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Looking for advice on a SFF HTPC/Plex/VM mini build


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Hi all...


I'm pretty new to unRAID but it seems like a great idea. Until recently I was using a Mac Mini as a little home server in my living room - it functioned as an HTPC (connected directly to my old 1080p TV and running Kodi + Netflix via the browser) and as a Plex Media server (not doing tons of work, but with sporadic transcodes for devices in my apartment and a few friends on the internet), as well as running SickBeard and a few other similar things.


I really liked the mini but it recently bit the dust and in researching replacements for it I stumbled across unraid, which seems like an excellent way to go. I've spent quite a while lurking and reading through the forums here and I think I'm ready to start putting a system together, but I thought I'd ask for some advice first.


First off, what I want it to do: I'd like the new system to act as an HTPC as well, plugged into my living-room TV to play back local video and maybe do some light web browsing (ordering food, etc); I'd also like it to act as a media server and run SickBeard / Sonarr and maybe a few similar programs in docker containers. I'll mostly be serving up 1080p or lower video, plus a few terabytes of music. This is largely not mission-critical data so being crazy reliable isn't my first concern.


Since this thing will live in the living room, I'd like it to be reasonably quiet. I know it's not going to be as small as the mini plus a few external drives were, but I'm hoping for something around the form factor of a SilverStone DS380, or even smaller if possible (but smaller doesn't seem possible for what I want).


To start with I'm hoping to repurpose a spare 250GB SSD and a few other drives I've got around for cache and then buy a few new drives for parity + array, hopefully winding up with something like 12GB of space in the array and like 3 3.5" green drives to start (this is a starter rig and capacity isn't the most important thing at the moment).


So, on to my questions:


  • If I'm going to use this as an HTPC, will I need to buy an discrete GPU for the VM? I'm thinking a Win10 VM for Kodi, Amazon Instant, and Netflix - being able to play Netflix easily is important for significant-other acceptance factor, so OpenElec seems to be out.
  • If I need a discrete GPU, does anyone have recommendations for one that will be reasonably quiet for the living room? (I'm thinking nVidia because of comments I've read on here about it being better with unRaid for sharing between VMs.) Or is it just wishful thinking to imagine I can find a quiet one that will fit in a small case and not completely kill my internal temperatures?
  • I'm at a loss trying to figure out MB/CPU combos for this. My initial instinct is that for a quieter always-on system I'd want an i3 for the lower TDP, but I'm not sure it would have enough oomph for my needs and having just 2 cores doesn't seem ideal for unRaid.
  • Some of the other threads I've seen for the Silverstone DS380 have mentioned that the fans have three pins that vary by voltage, and that some motherboards don't support that so that the fans are always on. I'm not sure how I would be able to tell, by looking at a motherboard's web page, whether it had the right interface for this, can anyone help?
  • Do I really need a server-grade motherboard / Xeon / ECC RAM if I'm not incredibly concerned about reliability of the system? Like if I lose a bunch of data from this system it's annoying, but it's not the end of the world, and I'd just as soon get consumer-grade stuff and sink that part of the budget into drives for now.


My budget is hopefully somewhere near $1000 US. I think I'd wind up with maybe 2 SSDs for cache and 3-4 HDDs (green) for the array; I also have an m2 drive I could dedicate to a VM if needed.


In the long-term I'd want this thing to have more storage for media and possibly backups, but write performance and reliability aren't as important to me as quietude and low power consumption. Most days I can't really tell the difference between 720p and 1080p, so driving 4k video is not a concern. I'm figuring on giving this 8 GB of RAM, which seems like it should be plenty.


So my current purely-spitballing list is this one. Again, really not sure on the mobo/cpu combination, my building skills are a little rusty, and I also haven't done any research into drives yet, so those are provisional (looking for quiet ones as the main deciding factor though). I'll also need RAM and (maybe?) a video card - might be able to reuse the RAM from my mini, though.


PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant


CPU: Intel Core i3-6300 3.8GHz Dual-Core Processor  ($143.99 @ SuperBiiz)

Storage: Western Digital Green 4TB 3.5" 5900RPM Internal Hard Drive  ($145.99 @ Directron)

Storage: Western Digital Green 4TB 3.5" 5900RPM Internal Hard Drive  ($145.99 @ Directron)

Storage: Western Digital Green 4TB 3.5" 5900RPM Internal Hard Drive  ($145.99 @ Directron)

Case: Silverstone DS380B Mini ITX Tower Case  ($147.99 @ Directron)

Power Supply: Silverstone Strider Gold 450W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular SFX Power Supply  ($88.99 @ SuperBiiz)

Total: $818.94

Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available

Generated by PCPartPicker 2016-02-29 01:45 EST-0500


Any advice greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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You do need a dedicated GPU for each VM.


The main problem you may find with a small form factor is that mini-ITX motherboards typically only have one expansion slot so if you use that for a graphics card you will be limited to only the motherboard SATA ports.


In my case, I use my single expansion slot to get more SATA ports but I am not trying to do HTPC in the same box. My server runs headless in a cabinet in another room and each of my TVs have their own HTPC. Some of your other concerns such as noise also go away if you don't try to put it in the same room with the TV.


I personally would go for more CPU whatever else you decide to do. If you do decide to have a VM with its own graphics card both the CPU and the motherboard you choose must support IOMMU (VT-d in Intel). May have to do some googling or read the motherboard manuals to find that out, but the Intel Ark site will tell you about the CPU, which you may already be aware of since that i3 you chose does have VT-d.

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Thanks for the responses!


Having thought about this a little bit, I think I'm changing my approach somewhat. I sent my girlfriend a link to the SilverStone DS380 and she deemed it too big for the living room. I briefly contemplated figuring out a way to get adequate ventilation inside of one of the cabinets in our credenza and mounting the thing in there, but have decided to let discretion be the better part of valor and go for an ATX tower in my office instead. Per trurl's comments, that probably makes a little more sense anyways as far as the amount of space in the case goes (and being able to keep it cool and quiet, I imagine).


I'll post a different thread about that here when it's done (I have a bunch of questions first, which I'll probably ask over in the hardware forums).

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That looks nice CHBMB, I think it would have a good chance of passing the gf test for me. Right now I'm using a Raspberry Pi 2 with OSMC and a ChromeCast for NetFlix until I can get a new system running (but it only does the HTPC bit, not the media server bit which my Mac mini used to do).

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I had a Zotac Zbox from 2011 for an HTPC. That has been moved to the 2nd TV and now my main TV has an Intel NUC. Neither of these use any local storage of their own or even DVD drives. All content comes from my unRAID server.

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