Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Quest for a Cheap, Compact, Silent Network File Server for Home

I've recently been interested in purchasing a small easily concealed silent home network file and print server. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think that it has always been in the back of mind.

What I really want is something quite small, without any fans, with a bit of internal storage and the ability to add large external hard disks, with a network card. It must also be very stable and reasonably energy efficient so that I can leave it on 24/7 without worrying about killing Eisbären. Oh yeah, it must also be cheap, really cheap.

I've been doing some research and there are a surprisingly wide number of options available. I could buy an off the shelf Windows or Linux capable mini PC like and a Mac Mini or a A-Open Mini-PC, but these are reasonably expensive and if the reviews are anything to go by not really silent so they don't really meet the criteria. If I had the money I'm sure that they would be sufficient, but even on eBay they still cost a reasonable amount.

At the other end of the spectrum I could just buy a NAS device like a Buffalo Linkstation Pro Network Storage Centre or a Western Digital NetCenter Network Drive. Both of these meet some of my criteria, being small, low powered, and having the ability to act a a print server for one USB printer. They even have FTP servers built in so that I could access my files remotely. But they aren't very flexible and I really would like to be able to run applications like an IMAP mail server.

Andy has a Linksys NSLU2 and swears that it is the best thing since Ubuntu. I have looked into it and apart from being cheap, there are a lot of mods and even a few Linux OSs for it, all of which are promising.

I spoke to Laurie about my predicament. he didn't like the NSLU2. He recommended that I look into Soekris but their cheap website and anemic products didn't appeal to me. Then he found OpenBSD/landisk which looks interesting and meets his primary criteria of being able to run OpenBSD (if a computer doesn't use BSD he won't go within 4 feet of it), on the plus side it is really small and silent, but like the NSLU2 it requires an external hard disk, and really doesn't look powerful enough to do all the things I really want to do.

After ditching the requirement of being able to run Windows I came across the Little Linux systems for projects and products website, which was a great find. Many of the systems on the page I had already come across but there were so many more options that I hadn't seen.

I am very keen on some of the products by E-Way Technology Systems. The TK Tiny 800Mhz Fanless VIA Nano Embedded System looks the business. Reasonably powerful, silent, small, low powered, cheap and with some internal storage. There are only two USB ports, but then you can't have everything.

The other alternative is of course to build my own PC based on a Mini ITX motherboard. It would be a bit more quite a bit more expensive than the TK Tiny, but then I could have exactly what I want and it would still be cheaper than an off the shelf PC. I was looking at the stuff on http://www.mini-itx.com and there is a lot to choose from. The EPIA EN 12000G Fanless C7 Mini-ITX Board looks like a great place to start building my own, but the motherboard itself is twice the cost of a complete TK Tiny.

Decisions, decisions.

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5 Comments:

Blogger osbert said...

my brother in law is running a nice, little, ALMOST silent synology cubestation here and it looks pretty good... works pretty well... and cant be that expensive because he's a student.

9/1/07 15:12  
Blogger Jon said...

Thanks for the heads up.

I had a look at the Cube Station CS-406 on the Synology website and apart from being too big for my requirements it has a large power draw. It is a very good device for its intended purpose but not quite what I was looking for.

I did however spot the Disk Station DS-106j and DS-106e which are the right size (and the 106j is fanless to boot), and they can act as print servers. They also have a very small power load which is nice.

Both devices support PHP & MySQL. I wonder what else you could get to run on there.

The Synology devices are a bit pricey though especially considering that they are sold without disks but I'll look at them in more detail and see what I can find out.

9/1/07 15:46  
Blogger Oliver said...

I have a linksys nslu2 and it is very good. but I want more. Have just seen this at mini itx
http://www.mini-itx.com/store/?c=27
looks v-good
also this store looks cheap
http://www.ewayco.com
they have the e-way tk tiny.

3/3/07 12:45  
Blogger Jon said...

Thanks Oliver,

I'd seen the TK Tiny, and visited mini-itx.com, but hadn't seen the 'M61G Fanless 1GHz Barebones Thin Client'.

The TK is quite cheap but as it is an american company I think that the M61G is a better bet for me.

My only concerns are the relatively slow network connection and processor, but for what I'm planning, I don't think that it'll be a problem.

3/3/07 13:24  
Anonymous Emil said...

Wow, you can build your own PC based on a Mini ITX motherboard?! How did you do that?! I want to learn some basics things on how to build my own PC.

1/10/11 05:05  

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