Dear Lifehacker, I want to set up a small home server to store and stream music and other files. Every hardware option I see seems like too much; are there any good alternatives to a loud, power-sucking machine? What do you recommend? Sincerely yours, Hardware Confused
Dear Confused, If your primary goal is to stream media, you won't need an expensive, high-performance server to get the job done. In fact, you could repurpose nearly any computer made in the past few years for the job, so by no means should you limit your hardware search to servers. Instead, look for low-power hardware such as Intel Atom boards or AMD's new Fusion hardware; both should have sufficient processor speeds for your needs while also requiring very low power consumption.
I'm assuming that power consumption is somewhat important to you here, since many people satisfy their file-serving needs by simply keeping a desktop computer running all day and sharing files from their desktop over a network. But let's say a low-power, personal media server is what you're looking for. As I see it, here are your best options:
Build Your Own Server
If you're not afraid of opening up a computer, building your own from a barebones system is a great way to go. You won't have to do much more than install the memory and hard drive, and you'll pay a lot less for the hardware. A good place to start is Newegg's Barebone / Mini Computers category: the "Barebone Systems" and "Mini/Booksize Barebones systems" subcategories are dominated by low-priced Atom systems. Add as much RAM as you can fit (or afford) and buy or repurpose an old hard disk and you will have a low-cost (under $US150 without a new hard disk), low-consumption machine ready to serve files and stream music once you have installed an operating system.
Buy One Pre-Built
If you aren't comfortable making your server from a barebones system or don't want to deal with installing the operating system yourself, you can search for similar Atom-based pre-built servers such as the Acer Aspire Easystore. The cost is higher, but they have everything already set up for you, even the operating system (usually).