This is the final installment of the CAPS v4 series! It will cover both the Maroubra and Bundoran servers because they are very closely related. This is the first time a CAPS design has been based on an Intel NUC. Part of me feels bad because there isn’t much to “design” when using the NUC platform, but I am more excited than anything because there is a lot of user demand of NUC based servers. For readers unfamiliar with the Intel NUC, it’s a very small motherboard with the CPU soldered to the board. It’s one of the platforms Intel has decided to keep supporting, unlike its traditional motherboard business. Anyway, the main purpose for NUC based CAPS servers is size. These servers will fit into almost any component rack or fit nicely hidden behind a DAC. There isn’t much hardware experimentation to be done when using a NUC, but I believe I’ve found a couple ways to make these last two designs a bit more audiophile than a standard off-the-shelf server. The Maroubra and Bundoran servers aren’t for everyone, especially those who like to try different things and tweak their systems a bit. These servers are simple solutions that don’t cost an arm and a leg and fit nicely into any existing audio system. I hope readers don’t see this installment of CAPS v4 as anticlimactic but rather something offering two sensible solutions for specific members of the CA Community.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]
CAPS v4 Maroubra
This NUC server is based on the Intel NUC Kit D54250WYKH ($379). The board holds a 1.3 GHz Core i5 processor, four USB 3.0 ports, and a SATA connection to power the custom USB audio card or in the case of the Bundoran server an extra hard drive if needed. The motherboard supports up to 16 GB of 1.35v DDR3L memory. Users must be very careful selecting memory because this board will not support standard 1.5v DDR3 memory. For this build I selected G.Skill Ripjaws Series Laptop Memory F3-1600C9D-16GRSL ($162).
A surprising amount of people have less than one terabyte of music stored on their local hard drive. This is another reason the NUC is a great platform. The board doesn’t have endless SATA HDD ports like many full size boards, but it does support a single mSATA SSD. The mSATA drive I selected for this server is the 1TB SAMSUNG 840 EVO MZ-MTE1T0BW ($450).
The Maroubra server features a custom USB audio card from SOtM, similar to the SOtM cards many members of the CA Community already use. What’s special about this card is it’s powered via internal SATA power connection or an external source. This USB card is also shaped specifically to fit side-by-side with the motherboard in an ML320 fanless case from Logic Supply. However, a custom rear panel is required. Small Green Computer will be handling all the CAPS v4 Maroubra orders for people interested in this custom USB card / case / rear panel. Price to be determined.
The Intel NUC Kit D54250WYKH comes with a very standard switch mode power supply. I haven’t specified a separate power supply for this server, but I am certain many of those already available will work just fine. The server requires 65W / 19V / 3.42A / socket C6 (barrel output connector has 2.5mm internal diameter and 5.5mm external diameter).
There’s not much else to say about this server because there’s not much one can do to customize it. I envision this server for cost-conscious computer audiophiles seeking a small server with clean USB audio output and either a small local library of music or a larger NAS based collection. This isn’t a server for tweak geeks :~)
CAPS v4 Bundoran
This server is almost identical to Maroubra with the exception of an optional hard drive and a different USB audio solution. This server is for computer audiophiles with less than 2TB of music who either A) don’t need USB power to their DACs (i.e. Are QB-9 DSD) or B) want to experiment with different external USB power conditioning rather than the internal SOtM card.
What’s different from Maroubra? In addition to the 1TB mSATA SSD users can select any size 2.5” SSD or HDD. I prefer the Samsung 1TB Evo SSD. This will provide the user with 2TB of space for music. In the Bundoran the SOtM card is replaced with this 2.5” hard drive. Thus, users seeking USB power conditioning must look for an external solution. I’ve been using the Teddy Pardo TeddyUSB PSU for USB powered equipment ($399) with great success. The TeddyUSB accepts USB input from the server and outputs the USB audio stream with a clean linear based 5V signal, stripping away the dirty USB power from the server.
The standard Logic Supply ML320 ($139) case is all that's required for this model. No special rear panel.
Like all CAPS v4 computers, Pipeline runs on Windows 8.1 Professional 64-bit. I use the professional version because I connect to the server recently with Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop capability. It works great and doesn’t require an additional third party application for remote control of the actual server. The media management and playback application I use most often on Pipeline is JRiver Media Center because of its all encompassing capabilities and its great integration with JRemote for iOS.
Due to the simplicity of these servers, I'm sure I missed a thing or two in the explanation. Please let me know what questions you have in the comments below.
Note: The newer 5th generation NUC servers are available, but I don't believe there are any fanless cases available for them just yet. Thus, the 4th generation specified here is still recommended.
A Note About Sponsorship
Before going further I'd like to thank JRiver for sponsoring the entire CAPS v4 project. Researching and purchasing all the parts for CAPS servers takes time and money. In the past I spent over $10,000 just trying different motherboards, memory, SSDs, cases, etc… This time around I thought it would be prudent and a win-win for everybody if I obtained sponsorship for CAPS v4. I sought sponsorship from a handful of companies and before the "ink" on the email was dry JRiver stepped up to sponsor the whole project. This sponsorship enabled me to take the CAPS project further in a shorter period of time than I would have been able to on my own. The bottom line is that members of the CA Community benefitted from this sponsorship. Without this benefit to the entire Community I wouldn't have sought sponsorship. Period. Also, JRiver had no input on the design of the servers' hardware or software. Prior to contacting JRiver I had already decided what playback applications would be used for the CAPS v4 project. I also didn't let JRiver know this software decision, thus avoiding any semblance of impropriety. Again, thanks to JRiver for supporting CAPS v4 and the CA Community.