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Rethinking My Computer Setup
#1
I believe that I have reached a point with my current setup where I need to do some updating, expansion, or reconfiguration of my HTPC setup. I'm going to try to clearly explain my current setup and needs, and then hopefully the many brilliant minds out there will chime in with opinions. Warning, this post could be lengthy.

I'll start by prefacing that my CQC use is limited to home theater automation and media management. I use it to control all of my home theater components, lighting, and music and movies collections. I live in an apartment, so I don't have security systems, lawn irrigation, etc... I currently only use one video stream for movies that runs to the matrix switcher, which then sends it to either the 34" HDTV or the projector. However, in the future I can see myself upgrading the HTPC to replace my Comcast cable box (if that will ever be possible), in which case I will want two video streams for watching different channels on each screen (think March Madness).

First, a rundown of my current HTPC:
I currently run everything off of a single fairly beefy machine that I built around 2 years ago. It has an AMD dual core processor, 2GB RAM, an 80GB drive for the OS, applications, and CQC. There is also a 250GB drive for music, and a 500GB drive for ripped DVDs. It has a dual display card that runs VGA to a ELO touchscreen and component video to my matrix switcher. It has Windows XP with XP unlimited so that I can simultaneously use RDP for the touchpanel and my Airpanel.

So now onto why I want to make some changes:
1) My 500GB movie drive is about full and my current case only has room for one more hard drive.
2) I want to add a HD-DVD/Blu-Ray drive, but I think my current video card, while very powerful, is not HDCP compliant (XFX 7600GT).
3) I want to add RAID to my setup to avoid data loss.

I'm thinking that my best option will be to build a second computer in a chassis that has room for 6+ hard drives. I will make this computer my movie storage server. I'm thinking about two small hard drives in raid 1 for the OS, etc, and then a few 500GB drives in raid 5 to create a large "Movies" folder. This folder will house both regular DVDs and HD-DVD/BluRay movies. (Unless it is more beneficial to create two arrays, one for SD movies and one for HD movies.)

I will then downgrade the current HTPC to serving as the CQC server with all my serial connections to HT components, serving the ELO touchscreen and Airpanel, and storing music. By removing the current movie hard drive, I will have room to add a second 80GB drive for raid 1 for the OS, CQC files, etc. I will also add another 250GB drive for raid 1 on the music since I don't think I will ever surpass 250GB of mp3s.

So, here come the questions:
1) If I build a box purely for storing movies, would it be wise for that box to also do the video rendering and then put a new HDCP compliant video card in that box?
2) For the storage server, should I look at a server motherboard/CPU setup, or can I achieve the dual RAID setup from a standard desktop setup?

In my opinion, the answer to question 1 will have the largest influence on how I proceed. If it is optimal for me to pull video rendering off of the CQC server and have the movie box do it, then I will need a much meatier CPU and RAM setup than if it was just serving as a storage box. Right? If I can leave video rendering on the current HTPC, then I will just upgrade that video card and put the older one in the storage box.

Ok, so now how about if I throw future DVR capabilities into the mix. Would I also want to keep that video rendering off of the CQC server as well. Assume I would store any recorded tv shows on the new storage server.

Am I even thinking about this in the right way, or is there a solution that I have completely overlooked? I prefer to build my own computers versus buying prefab. In addition, I'm pretty sure that I want to stay away from the retail NAS servers as I think you get less storage for much more money with them.

Thoughts?
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#2
a lot of the intel mobo's nowadays have RAID right on the mobo, some with multiple arrays. I got an Abit AB9 Pro, now it's only $80 after MIR from newegg. You need to make sure you buy supported memory brands, but after that you're set.

I don't think #1 makes a huge difference one way or the other. But, I would pull video rendering off the CQC server as that tends to be a destabilizing factor.
------------------------------------
Some of my devices: Sonos, Aeotec zWave, Nest, Rain8Net, Various H/T
What's next: CQC-Voice, Brultech GEM
My vlogs: https://www.youtube.com/c/IVBsHomeAutomation
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#3
Have you considered the option of making your own NAS using FreeNAS? One benefit is you can use quite old/slow equipment (CPU,hard drives) and so most people have an old retired computer you can return to service for this purpose. I currently have 2 FreeNAS servers running my ripped movie collection and storing my DVR programs. It also has software based Raid options

My original FreeNAS server used an old Dell 4100 with pentium III 933Mhz that was in the back of my garage and has now been in continuous service for 3 yrs. I set it up without ANY knowledge of Linux. The documentation on the web site is quite straight forward. Once set up, all further maintenace is through a web interface so you don't need to have a dedicated monitor/mouse or keyboard.

Take a look at this link: http://www.freenas.org/

Like the name implies it is FREE. It may acheive what you are looking to do.
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#4
the Dell XPS420 is a Cablecard media center for <$1500. good deal if you ask me. use that to replace your comcast DVR.

use that for your DVR type stuff, then use your existing machine for Windows Home Server and CQC. there is a neat plugin for WHS that will pull recordedTV off of the media center box and still allow playback:

http://www.fjdrasch.com/WHS/home.htm

the only thing im not certain of is whether or not you can use the RDP hack on WHS.
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#5
robolo Wrote:Have you considered the option of making your own NAS using FreeNAS? ......
Like the name implies it is FREE. It may acheive what you are looking to do.

robolo,
Interesting idea. If you had a motherboard with onboard support for RAID 5, would FreeNAS see it as a hardware RAID 5?

Are you using this as a media share, and just passing the UNC name and file location to the media player? Do you have any slowdown, stuttering, bottleneck issues streaming to your player?

Thanks!
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#6
Is your current computer too slow or have judders when playing material?

Honestly it sounds like your current set up is fine except for storage and HD movies.

I might look into the idea of getting a raid card for the current system and then building a separate boxto hold the drives in. The two boxes are connected together, but this is easily done. Then update the graphics card to one that is known to work well with the HD drives and be done.

I think that would be a much less expensive project that rebuilding a new machine.

Then in the future you could always get a low power (perhaps XP imbedded) machine to run CQC an leave it on 24/7 which would free the HTPC to be turned off most of the day (as long as it isn't being used as a DVR). This would also be much more energy efficient than running two big machines.
Brian - a long time user that rarely messes with the system now
Other systems used:
SageTV w/ cablecard tuner & multiple extenders for viewing
BlueIris and IP cameras for CCTV
Incredible PBX for home phone
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#7
Some with Sage knowledge should probably pipe in, but I'm in a similar boat to you, and I have decided to try the following:

1. Pack my CQC server full of storage for content (not a fix for you, but the NAS idea could replace this step).

2. Purchase Sage for holding media content, and DVR functionality. Put this on the CQC server.

3. Purchase HD media extneders for each television (or just one or two if you have a matrix switch) for all rendering.

This minimizes costs by eliminating the need for an entire HTPC.

Target
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#8
This is my current plan too. I am trying to keep only one computer on 24/7 which would be my CQC, Sage server. Using the HD extenders wouldn't put any processing strain on the server since the extender is doing all the hardlifting. In fact, I am considering moving my OS to Windows Home Server since it provides super easy backups of all networked computers. Sage has a WHS version, and several people have verified that CQC works on it just fine.
Brian - a long time user that rarely messes with the system now
Other systems used:
SageTV w/ cablecard tuner & multiple extenders for viewing
BlueIris and IP cameras for CCTV
Incredible PBX for home phone
Reply
#9
Thanks for all of the replies so far. Let me see if I can address each one to try to steer this to the best solution.

robolo Wrote:Have you considered the option of making your own NAS using FreeNAS? One benefit is you can use quite old/slow equipment (CPU,hard drives) and so most people have an old retired computer you can return to service for this purpose. I currently have 2 FreeNAS servers running my ripped movie collection and storing my DVR programs. It also has software based Raid options

My original FreeNAS server used an old Dell 4100 with pentium III 933Mhz that was in the back of my garage and has now been in continuous service for 3 yrs. I set it up without ANY knowledge of Linux. The documentation on the web site is quite straight forward. Once set up, all further maintenace is through a web interface so you don't need to have a dedicated monitor/mouse or keyboard.

Take a look at this link: http://www.freenas.org/

Like the name implies it is FREE. It may acheive what you are looking to do.

I have actually thought about this, as I have 2 older Dell computers lying around. One is very old (circa 1999) with a pentium 3 700Mhz, and the most likely candidate is a Dimension 8200 Pentium 4 1.8Ghz. The issue I have been running into is transplanting those machines into new cases. The Dell cases have zero room for expansion, but as far as I understand, Dell uses so many proprietary parts (motherboard, PSU, front control panel pin arrangement), that it is near impossible to successfully do it. Most internet forums say that the best route is to buy a new MB and PSU and transplant the rest of the components, but if I am going to spend any money updating an old P4 system, why not go ahead and spend the extra money on newer components?

Quote: the Dell XPS420 is a Cablecard media center for <$1500. good deal if you ask me. use that to replace your comcast DVR.

I prefer to build my own machines as it gives me complete control and I don't have to deal with the proprietary aspects mentioned above.

Quote: Is your current computer too slow or have judders when playing material?

Honestly it sounds like your current set up is fine except for storage and HD movies.

No performance issues at all. Just the storage and HD issues.

Quote: I might look into the idea of getting a raid card for the current system and then building a separate boxto hold the drives in. The two boxes are connected together, but this is easily done. Then update the graphics card to one that is known to work well with the HD drives and be done.

I think that would be a much less expensive project that rebuilding a new machine.

Are you taking about just housing the drives and a PSU in a separate case and then running the SATA cables from each drive to the RAID card in the main PC?



I haven't really thought about the SAGE option, but I think it is not the route I am looking to go. I am trying to reduce everything to one (maybe 2) computers to minimize the amount of stand alone components.

One question about Windows Home Server - Is it possible to run that on the machine where I store all of my movies? For example, say I created a new box with multiple RAID arrays. Is it possible to configure one for Movies, and one for the backup of other computers, all in the same box? Could CQC still then see the movies in the WHS box?
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#10
cavalier240 Wrote:Are you taking about just housing the drives and a PSU in a separate case and then running the SATA cables from each drive to the RAID card in the main PC?[

Yeah, something basic like that. If the current computer seems to be fast enough, I wouldn't spend the money for new MB, CPU and Ram if you don't need to. That should save a couple hundred bucks at least. Put that to better RAID hardware or graphics card, or just keep the change Smile


cavalier240 Wrote:One question about Windows Home Server - Is it possible to run that on the machine where I store all of my movies? For example, say I created a new box with multiple RAID arrays. Is it possible to configure one for Movies, and one for the backup of other computers, all in the same box? Could CQC still then see the movies in the WHS box?

Well, it does get a little complicated if you want to do RAID with WHS (because RAID isn't officially supported within WHS, but it can be used outside of the WHS own disk array). Most are simply going to use the built in disk management system that acts similarly to a mirror raid set up (but technically isn't). The nice thing about the WHS way of doing things is that the disk system is flexible. You can add more drives to the array anytime you like without loosing data. Drives can also be any size (they don't have to be all the same size). But I think it would be very easy to do want you want and use WHS too.
Brian - a long time user that rarely messes with the system now
Other systems used:
SageTV w/ cablecard tuner & multiple extenders for viewing
BlueIris and IP cameras for CCTV
Incredible PBX for home phone
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