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The Multitasker: Home Server + Theater (Mini ITX)

by Vortexxian



Date Published

March 23, 2016

Date Built

Feb. 27, 2016

CPU Clock Rate



I was approached by a friend of mine a while back who wanted to insert a well-specc'd PC into his home theater setup. The requirements were thus:

  • be able to rip (and serve) movies and music
  • act as backup server for household
  • act as centralized file server for household
  • convert old-format videos and music (cassettes, Super 8, VHS) to digital

This rig accomplishes all that with aplomb! Here's a rundown on each part.

  • Core i5-6500 -- quad-core, modern, efficient, support Intel HD530 graphics. Handles movie ripping/conversion very easily, with enough juice left for serving files as well.

  • ASRock Fatal1ty Z170 Gaming-ITX/ac -- I would have liked to go lower for the motherboard, but this was the best one I could find with DisplayPort and HDMI2 support, in case the client upgrades to a 4K TV (which is likely in the near future). AC wifi is a nice bonus as well, if he decides to move the PC to a spot not near the router. Also a bonus: this included a full SIX SATA ports, plus supports RAID5, so I was able to speed up the storage a bit instead of just using RAID1!

  • Crucial DDR4 memory -- Simple, gets the job done. Nothing more to say.

  • SanDisk SSD PLUS 120GB -- okay, I didn't have to include an SSD boot, but it's nice to have a separate drive for the OS to live on in any case. Plus, it means that programs and OS launch ultra-quick, and that's always a good thing!

  • WD Red Pro 3TB 7200 RPM x3 -- Five year warranty, purpose-built for always-on operation, quiet, fast, reliable. Nothing more could you ask for in a file server.

  • Fractal Design Core 500 Mini ITX Case -- the only case that I could find which supported all these drives and still kept the Mini-ITX form factor. I ran into some issues (detailed below) but still think this was absolutely the right case for the job. I'm a little bit of a Fractal fanboy at this point, thanks to my last rig (a personal build), and wasn't disappointed.

  • Rosewill 550W platinum-certified fully-modular PSU -- platinum certified, manufactured by Seasonic, great warranty, and I'm actually using this exact same one in my own build as well. Best bang for buck by a mile.

  • LG Blu-Ray writer -- quick for ripping DVDs, plays nice with Handbrake, can also read blu-ray discs. Basic and easy.

  • Windows 10 Pro -- the latest and greatest from Microsoft. Client was already a fan of Win10, thankfully, so this is a natural choice. Plus, it's going to be supported by Microsoft for longer than any other operating system they currently have, so future-proofing was a real draw.

  • Cyberlink PowerDVD 15 -- necessary for playing blu-ray discs, plus it has a nice, home-theater-friendly interface.

  • Logitech K400 Plus w/ Touchpad keyboard -- this little guy was the perfect choice for a couch-user setup. Wireless with good range, and easy to operate the computer from a distance. Light enough to hold for longer periods of time if needed, too!

  • Hauppage 1196 WinTV HVR-1265 PCI Express HDTV tuner -- Supports HDTV capture as well as analog video and audio capture, so perfect for acting as a DVR for over-the-air broadcasts or for digitizing old VHS/Super8 tapes. This was probably the most problematic part in the build, as Hauppage drivers just aren't great. Stable enough so far after dealing with the bluescreen issues, though. Not necessarily sure I'd recommend this for beginners.

This build was simultaneously one of the most frustrating and most rewarding builds I've ever done. The Fractal case made build order VERY tricky, as there was only one right way of doing things. I had to disassemble back to a certain point in order to get all my drives in, for instance, as I'd accidentally covered up some screw holes with other drives. It did all fit, though, eventually! I still can't believe I somehow managed to stuff three drives' worth of connectors into that same tiny space (see pic above).

I also forgot to set the drive mode to RAID instead of AHCI in the BIOS at first, which meant I had to reinstall the operating system in order to actually use my RAID setup. Oh well, lesson learned.

The motherboard arrived with its Wi-Fi bracket bent a bit, but some carefully-applied force seemed to get it back in place. No issues with it thus far.

I decided not to include a dedicated video card since the user will never be gaming, and will only need to deal with video content, which the Intel integrated graphics are more than capable of handling. Plus, I ended up using the PCI-E slot for the capture card, in order to save on USB wires dangling everywhere.

I used Crashplan as the backup software, allowing everything on the PC to be backed up to the cloud (and eventually a USB drive as well, hopefully), as well as allowing the other PCs in the household to back up automatically to this server, thanks to Crashplan's great "backup to a friend" feature.

Finally, I used Plex as the media server app. It runs flawlessly, and my friend and his wife can now access their entire music and movie library from anywhere they've got an internet connection! Convenience is a marvelous thing, indeed!

Comments Sorted by:

FACUNDO 13 Builds 2 points 31 months ago

Nice PC/Server! I love this non-gaming/not just i5 and i7 with high-end GPUs builds!

bobdude_01 3 Builds 2 points 31 months ago

Very nice, servers like these are great to digitize your movie library and not have to keep tons of DVD's at hand. +1 for the cable mngmt!

texasmayne 4 Builds 2 points 31 months ago

Nice PSU choice. I'm gonna have to add that to my favorite parts list

Vortexxian submitter 4 Builds 2 points 31 months ago

It's a fantastic PSU, and has enough juice for pretty much anything but dual graphics cards. Why waste money on overkill PSUs? :D

ironthekid12 2 points 31 months ago

How did airflow go ? Really need an answer and I would really appreciate your time writing an answer, thanks.

Vortexxian submitter 4 Builds 1 point 30 months ago

Hey there. Airflow is adequate in this build for the purpose, especially since I didn't use a separate video card. If I were doing this as a more gaming-focused build, I'd want to install a couple more fans, I think. There are spots for this in the front of the case, on the top, and on the side of the case, and as it stands it's plenty well-ventilated. This thing gives you all kinds of great mounting spots for cable ties, etc., as well, so you shouldn't have any trouble.

ironthekid12 2 points 30 months ago

Thank you and I hope you don't ever get a blue screen with the PC, good luck!

WillieNelson16 2 points 22 months ago

Awesome home server!

Gooberdad 10 Builds 1 point 31 months ago

Nice. Wish you had room for a kick *** gpu. +1

Vortexxian submitter 4 Builds 1 point 31 months ago

I'd eventually like to build another machine in a Fractal Core 500, and at that point you can bet for sure I'll be going the GPU route! In this build it would have been a waste of money, though, since the user will literally never need anything more powerful than the integrated graphics.

Gooberdad 10 Builds 1 point 31 months ago

I understand. Function by design. I guess I just think of me wanting to game with it too.

holydiver07 1 point 31 months ago


Vortexxian submitter 4 Builds 1 point 31 months ago

It's actually kinda low for a file server, to be honest -- only 6 TB usable, but fully redundant thanks to the RAID5. They're storing their entire movie collection, backing up all the PCs in the house, storing the entire music collection, and using it as a file server. I tried to give 'em room to grow.