Home media server and media streaming devices

Thought I’d share by media server/torrent/seeding setup with you all, my be useful to somebody. It has been uber reliable for well over 30 months now, with scarcely a reboot.

I moved from the UK to the US (UK born & raised) and had no regular income, just short term contract, so money was tight, so this influenced my decisions, and also led to a pretty green (eco-friendly) setup.

I wanted my system to have the following.

  • Inexpensive as reasonably possible without sacrificing reliability too much
  • Inexpensive to run as it will be on 24/7
  • Configuration flexibility, storage wise and router/firewall
  • Reasonably quiet

I was limited to how I can stream this data around the house as it is a rental, so installing CAT6 cabling wasn’t an option, but surprisingly the Briteview CinemaTube+WiFi worked fine most of the time, even streaming HD, the router is upstairs, the Briteview the floor below, so that helped. Now, when I got the AppleTV XBMC streaming over WiFi it worked fine for SD, but not for HD, signal strength not quite good enough, so along comes the NETGEAR XAVB101 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Kit, which I got for $60, I’m fully aware of the issues you can have with these things, and the house we are in does have wiring from the 70’s, but at that price it was worth a shot, and it works great! It took a few attempts to find the best electrical wall outlet, but once done, it has worked like a charm ever since, and a ballpark figure of 10 Mbit/s is required for HD streaming BTW, I’m getting around 25-27 Mbit/s with Netgear XAVB101.

My home media kit consists of the following:

  • Netgear Pre N Wireless router which I flashed to DD-WRT  which provides a lot more options over stock  firmware, I also modified the antennas, it now sports 3 rubber ducky antenna which has increased the range
  • NETGEAR XAVB101 Powerline AV Ethernet Adapter Kit – got it on sale for $60!
  • D-Link 8 port Gb switch, low energy  ‘’green edition’’
  • Old IBM X40 laptop, runs uTorrent + Cobiain backup, with a stripped down version of XP (nLite used to strip the crap out), using an old lap has been great, low energy and the battery sort of acts like an UPS. Torrents are saved to the unRAID server via mapped drive
  • Briteview CinemaTube+Wifi dongle to stream the media ( http://www.brite-view.com/cinematube.php ) through out the house, great little device, there are others on the market, but this one has worked very well and got good reviews
  • Apple TV (1st gen) hacked and now running XBMC/Crystalbuntu, with the addition of a hardware video decoder with 1080i
  • 2nd gen Western Digital Live
  • Secondhand APC BR900 UPS (new batteries fitted)
  • Custom built unRAID media server, not the fastest file server, poor write performance, but  truly great for streaming media, nothing quite like it out there, spinning down unused disk  to save power etc etc.

Regarding unRAID, the components I chose had to be inexpensive whilst being as low energy as I could reasonably afford, most of them were on ‘’special’’ at Newegg. I also modded a few things, I had a variable fan speed controller kicking around, a long with a  few case fans around which I incorporated into the unRAID server to make it cool and quiet as I could, I also slowed down the PSU fan by fitting a couple of zener diodes in-line with the 12v fan supply.

The AMD sips electricity, unRaid hardly stresses it at all, consequently the stock CPU fan is barley ticking over so runs quiet, the 2 additional case fans (one in front of the hard drives, the other at the rear) have been slowed down using the speed controller. The upshot of all of this is the thing is whisper quiet, not silent, but very unobtrusive and barely audible.

Once I had unRAID Plus installed and configured I ran it headless, no KVM, according to my Kill-A-Watt power meter is uses ~57 watts when in use (at least one disk spinning), not bad at all, and low energy usage was one of my goals seeing as it was going to be on 24/7, it is quite amazing how a  typical 400watt PSU power use adds up once you factor in 24/7/365 usage. Try using this tool and just up the number hours and days used and it is eye opener – http://www.super-grow.biz/Electricity.jsp

I do run a monthly parity check (via unMenu add-on), the disk temps float around the 35C, even with a higher than normal ambient temperature  here in the hot Oklahoma summers,  SMART reports clean, all  of this information relayed to me daily in reassuring emails.

I have no need for hot swap backplanes, even though I do have a one, (iStarUSA SATA2.0 Hot-Swap Backplane Raid Cage), I don’t trust the cheap electronics within it and after doing a bit of research, read horror stories of components on the cage burning out and taking out all of the drives, so I like to keep it KISS. Also drive replacement is real easy with this case, they slide in and out on rails, much like the Dell Optiplex range. I could put 9 drives in this chassis if I so desired, but I probably never will as my data growth rate is not than high and I figure I will be rolling/replacing drives before then – see my note at the end for my reasoning behind this, all in all, in suits my needs, but YMMV.

It’s used for several hours a day in my household, mainly streaming TV shows and movies, been running fine for well over 30 months now with barely a hiccup,  once I had finalized my configuration and finished tinkering. It has been rebooted approximately 4  times since I’ve had it, to install new disks, when I moved house, fitted new batteries to the UPS, and for troubleshooting a DNS issue, pretty impressive I think, and just goes to show what can be achieved at bargain basement,  entry level these days.

Will I change anything? Well I’m going to upgrade the unRAID server case soon, the old is very tatty (squished and dented in my move to the US), when feeling brave enough, I would like to ditch the laptop altogether and run a torrent client from with in unRAID, and I may upgrade the firewall/router to pfsense, just for the fun of it, but to be honest, my set-up just keeps on working and I never have to touch the thing…if ain’t broke….keeps ringing in my ears!

unRAID BoM (Bill of Materials)
Case –  Cooler Master Elite http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811119118   – because it was what I had

Mainboard – Open Box: BIOSTAR A760G M2+ AM2+/AM2 AMD 760G Micro ATX AMD Motherboard – it  was inexpensive and had low energy ratings…it also came with no I/O panel, didn’t bother me as it would not fit in my twisted and distorted space for it! I cut out a piece of foam and stuck in the space.

Drives – 2 x Western Digital Caviar Green WD6400AACS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive  – it was inexpensive, had low energy ratings, performance more than adequate for my planned unRaid usage
3 x Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EARS 2.0TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

Memory – 1 x Kingston 1GB 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Desktop Memory Model KVR800D2N6/1G  – inexpensive, performance more than enough

CPU – AMD Sempron 140 Sargas 2.7GHz Socket AM3 45W Single-Core Processor SDX140HBGQBOX – it was inexpensive, had low energy ratings, performance more than adequate for my usage

PSU – Rosewill Stallion Series RD400-2-SB 400W ATX V2.2 Power Supply  – modified to slow fan down

UnRaidPlus  4.7.0 + unMenu – downloaded, installed onto a Kingston USB thumb drive I had around, didn’t need the features of the ‘Pro’ version,  6 drives will be enough for me, and as capacities increase over the years I will just keeping swapping out  higher capacity models, instead of more disks overall, this way you are ‘refreshing’ the RAID every few years or so. Of course, if capacity is your goal, then nothing beats having 21 disks as an option!


About hedscratchers

A UK ex-pat now living in the USA.
This entry was posted in Home Media Server, unRAID and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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