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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Sat, 26 Mar 2011

Server over desktop

I’ve been planning to build a computer for at least a year.

I started with the idea of a mini-ITX motherboard and case to produce a small, low-power desktop, to which I’d hook up a keyboard, mouse and monitor and use as a traditional desktop computer.

Since that time I’ve shed quite a bit of old hardware. And if you want my Sun Sparcstation 20 or Alix Sparcstation 10 clone, come and get them. All the rest of the desktops are gone.

I’m no believer in laptops. Desktops are tougher, easier to fix, better performing. But they stay on a desk.

And while I’m often at a desk myself, it’s generally not the same desk all the time. I’ve begun using Dropbox so my “critical” files are available on more than one computer and are always in sync. Thus far I’m a believer.


But with a good, working laptop, always backed up in case of trouble, that I can use for my day job, at home, or anywhere I care to haul it, do I really need a traditional desktop computer at home on a desk that for the time being I’m not in front of all that often.

It’s so much easier to pull out the laptop in the house than to go into our detached home office. There might be a time when I’m out there more. But that time is not now.

So I really don’t need a traditional desktop computer.

What I do need (and/or want) is a server. I’m thinking principally of a file server-slash-backup server. Maybe a light-duty web server.

I want something that uses as little electricity as possible because I want to keep it on all the time and not feel like I’m killing the planet by millimeters with a light bulb or three’s worth of power dissipating 24/7/365.

Plug servers are too prone to failure. And while I want it to be small, I also want it to have a traditional hard drive, probably 2.5-inch laptop size. I’d like a 1 TB drive but know that most laptop drives are 500 GB in size. I imagine that 1 TB laptop drives will be available at some point in the near future.

I will consider low-power, small servers that are pre-made — and I’m talking about Excito, but I’m looking again at mini-ITX with a fanless motherboard and fanless power supply; like the kind of thing Logic Supply sells.

Comments from the FlatPress version of this entry

Miraceti Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 07:28:25

Hare you considered a NAS device? I use a Ready nas RND4000 which uses 44 Watts

Brett Legree Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 08:30:02

I was considering building a mini-ITX server myself, but when I bought a new laptop recently, the old one was still sufficiently powerful to act as a light duty server (a Core Duo 1.83 GHz with 4 GB memory).

As I keep my computer equipment in very good (i.e. “like new”) condition, I decided to use the old laptop rather than buy and build a custom machine. I simply plugged in an external 1 TB drive and I run the laptop with the screen closed in another room, plugged into a UPS.

With the proper power settings, I minimize the amount of electricity I am using, and the whole thing is out of sight, out of mind. As an added bonus, if the laptop hard drive should fail, it will likely not take down the storage drive with it, or if I wish to upgrade the server, I can easily do this and just plug the external drive into the new server.

Lucas Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 09:25:14

Have a look at HP’s Proliant Microservers. The CPU is quite powerful but has a mere 12W TDP and is fanless (the PSU isn’t, though it’s very quiet), plenty of room for storage, IPMI can be added cheaply. Some more details here: http://popey.com/blog/2010/12/30/hp-proliant-microserver-fun-with-ubuntu/

G Fernandes Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 12:48:44

I had the same problem as you: I wanted a power-efficient server to act as a file-share(shared data and back-ups) and light-weight web-server (blog/photo-albums etc.).

I got this (http://linitx.com/viewproduct.php?prodid=12531) with a 320GB HDD (you can get a bigger one if you need it). I’ve got it running Fedora headless (but it’s connected to my TV so I can use it as a media-player occasionally).

The only configuration I had to do was to get the display to switch off when not in use.

It uses about 10.5W in this configuration. With the display active, it goes up to about 16W.

G Fernandes Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 14:41:38

If I had to do it again, I’d use this (http://www.expansys.com/shuttle-xs35-barebones-nettop-no-os-1-66ghz-1gb-160gb-no-monitor-202602/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=shopping&utm_campaign=base&ito=1701). If you can get an Atom 330 or a D4xx, it’ll probably work out more power-efficient than the old Atom N270 (as the 330 and D4xx have a TDP of about 8W which includes an on-die graphics and ide controller - the N270 didn’t have these on-die, thus having a higher overall power dissipation).

JaseP Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 15:18:31

Either a net-top machine or a mini-tower cased system ought to fit the bill for you. My plans that way actually evolved into a full-blown multimedia server. So, don’t be surprised if that happens to you, too. Just be diplomatic when you explain to the wife why you are taking over a linen closet & wiring it for communications & electric (print server ought to help if the Mrs. is always crabbing about lack of printer access).

rick Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 15:25:34

Once you settle on hardware. You may want to try this out, if you don’t need a desktop installed. http://www.turnkeylinux.org/fileserver

Chess Griffin Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 16:25:25

Steven, I sent this to you via Twitter but in case you didn’t see it, I have an Intel D510MO dual core Atom motherboard inside a tiny Morex T-3310 fanless case running OpenBSD. It’s my webserver, mail, DNS etc. Total cost about .

Chess Griffin Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 16:27:14

Forgot to mention that the motherboard and case I got at logicsupply.com.

Jacob Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 16:44:40

Have you taken a look at Amahi? It is a home server installation that runs on Fedora. There are a group of people over there that are running their servers on Plug computers. Very cool.

steven Tuesday, March 29, 2011 - 22:31:20

Chess, I couldn’t find you on Twitter or Identi.ca, but I’m leaning toward a Logic Suppl-ied solution so I can get a bit of memory in there and have the option of swapping in a new motherboard in the future (you can get them with CPU for <).

I don’t know if I’ll do a web server, but the chroot of OpenBSD’s Apache 1.3 is a great way to go (especially if you can figure out how to get PHP and Perl/CGI running in the chroot, if that’s your thing).

Interesting that you’re running local DNS. Probably also a good idea.

My shared hosting provider has been so good, I don’t have as much incentive to run my own web server.

Right now I’m thinking file server (NFS/Samba) and rsync server. I’ve got a mix of boxes on the home network - Mac, Linux, Windows - so I need an ecumenical solution.