Building a silent dedicated Music server?

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Building a silent dedicated Music server?

Post by SGCSG1 » Mon Sep 28, 2009 9:25 am

I'm a PC gamer and have been reading this site for years. I've gotten tips on what cases to buy, fans, etc.

Now I'm thinking about building a dedicated Music server to put in my music room. It wouldn't run games, it wouldn't run email, office, none of that. It would have a one terrabye hard-drive with all my music files and a copy of Media Money (my preferred jukebox program). That's it. Nothing else.

I'm a little iffy on how this works, but I'm guessing I'd run usb out into a DAC and then have the DAC feed my pre-amp.

Of course I could just turn my big monster/gaming PC into a server. But then I'd need a Media streamer and they all seem pretty limited in one way or another, and kind of expensive. For the money I'd spend on one I'd think I could build a simple, small, silent PC.

This is uncharted waters for me. You want to talk about motherboards for big gaming PC's, I'm your guy. But a little PC? No idea. First question is form factor - what's best for this kind of project? Mini-ATX? Shuttle? What kind of CPU? Mainboard?

I got this idea from seeing people using a Mac Mini as a server. Heck, it's six hundred bucks and doesn't run the software I like. I have a spare copy of XP, so there's money I'm saving on the OS.

So, any suggestions for someone just starting out on this? I figure once I get a form factor decided on, the rest will be pretty easy. I wouldn't mind a ...don't know what you call it.... horizontal form factor PC, so it's easy to put in a cabinet.

All comments welcome.

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Post by Cistron » Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:58 am

I'd go for an Atom, thus ITX. A couple of cases were recently reviewed here, have your pick. No idea how the whole audio part works, but must boards have a digital audio out (S/PDIF), no?

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Post by xan_user » Mon Sep 28, 2009 11:08 am

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Post by Greg F. » Mon Sep 28, 2009 3:44 pm

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Acer Aspire AS5250-BZ641 Notebook AMD Dual-Core Processor C-50
HifiMan REO, Sansa Clip+, JDS cMoy
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some thoughts from my experience

Post by Listener » Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:04 pm

I built a dedicated PC for audio playback about 3 years ago. I've ripped my collection of ~2500 CDs and have the tags in place. It all runs smoothly without any audio glitches or significant problems. I continue to read the audio forums and the PC component forums like this one. Some thoughts from my experience:

- Consider using a 5400 RPM hard drive. it will be fast enough, quieter than 7200 RPM and use less power. Mine works just fine.

- Use a dual core CPU rather than a single core. It helps significantly with avoiding buffer underruns at the DAC chip whereever it is. I used to write device drivers so I have theory and experiment behind this statement.

- Don't count on onboard audio (motherboard audio) being good enough. Whether it is good enough depends on the motherboard design and on your own standard for sound quality.

- Be sure that you have both PCI and PCIe slots open for use for a soundcard. You can start with motherboard audio but give yourself an upgrade path. ESI Juli@, E-MU 1212 PCI, AudioTrak prodigy HD2 and ASUS STX PCIe(Essence?) cards are some 2 channel cards oriented toward quality audio. I use the Juli@ and AudioTrak cards and like the sound quality and love the stable, trouble free Win XP drivers.

- Don't plunge into using an ITX motherboard without understanding the tradeoffs relative to micro-ATX. A small motherboard may look cute but it won't reduce power use, heat or noise. Put it in an ITX case and it will probably be worse.

- Think carefully about using a low HTPC style case. Two potential problems: small diameter fans that will not be quiet enough and no room for a big CPU heatsink that can be used without a fan.

- You can make choices to keep power use down and that helps with heat and noise.

- Choose integrated motherboard graphics rather than a graphics card. My audio PC has the ancient 945G chipset and it is always fast enough.

- any recent Intel Pentium or Core 2 duo dual core cpu chip is fast enough. Idle power use can be quite low and that is what will probably matter for your audio PC. I never see more than 1% CPU use on my 1.8 GHz dual core CPU. (if I were buying right now, I buy an E5200, an E6300 or an E7x00 CPU.) You will need to be more careful if you go with an dual core AMD CPU. TDP figures don't tell you much for many recent low end chips; look further for actual power use info.

- Chipset power use can be as important as CPU power use. Intel lags in using small feature size fabs for chipsets in comparison to what they use for CPUs.

- Be careful about using an Intel Atom motherboard. It may or may not be powerful enough. Many of the Atom motherboards have a small fan attached to a heatsink on the northbridge chip. Be wary of the Poulsbo chipset; it is low power but some people have reported bugs in the XP drivers. Give it time. The 945G chipset uses a lot of power. What is the point to the Atom CPU with that chipset? The 945GSE or 945GM chipsets are lower power and have mature drivers. The Ion chipset is about the same as the 945GSE but its newer and better graphics performance is totally useless for a dedicated audio PC.

- Someone else recommended the cplay player software. That has a barebones user interface. The related cmp2 combo of player and Windows mods is a tweakers paradise. Consider it later when you have your dedicated audio PC running smoothly and you have an urge to tweak or want to put on a hairshirt.

- XP works fine for audio and is easier to tweak than Vista. If you are going to use a USB external DAC, consider Win 7. if you are going to use a PCI soundcard, consider XP.

- Start looking at audio forums. Audio Asylum PC audio is high-end oriented and has lots of cplay/cmp zealots. head-fi is oriented toward more affordable gear.

- SPCR is great for info on power use, heat and noise. I haven't found it to be useful for things specific to audio. Some of the people who will recommend components for a dedicated audio PC probably haven't built one.

- There is more than one good solution for PC audio. try to delay choices until you understand the alternatives and see how they will apply to your situation.

- if you are going to setup a dedicated audio PC, you should do a bit of Windows tuning. Setting your anti-virus s/w so that it doesn't go nuts when you open a file is the big improvement. Windows updates, Windows system restore checkpoints and Windows disk indexing are things to turn off if you can.

I'm waiting for the Intel 32 mm CPUs with 45 mm IGP in the package to appear before I spring for my next audio PC. Or I may go for a distributed architecture with my existing audio PC as the server and headless Atom PCs as clients. I've got 3-6 months before I have to make a choice.


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