What's the best option for home media server/storage
January 30, 2009 9:55 AM   Subscribe

What is the current best option for a home media server/storage? I think that hard drive prices may have finally fallen to the point where I might be able to put my DVDs on a server, but the options are overwhelming.

Points of Consideration:
  • I'm primarily a Mac house
  • I have several hundred DVDs, and want to keep the full menu structure and features, so figure I need between 2 and 3 terabytes that will grow over time.
  • There's really just one primary TV/Stereo system I'd want to serve media too, and possibly a few computers. I suppose that could change at some point.
  • My house isn't hard wired for networking, so I'm looking at slow wireless or having the server located near the TV.
  • I don't know what the front-end is going to be yet. I was hoping a new Mac Mini would be released or maybe even a device designed to do this kind of stuff, but that may need to wait.
Drobo seems to be popular with a lot of people, but I've heard the fan is very loud. It also seems weird that you have to buy a separate piece to turn it into a NAS device.

I guess it makes sense to set up a RAID array for this, but on the other hand, a few hard drives may be cheaper/easier. I guess that would suck if one of the drives went down, but it's not like this isn't data that could be re-ripped (although that would obviously take a lot of time).
posted by willnot to Technology (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My buddy just got a drobo and the fan is not loud (I've personally heard it, perhaps this is a newer version than the older loud ones). He has it mounted on a dedicated home theater mac mini, so he didn't need the NAS part. He's very happy with it.

You might also want to check out Qnap.
posted by sharkfu at 10:04 AM on January 30, 2009

Cheap/old/used PC + Cheap HDs + FreeNAS + Used Xbox = win.

FreeNAS can SW RAID your drives for you, supports AFP/SMB/FTP, and is just generally awesome. Modded original Xbox with Xbox Media Center installed as a front-end, and you've got a slick-tastic system that's pretty cheap overall.


-If you're planning on keeping all your DVDs at full resolution on your media server, you will (a) run out of room very, very quickly, and (b) not have a chance in hell (imho) of streaming them adequately over a 10/100 network connection.

-Don't be tempted to just go JBOD on this -- RAID 1 or at least nightly backups (which is also built into FreeNAS -- yay!) is a must. I'd die if my NASbox died after I've ripped all my movies to it.

(I'm also a Mac household, so be assured that cross-platform issues are addressed.)

MeFiMail me if you have more Qs.
posted by liquado at 10:11 AM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

-If you're planning on keeping all your DVDs at full resolution on your media server, you will (a) run out of room very, very quickly, and (b) not have a chance in hell (imho) of streaming them adequately over a 10/100 network connection.

5 GB / DVD x 300 DVDs = 1.5 TB, which is not that big nowadays. 1 TB internal drives are around $100 nowadays.

Also, anecdotally, I haven't had any problems streaming full disc images to an XBMC over a 100 megabit network. By definition, you only have to be as fast as a 1x DVD drive, or 1.32 MB/s or 10.56 megabits/s.
posted by smackfu at 10:44 AM on January 30, 2009

And to answer the question, I use Windows Home Server for this, along with my old desktop computer. It's just SMB shares so it works fine with my Mac. (Although you can't use the great automatic backup facility that you get with Windows.) The storage space is just seen as a single pool, and adding discs is just plugging them in and telling it to add them to the pool. Any share can be duplicated to separate physical drives just by clicking a checkbox.
posted by smackfu at 10:56 AM on January 30, 2009

Look into Unraid (link) unlike a traditional raid, you can add disks without needing to rebuild/restore from backup. You can lose 1 drive and no data. You can lose multiple drives and only lose data from those drives (unlike a raid where all data in array would be lost). Also, my understanding is that if the computer fails, the contents of the disk can still be read (by another computer) unlike a Drobo where you'd need a replacement unit.
posted by syntheticfaith at 10:58 AM on January 30, 2009

I'm seconding FreeNAS on an old machine (or a new barebones machine) with an xbox as the front end. You can set it up as a slimserver as well and access your music from all over the world...

On the other hand, why not just set up a decent pc with a lot of hard drives in it? You can get some cheap cases with lots of expansion slots, throw in a pci sata card if needed and add a ton of drives there and keep the whole thing by your PC. This will run hotter than your FreeNas solution (FreeNas can be installed on flash memory which will keep the disks from spinning up unless in use...), but you have a lot more options with a dedicated computer. You could get a decent graphics card that will output hdmi or even a tuner card and turn it into a mythtv box... that way you can set it up to rip any dvd you put in the drive, without even having to lift a finger. There are also lots of remotes out there to assist with the control of the computer from the couch and also a lot of front ends out there to make it all look nice on yout tv.

Basically there are tons of options out there, but it all depends on how much time/money you are looking to spend and really your main goals with the system.

I prefer my FreeNas box because it is versatile, I have a nokia 770 that i use on my stereo as the front end for a slimserver, I have a softmodded xbox that i use as the front end on my tv, I use it as an ftp server, as a back up sever.... and the list goes on.
posted by eleongonzales at 2:20 PM on January 30, 2009

I'd recommend an old PC with Unbuntu if you are a big dork like me and ever decide you wanted to play around with hosting some home servers. It requires a bit more configuration (but the latest version of Ubuntu makes SMB sharing so easy once you've installed the Admin panel from Synaptic). You can also set up a VNC server so you can administer it graphically using Chicken of the VNC. Mine was an old PC I "disposed of" for a client, but it runs like a champ and doesn't draw a lot of power/make noise because it is just a simple desktop PC with a small power supply.

The one time I played around with freeNAS it totally screwed up permissions on the files, so I've never used it again.
posted by ijoyner at 2:46 PM on January 30, 2009

@smackfu: Sorry, bad edit -- I meant to say over "slow wireless" network as OP noted, not "10/100." My bad.


5 GB / DVD x 300 DVDs = 1.5 TB, which is not that big nowadays. 1 TB internal drives are around $100 nowadays.

I would agree, except that:

-Lots of discs, with extras and features (which the OP wants to preserve) are dual layer (8.5GB), or multiple disc sets. I think by the time the smoke cleared, it's highly likely that 300 movies would be significantly more than 1.5TB.

-While 1TB drives are $100, building a system with 1TB drives when you already have (theoretically) 1.5TB of data to rip to them, doubled for RAID1/Backup capacity, means you're looking at 500GB of storage -- that's not exactly future-proofing your storage capacity. Yes, you can get a PC with more bays, but the noise level of six or eight drives, not to mention power consumption, wouldn't be my ideal scenario. YMMV.

However, still good points to keep in mind. If # of discs is smaller and makes 2TB of storage enough, you'd be bang-on.
posted by liquado at 4:31 PM on January 30, 2009

(b) not have a chance in hell (imho) of streaming them adequately over a 10/100 network connection.

This is not true, IMNSHO. I have a number of straight ISOs direct from DVD and they work just fine over 100mb connection. Server is an openWRT box with USB disks, client is an old xbox with XBMC.
posted by pompomtom at 5:40 PM on January 30, 2009

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