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I am a first time system builder interested in building a reasonably small form factor system (at least a micro ATX box if not smaller), which will serve both as my Plex Media server and HTPC. It is going to live right next to my TV in the living room and so it needs to look decent and also have a reasonably quiet operation (less fans and less noise from HDDs). I plan to get a config like this:

Intel i3-4130T (less power consumption and heat)
I don't think I need a heatsink for this underclocked processor, or do I need a heatsink and/or low profile fan?
2*4GB G.skill RAM
H87 or H97 motherboard
some decent seasonic PSU?
Not yet decided if I want to invest in a more expensive good looking case like the Fractal Design node 304 or stick to some of the cheaper Antex, Cooler Master type cases. Any recommendations?
64 or 128gb SSD for OS (anything cheap that I can find)
HDD - this is a point of confusion.

I want to get two 3TB drives and set them up for mirroring or daily backup. The active drive will host all my media for HTPC. I gather that WD drives are much better than Seagate ones with respect to failure rate. So, I am thinking of skipping the barracudas even though they are cheaper. Am I right?

If I decide to go with WD, should I get the green (5400 RPM), black (7200 RPM) or red (NAS optimized)? Will the higher RPM lead to more noise and heat, audible in the living room? Will the 5200 RPM drive be sufficient for my media needs, including transcoding? I understand that transcoding is just a CPU intensive process, but I am wondering if there is any visible impact on drive speed as well.

Please review my configuration and tell me if I am missing anything. TIA!
 

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1. No reason on spending extra money on the T version. The factory cooler will work just fine on the plain or T version. The T version comes with a low profile cooler, which is needed for clearance in some cases, this would be the only reason to go with the T or a low profile fan. You'll know when you pick a case. The power consumption only matters at full load, the other models are going to be at or extremely near the same power consumption at idle. And you may want the extra horsepower when transcoding.
2. You only really need 4 GB RAM, but buy more if you wish. I am not big on certain brands either, I typically end up with Corsair. My last purchase (ECC RAM for server) was Kingston. Just get the cheapest quality brand.
3. I suggest skipping up to 4 or 5 TB drives. The 5TB WD Red is my suggestion, mainly because that's what I've been buying lately. :) And the 3TB Barracudas are JUNK. PURE JUNK. I'm now on the fourth dead one sitting at my house. The WD greens can work, but you need to run WDIDLE3 and turn off or set to 5 minutes the head parking feature, otherwise the load cycles are going to rack up and cause issues and/or possibly put the drive out of warranty prematurely. For our intents and purposes, this makes the green just as reliable as the red. And, there is no reason to have anything faster than 5200 RPM.
4. Cheap SSDs are now under $50. I have them in everything I own.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you for the note, TornadoTJ!

Good to know that I don't need to spend extra on the T version or a cooler.

I will skip the Barracudas then. I am okay with going up to 5TB provided it won't push my budget up by a lot. Let me look for some deals on WD red or green :)

I ordered a G.Skill Ripjaws 2*4GB with a small discount on NewEgg yesterday along with a Corsair CX600M (also with a nice rebate). I also picked up an ASROCK H97 Pro4 mATX motherboard. I have a question on the mobo now:

I was eyeing the Fractal Design Node 304 or the Lian Li (I love the PC-Q25B, but considering its cost, I might look for a cheaper Lian Li case with no hot swapping and all the fanciness). Both are labelled Mini ITX towers and hence PC Part Picker tells me that they are incompatible with the H97M mobo. Comparing dimensions, it looks like the mobo will fit, but I am unsure. Would you or anyone else be able to confirm if I can retain this mobo or look for an ITX one?
 

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I am a first time system builder interested in building a reasonably small form factor system (at least a micro ATX box if not smaller), which will serve both as my Plex Media server and HTPC. It is going to live right next to my TV in the living room and so it needs to look decent and also have a reasonably quiet operation (less fans and less noise from HDDs). I plan to get a config like this:

Intel i3-4130T (less power consumption and heat)
I don't think I need a heatsink for this underclocked processor, or do I need a heatsink and/or low profile fan?
2*4GB G.skill RAM
H87 or H97 motherboard
some decent seasonic PSU?
Not yet decided if I want to invest in a more expensive good looking case like the Fractal Design node 304 or stick to some of the cheaper Antex, Cooler Master type cases. Any recommendations?
64 or 128gb SSD for OS (anything cheap that I can find)
HDD - this is a point of confusion.

I want to get two 3TB drives and set them up for mirroring or daily backup. The active drive will host all my media for HTPC. I gather that WD drives are much better than Seagate ones with respect to failure rate. So, I am thinking of skipping the barracudas even though they are cheaper. Am I right?

If I decide to go with WD, should I get the green (5400 RPM), black (7200 RPM) or red (NAS optimized)? Will the higher RPM lead to more noise and heat, audible in the living room? Will the 5200 RPM drive be sufficient for my media needs, including transcoding? I understand that transcoding is just a CPU intensive process, but I am wondering if there is any visible impact on drive speed as well.

Please review my configuration and tell me if I am missing anything. TIA!
I would suggest you go a slightly different route:

get an i3/i5 Intel NUC. If you get a haswell nuc (last years) you can save a bit of money, or you can get the latest one. Either way, they are tiny little, yet full fledged machines ideal for HTPC use. It comes with an IR sensor, so you can turn it on (from full off) and off with a regular IR remote just like a cable box or DVD player. It's absolutely quiet, and gorgeous to look at, but most of the time you wont even notice it. I have 3 of them and I can say that Plex works perfectly on it, no issues whatsoever. The nuc itself is 250 for the i3 and 350 for the i5, with another $100 for ram and a SSD/HDD.

For your storage, i'd suggest you get a NAS. it's not that much more and it'll make your life so much easier than having 2 drives in your computer. this (http://www.amazon.com/Synology-DiskStation-Diskless-Attached-DS214se/dp/B00FWURI8K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1427813733&sr=8-1&keywords=synology+nas) is a really good and cheap one. It's low power, and will allow you to do a lot more things that you havent considered yet. Plus, because its network attached, you dont have to have it right next to your TV, you can put it anywhere in the house, and just have the NUC sitting by your TV.
 

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Thanks, Ou8thisSN. your approach makes a lot of sense.

NUC + NAS was the first direction I tried out. Going by plex recommendations, I was looking for processors with a passmark of 4000 or above to support multiple transcoding streams etc. A corresponding high end NUC (or Gigabyte Brix) costed 350-400 bucks or more. Considering 100 bucks for RAM and SSD, 150 odd bucks for the NAS and then 200 bucks for the hard drive, I reached a budget of $800 bucks which is kind of a stretch for me.

That's why I tried to take the custom build approach which might keep my budget to $500-$600. Another issue is that my rented apartment is not cat5e wired. So, I need to run a cable from the NUC to wherever I decide to keep the NAS to have good access speeds.

It would definitely be lovely to have the tiny NUC sitting inside my TV cabinet, but I guess a micro ATX box isn't going to be that monstrous (fingers crossed) :)

Btw, I also considered a compact mini-ITX build, but since I don't have much build experience, I did not want to risk it with tight cases which have bothered even experienced builders.
 

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A nuc+nas+HDDs is going to end up more expensive for little gain IMO. I'd go with a mATX case and a build similar to this http://www.avsforum.com/forum/212-htpc-computer-items/1928065-gaming-htpc-server.html You could easily go with a lesser processor instead like an i3 if you are not expecting to transcode more than 1-2 rips at a time. Several mid-tower cases will work, add something like this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16816133030 or this http://www.amazon.com/Cooler-Master...p/B00129CDGC/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8 to throw more drives in as you run out of bays

If you want something cool looking, small, and silent sitting in your cabinet get a RPi 2 and run rasplex http://www.rasplex.com/
 

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Thanks, Ou8thisSN. your approach makes a lot of sense.

NUC + NAS was the first direction I tried out. Going by plex recommendations, I was looking for processors with a passmark of 4000 or above to support multiple transcoding streams etc. A corresponding high end NUC (or Gigabyte Brix) costed 350-400 bucks or more. Considering 100 bucks for RAM and SSD, 150 odd bucks for the NAS and then 200 bucks for the hard drive, I reached a budget of $800 bucks which is kind of a stretch for me.

That's why I tried to take the custom build approach which might keep my budget to $500-$600. Another issue is that my rented apartment is not cat5e wired. So, I need to run a cable from the NUC to wherever I decide to keep the NAS to have good access speeds.
If you wait till the summer/fall, you can pick up a haswell i3 for $150 + 100 for the ram/ssd. add another $400 for the NAS and you're way under your budget.

What sort of content do you have that needs to be transcoded and how many people are watching your content at the same time? are you primarily wanting to set PMS up to serve media to your tvs around the house or are you trying to serve media that requires transcoding to 5 iphones/ipads simultaneously? if you're doing the latter, than obviously my approach wont work, but for the former, most smart tvs will play re-encoded mkvs natively. If you're running PMS and PHT on the nuc connected to your tv, nothing will need to be transcoded and the i3 is more than capable of transcoding a couple of hd streams if necessary without breaking a sweat.

The reason why I'm advocating my approach is that I think you cannot realize how good your life will be with a NAS. it wont simply be used for a PMS target, there's a lot of functionality that you dont think you need nwo but will in the future. It's not only great for having a central location for all of your data, but synology makes great mobile apps for audio and video sharing. Since you're starting from scratch here, i'm really asking you to consider if you're REALLY going to need serious transcoding juice here needing a high tdp cpu.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
If you wait till the summer/fall, you can pick up a haswell i3 for $150 + 100 for the ram/ssd. add another $400 for the NAS and you're way under your budget.

What sort of content do you have that needs to be transcoded and how many people are watching your content at the same time? are you primarily wanting to set PMS up to serve media to your tvs around the house or are you trying to serve media that requires transcoding to 5 iphones/ipads simultaneously? most smart tvs will play re-encoded mkvs natively. If you're running PMS and PHT on the nuc connected to your tv, nothing will need to be transcoded and the i3 is more than capable of transcoding a couple of hd streams if necessary without breaking a sweat.
I am looking at two TVs and some iDevices, but I don't think we will do that many simultaneous streams. 2, maybe 3? I will think about this :). But, can't wait until summer though! Would love to get this up and running in the next week or two.
 

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I am looking at two TVs and some iDevices, but I don't think we will do that many simultaneous streams. 2, maybe 3? I will think about this :). But, can't wait until summer though! Would love to get this up and running in the next week or two.
what is your content in? is it mkv, or mp4 or what?

mkv is easily played and should work without taxing PMS on your tvs (save for high bitrate 1:1 blu-ray mkvs, which no smart tv will play natively via DLNA) but for re-encoded mkvs, no problem.

the i3 should be good for 2 transcoding streams, possibly even 3. but if even if you get the i5 nuc now, you should be able to put this all together for around $800-850 at current prices. hell i think the broadwell i3 may be plenty for 3 transcoding streams...
 

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what is your content in? is it mkv, or mp4 or what?
A mix of mkv, mp4 and some avis. I have AVIs of some movies from India which generally require some codecs to be played in some players. But, I am not fully familiar with the scenarios when transcoding is required though I understand that it is the smaller devices which trigger the server to transcode. So, I was just trying to play it safe.
 

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A mix of mkv, mp4 and some avis. I have AVIs of some movies from India which generally require some codecs to be played in some players. But, I am not fully familiar with the scenarios when transcoding is required though I understand that it is the smaller devices which trigger the server to transcode. So, I was just trying to play it safe.
transcoding itself is murky. iOS natively supports some formats and not others. how apps handle this vary. For instance, VLC will use the cpu power of mobile devices to transcode on the fly in the device itself. Plex, on the other hand, relies on the server to handle transcoding duties. I know mp4 is natively supported. afaik, mkv and most likely avi will need to be transcoded. How much power is required based on the complexity of the original content. If you have super high bitrate mkvs and avis, then, you're going to need a good amount of cpu resources, but if its run of the mill stuff, it wont matter. Either way, a core i3/i5 is most likely more than enough for your needs.
 
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