Monday, February 28, 2011

Home built Media Center

Caution: very boring, and technical prose ahead.  Read on only if you like computers...


A few weeks ago, I couldn't pass up the deals on for computer parts.  I dove in with both feet and took the plunge to build myself the family a computer to stream movies, music & pictures to my TV over a LAN.  

The hardware was the easy part.  I already had a 1.5TB HDD, so I managed to buy the CPU, motherboard, PSU, case, and another 1.5TB HDD (for RAID 1 - mirroring) for all under $300.  I had considered an all-in-one solution, like a Drobo, but those are way too expensive, and I was looking for cheap.  I could've also gone with a cheaper/lower power CPU setup, like an Intel Atom, but those motherboards are either limited in features or are expensive.  Additionally, if there's any video transcoding necessary, an Atom would not have done the job.

The software is always the wildcard, especially when you're going for the cheapest setup possible.  At first I chose to use FreeNAS. This is basically a simple operating system that can turn virtually any PC into a Network Attached Storage.  I've successfully implemented FreeNAS in the past with little issue.  I reviewed the specs, and found that it would be capable to stream my video, and supported a plethora of RAID cards.  What's really cool about FreeNAS, is that it's really small.  You can install it on a 1GB (possibly less) USB thumb drive.  Since I had a spare 2GB thumb drive laying around, that was my plan.  

Even though I was planning on using the on-motherboard RAID configuration (for the 1.5TB storage disks), I assumed that FreeNAS supported the RAID, because it was a popular chipset.  I was wrong.  I set up the 2 HDDs in RAID 1, using the on-motherboard RAID setup.  It was actually, pretty painless. But, to my surprise, FreeNAS would attempt to start, but would only result in a reboot.  If I put the HDDs back to IDE mode, it would boot fine, but that's not what I wanted.  After a lot of scoping thru the FreeNAS forums, I decided to abandon FreeNAS altogether.  Apparently there was a new beta release that could've possible solved my RAID problem, but the DLNA streaming wouldn't be available for the foreseeable future. :-(  So, on to Linux I go.  

I've installed and used Ubuntu, OpenSuse, and a couple others before, with reasonable results.  This time though, would be different.  I've never had to create a server before.  I decided to use Mandriva for two reasons.  1) the KDE interface looked pretty, and 2) the wiki and Mandriva forums had a wealth of information regarding servers, and shares.  Luckily the streaming application (PS3 Media Streamer) that I currently use for Windows, to stream video to my PS3, has a Linux version that works in Java, so no installation necessary.  w00t!  

I still have a couple things to iron out.  1) Under the disk management in Mandriva, it shows 2 1.5TB HDDs.  This is not what I would've expected since they're configured in RAID 1.  I plan on writing a bunch of information to 1 HDD, and see if the free space of the 2nd HDD goes down at the same time.  2) I can't figure out how to share the drive location, to a Windows computer, using SMB shares.  Right now, I just think I have more reading to do... When I get this all done, maybe I'll throw up some info on how anyone can do it...


I'm hoping that after all is said and done, I can check off my "learn linux" goal on