Please recommend small form factor Linux servers
July 27, 2005 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Where can I buy an inexpensive small form factor Linux server with a hard drive?

I'm looking for a small server I can bring with me in my luggage. By small I mean about the size of the new Harry Potter book, maybe smaller. By inexpensive, I mean around $500. I'm using this to serve video and MP3, so I need at least 80 gigs of hard drive. I don't care about 3d video capability. I'd like something with a reasonably quiet power supply that can work on 110 or 220.

The Mac Mini is about ideal in almost every way. But I don't really want to run MacOS, and I don't want to pay an Apple premium. OTOH I went looking for Shuttle systems, mini-ITX systems, etc, and they all seem to start at $800, which seems kinda high. Does anyone make what I'm looking for with a PC architecture?
posted by Nelson to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
You can run several linux distros on the Mini. It's in your price range and has all the features you're looking for. Besides, you may grow to love OSX. I know I did (I ran linux as my primary desktop from 1995-2003).
posted by srburns at 8:55 AM on July 27, 2005

What about a used laptop? Should fit both the price range and the formfactor?
posted by Ferrari328 at 8:58 AM on July 27, 2005

Both the Mocha (pentium 4) and cappuccino (pentium 3) line of PCs from Cappuccino PC are right up your alley. They work fine with linux.
posted by furtive at 9:05 AM on July 27, 2005

Additionally, you could modify an xbox (although that might be too heavy, but would be cheap to do.)
posted by AllesKlar at 9:17 AM on July 27, 2005

Do you actually need a computer? There are quite a few hard drives with ethernet ports that might be able to do what you want.
posted by cillit bang at 9:25 AM on July 27, 2005

Build the mini itx "box" yourself. Buy an $90 older mini-itx board (like the V800 or M10000), get a $50 80GB IDE drive, $50 for 512MB of RAM, and about $50 for a low-watt powersupply+transformer. (I normally buy the motherboards and power supplies from ITuner / Mini-Box, I am not affiliated other than a happy repeat customer. You can get the parts cheaper but probably not all in the same place.) Case optional but if you want ITuner has those.

That's what I do (I've built about 10 of these things so far for various projects), but seriously, if you wanted a premade thing there's not much in the pricerange that beats the Mac mini + linux distro. I haven't seen an x86 offering in the same form factor and price yet, and this is a market that I am interested in. The aforementioned capuccino approaches it but just quickly glancing at specs and price the mac Mini is still a better deal.
posted by neustile at 9:27 AM on July 27, 2005

I was going to suggest the Mini-Box systems as well, although the last time my VAR tried to order one they were sold out...
posted by sohcahtoa at 9:37 AM on July 27, 2005

If you're really just looking for media storage, cillit bang's suggestion is really worth investigating. Here's an iomega product for illustration (not a recommendation, btw). If you want a digital player/ jukebox dealie, then get over the anti-mac sentiment -- a mac mini starts at $500. I don't dig on the macs, but they're like carrying around a large stack of CDs. And really, it's cheaper than your shuttle prices, so I'm not sure how padding your wallet with $300 would be paying an apple premium.
posted by boo_radley at 9:46 AM on July 27, 2005

Best answer: As noted, you can run many different Linux distributions on a Mac Mini: Additionally, the power supply can run on both 110 and 220 with only a cable swap. You would also be spending a lot more on a separate laptop hard drive required to fit into a small enclosure. Your best, least expensive bet is a Mac Mini.
posted by Rothko at 10:13 AM on July 27, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers. Just to clarify things: I really need a server, not just a hard drive. The Cappucino systems look nice but are more expensive than I would like. I think what I'm really wondering is how the heck is Apple building these Mac Minis so cheaply? Is there really no competitive PC offering?
posted by Nelson at 10:23 AM on July 27, 2005

If you want a premade box the Mac mini does everything you want and yes, is the cheapest for the size, features and power (among premade offerings.) The reason it's cheapest is because Apple decided it was important to them. Dell could decide the same thing next week and I'm sure they could easily undercut Apple. But as of now it's the mini or DIY for $<5 00br>
Let us know what you're looking for that the mini doesn't have and I could probably suggest alternate angles.
posted by neustile at 10:51 AM on July 27, 2005

"mini or DIY for less than $500"
posted by neustile at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2005

Would a laptop do?

I see IBM T20s going on ebay for $400 Canadian.
posted by bonehead at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2005

I'm with neustile on this. I just built up a top-of-the-range mini-itx system for the same sort of price as a Mac mini. It has a faster processor (1.3GHz Via Nehemiah), and -- like most mini-itx -- has an international power supply.

There are cheap, basic Via systems available from small builders on eBay. If you want a really cheap system, some equipment surplus stores have retired satellite router control boxes -- which just happen to be a 800MHz Via C3 system.
posted by scruss at 11:11 AM on July 27, 2005

Last I looked at the mini-itx systems, linux didn't play well with the video, especially the S-Video out. I mention this because I'd like to build a MAME appliance that is fanless and boots from one or more USB flash drives. When I was reading up on the support this in linux, it wasn't looking too good.
posted by plinth at 12:10 PM on July 27, 2005

odinsdream, I think they're branded Helios. I don't have details on which stores would have them, sadly. They're in a black Morex 2688 case, which is a bit bigger than the OP would have wanted, but they'll take a full-sized hard drive, PCI card, and slim optical drive. They have the Trident graphics chip that only does basic, slow graphics under Linux.

plinth, the Via M and SP range have better Linux graphics than the older mobos. Accelerated drivers for the Via Unichrome (on the M) are in's CVS, while Ivor Hewitt has drivers for the SP's Unichrome Pro.
posted by scruss at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2005

Look into an OpenBrick. We use these at my work, and they feel pretty sturdy for their size. The Phoenix units are lower-powered, cheaper, and a little flimsier, but may also suit your needs. You will have to buy memory and hard drive seperately, at least through Hacom, but at $340 and $250 repectively, it should be in range.

And they're fanless, so that hard drive should be the only noise you ever hear.
posted by Pufferish at 12:58 PM on July 27, 2005

Best answer: Oh, and if you're looking for Shuttles to use in this manner, the cheapest option currently is to grab a repack/refurb unit from Shuttle's ebay store. I've done this myself, and the SK41G refurb I got from them still works just as well as the one I bought new a year earlier.
posted by Pufferish at 1:02 PM on July 27, 2005

I litterally have eight Shuttles as both workstations and servers.. and I love them.
posted by cowmix at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2005

A 1.3 Ghz Nehemiah will be a dog compared to a Mac Mini. Just go for the mini. It's performance is on par with the latest Powerbooks, for a third of the cost. You can boost the performance considerably by booting from a firewire enclosure.

You could even get data redundancy and independence by setting up OS X to mirror the internal and external drives.
posted by blasdelf at 8:30 PM on July 27, 2005

Response by poster: OK, you've talked me into it. A Mac Mini it is. I'll probably leave OS/X on it (it is Unix afterall), but nice to know Linux is an option. The refurb/build-it-yourself options sound good too, but I'd rather get something I don't have to fiddle with.
posted by Nelson at 6:38 AM on July 28, 2005

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