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My Ultimate Media PC Server

A couple of posts ago I did a tutorial on automated CD/DVD/Bluray ripping that caught the attention of a couple people that wanted to see what my personal media center looks like. I’ve decided to post some pictures of my server and outline the specs and some of the applications I use.

So here is the front of my machine. I don’t know what to really call it. Sometimes I call it a media center, XBMC machine, or media server. Either way as you can see it is quite large. I was able to obtain a 4U rack mount server case a few months ago and decided it would be the perfect case for my HTPC (hey that’s better!). Well, okay it’s not the smallest thing in the world, but I went for high performance and storage over something small and pretty. To be honest, I think it’s one of the better looking rack mount cases I’ve seen. It’s 19″ wide, 7″ tall, and a whopping 28″ deep. I’d say it weighs about 50lbs and if I were to fill up each bay it would gain about 20lbs. Again, this thing is big but look at the front! I can fit a Bluray drive, a slim form factor DVD drive, and a floppy drive! The floppy drive is useless and I plan on putting a 2.5″ hard drive dock in its place. On top of that, I have 16 3.5″ hard drive bays. If I filled it full of 3TB drives I would end up at a maximum storage amount of 48TB! Currently I have 3x3TB WD Reds in right now. I run ZFS with a RAIDz so my usable storage is somewhere around 5.3TB.

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Okay now that the machine is cracked open I can give an overview of what runs this baby. As you can see there is almost an extreme amount of cabling going on. I haven’t been able to come up with a better method of organizing the cables yet. The real tricky bit is the power for everything. The PSU I have in there is an old one I had laying around and it only had maybe five 4-pin molex connectors. In reality I needed around twelve. I ended up using a bunch of splitters and adapters. On the left side I’ve got the main computer components which I will touch on next. On the right is the backplane for the hard drives, a Bluray drive, SSD, Bluetooth dongle, and 360 controller wireless adapter.

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Here you can see a better view of the components used. The motherboard is Intel H77 based with a Core-i5 3350P 3.1GHz CPU. The machine sports 4GB of DDR3-1600. This is a bit low and I really should put two 8GB sticks in. The graphics card is a EVGA nVidia GeForce GTX 460 with 1GB GDDR5 that I pulled out of my main desktop when I upgraded to a 660TI. Right underneath the graphics card is my LSI IBM M1015-based RAID controller. It’s currently not in use, but I will be throwing it into IT mode once I get some more drives. I will probably buy a second one down the line after I get a full size ATX motherboard so I can have each of the 16 bays accessible.

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This picture kind of gives you a better picture at the spaghetti in the heart of this case. Eventually once I get the next RAID controller I will have to purchase some longer LSI SAS cables as these are just a bit too short to reach the furthest part of the backplane. It’s a bit hard to tell in the picture, but this middle divider used to hold some 80MM case fans that just slipped into some edge connectors. It’s great for cooling, but I couldn’t stand the sheer noise that bellowed from the machine when I turned it on for the first time. I will be putting one or two silent fans in their place. Right now the computer doesn’t run quite hot enough to cause too much worry. Even with all the cables airflow is pretty good since this is such a monstrous case.

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There was one really cool feature of this case that took me a while to notice. Right in between the external 3.5″ and 5.25″ bays there was a blank mounting plate for 3.5″ drives. I happened to have a 32GB Sandisk SSD laying around, so I put it on a 2.5″ to 3.5″ tray and put it into place. I use this drive for my operating system. Using XBMC with all the thumbnails and fanart are honestly such a pain on a hard drive that this SSD is really just necessary.

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Speaking of XBMC… I’m currently running XBMC 12.3 Frodo on top of Ubuntu 13.10 off of that SSD. XBMC is such a great interface. I spent hours finding the right skin and customizing it how I want and I came up with this. I’m using Aeon Nox as the skin and I grabbed a bunch of backdrops off of the internet and made this gorgeous looking home screen.

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Honestly I just can’t use any other interface. Media Portal, MythTV, SageTV, Windows Media Center, these are all great media center programs but I really don’t think anything can hold up to how good XBMC looks. Let’s just take a look at some of the sections.

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I customized the movie view to show the posters for each movie and a beautiful fanart for the background. Honestly I’m a bit anal about what fanarts and posters are picked. Anything that is cropped improperly or is a low resolution gets trashed immediately. Even the posters have to look just right such as not containing text such as “Academy award winner John Smith”. Just the picture on the front and the title of the movie.

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Even movie sets have a hand picked background. James Bond is a great example. It’s one of my favorite series of all time but none of the existing backdrops out there cut it for me. I ended up making this one with some Google searches and clever Photoshopping.

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Inside the movie sets I have customized them to show off the backdrop more. I just can’t get over how great it looks.

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TV shows are handled just like movies. Though I’ll need to update this one soon for Capaldi!

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Even the TV guide looks great! And yes, that’s live TV. It’s brought in OTA and just works spectacularly. I may talk about how I have this set up later on, but I couldn’t help but show it off.

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I’m also pretty anal about my remotes. One trend I hate seeing now days is how everyone wants to control everything from their phone or tablet. I just don’t get the idea of using a touch screen in a ten foot experience (I’m looking at you Harmony Touch). Therefore I have chosen to use the Harmony 700. This is honestly the greatest remote I’ve ever used. It fits in the hands great, it has excellent battery life (it comes with eneloops!), the rubber buttons are very responsive and tactile, and this remote is so powerful I can usually use it under a blanket. In addition to the 700 I am using flirc as a receiver. Just like the remote it’s extremely responsive and it has some great software for customizing each of your buttons. It really could not be simpler.

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Again, I just couldn’t resist showing off how beautiful Aeon Nox is. I’ve been ripping all of my CD’s in FLAC and found the matching artwork in some high resolution (average of 1000x1000px) album arts.

So that’s my HTPC! I use it every day and I can’t express how great it is. Eventually I will be building in some other functionality like Steam and some emulation. Honestly there’s a lot more running under the hood software-wise, but I think I will cover some of that later. It’s too much to write in one post, that’s for sure!

2 thoughts on “My Ultimate Media PC Server”

  1. Hi, Would you be interested in some private Linux consulting work? I prefer using iTunes and Apple TV to watch my content, but I’m looking for a better way to automate the transcoding of video/audio discs into usable media files.

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