I’ve been using a Mac a bit lately and, since I type with the Dvorak layout, I like that Mac OS provides a mixed-mode. This mode reverts the layout to Qwerty only while special keys (Control, Alt, Option etc.) are held down.
Although I can touch-type Dvorak, I don’t rearrange the keys on the keyboard and I usually have one hand on the mouse when pressing key combos. In these cases it’s much easier to be able to see the keys I’m pressing, and to take advantage of combos made with Qwerty in mind (such as X, C, and V for cut, copy, and paste).
Having enjoyed this on the Mac, I then went looking for something similar in Windows. And here we are.
I’ve long wanted to set up my idea of the trinity of home computer hardware, and I finally got around to doing it a couple of months ago. I previously posted about procuring a small server for NAS/backup purposes and mentioned that I had a new mac laptop for general use, and this “steambox” was the final piece of the puzzle.
I already had an Acer Revo that I was using for XBMC purposes, and after enjoying playing a few lightweight games on it I thought a more powerful (but still small and quiet) box would be a great way to play controller-compatible Steam games in its “Big Picture Mode”, as well as using it for XBMC, Netflix, and AFLTV.
I chose the Silverstone SG05 case because it was the smallest case I could find that would fit a full-sized GPU card. The other components were just whatever I thought were the best bang for buck at the time. I didn’t bother with an optical drive (installed Windows via USB stick) and I took the GPU card out of my old desktop.
There’s not a lot else to say about this except that I’ve been using it for two months, and it works beyond my expectations. It was a bit fiddly to get everything in, but not as bad as I thought it’d be. I shouldn’t need to open it again until I upgrade the video card in the next year or two. Its best feature is that it’s incredibly quiet, I can barely hear a thing from it. Just out of the box it’s quieter than my fan-modified NAS, and it’s much, much quieter than my PS3. This is one of the many reasons I can’t see myself buying a console again. I’m loving playing Steam games from the comfort of my couch.
I’ve added an IcyDock Duo Swap to the 5.25″ bay. I use its 3.5″ bay for rotating HDD backups, and its 2.5″ bay for the system SSD. Having the OS drive in a hotswap bay is pointless, but it kept the case neat.
There is a fifth SATA port on the motherboard, but to use a sixth drive I was required to use a SATA to eSATA cable and poke it out to the eSATA port at the back of the case. I also found the case fan a bit noisier than I liked, so I replaced it. Concerned by the possibility of buying an incompatible PWM model as warned by this article, I used a non-PWM fan and set the RPM manually.
In order to make the drives hot-swappable I was required to install a modified bios and alter some advanced configuration settings.
Ubuntu-server 12.10 is installed, along with Sick Beard, SABnzbd+, and Deluge. At some point it may also host an XBMC database, so to handle these services better I’ve upgraded the box to 8GB RAM.
Both AFP and CIFS are used to allow my MacBook and HTPC to connect to it with ease. I briefly played with NFS but couldn’t get the bindings and permissions to work correctly. I like that the client machines use their own native mechanisms, anyway.
I’ve also made it a printer server by installing CUPS, and I made it work for iPads by installing Avahi, roughly following this method.
I played around a bit with software RAID via mdadm (the advertised integrated RAID is only FakeRAID), and it works well, but ended up just going straight with the various HDDs I had sitting around. I don’t need redundancy, I just wanted backups of my documents and photos.
Local backups are made using rsync and rotating external HDDs in the DuoSwap. Automated external backups are performed using the excellent little tool encrb to upload encrypted data to a private server.