For a while now I had been considering a migration path to a new media server in my home. My current server is barely half full (5x500GB using RAID3), but I’m still moving all my DVDs to H.264/AAC (mp4) and with my current rate, I’d be full by June, at the latest. I was also not very happy with its performance. It’s plenty fast enough to offer straight file sharing, but I also was using it as a WSUS, WINS, and MyMovies server. I ended up having to move WSUS and WINS off of it due to memory demands. It has 2GB in it, but the SQL instances were eating almost all of it up.
I had come across unRAID many months ago and was interested in its novelty. This time around, however, I considered it as much more than a novelty and became more active in their forums, as well as others that had users of unRAID. What I was looking for in a home media server this time was expansion capability, low maintenance, redundancy, and low cost. unRAID offers all of these. unRAID supports up to 16 individual drives, can operate completely headless by offering a web management utility, exhibits a proprietary parity system that offers reundancy, and can grow to suit your wallet (they have a free version supporting 3 drives). I also liked the fact that the redundancy system does not result in 100% loss of data in the case of multiple drive failures.
After loading up unRAID on a VMWare system and testing it out for a few days, I was pretty well sold on building around it. unRAID does not have a wide array of hardware support, but what it does support is more than well enough for a home media server. Here is a rundown of my initial startup parts:
- Intel BOXDG965RYCK motherboard (ICH8-base with Intel Pro1000 NIC and 4 SATA)
- Celeron E1200 1.6GHz dual core processor
- 2 x 1GB STT (Super Talent) DDR2-800 5-5-5 1.8V S-RIGID memory
- 3 x Barracuda 7200.11 SATA 3Gb/s 1-TB Hard Drive 32MB cache w/NCQ
- 4-port eSATA PCI bracket (internal SATA to eSATA)
- External 4-bay hotswap SATA enclosure with eSATA backpanel
- 4 x 6ft eSATA cables
- SanDisk Cruzer Micro 256MB (for unRAID OS)
I already had an old case and the flash drive, so when everything arrived all I had to do was throw it together. I also had to order a PCIe NIC for my current server. It was on a generic Realtek GbE NIC that was sharing the PCI bus with my S-CURE RAID3 card. Doing a transfer of over 1TB on that saturated PCI bus would have been painfully slow.
I picked these specific parts for a number of reasons – all including cost. However, I also paid attention to unRAID requirements and related performance factors. The Barracudas are probably the most expensive drives, but they’re also one of the fastest and the only ones that offer the 5-year warranty outside of Enterprise-level drives (too much $$$). The Intel DG965RY motherboard has onboard video and LAN, with the LAN being the both compatible and desirable Intel Pro1000 (hardware-based) NIC that resides on the PCIe bus (more bandwidth). The SATA ports also reside on the PCIe bus and support AHCI, as unRAID supports it. Finally, I have loads of expansion with one x16 PCIe slot, three x1 PCIe slots, and three standard PCI slots. Ten total USB and two firewire make it all the better (even though unRAID can’t use the firewire). I plan to expand my externally-based storage in the future by the same manner. I’ll just add 4-port eSATA PCIe cards and grab another external enclosure, as needed. As time passes, these things will just get cheaper.
So, that’s all for the first part of my unRAID server build. Part 2 will come shortly with a step-by-step of my build. I’ve got a few pictures too, so stay tuned!