Building a Music Server.

I am interested in building a music server. Yes building the server itself from scratch. I sepent some time on the net today looking at parts. For the most part this is a fairly simple project untill you look at the number of mother boards out there.

It is my understanding that ATA drives are less succeptable to RFI than a standard IDE drives. Which would make them the preferable choice.

I am looking at starting with 1TB of storage space. I should probably raid the drives.

Which would require either a software raid or a hardware raid. Which brings up the question or raid cards and ATA drives and the servers ability to handle 8 250GB hard drives. I know I could go with 500GB HD but cost is a factor.

So my question is where do I begin. What motherboard and processor. Qty of RAM. Drives and yes of course software.

Thank you,

If you want one ready to use, but settle for only 200GB, then try the Yamaha CDR-HD1500. The recording is uncompressed.
Assuming you're just building this for home use (not for some industrial-strength server setting), putting together a music server easily and cheaply shouldn't be a problem. Maybe I don't worry enough, but as long as the processor I bought ran in the MB I bought, I'd be content.

I'd buy a small-form-factor shell (Shuttle?) and the pieces that go into it - you don't need much for a music server. makes it pretty simple to pick out the necessary parts that will work together, and they're well priced. HP just released a 1/3 form factor PC that would work great too - comes complete for around $500, though you'd need to add wireless network.

For storage, I wouldn't mess around with RAID anything, especially if cost is an issue. You can get a 1TB external drive for around $800. That's enough for 2500-ish CDs in lossless WMA format, more in other formats. To make regular, easy backups, you could buy two at 1TB. Music servers shouldn't need constant, near-real-time synchronization or hot swapping capability, so all the RAID stuff is just extra expense, IMO.

So, for $1300-ish (or $2100, with two drives), you can have a small, quiet music server that holds 2500 uncompressed CDs and acts as a transport to your DAC or processor and probably surpasses any dedicated transport in performance. Fantastic stuff.

If you looking for single system support, I'd give the nod to J River Media Center as software - great program that is intuitively customizable. You can do a lot with your library with this program. For whole house distribution, I'd recommend SlimServer - it's an open source server with both an open source client as well as purchaseable client pods. The software works extremely well and has a nice browser-based interface. It's not as strong at categorization, etc., but holds up well to large libraries.

Hope this helps. -Kirk

I have been working with computers professionally for 20 years and I have to agree with Kthomas in that RAID might be overkill. I would consider external USB or Firewire drives for a cost effective approach. Step up to the next level - there are several good NAS boxes out there that just hook into a home network (use Ethernet) Buffalo Technology has a "Teraserver" that is pretty slick. I have installed two so far for clients. You can RAID/MIRROR or just run em raw. WEB interface ... good for non-network people.

If you go FULL on ... 3Ware SATA RAID controller - I could go on and on why I love these controllers but lets just say they are fast and work well in any type of environment. Don’t screw around - get a server case and something that hot-swaps fans as well as drives. Make sure you get a good solid power supply / supplies. Get Seagate drives or comparable with a 5 year warranty and keep a spare or two. If you’re just streaming music I wouldn’t worry too much about drive speed. It will make noise – find a safe temp friendly place to put it. Run a network OS on the box and BUY the OS and application software. Server 2003 is a bit of overkill but it has some nice tools built in. Your looking at some serious money but it will last a decade or better and you can expand to your hearts content – 2,4,8 Terabytes whatever you need … just add drives and controllers.

I hate to harp but :

BACKUP/BACKUP/BACKUP !!!!!! You get started collecting music and pretty soon you will have stuff you don’t want to loose. Drives are cheap. Don’t get caught with your pants down.

Computers HATE people …
I would recommend building a PC to your liking in terms of size and cosmetics that would blend in with the rest of your system. Personally, I just can't see building one on your own when you can get a beautiful Hush PC with ultra-quiet operation and stunningly good looks for less than $1,000. On the Mac OS side, there is the Mac Mini for less than $700. However, if you have the itch to roll your own, that's cool too. Add to that a Network Attached Storage (NAS) RAID system which you can either build or buy ready-made, and you're in business. Set-up the PC first as a network node and than connect the NAS RAID via a 10/100/1000Base-T Ethernet network connection. I would suggest placing the NAS RAID in a different room far from your listening room/area, so you won't be distracted or annoyed with hard drive or fan noise.

In building your own PC-based system, stay with an Intel chipset-based motherboard, if at all possible. Why? Most hardware and software manufacturers develop their products using Intel chipset-based systems. Intel's 955X Express and 945P Express chipsets are good, stable chipset platforms to stick with. For the most part, AMD processors and alternative chipsets are also fine for most PC audio operations, but there may always be that one application or piece of hardware that could pose a compatibility issue. Personally, I prefer using a chipset that supports the use of a dedicated graphics processor like the Intel 945P. This just frees up the CPU and system memory to do the business of managing the digital audio in yor server so you won't get skips, stutters or other extraneous digital artifacts. If your music server is used just for music playback and nothing else (no media player visualizations, no digital audio editing for vinyl transcriptions, etc.), then a dedicated graphics processor and memory is not required. I would check with to get an Intel chipset-based motherboard and appropriate Pentium 4 processor. For RAM, get the fastest DDR RAM up to between 512MB and 1GB from a manufacturer like Kingston, Crucial or another recognizable company.

You'll need some way of sendng audio from your motherboard, either via digital or analog. Most audiophiles hate the idea of using a DAC that is integral to a PC soundcard or motherboard for sending out analog audio, and prefer using the soundcard or motherboard to serve only as a digital audio output interface. The claim is that the electromagnetic noise within a PC enclosure environment is detrimental to the quality of the analog audio that can come from a soundcard DAC or motherboard DAC. The general consensus is that an outboard DAC performs better than an integrated DAC on a soundcard or motherboard DAC inside the PC. There are good soundcards for S/PDIF digital audio output from RME, Digilabs, M-Audio, Echo Audio, E-MU, ESI, etc. I would shy away from the mass market stuff from Creative as their soundcards process the digital audio rather than passing it through. There are also motherboards that have built-in S/PDIF digital output jacks. If you don't want to use S/PDIF, there are a few audiophile-grade USB DAC options that work well with the USB 2.0 bus: Wavelength Audio Brick, Apogee Mini-DAC with USB option, Perreaux SXD2 USB DAC and the S2S Audio TwinDAC+. More manufacturers will be coming out with USB-compatible DACs and USB audiophile-level digital audio interfaces. Again, this is where a good motherboard with stable, error-free USB bus controllers is a must. Whatever you decide, just keep in mind that you want to minimize jitter.

For myself, I am waiting for the new Intel-powered Macs to come out. I think Mac OS X is better suited for handling digital media than the PC (I am currently a Windows XP Pro user), Macs are quieter PCs out of the box and the performance-to-cost ratio favors Macs. I am less interested in dealing with hardware driver and compatibility issues than with enjoying my favorite tunes on a good hifi system.