I'm a 20-year-old college student with experience in building custom computers, but more experience in finding interesting software solutions. One day, while using VLC Media Player, I happened to stumble across the concept of HTPCs, dedicated platforms specific for watching media through the computer on the TV. It was revolutionary and I quickly went from "What is this?" to "I should build one of these for my family!"
Since that day, I've developed a rudiamentary HTPC complete with a NAS that hosts our media and gets streamed to the HTPC. However, this HTPC is just a computer with cheap components in a mid-tower computer case, laid on its side in our living room. It's ugly and expensive to run, electrically.
Also, since developing this NAS/HTPC infrastructure, I've moved into a small apartment where I have the potential to start over and make something nicer and better for me. I've also purchased a Chromecast, and it is my understanding that local content streaming will some time be available.
What I want
On my budget, I am hoping to build a small PC (piece by piece) that is capable of:
Operating primarily as a NAS, storing my files safely in its little box. I will consider external hard-drives for it, if the form factor versus drive space becomes a big concern.
Running on sufficient, but efficient power sources that allow me to perhaps leave this computer always-on without having a great impact on my electricity bill.
Capable of operating as HTPC when necessary (some form of video out, hopefully HDMI), but only as a backup (because I want this machine, ideally, to stream to the Chromecast via the Plex plugin to FreeNAS).
Running in as small a form-factor as possible and with as low-powered hardware as is necessary (once you have a computer that stores and streams data efficiently, and can play HDMI if it needs to, why put in anything more than that?).
I want the computer to be quiet. Almost un-noticeable. No flashing LED status lights and (hopefully) no whirring fans. Hell, if it's possible, I want no fans at all for something like this.
A method of interfacing with the computer that doesn't require a mouse or keyboard but is consistent. In a ROKU this would be its remote control. With Chromecast or Plex, there are mobile apps. Whatever method compliments your solution, I hope it will be complete and consistent.
I've considered what I'd run the OS off of. Something as lightweight as FreeNAS can really run off of a USB drive or an SD card if I needed it to. I could also buy an SSD, but I wouldn't need much space (divergence of OS and media, you know) and don't fully understand the advantages of SSD vs USB/SD.
I've read and been heavily inspired by Jeff Atwood's HTPC Build blog post at CodingHorror, but I don't need anything so heavy (or expensive) as his machine, as I'll be using my current computer for any gaming, and his is a dedicated HTPC where mine would serve primarily as a NAS.
All of this might be achievable by a combination of commercial products. While I'd like to build my own computer, I might be willing to settle for buying it out, for instance combining a Roku with an externalized HDD. I don't want to do this, but I'll trade control and fun for price point if anyone knows for sure that my setup's performance will be reliable and good.
I'm able to do research myself, but the effectiveness of my looking is almost certainly less than what I hope to get here. I'm looking for anecdotes-- stories, ideas, inspiration, and even direct recommendations that will help me broaden my perspective as to my options and my potential solutions. Please, offer what information you can! Perhaps you may not think it much, but I might not know it, and if you take that chance, you at least stand to help me further my cause.
So, finally... Based on what I've told you, I want to hear how you would have me go about building my case. The best answer will be the one that best fits the goals in "What I Want".
Thank you sincerely for your input.