I’ve been thinking about finding

I’ve been thinking about finding a good way to store all of my media content at home. This would include all my DVDs, music, pictures, data backups, etc. I started planning and building a large network attached storage device a couple of months ago, and it’s finally done. Here are the specs:

  • 1 terabyte of storage
  • Gigabit ethernet (data reads are up to 100 GB/s)
  • Supports SMB, AFP, WebDAV, and FTP
  • Costs less than $3,000 and uses off-the-shelf parts

I wanted this server to be cheap, fast, and reliable. The first decision I made was to use IDE storage rather than SCSI. I selected Western Digital 200GB drives which I purchased over a period of three months at Fry’s Electronics combining various rebates to pay about $150 for each one. I purchased seven drives in all for a total of 1.4TB of raw storage capacity. RAID-5 was the logical way to combine these drives in a way that was reliable and maximized storage space. My biggest problem was actually getting the RAID setup.

I had initially planned on using the software RAID-5 implementation in Windows 2003 Server, but that failed. The problem wasn’t Windows, it was the IDE controller cards. These drives came with Promise Ultra100 TX2 IDE/100 controller cards. I used three cards with two drives connected to each card (the cards have two IDE interfaces each), but I could never get Windows to successfully build the RAID and kept getting errors in the system Event Log when trying to read/write from the drives. Finally, I called Promise and they told me that they don’t support having more than one of their cards in one machine. Uggh. I even searched their website and the included documentation for any such limitations, but found none. Back to the drawing board.

The only solution was a hardware RAID controller card. After doing some research, the 3Ware Escalade 7500-8 turned out to be the right choice. It’s compatible with Windows 2003, supports up to eight IDE drives, and has a very fast hardware RAID-5 controller. It was a breeze to setup a six drive RAID-5 volume with one additional drive as a hot spare using the bios on the card. The formatted capacity of the six drive RAID-5 volume was 931GB.

The rest of the system is comprised of the following components:

That was all the involved hardware. There are a few things to note if you intend to build a similar system. Most of the Western Digital drives on the market today need a bios upgrade to work reliably in a RAID. You need a floppy drive (have too boot into DOS) to do the upgrade. It’s better just to make sure you bought a drive that was manufactured after March 25th, 2003. Also, Intel’s drivers for their desktop boards don’t seem to support Windows 2003 Server.

I’ve got a about 200GB of content on the server now, mostly recorded HDTV shows that I haven’t had time to watch yet. I’ll also be backing up my DVD’s to this server. My client machine for browsing/viewing all the content stored on this server is a Windows XP Media Center Edition PC. It has an incredibly easy interface for watching/recording TV, viewing photo albums, listening to music, and playing DVD’s. There are also many cool innovations planned for future updates of this version of Windows!

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