Thursday, May 27, 2010

It feels like...Win!

After getting my motherboard working a couple nights ago, I got to work on putting the whole thing together. Last night I powered it all up, worked through the BIOS options and finally installed the OS. Having successfully used SSH to remotely login following that, I decided to leave it for the night. I will get back to installing all the required apps and storage drives this weekend which I will now be able to do from the comfort of my couch or yard on my laptop. Sweet.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

NineBall Versus the Tricky Socket

While I was on the phone with Tech Support last night with Jetway, I used a different screwdriver with more torque than my normal screwdriver when tightening the socket to lock in the CPU and heard a click. The next thing I knew, my motherboard worked. In that moment I realized the awful truth about what it means to epically Fail. 1 RMA, 2 CPUs and several months later I found out that I simply had not turned the screw on the socket far enough when seating my CPU. Per Tech instructions I always made sure that I turned the screw 180 degrees until the socket firmly held the CPU in place. I guess they left out the part where there should have been a distinct clicking sound when it actually locked (I'm used to clamp-type sockets).

While I'm excited at having my current setup working, I was really looking forward to getting that SuperMicro board. If I were starting all over again, that is what I would likely do although Jetway has been pretty good throughout all of this.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Parts List, Part 2

After some random searching at my favourite online retailers, I found an even better replacement board than the Jetway one if I decide to go with the Atom CPU and ditch my current choice. The SuperMicro X7SPA-H will allow me to keep my existing RAM and use the ATX 20pin connector from the built-in DC board on the chassis at the cost of needing a new OS drive or buying a SATA-44pin IDE converter. The cost of the board is actually lower than my existing board at $190 but only has VGA output instead of HDMI and DVI; but since this will be a headless server, that's not really a concern. Now I just have to get my purchased price back from Jetway on the board sitting lifeless on my desk.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Parts List

So, as I indicated at the last post I will be going over the parts I selected and what they cost me. This will give you a baseline to work from for your own servers. As I do already own all the parts, I will go over any experiences worth noting with them. Due to certain circumstances (related to the motherboard as noted below) I do have several extra parts that I plan to use in the future for starting some review/benchmarks. Hell, I paid for the parts so I might as well use them. An important thing to keep in mind is that this is a dedicated server, and as such there are not discrete parts for tasks such as graphics, sound, etc.; it should all be on integrated on board. With that noted, onto the parts list.

Chassis (or Case) - Chenbro ES34069 - $185

This case is exactly what I was looking for but is hard to find. No other case captures the look and feel of the pre-made NAS servers as this case does. The only retailers that had any stock in North America were in the US so I had to import it. There is a new ES34169 model with an internal 120w power supply but the model I chose uses an external power brick with an option for 120w or 180w (this is the one I went with). When the brick is plugged into the wall it emits a low hum.

Motherboard - Jetway NF93R-LF - $200

This motherboard met all my needs in an ITX form-factor required to fit in the above chassis; GM45 chipset for Core 2 Duo/Quad and integrated video, dual RTL8111C gigabit ethernet ports for Link Aggregration, 4 SATA 3Gbps ports for storage and an extra port for OS. On the other hand, I am now on my second board after sending back the first for RMA and am experiencing the same problem with this one. Tech support has tried to be helpful and are nice enough but I now have had the same problem on 2 boards and have eliminated other parts as the source by swapping with alternate parts as suggested. Hopefully I can get this worked out; otherwise we will see how they handle a return (purchased originally from a third-party retailer).

CPU - Intel Core 2 Duo Mobile T5670 - $50

Chosen specifically for low TDP and performance that will be more than enough for NAS functions and allow for light transcoding at night if required. I was able to purchase this online from eBay as a laptop replacement part. I also purchased a T5270 to elimate my CPU as the problem when testing the motherboard.

Memory - Kingston HyperX So-Dimm KHX6400S2LLK2/4G - $110

A 4GB kit was chosen to allow buffering large files (VOBs, MKVs, etc.) for streaming over the network instead of having to read directly from disk which is the largest bottleneck when streaming. So-Dimm memory specifically was a neccesity for this chosen motherboard. Other memory by Qimonda and Hynix has also been used for testing with the motherboard.

OS Drive - Western Digital Scorpio Blue 80GB 2.5" IDE - $60

Again a neccesity of the motherboard, this drive connects directly to the 44-pin IDE port on the motherboard and draws power through it. I would have gone for a smaller drive (not from this line) but the price/size ratio and previous experience with WD led me to choose this one.

Total before storage = $605

Storage DrivesSeagate Barracuda 7200 1.5TB 3.5" SATA x4 - $500 combined

I purchased these as the largest drives available at the best price at the time. These would cost you only $400 combined now and you would have the option to get them at lower power 5900 RPM. Alternatively, for slightly more (about $550 combined) you could get 5900 RPM 2TB drives. If I was purchasing now, that would be what I would do.

Total with storage = $1105

All-in-all, you could do this with less money by not needing such a specific chassis or wanting such a robust motherboard. For example, for less than half the power required and 4 threads instead of 2 at the expense of a little processing power and only 1 gigabit port, you could get the Jetway NC96FL-510 for $140. This would save you $110 between being a cheaper board and not requiring a seperate CPU (comes with Atom D510 chip). You could save another $110 if you have some regular DDR2 memory lying around to use with it (and who doesn't). In fact, maybe if I can't get my current board to work this is the route I will take and try to recoup the cost of the 2 CPUs and memory on eBay...

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Media Nirvana Versus the Lack of Disk Space

One of my past projects (that I will outline as I revisit it in the future) was to build a home theatre PC that would serve up all my TV and stored media at my main viewing location. That project went very well and my family has been thoroughly enjoying it ever since. And that is my problem. It has been so well loved that in order to make full use of it, I need more disk space. A lot more disk space. This presents several problems, least of which being a lack of available drive slots in my chassis.

Every problem has a solution however, and mine is usually to throw hardware at it. This problem opportunity would finally give me the chance to justify a network-attached storage device. As with any other project, a plan is required; so keeping in mind my immediate needs and those that might arise in the future, I have come up with a list of features my NAS should have.
  • Must support at least 3 hard drives
  • Must support JBOD and RAID levels 0/1/5
  • Must support RAID level migration and RAID expansion
  • Must have at least 1 Gigabit ethernet port
  • Must be networkable with Microsoft OSes
  • Must support headless operation
  • Should support HDD SMART
  • Should provide a DLNA/uPnP media server
  • Should provide web server capability
  • Should provide a print server for my Lexmark X1110 (unless I buy a network-attached printer)
  • Should operate in a low power envelope
  • (Option) support RAID level 6
  • (Option) 2 Gigabit ports and IEEE 802.3ad (aka IEEE 802.1AX-2008) Link aggregation
  • (Option) Hot-swap support
  • (Option) support for automated backup from network machines
  • (Option) support for FTP, iTunes, and BitTorrent servers
  • (Option) run VMWare ESXi for this server and other virtual appliances (firewall, VPN, DHCP, DNS, Active Directory, etc.)
Not too much, right? Aside from the last optional point, a lot of NAS devices on the market can meet most of these needs. For quite a while I was sold on the QNAP TS-409 and nearly just went with it until I realized I could build one myself for about the same price. Yes, I lose out on their software package; but I can do anything at all with my hardware and get the satisfaction of doing it myself.

Next time, I will outline the parts I have acquired and what kind of money this will involve for those following along. In the meantine, I have decided to name this Project: Hydra to represent the many heads my hardware will have whether they all exist in a single install or if I use ESXi to run multiple virtual machines.

DLC Sale Versus My Willpower

As a follow-up to my previous post on Sony removing Other OS; I am sad to say the custom DNS server trick no longer works. Apparently this has been the case since the 2nd week of April (shows how much I use the Playstation Network service) when the firmware check was moved server side rendering all current methods of spoofing obsolete. I discovered this fact early today when I went to logon to the PSN to purchase the Prince of Persia Epilogue DLC which is currently on sale. Now, I can just update and buy the content as well as be able to play online (rarely do) and be able to sync my trophies again; but then, I would be giving up on my principles for $5.

Unfortunately for my principles, I have the uneasy feeling that when I get home tonight, that's all that they will be worth. I guess on the bright side, yay for half-priced DLC and a little more life out of that game.