Building a NAS Box From the Ground Up - Is This The Ultimate AV Source Component?

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Building a NAS Box From the Ground Up - Is This The Ultimate AV Source Component?

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NAS-How-To-small.jpgA while back, I wrote an article entitled "How To Build and Equip Your Home Theater PC". In it, I detailed my first-ever HTPC (home theater PC) build. Many of you found the article helpful, while for others, it was but a nod to what you already knew. As it turns out, with the assistance of some pretty cool programs, such as J River media center and MakeMKV, an HTPC is a pretty powerful and universal piece of kit. Not to mention a rather affordable one, compared to some source components. But as I type this story some months later, I question if an HTPC is even necessary or relevant nowadays, what with all the connectivity and such built into many of our modern source component and display devices. After all, the idea behind me wanting to get on board with an HTPC was to get off the source component roller-coaster, so to speak. While I still maintain that an HTPC is a way to do that, it may not be the easiest way.

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Upon completion of my HTPC, I immediately stocked its internal drives with content. When those were full, I turned to network-attached drives, and merely let J River catalog the data within as it saw fit. The more and more I did this, the less I relied on the hardware of the HTPC itself, depending instead on the software. Conversely, I was racking up quite a bill, as I found myself purchasing more and more network-attached drives (NAS), which were not only cumbersome but also scattered throughout my house. One thing building an HTPC did was render my beloved Dune-HD Max player all but obsolete, as it was no longer the belle of the ball. While I still consider an HTPC to be more versatile - after all, it's a computer - there is something to be said for relying on a device that is designed specifically for one task. In the Dune-HD Max's case, that task was playback, something that it was not only good at, but that came easy to it and, as a result, to me, the user. You see, as trick as my HTPC is/was, it wasn't as "friendly" as, say, your run of the mill Blu-ray player or the button on your HDTV's remote that says "Netflix." That level of simplicity had yet to be reached.

So I took everything back to formula, so to speak. In doing so, I refocused on my mission to distribute high-definition video and music throughout my house in a way that is easy and affordable. Looking at the stack of drives sitting in my office, it quickly dawned on me that what I needed wasn't a playback device, but rather a storage vault. Because we live in a digital age, everything we consume in the form of AV entertainment these days is digital. It's data. And since so many of our modern components are now able to access data via a network connection or wirelessly, the only thing I needed to ascertain was that that my data was compatible, which it was. Therefore, the next step was designing a system that would allow for seemingly endless growth, for storage is arguably going to be the format of the future, as opposed to physical media.

I began by looking into various purpose-built NAS drives or drive bays. I looked at everything and found that most (though not all) were a) limited on space and b) became very expensive the more you tried to expand. Most pre-configured NAS drives come in one of two common varieties: dual or quad drive arrays. In a dual-drive configuration, provided the device can handle, say, 3TB hard drives, you're limited in the total amount of storage you'll be able to enjoy. In a dual-drive setup, that limit could be but 6TB. In a quad-drive array, you're looking at 12TB, again assuming the NAS drives can even handle 3TB hard drives, which many cannot. If you're limited to 2TB drives, then you're looking at 4TB and 8TB respectively. While that might sound like a lot, it may not be enough if true image and audio fidelity is what you're after. After all, a 90-minute HD movie - think Blu-ray - can require anywhere between 20 and 30GB each. That means, per TB, you can expect to fit between 30 and 40 HD films, which may or may not be enough. I knew a quad-drive NAS array wasn't going to cut it, for I planned on using the additional storage for not just commercially available HD content, but also my own film projects. Looking into arrays that offered up eight and even twelve drives quickly became cost-prohibitive, as the enclosures alone could run several thousands of dollars, with drives being an added cost beyond that.

It was time to go DIY.

Read about the build on Page 2.

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