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Comprehensive Home Network Setup
May 18, 2011 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I have a few questions about a home server / backup / HTPC solution and I would really appreciate some help. Details inside.

Overall, I'm attempting to create a home network where I have the following major requirements:
1. Windows 7 laptop primary machine
2. a centralized data repository (server) on some piece of hardware (music, movies, pictures, documents in one location; currently predicting 4TB in size)
3. audio is streamed from this repository to desk speakers in bedroom
4. HD movies streamed from this server to bedroom HD TV
5. HD movies streamed from this server to living room HD TV
6. all data is backed up onsite
7. torrents will constantly seed on the server (since the laptop will be in sleep mode overnight)

I also have a few minor requirements:
8. Blu-Ray ripping ability (would probably have to happen on the server due to how long it takes)
9. some secondary computing capability in case laptop breaks

I've been hashing this out for weeks and I really need some help from someone who has actually done something like this before.

With all of the above requirements in mind, I have a few questions:
A. Is a Windows 7 desktop machine with 4 TB of storage a good solution for this server and requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7? Or is a full Win7 installation overkill? Power consumption and heat are of some interest to me. A Win7 box would also satisfy requirements 8 and 9.
B. If Win7 happens to be overkill for processor, power, or heat reasons, will some sort of pre-built NAS have enough processing power to pull off requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7?
C. What type of processor would I need for this server in order to serve HD movies to my TV (via some client) and audio to my speakers (via either laptop client or Squeebox client)? How processor intensive is this type of thing on the server and client? Which does the most work? The box pushing the Blu-Ray rip or the box catching the Blu-Ray rip?
D. What type of issues might I run into with pushing audio and video around on a home Wireless-N network? Is HD video possible over wireless? There will be 2 other roommates connected to this network, as well, so it won't just be my traffic. I currently have a FiOS router but an upgrade might be in order to satisfy my requirements.
E. When looking for something to be the "client" for the streamed HD video, how to set top boxes and custom-built HTPCs compare? I suppose a Blu-Ray player / set top box combo could have the same capabilities as a custom HTPC with Blu-Ray drive. Which would you create? I would imagine HTPCs are MUCH more flexible than set top boxes when it comes to codecs and types of streaming Internet video.
F. If I were to have uTorrent running on a central Win7 server, would I have to "log into" this server via my laptop to set up the torrents and file save locations? Or is there some other way? If I had dual monitors attached to my laptop, could one be my laptop's view and the other be what's going on on my Win7 server? I don't quite understand how 2 Win7 machines would interact with only the laptop having a monitor.
G. Does anyone out there have any experience with Squeezeboxes or simliar devices? How easy is it to play audio from my server on speakers that are not connected to anything but Squeezebox "client" hardware?

Any help would be absolutely fantastic.

I have a PDF of a potential network setup here anyone is interested. Next to each hardware location, I have the requirements it satisfies lit up in green.
posted by decrescendo to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A lot of questions here. I'll just take an easy one:

C. What type of processor would I need for this server in order to serve HD movies to my TV (via some client) and audio to my speakers (via either laptop client or Squeebox client)? How processor intensive is this type of thing on the server and client? Which does the most work? The box pushing the Blu-Ray rip or the box catching the Blu-Ray rip?

The server doing the streaming does very little work here.
The client side, viewing the content, does most of the work.

A good video card can take a lot of the load off of the CPU for this kind of processing.
My HTPC setup uses Linux, where I have an nvidia video card with good support for VDPAU ; I'm not sure what the state-of-the-art is for Windows 7, though.
posted by jozxyqk at 10:35 AM on May 18, 2011


The server doing the streaming does very little work here.
The client side, viewing the content, does most of the work.

A good video card can take a lot of the load off of the CPU for this kind of processing.
My HTPC setup uses Linux, where I have an nvidia video card with good support for VDPAU ; I'm not sure what the state-of-the-art is for Windows 7, though.


So, if I built a fairly small HTPC to act as the HD video client, I'd really need to focus on the video card more than the processor or memory?

I wouldn't store anything on it locally. I don't have much knowledge of this but I'd probably install something like XBMC on this little box.
posted by decrescendo at 10:47 AM on May 18, 2011


Well, a half decent video card. You don't need anything particularly cutting edge to do full mpeg4 hardware acceleration these days.
posted by pharm at 11:00 AM on May 18, 2011


Well, a half decent video card. You don't need anything particularly cutting edge to do full mpeg4 hardware acceleration these days.

So set top boxes don't have any problems with mpeg4? WD Live, Roku, Boxee, etc.
posted by decrescendo at 11:06 AM on May 18, 2011


Ill take a stab at question F. The short answer is no.

For a torrent server, check out uTorrent with its web gui. You access utorrent through your web browser on your laptop.

I have utorrent running as a service on my windows home server box (so I don't need to be logged in and it starts even if the server is restarted), and I access utorrent through its built in web interface. I can add torrents from any of my other computers in the house, as well as when I'm away from home via the internet. Google utorrent web ui for tutorials. Your saved torrents will be accessible via the shared folders on your server.

For general access the server, you can use Remote Desktop to access a windows machine, or VNC to access a Linux or Mac or windows machine. If you needed to set something up on the server itself, you would just remote-into the server from your laptop. In either of these methods (remote desktop or vnc) you'll see the screen of the server come up and move the mouse around etc. as if you were sitting at the computer.
posted by Arbitrage1 at 11:28 AM on May 18, 2011


Well, a half decent video card. You don't need anything particularly cutting edge to do full mpeg4 hardware acceleration these days.
posted by pharm at 2:00 PM on May 18


Right. My video card cost $50, the cheapest one that handles all of the requirements of VDPAU (which is a Linux-specific thing, as far as I know).
It is this one (or at least something very similar).

Without hardware acceleration (which a lot of flash video doesn't support anyway, for example), you'll just have more CPU load, but it won't stop the video from playing. You just won't want to be doing a lot of stuff at the same time as watching a video on the same box.
posted by jozxyqk at 11:45 AM on May 18, 2011


For general access the server, you can use Remote Desktop to access a windows machine, or VNC to access a Linux or Mac or windows machine. If you needed to set something up on the server itself, you would just remote-into the server from your laptop. In either of these methods (remote desktop or vnc) you'll see the screen of the server come up and move the mouse around etc. as if you were sitting at the computer.

Oh, very awesome. Thank you very much.

I see Remote Desktop is only included in Professional versions of Windows 7. Apparently, I just have to make sure that version is on my server. I take it VNC has more features since it's not a free app?
posted by decrescendo at 11:47 AM on May 18, 2011


You're correct about remote desktop, but VNC should be free. I've used ( http://www.uvnc.com/ ) Ultra VNC. You'll just set up the service side of VNC on your server box, and then run the client software from your laptop whenever you need to connect.
posted by Arbitrage1 at 11:55 AM on May 18, 2011


Also check out Windows Home Server for your server operating system. Its got built in backup solutions, as well as Remote Desktop. Its what I use.
posted by Arbitrage1 at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2011


Also check out Windows Home Server for your server operating system. Its got built in backup solutions, as well as Remote Desktop. Its what I use.

I've considered that. However, will it really give me anything over standard Windows 7 than advanced backup solutions? If I built a Windows 7 box to function as my server, I could add a Blu-Ray drive and use that box to rip Blu-Ray. I don't think I could do something like that with WHS, could I? And I think torrenting is different somehow, as well. Does that uTorrent web GUI work on WHS?
posted by decrescendo at 11:59 AM on May 18, 2011


Does that uTorrent web GUI work on WHS?

I'm pretty sure it would - I used to run Azureus on my WHS in the remote desktop and it worked fine.

That having been said - a Technet subscription will get you access to the server operating systems and a bunch of OS licenses for a really great price.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:17 PM on May 18, 2011


Yikes, lots of questions. I'm currently running a 1TB NAS and HTPC combo (Windows 7 Media Center on an Ion nettop with an external drive) underneath the television so I'll answer the ones I can:

A. Is a Windows 7 desktop machine with 4 TB of storage a good solution for this server and requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7? Or is a full Win7 installation overkill? Power consumption and heat are of some interest to me. A Win7 box would also satisfy requirements 8 and 9.
B. If Win7 happens to be overkill for processor, power, or heat reasons, will some sort of pre-built NAS have enough processing power to pull off requirements 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7?


You may be able to find a NAS which does everything you want but they're going to be pretty expensive and you'll be stuck with the software that they provide. If you can afford it then I'd probably go for a Win 7 desktop machine too because it gives you plenty of flexibility now and in the future. A really basic example is that you could configure it to sleep at a certain time each night (depending on the day of the week) and then wake up the next morning (again depending on the day of the week) to save on power. My HTPCs power consumption drops from 15W-40W during the day to only 4W at night.

You should also consider using RAID. It's not a backup solution but will be a life saver if a hard-drive fails.

D. What type of issues might I run into with pushing audio and video around on a home Wireless-N network? Is HD video possible over wireless? There will be 2 other roommates connected to this network, as well, so it won't just be my traffic. I currently have a FiOS router but an upgrade might be in order to satisfy my requirements.

Theoretically you should be fine with a wireless-n network as long as you aren't pushing anything else heavy over the network and all your components are near the router. In reality, I've never managed to get it to work well for several reasons (1) you have to lock out any device which isn't wireless-n otherwise your whole network falls back to g when one of those connects (2) I have plenty of devices which are g only (3) My flat has poor wireless reception in the further out rooms (4) Often the network is being used for other stuff (eg. downloads) which severely affects the video and (5) If there are lots of other networks in the area then they can and will affect the speed you get.

I'd recommend looking at a combination of cable and Powerline adapters between your router and your main televisions to ensure that they get enough bandwidth for streaming.

F. If I were to have uTorrent running on a central Win7 server, would I have to "log into" this server via my laptop to set up the torrents and file save locations? Or is there some other way? If I had dual monitors attached to my laptop, could one be my laptop's view and the other be what's going on on my Win7 server? I don't quite understand how 2 Win7 machines would interact with only the laptop having a monitor.

If you're running Home Professional or higher then you can use Remote Desktop to log into the machine. It works extremely well and is, hands down, the best way to log into the machine to do maintenance tasks. When it's maximized, it's like sitting at that computer, however you can minimise it and you're back working at your local machine. If your budget doesn't stretch to that version of Windows 7 then TightVNC (free, use the high bandwidth setting when connecting) also works pretty well.

uTorrent has a web UI which can be access via any web-browser. It works really well. In addition, I set up a "Torrents" homegroup folder which is monitored by uTorrent. You can therefore browse for a torrent on any Windows 7 PC and save it into that homegroup folder on the media center and it'll get automatically picked up by uTorrent. I also configure uTorrent to only run when it's guaranteed that there either either no-one in the house or everyone is asleep - which significantly helps.
posted by mr_silver at 2:59 AM on May 19, 2011


Sorry to be the Linux evangelist, but someone's gotta do it.
I'm currently running a hacked Pogoplug that is capable of most of the tasks you're looking for in a server, although the specs fall short (128mb ram, just one sata port). There are some higher-end NASes available (almost all hackable) but none I know of that could transcode a Bluray disc in under a week. Keep in mind also that choosing any of these would sacrifice your ability to use the device as your backup PC.
Building a desktop to use as a server is probably the most cost-effective, but Windows 7 is still overkill because all the features you're looking for are available from free software. There are a lot of DNLA streaming servers. (Honestly this is probably a bad thing, it means people weren't satisfied with the existing solutions.) There's Samba for transferring files to/from your other machines. Transmission is a good torrent client that has a nice web interface, does everything uTorrent does, and uses blocklists internally. There are VNC servers, but you could save a tiny amount of RAM and earn massive hacker cred by not running a GUI and ssh'ing in from your laptop. Bluray ripping is a little complicated but possible. There are certainly backup solutions. (You could also back up your laptop with some of these - it's not just your music that's important, right?)
You could use one of these distros meant to be used in HTPC servers, or alternately, you could download a popular distro and then install all these things.

So on the plus side, you could get everything you're looking for for free, with great uptime and a base from which to run crazy side projects like a home automation system or your own HouseholdFilter site.
On the downside, it's Linux. You will run into crazy configuration problems. Maybe less than on a personal machine (servers are Linux's area of strength) but they will happen. Often solutions are documented online. Sometimes they're not. Maybe something won't run when you install it, or your different machines won't play nice on the network, or your file permissions will be inexplicably wrong. 99% of the time you spend fixing these things will be on the command line or hand-editing configuration files. My Pogoplug took a mere 12 hours to set up thanks to some good fortune and helpful tutorials. But hey, you'll learn a lot and in a twisted way, it could even be fun!

Lastly, G. I have no experience here but it should require, at most, that the Squeezebox devices have network connectivity and maybe that you enter their IPs somewhere. The Squeezebox wiki is very comprehensive and even has instructions for installing the server software to NASes.
posted by marakesh at 8:48 PM on May 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


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