Building my own…

Volume 12, Issue 21; 03 Jun 2009; last modified 08 Oct 2010

I've always wanted to pick out the components and build my own computer. Maybe the time has come.

I've always wanted to build my own computer, but I've never done it. For years, my primary computer has been a laptop and it's not really practical to home-build one of those. For servers, I've just muddled along with spare boxes and cast-offs. Extra disk and memory in almost anything running Linux will get you a long way.

My current cobbled together setup involves a slow, noisy desktop box in a closet and a handful of USB enclosures on my desk. Not making me happy. So what do I want?

  1. I'd like a walloping big slug of disk space, in some sort of redundant/RAID configuration for storage and backups.

  2. I'd like the system to function as a media server (for some vague definition of what media server means). It'd be nice if I could stream music to my laptop and video to the PS/3 in the living room.

  3. I'd like it to be able to build applications on it. That is, it should run a web server and ideally MarkLogic Server.

  4. I'd like it to be quiet and consume only reasonable amounts of power.

  5. Naturally, I'd like it to be not too expensive.

That's probably the order of priority, too, though quiet is pretty important and I'm pretty cheap.

I'm following what Adam Retter is building. Dave Pawson is building one too (and pointed me to Tom's Hardware for more ideas). Coincidentally, I see from this month's Linux Journal that the Western Digital My Book World Edition is a hackable NAS. That might be the least expensive way to go.

But I still lean towards a Solaris box with four (or more) drive bays running ZFS.

I wonder what the right answer is?


OpenSolaris with ZFS. Because you know you want to and it's so cool even the cool kids don't know it yet. Before long you'll be obsessively reading up on L2ARC performance, dreaming of adding write-optimized SSDs to your zpools and watching all the mailing lists hoping for the latest news on slog removal.

—Posted by Al Lang on 03 Jun 2009 @ 06:58 UTC #

Norm, I'm in the middle of a build, and I found this recent guide v. useful:

—Posted by Kendall Clark on 03 Jun 2009 @ 06:58 UTC #

I built my own media machine for the living room a couple of years ago using a Shuttle barebones kit. I was pretty pleased with the mix of hand holding and DIY accomplishment that a Shuttle machine gives you. The cases are small and they have quiet setups also. If you want cheap, look for them on ebay.

—Posted by stand on 03 Jun 2009 @ 07:33 UTC #

Before you choose Solaris Norm, just check out the apps list you want. Availability for Solaris could be an issue.

—Posted by Dave Pawson on 04 Jun 2009 @ 04:44 UTC #

I've recently built my living room computer using tips from - it is a good starting point, imho better than tom's hardware.

—Posted by Mirek Simek on 07 Jun 2009 @ 11:38 UTC #

A few more links you might find useful:

General system building with up-to-date component suggestions:

- (best one IMO - updated 6/6/09)

"Silent PC" building links


And some component sites:

- PC Case Gear "Quiet PC" category

FWIW, I really like the Antec cases, particularly the Sonata and friends. I haven't kept up in recent years, but I can't imagine they've abandoned there quality or commitment to quiet cases.

Good luck!

—Posted by Erick Herring on 09 Jun 2009 @ 12:06 UTC #

I too have always wanted to build my own computer and I can see from this great article that I have a lot to learn yet, thanks for the informative item, good luck to you. Carrie

—Posted by Carrie on 09 Jun 2009 @ 01:32 UTC #

About the OS, if you want to use MarkLogic, you are limited to Solaris and Red Hat Enterprise. But if you know an alternative, I am interested ;-)

—Posted by Florent Georges on 12 Jun 2009 @ 11:30 UTC #

MarkLogic Server will run just fine on other Linux distributions, with a small amount of startup script hacking. Those aren't supported configurations, but I'm not calling this a production box (no matter that I'll end up using it that way :-) so I don't mind.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 12 Jun 2009 @ 11:33 UTC #

I come back occasionally to see what you have done. By now we should know if OpenSolaris is working out for you and what hardware you eventually used. Just curious.

—Posted by John on 16 Jul 2009 @ 11:19 UTC #

I've picked out some potential hardware but haven't actually purchased it yet. I'll post more when I do.

—Posted by Norman Walsh on 16 Jul 2009 @ 05:16 UTC #

Might be worth keeping an eye on this:

I have the WDTV from Western Digital and with the current firmware update it works really well, but if it could be made to do more I'd be happy to get in and program it. Not so much a hardware hacker like this person though (he wants to add networking to it, which would obviously be necessary for your web server requirement). I'd be happy to find someone that's figured out how to build a new compatible firmware.

Currently I have it connected to a USB SATA HDD dock so I don't need networking. I just plug that HDD into my computer, upload stuff to it then dock the HDD to watch on my TV. Works well and infinitely upgradable (the HDD I have right now is an older 300GB I wasn't using as I upgrade to 1TB in my main computer recently).

—Posted by Derek on 28 Jul 2009 @ 10:17 UTC #

I might try this at some point with my WDTV: (thanks Google)

Because the OS of the WDTV is essentially Linux there are others making changes. This is a good summary page that has good links:

So, apparently with the addition of a USB-Ethernet device (ranging from a dongle thing to a cable) you could get a web server running on this thing. That would be pretty fun to try.

—Posted by Derek on 28 Jul 2009 @ 10:28 UTC #