Mike’s Vista Server Box

So in my ideal world, I would have a massive Vista box setup as a server in my closet or basement, somewhere I wouldn’t have to see or hear it, nor would I have to worry about anyone messing with it. Then in each bedroom or living room, I would set up Media Center Extender devices, or even small clients if need be. I know, the only current MCE Extender is the Xbox360, but this will be changing soon. So, I’m not going to go obscene here on specs, but just want a solid PC I can run as my server/MCE system.


Case: Coolermaster CM Stacker 810

Since noise wasn’t going to be an issue, I basically wanted to use a simple case which could house basically as many hard drives as humanly possible. The Stacker can certainly fit the bill there, with a ton of space inside. 

Price: $160

Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 510 XE

I know they got bought out by OCZ, but they still (for now) make the same quality power supplies which are known for being ridiculously reliable.  This 510 watt power supply has a 650 peak, meaning it’s got plenty of headroom for whatever you need. Besides, we’re simply using on-board video, so most of the PSU’s drain will be from the hard drives.

Price: $199

Motherboard: Intel DG33FB ATX Motherboard

For a server system, Intel boards with Intel processors just scream stability. And besides that, this board has everything we need, from 3 x PCI-express x1 slots, to on-board video, and the price is reasonable as well. 

Price: $110 

CPU/Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.40 Ghz)

Handling 8 TV streams is not going to be the easiest thing in the world, and since we’re building for the future anyways, no reason to not spoil myself and take one of the fastest chips out there, with 4 CPU cores in it. Should be a breeze streaming anything from this machine. Heck, you could even transcode several movies if you had to, and this wouldn’t hiccup. 

 Price: $320 

RAM/Memory: 2 x Corsair Value Select PC2-5300 2GB (VS2GBKIT667D2)

Corsair has long been known for quality brand of memory, and 4gb is the Max we’re going to be able to utilize with the 32-bit version of Vista, so there you have it. 

Price: $77 ea, $154 total 

Video/Sound: Going to stick with on-board. Since we’re using this as a server, no video or sound will be directly output from this system.

Price: Free as in beer 

Hard Drives: 6 x Samsung or Hitachi , 500gb SATA 7200 Hard Drives

Yep. 3 terabytes! Yummy! Well, truth be told, these would be setup in a RAID 5 configuration, so it would be less than 3 terabytes, but then at least I’d have some sort of failsafe in the event a drive dies. I chose 500gb’s instead of 750 or 1tb, for the simple fact that it’s the sweet spot right now. You can find 500gb drives for under $150, where as 750 & 1000 are easily much much higher, for not that much storage. I chose Samsung or Hitachi because they have simply ruled the quiet hard drive market for some time, and continue on. Hopefully Seagate can come back strong with some quiet drives, but for now, I’m sticking to tried & true.

Price: ~$120 each, ~$720 total

RAID Card: HighPoint RocketRAID 2322 PCI-Express 8-port SATA II

Even had the motherboard had on-board RAID, I probably still would have opted for this card, as going the dedicated RAID card allows for a much safer experience in case anything happens. I’ve heard too many horror stories with on-board RAID controllers…and besides that, having a dedicated card in the PCI-Express slot should make for some nice performance boosts. 

Price: $250 

TV Tuners:  2 x HDHomeRun ATSC Tuners, 2 x VistaView Saber 2020 NTSC Tuners

The HD HomeRun’s are far from the cheapest option for ATSC/HD signals, but for now, they remain the only way to get QAM within Windows Media Center. And besides that, they’re quality devices that justify it. Two tuners in each means I can have up to 4 streaming HD shows at the same time!

This will be the first time I recommend something other than the Hauppauge PVR-500 dual tuner (which I use currently), but with the release of VistaView’s 2020, this offers you a newer quality product, with the convenience of finally being able to utilize those PCI-Express slots on your motherboard. The low-profile design should also keep airflow moving nice & smooth (something the gigantour PVR-500 could not brag about).

Having two of each type, means a total of 8 tuners available! Perfect for any sports season. 🙂

Price: $170 for each HDHomerun, $160 for each VistaView…$660 total

Keyboard/Mouse: No need for anything fancy here, it’s in a closet. Ask your neighborhood geek, or craigslist, I bet you could find one for practically nothing.

 Price: Free (or $10 if you’re lazy)

Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate, x86 32-bit Version OEM

I know this is technically called a server build, and for that I might have wanted to go 64-bit, but if you’ve read my blog, you know that’s not going to happen (at least right now). Performance with what we have, as an extender machine, should be great with 32-bit Vista.

Price: $200


Grand total….$2773…JUST squeaking in under $3k. Not too shabby, and definitely future proof for at least a little while. Should take most of you a while to fill up those hard drives, and when you do, the case & RAID card can easily handle more. My hope, of course, is that in time Windows Home Server edition will fill this need, and include some definitely needed Media Center-integration. I definitely prefer their simple drive striping method to that of the hassle of RAID, but alas, not quite yet an option.

If you’re looking to save a few bucks, it’s pretty simple. You could opt for a regular dual-core instead of the quad, that should save about $150-200 at least. You could get a generic case and save around $100 as well. And the list goes on, but you get the idea, $3k is really a max, and I’m sure with some deal searching, you could do better.