Need a sanity check: Mac Mini as a Media Server - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 5 Old 09-14-2012, 06:43 PM - Thread Starter
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For the last 2 years I've been running a mini as my HTPC running a variety of front-ends. Unfortunately over that same time my whole HTPC/Server system has become complex for a variety of reasons. In an attempt to simplify this all I was planning on doing the following and was wondering if anyone has any feedback:

Front-end: Move to a BoxeeBox (mostly for the wife & kid factor)

Back-end: Consolidate 2 Win servers (different flavors) to just my older Mac Mini running Mountain Lion Server.

My concern is the HD in the mini is not nearly larger enough for everything on the server (1TB of movies; 250G of Music; 250G of photos; and 200G of files). My thought was to do the following:
  • Hook up a 4-bay enclosure to the mini and host all of the files on there
  • Use OSX to run a SW raid over the 4 HDs in the enclosure (JBOD)


I've been researching the heck out of enclosures and most affordable ones are USB or Esata. Clearly the ESata is useless, so it would be USB 2.0 connection. So my concerns/questions are:
  • Will the USB connection be too slow to feed up BD MKV rips to the BoxxeBox?
  • Am I better off getting something with firewire (even though they are far more expensive these days)?
  • Anyone know if the BoxeeBox will have any issues connecting? I've read a slew of problems/no problem threads on Boxee's forums, so it is kinda hard to tell what will happen.


Does this sound sane? Anyone have any good recommendations on a decent 4-bay (or larger) enclosure that isn't $500? I've read up on Drobos and sounds like why they are nice they have serious performance issues during playback and as the drive space maxs out.


For those wondering the reason for running OSX Server and consolidation are:
  • Simplify my network maintenance (maintaining 3 computers is a PITA)
  • Take advantage of several network services from OSX Server
  • Set up the mini to be my time capsule for my mac laptop (this is just for basic backups)
  • Set up the mini to be my Crashpan centralized backup unit for all of the computers in the house (not really that big of a concern because between the server and cloud I store very little locally these days)

Any help would be appreciated. And yes I've done a search on the forums and while I've seen several people talk around this topic, no one has actually posted any results or performance issues.
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post #2 of 5 Old 09-15-2012, 06:37 AM
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which older Mini do you have?
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My concern is the HD in the mini is not nearly larger enough for everything on the server (1TB of movies; 250G of Music; 250G of photos; and 200G of files).

depending on which model Mini you have, you may be able to add a second drive inside, but regardless it is very easy to add external storage to any Mini over firewire and USB. Simplest and cheapest connect a relatively inexpensive 3 TB external to your Mini, a Seagate or WD can often be had for $120 or so if you shop well. Buy two, keep one connected to the Mini and keep a full backup on the second, unplugged and disconnected from the Mac and power source.
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yes I've done a search on the forums and while I've seen several people talk around this topic, no one has actually posted any results or performance issues.

Something simple and relatively inexpensive for you to consider...Apple supports something called AirDisk, plug any number of external USB drives into an Airport Extreme base station and those drives can be shared. Works great, I have 12 TB of movies, TV and MakeMKV rips stored on 3 enclosures connected to a USB hub, that hub in turn connected to the Extreme, and all of that is easily shared around the house. Any Mac in the house can be set to mount those volumes automatically at boot.

That means you can keep one copy of your media connected to the Mini over USB and a second copy of your library connected to your Extreme over USB. Double coverage if you will.

We have a 2011 Mini functioning as both player (with XBMC) and media server for the whole house, it boots off of a fast Samsung 830 series SSD and there's about 12 TB of media locally attached over firewire 800 and USB as well.
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Will the USB connection be too slow to feed up BD MKV rips...?

No, plain old USB 2, even "AirDisk" USB, is perfectly fast enough for BD MKV rips, as long as what you are streaming to is also wired.
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Hook up a 4-bay enclosure to the mini and host all of the files on there...Use OSX to run a SW raid over the 4 HDs in the enclosure (JBOD)

Not too long ago, the "in" thing around here was to get a 4 bay ReadyNAS or something similar and run RAID 5. There are plenty of threads discussing that approach over the years, and what happened when Infrant was bought by Netgear. Lots of threads about the Drobos, and also about something called unRAID. Look in the Windows HTPC forum and also in the content streamers forum, because those conversations tend to take place over and over again. Everyone eventually gets to the point where their content outgrows the few drives that they have and it's only natural to wonder hey, what's the best way to have all my content in one place that everyone can access. There's no right answer for everyone.
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Anyone have any good recommendations on a decent 4-bay (or larger) enclosure that isn't $500? I've read up on Drobos and sounds like why they are nice they have serious performance issues during playback and as the drive space maxs out.

I don't have a 4 bay model, though I have had a lot of success over the years with 2 bay aluminum Stardom/Sans Digital models with FW, USB and hot-swappable drive trays...I have 4-5 of them and they've been rock solid.

There's a lot of love for Synology Diskstations here at AVS, perhaps look for threads on those, the 2 disc model is quite affordable and would easily meet your needs if you wanted a NAS rather than direct attached storage.

Inexpensive 4 bay USB enclosures, the kind you see on Amazon for a little more than $125 from MediaSonic or Sans Digital, which can hold any combination of 2 or 3TB drives, will work just fine for your needs in JBOD mode, and there's no need for software "RAID" to complicate things. Of course, you can choose to set things up for some sort of disc failure/redundancy, but even if you employed RAID 1 or RAID 5 or a ReadyNAS/Drobo you'd still need backups, you should have some form of insurance to be able to recover if something takes the whole enclosure down. One copy local and attached, a second copy local and disconnected, as much as you can have on iCloud or something like Backblaze, and another copy kept off-site.

Fans, heat, noise, all issues that are very important if you plan to attach an enclosure locally to a Mini in your living room, not so important if you can put the Mini out of sight in a closet somewhere, to run solely as a media server, as you are planning to do.

Can't offer you any advice about a Boxee box, I only have Macs and Apple TVs (some stock, some hacked) throughout our house. I'm probably not a good source of information for you, though, for several reasons--I'm happy to do things, largely, the way Apple wants me to do things...I keep a Mini running 24/7, that means my iTunes library (mainly 750GB of music) is always on and readily available for home sharing to our other Macs, Apple TVs and iOS devices. I probably have 25TB of movies and TV archived, less than 1% of it is "in" iTunes, because of the Mini and AirPlay and apps like Air Video we can watch just about anything we want wherever we want on whatever device we pick up or turn on. I haven't ever tried the "have everything stored in one place on one device" approach.
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post #3 of 5 Old 09-15-2012, 12:43 PM - Thread Starter
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which older Mini do you have?
Mid 2010 Mac-Mini. It works well. The CD drive died 1 year after warranty expired, but otherwise it's been running pretty much 24x7 without any problems for the last 2 years. I believe I can gut it and add a second drive. I'll need to look that up and see if it is worth the effort. I've got 7 various HDs (varying from 500G to 1TB laying around) which I'd rather use than just let them collect dust.
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Apple supports something called AirDisk, plug any number of external USB drives into an Airport Extreme base station
Hadn't thought of this as an option. I may have to investigate this as an alternative, but I do have other reasons for converting the mini to a server and using some of the features that brings to the table.
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No, plain old USB 2, even "AirDisk" USB, is perfectly fast enough for BD MKV rips, as long as what you are streaming to is also wired.
Good to know. I realized after I posted that I had an old USB 2.0 HD sitting around and loaded it up with Watchmen BD and then connected it to the mini and shared it. Had no problems playing back over the network to 1 wired win PC and 1 wireless Mac. So glad to know that will work for me.
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Not too long ago, the "in" thing around here was to get a 4 bay ReadyNAS or something similar and run RAID 5.
Yeah I've gone that route before, in fact one of the boxes I'm replacing is a Win 7 box running a Raid 1 array to serve up our movies. It works very well, but the thing is hot, eats power, and has too big of a footpring. Hence why it is going away. I've looked at standalone NAS, but simply not worth the hassle of one more device to maintain. Especially since the Mini will do everything I need.
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2 bay aluminum Stardom/Sans Digital models with FW, USB and hot-swappable drive trays...I have 4-5 of them and they've been rock solid.
Good to know. I looked at one of the 4-bay Sans Digital models. I'll have to price compare 2 of the 2-bays vs the 4 bay.
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... will work just fine for your needs in JBOD mode, and there's no need for software "RAID" to complicate things.
Thanks, and you're right. I'll skip the SW raid. I really don't need redundancy. Everything is backed up to the cloud (files, photos, and music) and if I loose the videos then I can always re-rip. Since my movie collection is a mish-mash of ISOs, avi's, and MKVs.
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Fans, heat, noise, all issues that are very important if you plan to attach an enclosure locally to a Mini in your living room, not so important if you can put the Mini out of sight in a closet somewhere, to run solely as a media server, as you are planning to do.
Not a problem for me. The mini is going to replace the 2 servers in the spare bedroom. It's the room where the dogs sleep so they can deal with the noise. The house is wired with gigabit ethernet, so it can sit and hum away and generate heat when needed.
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Can't offer you any advice about a Boxee box, I only have Macs and Apple TVs (some stock, some hacked) throughout our house...
Gave some good advice and sanity check, so I appreciate that. My reason for going Boxee is I want simple appliance convenience and the ability to get whatever I want on it, without much hacking. ATV are nice, but I really don't want to hack one and then have to explain to my wife how to navigate between various modes. Also I like the idea of running my antenna through Boxee's live attachement and getting our OTA TV on it.

Now I just need to get a enclosure (or multiple 2 bays) and the boxee and then I can start the surgery on our home network. Thanks again for the help.
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post #4 of 5 Old 09-16-2012, 11:36 AM
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@joepez

A Mini with a Drobo attached to it via USB2 or FireWire is more than fast enough to stream anything. I have done it for years, although I now use a higher end Synology NAS with a mixtures of Minis, ATV's Rokus and a Sony GTV.

You can easily test the streaming speed of such a setup. The last time I checked it was comparable to the Synology, perhaps a bit slower ( the read speed, writing is slower). Direct connected Drobos are great.

Philip
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post #5 of 5 Old 11-19-2012, 05:24 AM
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I have a DROBO and am pretty happy with it. It is connected to my Mini via Firewire. I have had hard drive failures, and you will wish you had the redundancy that JBOD doesn't offer if/when it happens. I have had multiple 1080p streams going out of the DROBO feeding devices simultaneously with no problem. I will admit that it will get choked up if you are streaming to one device, recording to it through EyeTV on another device, and using iTunes (with the iTunes system files stored on the DROBO) on a 3rd device. Everything will still work, but the functionality of iTunes can ben sluggish. I doubt most external drives would do much better. I just bought a new Mini that has a Thunderbolt port but doubt I will be paying to upgrade my DROBO to one with Thunderbolt anytime soon.

I have used a Core2Duo 2.0Ghz Mini from 2009 (I think) to stream Blu-ray rips and do transcoding on the fly for other devices, and it handled things fairly well. In my experience that is about that minimum specs you can rely on when dealing with video files that large, and I doubt the Mini would fair well handling other intensive processes at the same time.

The hacked AppleTV is actually very simple to maneuver. Plex installs just like another app on the screen. It is a very simple device to hack. I have owned a Boxee Box, and a jailbroken Apple TV completely mops the floor with it in features, functionality, and WAF (and my wife is EXTREMELY picky). I don't particularly like being forced into running everything through iTunes, but I like the Apple TV so much (and have 2 iPads in the house) that I am in the process of remuxing everything I have and putting it into iTunes so I can use the newest Apple TV that handles 1080p video (but can't be jailbroken yet) to use through out the house.

I think using your Mini as the server and having front-end devices is ideal as long as you don't need DVR functionality for live TV at each televsion (small, energy efficient, easy to use). I have had a BoxeeBox and think Apple TVs jailbroken or not are smoother and have a higher WAF myself, but too each his own.

GO COLTS!!!
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