any moving parts of the system. While fans are easily replaceable, hard disks and the data they store are not so fun to fix once they’ve died. There are both hardware and software solutions to this issue, both of which I will cover, though not all at once!
We begin with a reasonably cheap processor that can handle the task of data transfer and transcoding. An Intel i3 processor is more than adequate. They’re quiet, low powered and most importantly, cheap. If you think you’d like to get a bit of gaming done on this computer for whatever reason, a second generation AMD Fusion processor would be the go.
Both choices will set you back less than $100. One important thing is that any dedicated graphics processors should be ignored because gaming should be done on a whacking great beast of a machine with a powerful graphics processing platform. Or, if youre a petulant little brat, a gaming console. Which sucks (yeah, I’m a PC person). Unfortunately, graphics parts use a lot of power. My Radeon 6970 uses over 250 watts at maximum load and adds a lot of ambient noise and heat. So, don’t do put any dedicated graphics parts in a server!
Which brand of processor you choose will dictate the next critical component: the motherboard. Whatever motherboard you choose is up to you, however the larger the motherboard, the less clutter you will have and you will also have much better airflow through you system (remember the heat thing!!). The motherboard must have an integrated network port and at least five hard drive slots. In terms of memory, four gigabytes should be enough, but eight would be ideal.
In terms of storage, the ideal configuration would be a solid state drive married to two identical normal hard disks. The solid state drive is for the software, quick boot times and access to programs. The other hard drivers are for actual storage of media. The pairing is important and I’ll cover that in the next part of the adventure. For now, this should be enough to mull over!