Using Linux and old computers to do cool stuff. Vol. 3
In my last tutorial I went over how to use an old computer as a Linux media center for home entertainment. Now I am gonna explain how to use an old computer to store and serve your multimedia files to any network enabled device on your home network including that media center you just got setup. I am sure there are many of you facing the same problems as we speak. You have recently become aware that you can not only download music but movies and TV episodes as well. Only to find out that you can only watch them on the computer you downloaded them on, or even worse you have to copy them to a USB device and plug that into whatever you want to view it on. That works, but what happens when that device fills up? How long does it take to copy the media from one device to the next? As you can see this could all get to be frustrating and time-consuming and might even drive you to do something stupid. Like going to those crappy low def DVDs you get from Red Box. Just think, instead of that you could take an old computer that you probably have lying around, (or hell come grab one of the many lying around my house) and use it to solve all those issues in one fail sweep. Now please before anybody leaves comments saying, ‘a Buffalo NAS will do all that out of the box’, or ‘Windows Home Server does all that seamlessly’. Please remember, I am trying to give people a way to solve their problems for little or no money. Besides, what fun would that be to just throw money at it and not use our cunning Linux skills to solve things on the cheap?
Alright first things first, I don’t want you wasting a bunch of time trying to set this up on a computer that is too old and slow to do the job we need it to do. That being said I would suggest at least a Multi-core processor with cores that are at least 2Ghz. The reason is you need at least two cores at 1.8Ghz or one core at 3.2Ghz to process HD video. We don’t want our playback choppy! Cram as much compatible RAM as you can find in there and let’s get crackin! The operating system we are going to use on this old computer is Freenas. It is one of the greatest operating systems ever created. I could go on for hours about how awesome it is but let’s just put it this way. If you have never used it you will fall in love with it for sure. Go on over to HERE and get the latest ‘stable’ build in .iso format, 32bit should be fine since the machine is old anyway. If you are a Linux user you probably know how to burn an iso to a disk. If you are a windows user HERE are some dumbed down videos that might help.
Now that we have our freenas disk and our old computer we are ready to install. Now here is the one thing I would suggest you spend some money on. If you are planning on putting movies on this thing like me then the hard drive that is probably in that old thing will not cut it. Plus the way freenas works it’s much easier to install the OS to a different disk then the one where your shared data is. It’s actually best to put the OS on a cheap flash drive if you have one or if the drive that was in the old computer died, but you are still gonna need a big one for your data. Fortunately hard drives can be had on the cheep now days so I suggest you get at least a 1TB drive that is 7200 rpm or better. HERE is some info that might help with getting that thing installed. Now, plug-in a monitor and keyboard for now and put the freenas CD in the optical drive. You might have to get into the bios to set the computer to boot from CD before hard disk. HERE is some help on that. Now it is gonna boot up and give you some number options. I think number 9 should be ‘install/upgrade’ so choose that one. Now it’s gonna give you some options on what type of install you want. We need to choose ‘FULL’ install with ‘DATA’ and ‘SWAP’. The reason we don’t want embedded is because we need a lager than default data partition because we will be loading additional packages that would fill up the partition if we left it the default size. One of the key things we will be installing is the PS3 Media Server software. It does a great job of streaming movies to the PS3 or Xbox 360. So during the next couple steps it will ask you what size you want your data partition to be. The default is 380 and we need at least 500, but was are talking about megabytes here not gigabytes so I usually give it over 1000 just encase I decide to add more software later.
Alright once that finishes up it will want to reboot, make sure you remove the installation media. Now once you get it booted up one of the options there is to set the IP address of you LAN adapter. Just give it something that isn’t being used on your local network there. Or better yet you could leave set on automatic DHCP and make a reservation for it in the DHCP scope on your router. That way if you ever have to replace your router with one with a different internal subnet you can still find your NAS without too much effort by scanning your subnet for it. If that sounds confusing don’t waste time on it as long as you can access the IP address it has we are good. Alright once you have that done you shouldn’t need the monitor or keyboard any more. We can do the rest of what we need via the web interface or ssh. So head over to your normal computer or laptop and put the IP address of that thing in your browser. The default username is ‘admin’ and the default password is ‘freenas’. Now once you are in you will need to configure that big huge hard drive you bought and setup some shares. Some good tutorials on that can be found HERE and HERE. Once you get that done you just need to load the PS3 Media Server packages. A good how to on that can be found HERE. That’s really all you need. Freenas has the Transmission bittorrent client-server installed already. All you need to do is go into services and enable the bittorrent service and you can find torrents on the internet and let your NAS download them for you and automatically put them in the folder that your PS3 media server software makes available to the network. Now you can have all your media on one box and have it available to every device in your house. Enjoy!