Re: Recommendations for NAS-based home media set-up
I picked up a pair of the N40L Microservers, nothing too powerful, but they set me back about 130 quid a pop at the time after cashback redemptions. Threw 4x3TB WD Red NAS drives at it (£140 each or so at the time, as they'd just come out, but a whole lot cheaper than the enterprise class drives I'd been looking at for the 24/7 usage) and 8GB of ECC RAM (not hugely expensive), throw a copy of FreeNAS on a 4GB USB stick which can be stuck in the internal USB port, and run the lot on raidz1, including torrent clients and the like (see http://www.freenas.org/ for full details of what it can do). Bit of tweaking and I can easily max the gigabit link out. Took the 2GB of RAM and the 250GB drive that it shipped with and put it in the other server giving it 4GB and 2x250GB, slapped a cheap fanless Radeon 5450 in it, and used it as a HTPC and Plex server/client on a basic Win7 setup, pretty much just works. Coupled it with a 3 quid Cyberlink infrared USB remote and a couple of USB extension cables so the remote sensor is somewhere reachable. Not all the buttons work, but the volume, play, pause, arrows and OK do, which suits me to a tee.
One thing to note - while you can run Plex (one of the best media server/clients I've had the pleasure of using, the client forked from XBMC a while ago) on the FreeNAS box, if it's a basic CPU unit like the microservers, it's going to struggle doing the transcoding to UPnP hosts such as consoles or TVs. My setup manages with one box doing the file serving and one box doing the transcoding, but it's borderline at times with 1080p content, but if you run the Plex server on the NAS and a Plex client on a box of some sort, no transcoding is necessary, so you can get away with fairly low CPU requirements on the server and client end. But if you want to transcode you'll want something with a reasonable processor in it. Same goes of course for most of the lower powered NAS boxes, many can run the Plex server, as long as you run a Plex client on the other side that doesn't require the NAS to do anything fancy to the video on the fly. Sending to Plex on an Android device etc usually means it needs to transcode, so it won't work too well on the lower powered CPUs, although you might get away with it for SD video.
Of course, if you can stick a client on the other end, the likes of XBMC are also an option, without messing about with the likes of Plex. I just really like the interface on the big TV, the media management, and smart transcoding to my tablet.