The next problem was the case. I wanted a moderately compact case, and one that wasn’t ugly. This was going to be sitting in the media room and it had to at least look vaguely stereo-equipment-ish. As it turns out, it looks more like a Dalek than a stereo component, but that works, too.
Key to this requirement was at least two sets of contiguous three-bay (5.25-inch) drive slots. I was going to slide the drive cages into those slots, so I needed to be able to fit them in the gap.
I really like the case we found, the Thermaltake V5 Black Edition, which is also, unfortunately, no longer available. These are really sweet cases, and they were only $60 each. They also have a very robust handle on top, which is surprisingly helpful (especially when we were moving).
Like most DIY-IT projects, If you decide to go off and build one of your own, you’ll never find the exact components I used, but you’ll want to find equivalent units that do the same job.
As you might imagine, ten drives draw a considerable amount of power. However, since the Tank was not hosting other power-sucking PC components (like honking video cards or overclocked processors), I could get away with a big, but not huge, power supply.
I eventually settled on a $90 Corsair 650 watt ATX supply, which has behaved itself reasonably well since we first fired it up.
Riding the technology price/performance curve
Now, as you may have noticed, the cases actually came with a pile of internal drive bays. I didn’t, technically, have to install my sliding trays, because I could have just mounted all the drives (or most of them, anyway) inside the case. But I wanted the ability to add, remove, and swap drives from the Tank without having to open everything up.
The ability to easily swap drives without opening the box was actually one of the key parts of our design strategy. That’s why I used the sliding trays.
I approached it this way because I didn’t want to have to buy all the drives at once. As the drives filled up, we added more. Also, I know that drives fail, and I wanted replacement to be easy without tearing apart the whole case. In fact, one drive did fail a few months ago, and replacement was a snap.
In terms of strategic drive purchasing, drives usually have a sweet spot (unless there’s a major flood in Thailand). There always seems to be one drive capacity that’s comparatively cheap for the amount stored compared to the other drives.
Drives also regularly come down in price. When we first started equipping the Tank, 1TB 7200RPM drives were in the $169 range. Last week, I bought four 2TB 7200RPM drives for $85 each.
So, the idea was that as we digitized our media content, we’d add drives. Over the time it took us to use up more capacity, the higher capacity drives came down in price, making the whole thing more cost effective. I started off by re-using a bunch of leftover 1TB drives, and then as we needed more space, I moved the content over to 2TB drives, which is where we are now.
Had I bought the larger capacity drives all at once, I would have spent roughly three times as much, and incurred more wear and tear on always-spinning platters.
Assembling the Tank
Assembling the Tank was a lot of fun, in large part because projects are really fun to do with my wife. We work well as a team, both when pulling the components together and during the assembly phase, where she’s a lot more patient with fiddly parts than I am.
There are a lot of cables jammed into that case, and opening it is non-trivial (which is why I haven’t taken any interior pictures for you). But the big challenge was mounting the drive cages inside the case’s 5.25-inch drive bays. As it turned out, there were some metal mounting brackets that got in the way.
My wife went to town with some hand tools, swiftly and efficiently removing those brackets, and actually performing precision alterations (as well as some profanity-fueled brute-force bashing) on the interior of the case so everything would fit right. I love my geeky girl!
So there you go. The guts of the Media Tank, Mark I. There’s more to come with this story. Stay tuned.