IS there a company that builds affordable media servers? - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 29 Old 08-05-2014, 04:46 PM - Thread Starter
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Is there a company that builds affordable media servers?

Requirements:-
- 10-20 hotswap bay media server
- quiet and power efficient
- I'll install a windows server OS
- needs to run any Windows program
- I want to use my existing drives which are NTFS

I have no need for Qnap, Synology etc and their custom storage solutions or other apps. All these cost way too much.

There are many builders like iBuypower, Velocity Micro etc which will build a custom pc for not much more than retail cost of parts. Is there a company that offers custom media servers? I can DIY but would rather not of price premium is not that high.

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post #2 of 29 Old 08-05-2014, 04:58 PM
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You can find some reasonably affordable small scale media servers, but if you're looking for something with 10-20 bays, I highly doubt you'll find a turnkey solution that falls under the umbrella of "affordable."

If you're looking to save money you're going to have to build it yourself. (or ask @Mfusick to do it since he loves to build and support media servers for free)
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RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #3 of 29 Old 08-05-2014, 08:59 PM
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Perhaps not totally free but I'd build one for you
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post #4 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 12:21 PM
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There are a handful of companies that do stuff like that but they are pretty much in the realm of high-end Home Theatre installs. What you want can be made. There exists the technology to build it using off the shelf parts but it's gonna be expensive if you want something sexy. Do you want rack-mount or tower?
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post #5 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 01:04 PM
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If he wants 20 hot swap bays he's probably looking at server chassis. The consumer oriented value stuff like a Norco 4220 is a good bet. I love mine. For $300 hard to beat it.
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post #6 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 01:04 PM
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post #7 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 01:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post
If he wants 20 hot swap bays he's probably looking at server chassis. The consumer oriented value stuff like a Norco 4220 is a good bet. I love mine. For $300 hard to beat it.
Is that with a psu?
Do you use freenas ?
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post #8 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Defcon View Post
I have no need for Qnap, Synology etc and their custom storage solutions or other apps. All these cost way too much.
"Affordable" isn't really an objective metric, since members' individual budgets and priorities are all over the map. Synology is popular around here because they are hard to replicate DIY for less money without cutting major corners. If you want good advice, we need to know which corners you are willing to cut.

What kind of data are you storing?
Do you already have another copy of the data? (original discs/crashplan/etc)
How much processing/transcoding/etc have you done on the data?
Is any of your ripping/downloading/etc scriptable? Would restoring it be labor-intensive?
Are you planning on populating all your bays upfront?
What is your time horizon? Do you need it now or can you troll ebay/craigslist for bargains?
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post #9 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 04:38 PM
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Is that with a psu?
Do you use freenas ?
I use Windows Home Server. I like having the ability to run Windows based programs on my media server directly, like PLEX server or MediaBrowser Server. I also have a ton of automated things happening, and I like the compatibility of windows platform. If you want something, it's available for the windows platform.

I paid $34 for the OS. It's not expensive. I manage it remotely from my desktop with RDP or from my ipad with splashtop app.

I can access server when away from home too, which is a bonus. Also, the windows platform supports FLEXRAID which I also like for a variety of reasons, but mainly it's simple to set up, you can add drives with data already on them, and you can add or remove drives anytime and they are readable in another PC without any data loss or fuss. If a drive fails, I can swap it out and restore it's contents with parity based back up recovery. Speeds are good, basically as fast as your hard drives go. In my case that's faster than my LAN will go most of the time.

I'm at 50TB now. I started at 12TB. The biggest reason why I would reccomend this path is the "grow as you go" ability of the solution. With a lot of NAS or hardware raid it's not quite as easy to keep expanding. I went from 4 hard drives to 20 without much trouble. I bought hard drives one at a time over two years when I found a great deal and needed more storage.

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post #10 of 29 Old 08-06-2014, 04:44 PM
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BTW... upgrading hardware is easy too. I swapped my case from a 10 bay PC tower to a Norco 20 bay hot swap, I swapped my PSU, I swapped my CPU three times from celeron to pentium to i7, swapped my motherboard twice, added two RAID controller cards flashed to be HBA cheap ($65 each) ...

I never worried for a second about data loss and never lost data. Even with major upgrades and rebuilds. Very flexible. You can go as far as you want, or as cheap as you want.

A celeron + mobo + 4gb stick ram, cheap $50 case and PSU might cost you a total of $250 to get up and running. (this was my first flexraid server)

Today I have a 20 bay hot swap, i7 cpu, 8GB ram, etc... I'm thinking about adding on another 20 bays or upgrading, sky is the limit. Anthing in the middle is possible too.

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post #11 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 12:30 AM - Thread Starter
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Mfusick has pretty much echoed a lot of my thoughts - I too am going to run a Windows OS, on which I plan to run MediaBrowser server, transcoding, downloading etc. I do have a WSE 2012 license, but haven't bought FlexRaid yet.

My data size is about 16TB now, of which only ~7TB is backed up using various external drives but its getting expensive and even though I like the safety and simplicity of a 1:1 copy, I can't really afford to continue and must go for a parity based solution (RAID is out, as are any custom disk formats as used in WHS, Storage Spaces, Qnap, Synology etc). Natively readable disks are a must. I did consider unRaid briefly, but running MB3 is essential too and I am no Linux expert.

And now its time for a shameful confession I actually bought one of TAMSolutions 24 bay hotswap servers (AMD based) from the giant thread here. I also bought a Seasonic PSU and AMD Opteron cpu to replace, but well, to cut a long story short, it didn't really work out, the PSU didn't fit etc, one of my replacement fans wouldn't power on etc, and to be honest I haven't spend a lot of time trying to fix it since I got busy. I know the server itself is good since it boots up.

I've built plenty of pc's so I'm no stranger to that, but I'm more of a 'buy parts and assemble them', I don't feel comfortable modding things. Then I keep reading about things like the included SATA expansion cards running too hot etc.

So it looks like I have 2 options - 1) fix the server I have, 2) build a new one, and 3) use my existing desktop pc but with bigger hard drives, which will just be a stopgap solution.

My budget is $400-500. Timeframe is a month or so, since my current data isn't online all the time (its on too many disks), and I'd really like to have a media server with all my media available.

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post #12 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 03:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post
I also have a ton of automated things happening
Are you serious? If so then you've changed some stuff. What sort of things?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mfusick View Post
If you want something, it's available for the windows platform.
I've been wanting to use compiz and zfs on windows Can't ever find them
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post #13 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 03:27 AM
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Mfusick has pretty much echoed a lot of my thoughts - I too am going to run a Windows OS, on which I plan to run MediaBrowser server, transcoding, downloading etc. I do have a WSE 2012 license, but haven't bought FlexRaid yet.

My data size is about 16TB now, of which only ~7TB is backed up using various external drives but its getting expensive and even though I like the safety and simplicity of a 1:1 copy, I can't really afford to continue and must go for a parity based solution (RAID is out, as are any custom disk formats as used in WHS, Storage Spaces, Qnap, Synology etc). Natively readable disks are a must. I did consider unRaid briefly, but running MB3 is essential too and I am no Linux expert.

And now its time for a shameful confession I actually bought one of TAMSolutions 24 bay hotswap servers (AMD based) from the giant thread here. I also bought a Seasonic PSU and AMD Opteron cpu to replace, but well, to cut a long story short, it didn't really work out, the PSU didn't fit etc, one of my replacement fans wouldn't power on etc, and to be honest I haven't spend a lot of time trying to fix it since I got busy. I know the server itself is good since it boots up.

I've built plenty of pc's so I'm no stranger to that, but I'm more of a 'buy parts and assemble them', I don't feel comfortable modding things. Then I keep reading about things like the included SATA expansion cards running too hot etc.

So it looks like I have 2 options - 1) fix the server I have, 2) build a new one, and 3) use my existing desktop pc but with bigger hard drives, which will just be a stopgap solution.

My budget is $400-500. Timeframe is a month or so, since my current data isn't online all the time (its on too many disks), and I'd really like to have a media server with all my media available.

For your budget, getting the TAMSolutions server up and running is probably going to be your best bet. I don't remember the exact specs of those servers, but I seem to recall they were SuperMicro servers, that unmodified were on the hot/loud/energy hungry persuasion. Even with modding I think it might be tough to get it truly quiet, because of the cooling all those hard drives will require, but you should certainly be able to bring it down a few notches from jet-engine levels of noise.

As you seem to have already discovered, replacing the power supply and fans are a good start. I assume you were attempting to perform the mod from the first post of the norco alternative thread in order to get a standard ATX PSU in there. An ATX won't fit in that case in terms of being a bolt on replacement, but you should be able secure it with some double sided foam tape and it will be a lot easier on your ears. As far as the rear fans and the fans on the internal fanwall, they could be replaced with quieter fans obviously but it appears they are PWM fans, so in theory you could just run them at a slower speed. I'm not sure about the particular board in that server, but I know my old Dual Opteron SuperMicro workstation had a similar board in it and it was also insanely loud until I wnet into the bios and change the fan control settings.

Then you have the question about what to do with the other "guts" of that server. As is, it should do pretty much whatever you want for traditional storage server duties. But I'm not sure how well that Opteron will handle transcoding duties. I suspect it could handle "light" transcoding duties, but if you're going to be doing multiple HD transcodes at once, I doubt it would be up for that.

If you need to do a lot of transcoding, you have a couple options...

1) Upgrade your CPU. That motherboard can handle up to 2 6-core Opterons, and I'm assuming that MB3 Server is multithreaded well enough to scale well on multiple cores, so you could drop in another 2212, or replace the existing CPU with a 4 or 6 core model. This is probably the cheapest and easiest, but you'll still be running old technology, and finding upgrade parts for the CPU could be tricky.

2) Ditch the motherboard and get something more current. This is going to be more difficult, and likely more expensive. If you replace the motherboard, it is unlikely that you'll find anything that has 3 (or any) PCI-X slots on it. That means in addition to buying a new motherboard, and CPU and RAM, you'll also need to figure out how you're going to connect 24 SATA ports to the new board because the old cards won't work in new motherboards. (and board you find that has PCI-X slots is probably older, and if it is current, it's probably outrageously expensive) You could of course get the IBM cards that everyone around here is using, and either flash them yourself, or buy them already preflashed to the LSI firmware that will allow you to use them as normal HBA cards instead of RAID adapters. If you go down that road the costs start adding up pretty quickly though, and you'll find yourself at the $500 mark before you know it.

As far as building a new one goes, it is an option, but given your stated budget and requirements , I don't think it is a realistic one. (even if you could piece one together for that price, I doubt it would be able to match the TAM server you already have)

One other option would be to get something like this and something like this and one of the aforementioned IBMm1015 flashed RAID cards, and connect it to pretty much any PC you want, and you can add 16 drives to pretty much whatever computer you want. since the external solution is using an expander backplane, you won't necessarily get full read/write performance if you're trying to use all 16 drives at once (It'll be using 4 3Gbps links total) so things like parity calculations on FlexRAID might take longer, but should still be plenty fast to saturate your network. It also has the advantage of being able to just pop in a 2nd internal to external bracket (or start with a double bracket instead) and then all you need to do is buy another storage array, and you're good to go for another 16 drives. If my math is right, you could get the SATA card, the double bracket, and 2 of the 16 bay storage units and still come in at under $500.

RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.

Last edited by ajhieb; 08-07-2014 at 03:31 AM.
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post #14 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 06:37 AM
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Defcon where do you live ?

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post #15 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 01:57 PM - Thread Starter
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Defcon where do you live ?
Bay Area in California
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post #16 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 02:01 PM
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Are you serious? If so then you've changed some stuff. What sort of things?

I've been wanting to use compiz and zfs on windows Can't ever find them
Nobody would want to run ZFS on Windows even if they could...
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post #17 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 02:15 PM - Thread Starter
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.. snip ..

One other option would be to get something like this and something like this and one of the aforementioned IBMm1015 flashed RAID cards, and connect it to pretty much any PC you want, and you can add 16 drives to pretty much whatever computer you want. since the external solution is using an expander backplane, you won't necessarily get full read/write performance if you're trying to use all 16 drives at once (It'll be using 4 3Gbps links total) so things like parity calculations on FlexRAID might take longer, but should still be plenty fast to saturate your network. It also has the advantage of being able to just pop in a 2nd internal to external bracket (or start with a double bracket instead) and then all you need to do is buy another storage array, and you're good to go for another 16 drives. If my math is right, you could get the SATA card, the double bracket, and 2 of the 16 bay storage units and still come in at under $500.
This seems like an extremely doable option, thanks! I also have an LSI SAS3081E-R card (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16816118100) which I'd picked up on ebay a while back (as you can guess my plans for a home server are old but never finished). Can this be flashed to M1015 firmware and work?

Specs of my current desktop pc - Abit IP35 Pro motherboard, Q6600 cpu, 6GB RAM. Its plenty fast enough to do transcoding, so if I'm able to add the SAS card, RAID card, and the SE3016 array, it'd be perfect. And I can continue to use Windows 8.1 already installed.

But I need to figure out if all the cards will fit. The specs on the motherboard say -
1 x PCI-E X16, 1 x PCI-E X16 (x4 bandwidth)
1 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI

Right now it has a video card and an eSata expansion card. Cost would be <$200.
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post #18 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 08:50 PM
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This seems like an extremely doable option, thanks! I also have an LSI SAS3081E-R card (http://www.newegg.com/Product/Produc...82E16816118100) which I'd picked up on ebay a while back (as you can guess my plans for a home server are old but never finished). Can this be flashed to M1015 firmware and work?

Specs of my current desktop pc - Abit IP35 Pro motherboard, Q6600 cpu, 6GB RAM. Its plenty fast enough to do transcoding, so if I'm able to add the SAS card, RAID card, and the SE3016 array, it'd be perfect. And I can continue to use Windows 8.1 already installed.

But I need to figure out if all the cards will fit. The specs on the motherboard say -
1 x PCI-E X16, 1 x PCI-E X16 (x4 bandwidth)
1 x PCI Express x1
3 x PCI

Right now it has a video card and an eSata expansion card. Cost would be <$200.
From what I can tell the card itself should be fine, no flashing needed. It's ready to roll as a plain HBA. The potential problem is the PCIe configuration. It is a PCIe x8 So it will need to plug into an x8 or x16 slot. I'm assuming that your graphics card is plugged into the graphics slot which just leaves you with the x16 that is actually an x4. And honestly I'm sure if thta card will work as an x4 device or not. Some will, some won't. My suggestion since you already have the card and board would be to try it and see. It shouldn't harm anything. If it is detected and drivers install, you should be fine. It will technically be running with 1/2 the available bandwidth but of most of the access to the drives are going to be via your network, it won't matter.

RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #19 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 10:13 PM
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Bay Area in California
If you wanted to ship me want you have so far I'd be willing to retrofit, modify, and configure it for you for the lowest cost and satisfactory result for your intended purpose. Pay me minimally for my time and shipping is all I'd ask. I have no problem helping out a fellow AVS forum member or paying it forward.

If you want to try to do it yourself I'll walk you through that happily for free too. Can you tell me a little more about you intended results? I'll see if I have some suggestions

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post #20 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 10:16 PM
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Edit: ajhiebs link is interesting but do those backplanes and hardware support more than 2TB drives?

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post #21 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 10:27 PM
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Edit: ajhiebs link is interesting but do those backplanes and hardware support more than 2TB drives?
The backplanes support whatever size drives you want to put in them. The notion that they don't arises from the LSI 8888ELP that is often bundled with the enclosure. That particular LSI controller doesn't support > 2TB drives, but the backplane has no problems at all according to many reports. The only limitation to the backplane that I'm aware of is it is limited to 3Gbps links, instead of 6Gps (as already noted above)
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RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #22 of 29 Old 08-07-2014, 11:31 PM
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The backplanes support whatever size drives you want to put in them. The notion that they don't arises from the LSI 8888ELP that is often bundled with the enclosure. That particular LSI controller doesn't support > 2TB drives, but the backplane has no problems at all according to many reports. The only limitation to the backplane that I'm aware of is it is limited to 3Gbps links, instead of 6Gps (as already noted above)
[hey DefCon... i'm in the Bay Area too]

I/O architectures are not in my wheelhouse.... if the links are 3GBs... does this mean each drive can (in theory) independently reach that throughput through the SAS link. Poking around it seems the SAS links can run at 12GBs(??) so I can run 4 drives "at speed"? Obviously that's gonna fill a couple of 1Gig ethernet ports pretty quickly but what about local I/O (e.g. transcoding, scene detection, backups)... I've not done any real-life measurement of this stuff so maybe these are just theoretical concerns but it feels like the pipes are a bit narrow. Am I off base? Feels like buying smaller cages and using multiple SAS cables would spread the load out a little better.
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post #23 of 29 Old 08-08-2014, 12:10 AM
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[hey DefCon... i'm in the Bay Area too]

I/O architectures are not in my wheelhouse.... if the links are 3GBs... does this mean each drive can (in theory) independently reach that throughput through the SAS link. Poking around it seems the SAS links can run at 12GBs(??) so I can run 4 drives "at speed"? Obviously that's gonna fill a couple of 1Gig ethernet ports pretty quickly but what about local I/O (e.g. transcoding, scene detection, backups)... I've not done any real-life measurement of this stuff so maybe these are just theoretical concerns but it feels like the pipes are a bit narrow. Am I off base? Feels like buying smaller cages and using multiple SAS cables would spread the load out a little better.
That's going to depend on how your system is configured.

If you're running a conventional RAID array, with distributed data, then the Expander could prove to be a bottleneck for most operations. The array may be capable of reading at 50Gbps, but it would be limited to 12Gbps by the backplane. So in your scenario of doing scene detection, it could prove to be slower than if every drive had an independent connection to the HBA. From a practical standpoint, the 12Gbps is still going to be way faster than any one drive you might have been reading from. In general, all your I/O activity on that array should be significantly faster than a single drive, but won't ever be as fast as if the array was on a non-expander HBA/Raid Controller.

If you're running a FlexRAID style array, where the data is not distributed, then any individual drive you access will be running at full speed. That will also be the case for simultaneous drive access, up to a point. Once the pipe gets saturated, that's all you're going to get. From a usage standpoint It's unlikely you'd independently be accessing all 16 drives at once. When using only a few drives, you shouldn't see much of a difference. The big difference would be for doing things like parity checks and updates. That would be the one scenario I can think of where you would realistically be accessing all 16 drives at once.

So depending on how you have the array configured, it could make an impact, or it might not make a very big difference at all.

This is boils down to a cost vs. performance decision, and that's going to be up to the individual. Everybody uses their storage arrays differently and everyone has a different threshold for what they consider fast or slow.

RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #24 of 29 Old 08-08-2014, 10:44 PM - Thread Starter
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So my LSI controller is out since it doesn't support drives > 2TB. The controllers that come with the SuperMicro server do (at least what I read, after flashing new drivers) but they are PCI-X which is very rare.

So it seems to me my best bet is to buy a controller card off eBay. I saw many newer Dells, e.g. many of the ones listes here - http://forums.servethehome.com/index...cy-mapping.19/, going for ~$100. e.g. something like Dell Perc H310.
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post #25 of 29 Old 08-09-2014, 01:47 AM
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So my LSI controller is out since it doesn't support drives > 2TB. The controllers that come with the SuperMicro server do (at least what I read, after flashing new drivers) but they are PCI-X which is very rare.

So it seems to me my best bet is to buy a controller card off eBay. I saw many newer Dells, e.g. many of the ones listes here - http://forums.servethehome.com/index...cy-mapping.19/, going for ~$100. e.g. something like Dell Perc H310.
Yea, the PercH310 should be good, and it is evidently flashable to the LSI firmware that will allow it to act as a normal HBA.

RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #26 of 29 Old 08-09-2014, 01:54 AM - Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the help ajhieb!

One more thing, are the SE3016 enclosures loud? (since they are meant for server rooms). The SM server I have is extremely loud, I can hear it 2 rooms away at night. Am I going to end up in the same situation, replacing PSU and fans?
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post #27 of 29 Old 08-09-2014, 01:58 AM
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And now its time for a shameful confession I actually bought one of TAMSolutions 24 bay hotswap servers (AMD based)
If the one you got is the Supermicro version, I would strongly suggest you keep it and modernize it as much as your budget allows. Those Supermicro chassis are pretty much the best you will find.

For a media server you do want hot swap disk drives. You already have a hotswap server case and not using it would be a waste.

How much you need to modify it is going to depend on noise, energy and performance considerations. The fans and power supplies are loud, but that won't matter if you are able to locate the server in a place where nobody will hear it. If you have to put it somewhere close to humans, you may have to do something about the power supplies and fans. Sometimes you can get Supermicro's newer, much quieter power supplies through eBay, or you can rip out the redundant power supplies and replace them with standard ATX. One other way of reducing the noise from the power supplies is to simply just use one and pull out the other 2. You will need to switch some jumpers in order to switch off the power supply fail alarm.

I don't think those older Supermicros have PWM fans, they are probably just the three pin variant. I suggest you replace the existing motherboard with one that offers fine-tuned fan control, such as one from the Asus TUF series. This of course will require a new processor and RAM, but the added benefit of this is that the new components will run a lot cooler and use less energy which will allow you to run the fans slower resulting in less fan noise. If the fans are 3 pin and cannot be controlled by the motherboard, you can install some cheap in line fan controllers or voltage attenuators.

If you plan to use the server as mainly a file server with little or no encoding or transcoding, you don't need a high-end processor. In this case I recommend you go with AMD, you get motherboards with more features and SATA ports for the same or likely less money. No need to support Intel's inflated pricing.

Get some IBM 1015 or Dell 310 storage controllers. You have a 24 bay chassis with individual ports so you are going to need a total of 24 SATA ports between your motherboard and HBA cards. If your new motherboard has 8 ports you will need two of the IBM or Dell cards. Another reason to use AMD is that the motherboard will be a lot cheaper than with Intel. Look at the Gigabyte F2A88 series, they are great consumer server boards.

This may go slightly above your budget because the Dell or IBM cards are about $100 each. But you're going to blow your budget even more if you decide to go with completely new parts.
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post #28 of 29 Old 08-09-2014, 02:10 AM
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Thanks for all the help ajhieb!

One more thing, are the SE3016 enclosures loud? (since they are meant for server rooms). The SM server I have is extremely loud, I can hear it 2 rooms away at night. Am I going to end up in the same situation, replacing PSU and fans?
If you watch the video here:


It's predominantly about the 1U server on top, but about 3 minutes in he fires up the Storage Enclosure and it's barely audibly (the 1U server however is not) There's on'y a few seconds of time between when he turns on the storage box and the server, but in that time, I can barely hear it. Opinions vary though on what is loud so I'll let you decide.

RAID protection is only for failed drives. That's it. It's no replacement for a proper backup.
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post #29 of 29 Old 08-09-2014, 07:37 AM
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I'm looking for an add on chassis myself. I'll probably end up just using a second Norco 4220. I kind of wish I got the 4224 now.... 4 more drives would be perfect for me.

If you wanted a gently used Norco case I'd sell you mine and upgrade, even do the build or config for free. But shipping is a bitch! I played with the idea of selling it on ebay or something but after shipping I'd just get killed on it. It's only a little more to just buy another (and keep it).

politby had some good comments. He's been around the circle too, actually upgraded his case a few times. I'd value what he has to say or trust his opinion .

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"Too much is almost enough. Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards."
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