Building your own File and Media Server, on the cheap! – Part 2

Chapter 1 – The Ordnance

Part 1 can be found here. It deals with the reasoning behind having a file and media server in the first place. Part 2 goes into choosing the hardware and how it was chosen.

When we decided to put a server in our home, we needed to decide what it would end up doing. This is important in any context, the right tool for the job, so to speak. Our needs were as follows

1. A central repository of all our files – mp3s (around 50 GB), movies and tv shows (around 100 GB but keeps on increasing) and documents (including photos right from the days i was wearing nappies,around 20 GB)

2. Downloading torrents 24×7. We have a 256 kbps (yeah its measly) connection, with no b/w limits as far as i can tell. So in order to maximise bang for the buck and in order to provide the entertainment we find hard to get on TV, we download 24×7, every day, all week, no sabbath! A previous laptop of mine had already suffered an untimely death due to being on continuously and we wanted to move this critcal function to a desktop which wouldnt generate too much heat and be able to handle torrents in an always on environment.

3.  Play media in the living room. Some kind of video output of halfway decent quality and 6 channel audio to output to the 5.1 system we have was mandatory

4. Transcode and Stream Media. I have a PSP right now. This may expand to an XBOX 360/PS3/Wii in the future and the serve rmust be up to transcoding and streaming on the fly with performance drops

Now, a lot of people think servers are some esoteric alien machines which have nothing to do with the computer we use everyday to check our mail. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Servers are merely specialized computers designed to do some compuing jobs exceedingly well (which makes them suck at others). Underneath all the jargon, their parts are mostly the same as the laptop this post is being written on!

With that concept in mind and a ridiculously low price point of Rs. 7000 in mind, I set out researching for the ordnance I would need for the battle, so to speak 😛

This is how my needs translated into hardware requirements.

A.Processor Generally speaking, any processor launched in the last 5 years would do the job, as the activities i had in mind for my server are not processor intensive. Even Windows 7, the latest version of Windows requires only  a 1 Ghz processor!

B. RAM, however is a different story. Windows 7 requires a minimum of 1 GB RAM. Servers require a lot of RAM when multiple users connect to them (which wouldnt be the case iner well, my case!). Even so, I needed to future proof the machine a bit and decided not to settle for anything less than 2 GB RAM. Luckily, RAM is dirt cheap nowadays, with 2 GB costing around Rs. 1250.

C. Video Memory I will never play any games on this computer. However, todays HD content would benefit from a decent video card / video memory of atleast 128 MB (which by the way is what Windows 7 requires for fancy Aero effects).

D. Motherboard. Would have to be extreme bang for the buck, with a good complement of ports and a chipset which doesnt suck too much.

E. Hard Drive. Since  content always expands till your current HDD is filled and putting in new stuff means deleting new stuff, I needed the biggest drive I could afford. And it had to be SATA (not only are read write speeds are better, the cable is thinner and lends to more elegant innards when it comes to assembling the system)

F. Display – None! Servers dont need monitors! My server is a zombie!

G. Input Devices – None! Servers only need keyboards and mice while initial config is done. Just borrow from your desktop or neighbour and return when your server’s online!

H. Case – The smallest case to be found locally, with its own power supply, must be black in color!

A lot of googling and sifting through various reviews and multiple visits to Newegg. I finally decided on the following combination of hardware for my server.

Processor – Intel – Atom 330 (1.6 Ghz Dual Core with HyperThreading)

Motherboard – Intel – D945GCLF2 – Based on the Intel 945 chipset

RAM – Kingston – 2 GB

Hard Drive – Samsung – 1 TB

Case – Zebronics –  Nick Micro ATX

The beauty of the Atom 330 has to be seen (read about, rather) to be believed. The processor and motherboard are assembled by the manufacturer and shipped as 1 unit. Even though the 945 chipset negates the power savings achieved by the ultra low voltage Atom processor, the price point of the package is too attractive to ignore!

A review and bench mark of the Atom 330 can be found here. I’ll simply say this – Pentium 4 beating performance, Gigabit Ethernet, S-Video Out, Onboard video memory which is expandable in BIOS, with a PCI slot thrown in for good measure, at a price point of $ 85 (Rs. 4250) ? ION can be ‘fully-capable’ all it likes, but my server’s running the 330!

The Samsung HDD cost almost as much as the motherboard+processor itself! I somehow landed a deal which got me a 7200 RPM, 3 GBPS drive for $ 75

Total cost

Motherboard + Processor – Rs. 4250

RAM – Rs. 1250

HDD – Rs. 3750

Total – Rs. 9250

Yes, I overshot my budget quite a bit, but thats the price you have topay for future proofing the machine. If I had toned down my HDD size to 250 GB, I would have been well under budget!

Note:  I ordered all the above parts on Newegg and had them shipped to inside the US. I got them a month later when an Indian returned home! The Atom 330 is not available in India as of today. DO NOT buy the Atom 230, it sucks hairy balls.

I bought the case on Ritchie Street, and it cost me Rs. 1250, ratcheting the total cost to Rs. 11,000 ($ 220). Thats cheaper than an iPod!

Part 3 – Pics of the assembly process. Coming Soon..


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