Introduction: Grandfather Clock Media Center

I acquired a full size grandfather clock with the intent of building a media server. Being a Whovian and considering it was going to be a headless personal cloud server; I named it Gallifrey. The disk storage itself is labeled Nebula.

After considering Linux and various MS Server products I settled on Windows 8.1 Pro. Windows 8 Pro has a
good RAID 5 with Parity system called Storage Space. Easy to set up and easy to extend with additional hard drives if needed. Since its Windows I don’t have to teach Linux to my family. Nothing against Linux, I’ve used it on many systems; but for this application, Windows was the best choice.

The first difficult part of this installation was separating the power supply from the motherboard. I could not find long power supply cables and had to cut the individual wires within each cable and splice about two feet in the middle of each wire to be able to install the power supply at the bottom of the clock frame and reach the motherboard which was at the top of the clock frame. Make sure you splice the wires correctly or bad things may happen. I used a numbering system that is explained below.

The second difficult part of the installation was the lack of a computer case. You have to install the motherboard onto a plywood board and alter the video and WIFI cards to secure them onto the board. More about this later.

I suggest that you build this system in stages; it’s easier to determine what went wrong if it fails. The stages are listed below.

Parts List
You may select most any computer system you want; it doesn’t have to be the same as mine. However; it is important for this type of application that you have lots of RAM and Hard Disk Space with fault tolerance. 8 GB of
RAM is likely the minimum and 16GB is reasonable for fast data transfers. This is especially true if more than one media stream is active.

OS – Windows 8.1 Pro

Motherboard - ASUS M5A97 R2.0 AM3+ AMD 970

Hard Drive (system) – One Western Digital WD1002FAEX Caviar Black 1 TB SATA III 7200 RPM 64 MB

Hard Drives (storage) – Five WD Red 3 TB NAS Hard Drive: 3.5 Inch, SATA III, 64 MB Cache

RAM – Two Corsair Dominator Platinum 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1866 MHZ

Video Card - Force3D AMD ATI radeon HD 6450 2Gb DDR3 HDMI

CPU - AMD FD8320FRHKBOX FX-8320 FX-Series 8-Core Black Edition

WIFI Card - ASUS Dual-Band Wireless-AC1900 PCI-E Adapter

USB 3 Internal Cable - USB3SPNLAFHD 2 Port Panel Mount USB 3.0 Cable

Old Computer Case – cut the motherboard backing out of it

16 Gauge Hook Up Wire – about 125 feet

3/8 Plywood – less than one sheet

6 SATA Cables – 36 inch

4 Molex Extension Cables – 8 inch

6 3.5 Inch Universal Hard Drive Mounting Brackets

1 Momentary SPST NO Red Round Cap Push Button Switch

6 inch Electronics Enclosure Fan (with or without thermo switch)

Cheap battery operated clock mechanism. Small clock kit from Amazon.

2 Small stick-on label sets with numbers 1 through 50. To make label pairs for power wires

3/8 inch shrink tubing to cover solder joints. About 100 two inch pieces.

Various salvaged computer case wires/switches/LEDs that connect to the motherboard jumper panel of any
computer. (Hard Drive LED, Momentary Power Button, etc.)

Various small screw and bolts

Extras - Optional

USB 3 Hub - Anker® Uspeed USB 3.0 4-Port Hub

USB 2 Hub – any externally powered hub will work

12" Cold Cathode Case Lights - 2 Piece (Blue)

Small Speakers

Bluetooth Dongle

Specialty Tools

Metal Nibbler – A very helpful
tool that takes small bites and nibbles its way through computer case metal. Check Amazon.

Hot Glue Gun

Soldering Iron

Step 1: Step One - Setting Up and Testing the System

  1. After you get all your parts together; plug everything in on the table without any case. Use the salvaged momentary button to start it up and a salvaged Hard Drive LED and watch it blink. Plug in the piezo speaker. Hook up a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
  2. Fire it up and install Windows on the first drive (1TB drive). Then after a burn test of the hard drives, set up Storage Space on the remaining 3TB drives. Install any and all software you expect to use on the system disk. ITunes, Antivirus software, etc. Make sure everything is working properly before you install it into the clock case. This way you know that it works and if it fails after installation you can retrace your steps to find the fault. If you just install everything without setup and testing, you won’t know where the fault lies.
  3. While you have everything up and running; measure the three dimensions of the complete motherboard. Height of the cpu fan and whatever cards you have installed. You will need these measurements when determining how to mount the motherboard inside the clock case. You have to ensure that there is enough room for the cards within the case.

Step 2: Step Two - Dismantle the Grandfather Clock

  1. Remove the inner working of the grandfather clock.
  2. Remove the clock mechanism, chimes, and clock face. Save the clock face for reinstallation. Save the chimes for another project. Remove the back panel. Remove the door and keep safe for reinstallation.

Step 3: Step Three – Build the Motherboard Mount

  1. Determine the size of the plywood that will serve to mount the motherboard inside the top of the clock case. Cut the plywood to fit and drill mounting screw holes where appropriate.
  2. Dismantle the spare computer case and remove the motherboard mounting plate. Locate the appropriate mounting screws for your motherboard and mark them on the metal motherboard mounting plate. Screw in motherboard standoff studs and with the metal mounting plate on the workbench; secure the motherboard to it. Using a marking pen, trace an outline of the motherboard on the plate. You will need to cut the plate to fit the motherboard.
  3. Now you can secure the metal motherboard mounting plate to the previously cut to fit plywood. Use ¼ inch spacers between the plywood and the metal plate so that the motherboard standoff studs will have enough room to screw in all the way.
  4. I intentionally left enough room on the motherboard plywood to mount an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. I have plans to add home automation at some time.

Step 4: Step Four – Ready the Cabinet for Peripherals

  1. Drill a hole on the top of the cabinet for the Power On button. Solder the button to the salvaged Power On Momentary leads you salvaged from an old computer case. Feed the wire through the hole from the top
    and insert the button. It should fit snug; if not, add a little hot glue.
  2. Cut a square hole in the top of the cabinet for the EL light switch (optional). Feed the wire/switch through and secure with little bolts.
  3. Drill a hole on the top of the cabinet for the WIFI antenna wire(s).
  4. Cut a larger hole in the top of the cabinet for the enclosure fan. This is the type of fan that is used in stereo equipment cabinets for cooling. There are many types including one and two fan assemblies and some with digital thermometers. They are normally very quiet so a thermostat controlled fan should not be needed. The fan connects via a Molex connector. Install the fan and tape the wires out of the way for now.

Step 5: Step Five – Modify the Cards

  1. The video and WIFI cards will take some modification to securely attach to the motherboard and motherboard plate. They were made to install in a computer case; however we are not using a computer case. You will have to do some trimming and drilling to make this work.
  2. My video card was too high for this build. It protruded ½ inch outside of the back of the clock case. However, the card was both HDMI and VGA. The VGA connector was easily removed to shorten its height.
  3. As you can see from the photo, the card’s VGA was at one end of the card. I unplugged the internal VGA cable from the card and just cut the VGA connector off using the nibbler.
  4. Drill a small hole on the metal retaining tab on the opposite end of the card. Bend the tab at the correct position so that when the card is installed into the motherboard, the bent tab rests against the metal motherboard mounting plate.
  5. Mark the hole’s location and remove the card. Drill a small hole that will correspond to whatever small sheet metal screw you’re using to secure the card to the metal motherboard mounting plate.
  6. Remove the metal mounting bracket from the WIFI card. Drill another small hole for the mounting screw and bend the tab to fit. Using the nibbler to trim and custom fit the bracket.
  7. Reattach the bracket to the WIFI card and install it into the motherboard. Mark the screw hole on the motherboard mounting plate. Remove the card and drill a hole to fit the metal screw.
  8. Reinstall the WIFI card and secure it with the metal screw.

Step 6: Step Six – Mounting the Hard Drives and Fan

  1. The hard drives were mounted inside of a long narrow plywood box; about 20 inches long, 15 inches wide and 3 inches deep. The top of this box had four large holes drilled in for both ventilation and openings to run wires through. The front cover of the box was not attached until everything was running. Once again I painted
    it black to help hide it.
  2. The bottom of the box had a 3 inch 12 volt computer fan mounted to blow air upwards over
    the hard drives for cooling.
  3. Determine how you are going to mount the plywood (that holds the hard drives) to the cabinet. I used 1 inch aluminum angle bars. Attaching the plywood to one side and the other side to the cabinet.
  4. Install the Hard Drives. Depending on how many hard drives you will be using; lay them out on your precut plywood noting the orientation of the connection cables. You must leave enough room to plug in the SATA and power cables after securing the hard drives to the plywood and the plywood to the inside of the cabinet.
  5. Once orientation is determined, use the universal hard drive mounting brackets to secure the hard drives to the plywood. I first drilled holes in the metal brackets for wood screws, and then attached them to the hard drives. Laying each hard drive on the plywood, you can screw the brackets to the plywood.
  6. I designed my hard drives to have the connectors on the outside so the cables would run down the outer most inside of the cabinet.

Step 7: Step Seven – Testing Your System

  1. Using cable ties; temporarily secure the power supply to the top outside of the cabinet. Just get it close enough to plug in all the power wires so that you can test the system.
  2. Plug in an HDMI monitor, keyboard, mouse and attach the WIFI antenna leads.
  3. Plug the HD LED and POWER button to the motherboard’s panel. Check your motherboard’s documentation to determine which pins to use. Normally the pins are labeled on the motherboard.
  4. Plug in the piezo speaker and tie it off to the side. If something fails during startup; the beep code will help you track down the fault.
  5. Plug in the power supply to mains and start the computer.
  6. Test the system and WIFI. Let it run for a while to ensure that all is well.

Step 8: Step Eight – Installing the Power Supply

  1. After you are satisfied that the system works properly; it’s time to move the power supply to the bottom of the
  2. Use plywood to build a double decker box that will fit inside the bottom of the cabinet. The lower level will hold the UPS battery backup and the top will hold the computer power supply.
  3. Drill large holes from the lower level to the second level to accommodate the power cord between the power
    supply and the UPS and other power cords for peripherals.
  4. Determine how you are going to secure the power supply box on the second level. I used “L” brackets and the screws that normally mount the power supply in a computer case.
  5. Drill a much larger hole in the top of the second level to accommodate all the power supply to motherboard
    wires. The 24 pin connector must fit through it. Paint the box – I used black paint to obscure the box once the
    cabinet door was closed.
  6. Feed all the bundled wires from the power supply through the large top hole.
  7. Don’t cut the wires yet!
  8. Depending on your setup; you will have to determine the proper place to cut the power wires. If they are encased in a mesh tube, you will have to use sharp scissor to carefully remove the mesh to free up the
    individual wires. Careful, don’t nick any wires.

Step 9: Step Nine – Extending the Power Supply Wires

  1. Time to take a break. Get some coffee or tea or whatever relaxes you and spend some brain time thinking about how you are going to cut these wires.
  2. The wires must be cut far enough from the power supply to allow you to work with them. But you must also consider the ends that plug into the motherboard and peripheries. Do some measuring and determine the best lengths for each end. I ended up cutting the wires about 6 – 8 inches from the power supply. This gave me
    enough cable on the other ends to attach neatly to the motherboard.
  3. You are going to cut only one wire at a time. But before cutting any wire, place two numbered stickers on the wire and cut between them. Use two “1” on the first wire, then cut in-between the labels. Then two “2s” on the second wire and cut between the labels. Make sure that the labels are far enough apart so that they won’t interfere with stripping and soldering.
  4. It doesn’t matter which wire you cut first, just remember to do them one at a time and label them correctly to
    that you can match them up correctly later. A mistake here will usually show up as a puff of smoke and a destroyed motherboard or worse.
  5. After labeling the first wire, cut the wire and move on to the next.
    Consider just labeling and cutting one bundle first. After soldering them with a patch wire, you
    can move on to the next bundle. This gives you the opportunity to adjust cut lengths if needed.

Step 10: Step Ten – Soldering the Patch Wires

  1. After you have labeled and cut the first bundle; plug the terminal end into the motherboard.
  2. Plan the route of the wire so that they won’t interfere with the closing of the back panel.
  3. Cut a length of hookup wire, slip on shrink tubing and solder it to the power supply end.
  4. Run the hookup wire over/through the back of the cabinet to the matching wire on top. Cut to proper
    length and after slipping on the shrink tubing, solder the ends.
  5. Move on to the next wire and repeat the procedure until you have one bundle of wires completed.
  6. Label, cut and solder the next bundle. I didn’t need all the power wires and left some still covered in mesh and uncut.
  7. I used three ¾ inch aluminum bars to flatten the wires against the backside of the plywood that holds the hard drives. (only two show in the photo)

Step 11: Step Eleven – Test the System Again

  1. After you have connected all the power wires that you need, it’s time to test the system for the third time.
  2. Plug everything in and turn it on. If you were careful to match every wire correctly; it should start right up.
  3. Go to windows explorer and make sure all the hard drives are displayed and healthy.
  4. Test your WIFI
  5. If you included the EL lights, plug them in and turn them on.
  6. If you have a set of small speakers, plug them in and make some noise. I hot glued small speakers to the top of the cabinet – out of sight.
  7. Plug in the Bluetooth dongle and test a connection. I synched mine to a Big Jam Box and turned up the volume.

Step 12: Step Twelve – Adding Peripherals

  1. Now you can hot glue the USB hubs to the bottom of the hard drive box and hook up the power and USB cable to the motherboard.
  2. Screw the hard drive box cover on (it also was painted black). I hot glued a laminated Gallifrey poster onto the hard drive box cover.
  3. If your motherboard supports USB 3, you can install a USB 3 cable from the motherboard to the side of your
    cabinet. Punch the metal nuts out of the ends of the sockets and use small bolts to secure it to small square holes in the side of the cabinet.
  4. I added security camera software and a movable high def webcam. When I’m not home, I can set the camera to view the inside of my house and turn on the security software. If my home security system notifies me of an alarm, I can see and hear inside of my house. It is set to record on movement.

Step 13: Step Thirteen – Finishing the Clock

Replace the clock face.

Put a spacer between the clock kit mechanism and the back of the grandfather clock face. I used large plastic washers. Tighten the clock to the face and put on the clock hands. Most of the numbers were missing from my grandfather clock’s face. I have to find new ones and glue them on. But the cheap battery operated clock keeps
good time. To change the battery I’ll have to unscrew the four wood screws holding the original clock face from the cabinet and change the battery. Expect to do that once per year.

I left the HDMI cable hooked to the motherboard and just tucked it away in the cabinet in case I need to plug in a monitor some day. The USB hubs will allow me to hook up a mouse and keyboard when needed.

Replace the cabinet door.

Bearing in mind the user name and password to your new media server and use another computer (preferably Window 7 or higher) and make a remote connections. Enter the user name and password and connect to your server.
My server, Gallifrey, is remotely accessible from several other computers on my network.

If you have Apple TV, you can set it up to access your iTunes on the media server. If not, try Air Server or StreamtoMe software. They work great and if you set up port forwarding on your router, you can stream over the internet.

Using Windows File History or other backup software you can set all of your networked computers to backup to this server.

Plugging in a multi disk USB external storage unit will allow you to back up your media server.

Once all the hardware is installed; screw a thin plywood panel on the back of the cabinet. The original back panel was glued to the cabinet and destroyed during dismantling. I cut the back panel into three sections so that I can just remove the panel to access the motherboard. I did not cover the back portion where the power supply and UPS is located to facilitate cooling.

Step 14: Step Fourteen – Loading the Media

When loading your media to the server, consider if you want the media to be handled by iTunes or other software or both. ITunes is rather proprietary and mostly only works with Apple TV. ITunes will often grab any and all media that you place on the disks and convert it to iTunes format - thus rendering it useless for other streaming media methods.

To overcome this obstacle and still use iTunes I created two (or more) folders in Storage Space. One folder, I named Converted is for raw media and one named iTunes Media is for iTunes media. I transferred and burned all media from DVD’s and other computers to subfolders (Movies, TV, and Music) into the Converted folder’s appropriate subfolders. Then copied them to the iTunes folders. This way I can access all my media via iTunes or through other streaming software from the Converted folder. This works very well and I’m able to access all my media and any other files on the server both with Apple TV and over the internet with Air Server.
All files are accessible on my IPad, IPhone, Android, and laptop from anywhere that I have internet connection.

Gallifrey has been running nonstop for three months without fault. I used a USB 3 DVD burner to transfer my
entire DVD collection. All media from 6 other computers on the network have been converted to the server. Six networked computers are set to backup every other night (every other night to lower bandwidth demand). Currently it holds over 1000 TV Shows, 450 Mp4 movies (of various bit rate) and 4000 music files. The streaming has been set up on three Apple TV units and via port forwarding test viewed from a thousand miles away. Due to the large media library, Apple TV can take a moment or two to load the library; but once done, buffering is minimal and playback is 720p high def. Very crisp picture on my 52 inch Sony.

Step 15: Step Fifteen – Storage Space and Fault Tolerance

Gallifrey has five 3TB disks dedicated to Storage Space, using RAID 5 with parity. Because of fault tolerance striping the effective hard disk space is reduced to about 9.4TB. Even with all the media that I have currently
transferred to the disks along with full backup of local network computers, I have only used about 3TB of space. Basically I could add three times more media and still have a little room to spare.

Using RAID 5 with parity give me a reasonable safety net if one of the Storage Space disks fail. I can swap out
the defective hard drive and Windows will rebuild the data. However if two fail at the same time, I’m out of luck. I will lose all my media stored on Gallifrey. As unlikely as that is to happen, I’m planning to add a multi-disk USB 3 external backup. I can plug it in and backup the entire system and then move it to another location.

Whenever I have added enough new media to make it worth my time; I’ll bring it back and back everything up again. This way even if the house burns down, I can rebuild without data loss.

The system disk is 1TB and only holds the operating system and other installable software. If it fails, I can reinstall Windows and it will detect the Storage Space and everything will be back to normal. I could also use an external 1TB hard drive to mirror the system disk and just set the external disk inside the cabinet.

Step 16: Conclusion

I’m very pleased with the end product. It’s quiet and looks good in the living room. The blue EL lights glow softly inside the cabinet and work well as a night light. I will continue to add parts to it including a TV tuner, backup disk array and some type of home automation system. I tested Google Talk and may incorporate it into the system. Google Talk allows you to ask questions verbally and receive verbal answers from Google. It was a little buggy during my tests, but with the right microphone it shows promise. But for now I’m taking a break from Gallifrey; it’s time to plant the garden.