HTPC Home Server

Silent PC Build Guides

We're not quite finished with our Silent Server Build Guide. There is one more form factor that can house a home server, the Home Theater PC case, with a horizontal layout designed to go into a shelf below a TV. Since a HTPC often becomes a central repository for media files, the concept of maximizing storage capacity on such a PC and using it as the file server for the entire home network has merit. This means the PC playes two roles, and one fewer PC is not a bad thing economically and ecologically.

The combination HTPC + Home Server approach eliminates WHS for the operating system; Windows 7 with its built-in Media Center is a far better choice for a HTPC. We have discussed in a previous Home Server section the pros and cons of using Windows 7 for a file server. There are some drawbacks like the absence of a built-in backup system as in WHS and the software that comes with most NAS devices. However, it is possible to replicate many core features with various software utilities such as Acronis, and Windows 7 has Media Center built in, with full support for media streaming to/from other PCs in the network.

As with previous server builds, we start with a case. First, we have to accept that there are no HTPC cases with HDD elastic suspension — either built-in or DIY. There are none with such features built in and none we know of that can be modified for such. Hnece, we have to accept a certain level of mechanically indusced noise from the hard drives. Secondly, unless we opt for a huge (and usually expensive) case, more than about 5~6 drives is out of the question. Never mind. Now that 3 TB HDDs are here, half a dozen of them will give us 18 TB.

So, with those thoughts in mind, what are the main criteria for choosing a horizontal-style case for use as a quiet HPTC/file server? Why it's no different than a HTPC with a large number of HDD bays. Keep in mind that we wished to reuse the components from our mid-tower server build, to keep things simple.

Key criteria:

  • ATX motherboard support
  • High number of HDD bays, minimum six
  • Excellent ventilation, 12cm fans ideal
  • Sturdy construction
  • Room enough for good sized CPU heatsink

Our own short list of Recommended HTPC cases has only a few models that support ATX boards. Recent HTPC case development has focused mostly on micro-ATX or smaller boards. The requirement of six 3.5" HDD bays shrinks the selection dramatically — there just aren't many. In fact, only a handful of cases by Silverstone and nMediaPC can take six or more HDDs. There is little difference in the layout among these cases. If they were stood up on end, they would have the PSU on the bottom, be a bit narrower, and perhaps a little shorter than most mid-towers.

In the end, we went again with the first suitable sample that arrived in our lab: The recently introduced Silverstone GD-03, which can accommodate up to seven 3.5" drives, two of them in hot-swappable bays. As before, an SSD was used for the Windows 7 OS. The 30GB OCZ Vertex is small but big enough for our purpose.

Mid-Tower Silent Server Build List
Component
Market Price
Silverstone GD-03 HTPC case
$170
Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H motherboard
AMD Athlon II X2 255 3.1 GHz, 45nm, 65W TDP
OCZ DDR3 PC3-10666 Gold Low Voltage 2x2GB RAM
Seasonic X-650 power supply
Western Digital Green Power 2TB (or 3TB)
$100 x 6
OCZ Vertex 30GB SATA II SSD
Noctua NH-C12P fan top-down CPU cooler
TOTAL
$1322

The main difference between this build and the mid-tower server is the case itself, six HDDs instead of nine, and no elastic suspension. Even the Noctua NH-C12P cooler could be reused, as it fits with nearly an inch to spare. (You might recall that we had a specific reason to use this cooler instead of a taller one in the mid-tower build.)

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