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Media Server for home entertainment

domino6000

Junior Member
Sep 8, 2014
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So I am running up on filling my fourth hard drive in my computer and it occurs to me I should make a server. I want it to be relatively low cost able to host a significant amount of media. I would also like to set up to communicate with every other device in the house Xbox 360s and PS4s among other computers hooked to desktops. I would like it to do the full breadth including the encoding to ease the strain on my gaming computer. Any ideas guys?
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
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I am of the opinion that Unraid is the best OS for a pure media server. You get single disk parity without any of the RAID pain.
 

domino6000

Junior Member
Sep 8, 2014
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Well currently I have 4 TB of media data with plenty more on the way so I want to expand plenty
 

domino6000

Junior Member
Sep 8, 2014
4
0
0
Well currently I have 4 TB of media data with plenty more on the way so I want to expand plenty
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
126
So I am running up on filling my fourth hard drive in my computer and it occurs to me I should make a server. I want it to be relatively low cost able to host a significant amount of media. I would also like to set up to communicate with every other device in the house Xbox 360s and PS4s among other computers hooked to desktops. I would like it to do the full breadth including the encoding to ease the strain on my gaming computer. Any ideas guys?
I think my WHS-2011 system can do all that. From a workstation media center menu, I can archive captured video/DVR to the server. We're still scheduled to attack a project with my brother's PS3 or PS4, so there seems to be a software plug-in for that, as well.

I neither recommend nor discourage my own approach. It's not for everyone. I try to make use of older equipment for my server. If you intend to buy new parts, there are a lot of NAS and server options.

But I can eventually replace the motherboard, processor and the OS itself -- reuse the case, high-capacity HDDs, SSDs and peripherals -- even the PSU. The worst of it: a replacement OS will cost considerably more, even if it is the "Essentials" version.

Also -- check out an article published over the last year or so at Maximum PC for using Windows 8/8.1 as a home-server OS. You can still do drive-pooling, which seems similar in some ways to UnRAID.

For media, you don't need an extremely fast storage system. Twisted pair gigabit Ethernet seems to provide me more bandwidth than I need. My LAN wireless component is also more than adequate for streaming to a laptop from the server.
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
315
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Well currently I have 4 TB of media data with plenty more on the way so I want to expand plenty
I originally planned to have a server with 10 disks, and now I have two: one with ten and one with 15. If I could do it again I just would have done this instead:

http://lime-technology.com/wiki/index.php/Hardware_Compatibility#20_Drive_Beast

since you can grow over time. If that is too much that wiki has good options for smaller builds, you might just have to hunt past Newegg for parts as they go in and out of stock there.
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
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You can still do drive-pooling, which seems similar in some ways to UnRAID.
Kinda. WHS does allow for the ability to see all the drives as one, but the only protection those drives get is duplication (aka you chose some things to be backed up on more than a single drive). I really feel Microsoft missed the bus with WHS, the simply didn't foresee (or want to be a part of) large digital media empires. Honestly I would rather use Windows 7 plus something like Flexraid over WHS.

I recommend Unraid because I think it gives you what you need without any of the hassle (or speed but you don't need it) of a real striped RAID array. With Unraid you can pool the disks AND you get one drive parity. So if any single disk goes out (which happens often with consumer-level HDs) you can replace EVERYTHING that was on that disk easily. You don't have to pick and chose what is protected, everything has a single disk level of protection. The other advantage to this approach is it is easy to upgrade disks one at a time and add storage size to your server without taking another bay or losing data. Add in a large set of plugins that cover most of the media service apps and Unraid is a pretty good answer.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
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940
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Kinda. WHS does allow for the ability to see all the drives as one, but the only protection those drives get is duplication (aka you chose some things to be backed up on more than a single drive). I really feel Microsoft missed the bus with WHS, the simply didn't foresee (or want to be a part of) large digital media empires. Honestly I would rather use Windows 7 plus something like Flexraid over WHS.
Of course, WHS-2011 doesn't even give you pooling: only the 32-bit v.1 has it as a WHS feature. I use the Stablebit DrivePool plug-in. Had an extensive exchange with their tech support guy over a couple months, and it was very revealing.

Anyway, the upshot of it, you can choose to "triplicate" your files. You can choose files and folders that aren't duplicated, but assure that particular files and folders are. I think my benchmarks confirm what I was told: for the duplicated stuff, you get a speed boost, even for just having this software layer pulling data from two or more sources at once. But it's probably not comparable to those features of UnRAID.

I recommend Unraid because I think it gives you what you need without any of the hassle (or speed but you don't need it) of a real striped RAID array. With Unraid you can pool the disks AND you get one drive parity. So if any single disk goes out (which happens often with consumer-level HDs) you can replace EVERYTHING that was on that disk easily. You don't have to pick and chose what is protected, everything has a single disk level of protection. The other advantage to this approach is it is easy to upgrade disks one at a time and add storage size to your server without taking another bay or losing data. Add in a large set of plugins that cover most of the media service apps and Unraid is a pretty good answer.
Well, I like to be able to "pick and choose." I"d tried RAID5, and accepted that the parity disk was there for a purpose. Otherwise, the pooling allows me to swap out this or that disk and the pool will rebuild itself. Of course, if I don't duplicate Everything, then a disk gone bad will lose me part of the stuff I don't care to duplicate.

I'd concede, based on the features you mention, the UnRAID is probably the superior option, though.

Even so, just for the record, the StableBit folks offer a version for 2012 server or essentials as well as Win 7 and Win 8.
 

poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
315
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Even so, just for the record, the StableBit folks offer a version for 2012 server or essentials as well as Win 7 and Win 8.
I have heard good things about StableBit + SnapRaid. Honestly it is nice there are so many options now. When I built my first server in 2010 it was all real RAID solutions (which aren't great for a mediaserver, sorry ZFS fans) or Unraid. Unraid has worked great, but its nice to have options.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
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I have heard good things about StableBit + SnapRaid. Honestly it is nice there are so many options now. When I built my first server in 2010 it was all real RAID solutions (which aren't great for a mediaserver, sorry ZFS fans) or Unraid. Unraid has worked great, but its nice to have options.
I just got tired of the expense for hardware controller cards. I've had Highpoint and 3Ware. I felt compelled to buy spare disks to keep handy, just in case.

I was using old PCs for peer-to-peer servers before turn of the millennium. I'd even rigged a tape backup, which cost me -- and in hindsight it was never needed. Used spare harddisks when they became available. Acquired a promotional Server 2000 install disc. I'm thinking I spent the $50+ -- maybe it was $80 -- for the first 32-bit WHS. Served me well, but for another $50-- "So-long, 32-bit!"

Now that things are "the way I want them," I'm not fond of change.
 

BurnItDwn

Lifer
Oct 10, 1999
25,397
1,024
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If you are going to use some RAID type file system, you may wish to consider using proper server class board and CPU for the ECC Support. No ECC, and there is a chance you could lose your data and have to restore everything from backup. Its a low chance, but, there is that chance.

I used to use a netburst celeron based Dell server with like 14 hard drives, and 384MB of ram (later upgraded to 1.4 TB) ... I have shut it down, and switched over to a little 4 bay home NAS. The CPU in the NAS is a bit slowwer, and RAID is slow to write due to the parity, but the NAS has ECC, and uses very little power, and is very low maintenance. I chose 3TB drives when I built my array since they were best bang for the buck, and I now have an ~8TB raid 5 NAS box (9tb if you go by powers of 10 rather than 2.)
I picked up QNAP, but there are others out there.
 

smitbret

Diamond Member
Jul 27, 2006
3,388
22
81
If you are going to use some RAID type file system, you may wish to consider using proper server class board and CPU for the ECC Support. No ECC, and there is a chance you could lose your data and have to restore everything from backup. Its a low chance, but, there is that chance......
Or use AMD AM3+ platform with an Asus motherboard and you'll get ECC support.

I don't see why people seem to dismiss WHS 2011 as an OS for media server. WHS 2011 + FlexRAID is a choice I haven't regretted, yet. When I built my server, I ended up having to decide between that or unRAID. I ended up going with WHS 2011+FlexRAID. Due to the variety of devices I wanted to use with my media, I decided on using Media Server Software (Mezzmo) that used UPnP/DLNA instead of relying on network shares. In addition, because I have a fairly modern CPU I can transcode incompatible media files on the fly to whatever device I playback with. I do know that there is a Plex plugin that is available for unRAID that would do this if you went that kind of route.

The ability to run Windows software on my server has come in handy in a ton of ways, the ability to Remote Desktop not being the least of which. Finally, the ability to import HDDs into the array with existing data has been convenient on a couple of occasions as well. WHS 2011 + SnapRAID will offer a lot of the same advantages although I am not sure about the ability to import drives with existing data into the array.

FlexRAID and SnapRAID are something to think about if you have an old Windows OS lying around, even XP Pro would work fine, assuming you are not using it as a workstation and it is properly protected behind your router's firewall.
 
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poofyhairguy

Lifer
Nov 20, 2005
14,612
315
126
If you are going to use some RAID type file system, you may wish to consider using proper server class board and CPU for the ECC Support. No ECC, and there is a chance you could lose your data and have to restore everything from backup. Its a low chance, but, there is that chance.
Yeah, messing with server-level hardware is a pain. That is what is great about a mediaserver- bit rot doesn't matter!!
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
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Or use AMD AM3+ platform with an Asus motherboard and you'll get ECC support.

I don't see why people seem to dismiss WHS 2011 as an OS for media server. . . .
The ability to run Windows software on my server has come in handy in a ton of ways, the ability to Remote Desktop not being the least of which.
I agree from the firsthand experience. But try looking for a surplus OEM WHS-2011 licensed install-disc. They seemed to have dried up at mainstream resellers a long time ago. Couple weeks ago, I found them being offered at either EBay or Amazon.

Asking price? $150. 3x what I'd paid in 2011. The seller knew that the next alternative had a $300 price-tag.

So we can tell people how great it is, but it's likely to lead to their frustration.
 

smitbret

Diamond Member
Jul 27, 2006
3,388
22
81
I agree from the firsthand experience. But try looking for a surplus OEM WHS-2011 licensed install-disc. They seemed to have dried up at mainstream resellers a long time ago. Couple weeks ago, I found them being offered at either EBay or Amazon.

Asking price? $150. 3x what I'd paid in 2011. The seller knew that the next alternative had a $300 price-tag.

So we can tell people how great it is, but it's likely to lead to their frustration.
Ouch! I had no idea it was that scarce. I also have no idea why someone would pay $150 for it over a just getting an OEM copy of Win 7 Pro. I guess if they were somehow in love with the WHS dashboard..... but even then, the backup feature in WHS is garbage and you pretty much are looking at enterprise pricing on a backup solution that will even install on WHS.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
126
Ouch! I had no idea it was that scarce. I also have no idea why someone would pay $150 for it over a just getting an OEM copy of Win 7 Pro. I guess if they were somehow in love with the WHS dashboard..... but even then, the backup feature in WHS is garbage and you pretty much are looking at enterprise pricing on a backup solution that will even install on WHS.
Well, now, Pil-grim!! I never thought it was garbage. It saved my A**!!

I'd made a mistake with my sig-rig and the hard disk became unbootable. I grabbed a spare, carefully -- slowly -- deliberately -- went through the procedure for restoring the OS to "bare-metal." I got it all back -- pristine -- perfect -- from the previous night's backup.

I thought is was pretty sweet. You "register" the machines on your LAN which have Dashboard installed. You then configure backups for each one, from any single Dashboard session. You may then have to tweak your volume shadow copy configuration on each machine, and make sure the "system reserved" partition -- ~100MB -- is adequate to the backup tasks.

After the first backup, the remainder are incremental, and you can duplicate them in a drive-pool as desired.

I'm guessing I'll eventually need to replace WHS with an "Essentials" version of whatever Windows Server version is extant. If I don't want to pay, I'll have to use the Win 8 option that I saw touted by Maximum PC.

UPDATE: Just check the resellers again. They upped the ante. 2012 Server Essentials is just $100 or so more . . . Amazing.

AND AGAIN: The backup feature for client systems works fine -- for Win 7 installations. I think you'd have trouble or simply "No cigar" for Win 8 clients. In that case, you might have a local backup configuration for a Win 8 client, but the other server features would still be there.
 
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smitbret

Diamond Member
Jul 27, 2006
3,388
22
81
Well, now, Pil-grim!! I never thought it was garbage. It saved my A**!!

I'd made a mistake with my sig-rig and the hard disk became unbootable. I grabbed a spare, carefully -- slowly -- deliberately -- went through the procedure for restoring the OS to "bare-metal." I got it all back -- pristine -- perfect -- from the previous night's backup.

I thought is was pretty sweet. You "register" the machines on your LAN which have Dashboard installed. You then configure backups for each one, from any single Dashboard session. You may then have to tweak your volume shadow copy configuration on each machine, and make sure the "system reserved" partition -- ~100MB -- is adequate to the backup tasks.

After the first backup, the remainder are incremental, and you can duplicate them in a drive-pool as desired.

I'm guessing I'll eventually need to replace WHS with an "Essentials" version of whatever Windows Server version is extant. If I don't want to pay, I'll have to use the Win 8 option that I saw touted by Maximum PC.

UPDATE: Just check the resellers again. They upped the ante. 2012 Server Essentials is just $100 or so more . . . Amazing.

AND AGAIN: The backup feature for client systems works fine -- for Win 7 installations. I think you'd have trouble or simply "No cigar" for Win 8 clients. In that case, you might have a local backup configuration for a Win 8 client, but the other server features would still be there.

Yeah, I guess I should have qualified my statement better. It's great for client backups. It's just horrible if you want to back up your data storage. The 2TB limit on your source, even in 2011, is just asinine.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
126
Yeah, I guess I should have qualified my statement better. It's great for client backups. It's just horrible if you want to back up your data storage. The 2TB limit on your source, even in 2011, is just asinine.
Well, there are options. One can do a file-level backup. Perhaps (tell me if wrong) you could "sync" folders on an ever-active backup disk and folders on the server.

Or, you could use something like Acronis True Image 2014.
 

smitbret

Diamond Member
Jul 27, 2006
3,388
22
81
Well, there are options. One can do a file-level backup. Perhaps (tell me if wrong) you could "sync" folders on an ever-active backup disk and folders on the server.

Or, you could use something like Acronis True Image 2014.
Will it even install? Most home backup software won't even install on WHS because it is detected as a server OS. They usually throw up a disclaimer that you need to buy server grade software.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
14,526
940
126
Will it even install? Most home backup software won't even install on WHS because it is detected as a server OS. They usually throw up a disclaimer that you need to buy server grade software.
That's the wonderful exception with Acronis True-Image 2014, and I had discovered it through the research of reviews and specs before buying it. [The purchase was also a special dee-ull with the Egg when I bought it.]

I also have Disk Director 11 "update 2." You are absolutely correct about that program: it cannot be used in a server OS.

But True-Image 2014 specifically includes WHS-2011, Server 2008 R2 -- possibly more recent server OSes in their compatibility spec.

Nice! Isn't it?!

UPDATE: CAVEAT TO THIS: It must be True-Image 2014 "Premium."
 

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