I've got ALL the devices EXCEPT for the device I NEED.
October 28, 2011 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I need an ultra-low-power home server/media hub. Cheap is good. Suggestions?

Currently I use a massive rig for automated TV/movie downloading with sabnzbd/sickbeard/some other stuff. This is not ideal. It streams to a WDTV live.

I just, for fun, moved sickbeard/sabnzbd+ onto a Linux Mint 11 install on a Dell Mini 10, and it's writing downloads to a mapped drive on the main rig. This is MORE ideal, but it still sucks because the main rig needs to be ON for it to work, so I'm still drinking power.

I would like to have an always-on NAS with the ability to run sab/sickbeard/torrents, which can run headless (or on the mini, if necessary) and be always on, that I can dump a 2tb drive in (or two) and call it good.

I'm not using a USB drive on the mint install because I worry about read/write speeds, however in every other way the Mini is an ideal platform. Do you have thoughts in this regard?

An ideal device would have/be: gigabit, a couple sata ports for large drives, be able to operate as a NAS although I don't need automated backups---just a file dump, and the ability to run sab/sickbeard/torrents, and use as little power as possible. I am happy to run the OS off flash if necessary. I'm guessing there's a thin-client out there that may do this very well.

So here I am looking for hardware recommendations, OS recommendations (I see that FreeNAS can run sabnzbd+...but...it seems less than elegant), etc.

And, lastly, I would love for this to be as inexpensive as possible. I've also got two, 17" dual core laptops that could do the job instead, but it seems like a waste.

The WDTV live does all the transcoding, so I don't need a lot of processing power, although sickbeard/sabnzbd have to unpack and repair nzb's---and that takes some guts.
posted by TomMelee to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I've run various things on a D-Link DNS-323 'NAS' that has been 'fun plugged' so you can get a shell. I haven't run what you are asking for, but a quick google search shows others have had some success.
posted by csmason at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2011

The DNS323 has very little grunt; it's an ARM5.
posted by scruss at 11:59 AM on October 28, 2011

That's probably a twee too weak. I was imagining a nation of bored IT folks on a friday afternoon (like me) just itching to answer my question...
posted by TomMelee at 12:06 PM on October 28, 2011

PogoPlugs can be had for ~$50. Some have sata ports if you crack open the case. They can be rooted and made to run a variety of services.
posted by roue at 12:12 PM on October 28, 2011

I'm not using a USB drive on the mint install because I worry about read/write speeds, however in every other way the Mini is an ideal platform. Do you have thoughts in this regard?

Maybe I'm not understanding your request here, but if you're concerned about USB r/w speeds how will a network-attached SAN be okay?
posted by phearlez at 12:49 PM on October 28, 2011

PogoPlugs are also ARM5s. I have a DNS323 and a SheevaPlug at home, and can attest to their ungruntliness. They'll handle multiple torrents no problem, and video streaming to an Asus O!Play - just maybe not all at once.
posted by scruss at 12:59 PM on October 28, 2011

Shuttle type XPCs have 250W power supplies, and they'd probably use a bit less in your setup. Maybe a sense of what you think "ultra-low power" means other than "less than what I currently use" can help here.
posted by rhizome at 1:03 PM on October 28, 2011

D-Link has released an updated version of the 323 - the 325. I believe it's still fun_pluggable, but I'm not sure (I only have the 323). The 323 is a little workhorse, but it can get bogged down under load. Maybe the 325 is better?

Ever thought of building your own from scratch? You can get low-power mini-ITX boards for cheap (Atom/Sandy Bridge or AMD's E-350), and memory is dirt cheap right now. The power supply is the biggest challenge - small, reliable power supplies are surprisingly not cheap, but you can buy cheap case/PSU combos that have, well, cheaper PSUs in them.

I just built my own replacement for the DNS-323 - I used an E-350 board, and it seems to do very well under load (though low-compression VNC does strain the CPU a bit), but the onboard graphics processor is useless for a file server.
posted by dilettanti at 1:10 PM on October 28, 2011

phearlez- I've got two usb hard drives now. One's a 320Gb WD and it is DAMN slow, like stupid slow. Like, "my download speeds are faster" slow. I've also got a USB 3.0 enclosure with a Sata 2 drive in there, and it hums right along in a 3.0 slot...which of course the Mini doesn't have. I AM concerned about the ability of the little weak system to yank HD content off a non-externally-powered USB drive, handle it, and then send it down the line. Is this an unrealistic concern?

I was looking at the pogoplug forums...and man that seems like some combination of quick/dirty/ugly kludgery to make that work. I'd love to hear from someone who *actually* has done this sort of thing.

Rhizome--shuttle-type form factor is what I'm THINKING, it just seems that they're unnecessarily expensive. I was hoping someone had a suggestion for under $300, since it doesn't exactly need a lot of juice and won't be transcoding anything. "Ultra low power" means "in a closed closet without temperature concerns and less than the 600w (gold certified, though) psu and 4 hd's/video card rig that's currently doing the work. I wanna add a plug in my closet and let it do its thing. I won't be UPSET if it's got the guts to do some home automation stuff, but it's certainly not a necessity.

dilettant---yes, I thought about it. I actually bought a few chips several months ago, cheap on craigslist, and this was my intention. Unfortunately, they were in a messenger bag (full of goodies) that was stolen from my car. What vexes me is that yes, the BOARDS are cheap and the Memory is cheap and the drives are cheap but the cases seem unnecessarily expensive. I'd love to see a suggestion.

This all may be as easy as plugging an external into the Mini and trying to set the power options to not shut it off when the lid is closed (I swear it's not there, the Mint forums swear it is). Then I need to figure out how to make the network see the drive...I seem to only be able to get one-directional visibility working in Samba...but I am a linux noob.
posted by TomMelee at 1:21 PM on October 28, 2011

I agree with dilettanti— I would assemble a system around a small PC motherboard. I don't know what's out there right now, though, so I can't make a concrete suggestion. The Shuttles are compact but I think you're paying a small premium for that; a physically larger case might be cheaper.

The easiest solution would be to just run the Mini with its lid open and its backlight turned all the way down…
posted by hattifattener at 2:01 PM on October 28, 2011

I have a Q-Nap TS-410 and a TS-110. The 410 is a 4 (I have 4 2GB drives in a Raid 5/hot spare config)bay that i have set up for movies, games and OS backups for all of our computers. I use the 110 for tv series and games. Both run linux, both have modules you can add to add features, and most importantly, you could put another flavor of linux on them $425 bare, and the 110 was $170. You can get one of their 2 bay rigs for about 200 bucks.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2011

I don't suppose RaspberryPi would do what you need?
posted by richyoung at 3:19 PM on October 28, 2011

I found an older thread as kind of a backgrounder on what to expect in low-power computing. 23W seems pretty good, and people are/were using EPIA for media server stuff. I'm not sure what the marginal overhead of the torrenting might be.

I'd also try asking on Tom's Hardware, I came across a feature request for a LPC section, so there are definitely people with that knowledge floating around there.
posted by rhizome at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2011

A Fritz Box with Freetz.

* VDSL/ADSL2+ modem
* WiFi Router
* VOIP Station
* Arm based Linux Server

Consumes something like 8 Watt
posted by yoyo_nyc at 8:36 AM on October 29, 2011

I've got an old Compaq nc4000 laptop with Debian on it (just an ssh server, no X) that makes a very fine media server. I plugged its power supply brick into one of those how-much-juice-does-this-device-suck meters and found that when it's idling with its internal HD spun down and the backlight turned off it sucks all of 6 (six) watts. Spinning up the internal HD takes it to 9 watts. Adding a 2TB 3.5" Samsung EcoGreen drive in an external dock totals 17 watts idle, 22 watts with heavy seeking (the external dock's 12V wall wart is a switching type, not a transformer type). I'm quite pleased with those numbers, especially the idling no-disks-spinning 6 watts - that's only 20% worse than a much less capable plugtop.

It's only got 100Mbit/s networking, though. But I bet that if you were to grab almost any modern netbook and make similar measurements you'd get similar results.
posted by flabdablet at 9:03 AM on October 29, 2011

That laptop cost me $20, by the way. It's old.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 AM on October 29, 2011

You don't have any problems streaming HD content off the USB over the network?
posted by TomMelee at 2:49 PM on October 29, 2011

An HD video stream chews up about 5 megabytes/second (less for MP4) so the bottleneck is the 100 mbit/s Ethernet that gets the stuff out of the laptop, not the USB-connected disk that gets it in.

The network is good for a little over 10 megabytes/second when fully saturated, which is enough provided I only ever serve one HD client at a time (which I do) and the client has a reasonable cache (which it does). A USB2-connected hard drive is generally good for around 22 megabytes/second.

I'm just using Samba to serve this stuff, not any kind of clever streamer.

Netbooks are good little power sippers - they need to be to get those spectacular run times out of those tiny little batteries. And if you get one with USB3 and gigabit Ethernet you can stop worrying about bandwidth at all, because you will have buckets of it (even 802.11n wireless can ship a couple of simultaneous HD video streams given halfway decent signal strength). You should also find that provided you're not asking your server to do any transcoding, but merely using it as a file server, that its CPU will not work hard enough to cost you much juice.
posted by flabdablet at 2:59 AM on October 30, 2011

thats basically where my math is, which is why I was asking. I've already GOT the netbook in question, but it doesn't have gigabit. I'm also serving with samba to a device that does its own transcoding. I'll give it a shot.
posted by TomMelee at 6:40 AM on October 30, 2011

I thought I'd post the resolution this this question in case anyone finds it or is still paying attention.

My steps:
-I installed Linux Mint 11 on the netbook, standard settings.
-I found a 2TB Seagate USB 3.0 powered external drive for $80 at Wal-Mart. Pretty good considering that the flooding in Thailand has pushed drive prices up substantially recently. It auto-powers-down when not in use. (The netbook doesn't have USB 3, but it was helpful for getting the existing media off the PC that DOES have usb 3.)
-----Sidebar on this. This drive has to be formatted from a windows or mac machine because it wants to install software. Format it all to NTFS and it will work fine in the nixbox.
-I copied over existing media folders to the new drive (Movies/TV/Other/Blackhole)
-I installed Sabnzbd+ on the netbook.
-I installed Sickbeard on the netbook.
-I configured Sabnzbd to my account settings and told it to automatically pickup any downloads it found in the /Blackhole/ folder.
-I configured Sabnzbd to start on system start.
-I installed Sickbeard, made it start on system start.
-I showed Sickbeard the media folders and it added the shows as necessary. (I love this feature, BIG time saver.) Double checked that my grab settings were as I preferred.
-I made Sabnzbd use Sickbeard scripts to process naming and file moving.
-I tried to share the folders with Samba. It worked, but the WDTV device WOULD NOT see the subfolders. I used Nautilus Usershares to "simple share" the folders. I had to add the line "force user = username" to the [global] section of smb.conf.
-I installed Deluge on the netbook, and had it auto-grab any .torrent file in /Blackhole/, and told it do download a new blocklist every day.
-I enabled remote desktop on the netbook.
-I mapped the Other and Blackhole folders as drives on the windows 7 machine.
-I set the netbook to "blank screen" on lid-close.
-I put the netbook and hard drive on the top shelf of a book case in my room, I put the netbook on woodblocks at the corners to improve airflow.
-I ran fresh cat5 (it's only got a 10/100 card) from the router to the box.

Now, if I think of an NZB (usenet) file I want to download, I log into nzbmatrix and download it directly to the mapped drive for /Blackhole/, and the netbook downloads it automatically to the /Other/ directory, unless I VNC in and tell it it's a movie or tv show, whatever (nzb's coming from sickbeard are automatically processed as TV). If I want a torrent, same thing, I drop it in /Blackhole/ and Deluge grabs it. I also have Deluge set to stop seeding at 1.0 ratio.

WDTV sees all the folders, but obvs I only look in movies and TV. Anything I DL and want for the Windows 7 machine is probably in "Other", which is the catchall for backups, whatever. Show downloads are automated and easy, and any time I want I can log-in and add more, stop them, whatever. If you're not familiar w/ the power of Sickbeard/Sabnzbd+ you should check them out, even on a Windows box.

I also use TeamViewer from work to the Windows 7 machine...and RealVNC on that machine to the netbook. So today I team-viewed into my home PC and VNC'd from there into the netbook. Kinda silly but neat.

I think that's it. If you try this and get stumped or you have questions, feel free to MeMail me if this thread is locked.

(Oh, and yes, High-Def content streams just fine in this setup, nary a hiccup.)
posted by TomMelee at 1:36 PM on November 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

A Fritz Box with Freetz.

* VDSL/ADSL2+ modem
* WiFi Router
* VOIP Station
* Arm based Linux Server

Consumes something like 8 Watt

Wait, so this thing says it has a DECT base station in it. Does that mean I can dispense with my VOIP ATAs and DECT phone base stations? Because that would be AWESOME.

How do you assign DECT extension handsets to talk to the fritzbox rather than the manufacturer's base station?
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:48 PM on July 26, 2012

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