Since the heart of my home theater is my HTPC I decided to build myself a media file server. There are quite a few benefits to having a file server. I can get the noisy hard drives out of my HTPC which makes my theater quieter, having the hard drives out of the HTPC also keeps the HTPC cooler, I have a RAID 5 setup in my server so I have redundancy which gives me some data security, I can access the server from any of the computers in my house allowing me to share all my files among all my computers and it was fun project too.
I built my media file server out of an old Gateway computer that I had lying around. The specs are definitely nothing to write home about, it’s a PIII 500mhz with 328 megs of ram. I have a 3ware Escalade 7500-LP four port RAID card installed in the server. I have four Western Digital 200GB hard drives connected to the 3ware card in a RAID 5 configuration. This gives me 600GB of storage in total. If you are unfamiliar with RAID setups you may be wondering why I don’t have 800GB of storage. This is where redundancy comes into play. Explaining how RAID works is rather complicated and beyond the scope of this page; if you want to learn more about RAIDs click here. Essentially with a RAID 5 setup if one of my hard drives should fail I can replace it with a new one and not lose any of my data; pretty cool huh? With the amount of data that I have the sense of security of having a RAID setup is very reassuring. When you have about ~20,000 mp3s (130 gigs worth) and growing archive of TV shows (currently around 200GB) it is nice knowing that I have some security with my data should a hard drive happen to fail (and they always do eventually).
My original plan was to run Linux on my server. Linux was something that I’ve been wanting to try out for awhile and I have a good friend who swears by it. I hate to admit this but Linux defeated me. I tried for an entire weekend to get it setup but I just couldn’t figure it out; the main problem being getting it to recognize my RAID card. I ended up getting very frustrated and just gave up and installed Windows 2000. I guess I am just a Windows guy at heart, I had the server up and running under Windows in a matter of hours and never really hit any road blocks along the way.
I built the server in an Antec Solution Series Super Mid Tower case. I am a huge fan of Antec cases (my everyday computer is in an Antec Sonata case) and this case fit my needs perfectly. It comes with one 120mm case fan and I have added an additional 120mm fan as well. I am a believer in 120mm fans, they move a lot of air yet they are also quiet. The case also can hold five hard drives which is exactly how many I needed; four for the RAID 5 and one for the operating system. Antec has a clever way of mounting their drives as well, they attach with rubber grommets which also helps keep the noise down. If you are looking for a nice fairly inexpensive case I highly recommend it.
I have done some other fun stuff with my server. I have setup an FTP server so that I can share some of my files with friends and family. This comes in really handy when I record a TV show for someone, they can just log on to my FTP server and download it from me. I have also setup web server (apache) on my server so I can run a website from it as well. I have setup a website already, it is kind of my dumping ground for misc. stuff that I don’t want on the server that hosts this website. I love having the web server, all I have to do is save a file in to the website folder and it is instantly live on the net, no longer do I have to upload via FTP. This comes in very handy when I am chatting with someone and I want to either give them a file or show them or picture of something, I just drag the file to the website folder and it is instantly available for them to download, very cool!
Overall I am very glad that I built the server. It has given me some security with all my data, I had a lot of fun building it, and I love having everything in a central location that I can access from any of the computers in the house.