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post #1 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:34 AM Thread Starter
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Let's Build a Media Server

Okay this has been a long thing coming.

Way back when in the 1980's, around 1985 to be exact I sat on a couch with my brother telling him of a day when computers and TV would merge. I predicted all in one units- TVs that were also computers. Well that day is almost here. Along with that day is a lot of changes in the industry. Nowdays we have media extenders, media players, HTPCs... you name it, it's out there.

One thing that will be needed no matter what the ultimate end device will be some sort of way for people to manage their digital media.

Just like I showed people how to use a PS3 as a media device and not just a game console, I am going to show everyone how to make it easy to build a media server that will serve up all your media to not just a PS3, but any media extender device... a Popcorn Hour... WDTV... ASUS O!Play... Seagate FreeAgent Theater+ ... Patriot Box Office ... Netgear Digital Entertainer Live ... and many many more media extenders.

What is a media extender without media? And we all know media can take up a boat load of storage space. So this thread is all about building the ultimate media server!

I have my components and will be doing my build this coming week. We'll go through everything from what to order and why, to how to put it together and make it work.

This post will be like all my other threads and serve as an index to the rest of the thread. We will cover the following:
  • What is a Media Server?
  • What components are needed for a Media Server?
  • How to put it together
  • Sound, and not DTS or TRUEHD but taming a PC/Server that sounds like a C110 taking off
  • What OS to use?
  • What extender to use?

There certainly is going to be a lot of questions I'm sure, I know I had a lot of questions when I started my build and adventure.

Ultimately we will see HDTVs that act as media extenders, but we will still need to serve up the media. For now we have a myriad of options as well as extenders... and the extenders... whew! Fanboys abound! In the end though the average Joe has his head spinning and just wants to know what works.

Well hopefully we'll make that question easy with this thread.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken
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post #2 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:35 AM Thread Starter
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What is a Media Server?

First what is a media server?

Pretty much it's anything that stores your media and provides a way to display or stream it to at least one, but typically multiple devices throughout the house.

Most people have their computers networked together, and most already share files or folders between PCs. Well this is pretty much the same thing except the end device may or may not be a PC. Simply put, a media server is any device that stores and shares media.

What we're going to build is a server, but the same motherboard, CPU, Ram and everything other than the case can be used for a regular build in a normal PC case.

Now the monstrosity that I am about to build in this thread may be overkill for a lot of people, however the principles are going to be the same. A lot of people are also going to be surprised at the price when I tell them everything I bought minus the drives tags in at $1200, and that includes the server case with 20 hot swappable drive bays, 2GB of Ram, a dual core 3Ghz CPU, motherboard, 850W power supply, extra/quieter fans, SATA Port multipliers (aside from the case, the most expensive component), a slimline DVD rom, 320GB system drive, and Windows Home Server. I think that's everything.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 05-06-10 at 12:37 AM. Reason: Update
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post #3 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:35 AM Thread Starter
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What components are needed for a Media Server?

We mentioned what a media server is, now lets talk about what components are needed to build one.

Unlike an HTPC a media server doesn't need a lot of fancy components. Pretty much you need storage, storage, and more storage. CPU, graphics, ram... all are minor requirements. Pretty much whatever minimum requirements the OS calls for is all thats needed. This pretty much holds true with one exception- If you have to transcode your files on the fly then you will want a bit beefier CPU. I went with an AMD dual core 3Ghz processor. I won't need that much power, but it wasn't expensive so I said why not?

I personally do not want any degradation of video/audio so everything on my drives are uncompressed and in the native file format it was on disc. The nice thing is these files are natively supported by my PS3 and the O!Play so no transcoding is needed... just streaming bandwidth.

Which brings us to the one thing that is crucial, your network connection. Many people try it... some say it works for them... but the one thing you want to stay away from, and that isn't a friend of media servers and streaming is wifi. You may be able to use it for standard def, or even AVCHD files or M2TS files from a Hauppauge PVR-1212, but when you start getting to true HD content, sooner or later there will be stuttering and drop outs.

Do you need Gigabit ethernet? Depends.
Some will say no matter what you need Gigabit, however if you're only streaming to one or two end units at a time then 100baseT should be more than enough bandwidth even for Bluray streaming. Of course if you are running your network cable now as part of your welcome to the 21st Century home renovation project... might as well go with Gigabit. Why not? If you already have your house wired for 100baseT I wouldn't sweat it. Just don't plan on streaming 40GB Bluray files to every HDTV in your house!

Now for the number one biggest component NOT TO SKIMP ON- The Power Supply.

The more drives you intend on running, the bigger PS you'll need. A 750W PS is the minimum I'd use for a 20 drive server. I actually went with an 850W PS.

Here are the invoices for the components I purchased. As I mentioned, this doesn't count the drives. I already had 8TB and did buy four 1.5TB drives. The reason why I am not including drives in the cost is this will be up to the user on how many, what size and besides, you can add them as you need them.

I ordered from various companies. Initially my urge was to try and order everything from one place to save on shipping as well as have minimal packages I had to wait on. In the end I found certain items were significantly lower at different online stores. If you can get your favorite store to price match that would be great!

Here is my NewEgg order.

Right off the bat it's pretty easy to see the big ticket item on that shopping list is the Norco RPC-4020. For those that don't need 20 drives, or need hot swappable drives, I recommend the Norco RPC-450B. This is a really nice case for $79 that has room for 11 drives, and you can even convert the case to hot-swappable drives.

A lot of people are jumping on the newer model 20 drive case, the RPC-4220 but do some planning before you jump head first. The 4220 is a whopping 19" wide whereas the 4020 is 16.9" wide. I was just about to pull the trigger on the 4220 until I measured my rack, which is 18" wide! No dice on jamming a 4220 in there. Functionally the 4020 and 4220 are the same... they both are ginormous computer cases that will hold 20 drives.

[MOUSE]Update: I spoke to NorcoTek. Someone told me both the 4220 and the 4020 are the same size. It's not that I didn't believe him, however the spec sheets did call out different dimensions, plus the guy that was reporting the sizes were the same also referenced the RPC-4224, Which doesn't exist. So the best way to find out the facts is to call the source [/MOUSE]


If anyone is looking based on size, these cases are indeed the same size. There are a lot of updates to the 4220 however there is one change that could have a bearing on whether someone gets the 4020 or the 4220. The 4220 uses a 2.5 inch system drive over a regular sized 3.5 inch drive. No biggy, but to some that have a 3.5 drive they planned on using they will have to buy a different drive.


So how big is this puppy? For size perspective that's a normal size PC case compared to the box the 4020 shipped in. The three coconuts are my son and two of my grandsons.

The first thing you'll notice after the size is the packing. It comes double boxed and nestled safely in Styrofoam. It weighs in at 38lbs and when I say it's big... and as you can see from the first picture... when it arrived my wife yelled upstairs and told me my refrigerator showed up!



Below is a shot of all the drive bays popped out. This seems to be a mandatory gratuitous shot




















Here is a shot of the case with the top off and the system drive and slimline DVD drive mounted. Below them is where the 20 hot swappable drives reside. The area to the back is for the PS and motherboard. As it can be seen there is more than enough room inside for any board you want to throw in there.


And another shot giving some size perspective-

Also on this order was the motherboard, CPU and Ram. This is a killer motherboard and really is overkill for a media server. In fact this motherboard could function for an entry level HTPC build! Why did I get it then when I said we don't need a bunch of fancy and expensive components? Well for this particular setup you need a SATA port multiplier since no motherboards out there come with 20 SATA II connectors. It just happens that the interface cards I went with needs PCI-E x4 slots. You can also use PCI Express x16 slots.


Next is the invoice from my TigerDirect order-

At the time I placed my order they had a slightly better price for Widows Home Server, and the 120mm fans were significantly less than they were on Newegg. Also I thought they had better prices on Power Supplies.


And the last invoice is from SuperBiiz

SuperBiiz had the best prices on the Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 Sata port multiplier cards. They also smoked everyone on the SFF-8087 to Discrete Forward Breakout Cables.

If you get these cards be careful on what cables you get because the reverse breakout cables look the same in the pictures but they won't work.

So really the expensive items for me were the case and the port multiplier cards. I showed one alternative case, and there are many options out there if you don't need 20 drives. As far as port multipliers, there really aren't that many options out there. Addonics does have a 5X1 Internal SATA Port Multiplier (PM) for $69, however I haven't used one of these before and haven't read any reviews of anyone that has used one.

That's about it as far as the components. Oh... I'm sure people have noticed all those fans I bought... Well they were .99˘ each when you buy a lot of 10 so I said why not. I will always need a fan for future builds.

I'll take plenty of pictures when I go through my build.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 03-31-10 at 10:33 PM. Reason: update
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post #4 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:36 AM Thread Starter
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How to put it together

Since 99% of the parts are the what is used in a PC, putting this together really isn't any harder than building a regular PC.

The sound dampening material was an extra step, as was making a new fan housing, but both were very straight forward.

Overall I would rate this as an intermediate skill level project. Anyone that is familiar with the insides of a PC can build one of these very easily.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 11-19-10 at 03:55 PM.
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post #5 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:37 AM Thread Starter
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Sound, and not DTS or TRUEHD but taming a PC/Server that sounds like a C110 taking off

If you have a server room this part can be skipped, but most people don't have a server room and have to live with their gear.

The Norco 4020 is definitely a business grade server case, meaning it isn't pretty (well... it is in a geeky sort of way!) and it isn't quiet! It does however do the job and the stock fans move a tremendous amount of air. The 'cost' of that type of air volume to keep things cool is they are not quiet by anyone's standards. These are like buzz saws running.

So the first thing that needs to be done is all the stock fans have to go!
I replaced the seven 80mm screamers with three 120mm 19dBA and two 80mm 25dBA rear case fans. These fans are more than twice as quite as what was originally in the Norco.

Next was to try and kill the sound even more. For this I went with a sound deadening/dampening neoprene rubber foam used for sound dampening. I used 1/16" material from TheFoamFactory.
Unfortunately it isn't self adhesive. Granted you can get it that has peel off backing and is self adhesive, but it's like 10 times the price.

TheFoamFactory has great prices, but customer service isn't exactly what I call top notch. You'll get your order and they won't steal your money or anything like that... they are just a bit slow processing and shipping your order.

Craft glue, or plain old Elmer's glue and an old stiff brush to spread it around on the back of the foam works great and it's not going to come up.

The fan assembly is made out of light weight styrofoam wrapped in black electrical tape and then covered with the sound dampening neoprene rubber sheeting. The new fan housing is very light weight and it slides in and is held in place by pressure. Trust me, it isn't going anywhere. It's a tight fit but the styrofoam is flexible and compresses a bit and it's this pressure that keeps in in place. Also the riser has some unused motherboard standoffs that push into the styrofoam and help keep it in place. It know it sounds all monkey rigged but it doesn't look bad and it fits great.





Followed by sound dampening material on the riser... then the mother board...



Fast forward to an added Power Supply and lots and lots of annoying cables, and then a new set of three 120mm fans and a new fan housing.


Not only does the case now have sound dampening material, high volume, low DB fans... I think it looks pretty cool too!

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 11-19-10 at 03:21 PM.
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post #6 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:37 AM Thread Starter
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What OS to use?

This is a matter of personal preference.

You could use any OS that allows drive/file sharing. Some people prefer Linux, others may want to use FreeNAS, and some like me will opt for a server OS like 2003, 2008, or the new Server 2010. I went with the original WHS which is based on Server 2003. There is a newer version that is based on 2008 and one coming out that uses Server 2010, but both of those were more expensive.

Also there is the debate about backing up your data and protecting it. Some people swear by RAID, and if you have hardware RAID it is a very viable option. Software RAID though has its drawbacks. The SATA extender cards I got are not hardware RAID, which was also a factor in my decision to go with WHS.

Again though, this will be more of a personal preference. I happen to like how WHS handles file sharing and duplication. With RAID you backup on the drive level, WHS backs up on the folder level. This gives a bit more flexibility in my opinion and saves drive space too. Ideally I wish I could backup on a file by file basis and not just at the folder level! Someday I am sure that will be an option

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 11-19-10 at 11:34 AM.
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post #7 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:38 AM Thread Starter
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What extender to use?

Most motherboards have at least 4 SATA connections, some have 6-8 and a rare few have 10. The more connections usually means the MB costs more too.

The first decision to be made is whether you want hardware RAID support or not. The difference in price is astronomical. A SATA card with hardware RAID support can cost anywhere from several hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars a card. Thus most people opt for non-hardware RAID cards.

I opted for Supermicro AOC-SASLP-MV8 SATA port multiplier cards that cost around $100 each. Two cards are needed for a 20 drive setup as outlined in this thread.

Addonics has a 5x1 SATA port expander that runs $62. No special breakout cables are required, but you will need 4 cards... 4 x $62= $248, so the AOC-SASLP-MV8 with the breakout cables is around the same price so it's a wash. I went with the Supermicro extenders because they are well known and are used in commercial server builds so I know the quality was dependable. Not that the Addonics isn't, I just don't know anyone that's used them. I probably will use one when I build a 10 drive media server for my son.

These are not the only options out there either. Supermicro has another card that will work in a PCI slot (with some bandwidth loss) and uses regular SATA cables. Google around and check out the various options but this will at least get people started and in the right direction.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 11-19-10 at 03:48 PM.
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post #8 of 112 Old 03-22-10, 12:39 AM Thread Starter
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Conclusions and Comments

All in all this was a fun project and I keep asking myself why I didn't do it sooner!

I plan on building another one, plus a smaller 10 drive server for my son.

Things I might do different: For the most part I would do the build exactly the same with the exception I probably would go with a modular PS next time. Other than that, the Norco cases are a definite thumbs up!

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken

Last edited by wbassett; 11-19-10 at 03:52 PM.
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post #9 of 112 Old 03-24-10, 03:47 PM Thread Starter
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Re: Let's Build a Media Server

I got tied up with work, that and I was waiting for the rest of my parts to come in.

I have everything now, well... I don't have 20 of those 2TB drives I have been drooling over!

Right now I am working on a fan mod for the case that will be light weight and silent. I already plugged it in and you can't hear the three 120mm fans, yet cfm air volume is still up there and they push a lot of air. I'll probably start the build tomorrow and should have it functioning by the weekend. I'm still waiting for my power adapters for my Verizon Actiontec MI424WR's. I may have to pick up a cheap hub and test it out in the same room as the PS3 until I get my adapters.

"Make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

"If all else fails, spin the cat."- Grzboken
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post #10 of 112 Old 03-25-10, 12:19 PM
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Re: Let's Build a Media Server

Wondering if you looked at running FreeNAS instead of Windows?
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