Originally Posted by goros
My XPA-5, 3 UPA-2's, and 4311ci are all in the basement and I have a harmony 900 that controls everything. I'll be using a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse and some sort of IR blaster to control it.
tech understanding isn't an issue, but I don't work with the stuff every day. I do research for a few months before pulling the trigger on anything. Both of my existing pc's use hardware raid currently and I have raid 1, 5 and 10 operating depending on the box. I was looking at hardware based raid6 but decided against it because of the cost of the card.
Yeah, hardware RAID is so "last decade".
Most people nowadays use hardware RAID cards in JBOD mode and use software RAID.
I'm glad that you are going to take your time. Start reading up on FlexRAID it's good to start out with. It can be difficult to wrap your mind around snapshot RAID coming from a real-time RAID background. As mfusik says, WHS is a good platform to start from. If you are Microsoft-adverse then there are good Linux and Solaris (*cough* ZFS) alternatives.
I've also never had a need to add external HDD storage in a raid configuration and don't know what parts to install in the main pc box to operate the 20hdd box.
If you aren't planning on filling up the 20 drives from the outset, then FlexRAID offers a good upgrade path. Each disk you add brings more storage, and you just recompute the parity. With ZFS you would add a set of drives at a time to the pool depending on your strategy. For instance, if you are mirroring drives, you add them two at a time. If you are RAIDz-ing then you add them at a minimum of 3 at a time. With ZFS there is no parity recompute, it's instant storage.
I'm looking for seamless integration with existing components. There is no place for an HTPC to be visible and acceptable to the wife unit, so it's hiding. Not to mention, I already have the case and PSU.
You can get some really nice purposely-designed HTPC cases that look just like regular stereo components. If your wife-unit is like most others, they just want it to work, so I still highly suggest separating the duties. Otherwise, if you have to work on the "server" and it's also the main HTPC, you take down everything.
Details on flexraid? Just runs in win7 and makes it go?
Any advice on additional software to integrate into win7 that will help organize and stream to my IPad or other pc's/laptops/360?
There is a lot of options out there. Probably the easiest to setup is Windows Media Center for TV/DVR duties, and movie watching. The 360 integrates perfectly with WMC to provide a true whole-home DVR solution. If you have a server back-end then all PCs can access the content at the same time. You can throw Plex on a machine somewhere (HTPC, server, whatever) to transcode and stream to devices like an iPad/iPhone, Android device, SmartTVs, Roku boxes, you name it.
Most of this stuff is free or built into the OS, so you have nothing to lose by experimenting a bit.
You asked about a sound card in your original post, and if you have HDMI equipment, A motherboard with HDMI out or a discrete video card with HDMI out is going to be the easiest solution. No sound card needed, as HDMI will stream the bit-perfect digital audio to your AVR.
Also, more slower cores (2ghz hex core) or fewer faster cores (3ghz quad core)?
The answer is "it depends" and is always up for debate around here. If you still want to do an all-in-one, then an i5/i7 is great for transcoding on-the-fly. If you are building a single-purpose HTPC, then you can get away with something simpler. This really all depends on how far you want to take video quality, as there is plenty of alternative packages of software that can take advantage of higher-speced hardware to push the envelope of video quality. Your wife may not care about squeezing every last drop of performance/quality out of a HTPC, but I have a feeling that you might.