Recommendations for my media server and for my tablet PC setups?

Drew Neilson

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Aug 14, 2022
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I'm in the process of setting up my mom's Gateway SX2855-UR30P as a home media server. She wasn't using that PC because she had replaced it with a new computer. I plan to put copies of all of my DVDs, Blu-rays, UHD Blu-rays, audio CDs, home pictures, and home videos on it, and I plan to connect one of my USB TV tuners to it. The tuner will be connected via coaxial cable to an indoor antenna that is in front of a window; I'm on the house's second floor.

The Gateway PC's specs: Gateway SX2855-UR30P specs (Meet Gadget) (archive.org) (I've linked to the archive.org version instead of to the main version because when I tried to go to the main version, my browser gave me security warnings, whereas this cached version of the page did not).

Here are the Gateway PC's specs that are relevant, along with my relevant configuration choices:
- slimline design. It is positioned horizontally in a shelving system that semi-organizes some of my PC and A/V components. Since it's going to be nothing besides a media server and TV DVR, I think that I'd prefer this chassis style over a big tower PC that might not be able to be horizontal in a home theater shelving system or cabinet.
- second generation dual core Core i3 CPU and associated integrated graphics processing (shared graphics memory, not dedicated)
- 4 GB of RAM (two 2 GB RAM modules). If I need to, I can replace each of the modules with 4 GB RAM modules, to give this computer a total of 8 GB of RAM.
- PCIe 2.0 (1 x4 slot and 1 x16 slot). Both slots are available. A wifi adapter is installed in the x4 slot, but it isn't needed, so I can remove it if I need to. UPDATE: according to Intel's specifications for the H61 Express chipset, the H61 Express chipset has 6 PCIe 2.0 lanes, available in configurations of x1, x2, and x4, so the smaller slot that I mentioned is at max x2, and the bigger slot that I mentioned is only x4. Even if they physically accomodate x4 and x16 cards, respectively, the electrical connections will only be x2 and x4 at maximum.
- Two SATA 2 ports (3 Gbps maximum each)
- Its USB version is probably USB 2.0, but I'm not sure. UPDATE: It is.
- Ethernet: 1 Gbps connection (theoretical, of course) to a 1 Gbps switch, which is connected via Ethernet to a wifi bridge. The bridge is necessary in this room because I cannot get a direct Ethernet connection between the router, which is in a room almost directly below mine, and my devices in this room. This room's floor and that room's ceiling are wooden and probably don't contain any building materials that are hard for wifi to penetrate, such as concrete, so the wifi bridge gets a good signal. The bridge is simultaneous dual-band (it aggregates the 2.4 gHz and 5 gHz links) 802.11n, and the router that it connects to is 802.11ac, so its an 802.11n connection plus link aggregation. My speedtest.net results from my devices in this room are usually up in the 80-100 mbps range, IIRC.

Back to the server:
- I removed its 1 TB HDD from the single 3.5" internal drive bay. Next, I installed a Crucial MX500 2.5" 250 GB SATA SSD in an adapter that enables 2.5" drives to fit into 3.5" drive bays, and then I installed it and the adapter into the drive bay.
- I replaced its DVD drive with the 3.5" HDD that I had removed from the 3.5" drive bay. That hard drive is not mounted to the bay, and for now is sitting loose in the bay.
- I intend to operate this server headlessly, but it is connected via HDMI to my AV system in case I need to access it directly during this setup process. It is also connected via VGA to an old PC monitor that is temporarily near it, in case I need to access this server directly during this setup process and want to use my A/V system for something else. Otherwise, when I need to access it and don't need to *physically* access it, I connect to it via a terminal connection from my main PC. Currently, I use a TTY terminal connection.
- I reformatted both drives and installed Ubuntu Server onto the SSD. I chose Ubuntu Server because I'd already heard of Ubuntu, and because I don't want a GUI to run at all times and occupy resources when it isn't needed, considering this PC's low specifications, and considering that I don't know the resource demands of streaming and transcoding 4K HDR video and Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD-MA audio.
- Two available internal SATA connections, and both of them are taken. Its SSD is for the OS and applications, and the HDD is for media and other files. The HDD in that PC will fill up quickly because 1 TB isn't enough for storing my media. While I could simply replace that drive with a higher capacity drive--4 TB or larger--I'd like options for connecting that bigger drive externally, or for installing it internally in place of the 1 TB HDD, and connecting the 1 TB drive externally.

To continue talking about USB and SATA, I need to change the subject to a different computer before returning to talking about my media server.

My daily driver PC is a 2017 Surface Pro, and I have connected to it a Microsoft Surface Dock (which has USB 3.x gen 1 ports), and I have connected to it a desktop monitor that has an integrated USB 2.0 hub. Despite having a Surface Dock and my monitor, I've got so many USB devices that I'm running out of USB ports, so I started looking at new USB hubs, and Microsoft's new Surface Dock 2 supports USB *C* at 3.x *gen. 2* speed., while my Surface Dock only supports USB type A at up to USB 3.x gen. 1 speed. I plan to replace the Surface Dock with the Surface Dock 2. That won't get me any additional USB ports, but it'll upgrade them to the type C connector and to 3.x gen 2. Adding USB C to my setup will make it so that any future USB devices that I get will have to either be USB C or be connected to a type A to type C adapter; either way, those purchases will be more forward compatible with future computers and with other future devices that have USB C ports.

I'm planning to increase the *number* of USB ports by adding additional USB hubs.

The USB devices that are connected to my Surface include an UHD Blu-ray drive in a USB 3.x gen 1 enclosure for 5.25" SATA 3 (6 Gbps) drives, a Crucial MX500 2 TB SSD in an enclosure for 2.5" SATA 3 drives, a 1 TB (IIRC) HDD that I don't often use in a USB 2.0 enclosure for 2.5" SATA 2 drives, and a 4 TB HDD that I've been ripping my media to in a USB 3.x gen 1 enclosure for 3.5" SATA 3 drives. I realized that I could free up some of my Surface Dock's USB ports by removing some of my drives from their USB enclosures and connecting them instead to eSATA or eSATAp ports on an eSATAp port replicator, which would be connected to a Surface Dock *2* via USB 3.x gen 2. With USB 3.x gen 2, the drives speeds might be near their native SATA speeds, and I'd gain access to the low-level SATA stuff that I might not have access to when they're in these USB enclosures, like alerts about issues with my drives. If the USB hub, the eSATAp port replicator, and my future daily driver PC have Thunderbolt 3 or higher, then the connection would be Thunderbolt 3 or higher, instead of USB 3.1 gen 2.

How this relates to my media server: as I was planning this upgrade for my Surface and its devices, I started wondering if I should consider adding to my media server PC an eSATAp HBA PCIe card, in order to be able to have two HDDs in addition to the SSD without using that computer's USB ports, and because an eSATA 3 connection would, in theory, be faster than USB 3.x gen 1.

So, I'd like your thoughts on whether the change in performance from USB 3.x gen 1 to gen 2 on my Surface Pro's external SSD (the 2 TB SATA SSD) will be noticible, and whether the difference in performance between a 4 TB SATA HDD in a USB enclosure and that same drive connected via eSATA or eSATAp instead of USB will be noticible on my media server. For my Surface, I'm planning to buy the Surface Dock 2 and one or more additional USB hubs. I'm especially looking at the CalDigit TS4 dock, which features Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4.0. I wouldn't be able to use devices at Thunderbolt 4 speed nor at USB 4.0 speed until I have a PC that has Thunderbolt 4 or USB 4.0, respectively, but this hub and the higher-speed USB and Thunderbolt devices connected to it would be things that I wouldn't have to upgrade in the not-far-off future. I'd also buy an eSATAp to Thunderbolt or to USB 4.0 or to USB 3.x gen 2 adapter, and to that adapter I'd connect an eSATAp port replicator. I'd remove my drives from their USB enclosures and connect them to the port replicator.

Back to my server: since it will be streaming and possibly transcoding 4K HDR video with Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD-MA audio from that drive to the A/V devices around the house, and also possibly *simultaneously* recording OTA TV to the same drive, or streaming music while simultaneously recording OTA TV, and because it has no available SATA ports, I'm considering installing in it a PCIe 2.0 eSATAp HBA card, which will in theory be faster than USB 3.x gen 1. If such a card doesn't exist, then I'd consider a USB 4.0 PCIe 2.0 card, or a USB 3.x gen 2 PCIe 2.0 card instead.

I'll try to set the server up to minimize transcoding, and I'll rip all available versions of my movies: their 4K Blu-ray versions, their 1080p Blu-ray versions, and their 480i DVD versions so that transcoding due to player incompatibility with high resolutions doesn't cause transcoding.

Note: when I say that I'm considering installing PCIe 2.0 cards, I'm using that as shorthand for PCIe cards that support PCIe 2.0 and don't require PCIe 3.0 or higher.
 
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