All about storage

Storage : It’s what drives (pun intended) the media center.

So you are building your Home Theater PC and want to get involved with Usenet and SABnzbd, but you have no place to store your media.  Or maybe you do and you are just looking for the most efficient/effective way to store your content.  I have some suggestions that could help benefit your Home Theater PC in a few ways.  One thing to consider before deciding on DAS vs NAS, is that you most likely want to run your SAB and any other applications on the box that you have your storage on.  So if you have a home server that you are storing your content on, it’s best practice to have your SAB on there as well.

DAS (Direct Attached Storage) –

For those of you who are thinking of investing in some type of storage that is directly connected to your Home Theater PC, you must first consider your connections!  If you plan on viewing 1080p high bitrate movies ripped from Blu-Ray while also performing other tasks in the background (downloading more content, transcoding, etc.) I would definitely consider using Firewire 800 or E-Sata.  If you are using a Mac mini as your home theater PC, you wont be able to use E-Sata without a bit of hardware modification that will void your warranty (I highly suggest against this) and for our purposes won’t benefit us greatly, as Firewire 800 is fast enough to handle our viewing and other tasks.  If you are using a homebuilt solution, E-Sata will give you an extra bit of read/write performance for other tasks which never hurts.  I would say go with the fastest connection you are capable of going, even if we are not using all the throughput, at least it is available to us should we need it.

After considering your connection, you want to consider drives.  Do you want to use a multiple drive external array or a single drive external array?  If you can afford it, I would suggest going with a multiple drive external enclosure with some sort of RAID protection.  If you are unfamiliar with RAID technology, RAID is an acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks.  For our purposes RAID simply means that the data is spanned across multiple drives, rather than relying on one single drive that upon failure could lose all your data.  RAID 1 (mirroring) is a bit much for our media content in my opinion and is definitely not cost effective.  If you have the money and are really concerned about losing your data, RAID 1 is the answer.  If you are not paranoid about your data, I would suggest a RAID 5.  RAID 5 is block level striping with parity, wait WHAT?  Basically it means if you have 4 drives, 1 of them becomes a backup, with parts of data written across the remaining 3.  This will provide us protection against one drive in the array failing, which is typically how it goes.  For more research on RAID technology, check out Wikipedia.

NAS (Network Attached Storage) –

Networked attached storage is another possibility for your home theater PC.  Networked attached storage can come in a few varieties, with the most popular being out of the box solutions such as a Synology NAS.  The difference between a NAS and a DAS is that a NAS requires network throughput to serve up the content.  The disadvantage and advantage are both one in the same, you require network connectivity.  To some, this means it will be too slow to handle the burden of what they are trying to accomplish.  Wireless G is too slow to stream 1080p content; but gigabit ethernet is going to blow the doors off Firewire 800 in a speed test.  See where I’m going wit this?  If you are already hardwired up, NAS is a fine solution for storing your content and I would recommend it.  As with local storage, take RAID into consideration.  With a NAS you have a little more flexibility, you can actually build your own RAID NAS if you are feeling a little adventurous.  A few sites I would check out for this type of this would be Lime Technology for their unRAID solution or FreeNAS.  unRAID is popular with the Home Theater PC crowd, and there is actually a 3rd party plugin for Plex that lets you manage some of the smaller features via Plex.  I like FreeNAS’s implementation of ZFS and thin provisioning (check their site for more info regarding these two).  But all in all, these are a bit more difficult to configure than a simple Synology RAID as you will need to build the PC and then install the OS and configure the software.  If there is demand for this, I would be happy to write up some guides about configuring unRAID and FreeNAS just leave your feedback in the comments.

Mac Specific Suggestions –

If you chose a DAS option, some suggestions I would make are:

  • Use HFS+(Journaled) as your formatting option.  While the journaling requires a little bit of extra resources to maintain the drive, it’s benefits are great.
  • If you don’t have a backup device setup for your OS, I would partition the drive into at least 2 partitions, one for your time machine, usually around 50-100GB is fine for a backup volume, and the rest for media.
  • Consider acquiring an advanced disk tool, such as TechTool Pro or DiskWarrior in case you get some sort of software corruption on your drive.
  • Firewire is going to be your friend on the Mac side.  It’s highly reliable, and much faster than USB 2.0.  Until Apple releases USB 3.0 on your Mac, let’s stick with FW 800.
  • Also be aware that drives that have 2 Firewire 800 ports, most likely can be daisy-chained, what this means is you can keep connecting drives to the additional firewire port and have them mount on your OS.

PC Specific Suggestions –

  • Use NTFS as your file format.  FAT32 is going to limit the size of the files you can have on there, and if we are talking HD rips, this is going to cause conflicts.
  • You have more connectivity options on your PC, as you can add in an ESATA or other local type of connectivity (SAS, SCSCI, etc.) but for our purposes, Firewire or ESATA will work great.
  • It’s not necessary to run Windows Server as your operating system, Windows XP, Window 7, Windows Vista will all work fine for SMB sharing.
  • If you are networking your PC storage to your Mac Media server, be aware you may start seeing hidden files called .DS_Store on the volumes.  This is not a problem, this is just how the Mac indexes the drive and keeps thumbnails for easy retrieval next time it connects to the share.

Whichever solution you decide to go with, just be aware that a NAS/DAS does not prevent against theft, or destruction of property obviously.  If these are a concern, you may want to consider backing up your content even further to some type of cloud storage.


Edit:  Storage suggestions post coming in near future! 🙂

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