Build a Kick-Arse Media Server PC

I’m getting that itch to build another PC.  (It’s been >6 mos).  This time, my goal is to build a beefy media server PC.  I’ll equip it with a video capture card, which will turn it into a “PVR” — Personal Video Recorder, or basically a PC-based Tivo.

I’m calling this particular configuration a “kick-arse” server, because I’ve upscaled a lot of the components.  In most cases, you could get away with something less beefy, or less expensive.  But for a few extra pennies in each area, you can build a pretty nice PC.

This would also make a fine software development PC, as configured.  It would also make a decent gaming PC if you swapped out the video card with something a bit higher end.

My basic goal for building a PVR is as follows–the media server PC will host all of my family photos and videos, as well as being equipped with a video capture card for capturing video directly from a satellite receiver.  I’ve chosen not to go HD yet, since the Hauppage HD video capture card is not yet certified to work with Media Center.

I’ll use Media Center in Vista to serve up all of my photos, videos, and recorded television programs.  Like Tivo, Media Center allows setting up the machine to grab all sorts of shows/movies that it finds in the schedule.

I plan to use an XBox 360 as my media extender.  The XBox 360 is connected to the 50″ plasma TV and will use wireless ethernet (G, rather than N) to pull media from the server and play it on the TV.

Here is my proposed list of components:

Case: Antec Nine Hundred Black Steel ATX Mid Tower – $139.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811129021)

Power Supply: Thermaltake W0116RU 750W – $159.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817153038)
($50 mail-in rebate)

Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-EP45-DQ6 LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX  – $234.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128343)

CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 Yorkfield 2.83GHz 12MB L2 Cache LGA 775 95W Quad-Core Processor – $324.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115041)

CPU Fan: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro 92mm CPU Cooler – $24.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835186134)

Memory: Kingston HyperX 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) Dual Channel Kit – $108.99×2 = $217.98
(2 pkgs, for total of 4 x 2GB = 8GB total)
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820104038)
($20 mail-in rebate)

Hard Drive #1: Western Digital VelociRaptor WD3000GLFS 300GB 10000 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s – $294.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136260)
($25 mail-in rebate)

Hard Drive #2: Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s – $189.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16822136284)

Optical drive: SAMSUNG Black 22X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 22X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM 2MB Cache SATA 22X DVD Burner – $24.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16827151171)

Video card: GIGABYTE GV-N98TZL-512H GeForce 9800 GT 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card w/ Zalman VF830 – $169.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16814125227)

TV Tuner/Capture: Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 1800 MCE Kit 1128 PCI-Express x1 Interface – $99.99
(http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16815116015)

Total: $1887.88
Total rebates: $95

Total less rebates: $1792.8

Thoughts

Case: I went with the Nine Hundred case because of the large number of internal bays (6).  Also, it seems to be a great case for cooling.  I also decided on Antec because I’ve had very good luck with their cases in the past.

Power Supply: I figure that I might eventually have more drives in the case, so it’s important to have enough power.  1kW is still far too pricey, but we can get 750W for a reasonable price.

Motherboard: I waffled between the Intel P45 and X48 chipsets, but went with this board (P45) in the end, because of its support for 16GB and the huge number of connections (10 SATA, 8 USB).  I’ll be starting initially with 8GB, already a huge amount of memory.  And one could argue that I’m not likely to bump beyond this.  But if memory prices continue to come down, especially on DDR2, it would be reasonable to bump up to 16GB.  One might also argue that a media server doesn’t need this much memory, but having lots of memory will help in doing video editing on the PC.  It also keeps my options open for running one or more VMs on this box.

CPU: Going with a Quad Core for a media server is likely overkill for most people.  But if I end up using the machine directly, especially for video editing or rendering/conversion, I think that I’ll take advantage of having four cores (as well as all of the memory).

Memory: 8GB total, which is very sexy.  (Can do this because I’ll be going with 64-bit Vista).

1st hard drive: The root drive, where Vista will be installed, will be a 10000 RPM drive.  This is a very good choice, since bumping up the speed of the drive where your OS is installed will likely make a big difference.

2nd hard drive: The second drive will be a basic 1TB SATA drive.  I was tempted to go with multiple drives and configure as RAID 5, but the slight advantage for data protection isn’t worth all the extra cash.  I’ll protect my data in other ways (e.g. backups).

Video card: Because this won’t be primarily a gaming PC, I opted for a middle-range graphics card–one that can handle any recent games thrown at it, but not with over-the-top performance.  I also went with NVidia, rather than ATI, but that’s personal preference–I see nothing wrong with ATI cards.

TV Capture: I’m going with the Hauppage WinTV-HVR 1800, which is reportedly compatible with Vista-based Media Center.

Conclusions

I’m still waiting to pull the trigger on all of the gear listed here.  But I will likely purchase everything and will then post photos of the rig as I assemble it.

Next time I’ll build a “kick-shin” media server–one that fulfills that same basic purpose as the high-end media server, but at a more reasonable price.

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3 thoughts on “Build a Kick-Arse Media Server PC

  1. Pingback: Build a Kick-Shin Media Server PC « Sean’s Stuff

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