You would think that only the latest and greatest parts would be found in a music server, but Chris Connaker at the Computer Audiophile has knitted together a server he swears blows away most everything else out there. His new reference system uses older sound cards, dated drivers and a budget Dell desktop. The end result came in with a price tag right around $1,000. That is cheap money for a high-end server.
However, before you all go rushing out to your local discount computer shop, there are a few things to consider. Is it really smart to build a server out of parts and software that will not be supported for too long? The budget server runs on Windows XP, which Microsoft is in the process of phasing out, and a PCI based sound card. Using XP carries the bonus risk that in some cases, when you make changes to the data while listening to your music, the system can push out a tone that is known to blow tweeters. This also happens with Vista so Windows users need to be aware.
If you go through the blog you will also note the amount of tinkering that was done. The bios was modified, the operating system install was done in custom mode and the startup programs were all trimmed down. These are all good things to do if you are into massaging your system, but this is definitely not an easy out-of-the-box solution like a pre-made server.
On the flip side, we are talking about a music server that is supposed to sound outstanding for right around a grand. The bottom line alone makes this an attractive option. For those who like to go deep into their hardware and software, this could be a fun project. For those of us who just want the music and not the nuts and bolts, there are other options. Connaker himself covers all these liabilities and more, and mentions that solutions from Apple and others might be the best choice for many. It all comes down to expectations, as always.