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.
- 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.
- 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.