When I was in elementary school, my teacher had a lesson for the class about reading fine print. He would often slip very tiny font into the class’s low-stakes exams about how a seemingly ridiculous request on the test proper was either something to skip or not what it appeared. The lesson was to read everything carefully or risk doing a large amount of unnecessary work.
It was a good lesson. I try to remember it. But sometimes I fail to remember. This is the brief story of one such occasion.
I had been thinking about setting up a small home server for backup file storage and other miscellaneous applications. While I was on Ebay purchasing a birthday present for a friend, I took a quick look at the selection of low-powered, refurbished, miniature PCs.
I saw one that fit very much fit the low-powered criterion: a ViewSonic Mini PC (VOT 133 Nettop VS12933) from (I think) 2012 or 2013. This monster machine has an Intel Atom 1.6 GHz CPU with 2 GB of RAM and a 320 GB HDD. Now, to be sure, those specs are not great today, and likely were not when the thing was released in the first place. But a little home server does not need much power. For whatever it is worth, it would be faster than the 2007 MacBook I had installed Bodhi Linux on if I were using it for regular computing.
I jumped on the deal for two reasons. Firstly, many refurbished mini PCs in that price range are barebones PCs, meaning they do not have a hard drive and often lack RAM as well. This one had a 320 GB HDD installed and RAM. Secondly, this mini PC came in at $35. The mini PC did lack an operating system, but that was no issue for me since I was planning to install my own anyway. Taken together, assuming it holds up, I will venture that my purchase was a better value than most single-board PC servers once one accounts for the cost of extra peripherals.
I ordered my mini PC, but about a day or two after the purchase, it occurred to me to check the fine print of the product description. The seller (a good seller, to be clear – the fault was mine) noted that the mini PC was not coming with an AC adapter. Moreover, this particular mini PC needs its OEM adapter.
With my PC already on the way, I scoured Ebay for an adapter. I found one seller offering the adapter for my particular model for $20. Beggars cannot be choosers, so I made the purchase.
Unsurprisingly, my mini PC preceded the adapter. I joked to my New Leaf Journal colleague, Victor V. Gurbo, that the mini PC made a fine paperweight. It would be three days before the adapter arrived.
I may write an article about my home-server experience after I have a bit more time working with it and make sure that my legacy server does not fail on me. But the results are promising so far. My server-administration skills are very much at the novice level – so I decided to install YunoHost, a Linux server distribution based on Debian that is designed to make hosting various services easy for beginners.
Before starting my mini PC, I burned the YunoHost ISO to a thumbdrive. I then booted the PC from the thumbdrive and installed YunoHost without any particular difficulty thanks to YunoHost’s intuitive graphical installer. Once YunoHost was properly installed, I switched briefly from the graphical installer and set up my administrator account and other basic points from the command line – again following the terrific YunoHost documentation.
The set-up process was not seamless. I ran into an error that involved the configuration of my home router not allowing me to access my server from my computer. However, the internet (through the lens of DuckDuckGo) answers all sorts of questions, and I was able to obtain instructions for opening the necessary ports on my router to make my server accessible.
Once YunoHost is set-up, it is very easy to manage from its web panel without needing to dive into the command line. Thus far, it seems like a very promising way for non-technical people to host their own small server.
Thus far, I have managed to install a number of applications on my quaint home server. Everything has installed properly. I will see what works well and what does not, and if everything holds up for a month or two, file a report on my experiences here at The New Leaf Journal.