Downloading torrents while I'm away?
February 3, 2008 8:56 PM   Subscribe

What's the best device I can buy or build for under $300 that will download (over bittorrent), serve, and maybe even play my video files?

I've moved to a new home with a new wireless network, where my primary computer is a MacBook. This doesn't work out well with the large volume of bittorrent downloading I'm accustomed to doing, as I can't leave the laptop at home downloading, and don't like to leave it running all night either. Also, I'm out of storage.
I'd like to get either a NAS with built in torrent downloading, or buy or build a little server to sit on my network to do this. Extra life points if I can hook it up to my HDTV's VGA port and play videos, but this isn't super important. What IS important is:

-Price is a big factor
-Reliable and easy to use bittorrent downloading
-large, cheap, preferably expandable storage
-Plays nice with Macs.

I can't find much of anything in the way of reviews online of the bittorrent-capable NASes, and as a Mac fanboy I'm clueless with building computers or configuring Linuxes, though I'd be willing to tinker.

Any recommendations? I'm particularly looking for first hand experiences with solutions that have worked.
posted by raygan to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Check out TorrentFlux on Linux (I prefer Debian). You can run it on just about anything with a processor and it does everything you want, plus you'll have a full file server to boot! You can access it remotely since it's completely web based. Just drop a torrent file in from work and it will be done when you get home (hopefully). It's great! Mefi Mail me if you need assistance setting it up.
posted by cdmwebs at 9:17 PM on February 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Well for non-linuxy Mac fanboy goodness, why not get an AppleTV, remove the drive, put it in a Mac, install OSX on it, and put it back in the AppleTV (like so)? Should do everything you want, and connect to your HDTV. Only thing is that it tops out at 160GB, which probably doesn't meet your definition of "large" out of the gate.
posted by mumkin at 9:34 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I use an Asus WL-500g, running the X-WRT variant of OpenWRT, attached to a couple of USB hard drives. Most of the time, I'm actually saving to a thumbdrive (a busted old mp3 player actually), so the hard drives can be turned off. I'd say it hits each of your four bullet points, but not the bonus points of playing the vids. My other priority was low power usage, as this arrangement replaces a P4 that I was using, which was total overkill. The Asus shares out everything using Samba, which is easy enough to use on my macbook, and also can be easily read by a chipped xbox running xbmc. If I didn't have the xbox, I could still play the vids and audio via (or on) the macbook.

It took a little command-line tinkering to set up, though X-WRT does expose most of the guts of the system with a web interface - most of what I did could probably be done from the web interface - it was really just installing a few packages. I had to edit one text file to configure samba. Most of this was simply following a couple of how-to's on the web, so not that tricky.

The Asus also has the added bonus of the built in wired switch. I have mine set up as a wireless client, so it effectively acts as a wireless adaptor for the xbox, and anything else in the lounge that needs a wired connection, but you could certainly just use this as your wireless hub, and have it run your DSL connection too.

Software-wise, I use ctorrent and screen to manage torrents, which is a little hands-on, and wget for http or ftp downloads. I'll get around to scripting something more automatic than this one day, but it's been easy enough to use that I haven't bothered so far - I can happily ssh in to home from anywhere outside and set up torrents or http or ftp downloads.
posted by pompomtom at 9:41 PM on February 3, 2008

An origional, modded Xbox could handle the torrenting, serving and playing, and could connect wirelessly to a NAS elsewhere in the house if you needed more storage than the xbox could provide (up to 1TB). They can be had for ~$50.
posted by bizwank at 10:46 PM on February 3, 2008

Only problem with the original modded xbox solution (Which I have and LOVE, by the way) is that the xbox doesn't have the horsepower to do HD video decoding. It's spectacular for music and SD video stuff though if you use Xbox Media Center...
posted by twiggy at 1:00 AM on February 4, 2008

DansData just reviewed a Thecus N299, and at the end of the review mentions other alternatives.
posted by cwhitfcd at 1:36 AM on February 4, 2008

Have just had another thought regarding your requirements... how about something like a 2nd hand g3 or g4 ibook? With the g4 you might even get a vid-out. Certainly fits the macishness requirement... won't have large storage, but certainly expandable via USB or firewire disk boxes.
posted by pompomtom at 4:47 AM on February 4, 2008

I just picked up one of those Fry's $200 "great quality pc" specials and threw Ubuntu on it to do more or less what you describe. I added a cheap ass 5.1 sound card to it, plus a ridiculously huge drive for some tiny amount of money. Came to about $300 total, pretty much does everything I could possibly want. I just access the desktop remotely via vnc or just ssh in via the command line... and it's kinda nice having a full-blown linux box at my disposal on the homefront.

If you're looking for an excuse to play with linux, it's a good little project.
posted by ph00dz at 6:00 AM on February 4, 2008

I've got an old Pentium III box I found at a dumpster (!) that does most of those things--HD playback is not good, but it is a 500 mhz machine. It boots into an install of XPlite, loads uTorrent, autochecks a networked directory on its hard drive for new torrents, and plays back video using VLC. Boot time is about thirty seconds, and the only interaction it needs from me is a press of the power button.

I'm sure you could find a similar machine, though probably twice as fast for HD playback, for less than fifty bucks. Setup in my case was maybe two hours, and most of that was letting XPlite build and then letting it automatically install itself on the old machine. Cost may be a little higher if you don't have access to XP or 2000, though.

I tried Ubuntu on the same machine and it worked fantastically until I tried to get Java installed, which made its age very apparent.
posted by Benjy at 7:33 AM on February 4, 2008

I adopted an old Sony Vaio PCG-FX210 laptop (free for me, under $200 on Craigslist, I'm sure) with an offensively small amount of RAM. After trying about a dozen Linux distros I went back to Win2K. It's easy to share files with my Mac and TightVNC works great. If I wanted to make it a torrent box I'd just put a small-footprint bittorrent client on it and a cheap external hard drive. No need for a NAS since the laptop does all the network work. If the video card is capable enough you can just hook it up to your TV and use VNC to control something like VLC for all the public domain and home movies you torrent. Being a laptop makes it quiet and small, and I just set it to stay awake when I close the lid. Make sure you get something with USB2 or firewire so it can handle quick transfer with an external drive, along with a compatible wireless adapter, and you're good. Don't underestimate what you can do with old tech.

As a bonus it works as a backup laptop in the living room for my wife while I've got mine.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:56 AM on February 4, 2008

You could build a new PC for under $300. Fry's has been having some great deals- the past few weeks they have had Core2 processors w/ motherboards for $90. RAM is cheap, and you can get a decent sized hard drive with the remaining ~$150.
posted by mphuie at 9:22 AM on February 4, 2008

I just found Networking Audio Video. Looks like a good place for reviews, particularly the media hard drives and media routers categories.

Now you've got me wanting an answer for this as well... :)
posted by natabat at 2:36 PM on February 4, 2008

I use an old P3 laptop as my torrent box/print server. Used to use a full size PC but that was just silly. The downloaded files are saved to an NSLU2. Which then serves the files to my modded xbox running XBMC. I'm pretty certain you should be able to find an old laptop on ebay or craigslist for around the price you are willing to pay.
posted by gergtreble at 4:02 PM on February 4, 2008

Get a low-wattage mini-itx board (eg. VIA, etc).
Throw some Ubuntu on there.
It should handle SD video no problem.
Plus they typically draw about 90 watts at full throttle and idle around 15 or so, it'll be cheap to have up 24x7
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:47 PM on February 4, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, this is a lot to chew on. Right now I'm leaning towards picking up an old laptop on craigslist or the like and setting it up with Ubuntu. Always wanted to try that anyway. A used Mac Mini would do the trick too, and might be the easiest thing considering I'm far more familiar with Macs. I had hight hopes for the dedicated combined NAS/Bittorrent box idea, but the devices just don't seem to be up to snuff. Thanks for all the help!
posted by raygan at 9:57 PM on February 4, 2008

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