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Linux Server & HTPC (Home Theater PC)


recovering former mod
Retired Moderator
Oct 29, 2000
Plan: is to have an all-in-one Linux Server (auto-backups for multiple computers with RAIDed drives, print server to 2 usb printers, and maybe even Active Directory) that also directly serves up movies to my TV. My TV is not HD and doesn't even have component inputs- only S-Video and RCA/composite (red/white/yellow) input.

Reason #1: 9, 5, 3, 3, 3, and 1 year olds are hard on DVDs.
Reason #2: My wife just had her old laptop bite it (Lenovo Y510 - bad mobo I believe, after 16 months and lots of wear and tear and little kids, sending it in for repair). Well, I bought her a new laptop (Lenovo Y550P - getting 3 year extended warranty this time now that we have some money) but I had to extract the HDD and back it all up with her worrying that something was lost. Her fear is allowing me to spend some money on making a server. Yea!

CPU: $67.00 + free S+H - AMD Athlon II X2 250 Regor 3.0GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADX250OCGQBOX - Retail
Best bang for the buck. Possible to unlock additional cores for free (not necessary but always nice to get speed bump for free).

Motherboard: $91.99 + free S+H - Not 100% sure - ASUS M4A785TD-V EVO AM3 AMD 785G HDMI ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail

RAM: $93.99 + free S+H - G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-4GBRL - Retail

HDD: $89.99 + free S+H - Western Digital Caviar Green WD10EARS 1TB 5400 RPM 64MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive
I am going with the Greens @ 5400 RPM instead of the Blacks because I would rather have quiet, less energy used, and less heat generated. Two 1TB drives RAIDed to 1 would give me 1TB of space but the peace of mind of my automatic backups being locally double protected. I also plan to have online backups but that is for a different conversation (thinking of going with Acronis as it does local and remote and I like their products).

Video card: Using video built into mobo. Converting with converter box from VGA to S-video.

Sound card: Using sound built into mobo. Need to get a converter cable.

RAID card: Using RAID 1 in mobo.

Case: $77.99 + free S+H - ENERMAX Staray ECA3171-BR-AP Black Steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case with 3 Apollish Red LED Fan and Mesh Front - Retail

Multi-card Reader: $15.99 + $6.98 Std. Shipping - Koutech IO-FPM421 5-in-1 USB 2.0 Card Reader with USB 2.0 / Firewire 1394a / Audio Ports / eSATA (3.5") - Retail

Converter Box, video: $32.99 + $5.99 Std. Shipping - SABRENT PC to TV Converter Box TV-PC85 VGA Interface - Retail

Converter Cable, sound: need to find one.

The issue I am having in making a final decision the motherboard & video card is the output to TV. Anyone else done this before? I am very experienced with building PCs but not HTPCs.
You'd need a video card that supports S-Video out. TV tuners may support S-Video in, but they dont output it.

Since it will be linux, you're also pretty much limited to nVidia as their drivers are better than ATi. You also dont want to be getting any old cards as they may have issues as well)

If you dont plan to play any games on the pc (I assume not since you're going to since its a Linux build) then a 8400GS or 8600GT is just about what you're looking for. Since they have DVI out, you should also be able to connect using HDMI if you get a new tv in the future.

As for RAID, Id go with a hardware solution. Software RAID just seems to lack.
For backing up multiple computers, check out rsync. Even if you already know about this, it's worth mentioning for anyone else reading this thread.

I'm not a fan of RAID for the home user. RAID is meant for uptime, not backup. It generally doesn't protect against fire, flood, lighting, human error(rm -r, etc), or theft. You're far better off with an external hard drive in a fire safe, or best of all an offsite location. Takes more effort to make sure you have regular backups, but it's worth it. Plus, hard drives of the same batch number tend to fail around the same time, making RAID with drives purchased at the same time even less stable.
@taper: Good points, all.

On rsync: I will look into this. I'd love to go all Open Source for my products but my main focus is reliability and ease. I see that there is a wrapper for rsync on Windows called DeltaCopy and they even say it works on Windows 7.

I was looking at using Acronis as an imager for the system in addition to incremental updating, got any OS alternatives that I should look at?

On RAID for the home user: I have heard the same. On the external backups, I plan on also using a Internet based backup system to backup into the cloud. I have played with Mozy and programs like that with okay success (files are backed up but it takes a while to restore a full backup or even just a single file) but I am still looking for something that provides high reliability with quick restores for little cash. I know, pick two out of fast, cheap, and reliable/quality, but the goal is to always push for more bang for your buck especially since I like to research products to present to my customers (computer services biz).

Again, on the RAID, what do you think about ordering the HDDs, the same model, from different vendors? Added variables would be different shipping boxes (dropped different amount of times- I work at UPS, I know about dropping boxes but I make sure I handle all known computer/electronic boxes with great care [especially NewEgg :)]) and greater possibility of being a different batch.

I was also looking into a BluRay burner. I was going to use it to make backups and weekly mail them to my mother in-law's house. :D Extra expense but what is there is a fire etc. This would at least protect what my wife feels is valuable in our digital life (pictures, videos, documents). She does a lot of digital picture taking and we both generate a lot of documents (PDF scans of court documents- don't ask ;)).
I don't know much about failure rates other than batches tend to fail around the same time. Rates generally follow a U shaped curve, either failing right away or be good for years. Google put together a bunch of data from their own drives and released some of the highlights. I personally have never had a hard drive I was still actively using go bad, but I rotate them out after 4-5 years.

Optical disc is a very reliable backup(but will degrade on the order of decades) if you can put up with the cost and time needed. Is it feasible to set up a small computer at your mother-in-law's house and use something like rsync to do all the work for you? You can even set it up to fold between syncing. You shouldn't need a really fast internet connection at her place, but it will need to be always on or have her remember to turn it on at certain times.
You may wish to look at Unison backup system, which uses the rsync algorithm.

For software I suggest Boxee or XBMC. If you are wanting dvr functionality then the only thing I know of off the top of my head is MythTV.
I went with the following, prices include taxes and shipping:

Output to TV: $128.39 Western Digital WD TV Live Network-Ready HD Media Player WDBAAN0000NBK-NESN - Retail

NAS: $139.25 D-Link DNS-321 Diskless System 2-Bay Network Storage Enclosure - Retail

Hard Drive: $171.19 Western Digital Caviar Green WD20EADS 2TB SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

Switch: $48.14 D-Link DGS-2208 10/100/1000Mbps 8-Port Desktop Green Ethernet Switch - Retail

Wireless Router: $26.74 ASUS WL-520gC IEEE 802.3/3u, IEEE 802.11b/g 125 HSM Wireless Router / DD-WRT Open Source support - Retail

Print Server: $71.16 D-Link DPR-1260 Rangebooster G Multifunction Print Server - Retail

I can't find all of my cabling supplies so I still need to get some of that and I have been lazy about setting up all of the hardware since I will need to take out my current wireless router (oh, BTW, the new wireless router takes the micro edition of DD-WRT [not shabby for $25]) and all of the systems of the net.

I am thinking about getting the NETGEAR FVS318 12.5 Mbps LAN to WAN throughput 1.2 Mbps 3DES throughput ProSafe VPN Firewall Switch - Retail for about $104.99 + tax to ease the load off the wireless router (torrents have been hammering my WRT54G- I have to reboot it a few times a day, some days).
Are you running the default firmware on your router? DD-WRT or Tomato can handle high loads much better. I havent had to reboot mine in a while now.
My WRT54G is running the default firmware. The version of router I have (v6 I believe) has a LOT less flash and RAM than the original 2 version of the router. I don't think that they, Linksys, should even call them the same router.

The new wireless router I have can run DD-WRT micro- not sure if I want to rely on it since I have the money now to get something more powerful....
Okay, irony of ironies. Pretty much right after I posted my router (or something) started acting up and my connection became intermittent.

Anyways, Id still give DD-WRT or Tomato a go.
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