I decided it was time for a new file-server…both because the existing file server is large, consumes a lot of electricity, and forces me to run the A/C in my office 24/7. Solution? Build a new low-power pc that will fit in a closet in the house, store more data, and run on less electricity. This is the story of the build.

Prep Work
To start, I took an old 40 hour standard definition Tivo I had sitting in the garage. It hadn’t been used in years, so I decided it would make a fine case for my new computer. My first choice was an old rack mountable component switch, but the case needed to be about half an inch wider to fit the motherboard. Ah, well.

Next step was to gut the old Tivo. It was a simple setup, consisting of an open power supply, small (application specific) motherboard and 40GB hard drive, as well as a small case fan I decided to keep.

And the pile of parts:

My end goal is a lower power computer with tons of storage…preferable a RAID setup to mirror the data that I can’t backup online, like movies and DVD rips. Speedy hard drive performance is not required as the limitation will be the gigabit network connection anyway. So, time to test fit things into the case to see how many hard drives I can fit:

Looks like I can fit 5 hard drives…one for the OS, and the rest for storage. I decided to re-use the Tivo hard drive as it was a basic Maxtor 40GB IDE drive. Plugged it into my laptop to format it and was on my way.

Case Build
Now that everything is test fitted, it’s time to order parts and start fabricating. I was able to decode the little circuit board that runs the front tivo lights and soldered wires on to act as my power and hard drive lights. Should plug into the MB nice now. Also added a power button to to the back.

Then I fabricated hard drive brackets to hold the main drive under the PSU (and support the PSU) as well as the other 4 data drives on the front.

Here it is with all the hard drives mounted:

Build
Motherboard and PSU finally arrived and I was very happy to learn that my “stand-in” PSU was the exact size as the new one, meaning it fit like a glove. Next step was to cut the case. I had to cut the hole for the PSU fan and power jack, cut the backplate out for the MB, and drill and tap all the holes for the motherboard itself. After much cutting, grinding, brushing, de-burring, grinding, sanding, cutting…you get the point…the case was finally able to be put together.

My original plan had been to put the main OS hard drive under the PSU. However, this turned out to be a hot and ugly spot for it, and since I was starting with just two hard drives (1 OS drive and a big stinking storage drive), I figured I’d balance the weight out in the case. A few days later came the arrival of my 1TB Western Digital “Green” drive, which uses a fraction of the power of a normal hard drive and has a big stinking 64MB on-board cache. Here’s a picture with everything test fitted:

Here’s the back of the case with the cutouts:

With everything installed, I hit the power button. *BEEP*, there’s the POST. Yay! “S.M.A.R.T. ERROR: DRIVE FAILING” Aw crap. The Tivo hard drive was bad, which didn’t surprise me too much. Grabbed the backup drive and started installing windows server. Got it installed, blue screen of death. Won’t reboot, problem with the boot disk.

After the third failed attempt, I started wondering if maybe it was the IDE controller on the motherboard. I DID finally get an IDE drive going, but since I no longer trusted it I used a SATA drive a friend had laying around and then had zero issues…Windows Server 2003 is installed and running, backup software running, web server running…all is well. Plus, gave me a chance to do some tidy cable maintenance since there was no big IDE cable sitting there:

Conclusion
The file server is now up and running, serving all our pictures, documents, movies, DVDs and whatever else we put on it. In addition, the backups are running nightly on schedule, both to the big 1TB HD as well as offsite to our backup site, and my mini-webserver is up and running to host our mobile apps like budget and grocery lists. All in all, a successful build…and no more little “hummmmmmm” from the big old file-server in my office!

2 Responses to “New File Server Build”

  • John Parsons says:

    Drew, I really like all the detailed photos keyed into the narrative. I know you spent a lot of time taking and sizing the photos. They are integral to the blog post. Without them, the narrative really would be a lot less instructive. This is a great example of a step-by-step “how to” tutorial.
    Have you guesstimated your energy savings? It sounds like a lot if you’re not having to run the AC. Thanks for your efforts in creating the device and this post to describe the process. Cheers, jp

    • Drew says:

      Not quite sure how much I’m saving…have thought about getting a Kill-a-watt to measure that kind of stuff for a while but never took the plunge. Wonder if Harbor Freight has one… 😉

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