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My Core i3 Build for WHS + SageTV


Grison
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Just over a month ago I had never even heard of Windows Home Server. I was contemplating NAS options to replace the ancient file server we used in our home, and I stumbled upon this and other WHS sites almost by accident. I'm so glad I did! Even more than the feature set of WHS itself, the existence of such a friendly, engaged and helpful user community convinced me to give it a try.

In an effort to learn the basics and "catch up" on the current state of all things WHS, I devoured the podcasts from show 70-ish to the present, scoured the forums, and researched build vs. buy threads at several other sites as well. Eventually, Jim's posts seeking advice about his new build tipped the balance, and I figured it was as good a time as any to dive in and do it myself.

My primary goals for the build were as follows:

1) Increase storage, versatility and performance while dramatically cutting power consumption. (Our old file server had 600GB and used about 110 watts at idle.)

2) Allow for a future switch to Vail.

3) Do double-duty as a multi-room DVD/media server with a high WAF, replacing our TiVos and eliminating our cable TV subscription.

The Build:

Server
------
Processor: Core I3-530

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3
(I liked the 8 SATA ports, onboard RAID 1 & other future-friendly features.)

Memory: 4GB DDR3 1333MHz
(I know 4GB isn't needed now, but the sale price was too good to pass up.)

System Drive: 2 x 500GB WD Scorpio on motherboard RAID 1
(Also overkill, perhaps, but this was prior to the Vail announcement.)

Pool Drives: 3 x 2 TB WD Caviar Green
(mix of EADS & EARS)

DVD: Sony Optiarc 24X DVR-AD-7240S-0B

Case: Supermicro CSE-731i-300B
(Quiet, small-ish, non-descript, good airflow. Includes tool-less drive bays and 300W 80+ PSU)

Software: Windows Home Server, SageTV

Other
-----
2 x SiliconDust HDHomeRun (total of 4 tuners)
2 x SageTV HD Theater
OTA VHF/UHF Antenna (installed in attic)

Results:

I completed the initial build about a week ago, and since then I've focused mostly on trying various WHS Add-ins and customizing SageTV. Overall, I'm very pleased with how it's turned out so far.

The new server draws 55-65 watts at load, and it easily handles simultaneous multi-tuner HDTV recording, DVD rips, comskip scanning, and multi-room HD & DVD playback. I thought for sure that I'd have to be very careful about not allowing it to attempt too many tasks at once, but so far recording and playback have been bulletproof -- even during migrator runs and client backups.

Combined with the HDHomeRuns (5w each) and SageTV HD Theaters (10-13w each) I am still under 100 watts for everything, even at load. Previously, the file server and Tivos totalled more than 200w idle, with far less storage and versatility. Our cable TV subscription is now history.

Potential Pitfalls:

1) Installing the WHS system drive as a hardware RAID 1 was a bit tricky. I needed to temporarily connect a floppy drive so that I could get the drivers loaded at the right time. That being said, once the driver was in place everything went well, and I like having the security of a mirrored system drive (at least until Vail, when I might repurpose the second drive).

2) SageTV is wonderful, but as the reviews indicate it's aimed at enthusiasts. It does work well right out of the box, but to really take full advantage (comskip, DVD libraries, custom interface, web-based scheduling, etc.) requires a learning curve and some tinkering.

Anyone comfortable doing a WHS home-build will probably do fine with SageTV, but all the options may seem overwhelming at first, especially since the many community-driven add-ons are not just plug-ins like in WHS. On the plus side, there's an excellent SageTV community as well, and once I actually started customizing it I became a lot more comfortable with making additional tweaks. Even customized, stability and WAF have been excellent.

(To provide some context, I stayed with TiVo so long because when it comes to home media, I just want it to work. I don't want to maintain additional PC's just to watch TV or movies. Adding SageTV to a server I already want for backup & storage purposes -- combined with the HDHomeRuns and HD Theater set-top boxes -- seems to be a good balance of minimal support with maximum versatility. So far, so good.)

Next Steps:

I'm eagerly following the Vail discussions, but I'm definitely going to wait for the community to pronounce the waters safe before switching. I am a bit tempted to play with a virtual Vail server, though...

I'm still very new to both WHS and SageTV, but if anyone else is in the same boat and has questions about going a similar route, I'm happy to help where I can.

Thanks again to the community for the great ideas and support! I would not have even attempted any of this without you.

Best Regards,
- Jeff

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Grison,

Nice setup. Great choice on the hardware and nice write up. Hope you jumpered your EARS before adding them to the pool. The I3 is one of the best general purpose chips I have ever run and I have run every Intel Chip and many AMD's. Good choice on the MB. As you may have read some of soapbox posts, I love Gigabyte for there value, compatibilty, and features. THnaks for sharing your setup. Now we have to work on getting your back to Windows Media Center...

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Grison,

Yes very nice write up. I was looking at the same type of configuration and considered the Asus, Zotac and MSI boards, but after reading the rants from pcdoc on Gigabyte, I looked into it. Don't tell him, but he is correct on this one;). At this time, from my research I have to agree that the board you selected is the best choice (at this time), sorry Asus.

In any case, I am on my way to getting the same setup...but I selected the new Lian-Li case for the Wife acceptance factor. (long story, don't go there...)

Have a look at this case... it's been released and I have pre-ordered. HERE

I also considered the same priced Gigabyte GA-H57-USB3; but several reviews have stated that the Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3 is better performing. So good choice.

Welcome to the WHS group, I agree with you; there is a very ice bunch of folks here which helps everyone.

TheGuy

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Grison,

Welcome to the group, yes I agree with your choice. I had also come to the almost same configuration. I was considering boards form Asus, MSI, Zotac and after reading all of the comments from "you know who" I had a look at the Gigabyte board. Just don't tell him, but right now the best board seems to be the Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3. I had been considering the Gigabyte GA-H57-USB3; but some reviews state that the 55-board is better then the 57-board. (sorry Asus)

As for the case, I am holding out for the wife approved case HERE

I should get all of this done by end of month, so I was please to read your post. Just don't tell the good PC doctor that I purchased a Gigabyte board...haha.

In any case, I welcome you to the group, you'll find that this site has a bunch of nice folks that are always willing to help.

TheGuy

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Grison,

Welcome to the group, yes I agree with your choice. I had also come to the almost same configuration. I was considering boards from Asus, MSI, Zotac and after reading all of the comments from "you know who" I had a look at the Gigabyte board. Just don't tell him, but right now the best board seems to be the Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3. I had been considering the Gigabyte GA-H57-USB3; but some reviews state that the 55-board is better then the 57-board. (sorry Asus)

As for the case, I am holding out for the wife approved case HERE

I should get all of this done by end of month, so I was please to read your post. Just don't tell the good PC doctor that I purchased a Gigabyte board...haha.

In any case, I welcome you to the group, you'll find that this site has a bunch of nice folks that are always willing to help.

TheGuy

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Grison,

Welcome to the group, yes I agree with your choice. I had also come to the almost same configuration. I was considering boards form Asus, MSI, Zotac and after reading all of the comments from "you know who" I had a look at the Gigabyte board. Just don't tell him, but right now the best board seems to be the Gigabyte GA-H55-USB3. I had been considering the Gigabyte GA-H57-USB3; but some reviews state that the 55-board is better then the 57-board. (sorry Asus)

As for the case, I am holding out for the wife approved case HERE

I should get all of this done by end of month, so I was please to read your post. Just don't tell the good PC doctor that I purchased a Gigabyte board...haha.

In any case, I welcome you to the group, you'll find that this site has a bunch of nice folks that are always willing to help.

TheGuy

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Nice Case. One of the few Lian Li cases I have not tried but I had my eyes on it...

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Thank you PcDoc

You were correct on the GigaByte quality, value and features... your opinion helped a great deal.

TheGuy

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TheGuy,

Thanks for the comment. And no worries I won't tell you know who. Your secret isnsafe with me.

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Thanks for the warm welcome! A few follow-up comments:

1) I did use a jumper for the EARS drive. It joined the pool without issue, and it seems to be running fine.

2) I finally saw a video glitch. HD playback via SageTV started stuttering during a particular show, so I took a quick look at the server to see what was happening. Looks like the demigrator had kicked in and spiked drive access for about a minute before settling down. I replayed that part of the show and it was flawless, but now I am contemplating whether I should restrict or schedule the demigrator in some way. Admittedly it was a minor issue and didn't last long, but the family shouldn't have to wonder what's up if it happens while they are trying to watch a show.

Interestingly, other disk-intensive activities like recording multiple TV streams while ripping multiple DVD's didn't seem to effect playback (I should do more thorough testing, though). It's weird that demigrator doesn't seem to "play nice."

- Jeff

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