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Roon is a clever music streaming architecure that has taken the audiophile community (and myself) by storm. And with good reason. It just works perfectly well. I couldn’t believe how easy it was upgrading to the latest version 1.3. Not only was my Core automatically migrated, it even updated my Raspberry PI endpoint without a hitch.
But there was always one thing that drove me nuts. It’s the “Core” (server backend of Roon) and its massive system requirements. Roon Labs stated that performance would suffer significantly if it wasn’t at least running on an i7 with multiple Gigabytes of RAM and super-fast SSDs. Unfortunately, that’s quite correct. Although Roon core basically runs on any major computer platform (Windows, Mac or Linux), it really needs a decent machine to shine. Part of the reason for requiring high computing power is because Roon core constantly analyzes your music library. It comes up with recommendations, manages your file system and so forth. Not a lightweight task that a cheap mini computer would typically perform. And with Roon Labs ambitious plans to keep adding new features, Roon core is likely to demand even more power in the future.
A couple of hardware manufacturers have therefore partnered with Roon and started to offer ready-made servers for Roon core. But those are priced for the “audiophile crowd”. I literally fell off my chair when I saw the pricing. It isn’t uncommon to see multi-thousand dollar pricetags. Ouch! I have been building PCs for ages and it would certainly be cheaper to roll your own.
Earlier this year, Roon Labs hit the headlines with their elated announcement that Roon Core could now be run on inexpensive QNAP NAS boxes. Well, I’m not sure what your definition of “inexpensive” is, but $1000 dollars for the QNAP TVS-471 without drives doesn’t exactly sound cheap to me. It’s their higher end NAS line with a Core i3 and 4GB of RAM but in my experience, a NAS is not easy to setup and maintain. It does require some fiddling. And the QNAP requires manual installation of the Roon Core packages, too. To be honest, I haven’t tried this myself yet. But I wouldn’t be suprised if a healthy dose of Linux/Unix knowledge is a prerequisite. Synology is apparently also jumping on the Roon Core bandwagon. On top of that, you still need a computer with a DVD drive for ripping music before being able to move the tracks to your NAS. In my opinion, the NAS route is also not really future-proof. What happens if Roons system requirements are kicked up a notch? Is your NAS investment going to be safe next year?
I would therefore not consider the NAS route for running the Core. Dont’t get me wrong though – a NAS makes a great storage device and it can be inexpensive, too.
Let’s look at our available options in detail.
NOTE: this is a work in progress and I will constantly update my recommendations as new technologies become available.
Re-purpose an existing PC
This is the easiest route. If you have a recent desktop PC or even Laptop with enough power and RAM, you can easily keep Roon Core running in the background and you might not even notice it’s there. This is what I do on my desktop machine, an older Core i3 with 16GB of RAM and an SSD. This however means you need to keep your machine turned on 24 hours a day. But you can turn off the monitor if you want- Roon Core runs headless. Cost of electricity isn’t a big issue since any type of NAS or server would consume power. Not only is this the cheapest way of Running Roon Core but also the easiest. You could be up and running in 5 minutes.
Buy a Mac Mini or an Intel NUC
Many audiophiles went this route and it doesn’t look like the worst option. For a bit under $1000 you get an i5 processor (although not the latest Skylake generation – Apple is hopefully updating the Mini soon) and 8GB of RAM plus 250GB PCIe SSD storage. I believe you can add 16GB as an opion but that’s it – the Mini is not upgradeable or extensible in any way. You could add external storage but that would add further to the cost and makes the Mini look a bit messy. But overall not a bad choice if you want a living-room friendly server. And it comes with a pre-loaded operating system (Mac OS), no need to purchase extra licenses or learn Linux. Alternatively, an Intel NUC sounds like an interesting option if you prefer the smaller footprint of a desktop computer but with Windows or Linux.
Build your own Roon Core server
If you can build a PC (it’s really not that hard! Alternatively, get someone to help you and please observe all the safety regulations in your country), why not DIY your own Roon Core machine? I have speced out a very powerful Intel 6th generation Skylake server below and your total cost should be well under $1000. Not only can you swap CPU, memory and hard-drives as technology progresses – the Silverstone enclosure (my favorite) looks very stylish to boot. It is made of aluminum and looks like any other audio component. Plus it comes with ample space for all your components and can host a whopping total of 11 disk drives.
You could theoretically build an all-in-one server without a NAS. Just make sure you load software for making backups. The Intel Skylake Quad Core i5 CPU has plenty of power but you could optionally go for the i7 at almost twice the price. I think most of you should do fine with the i5 unless you have more than 3000 CDs in your FLAC collection. I chose an Asus mainboard which runs stable. Please note that I haven’t added a power supply suggestion yet – you might want to browse Amazon for EVGA or Corsair. Both of which make excellent and low-noise supplies.
If you need to pay less, I have added an AMD version which is almost $150 cheaper but is potentially less power efficient.
In summary, this should give you a Roon Core server that is not only powerful but also looks great and will serve its duties for years to come. One important aspect is the operating system choice. I have intentionally not added it to the list. If you have some Linux experience and know how to configure everything, download Debian or Ubuntu Server. For ease of use, simply purchase a Windows 10 license. Remember that Roon Core is not going to be directly connected to your hifi setup but is rather a background server. Windows 10 can also easily be remote-controlled from your tablet if you get stuck. But it is a personal choice, really.
NOTE: This is strictly informational and assembled to the best of my knowledge and experience, I am not taking responsibility for compatibility of the PC components. Technical specs of the components may change over time.
WARNING: Working with electricity and/or electrical devices is potentially hazardous! DO NOT follow the steps below if you are not experienced and DO consult a professional instead. MusicServerTips cannot be held liable for any damages or injuries!
Shopping list as of February 2017 (both Intel and AMD):
Intel Core i7 6700K 4.00 GHz Unlocked Quad Core Skylake Desktop Processor, Socket LGA 1151 [BX80662I76700K]
Price: about $337 on Amazon
Intel Core i5-6400 2.7Ghz Quad Core Socket 1151 Skylake Desktop Processor
Price: about $175 on Amazon
Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO – CPU Cooler with 120mm PWM Fan (RR-212E-20PK-R2)
Price: about $35 from Amazon
Motherboard and RAM:
ASUS Z170-A ATX DDR4 Motherboards
Price: about $144 from Amazon
Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 3000MHz (PC4-24000) C15 Memory Kit – Black
Price: about $125 from Amazon
SSD – Roon Core server DB should be on an SSD:
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E250B/AM)
price: about $100 from Amazon
Silverstone Tek GD07B Aluminum Extended ATX / SSI-EEB / SSI-CEB HTPC Computer Case with Lockable Front Door Cases – Black
price: about $135 from Amazon
HDD Storage for your music library – add as many as needed:
WD Blue 2TB Desktop Hard Disk Drive – 5400 RPM SATA 6 Gb/s 64MB Cache 3.5 Inch – WD20EZRZ
Price: about $70 from Amazon
Operating system (Windows, Linux)
ATX power supply (I recommend EVGA or Corsair)
Lower budget AMD version:
CPU and Stock Cooler:
AMD FD6300WMHKBOX FX-6300 6-Core Processor Black Edition
Price: about $90 from Amazon
Motherboard and RAM:
Asus uATX DDR3 AM3+ AMD 760G + SB710 USB 3.0 HDMI uATX AMD Motherboard
Price: about $50 from Amazon
Kingston HyperX FURY 16GB Kit (2x8GB) 1866MHz DDR3 CL10 DIMM – Black (HX318C10FBK2/16
Price: about $100 from Amazon
Other components from the Intel build.