Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Choosing the media server

The decision of which media server to go with has easily been the longest and most agonising while putting together new audio solution at home. I'm not the only one at work having recently been looking in this area either, James Taylor has also been looking at home servers with similar requirements in mind to myself. Namely, cheap and low power (low electrical power for always-on as opposed to a slow processor).

In no particular order, options on the list for me were:
EDIT (suggestions from comments, with my thanks):END EDIT

All have clear advantages and weaknesses I wont go into in detail for each box. However, they can roughly be grouped into cheaper solutions as provided by a hacked NAS box, or more expensive PC style systems. Some go straight out of the list on price alone, such as the relatively expensive Mac (I don't understand the Mac fad, single vendor lock-in, haven't we seen that somewhere before?).

I decided to plump for the cheapest of all the options, the SLUG. I figure that even though it has a slow processor and only 32MB memory it does have a fighting chance of running SqueezeCenter to power the Squeezebox Duet based on the reports of other users running SlimServer on it. If all else fails, there are plenty of people at work looking for low power solutions who may be willing to buy a 2nd hand SLUG should I want to upgrade anyway.

The SLUG is a very well-known device in the land of hackery. It can easily be modified to run any one of several different versions of Linux that maintain different levels of compatibility with the original Linksys firmware and interface. It's purpose in life when released (back in 2004 I think) was as a cheap NAS box that simply provides a USB to Ethernet interface. The idea being you plug a cheap USB hard disk into it, configure via the simple web interface, and you have storage you can access from anywhere on your home network. Because Linksys made the device cheap, naturally their choice of operating system was a free one, Linux. The Linux license dictates Linksys had to make their source code available, hence it's easy to modify the original software for your own purposes. The rest follows from there really!


Joel said...

You might also want to check out the PicoPC ( - Passively cooled 1Ghz VIA-C7 with 1Gb RAM. They're a little pricey, but make great squeezecenter/home server boxes :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Joel for letting me have a link to a company based in Devon who make custom built Pico ITX cases, Pico PC. Unfortunately, they're really quite pricey (as all Pico boards are at the moment), but they're extremely small and pretty good on power use.

Mike Rosenberg said...

A solid list. The Netvoyager LX1000 is a bit low-spec at only 200MHz. The Aleutia E2 ( is 500MHz, 512MB RAM and in the same VESA-mountable form factor.

Anonymous said...

Mike, a brilliant link I've not seen before, thanks so much for that! I wonder who makes those cases, I've seen them all over the place now (Netvoyager, TinyTuxbox, etc) but I've not for the life of me found one on any small form factor retailers web site.

Adam said...

Very interesting idea for low power consumption. I use my MythTV, Fedora server as my media server as it is always on. Trouble I have is with choosing a decent frontend. Currently I use XBOX with XBMC - but its not fast enough for HD.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to note that I sold the slug shortly after buying it and I'm now running SqueezeCenter on a TinyTuxbox.