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post #1 of 18 Old 06-19-2014, 06:56 AM - Thread Starter
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Media server on a budget

I've recently decided to throw a bit of money at a problem I've been having for quite some time now. My desktop PC is currently pulling duty as a Plex media server, PlayOn server, media storage center, gaming, email, office, etc. All of this is starting to take its toll of the performance of said desktop, manifesting itself as slow framerates while gaming, hiccups while watching media off it, and other random issues. Part of the problem is that the PC is getting old and just doesn't have the horsepower to perform all of those duties. So, I've decided to move all the media related stuff to another PC. This is what I've come up with.

My primary considerations are:
- Price. I have a pretty limited budget
- Performance. No point spending money if there's not going to be any improvement.
- Expandability. I'd like to be able to do more with this setup in the future.
- Storage. I'd like to throw at least 8TB of storage in there eventually.
- Reliability.
- Headless system. No mouse, kb, monitor. I'll use remote management.

I'll be using it to stream media both locally and remotely. Local devices are all wired GB Ethernet. I've got a Sony NSZ-GS7 GoogleTV box on my living room TV. The GF has my old Logitech Revue at her place. We also both stream on our phones and laptops, and I use my Nexus 7 3G as well.

Media is a combination of local files and remote services. PlayOn for streaming services that block the GoogleTV and Android browsers and Plex for local files. Local files are everything from SD TV shows with stereo audio to 1080p bit for bit Blu Ray rips. The later being the current issue. When I try to watch a Blu Ray rip, the video stutters. When I look at the CPU monitor on the PC, all 4 cores are at 90% or higher utilization.

With that in mind, I started my search. The only other working parts I had were from my previous desktop, an AMD Athlon 64 x2 6400+. A beast in its day, not so much anymore. Dual core, strike one. 125w TDP, strike 2. 1811 PassMark score, strike 3. Looked at upgrading, but a new board, chip, and Ram were going to set me back $400 for a Haswell quad core i5 with a decent mobo and 4 gigs of ram. Was going to go that route until I started looking at off the shelf PCs and realized that for $100 more I could get a new machine with the same i5, more ram, 1TB of space to start out with and a warranty.

I ended up taking the third option, a refurbished server. For less than the upgrade cost I ended up getting a HP Z400 workstation. Not ideal, but a cheap proof of concept. And if it works out and I do decide to go for something with more horsepower an IT guy I know offered to buy it off me for what I paid for it.

HP Z400
- Intel Xeon X5650 6 core CPU. 2.7GHz, Turbo speed 3.1GHz. PassMark score 7669.
- 6GB triple channel DDR3 RAM (3x 2GB sticks, still have 3 slots open)
- nVidia Quadro NVS 295 video card
- 250GB Enterprise class HDD
- DVD drive
- 475 watt 80plus PSU
- Windows 7 Pro 64 bit

This was a compromise in a few ways. First off, not the CPU architecture I would've gone for. Really wanted something a tad more modern. And a 95W TDP isn't exactly ideal for something that's going to be on all the time. But, its got the horsepower I wanted and it was cheap. Going to ditch the video card for an old nVidia 6200 or something I've got lying around. The Quadro card is unnecessary. Its also passively cooled and the heatsink gets quite warm. Hard drive is a bit small and a bit slow, but it is just for the OS and media server software. PSU is a bit smaller than I'd like, but I've got an 800 lying around that I can swap in if need be. The case isn't ideal either. Total of 6 drive bays (2x 3.5, 4x 5.25) and the DVD drive is occupying one of them. Additionally, its based off an older design that had a floppy drive, but the bay is now covered with the front panel and was converted to an internal only 5.25 bay.

On the plus side, it did come with a Win7 Pro license and the mobo supports hardware RAID, although the SATA controller is only 3GB/s. Onboard LAN is Broadcom, was hoping for Intel.

As of right now, its just sitting on the dining room table running. Haven't yet purchased hard drives. Want to make sure its stable before I go any further with it. This is actually a replacement for one that was shipped with a bad memory controller.

I'm going to be posting my experiences with it here and try to keep a running tally on what I've spent on the project. Please feel free to ask any questions, post comments, concerns, etc.
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post #2 of 18 Old 06-19-2014, 09:34 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmystikcfl View Post
I've recently decided to throw a bit of money at a problem I've been having for quite some time now. My desktop PC is currently pulling duty as a Plex media server, PlayOn server, media storage center, gaming, email, office, etc. All of this is starting to take its toll of the performance of said desktop, manifesting itself as slow framerates while gaming, hiccups while watching media off it, and other random issues. Part of the problem is that the PC is getting old and just doesn't have the horsepower to perform all of those duties. So, I've decided to move all the media related stuff to another PC. This is what I've come up with.

My primary considerations are:
- Price. I have a pretty limited budget
- Performance. No point spending money if there's not going to be any improvement.
- Expandability. I'd like to be able to do more with this setup in the future.
- Storage. I'd like to throw at least 8TB of storage in there eventually.
- Reliability.
- Headless system. No mouse, kb, monitor. I'll use remote management.

I'll be using it to stream media both locally and remotely. Local devices are all wired GB Ethernet. I've got a Sony NSZ-GS7 GoogleTV box on my living room TV. The GF has my old Logitech Revue at her place. We also both stream on our phones and laptops, and I use my Nexus 7 3G as well.

Media is a combination of local files and remote services. PlayOn for streaming services that block the GoogleTV and Android browsers and Plex for local files. Local files are everything from SD TV shows with stereo audio to 1080p bit for bit Blu Ray rips. The later being the current issue. When I try to watch a Blu Ray rip, the video stutters. When I look at the CPU monitor on the PC, all 4 cores are at 90% or higher utilization.

With that in mind, I started my search. The only other working parts I had were from my previous desktop, an AMD Athlon 64 x2 6400+. A beast in its day, not so much anymore. Dual core, strike one. 125w TDP, strike 2. 1811 PassMark score, strike 3. Looked at upgrading, but a new board, chip, and Ram were going to set me back $400 for a Haswell quad core i5 with a decent mobo and 4 gigs of ram. Was going to go that route until I started looking at off the shelf PCs and realized that for $100 more I could get a new machine with the same i5, more ram, 1TB of space to start out with and a warranty.

I ended up taking the third option, a refurbished server. For less than the upgrade cost I ended up getting a HP Z400 workstation. Not ideal, but a cheap proof of concept. And if it works out and I do decide to go for something with more horsepower an IT guy I know offered to buy it off me for what I paid for it.

HP Z400
- Intel Xeon X5650 6 core CPU. 2.7GHz, Turbo speed 3.1GHz. PassMark score 7669.
- 6GB triple channel DDR3 RAM (3x 2GB sticks, still have 3 slots open)
- nVidia Quadro NVS 295 video card
- 250GB Enterprise class HDD
- DVD drive
- 475 watt 80plus PSU
- Windows 7 Pro 64 bit

This was a compromise in a few ways. First off, not the CPU architecture I would've gone for. Really wanted something a tad more modern. And a 95W TDP isn't exactly ideal for something that's going to be on all the time. But, its got the horsepower I wanted and it was cheap. Going to ditch the video card for an old nVidia 6200 or something I've got lying around. The Quadro card is unnecessary. Its also passively cooled and the heatsink gets quite warm. Hard drive is a bit small and a bit slow, but it is just for the OS and media server software. PSU is a bit smaller than I'd like, but I've got an 800 lying around that I can swap in if need be. The case isn't ideal either. Total of 6 drive bays (2x 3.5, 4x 5.25) and the DVD drive is occupying one of them. Additionally, its based off an older design that had a floppy drive, but the bay is now covered with the front panel and was converted to an internal only 5.25 bay.

On the plus side, it did come with a Win7 Pro license and the mobo supports hardware RAID, although the SATA controller is only 3GB/s. Onboard LAN is Broadcom, was hoping for Intel.

As of right now, its just sitting on the dining room table running. Haven't yet purchased hard drives. Want to make sure its stable before I go any further with it. This is actually a replacement for one that was shipped with a bad memory controller.

I'm going to be posting my experiences with it here and try to keep a running tally on what I've spent on the project. Please feel free to ask any questions, post comments, concerns, etc.
I think you are really overstating needs for a headless media server.

The least expensive i3 or even a Richland CPU paired with a decent motherboard would do just fine for relatively little money. The only performance consideration is probably transcoding video by Plex and any of these can handle that as long as you are not pushing too many simultaneous streams. No need for a video card since the onboard will be fine when you aren't just running headless so there is no additional heat and you can get away with fewer fans.

Memory can be fairly minimal, too, unless you look at some kind of ZFS system.

If you've got a case, PSU and just carrying drives over, then a server can be built for under $200.
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post #3 of 18 Old 06-20-2014, 10:41 AM - Thread Starter
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Transcoding is a must in my setup. There's just no way around it without some serious sacrifices to quality or maintaining multiple copies of the media. Some of the viewing is going to be done off the network, on a mobile device or at the gf's apartment. I tend to watch some of the recorded TV shows at work off my phone using an MHL adapter. She watches shows on a Logitech Revue GoogleTV box on her TV.

The old i5 only really chugged down when both of us were watching stuff or when either of us tried to watch a Blu Ray rip. I do realize that some of the specs are overkill. I don't need a Quadro card or 6GB of ram, but that's how the machine came. It was a refurbed workstation, I didn't have any choices. It was really cheap though and came with a licensed copy of Win7.
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post #4 of 18 Old 07-04-2014, 05:00 AM - Thread Starter
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In a stroke of pure luck I stumbled upon a WD Mainstream 3TB drive for only $78 out the door. 2 problems arose as a result. First, they only had one left (otherwise I probably would've bought 2 or 3.) Second, the SATA controller on the Z400 only supports up to 2TB drives. All it sees is the space beyond 2TB.

So, I find myself left with 2 options. Either I get a PCI-e SATA card and run any other large drives I get my hands on off of it. Or, I sell the Z400 and put the money back into new components. Unless anyone can give me a third option.
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post #5 of 18 Old 07-04-2014, 11:00 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmystikcfl View Post
In a stroke of pure luck I stumbled upon a WD Mainstream 3TB drive for only $78 out the door. 2 problems arose as a result. First, they only had one left (otherwise I probably would've bought 2 or 3.) Second, the SATA controller on the Z400 only supports up to 2TB drives. All it sees is the space beyond 2TB.

So, I find myself left with 2 options. Either I get a PCI-e SATA card and run any other large drives I get my hands on off of it. Or, I sell the Z400 and put the money back into new components. Unless anyone can give me a third option.
Your issue is probably just a BIOS issue and won't support a BOOT DRIVE larger than 2TB. If you can boot from something else, you should probably be able to use the full 3TB once you are into the OS.
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post #6 of 18 Old 07-04-2014, 12:01 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm still using the 250GB drive it came with as a boot drive. The 3TB is a secondary drive. BIOS shows it as 746GB and when I initialized the disk in Windows Disk Manager it shows the same. I have updated the BIOS on the off chance that would help, but it didn't.

If anyone knows a way to get Windows to recognize the disk as a 3TB drive without changing hardware, please let me know.
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post #7 of 18 Old 07-04-2014, 06:10 PM
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How old is the PC? There must be a setting somewhere to change in the BiOS. Even my old PCs from six years ago have no issue with 3TB and 4TB drives. Windows shouldn't have any issue with those size drives.

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post #8 of 18 Old 07-04-2014, 06:59 PM
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On my older system it was necessary to change from IDE to AHCI in the BIOS settings to enable support for larger drives.
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post #9 of 18 Old 07-05-2014, 08:35 AM - Thread Starter
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Already have it set up for AHCI in BIOS. I just don't think that the BIOS supports the 3TB drive. The BIOS shows it as 746GB as well. I think that's the root of my issue.

According to the warranty support, the machine is from 09/2010.

This is going to sound like a stupid question, but will windows address the full 3TB of the drive if the BIOS doesn't see it?
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post #10 of 18 Old 07-05-2014, 08:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jmystikcfl View Post
In a stroke of pure luck I stumbled upon a WD Mainstream 3TB drive for only $78 out the door. 2 problems arose as a result. First, they only had one left (otherwise I probably would've bought 2 or 3.) Second, the SATA controller on the Z400 only supports up to 2TB drives. All it sees is the space beyond 2TB.

So, I find myself left with 2 options. Either I get a PCI-e SATA card and run any other large drives I get my hands on off of it. Or, I sell the Z400 and put the money back into new components. Unless anyone can give me a third option.
Why do you need this much space? I have a 1TB NAS that I have been putting movies and television shows onto for five years and the thing still is not full. I'll upgrade to 2TB soon enough because the thing is just getting old but 3TB is a lot of data.
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post #11 of 18 Old 07-05-2014, 09:06 AM - Thread Starter
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The 3TB drive was actually as cheap as a 2. Ideally, I'd like to end up with about 6-10TB down the road but that may end up being more trouble than its worth. I'd also like to be able to rip some of my box set Blu Rays so I don't have to keep going into the nice boxes and can display them (the Bond 50 box is particularly nice, and a particular pain the rear). Some of those Blu Ray rips can get into the 30-40GB range. This machine will also hopefully serve as my DVR down the road, thus space will be needed for that.
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post #12 of 18 Old 07-05-2014, 03:16 PM
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Why do you need this much space? I have a 1TB NAS that I have been putting movies and television shows onto for five years and the thing still is not full. I'll upgrade to 2TB soon enough because the thing is just getting old but 3TB is a lot of data.
You're joking aren't you? I couldn't imagine having only 2B of storage. 2TB is only enough for me to store 65 BD rips.
Even back in 2002 I had more network storage. I had twelve drives in a tower PC for 3TB of network storage. I used it for the OTA HD recordings I made between 2001 and 2005 with my HiPix cards.

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post #13 of 18 Old 07-05-2014, 06:41 PM - Thread Starter
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I'm an idiot. The default install of Windows didn't properly recognize the RAID controller. Installed proper drivers and it recognized the full 3TB drive.

That said, I've migrated about 1TB of video over to the new machine and tested some of it out. I can now play 1080p Blu Ray rips without stuttering!

Edit: In case anyone's interested, the RAID controller driver that was originally there was dated from 2009. Took some research to find the correct driver, HP doesn't document them very well.

Last edited by jmystikcfl; 07-06-2014 at 06:39 AM.
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Small update. All media has been copied over to the new machine. I've installed PlayOn, PlayLater and Plex on the new machine and shut down the services on my desktop. All seems to be well thus far. Going to try and test some remote streaming while I'm at work today. Monday I'm going to go into my closet 'o spares to find a different video card and extra case fan. It came with one on the back, but I want one on the front too.

Have a small network topology question. I don't think its going to matter, but is there any reason the server should be plugged into the router directly rather than a switch? A few years ago I wired the house for gigabit Ethernet. In the office closet is my cable modem, Netgear WNDR-3700 router, and an 8 port gigabit switch. I've got a free port on each. Does it matter if I plug the server into the router or switch?
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You're joking aren't you? I couldn't imagine having only 2B of storage. 2TB is only enough for me to store 65 BD rips.
Even back in 2002 I had more network storage. I had twelve drives in a tower PC for 3TB of network storage. I used it for the OTA HD recordings I made between 2001 and 2005 with my HiPix cards.
No I'm not. I have something like 300 television shows and 75 movies on my NAS, most @ 720P, some 1080P, and a few lower. Haven't filled it up yet and actually have a lot I need to delete. That's on the 1TB drive. I'm just upgrading because the drive is getting old. I really don't have a need to go bigger.
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No I'm not. I have something like 300 television shows and 75 movies on my NAS, most @ 720P, some 1080P, and a few lower. Haven't filled it up yet and actually have a lot I need to delete. That's on the 1TB drive. I'm just upgrading because the drive is getting old. I really don't have a need to go bigger.
You must be compressing them pretty good?
I have 8TB and in another month or so it'll all be full and I will need another drive. I do probably a bit more than a TB and a 1/2 per year growth... but that of course also includes a boat load of family videos and pics shot every year.
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Originally Posted by jmystikcfl View Post
Small update. All media has been copied over to the new machine. I've installed PlayOn, PlayLater and Plex on the new machine and shut down the services on my desktop. All seems to be well thus far. Going to try and test some remote streaming while I'm at work today. Monday I'm going to go into my closet 'o spares to find a different video card and extra case fan. It came with one on the back, but I want one on the front too.

Have a small network topology question. I don't think its going to matter, but is there any reason the server should be plugged into the router directly rather than a switch? A few years ago I wired the house for gigabit Ethernet. In the office closet is my cable modem, Netgear WNDR-3700 router, and an 8 port gigabit switch. I've got a free port on each. Does it matter if I plug the server into the router or switch?
it could matter if the switch in you router cannot handle gigabit speeds. Some might have issues maximizing the speed. But in general it shouldn't matter. I know on my network in doesn't. Whether I connect directly to the router or am going through several GigE switches. The result is the same. It is just as fast.

Although the way my network is setup I physically have four segments. So all my media devices are on one segment. They only send data through the router when they connect to teh internet or connect to a device on another segment of my network. The four ports of my router each go to an eight way switch. And then those four 8-way switches connected to other switches and devices, but physically keep everything separate. So my TiVos are on one segment. My cameras are on another, and my wireless is used with the last segment.

Since I have over 65 devices on my home network, physically separating the devices helps avoid traffic issues. Otherwise I would need to go to a managed setup.

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post #18 of 18 Old 07-07-2014, 08:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Another small update. Did some light streaming in Plex from work yesterday. Was planning on watching more, but the Dead, White and Blue marathon on AMC served as background noise for much of my 16 hour shift. I'm almost caught up now

Anyway, the new server performed admirably. Seem to be having some issues with PlayOn, but I think its more of a phone issue than a server issue. Can stream from some sources but not others. I seem to remember this being an issue when they first rolled out mobile access and the Android app but I don't remember what the fix was. Going to investigate more tonight.

Next step will be transferring my music collection to the server. I'm going to rip all my CDs again, just haven't decided what format I'm going to use. Has to be something that I can sync to Google Play Music though. Have to look a little more into that one.

Thus far I'm into the project a grand total of about $400. That does not include Plex or PlayOn licenses as I already had those before the server project took off. I'm going to hold off on more storage until I can clear off one of the 1TB drives from my desktop. I want to get another 3TB drive and repurpose one of the 1TB drives and set up a RAID using the 2 3TB drives for storage and the 1TB drive for parity. Nothing critical will be stored on the server, all my documents, pictures, etc are backed up separately.
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