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Table of Guides (with quicklinks):

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Server Overview and My Thoughts for HTPC

Building a server is an excellent choice for HTPC. This allows you the maximum flexibility for hardware and software to meet the needs of your HTPC and entertainment system. While there are literally tens of thousands of possible combinations of hardware and software that you can use for HTPC servers I hope to show you how I think servers are best used in the HTPC environment.

First let’s discuss what I think should be some of the goals of a server for HTPC:

  • Storage of media to be easily and reliably streamed or shared over your wired gigabit network
  • Data protection of a drive should it fail
  • Ability to add drives to your server that are either full, partially full or completely devoid of data
  • Ability to add drives of any size and any make interchangeably
  • Cost and energy efficient as possible
  • Ability to “spin down” multiple drives when not in use or “spin up” a drive only when needed
  • Ability to be controlled remotely without the need of a monitor (i.e. a “Headless” server)
  • Storage Pooling making it very easy to add media and share that media in frontends such as Media Browser, XBMC, etc. This shows all of you hard drives as a single drive which I find much easier to use with HTPC.
  • Usage of quality and reliable hardware
  • Ability to remove a drive from your machine (if needed) and still be able to access the data on that drive on another Windows machine
  • Software RAID for ease of use
  • Ability to stream transcoded media to portable devices
  • Ability to use Green hard drives for savings of energy, noise and heat
  • And above all else ease of use

As you will see in these guides I think the way that I use a server for HTPC meets all of these criteria. Much like my hardware guide for HTPC what I recommend isn’t necessarily going to be the absolute cheapest option. But it will be what I consider the biggest bang for the buck.

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Software

I am a proponent of software based raid arrays (in comparison to the more traditional hardware based raid arrays) for HTPC because it allows you the most flexibility and affordability while still being plenty powerful from a performance standpoint for HTPC use. These guides now contain multiple choices for a HTPC server and there is no correct answer as to what option to choose as what is the right choice for one person may not be the right choice for another. I will now briefly go over some of the pros and cons of these options as well as offer you my personal bias at the conclusion.

Windows 7 or 8 (64 bit): Windows is a fine option for a server if you want to use it. Its by far the most expensive of the choices below though. Like WHS2011 you can easily add additional server software later to make you server more versatile. Please note that if remote desktop control is important to you this is not native in the Home version of Windows and you will need to upgrade to Professional which runs $130-$150 per license (otherwise Home is about $100)

WHS2011 (Windows Home Server 2011): This is a Windows based operating system that itself can function alone or with some of the other great software I have listed below. This is a good and inexpensive option for a minimalist approach for those of you comfortable with a Windows environment. You can always start with WHS2011 and add other software choices outlined below if needed/wanted.

FlexRaid: FlexRaid is a parity protection and/or pooling option for a HTPC server that also needs either Windows 7, WHS2011 or Linux as the OS in order to be able to operate. In this way it runs “on top of” an operating system. Not free but also one of the most feature rich options available.

UnRaid: Based on Linux and installed on a USB flash drive. Free for up to 3 drives but costs money after your 3 drive limit is reached. Can run on its own without an OS. Somewhat pricey in my opinion when once you have to purchase a license. You also are at the mercy of hardware compatibility within a Linux environment.

SnapRaid: SnapRaid is similar to FlexRaid in that it does require a Windows operating system to function. Unlike FlexRaid it offers only parity protection (no pooling) but is free.

Comparison of features:

**Please note that with UnRaid you will need a Linux PC or additional software to be able to recover the data to a Windows based machine.

Description of Terms in Table Above:

Redundancy Type: Realtime computes parity in real time like a hardware raid array, snapshot computes parity at a requested time like a backup. For HTPC media files that don’t change on a frequent basis computing the parity on a daily basis is sufficient and therefor either works in my opinion.

Pooling: Ability to be able to combine multiple hard drives into one large singular “hard drive” that is seen as a single drive by your HTPC which in my opinion makes setup and management easier for your HTPC.

Price: What it costs. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of the operating system, if applicable.

Add Filled Disk to Array: Ability to add an already filled or partially full hard drive to the array.

Number of possible supported failures: How many simultaneous hard drive failures are supported. For more than 1 multiple parity drives may be required. For most users 1 is sufficient.

Recover Data: If more disks fail than the possible supported redundancy model or you want to remove a disk from the array is it possible to recover the data in the disks that have not failed or were removed from the array. Please note that recovering unRaid Linux based drives is possible but very tedious and difficult compared to the others.

Birth Year: The year the software was developed and released.

Operating System: Is an operating system required and if so which one. Please note that for unRaid Linux it is a part of the actual program.

Power Down Disks: When disk(s) are not in use are they powered down? To me this is essential for a HTPC server that is on 24-7 and saves in energy, cost and noise.

Conclusion: First, let me again say that these are all great options which is why they are included in my guides. However, in researching software I wanted something easy to use without having to teach myself linux, unix, etc just to use a server. If you are on a strict budget then there are options out there that operate outside a Windows environment and are potentially free. However for ease of use I highly recommend Windows Home Server 2011 which you can often purchase for $40 or less. As you will see I think WHS 2011 coupled with another excellent piece of software called FlexRaid makes for a pretty potent duo for HTPC use. While these 2 choices aren’t necessarily the cheapest options to me they are the easiest to use and most powerful for HTPC. Much more on this later.

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Hardware

My approach to server hardware is to use as much “regular” HTPC/PC parts as possible. I have had a great experience thus far with this approach and don’t think its necessary to use more expensive “server” motherboards, CPUs and enterprise hard drives. The great part about this approach is that you can often reuse older parts or even turn an older HTPC into a new server.

The basic parts you will need are pretty similar to HTPC with a few exceptions:

  • Motherboard (I recommend ATX size)
  • Case
  • PSU
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Hard Drives including OS Drive, Data Drives, and Parity Drive(s) (if using something like FlexRaid)
  • Optional: Intel NIC card if not built into the motherboard
  • Optional: Optical drive
  • Optional: SATA Controller card for additional expansion
  • Optional: 5.25″ to 3.5″ expansion bays

So let’s discuss the parts in a little more detail with a few recommendations.

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Motherboard

For a motherboard I look for a platform that can use a low powered CPU. Right now one of the best bargains is with Intel H67/Z68/H77/Z77 chipsets. Some of these motherboards now come with 8 SATA ports onboard which may be enough to get most people at least started on a server assuming that you have less than 8 drives total. Of course if you have or need more hard drives than your motherboard supports you can always add a SATA controller card.

ASRock B75M Micro ATX – $65 This board is a great entry level mATX board for a smaller server. Has 8 onboard SATA ports, USB 3.0, HDMI. Has a few less bells and whistles than the H77 or Z77 chipset. No hardware RAID support but for what I recommend this is not needed. Realtek integrated NIC.

ASRock B75 PRO3 ATX – $80 This is another great entry level board similar to the above except for its larger ATX size. Has 8 onboard SATA ports, USB 3.0, HDMI. Again fewer bells and whistles than the H77 and Z77. No hardware RAID support but for what I recommend this is not needed. Realtek integrated NIC.

ASRock H77 Pro4/MVP – $95 This is a great ATX board for a HTPC server. It has 8 onboard SATA ports, USB 3.0 ports and onboard controller, HDMI, etc. Typical ASRock quality which is great for the money. Realtek integrated NIC.

Intel BOXDZ77BH55K – $170 This is one of the cheapest board with integrated Intel NIC (usually about $30 as an add on card) with a fair number of SATA ports. It has 7 SATA ports, USB 3.0, HDMI, etc. Intel is known for no frills but rock hard stability and this board is no exception. Intel integrated NIC. (Please note you will need to use my custom driver included in these guides to install the Intel integrated NIC in WHS 2011)

ASUS P8Z77-V LGA – $185 This ASUS board is also and excellent choice and is full of bells and whistles. 8 SATA ports, integrated Intel NIC, USB 3.0, HDMI, integrated wireless, and more. Fantastic ASUS build quality as well. (Please note you will need to use my custom driver included in these guides to install the Intel integrated NIC in WHS 2011)

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Case

Really any case will work for a server. But what I look for is the ability to contain multiple hard drives (this will depend on how many you think you will need), good cooling and airflow design, and something that is contructed out of good materials. I also don’t like fancy lights, clear windows, etc which is my own personal taste. Remember that with an expansion bay you can also convert two 5.25″ spaces into three 3.5″ spaces for even more hard drive additions (see below for more information)

Here are just a few recommendations:

Antec Three Hundred – $40-$55 This case is the King of Cases for $50 or less, in my opinion. It can often be found for $40 shipped on sale. The case itself is no frills but has thick steel for its price range (which helps with sound), excellent cooling and award winning construction/design. One 140mm and one 120mm fan. USB 2.0, six 3.5″ drives, three 5.25″ drives, and one 2.5″ drive. Additional fans can be added if needed/wanted.

 

 

 

 

Antec Three Hundred Two – $70 This award winning case from Antec is made from thick steel (which helps with sound) and has excellent airflow. This is the updated version from the legendary Three Hundred which now has USB 3.0 (your motherboard will need to have a USB 3.0 header), tool-less design, improved cable management, removable filters, a side facing hard drive stack, and one 120mm and one 140mm fan. Holds six 3.5″ drives, two 2.5″ drives and three 5.25″ drives. Additional fans can be added if needed/wanted.

 

 

 

Fractal Design Define R3 – $110 Fractal Designs makes the Cadillac of HTPC server cases in my opinion. The well thought out designs feature prefitted noise reduction material inside the case, rubber feet on the case, anti-vibration feet for the power supply, silicone grommets for the hard drives, excellent cable management, removable PSU filter, USB 3.0, and two 120mm fans. Holds eight 3.5″ drives and two 5.25″ drives. Additional fans can be added if needed/wanted.

 

 

 

 

Fractal Design Define XL – $145 If the R3 is the Cadillac the this case is the Bentley. Has all the features of the above case with the addition of two 140mm fans, a gigantic 180mm fan, ten 3.5″ drives and four 5.25″ drives. Additional fans can be added if needed/wanted.

 

 

 

 

ARK 4U-500-CA Black 4U Rackmount Case – $85 For those of you who prefer to have rack mounted case this is a good choice for the money. Supports 8 drives natively with up to 4 additional hard drives in the 5.25″ bays with adapter (see the expansion bays section). Well built. The included 120mm and 80mm fans are weak so I would recommend to upgrade them. Rails are not included but available from the manufacturer.

 

 

 

 

NORCO RPC-470 Black 4U – $90 This is another solid 4U rack mount option. Natively holds 10 hard drives with an option for up to another 4 via expansion bays in the 5.25″ bays. Comes with four 80mm fans with option to add two 120mm fans in the front and another two 80mm fans in the rear. As with most server cases the included stock fans are loud and may need to be replaced. Very deep case so plan accordingly.

 

 

 

 

NORCO RPC-240 2U – $80 This is a smaller 2U rack case for those that don’t want quite as big a case. Holds 4 hard drives natively and can accept a full sized PSU. Comes with two 80mm fans. As with the other rack mount cases plan on upgrading your fans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silverstone SST-GD08B – $155 This case could easily double as a HTPC and HTPC server if you are looking for a HTPC with a lot of internal storage possibilities. Can fit a full sized ATX or micro-ATX motherboard. Can house up to eight 3.5″ hard drives, two 2.5″ SSDs as well as two 5.25″ external drive bays. Choose a motherboard with USB 3.0 headers to be able to utilize USB 3.0 on the front of the case. Comes with three 120mm fans with ability to fit up to five. This case is very large so make sure you have room if you are putting it in your AV rack.

 

 

 

Silverstone SST-GD07B – $140 This case is somewhat similar to the case above except that it has a front that can lock if you are needing to keep your buttons and drives locked away. Different mounting options in that it accepts five 3.5″ hard drives, two 2.5″ SSD drives and four 5.25″ drives natively. You could easily change 1 or more of the 5.25″ bays into 3.5″ bays giving you eight or nine hard drives total. Has three included 120mm fans as well with the option for up to five. Use a motherboard with a USB 3.0 header to be able to use the case’s USB 3.0 ports. This case is also very large so make sure you have room if you are putting it in your AV rack.

 

 

 

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PSU

In my opinion one of the biggest misconceptions for a home server is that you need a 1000w PSU to power 10+ drives. This simply is not true. Most HTPC server cases with my recommended low watt CPU can use a 500-600w PSU to achieve maximum efficiency and cost effectiveness. Obviously to power multiple hard drives you will need molex/SATA to SATA splitters which are readily available at most online PC retailers. I have a few PSUs that I recommend:

PC Power and Cooling Silencer MK III 600W Modular – $70 after rebate This PSU is actually manufactured by Seasonic for PCPAC (owned now by OCZ). A great basic modular PSU that is whisper quiet and modular.

Antec NEO ECO 620C – $70 This PSU is also manufactured by Seasonic for Antec. Another very good non-modular PSU which is also whisper quiet. Power cord not included.

SeaSonic M12II 620 Bronze 620W – $90 This PSU is very similar to the above PSU but adds modular cables to decrease clutter and improve airflow. Another solid choice.

SeaSonic M12II 520 Bronze 520W – $60 For those of you who plan on using less than 6 or so hard drives then this is a very good option and will provide you plenty of power at a lower price point. Modular as well.

PC Power and Cooling Silencer MK III 500W Modular – $60 – Manufactured by Seasonic. Similar to the above PSU if you are wanting to use 6 or so hard drives and don’t need quite as large a PSU as some of the options above.

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CPU

For the CPU in my mind there are really only a few options currently.

Option 1: Ivy Bridge Celeron G1610 2.6 GHz – $50

This low cost, low power, low heat producing CPU is excellent for HTPC server usage. Don’t let its celeron name fool you — this is a very capable CPU. Onboard HD2500 graphics if needed. 55w TDP. Can utilize DDR3 1333. Excellent if you are using your server streaming media over your network to your client HTPCs. Good for basic Plex Server transcoding.

Option 2: Ivy Bridge Celeron G1620 2.7 GHz – $60 

This is another low cost, low power, low heat CPU that is an incredible choice for a HTPC server. Similar to the G1610 with a slight uptick in the CPU clock speed and price tag. Otherwise identical to the G1610 listed above. Good for basic Plex Server transcoding.

Option 3: Ivy Bridge i3-3220 3.3 GHz Dual Core – $130

The “base” i3 Ivy Bridge CPU. HD 2500 graphics if needed. 55w TDP. More CPU horsepower for transcoding video using programs like Plex Server.

Option 4: Ivy Bridge i5-3470 Ivy Bridge 3.1GHz Quad Core – $199

If you have to have a quad core IVB CPU then this is currently your cheapest choice. HD2500 graphics if needed. For use if you are building a server that needs more horsepower. 77w TDP. A ton of muscle for the price if needed.

Option 5: Intel Celeron G530 Sandy Bridge 2.4GHz – $50 This low cost, low power, low heat producing CPU is excellent for HTPC server usage. Don’t let its celeron name fool you — this is a very capable CPU. I prefer the Ivy Bridge Celerons preferentially over this option.

Option 6: Intel Pentium G620 Sandy Bridge 2.6GHz – $70 This low cost, low power, low heat producing CPU is also an excellent choice for HTPC server usage where you may need a little more CPU power. I prefer the Ivy Bridge Celerons preferentially over this option.

Option 7: Intel G860 Sandy Bridge 3.0 GHz – $75 This is another low cost, low power, low heat CPU that is an incredible choice for a HTPC server. If doing heavier CPU intensive tasks such as a lot of transcoding files with Plex server then this is an excellent choice – especially if only $5 more. I prefer the Ivy Bridge Celerons preferentially over this option.

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RAM

If you are using a Z68 or Ivy Bridge (H77 or Z77) motherboard then you will want to make sure you use DDR3 1600 RAM. You can also use this RAM on H67/H61 motherboards as well but it will default to DDR3 1333 speeds. 8GB of RAM is often the same (or even less if on sale) than 4GB RAM so while I recommend 4GB or RAM I would upgrade to 8GB if the price difference was marginal. RAM has become somewhat of a commodity and as long as you select a reputible manufacturer you will likely be just fine. With that being said I prefer G.Skill as it has not let me down yet.

G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 – $30

G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 – $30

Samsung Low Profile Low Voltage 4GB DDR3-1600 – $20-$30

Extremely low profile RAM that is barely taller than the RAM slots. Quality is excellent despite the plain appearance.

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Hard Drives

Hard drives are basically dependent on what brands you like and what prices you can find that you like. Personally I prefer Samsung and WD drives. A good approach to take is to add drives only as they are needed which will increase the warranty of the drives (by purchasing the drive only when you are actually going to start using it) and also the longer you wait the more likely you are to be able to get the same drive now at a reduced cost later.

If you are planning on using software raid such as FlexRaid then I recommend and much prefer 5400RPM Green hard drives over 7200RPM drives for storage and servers. “Green” drives are plenty fast for data storage for HTPC and in an independent review of one of my builds the Reviewer played 5 different HD streams without any issues. Choosing a Green drive saves on energy, noise and heat which is especially important in a server. Another great thing about using a server like I do is that by using a software raid, like FlexRaid, you can actually use 5400RPM drives. By comparison hardware raid arrays usually have to use 7200RPM drives only as many 5400RPM drives are not compatible with hardware raid array. For the OS drive you will need at least 60GB. Since 60-64GB SSDs are now cheaper than even a very small mechanical hard drive I would consider using a SSD for your OS due to cost alone. However, if you have an extra small mechanical drive lying around (I had an older 500GB SATA 2.5″ laptop drive that I used for my OS drive) then they work just fine. I want to point out that using a SSD for a server is not at all needed and a mechanical drive works just fine — its just that from a financial perspective a SSD just happens to be the most cost effective solution for a new OS drive for WHS at this time. Please note that you will have to use the steps I show you in the WHS installation guide to install WHS 2011 on a drive smaller than 160GB.

Additionally, a quick word about parity drives. If you are planning on using a parity drive with something like FlexRaid then your parity drive will need to be no smaller than the largest data drive in your system. So, for example, if you had TEN 2TB data drives and ONE 3TB data drive you would need to use a 3TB drive (or larger) for your parity drive. Plan accordingly when you are ordering or thinking about what hard drives you are going to need in your server. More on parity drives in the FlexRaid section of these guides.

Finally, WD markets “Red” drives for use in a “NAS Environment”. In my testing real world performance is the exact same as the Green drives for HTPC. They have less aggressive head parking which for a non-hardware RAID (like I recommend) is not an issue. They also have TLER which, again, for non-hardware RAID (like I recommend) is not an issue as well. However, I do like the 3 year warranty that is offered compared to the 2 year warranty with the Green drives. My take is that if these drives are $10 more then go with the Red over the Green for the extra warranty alone. If $20 more it becomes more questionable. At $21 or more I would pass and choose a Green (or other) drive. In my testing I have also seen that each drives runs about 3 degrees celcius warmer than their Green counterparts which can add up quickly in a case with multiple hard drives.

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Intel NIC Card (Optional)

Intel EXPI9301CTBLK PCI-e Gigabit Network Adapter – $30 The Realtek integrated NIC is very capable and I think it is good rule to try the Realtek integrated NIC which is found on the majority of HTPC/PC motherboards to see how it works for you. However there is little doubt in my mind that Intel’s NIC is both more reliable and faster. From a personal experience I was experiencing stuttering about 1 out of every 30 times that I played files from my server. I also was getting about 70Mb/s with the Realtek. Since I have upgraded to the Intel NIC PCI-e card I haven’t had a single occurrence of stuttering and my network speeds have increased by about 30-40Mb/s. Interestingly I have found that you only need to upgrade the NIC on your server and for the client HTPC upgrading is not really needed. Not bad for a $30 investment.

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Optical Drive (Optional)

As I state in my HTPC guide trying to keep up with optical drives is nearly impossible as it seems there are dozens of different drives separated by a single letter in their name and no real discernible difference in their specs. This also makes actual testing of these drives very difficult from a financial standpoint. What I can say is that I have had excellent success with Lite-On drives (also many of other manufacturers’ drives are rebadged Lite-On drives as well further complicating this topic). Others have had good success with LG, Sony and Pioneer.

You can attach any drive either temporarily to the motherboard for installation from the OS disc or also use a drive externally and boot from USB in bios to that external drive. So in this way the optical drive is not necessarily needed for your server except for during installation.

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SATA Controller Card (Optional)

SUPERMICRO AOC-SASLP-MV8 PCI Express – $100 You will need to add a SATA controller card to your server if/when you exceed the number of SATA ports on your motherboard. There are many different controller cards on the market but I regard this card as one of the best for the money since you add 8 SATA ports for around $100. Please note the SAS (and NOT SAS2) in the name of the card. This card will handle up to 2TB drives but will NOT support 3TB or larger drives. (see below)

Supermicro AOC-SAS2LP-MV8 PCI Express – $115 This SATA controller card is similar to the above card with the exception that it will handle 3TB drives. Again please note the SAS2 in the name of the card and purchase whichever version fits your needs.

SFF-8087 to 4 SATA Fan Out Cable – $25 This cable converts one of the 2 ports on the SATA controller cards listed above into 4 SATA connections. So to utilize 8 additional SATA hard drives using the controller cards above you will need 2 of these cables.

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Expansion Bays (Optional)

Most server users are going to first utilize the 3.5″ native hard drive bays and at most will use 1 optical drive (if at all) in a single 5.25″ bay leaving at times multiple 5.25″ drive bays empty. While you could get a cheap 5.25″ to 3.5″ adapter and put a single hard drive in each bay I think it makes more sense to get an expansion bay that will maximize the number of hard drives you can add to the 5.25″ bay area.

Evercool ARMOR Dual 5.25″ Drive Bay to Triple 3.5″ HDD – $25 This bay turns two 5.25″ bays into three 3.5″ bays allowing you to add 3 additional hard drives. Also includes a 80mm fan for cooling as well as a removable air filter.

Vantec HDC-800A Dual 5.25″ Drive Bay to Triple 3.5″ HDD – $28 This is another two 5.25″ to three 3.5″ bay adapter allowing you to add 3 additional hard drives. Also includes a 80mm fan and removable air filter.

XIGMATEK CCA-EMFCB-U01 4 in 3 HDD Cage – $21 This adapter turns three 5.25″ bays into four 3.5″ bays allowing you to add 4 additional hard drives. Also includes a 120mm fan for cooling.

COOLER MASTER STB-3T4-E3-GP 4-in-3 HDD Cage – $31 This is another three 5.25″ to four 3.5″ bay adapter allowing you to add 4 additional hard drives.  Also includes a 120mm fan for cooling.
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Cables

If you are adding multiple hard drives to your server chances are that you will need to add additional connections to your PSU. To do this you can attach a splitter to each molex (4 pin) or SATA power connection that will effectively turn 1 of these connections into up to 4 new SATA power connections. So an average PSU with 2 cables with 3 SATA connections on each cable and 1 cable with 2 molex connections could be adapted to power 32 hard drives with adapters (in this example that would be one 4x SATA splitter for each of the 6 SATA connections (24) plus an additional one 4x SATA for each of the 2 Molex connections (8) for a total of 32 SATA connections to power 32 hard drives). You could even split this further if needed for even more drives assuming your PSU has enough power for 30+ hard drives.

Power Adapters – 4Pin Molex to SATA

NZXT CB-44SATA Singled Sleeved 4-Pin Molex to 4 SATA – $6

NZXT CB-43SATA Single Sleeved 4pin Molex  to 3 SATA – $5

NZXT CB-42SATA Single Sleeved 4pin Molex to 2 SATA – $4

Very nice individually sleeved 4 pin Molex to 4, 3, or 2 SATA adapter. Can power 2, 3, or 4 hard drives depending on what you choose and need. Comes in red and white as well.

 

OKGEAR 4Pin Molex to 4 SATA 90 Degree with Net Sleeve – $8 Not quite as nice looking as the above cables and also not as inexpensive. But will work nonetheless if the above cables are not available. Can power 4 hard drives.

 

ModRight CableRight Single Braided 4Pin Molex to 4 SATA – $10

ModRight CableRight Single Braided 4Pin Molex to 3 SATA – $9

ModRight CableRight Single Braided 4Pin Molex to 2 SATA – $8

Very nice individually sleeved. The 4 SATA version is the cable I used for the Goliath server. Can power 2, 3, or 4 hard drives depending on what you choose and need. Comes in Blue, Green, Red and White as well.

 

Power Adapters – SATA to SATA

Silverstone CP06 SATA to 4 SATA – $10 This adapter converts a single SATA into 4 SATA power connections. Can power up to 4 hard drives.

 

Power Adapter – 12V Extension

Mod/Smart Kobra SS 8-Pin 12V EPS Motherboard 8″ Extension – $8 With some of the larger server cases, like the Fractal Design Define XL, the 12V CPU cable may not reach when routed behind the motherboard during cable management. I have found this adapter to come in handy when you need a little more length.

 

SATA DATA Adapters

NZXT CB-SATA-44P Individually Sleeved 4 SATA to 4 SATA (750-700-650-600mm) – $7 This single cable will connect 4 hard drives to 4 sata ports on your motherboard or SATA controller card. Less than $2 per drive.

Lian Li SATA-LT90-4 4 SATA to 4 SATA (850 / 810 / 770 / 730mm) – $19 A very nice braided cable that will also connect 4 hard drives to 4 sata ports on your motherboard or SATA controller card. Less than $5 per drive.

Remember that with many of the newer motherboards you need a straight angled SATA connector for the moterhboard connections. Ideally I like to have 90 degree connections for the hard drives although straight angled connectors usually work as well.
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Case Fans

It is somewhat counter intuitive but larger case fans are quieter than their smaller counterparts. So when a case can accomodate a 140mm -or- 120mm fan in the same location always choose the larger size for this reason alone.

Most servers are going to be out of the way and noise isn’t of paramount importance. For this reason it makes sense to go with the best “bang for the buck” fans instead of the absolute quietest fans at any cost. The following two fan choices are two that I have used repeatedly that work well and are nearly silent. They are cheaper than something like Noctua which is nice when you need to add multiple fans to your server.

120mm Case Fan

Nexus BASIC D12SL-12 – $12 Nexus claims this is the quietest fan ever made and I believe them. I use these fans whenever I need an extra 120mm fan. Has a few different ways to connect it to power which is nice as well to give you a little more flexibility on how you connect it.

140mm Case Fan

COOLER MASTER R4-S4S-10AK-GP – $10 If Nexus made a 140mm fan I would recommend it as well but sadly they do not. However, this is a very solid fan for around $10. Also can connect your fan to power multiple different ways.

Fractal Design Silent Series 140MM Ultra Quiet – $7 I have recently started to use these fans and have been very impressed. Very quiet and they move a good amount of air. In the future I will likely use these over the Cooler Master listed above. Inexpensive as well. Less power connection options.

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Mini-ITX Server

The following parts are for those who are wanting to create a small form factor server and don’t need (or want) more than 6 total hard drives. Many of the parts are the same but I will point out what you may need to create a fantastic little server.

Motherboard: ASUS P8H77-I – $110 This little mini-ITX board has 6 SATA ports, USB 3.0, HDMI, Realtek LAN (upgrade to an Intel NIC card if wanted). You can use the same CPU and RAM choices as above. Can connect up to 6 total hard drives.

Case option 1: Lian Li PC-Q25B – $120 This is a really slick and simply looking case for this application. Inside you have 5 Hot Swap bays (7 total). One potential drawback to this case is that you have to use a relatively short PSU – which I will cover below.

Case option 2: Lian Li PC-Q08B – $110 This case has a slightly different look including a large fan on the front and can handle up to 6 hard drives and an optical drive. This case also requires a short PSU.

Power Supply Unit: Antec Earthwatts Green EA-380D – $45 This is an excellent, quiet, efficient and reliable psu for a server. 380 watts is plenty to drive a 65w CPU and 6 hard drives. The length of this psu also makes it a great choice in these small cases. Please note that with “green” power supplies such as this one you will have to either recycle an older wall outlet power cord or buy one like this if you don’t have a spare.

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Bios

These pictures were taken from a build I did using the ASUS P8Z77-V. As I have stated over at assassinhtpcblog.com its nearly impossible for me to do a through and comprehensive Bios guide as within even 1 manufacturer there are multiple versions of their bios. With that said I will try to point out what settings I think are important to your server settings and make this guide as general as possible to cover most of what you will need. Please consult the manual for your motherboard if you have any questions.

This is the main screen for bios. To get to this screen for most motherboards turn your server on and then hit the “delete” key repeatedly. As you can see ASUS provides us with a nice overview of the bios overview, CPU and memory. We can also see the drives that are attached and the system performance setting which is selected.

I recommend setting up your server with only the optical drive and OS drive connected. We will connect the rest of your drives after the OS is completely installed. This lessens the chance of the OS (or a portion of the OS) mistakenly being installed on one of you data drives. If you have not done this power down your server and disconnect all drives except the optical drive and OS drive.

For this bios let’s click on “Advanced Mode” to get out of the main bios screen and into more detailed screens.

Now we are in the main screen of the “Advanced” section of bios. Here you can see the subcategories across the top. You can also change the security to enable a password for bios if you like. I do not do this and leave this screen at its default settings.

In this screen you can control some of the voltage settings. I encourage you to leave all of these at default/stock. I also turn off the power saving mode as I do not want my server to go to sleep since it will be accessed 24-7.

Under this tab I made sure the thermal monitor is enabled. Otherwise I leave these at default settings.

This section is important to make sure you have set correctly. Make sure your hard drives are set in AHCI mode and that S.M.A.R.T. is enabled. Notice none of the other SATA ports are showing drives attached because I have only the OS drive and optical drive attached at this point.

Here I am setting the motherboard to use the integrated GPU for the display. I will use a monitor to get the server setup initially. After it is setup a monitor is not needed at all.

Here are some other settings that are applicable to this board. I have turned on the integrated wireless adapter, enabled USB 3.0 control, etc. I have enabled HD Audio on the motherboard but really this isn’t important unless you are also using your server for direct playback. If you are streaming to your HTPC you will need to make sure the HTPC is HD Audio capable.

I have set this server to not power on by PCI, PCI-e, etc. Again this is mainly not applicable as the server should be on 24-7.

On this screen I have disabled the full screen logo as this makes bootup faster. I have also set the boot order to boot the optical drive first and the OS hard drive second.

All other settings I have kept at default. Once finished save and exit. Now its time to install your OS.

A quick word about drivers:

I always recommend manually installing drivers from the manufacturer’s website. However, should you want to use the disc that was included with your motherboard to install your drivers know that some manufacturers allow the “easy install” setup (the one that installs all drivers at once) to work with WHS 2011 and some manufacturers do not. So in the end you may need to manually install all drivers for your motherboard in WHS 2011 even if you planned on using the “easy install” setup on the disc.

WHS 2011 is x64 based. So use Win7 x64 drivers whenever possible if in doubt.

Finally I will briefly cover some questions about programs that I cover in my HTPC guides located at www.assassinhtpcblog.com as they relate to your new server.

Q: Where should I install Media Browser, XBMC, JRiver, etc which I use as a frontend to playback my media? A: On your HTPC and point the media directories to the folder(s) located on your server.

Q: Where should I install Media Center Master or similar metadata scraper? A: On your HTPC and point the media directories to the folder(s) located on your server.

Q: Where should I install Plex Server if I want to stream media to my wireless devices? A: On your server and point the directories to the folder(s) located on your server.

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