Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Storage Solutions for Home Theater PCs and Home Networks

Hooking up a computer to a plasma TV has opened up many possibilities for playback of DVDs I've purchased and media files that I've downloaded off the internet. Since playback from a hard disc is much more reliable than it is from a DVD, I copy all DVDs to my computer that I plan to watch. 

It wasn't long before I was adding a couple of 2TB drives to my computer to hold a giant library of media but even that has turned out to not be enough storage for everything because my library keeps getting bigger and bigger. But, where there's a will (and money) there's always a way.

Want lots of storage for your home theater PC?  I built this one myself:
10TB USB Disc Array for Home Theater PC

This 10TB USB array cost about $565 for everything and all of the parts were purchased from Amazon.

Western Digital 2TB External Drives 5 @ $89 each = $449
American DJ PC-100A 8 Channel Power Strip = $30
Penn-Elcom R1194/3UK Rack Shelf 3U = $45
Power Strip Adapter Liberators = $10
Kensington Dome Hub 7-port USB 2.0 Hub = $20
USB extension = $10

Some of these prices have gone up a little since I put this together. The 2TB drives are currently going for $99 and the Dome Hub is currently $29, but you can still buy all the components for just over $600.

A power director is used so that each hard disc can be powered up separately when needed.
"Power Strip Adapter Liberators" (short extension cables) are used because each drive has its own transformer, aka "wall wort." 
A Rack Shelf is used to keep everything tidy and make the entire unit easy to transport.

The only real downside to this system is that it's tied to one computer that has to be on whenever any other computer on my network wants to access the files. Of course there's a solution for that as well...

Network Attached Storage
If you don't want your storage array tied to any individual computer then you need a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. They come in various configurations, and the one I own is called a Drobo-FS:

The Drobo-FS

The Drobo-FS I bought from Costco came with 3, 2TB drives and two additional empty slots for $900. The fans are quiet and the unit really looks impressive and attractive. You can mix and match any capacity drives and installing a new drive is as easy as just plugging it in and letting the Drobo do its thing. This unit is not as fast at transferring huge amounts of data as my USB array but it has something else my USB array doesn't have -- fault tolerance -- any single disc can die and you won't lose your data. But that fault tolerance comes at a price in storage capacity. It takes about 1.8TB of total available storage to maintain the fault tolerance, no matter how many discs you have installed.

So with 5X 2TB drives installed you have a total usable storage capacity of about 7.2TB out of a total of about 9TB. Why 9TB instead of 10 when you have 5X 2TB drives? Because the drive size is different than the formatted capacity. A 2TB drive has a storage capacity of only 1.81TB after its been formatted.

Another blog post by Ken Padgett
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