Modest home Linux server hardware selection
January 3, 2009 5:01 AM   Subscribe

Looking for hardware recommendations for a very modest home Linux server.

I used to run a Via SP13000 Mini-ITX box as a home server, but the motherboard recently died. While I could replace the mobo with something compatible like the Intel D945GCLF, mini-ITX cases get pretty warm, which might have been a cause of the last board's demise.

My needs are simple:
  • run Firefly (or some other DAAP server) to feed the Soundbridges;
  • generate my daily podcast, which realistically means a linux box with Perl, sqlite and the like;
  • have something to ssh into when boredom strikes the need arises. Perhaps unwise having an open machine sitting directly on the internet, but only the ssh port will be open.
I might want to double this machine up as a NAS box, as my trusty NSLU2 is deathly slow - but it's not really too smart to have personal files unfirewalled, is it?
posted by scruss to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What do you want the hardware to be like? Linux runs on pretty much everything, from this huge Sun tower to my teeny mobile phone, so it's not like you're starving for variety.

"Perhaps unwise having an open machine sitting directly on the Internet, but only the ssh port will be open." Naw, it's pretty safe, if you disable password authentication.
posted by cmiller at 5:34 AM on January 3, 2009

okay, maybe should clarify - ideally, it should be the lowest power machine that can serve my needs. I could get one of those off-lease $50 PCs from a surplus store - but its power usage and noise would be too high.
posted by scruss at 6:23 AM on January 3, 2009

Even the most modest 45W processor from AMD will give perfectly good performance; I assume the same is true of the 35W models from Intel (though those are single-core and have the 'celeron' designation, so maybe not).

Choose a fanless motherboard with integrated video. That will help minimize noise and power usage.

To minimize power dissipation, don't put more RAM in than you need, and put it in the minimum number of modules. For instance, a micro datasheet states on page 9 and 10 that the power dissipation of their 1GB and 2GB modules are about the same, around 8W "idle" and 13W "active". So putting one 2GB module instead of 2 1GB modules might trim 10W average.

The Antec Sonata III tower case is pricey, but has several nice low-noise features (big low-speed case fans and silicone gromits to reduce transmission of hard drive vibration) and is generally a nice case to work inside.

As far as fileserving goes, any Linux distribution will be configurable to allow access to the appropriate port only from internal IP addresses, either through a filesystem-specific directive (e.g., smb.conf "allow hosts") or through the firewall configuration.

Finally, I notice that there is are ports of fuse and sshfs to windows and mac which means you could make ssh do double-duty for shell and filesharing on any common desktop OS as well. (note: I haven't tried either of those; I just use sshfs between my linux machines)
posted by jepler at 6:55 AM on January 3, 2009

I have an Eee Box -- which I upgraded to 2GB and a 320GB hard drive, and running Debian -- to do the same sorts of music/file/web/ssh/linux-tool server tasks. It runs quiet and cool, it uses almost no power (my UPS says it's only drawing 16W), and it runs reasonably fast for what it is. Debian seems to support all the hardware reasonably well with a little tweakery. Small and cheap.
posted by eschatfische at 10:44 AM on January 3, 2009

There is a wonderful company in my homestate of Vermont called Logic Supply that caters to embedded and low power fetishes. Browse through their catalog. Stick a solid state harddrive on this and your probably looking at the lowest power "server" possible.
posted by SirStan at 12:18 PM on January 3, 2009

I'm going to second eschatfische's reccomendation of an Eee Box. It's a great little power-efficient server.

Mine's currently doing duty as a print, media, source control, file, mail, torrent, and general mail server. Also running Debian.
posted by SemiSophos at 2:08 PM on January 3, 2009

I've had my eye on that motherboard for a home server or TV computer upgrade. You might also want to look at the MSI Wind barebones system, since it comes with a small dual-bay case and a fanless power supply for $129 or so. Not as sleek as the EEE Box, but cheaper and has more room for drives since it has 3.5" and 5.25" bays. The prebuilt options are only going to have one LAN port, and your option for expansion looks like USB. I think any low-power machine is going to have enough CPU power to do what you want to do.

If I were you, I'd get a cheap router that's compatible with 3rd party firmware. Hook that to the net and forward a port to SSH on your server.
posted by Good Brain at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2009

Also, SSH is really not a security issue, just pick an external port higher than 1024 and have that forward to your internal port 22.
posted by mysterious1der at 5:34 AM on January 5, 2009

Thanks - good call on the MSI Wind barebones. It's cheaper, sadly, than salvaging my mini-itx kit.
posted by scruss at 6:45 AM on January 7, 2009

(I should like to add that I ended up with a Sheevaplug, which is a tiny low-power linux box. It's a gigahertz-class ARM, so its floating point kinda sucks, but does all I need, and is really small and cheap.)
posted by scruss at 3:35 PM on May 23, 2009

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