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Current Recommendations For a Home File Server? 170

j.sanchez1 writes "The recent coverage of Shuttle's new KPC has gotten me thinking (again) about a small, low-cost headless file server for home. In the past, I have looked at the iPaq and considered using older computers I have lying around, but for various reasons I have never jumped in to do it. Do you guys have any suggestions on what to use for a home file server (hardware and software)? The server would be feeding files to Windows PCs and connected to the network through a Linksys WRT54GL running DD-WRT firmware." There are a host of good options these days; what has the best bang for the home-user's buck?
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Current Recommendations For a Home File Server?

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  • Buffalo Linkstation (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @04:35PM (#21989670) Homepage Journal
    I've considered a Buffalo Linkstation with a custom Linux distro. []
  • by singingjim1 ( 1070652 ) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:13PM (#21990356)
    Maybe I don't understand the question, but I installed a 500GB drive as a slave in one of my numerous machines at home, partitioned it to appear as 2 250GB drives on the network, set them as shared on the network over my Netgear router, then mapped to the drives on the other machines - wireless and wired. Transferring files is very fast. I even signed up for free DNS and installed free FTP software on that machine to use one of the partitions as a password protected FTP site that our friends and family have access to. Very easy to share files and pictures that way. My Azureus downloads directly into the FTP partition so I have access to those files anywhere in the world I have internet access.

    I'm not a computer genius by any stretch and this setup can be done by anyone who knows how to use Google to learn stuff. But like I said, given that I'm no genius, maybe I'm just missing the gist here. I've never tried to stream anything over the network and maybe that requires more advanced software, I don't know. My XBOX 360 takes care of my media access as I have it pointed to all the places I have stuff stored and it works like a charm over my THX stereo and HDTV.

  • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:42PM (#21990806) Homepage
    Not quite. There are a lot of caveats.

    Cheap PCs suck rotten eggs on cooling. Your drives will go very hot.

    One good option is cheap PC and an ICY BOX SATA enclosure. They are 30-50£ for 3-5 drives fit in 2-3 standard 5" slots and keep drives within 5C above ambient with virtually no noise.

    Another option are Antec Sonata cases. They have 4 very well cooled hard disk slots. If you chose the right 12cm fans it is once again totally quiet.

    As far as the MB, etc they can indeed be as cheap as they get. I am building one right now out of an old P3. It is more than enough to saturate a 100MB NFS. A few important caveats I have noticed (It has been a while since I built a storage box).

    1. While there are some very tempting offers for IDE cards on the market they are not real IDE. The market has gone in circle 100%. It used to be people selling IDE cards as RAID, now they sell RAID as IDE. So regardless of how nicely does an offer for classic IDE sound, skip it. You are up for trouble. Go SATA.

    2. Same for SATA cards with extra IDE ports. These often do not support IDE drives. Same for some IDE ports on recent cheap motherboards.

    3. Some cheap SATA cards do funny things with spin-up, spin-down and flush commands. Either go for well tested stuff like Silicon Image or go for a real hardware RAID like 3ware (this is no longer cheap though).
  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @05:50PM (#21990960)
    I'm as much... Scratch that... I'm more of a hardware pack-rat than most people judging by the hundreds of pounds of obsolete rack-mount equipment in my basement, and I'm all for re-purposing obsolete hardware. However a home server is the wrong place to do it, especially if saving money is your primary goal. A well-selected modern machine, especially an underclocked machine, with a new energy efficient power supply will pay for itself in energy savings against an old Pentium [123] in less than a year. And as a bonus, it'll perform better too.
  • Re:deja vu (Score:5, Interesting)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday January 10, 2008 @08:03PM (#21992976) Homepage Journal

    The last I heard, the NSLU2 will NEVER spin down the hard drives. This may accelerate the wear on the bearings, and cause premature failure. Drives also consume more power while spinning.

    Actually, what I learned a long time ago (in a technology-land far, far away) is "never shut down your equipment." The only times hard drives and other computer hardware experience physical wear is startup, shutdown, and under G force loads.

    A spinning platter running on new bearings essentially maintains bearing-on-lubricant-on-bushing contact the entire time it is on, and has zero wear. But when the platter is spun down, the bearings will of course stop. At that time the bearings "poke through" the lubrication layer, causing metal-on-metal contact. Over time the weight of the platters on the bearings will cause microscopic deformations to be created on the surfaces of the bearings. These no-longer-round bearings then have high spots that also poke through the lubrication layer, causing metal-on-metal contact while the drive is spinning. This becomes a source of vibration, which leads to more metal-on-metal contact, causing wear.

    There are other physical reasons to not shut down your computer, too.

    Surge currents are a problem. They occur in a hard drive because a stopped motor takes much more torque to spin up than a running motor. That means that a component which is spec'd to carry the running current of the motor, say 80ma, has to temporarily provide startup current of perhaps 200ma. Most components can handle that much extra current for a very small amount of time, but a marginal component may fail under the extra stress. Avoiding power surges maximizes the life of those components

    There is another source of wear that people often ignore, and that is thermal stress. Powering equipment up causes it to heat up, expanding the materials it's made of. And all materials have different coefficients of expansion -- aluminum expands quite a bit more per degree than steel, and both expand much more rapidly than ceramics and fiberglass. When a computer is powered off and cools down, everything shrinks at its own rate -- traces on the circuit boards, soldered joints, the case, the screws holding the heat sink to the motherboard, the gold wires connecting the chip package to the die, everything. That's the only mechanical wear these otherwise solid state components will ever have. The more heating/cooling cycles, the more often they will tug at each other, causing wear.

    However, many things have changed since I learned this stuff. The technology of hard drives is vastly different than it was when I learned this; especially the properties of the lubricants that are now used. Also, cheap hard drives may have poor bearings to start with, and may already be vibrating when you purchase them (sound is a good way to detect this -- a good drive is a silent drive.) Hardware designers who are building quality equipment specify components with the capacity to handle the thermal and electrical stresses. And energy efficiency is of concern to everyone. But unless it's really crap gear, I'd suggest that powering down to attempt to preserve the longevity of your equipment might not be the appropriate answer.

  • Xbox (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Monsuco ( 998964 ) on Thursday January 10, 2008 @09:21PM (#21993810) Homepage
    Ever think of using an origional Xbox. It is fairly easy to hack an Xbox, and deep down an Xbox is just a regular PC with a 700-ish mhz cross between a P3 and Celeron, a hard disk that is either 8 or 10 GB, a Nvidia Graphics card (though 3-D isn't fully supported on Linux), and 64 MB of RAM. For a small file server it works well enough. Most hacked dashes have an FTP server, but you can install Linux (my fave is X-DSL) easily. Some of the distros are rather old though.

    If you don't mind the old hardware, you can usually find an old used Xbox for about $50 at a used game shop. Versions of 007, Mech Assault, or Splinter Cell are usually required to softmod the box, and you can pick those up on ebay for nearly nothing.

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban