Can anyone lend me a hand in designing my new home network computer setup?
October 7, 2009 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone lend me a hand in designing my new home network computer setup?

I have two computers right now.

1. Macbook Pro from about a year ago. In awesome shape. Bought it new. I currently use it mostly on travel and in my living room when I'm watching TV and browsing the net.

2. Desktop I built myself in 2006. I use this computer to store all of my music and listen to said music through speakers that are hooked up to it. I also have tons of pictures and videos stored on this machine. 3 harddrives, around 1.5 TB of space I believe.

I'd really like to make this Macbook Pro my primary computer. I spent too much money on it to use it for browsing the net in my living room. I want to be able to have access to the videos, pictures, and music that are currently on my desktop wirelessly while I'm on my Macbook.

How would I best go about this? I can see retiring this desktop or using parts of it to create a server. I envision this server living in my closet somewhere with a lot of storage and backup capability. I'd like to be able to access the data on this server wirelessly via my Macbook anywhere in the world.

And if I have speakers in my bedroom and a 7.1 system in my living room, how can I "beam" music on my server to these seperate speaker setups via my Macbook (basically it would sorta function as a remote control). I don't want to listen to music THROUGH the laptop or speakers connect to the laptop; I want it to come through other setups.

Also, would swapping out my laptop for a new one in a few years be an easy way to tech refresh this system since the server probably wouldn't have to be built from the most up-to-date components? The laptop is going to be what accesses the internet and edits video and what not.

So can I make this setup work and is it easy? (And does anyone have any good resources for building this server?)
posted by decrescendo to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Um is the self built box a windows box?

Where does just filesharing breakdown for you?

I use a fileserver (Linux flavor) that runs a version of Bonjour to share files (vids, music, etc)

It works great.
posted by bitdamaged at 11:58 AM on October 7, 2009

You could do this with iTunes on both computers and one or more AirPorts - Extreme or Express - with AirTunes enabled. From this, you plug a your speakers into the jack on the Airport and you will be able to play music wirelessly - altertatively, you can set this up on a receiver or larger audio equipment with a stereo jack to RCA cable. You don't make mention of whether you already have one, but you'll need a wireless card on your desktop to make this setup work.

To share your audio, you can turn on iTunes' file sharing between computers so that you can access the other library from the iTunes your MacBook Pro. You also will need to enable file sharing between the two computers for the other video and photo files.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:23 PM on October 7, 2009

Response by poster: Um is the self built box a windows box?

Where does just filesharing breakdown for you?

It is a Windows XP Pro box.

And do you mean by "where does filesharing just breakdown for you"? That might actually be all I need; a central repository.

But if it was just filesharing, what would be the processor playing the music files if I beamed it to another speaker system? Would I need a computer attached to those speakers to pump the audio?
posted by decrescendo at 12:24 PM on October 7, 2009

So I've been down this road here's what I've used.

1. Filesharing - I share a couple of directories on my network one with videos, one with music, and one with pictures. This works pretty well. I can access all of these files from all my machines. I don't really use iTunes for acquiring music but if you have iTunes on your PC it can share music to your laptop for playback. Even my new TV can actually access these files and play them back over the network.

2. UPnP is becoming the de-facto standards for "playing back" files on a home network. Similar to Bonjour it actually announces to other devices that the fileserver exists (as opposed to having to "find" the server on the network). There are a ton of devices and software packages that can be used to access files. Take a look at the wikipedia article.

You will always need something to process the files to play them back on a speaker. There's a ton of devices that can do this outside of a PC, I personally use a Squeezebox which actually has its own software for sharing and controlling playback
posted by bitdamaged at 12:43 PM on October 7, 2009

I'm assuming you have a router, probably a wireless one, correct? You plug your service provider's box/modem into that? I'm assuming that your router is configured for NAT (common default) and is running DHCP (also a common default).

Do you know how to log in to your router? That's going to be necessary somewhere along the line.

If possible, set your server up with a static IP on you local network segment. This simplifies connecting other things to it as it's IP address won't change every time the router restarts/the DCHP lease is up. The bad news is that not all consumer-grade routers have the capability. If you can tell us the make and model you have, we may be able to help you through this.

For the filesharing part, there's a decent recipe for what you want to do here. When you do the "connect to PC" part on the Mac, that's why it's nice to have a static ip on the server. Otherwise this might change if you restart the router and you'ld have to rejig things on the Mac.

The music streaming part can be done to a lot of different devices. The Logitech's squeezeboxes are really nice, but there are others. Many game systems can do it too, like the XBox and the PS/3. The bad news is that you do need a $100+ box to connect your stereo to the network. I don't think there's anyway around this.
posted by bonehead at 2:36 PM on October 7, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone. I've honestly been meaning to get the ball rolling on this for over a year but I can't settle on what I think I should buy/build.

I do have a router and I know to log in to it and everything.
posted by decrescendo at 3:36 PM on October 7, 2009

If you're technically inclined, you can buy a very cheap USB key and run a small install of FreeNAS on your desktop machine. You shouldn't have to reformat your Windows computer: the FreeNAS web interface provides a way to install itself to the USB key, so you can leave it plugged in all the time and just set your computer to start off the USB by default.

This solution requires a bit of instruction-following and UNIX geekery, but that's the kind of thing I'm into. You shouldn't have to reconfigure anything on your router: the magic of Bonjour mDNS allows your Mac to just see the file server. You should be able to bookmark it as afp://myfileserver.local, and then just point iTunes to the music files on it (store your library there? depends on the speed of your home network). As a bonus, you will be able to do Time Machine backups to this server. (This functionality is disabled by default in OS X because the first backup is painfully slow; if you're interested, I'll explain more.)

If you don't want to go that deep-- and that's fine-- you can always just share a folder on your C:\ drive with WinXP, and put all of your music/videos/etc in that folder. If you're running 10.5+ on your MacBook Pro, the PC should just "pop up" in the sidebar, and you'll be able to connect to it with your Windows username and password. You can then access the files on the PC just like you would with the FreeNAS setup.

As for streaming music to other speaker systems? The best (where "best" = "features"/"ease of use") way to do this is with Apple's AirPort Express base stations, which plug into the wall near your stereo receiver. You plug the AirPort Express into the "aux" jack of your stereo, and when you want to play music over the stereo, you go to iTunes and select "Living Room Speakers" or whatever from the little dropdown menu. Super-easy.

I'm a Mac tech, so most of these ideas are Mac-centric (or UNIX-centric). I have much less experience with Windows stuff. Feel free to ask for clarification-- I'm tired and not 100%. Good luck!
posted by aaronbeekay at 5:00 PM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

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