Help me improve my home network!
December 16, 2011 12:09 PM   Subscribe

How to turn my computer into an efficient home server...

Like many, I've gone to using a laptop for most of my computing needs. I have a MacBook Pro that I use for just about everything.

Well, everything except multimedia storage, downloading of torrents, and serving of files to my Boxee Box.

Right now, that machine is sitting in my basement. It's running Windows 7 64-bit with two 1TB drives attached.
To connect to it, I need to remote desktop in to it (currently using TeamViewer). I then download torrents within the Remote Desktop window to save to the hard drive.

From there, the files are in shared folders (SMB) which my Boxee scans and indexes for watching.

I'd like to streamline this into a more efficient system. I feel like I've cribbed this together, and while it's a solution that works, it's kind of unwieldy to manage.

What solutions exist to make the ultimate multimedia-file slingin, torrent downloading machine? Those are really my only two needs from the machine at this point.

I'd rather not spend a fortune buying a dedicated NAS box at this time.
posted by smitt to Technology (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Ugh, forgot to mention that I'd love to be able to use the machine for Time Machine backups if that's at all possible.
posted by smitt at 12:10 PM on December 16, 2011

uTorrent has a web client. Couchpotato will automate downloads and also has a web gui.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:13 PM on December 16, 2011

You could also install Belvedere which could help you organize your downloads.
posted by wongcorgi at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

To solve a similiar set of problems I'm considering setting up machine with FreeNAS, which has the sorts of features you mentioned. The lastest version, 8, is missing some of the features of the previous, 7.x, for now. This page compares the features.
posted by toddje at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Would you be willing to have a go at Linux?
I currently have a small (file/torrent/media) server (Atom board with a bunch of 1-2 TB drives) that I manage from various webinterfaces and from VNC. It runs Ubuntu + a Debian in Virtualbox for my Logitech Mediaserver. It's running qBittorrent for, well, torrents. Nice webinterface.
If I were to start over, I'd probably go for something like Turnkey Linux in seperate VM's for each major function. Or perhaps custom VM's, but I like the idea that everything is compartmentalized, so foul-ups doesn't spill over from one function to another. Easy migration, too.
You could slap Virtualbox + a few VM's on your Win7 macine and take it for a spin, then migrate later when you are comfortable with it.
posted by Thug at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2011

Linux or FreeBSD will rock for this. You've got SSH (and SFTP), NFS (SMB if you must), transmission (and a million other torrent clients, many of them will monitor directories for new .torrent files), sabnzbd (kicks ass). FreeBSD has ZFS too, which may or may not kick ass depending on how much you care about things like that.
posted by wrok at 1:15 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

One note is to be very cautious about using Time Machine backups to a device that isn't either A) running OS X, or
B) an Apple Time Capsule.

There are plenty of ways to get Time Machine to backup to a network device that is neither of the above, but Time Machine uses a lot of fiddly little subtle details in the HFS+ filesystem that 3rd-party implementations may or may not get right. (Or even first-party -- Apple doesn't even support TM to a drive that's shared from an Airport Extreme.) There are enough reports of network TM that seems to work fine for a while and then suddenly corrupts all the backups that I'd be awfully careful about using this box for it.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 1:29 PM on December 16, 2011

Response by poster: I like the idea behind those Linux boxes, but I just honestly don't have the time to dedicate to learning Linux.
The last time I tried it was a nightmare... It's made me very cautious about trying it.
posted by smitt at 1:36 PM on December 16, 2011

What don't you like about your current setup? Are you missing functionality? Are you looking for a single application or appliance (or something like Windows Home Server) to provide all of your desired functionality?

If you're keeping the machine in your basement or otherwise running headless, you will essentially have to remote in to do anything. Moving to Linux makes it easier to administer from the command line over SSH, but you'll have to use some sort of VNC/RDP/NX app to remote in to use a GUI. If you already have TeamViewer working, then switching to Linux won't do much to simplify your set-up in that regard. Is there something you want that TeamViewer doesn't provide?

Similarly, you'll have to share the files somehow, and Samba works as well as anything for sharing cross-platform. Not sure you can simplify this much. What don't you like about your current setup?

Virtualization is a good idea for portability. I wish I had focused on virtualization when I set up my system, though I was a bit worried about the overhead of running multiple VMs concurrently on a low-power machine. But your VMs will still need to provide remote access (which can get slightly complicated with multiple VMs using a single NIC), and you'll still need to provide share access to your drives. It won't simplify any aspect of your daily usage.

[On preview - if you're not considering Linux, then I assume you're looking for something like WHS. I have no idea how well it plays with Time Machine.]
posted by dilettanti at 2:07 PM on December 16, 2011

Windows Time Machine server setup instructions (spoiler: it's a Debian VM)

Transmission's web interface allows you to copy-paste .torrent URLs and magnetlinks, which is a lot more convenient than downloading the torrent file, switching to the web UI, and then hunting through your downloads folder for it. utorrent almost certainly has this feature as well.

What was your past Linux experience? It's still not exactly user-friendly, but it's better than it used to be.
posted by marakesh at 2:58 PM on December 16, 2011

Put Dropbox on both machines. Set up utorrent to watch a folder in Dropbox. Just drop all your torrents in that folder on the Mac, and they'll get grabbed by uTorrent. Use the aforementioned Belvedere to sort them from there.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:57 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not clear what sort of efficiency you are after.

From what I can tell, you could actually use the Boxee box as your file server by hooking hard disks directly to it and enabling samba. It also appears that there are some 3rd party torrent apps for the thing, which you could probably set up to watch a folder and automatically start downloading when a torrent file is saved there.

This would be more energy efficient than leaving your desktop machine running all the time, and a less "fussy" way to download torrents.

I don't have a boxee box, so you are on your own scouting out a local torrent app that can run on it.
posted by Good Brain at 4:20 PM on December 16, 2011

I recently asked a question and then answered it myself---I had a spare netbook that wasn't being used, and I've turned it into a BEAST of a home server. I don't have it doing as much as I might like yet, but I'll get there. Your box is really way overkill for 99% of applications.

My box runs linux mint (because it's just a netbook, but damn it flies), sabnzbd+ (because cool kids usenet), sickbeard, and the deluge torrent client.

I use mediadog on my android phone to manage all those things when I don't feel like VNC-ing into the box.

I simple-share all the necessary folders on my home network, and sickbeard DVR's everything and I have both deluge and sabnzbd+ set to watch a folder on the network for any .nzb or .torrent, and when it sees anything there it grabs it.

I don't know anything of time machine, and I'm the opposite of a fan of Apple products, but assuming you can map a drive on a remote machine in iOS and just save your time-machine backups there, this is fairly trivial to set up.

Ideally I'll eventually add some goodies like some home automation and probably use some more android apps to deal with my nzb's and whatnot--but right now it's pretty awesome. I serve to a WDTV which is the slightly less user-friendly version of a Boxee.

I decided to do this with a netbook because the power consumption is teensy.
posted by TomMelee at 5:08 PM on December 16, 2011

PS. I wouldn't bother trying to do machine backups to a Boxee running Samba. It might seem like it is working, until you need to restore.
posted by Good Brain at 5:25 PM on December 16, 2011

As TomMelee notes, all you really need to do to avoid the remote dektopping is setup a folder that utorrent monitors, share it on the network, and drop your torrents in it.

FreeNAS can run off a USB stick, and is largely controlled by a webadmin interface. Its fairly easy to setup, and once it is you don't need to interact with it.

Various inexpensive NAS boxes, say under $150 can do everything you've listed, for less energy consumption. QNAP and Synology sell diskless boxes. Iomega has a personal cloud device I keep seeing on sale for $135 with 2TB. These are also web-controlled, and probably even easier than FreeNAS.
posted by unmake at 10:57 AM on December 17, 2011

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