Introduction and considerations.
For a long time I’ve been pondering building myself a home server. To host my media files, handle my file transfers and save me from having to have a 24/7 turned on workstation. The primary motivation for such an endeavour has been the reduction of my electricity bill – not to mention the wide array of capabilities offered by such an item.
It hasn’t amounted to more than a loose collection of ideas and thoughts for years on end, but about a month ago I decided that the time had come. I had been given a HP MediaSmart EX490 about a year ago, but had only fiddled with it a little bit before it ended up in a state of permanent shut-off.
I received it without disc drives, which means that the original operating system was lost – I had no installation media and HP had discontinued support of the unit. As such I figured I’d look at commercial NAS options to see if I could find something sparkling new that would suit my needs. I looked at Synology, QNAP and ReadyNAS offerings. I read exhaustive amounts of reviews, opinions, arguments and looked at the available features and assisting communities. I was inches away from adding a ReadyNAS Ultra 6 to my basket, when I heard that NetGear had dropped support for it – and were introducing new models. Great, I thought, until I looked at the price. At almost twice the price I decided that it wasn’t worth the investment (USD $ 1000 at the time of this post for the 516.) and that I didn’t much care for the way NetGear decided to leave it’s existing customers out in the cold on a now dead platform, which would not receive updates – despite the hardware seemingly being more than capable of future versions.
That’s when I decided to take another look at the MediaSmart server, which by now was covered in thick layer of dust and rotting away silently in a closet.
It has four drive bays, which is two less than I had initially planned for, but it should suffice for a long while to come. Naturally all drive bays are hot-swappable and easily accessible – as evidenced from the photo here:
My concerns were primarily that;
- The unit is headless – i.e. one cannot connect a monitor to it.
- The unit can only boot up from the first drive in the array.
- I had none of the original software or installation media.
- Concerned about the Celeron CPU contained within the unit, and whether it had sufficient processing power for my needs. First and foremost, the Plex Media Server. Specifically transcoding of media.
Now, before I could settle on the unit for permanent use I decided to test it out – and see if I could even load anything on to it.
I grabbed an old Western Digital drive, popped it in an external usb enclosure, connected it to a spare computer and began the process of installing Ubuntu Desktop on it. Once Ubuntu Desktop was up and running, I made sure to allow remote connections and disconnected the drive. I pushed it in to the first drive-bay of the EX490 – and lo and behold, it booted! I got the assigned IP address from my router and attempted a VNC(I highly recommend Tight VNC for this.) connection to the device and got in! At this point I was completely ecstatic – I had in no way anticipated that this method would actually work, much less that it would work so flawlessly.
I quickly populated the server with more junk drives on to which I dropped various media and installed the Plex Server application.
In short order I was up and running, and was able to access my content through both my DLNA enabled Samsung blu-ray player and the Plex Client application.
Proof of concept done, it was time to address the concerns I had – which after a lot of reading has resulted in the following:
- Bought a second hand Core 2 Duo E6400 CPU, which will fit in to the socket, upgrade the processing power of my unit and won’t make it hotter than the surface of the sun.
- Placed an order for a VGA/PS2 Debug cable, courtesy of Vovtech, which I’m currently awaiting delivery on. This will allow me to, finally, access the BIOS of my device, change boot priority and generally poke around the other options available. This will greatly help with troubleshooting if the network connection fails, or if I want to install an operating system from a flash drive.
- Placed an order for 4 Western Digital 3 TB Red drives. These seem like the most obvious choice for a home server setup. They do cost a bit more than other drives with this capacity, but feature a five year warranty, have RAID specific benefits and come with a five year warranty from Western Digital. I am currently awaiting delivery on these as well.
As I’m awaiting delivery I am reading up on Ubuntu server, which I will attempt to load on to the server. While the Ubuntu Desktop client has been kind to me, it seems fruitless to utilize it for any extended period as a primary operating system on a server – and I’ve been looking for an excuse to learn Ubuntu Server.
I plan on following up on this post with the hardware upgrades, specifically if I managed to perform them without screwing everything up, after which I will detail my Ubuntu Server experience and possibly provide help to others who are looking to try their hand at this as well.
My goal is to set up the server with the four drives in a Raid 5 configuration to maximize available space and – hopefully – ensure that data loss is highly unlikely in the event of drive failure. Backups will be done on external drives for now, but at a later date I will likely be utilizing the e-sata port on the server to attach an external 4 drive-bay enclosure for proper backups.
This post has already become long enough, considering it contains no information that could be said to be terribly useful to anyone. I will, to the best of my ability, document both the hardware upgrades and the installation of Ubuntu Server – with any luck there’s one or two people who could benefit, and if not, that’s okay too. 😉