NAS or Home Server

I need a NAS or a Home Server, I just can’t decide which.

I currently have a desktop PC in a bedroom, a laptop which spends most of its time in the living room, and a Buffalo LinkTheater which sits under the TV (also in the living room). I have a lot of files on the desktop PC that I watch, through the LinkTheater, on my TV. One of the problems with this is that it requires the PC to be switched on when I want to watch something, but a bigger problem is that the hard drives are filling up. For extra storage, the natural option seemed to be a LinkStation Live NAS which would store the files and allow the LinkTheater to stream them, but then I read about the efforts made by other nerds to turn the LinkStation into a web server. How great would it be if I could turn it into a testing server for the web sites I design?

After a little more reading it seems that this is not an easy thing to do with the LinkStation Live. The OpenLink hacked LinkStation firmware allows installation of extra software, but from what I can tell doesn’t seem to be compatible with ARM-based boxes like the LinkStation Live, only with older LinkStations (at least the lack of installation instructions suggest this). I’m now investigating the possibility of getting a cheap Home Server instead, though I have some constraints: it must be small, so I can stick it in a corner out of the way, and it must be silent. Basically I want to be able to completely forget about it when I’m not using it.

Obviously since a 500GB NAS (the LinkStation) can be obtained for under £150, I don’t want to spend too much more than that on the server – which all but rules out a Windows Home Server based system. That’s not a problem, I want to work on my Linux knowledge anyway. I’ve spent part of today searching on Google and ebay for terms like “xpc x100“, “shuttle pc“, “sff pc” (small form factor) and “mini pc“. Finally I came to “ITX PC“; Mini-ITX (along with Nano-ITX and Pico-ITX) being a standard form factor for motherboards that use low amounts of power and are therefore suitable for use as the basis of fanless (and therefore quiet) systems. I should have remembered this from a project I did last year in university involving in-car PCs.

So far I’ve come across a couple of UK shops so far, none of which have managed to give exactly what I wanted., as well as news and reviews, have bundles that basically amount to DIY kits for the type of system I’m looking for. The Intel Bundle comes close but I’d need to add a new hard drive as 80GB would not last any time at all. Another UK company, LinITX, offer build-your-own systems based on their skeleton systems, but the ones in my price range (like their Home Server bundle) are too big, at normal PC size, and don’t include hard drives. ITX-Warehouse just looked too dear; their only self-build barebones system was over £300.

Sorry if anyone was looking for a conclusion to this post, but I’m still looking for now. I may look further into hacking the LinkStation into a web server or I may just take the (relatively) easy option of getting a home server.