I have always been a great fan of Network Attached Storage in the home. With consumer‘s ever increasing storage needs and the switchover to laptops, the need for a centralised storage area on your home network is becoming more relevant than ever. Sure, we can shift some of that storage to the cloud, but SA‘s tragic state of broadband has made this more difficult than it should be.
Certain media just works better when stored locally. In the US you might have a great little AppleTV device that just streams you a HD movie quickly and easily, in SA we have to make do with other methods to get our media kicks on. If you store it locally, you also have a lot more freedom on what device you want to access your media from. Want to watch a movie that is stored on your home server on your iPad? Not a problem. But you first need the right hardware.
Luckily it is cheaper and easier than ever to build centralized storage on your home network. Sure, you can go buy dedicated NAS devices if you do not want the hassle of building something. And you can just connect a big external harddrive, but that loses most of the functionality of having a network attached device. There are some of us who like the thrill of DIY. And when it comes to WHS, your own efforts will in most cases lead to better results.
What hardware to get:
Many of us think of DIY home network attached storage as dusty old beige boxes that run clunky old hard drives. But for the purpose of this article, we are starting from scratch, and we try to stay away from old, slow and power hungry components. And of course, we want to do it as cheaply as possible.
You are free to use any case you can, but I recommend you look at dedicated server cases. Why? Because servers typically contain higher end components that are made to run 24/7, for years on end. When you want to trust your home server with all your backup duties, it makes sense to rather go for reliability than performance.
In some people‘s minds “œserver“ means expensive, but in the case of low-end servers that is not the case at all. In fact, it might be cheaper than buying a desktop and repurposing it as a server. When it comes to home servers, processor performance and lots of RAM is less important than things like power usage, reliability and steady disk performance.


You are free to use any case you would like, but seeing as it is a server, you might want to take a few things into account. It will be running 24/7, so things like noise and reliability is a must. That old PC case you have might do the job, but ideally you want a compact case which can handle plenty of drives, and you also want fresh new components like fans, which over time become less efficient. There are some cases out there which are made for this exact use. My advice ““ look at the current HP Microserver.  The best part is the price ““ it is currently on sale for R1299 at Digital Planet. And no, I am not payed to say this. It is just a plain good deal. It is a very compact case design, with loads of expandibility options.  If you are building yourself, look at similiar type case designs. You want a quick and easy way to add and remove hard drives, and a way to lock the device if you feel it is necessary. You do not want to unscrew the entire case to change drives.
Using a low power AMD Neo processor, the Microserver runs its two cores run at 1.3GHz. Yes, I know your smartphone is almost that fast already, but believe me, it is more than enough for the purposes of a home server. That massive 3GHz+ Core i7 is just going to be wasted, and more importantly, chowing a lot of power. It is all about wattage.   Look at the TDP wattage of any chip you will be using. You also ideally want a dual core processor if you want to ever do slightly more processor intensive things with your server, like transcoding of video files. Something like an Intel Atom (provided it is a dual core one) will do a good job as well.
In terms of RAM ““ look at around 2GB of RAM, preferably the ECC kind (provided the motherboard can handle it). ECC stands for Error Correcting Code memory – it is a little bit slower than normal memory, but it contains circuitry that is made to prevent data corruption. If you want to run software that transcodes video files, you might want to up it to 4GB RAM. Video performance is not important on a server, so the Microserver‘s built in ATI Radeon Mobility 4200 should be more than adequeate. If you are building yourself, don‘t worry about the graphics. Integrated graphics would do the job.
Hard Drives:
Then we get to the most important part of any storage server ““ yes, the storage! These days harddrives are not built to last. In fact, any standard hard drive that runs 24/7 might only last about three years on average. Ignore the manufacturer‘s reliability claims ““ believe me, you have to look at higher grade drives. A good choice is drives that are made for video surveilence equipment, like the Seagate SV35 and the Western Digital AV-GP ranges. These are made to run all day and night, and to use as little power as possible, and also do it quietly. You also do not need higher end 7200 rpm drives ““ the slower 5400 and 5900 rpm drives will do the job just fine, and it will save a bit of power and be quieter. While you might not find them at your run of the mill Incredible Connection, you can find them online on sites like Sybaritic.

Also be smart about the sizes you use ““ while it will be great to use 3TB drives that can handle that massive movie collection of yours, my recommendation is to stick with 2TB drives, which are the maximum size before the drives switch to something called Advanced Format. If you ever want to recover that 3TB drive, you will need to use a machine with the latest versions of Windows. Also, if you plan on using Windows Home Server as your server operating system, it is best you stick with 2TB max per drive. Not that 2TB is anything to sneeze at ““ If you max out the little Microserver you will be sitting with 8TB of storage“¦
My recommendation is to look at at least 2 hard drives for your server. That way you can set up some redundancy in your server. That means that if one of the hard drives fail, you will have a backup of all that data on another drive as well. The more drives, the better. Of course, with every drive the power consumption of the server will go up slightly, and be slightly more noisy.
Then we get to another sore point of storage ““ right now the floods in Thailand have caused massive hard drive shortages, and a result, the prices have shot through the roof. Compared to just 3 months ago, the average hard drive has at least doubled in price, and almost tripled in certain cases. So if you are particularly price sensitive you might want to use some old SATA hard drives that are lying around. But you are giving up some reliability and power efficiency in the process.
Right now you are looking at around R1700 for a 2TB Seagate SV35 drive that runs at 5900rpm. That price is quite high, but the 1TB version is only R200 less, so it might be worth it. Remember to try and split your storage among different drives – if you are running WHS v1, they do not have to be the same size.
The Rest of the Guts:
You will not specifically need a optical drive, but it will make installing your operating system of choice easier. There are also a few apps out there that can use that optical drive – the My Movies is a great example. Have a DVD movie you want to store on your Home Server? Just pop in the disc, and the process will start off, and also compress the video to something a bit more compact. DVD drives are cheap – you should not spend more than R300 for an optical drive.
If you are using an old case for your server, check that it has a network card, obviously. All the latest motherboards typically ship with 1Gbps network cards, which are great for streaming media. You will also use Ethernet cabling with a direct connection to your router – the connection to the server must be physical, not wireless. Of course wireless clients can still access the server contents using WiFi.
If you are going to be watching movies that are stored on the server on a wifi device, make sure your network is 802.11n compliant. Anything older will not do an adequate job of streaming video, especially HD video files.
Next: The Operating System
All in all building your perfect home server is easier to do than you might expect. Provided you choose your components correctly, you will have a great storage area for all your movies, series, photos, videos and important documents. After you have built the server, you have to start looking at the operating system you will choose.
In part 2 we will be looking at Windows Home Server, which will be our preferred operating system.