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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've got an old PC build that I've decided to convert into a simple media server running Windows with Plex Media Server. Nothing fancy, but I want it to be reliable. So far I've asked friends who are experts in servers, HTPCs, and more and I keep getting vastly different advice from each of them so I figured I'd let you guys duke it out as well, haha. Along with movies and shows, I'm using this server to back up family photos/videos. I need to trust the system to not lose that data no matter what happens. I also don't want to spend days on end after a HDD failure trying to figure out how to rebuild lost data, so I'm currently thinking RAID 10 as my baseline.

Currently I have my two super old drives in a RAID 0 with Windows Storage Spaces. I wanted to try it out and see if that was a good option but my speeds and reliability have been horrendous. I've "narrowed" my current choices down to three options:

1- SnapRAID. They seem like they're more focused on backups than outright speed or Hard Drive space. For my purposes that seems like a great idea but I hear hardware RAID is more reliable than software.

2- RAID Controller Card. I'm not sure about brand yet, there seem to be two options in my price range: cheap Amazon/NewEgg card or used/old model LSI. What I don't know is how reliable those cards are and how easy it is to rebuild after HDD failure. Also, if my card fails is my data still usable if I was in RAID 10? What about RAID 5?

3- MoBo RAID. One of my friends who knows PC builds really well suggested this but my MoBo is now 8 years old and hasn't been the most reliable part of my build (ethernet port hasn't worked since year two). I'll probably upgrade the backbone (MoBo/CPU/RAM) sometime soon, but unless I get a top of the line MoBo is onboard RAID reliable enough? Most forums I've seen say no.

My current build is:
AsRock H77 Pro4/MVP MoBo (2x SATAII, 4x SATAIII ports)
i3-2120 @ 3.3GHz (2nd gen, 2 cores/4 threads)
2x2GB 1333MHz RAM
60GB Samsung SSD for Windows 10 Pro
2x1TB HDD (VERY old drives, my first order of business is to get 3-4 new 2TB drives)
No GPU
 

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My opinion:

When someone says they want to set up a media server, I envision a small box running a disk farm that contains media files that don't change. You periodically load, delete or move the media but 99% of the time it just sits there serving the static media. If that is what you want, a conventional RAID system is expensive overkill.

My media server has been running 24x7 for the last 7 yr. The hardware consists of a small form i3 based PC running Win-10; 2 x eSATA cards with port replicators that handle 8 HDD's each; 4 x 4-bay eSATA enclosures. The array is 15 data disks protected by 2 parity disks. I use eSATA instead of USB for a number of reasons: (1) it is hard to get SMART data through the USB bridge and I monitor the Array health with SmartMonTools; (2) Win-10 allows you to set a time-out that spins down a SATA drive after a specified period of inactivity -- it doesn't work with USB HDD's; (3) performance when multiple array disks are being accessed simultaneously.

For data protection, I run SnapRAID which is a software snapshot Raid solution. It does not run continuously so there is no load on the server PC; it runs on my command which means I run it to re-synch the array only after I have changed something such as adding, moving or deleting media files. SnapRAID does not require all the disks to be the same size as a conventional RAID setup does -- I have a mix of 3 & 4TB HDD's all formatted as NTFS. It only requires the Parity disks to be as large (or larger) than the largest HDD in the Array. It works. Most recently had a full 3TB HDD prematurely crash without warning; I replaced it with a new 4TB HDD and SnapRAID restored all the files to the drive.

For media serving, I run Plex Server. Not much more to say about that.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well my box is pretty big, when I did my build back in 2012 I decided to go with a FullATX so I've got plenty of space for internal drives haha. You're basically right though, I don't plan on changing files much except for adding weekly family photos to the server. This is why I'm considering SnapRAID as my main option but I'd like to be able to do a real-time RAID 10 so if I want to expand eventually I don't have to buy a 4TB drive, I can just add another 2TB to the pool. From the looks of it FlexRAID would've been that perfect sweet spot but it seems they went under a few years ago, bummer. If SnapRAID isn't real-time it can't do RAID 10 right? Or does it accomplish that in some other way?
 

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You can use StableBit DrivePool to get near where you want. It has file duplication abilities, so it's not RAID but you do have the ability to select your duplication level like 2 or 3 copies of each file; and can get pretty granular so for example your photos in one share can be duplicated three times and movies you've ripped from disc in another share not duplicated at all. You can just add a drive or drives as you needed and it will automatically balance according to some rules you can specify like. Failures are handled the same way, remove the disk from the pool and it can re-balance on its own so everything is still duplicated. I have a 14 drive storage pool with 2 SSD cache drives in DrivePool and its been rock solid for me. These drives have been continually upgraded from 3TB to 8TB, utilizing the duplication. There's no minimum drive size you have to abide by like the parity drive so it's easy to add a drive temporarily in a storage emergency and replace later. You could do a fake RAID10 and make two separate identical pools and sync them if RAID10 performance is needed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
But you would have two copies of the data striped across pools.
Ok I think I misunderstood, are the pools considered striped data (as in RAID0) and then syncing them is similar to RAID1? So creating two pools of 2x2TB drives and syncing them would essentially be RAID10, right?
 

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Ok I think I misunderstood, are the pools considered striped data (as in RAID0) and then syncing them is similar to RAID1? So creating two pools of 2x2TB drives and syncing them would essentially be RAID10, right?
Correct, the two individual pools are analogous to RAID0 spans, then duplicating one pool to the second would be a RAID1 stripe effectively being RAID10. The nice thing about DrivePool is you can achieve what you're after without making two separate pools. You can create a 4 x 2TB pool, and select the folders you want to have duplicated (or triplicated, quadruplicated). When the files get duplicated, they get placed on separate drives. So you have two copies of the data, you (and your client devices) will see it as one.
 

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Are you married to Windows? Is it going to be headless? Honestly for large media storage, I think a software raid solution using parity makes a lot of sense. I use Unraid, which you can run Plex on easily. It's pretty user friendly. You won't need to get a RAID card assuming your mobo has enough SATA ports. If these are mission critical files though, you really need to be following the the 3-2-1 rule: three copies, two locally, one offsite (in the cloud).
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Are you married to Windows?
Yes I am unfortunately. Because I'll be adding files often, ripping DVDs/Blu-Rays, and more I'd like to have Windows. I've looked into UnRaid and had several people suggest it but I don't want to lose my OS or do a VM so it's not quite right for my purposes.

If these are mission critical files though, you really need to be following the the 3-2-1 rule: three copies, two locally, one offsite (in the cloud).
I definitely plan on using that rule with my critical files :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Correct, the two individual pools are analogous to RAID0 spans, then duplicating one pool to the second would be a RAID1 stripe effectively being RAID10. The nice thing about DrivePool is you can achieve what you're after without making two separate pools. You can create a 4 x 2TB pool, and select the folders you want to have duplicated (or triplicated, quadruplicated). When the files get duplicated, they get placed on separate drives. So you have two copies of the data, you (and your client devices) will see it as one.
Well now it looks like I need to study up on this option as well :| I swear each time I ask questions I get more homework, haha

Could I conceivably have a 3x2TB build with two drives in a RAID0 pool and one as backup for critical files only?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Correct, the two individual pools are analogous to RAID0 spans
I looked it up and it turns out that StableBit doesn't stripe the data as in RAID0, it simply spreads the files out across the pool but keeps them intact. So if I were to pull up a file on Plex only one drive fires up I believe, unless it pulls them simultaneously from the backup drives as well. It seems that the speed advantage of RAID0 isn't present, but I don't see myself needing that much speed increase for my use anyways.
 

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I'd like to be able to do a real-time RAID 10 so if I want to expand eventually I don't have to buy a 4TB drive, I can just add another 2TB to the pool.
That statement doesn't make sense to me. With Raid 10 disks must be installed in pairs for the mirroring; striping usually requires all disks to be the same size. With many hardware Raid solutions, you cannot add disks to the array once it has been formed. If you really want a dedicated Media Server, Raid 10 is not a good choice given there is a huge 50% storage penalty for the mirroring. If a Raid 10 disk fails you can rebuild from the mirror but if both disks of the mirrored pair fail, you lose. Raid 10 is useful for smaller-capacity systems with heavy read/write requirements, not a media server.

As I noted above, SnapRAID is a parity protected solution. Parity is much more efficient for a media server than mirroring. I have 15 data drives protected by only 2 parity disks which protect against 2 simultaneous drive failures. Aside from restoring a whole drive in the event of failure, it can restore individual files that have been accidently deleted. The array can be started with 3 disks and disks of any size, up to the size of the parity drive(s), can be added one-by-one as needed to expand the array. SnapRAID is command line driven and is run on demand. That means you have 100% of the server performance for all disk operations until you decide to synch the array after changes.

I'm not sure what you want to use the array for, but it sounds like you may want to use it for more than serving static media files. Is this intended to be a dedicated server or is this your desktop that you want to use as a part-time server. If the latter is the case, just get yourself a couple 8TB USB drives for your media.
 

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Well now it looks like I need to study up on this option as well :| I swear each time I ask questions I get more homework, haha

Could I conceivably have a 3x2TB build with two drives in a RAID0 pool and one as backup for critical files only?
I'm confusing you, and I don't mean to. In this conversation, a pool is equal to a raid volume. Just think of it as a large storage volume presented to the OS.
You don't select RAID levels in DrivePool like you think. You could probably make a rule that a folder/share exists on two specific drives in a pool, by default its like you found that files are spread across the pool onto two or more drives (assuming some level of duplication).

For your critical files, you could either do as I previously mentioned and work with the rules DrivePool has to isolate the critical files folder onto two or more specific drives; you could trust the service to do its thing and just set the duplication to more than 2; or you could create another pool and duplicate the entire pool.

Read-striping is an option in DrivePool btw. However, unless you're doing somehting else you probably won't need it or see a benefit from it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
For your critical files, you could either do as I previously mentioned and work with the rules DrivePool has to isolate the critical files folder onto two or more specific drives; you could trust the service to do its thing and just set the duplication to more than 2; or you could create another pool and duplicate the entire pool.

Read-striping is an option in DrivePool btw. However, unless you're doing somehting else you probably won't need it or see a benefit from it.
Thanks, this is helpful. I'm in the process of backing up my current system so I can download DrivePool and try it out for a month of two before spending money on upgrades. I looked at their website and it seems like a good option for what I plan on using my system for: some movies/shows, digitizing my Blu-Ray collection, and securely storing family photos and documents. Striping probably isn't necessary for me but it's good to know they've got that option, maybe I'll try it out and see if it's worth it.


With Raid 10 disks must be installed in pairs for the mirroring; striping usually requires all disks to be the same size. With many hardware Raid solutions, you cannot add disks to the array once it has been formed. If you really want a dedicated Media Server, Raid 10 is not a good choice given there is a huge 50% storage penalty for the mirroring. If a Raid 10 disk fails you can rebuild from the mirror but if both disks of the mirrored pair fail, you lose. Raid 10 is useful for smaller-capacity systems with heavy read/write requirements, not a media server.

I'm not sure what you want to use the array for, but it sounds like you may want to use it for more than serving static media files. Is this intended to be a dedicated server or is this your desktop that you want to use as a part-time server. If the latter is the case, just get yourself a couple 8TB USB drives for your media.
You've got a point about RAID10, I forgot about the limitations it comes with. The problem is that I don't want to spend money on an 8TB drive right away, as my current needs are much smaller but will grow with time. I'll eventually need that much space but I'd rather spend $100 on two 2TB drives now, then another $100-200 down the road to expand without having to scrap my current drives. That's what I was trying to say. I think SnapRAID or DrivePool are great options for this so I'm going to try them out. Thank you both for your advice!
 

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It sounds like you want to operate on a shoe-string budget. To do that you need to carefully map out your end-point and where you want to start so that you can reach that end-point incrementally but directly. Building a server is costly enough -- doing it haphazardly is sure to be an expensive proposition.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
It sounds like you want to operate on a shoe-string budget. To do that you need to carefully map out your end-point and where you want to start so that you can reach that end-point incrementally but directly. Building a server is costly enough -- doing it haphazardly is sure to be an expensive proposition.
I'm definitely on a low budget but I'm also not asking much of the system. Exactly like you said, I want to be sure I set it up in a way that I can easily expand without regretting past choices. Right now I've got a full build mapped out, which I can achieve through 3-4 rounds of upgrades.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
You can use StableBit DrivePool to get near where you want. It has file duplication abilities, so it's not RAID but you do have the ability to select your duplication level like 2 or 3 copies of each file; and can get pretty granular so for example your photos in one share can be duplicated three times and movies you've ripped from disc in another share not duplicated at all. You can just add a drive or drives as you needed and it will automatically balance according to some rules you can specify like. Failures are handled the same way, remove the disk from the pool and it can re-balance on its own so everything is still duplicated.
I know this is a bit late but I gotta say, StableBit was an incredible suggestion for my needs. I love that I can add basically any size drive I want and I just swapped out my i3-2120 with a Ryzen 3600/TUF B550-Plus core and the process was so easy for StableBit I still don't believe it. I deactivated the license, reinstalled Windows, reattached the drives, and reinstalled StableBit: boom, same exact pool up and running in 60 seconds. Amazing. The program does seem to slow drives down a bit with all the balancing work needed but for a media server, write speed is rarely a concern. Seriously this thing is awesome, and for only $30 for a lifetime license.
 
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