DZMM

"5 PCs, 1 Tower" - '2nd Build' 14 Core Xeon UnRAID Server

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I just realised this morning that it’s been just over a year since I built my unRAID server.  I meant to write this post last year, but never got around to it.  I’ve taken some very quick photos – apologies for the quality (and some of the dust on my PC – hasn’t been cleaned for a while…) as I only had my Nexus 6P!

 

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Overall I’m amazed by how much unRAID has allowed me to do with this machine, and a year in I still haven’t scratched the surface of what it can do.  I’m convinced I’ll be able to, with a few select upgrades along the way, keep this machine going for another 10 years like my last machine.

 

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This build has been both exciting and sad at the same time.

Sad, because my 1st Build 'Cylon', which was lovingly created as a xmas present to myself way back in 2005, was finally deactivated.  Cylon evolved over the years with all of the parts changing except for my trusty Gigabyte 3DAurora chassis , including the CPU from a AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ (2005) --> Intel Core 2 Quad Pro Q6600 (2008), i7 920 (2009) to its final i5-3450 (2012).

I've built several HTPCs (and a WHS server at one point) along the way that used to be connected to each of my TVs, but they've all gone over the years with only my trusty Cylon staying the course. 

 

What drove the new build?

  • Cylon was starting to fall apart and was unable to keep cool and was too noisy.  Some of my HDDs weren't even in bays anymore......

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  • I needed more power - my setup couldn't keep up with the Plex streaming needs of my family, with multiple concurrent transcodes locally and remotely
  • I needed more workstations - MY PC seemingly overnight was being shared by my wife and 2 kids, so I was looking for a way to cost effectively support concurrent users
  • I miss building and configuring PCs and I finally had a good excuse for a major new challenge!  It's been exciting getting up to speed with the last 10 years of PC development

 

While I was trying to find the best solution, two things sent me down the path that I choose:

  • reading about amazing dual Xeon E5-2670 systems being built, thanks to cheap CPUs flooding eBay
  • stumbling onto LinusTechTips '2 Gaming Rigs, 1 Tower' video and realising that unRAID would let me build one powerful PC capable of running multiple concurrent workstations and media centers, just struck a chord.  Adding parity protection to my HDDs was also attractive, as it’s been a real pain in the ass replacing failed drives over the years in terms of working out what files had been lost and replacing them.

 

Part Selection

 

CPU: My original intention was to build a system around dual E5-2670s I had picked up on eBay.  But, after struggling to find reasonably priced motherboards due to lack of availability and being forced to buy SSI-EEB cases I didn't like, I decided I needed a more modern system with as many current gen products as possible, so that my next system has a chance of surviving as long as Cylon with future upgrades.  I was lucky enough to find a E5-2683V3 on eBay for 1/10th of the cost of a new one - 14 cores Vs the 16 of the 2670s, with lower power consumption for a 24/7 ATX not SSI-EEB machine and support for DDR4, USB3.1, M.2 etc

 

  • Motherboard: Future-proofing was a major consideration (32Mbps M.2, 32Mbps USB 3.1, Type C, ) and 3+ PCIe x16 slots allowing me to run multiple virtual machines in unRAID
  • Case: Although it's been out 2 years, the R5 is still a great case.  It's not ostentatious and just has a quality look about it.  It's also very quiet, which was a vital element of the overall build.  I didn't want a massive window that showed my drives.  I've bought this case to hopefully last as long as the Aurora3D, and it should be flexible enough to handle any scenario in the future
  • GPU: I haven't played PC games since AOE/AOC, so I don't need a powerful card at the moment so the focus again has been on 'silent'.  However, I am tempted to get a gaming card for one of my VMs as a later upgrade
  • CPU Cooler: overkill for the Xeon which isn't overclocked, but capable of cooling hotter CPUs in the future.   Plus it looks so damn sexy.  Oh, and it's quiet
  • PSU: efficiency important for a 24/7 machine and I wanted enough wattage headroom to support one mid-range GPU if necessary in the future.  Quiet
  • Lighting: I resisted buying a Hue+ as this isn't a gaming rig, but I couldn't resist adding some cheap lighting

 

Original Build

I couldn't be more pleased with the outcome.  Everything runs soooo fast compared to Cylon, RIP.  Temps are fantastic and the noise levels are acceptable (more later).  Working inside the R5 was a dream, with plenty of room to manoeuvre and no need to ask my wife to be an extra pair of hands.

 

Cost wise, I’m very happy with the results as it cost me £1,234 to build THREE (unRAID + 2VMs) powerful machines:

 

  • £952 old components (monitor, HDD drives, keyboard)
  • £1,234 for new components

 

Grand Total: £2,186 - All powered by one chassis, so electricity and space savings are huge ;-)

 

Changes over the year  - '2 more PCs', TV Server, Bigger Array Storage, M.2 storage, bigger cache pool - £925

 

  1. I purchased a 3rd monitor on eBay for £75 and added a GT730 and cheap Logitech keyboard to create a 3rd VM.  Now, 3 of my family can use the PC concurrently
  2. I added another 32GB of RAM as at times I was getting too close to 100% utilisation
  3. I initially bought a 500GB SSD to use as an unassigned drive for my VMs and used the 2nd 250GB SSD I was using previously to create a cache pool.  I then gave in and bought a 256GB M.2. SM961 and threw the 500GB SSD into the cache pool, doubling the size
  4. Added an extra 6TB X300 to my array
  5. I purchased a WinTV Quad and then replaced with a TBS6205 TV card
  6. I created a 4th VM, pfSense by buying a AOC-SGP-I2 NIC on eBay for £60

 

Overall - £3,110

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It’s been a fantastic year.  I’ve more than achieved my goals of delivering more concurrent users and an efficient Plex server.  What’s been amazing is the number of additional tasks my server has taken on-board over the year, without breaking a sweat:

 

  • Kodi mysql database.  I now use kodi throughout my home rather than Plex.  This has been a very happy development as my media center journey started 15 years ago when I modded orignial Xbox consoles to run XBMC, and Cylon was originally built to deliver content to those XBMC machines
  • TV server – I have ditched all my STBs over the year and now use a TVheadend docker delivering TV to Android and Fire TVs
  • Unifi Controller – I’ve added 2 AC Pro APs over the year controlled by a docker and after 14 years of trying, I finally have a wi-fi network I am happy with
  • pfSense router – excellent piece of software
  • Home Automation through a Home Assistant Docker
  • Automated media management dockers (sonar, radar, nzbget etc).  I even use the excellent calibre-web docker to provide easy access to my book collection
  • MineOS server docker for the kids
  • Letsencrypt reverse proxy, openvpn-as and resilio-sync for secure remote access to server and files

 

It really has become my HOME server – controlling my tvs, lighting, heating, media and internet usage!

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Future Plans

 

  1. Add a gaming GPU as the GT730 can’t even manage the most basic graphics settings
  2. Add more storage, probably moving to 8TB drives at the next purchase.  This will probably mean I will have to build a dedicated pfSense box as I only have one SATA slot left on my motherboard, so I will need the PCIe slot to add a SATA card.  I’m not keen on spending approx. £300-400 on a SATA card and a 2nd pfsense machine that will need maintaining, and I’m toying with maybe spending a bit more to get a new SSI-EEB motherboard (unfortunately this would mean a new case as well) with more PCIe and SATA ports for better future expansion options
  3. Think about the location of my box as it’s starting to get noisy with the number of drives spinning, which will only get worse as I add more.  I think I might have a plan to tackle this in the future by using my cache drive for downloads (I don’t currently) and my latest media files before they are moved to the array; spending some time using the unbalance plugin and optimising my split levels to reduce the number of drives spinning.  This also might involve using HDMI/USB over ethernet or something similar like Raspberry Pi thin clients, to put the server in a different room

 

Here's to another 10 years!

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Edited by DZMM
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Nice post. :)

 

A few things to consider:

 

1. Get your downloads on to your cache drive as soon as you can.  Running downloads to the array is a terrible waste of time, and indeed power.

2. Rather than add drives, why not swap out some of your smaller drives for bigger?  8TB drives are quite affordable if you don't mind shucking - the WD EasyStore 8TB contain Red drives, and the MyBooks contain a white-label EZZX drive which is basically a Red without the name.

3. Give the Plex plugin for Kodi a go - I use it and it's brilliant.  No need for messing about with SQL and the issues that causes when you upgrade Kodi.  Basically the plugin gives you the standard Plex front end running in Kodi, so you get the better video playback of Kodi with all the media browsing benefits of Plex.

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5 hours ago, HellDiverUK said:

Nice post. :)

 

A few things to consider:

 

1. Get your downloads on to your cache drive as soon as you can.  Running downloads to the array is a terrible waste of time, and indeed power.

 

Downloading to my cache is nice from a noise perspective (assuming the mover is working when I'm AFK), but I download direct to my array as they have to go there anyway and to reduce wear on my SSD.  When I'm lucky enough to have a broadband connection that means I need my SSD speeds for downloads, I'll happily do this!

5 hours ago, HellDiverUK said:

 

2. Rather than add drives, why not swap out some of your smaller drives for bigger?  8TB drives are quite affordable if you don't mind shucking - the WD EasyStore 8TB contain Red drives, and the MyBooks contain a white-label EZZX drive which is basically a Red without the name.

 

Any drive I buy now will definitely be 8TB and upwards - last year I was buying 6TB drives.  Part of my upgrade planning is replacing my older drives as they fail with larget capacities e.g. the 2TB I've had for over 6 years, so it's probably going to die one day soon.  I can get one more HDD in without removing any current drives, and I've got space for 5 more in the case if I put a 3x3.5" enclosure into the 2x5.25" bays and a PCIe Sata card taking me up

 

to 62TB with 8TB drives.  If I need more storage beyond that, the plan is get an eSATA card for 4 external drives taking me up to 94TB from without replacing the smaller drives, so that'll keep me going for a few more years!

5 hours ago, HellDiverUK said:

3. Give the Plex plugin for Kodi a go - I use it and it's brilliant.  No need for messing about with SQL and the issues that causes when you upgrade Kodi.  Basically the plugin gives you the standard Plex front end running in Kodi, so you get the better video playback of Kodi with all the media browsing benefits of Plex.

I might give this another look, as the SQL setup does take a bit of effort.  It might confuse my family a bit though having to switch between an addon and going back to Kodi for live TV - if it wasn't for the Kodi PVR, I'd probably just move them onto Plex as I agree it's a lot easier to manage and I do this with my FireTVs gen 1s that are too low-powered to work with Kodi properly

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3 hours ago, HellDiverUK said:

Plex does LiveTV now too...

my tuner isn't supported yet, but I'll have a play with it if support is added as the DVR is better than Kodi where you just get the 'guide' and no recommendations etc

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Since you took plex out of the mix, are you just allowing every device Fire/Android TV to directly access the storage and content? e.g no transcoding or prep?

 

That's the main reason I keep plex, content is too much of a mix between audio or video codecs. Plus I have remote family that use my server a little.

 

I run plex live tv with TVHProxy, and keep live TV within Kodi. I do like how Kodi presents the EPG, I understand there is no recomendation engine.

The way that plex does it, at times you have no real idea which channel the content is coming off.

 

I also moved VPN off Unraid and onto my Pfsense box.

 

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11 minutes ago, Tuftuf said:

Since you took plex out of the mix, are you just allowing every device Fire/Android TV to directly access the storage and content? e.g no transcoding or prep?

 

That's the main reason I keep plex, content is too much of a mix between audio or video codecs. Plus I have remote family that use my server a little.

 

 

In the last couple of weeks I've moved the old Fire TV gen1s that are on the secondary TVs in the bedrooms back to Plex away from Kodi, as either my Kodi database was getting too big or the infrequent use meant they were too 'laggy' trying to update database, thumbnails etc whenever they were turned on.  Plex is working well there.  For the TVs downstairs where I need passthrough support, Kodi is much better - audio problems I was having with Plex for years is what drove me back to Kodi after being away for 12 years.

 

I also have family using my remote Plex and a few friends.

15 minutes ago, Tuftuf said:

I run plex live tv with TVHProxy, and keep live TV within Kodi. I do like how Kodi presents the EPG, I understand there is no recomendation engine.

The way that plex does it, at times you have no real idea which channel the content is coming off.

 

I tried TVHProxy last month and wasn't keen on the lack of guide for liveTV.  What I've done for my FireTVs is install SPMC alongside Plex just for live TV.  To be honest, my family doesn't watch much live TV upstairs so they haven't even noticed yet - upstairs is where all my old kit has ended up after upgrading the real TVs downstairs.

 

18 minutes ago, Tuftuf said:

I also moved VPN off Unraid and onto my Pfsense box.

 

I've recently turned off my pfsense VM as I'll need the last pcie slot next month when my server hits its current capacity, so I thought I might as well move early.  I'm struggling to justify paying £300 for a dedicated box (and associated running & support costs) for effectively squid and a bit more firewall control as I've met my VPN needs with dockers+privoxy and VPN clients for the occasional times I want to connect a PC or a Kodi box; I can do ad blocking via my browsers, I traffic manage by scheduling my download clients as even with a slow connection (19/1) we have enough bandwidth etc etc. As a VM it was a no-brainer as the nic card only cost my £60, but £300 is a bit much.

 

What's the spec of your pfsense box?  If I can find a cheaper way to build a pfsense box e.g. cheaper hardware or 2nd hand kit as I can do my heavy VPN traffic through dockers, then I might build one.   I've ditched the idea of changing my mobo to get more slots for future storage and space for my nic as I've got space on my mobo for 1 more drive, I can add another 4 internally and 4 externally - 9 more data drives on top of my current 5 should be more than enough!  So, if I'm going to return to pfsense it'll have to be via a dedicated box

 

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