Another classic AVS novel/soap opera/technical manual thread. Thanks to everyone for their views, information, and shenanigans. It's great to learn and be entertained at the same time.
I've been toying with the idea of building a media server build for 2009, and was stymied by my own ignorance. You guys have provided a nice education on the subject, and I now feel able to make a somewhat informed decision. Although this thread never made it to an organized "guide" format, it does provide an excellent resource for those like me who are looking to enter the deep waters of modern storage architecture.
At this point I'm strongly leaning toward an unRAID solution for a number of reasons:
1. Reasonable fault tolerance: While I understand that neither RAID nor unRAID can substitute for a proper backup, I feel comfortable with the parity drive and lack of striping in unRAID providing "enough" fault tolerance for my needs, especially as I now have 3+ TB of media files completely unprotected.
2. Ability to use my old hardware: I have a system I'm looking to upgrade that has an Asus A8N-SLI board and an Athlon 3200+. While it's now a dinosaur, it should have plenty of power for an unRAID build, as it's well above their minimum specs. I won't even need an additional SATA card at first, because it has 8 SATA ports built in. This, combined with the ability to use most of my current storage pool and add capacity as needed swayed me toward unRAID even more.
3. Cost: For this build, I'm only out the cost of the Norco case, a hefty power supply, two 1.5 TB seagate drives and the unRAID license. Total cost should be under $800. I currently have 1 1.5 TB and 3 1 TB drives I should be able to reuse, for a total storage pool of 6 TB, and two SATA ports left for expansion before I need to think about an additional controller card.
Thanks again to everyone who contributed, and Happy New Year!
One last thought: There is a huge volume of information in this thread, covering the three major options currently available (e.g. RAID, WHS, unRAID) and their pros and cons. For organizational purposes, it might be nice to keep this thread to go over the pros and cons of the various options available, but then to create actual guide threads dedicated to those options. Since each of these options has vastly different requirements, there's really no way to have a single guide that can cover the major questions and provide hardware suggestions for novices like myself.