Media Soup

Part I - About
Part II - Components
Part III - Hardware
Part IV - System
Part V - Server
Part VI - Client
Part VII - Miscellaneous
Part X - Examples

Part III - Hardware

1. HTPC
2. Enforcer
3. Retro Server
4. Vintage Server


1. HTPC
 

Sorry. No real HTPC yet...

Actually there's one under construction but I haven't got all the parts yet. (Care to donate a mainboard with an I3?)

What I'm currently using is a Dell D810, and my ' Compaq retroserver' doubles as a server as well as HTPC and SqueezeBox client.


2. Paradigit Enforcer
 

I've been modding an old Paradigit Enforcer PC which is used by wife and kids as a combination of game, work, and video machine. It's a Core 2 Duo machine, using a Fujitsu Siemens mainboard, and I had some serious 'fun' trying to get a decent video card to work... As it turned out, ATI's 5xxx series would not work in PCI Express v1.0 motherboards (or at least not in this one). Very annoying. A 9600 GT 'green' and a GT 420 worked fine. (There are many stories about NVidia cards failing on some boards, however my personal experience over the years has been quite the opposite!) Some notes on power here, some notes on performance here.

Still, it works, and works well. The only exception was standby mode under Windows XP. Whenever I send this machine into standby mode the CPU fan starts spinning up full speed which is rather annoying. I increased the shut down time a bit and set it to hibernate.

I considered using this one as a home server but decided against it... It doesn't do standby properly, consumes more power when idling, and I need an additional video card to output HDMI (I plan to use my homeserver as a regular HTPC as well as a server.) Still, if you got hardware like this laying around, then you wouldn't have to buy new stuff, and that would easily negate the addional power consumed when comparing with more recent hardware. It's worth a thought!

The extra video card and that hot harddrive (it's a leftover WD740 Raptor, noisy and hot) required some continuous airflow. That additional bracket on the image below gets fairly warm to the touch, proving the need for air flowing around that Raptor drive. I know a Raptor is overkill, barely faster than a modern drive, and I should expect it to fail one of these days. Until that day arrives it serves me just fine. Fine, and noisy :-)

The modding was very limited. I've taped-up the holes on the side cover, added a fan below the power supply for continuous airflow (dragged in from the front) and mounted the WD740 in that air stream. After some power puzzles I also added a 9600 GT video card so my daughter could play Aion and Guildwars :-)

This machine is a mini-tower so the drive is mounted on its side when in use, not upside down as the image above would suggest.

Update. The mainboard D2151-A2 in this machine was made by Fujitsu-Siemens. I had some troubles with standby and wake on USB using XP: fans speeding up and wake up on USB not working. These problems seem to have been solved by doing the following:

  1. in BIOS / Power enable ACPI (suspend to RAM) mode
  2. in BIOS / Power enable all options to wake up on LAN and USB
  3. install MST (MCE Standby Tool) 0.9.102 from http://slicksolutions.eu/mst.shtml and run it at least once
  4. in MST set sleepstate to S3 - standby
  5. in MST enable USB S3 resume
  6. in MST wake monitor / TV at resume
  7. in XP enable hibernation
As a result, the machine now wakes up from standby when pressing a (USB) keyboard key and wakes up from hibernation using the power button. That's fine.

Note: if you want to test 'standby' mode from the command prompt, then first disable hibernation mode, and enter:

C:\> %windir%\system32\rundll32.exe powrprof.dll,SetSuspendState
Booting from an USB stick is tricky as well.
  1. insert a bootable USB stick
  2. start up and enter the BIOS
  3. in BIOS / Advanced / Peripheral Configuration set all USB options to enable or all
  4. in BIOS / Main / Boot Options / Boot Sequence / Hard Drive move your USB stick to the top of the Hard Drive section
Yeah, Phoenix lists bootable USB sticks as hard drives... Well. As they typically show up with a C:\ prompt it is somewhat understandable... but still weird :-)


5.3 Retro Server - Media 4
 

I've completed this machine. It's an I3 mainboard inside an old Compaq case. Summary:

  • recycled Compaq case
  • recycled power supply
  • Intel I3 2510
  • 3x HDD (total 3.5 TB)
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Windows XP 32
  • SMB / XBMC / Serviio / TVersity / SqueezeBox / Calibre / TinyWeb / ...
Here's what I did:
  1. stripped out the Compaq innards (a Compaq power supply, and a P3 slot 1 mainboard)
  2. drilled some new mounting holes to mount the PSU, as newer PSU's have different mounting holes
  3. cut out a section to handle a new fan
  4. build a custom frame to handle two to three hard drives in the lower part of the case (see images)
  5. glued a perforated piece of aluminium behind the front panel
  6. installed a cheap Asrock H61M-HVS board with an I3 2510
  7. mounted all drives using Nexus sound silencers
I left out any FDD / CD / DVD. I used a temporary drive to install XP, but disconnected it after completing the installation. This is a server, and it doesn't need an optical drive. Or so I hope.

I took out the drive bay covers and used 2k epoxy to glue a piece of perforated aluminium in their place. The top fan was was mounted using a few rubber fasteners from a Sharkoon 'silencing kit'. That kit also contained rubber feet that were softer than the original very thin Compaq ones.

I still have to work a little on the mounting of the top fan. It's ok for now, but I can do better.

On the image above you can see how PSU mounting changed. Stil have to add a strip to close the gap between PSU and chassis.

The pictures below show the hole in the chassis that I cut for the fan. The fan is mounted using 'silicone' sound silencers (Nexus). In these pictures there's still a 4 pin Nexus fan in there, but I'm now using two old slow spinning (but silent!) Cooler Master fans, leftovers from a previous project.

To mount the drives and the silencers behind the bottom fan, I've cut and drilled two aluminium plates. (All the holes reflect different experiments, this wasn't the first time I used these two plates, and on top of that I didn't get all holes exactly 'right' on the first try :-))

The harddrives are mounted using Nexus silencers (the black rubber pieces left and right of the drives). The silencers work well, but they're not very good quality. Expect to destroy one or two during the mounting process.

Two drives sit behind the bottom fan, one drive behind the top fan. There's still place left for three more drives, for a maximum of six. The one mistake I made was picking up the wrong main board. I should have gotten a board with six sata ports, but I went cheap and took one with four. Worse, this mainboard only has a 100 mbit ethernet port. Stupid me. Perhaps some day I will have to swap it for another board so I can hook up six drives, for perhaps up to 12 TB of space... nice :-) For now, the limit is 4 drives.

Those rubber Nexus HDD silencers, poor quality as they may be (and definitely not improving cooling for the drive itself) do wonders when it comes to reducing hard disk noise. You can't hear those spinners, not even when I'm seriously trashing them.

Though this machine will pretty much never see serious loads in real life I still like to keep things cool yet silent. I will replace the stock cooler with a third party model once the Intel gets (too) noisy. For the moment the noise level is so low it's fine.

During the peak of summer I might want to recheck those Cooler Master fans. At 20 minutes full load I managed to get the motherboard temperature up to 40 degrees, when running idle the mainboard stays at 35 degrees, probably because the passive cooler block isn't getting enough air. The Paradigit Enforcer shows a similar heat issue on its chipset.

Things left to do:

  • improve mounting top fan
  • replace power supply with a better one
  • close slit directly below power supply
  • add a fourth drive
  • test during summer (perhaps replace fans)
I've dubbed this machine 'Media 4'. The software configuration you'll find on the next pages.

I've checked real life performance.

This image shows two PC's (one dual monitor) running two browsers as TVersity clients (transcoding), one XBMC as a Serviio client (transcoding), one XBMC and two VLC's playing some video files, an iPad playing a movie through StreamToMe (transcoding), and a SqueezeSlave playing music. Simultaneously, and with smooth playback (except for the browser clients that never seem to play 100% smooth). The average load on the I3 (a dual core hyperthreading chip) was perhaps 40..50%.

I didn't do real measurements, so the following numbers are just subjective and indicative...

  • 2x TVersity (transcoding) 10%
  • 1x Serviio (transcoding) 5%
  • 1x SqueezeServer 1%
  • 3x XP file serving 2%
  • 1x XP background 2%
I suspect hyperthreading may help a bit, but the grunt of transcoding would be handled by 'real' cores. Looking at those numbers even a much lighter machine such as the Paradigit Enforcer should be able to handle this, though I doubt (the user of) an Intel Atom would be happy  :-).

Temperatures running idle (actually with all applications up and running yet no clients requesting data):

room temperature 20 degrees
harddisk 34 degrees
motherboard 35 degrees
CPU 32 degrees
CPU fan 1110 rpm
After 20 minutes full load:
room temperature 20 degrees
harddisk 36 degrees
motherboard 40 degrees
CPU 51 degrees
CPU fan 1110 rpm
A few weeks later, after 20 minutes of heavy real life load (using multiple clients served by TVersity, Serviio etc. as described above):
room temperature 22 degrees
harddisk 39 degrees
motherboard 39 degrees
CPU 36 degrees
CPU fan 1110 rpm
I know that in the average household it will be quite unlikely to have six people watching six different movies... The I3 is simply too powerful!


5.4 Vintage Server - Media 5
 

I've more or less 'copied' the Retro Server configuration and run it on the older Paradigit Enforcer hardware. Those Enforcers are fine as regular PC's, but too noisy for HTPC usage and too power consuming for 24/7 operation. No luck there, and I went back to the I3.

However, if you got some old hardware laying around, gathering dust, AND you're going to put the server somewhere in a closet, you just might consider repurposing some old hardware. Energy consumption might be an issue, but think carefully if it actually is an issue... Compare these setups for dedicated servers:
 

New I3

Intel I3 2510
Asrock H61M-HVS
Recent power supply
4 GB RAM
On-board VGA & HDMI
Limited hardware de/encoding
TPLink 1 GB Ethernet card
SSD + 3x HDD
6 Watt standby, 35 Watt idle

Very fast machine, can serve and transcode many streams simultaneously, starts up fast, requires a dedicated network card to get 1 GB. Bought an additional (cheap) SSD to reap max results of fast boot up time.
 

Old Xeon

Intel Xeon 3065
Intel S3200SHV
Old power supply
3 GB RAM
On-board VGA
No hardware de/encoding
On-board 1 GB Ethernet
4x HDD
6 Watt standby, 75 Watt idle

Old server board, does support WOL but is very slow to start up, even from standby (thus no need for an SSD).
 

TCO (Total Cost of Ownership)

The New I3 would cost approx. 200 euro more than the the Old Xeon which came, well, pretty much free.

Two years operational costs for my typical usage:

New I3: 52 weeks x 54 hours per week x 35 Watt + 52 weeks x 114 hours x 5 Watt = 128 kWhr x 0.23 = 30 euro / year
Two years including purchase of components = 2 x 30 + 200 = 260 euro = 130 euro per year

Old Xeon: 52 weeks x 54 hours per week x 75 Watt + 52 weeks x 114 hours x 5 Watt = 240 kWhr x 0.23 = 55 euro / year

In other words: to recover the costs of the new I3 components in use for 54 hours a week you'd have to run your this setup for 8 years. If you'd be running the server for 90 hours a week it would still take 5 years. As for energy conscious people: yes, you'd be using more energy, but do not forget that the designing, manufacuring, distributing etc. of the components would also cost resources which is often overlooked. Obviously, the ol' clunker might fail within that time frame. so things are not as simple as they seem. 

Conclusion: if the old hardware is capable (and reliable) enough to serve your purposes you just might consider reusing it. Check your own numbers!

Obviously the same numbers game applies to NAS boxes or energy friendly Atom boards. Getting new kit might save some energy but won't always save money.

Well, as an all-in-one the Paradigit Enforcer wouldn't work, but... I've since switched to a dedicated server, so noise is no longer an issue. And the dual core Xeon 3065 might just, performance wise, sits right between the Core 2 Dueo and the I3, some comparisons claim... Actually, it doesn't. The I3 is an incredibly efficient CPU and fares much better at video de- and encoding... Anyway I'll give it a try...