A low-power mini (micro) server is very handy for a small home office/hobbyist setup. It’s nice to have an always-on server running something like Pi-Hole, a ddns client or even a small database server, without worrying about overt energy use. Raspberry Pi seems to be the ideal device for this!
Except. Tried to get a Raspberry Pi lately? At a reasonable price?
Many seem to have decided to use much more capable thin client hardware to do its tasks – and much more. The darling of this seems to be the Dell Wyse 3040. x64-compatible platform so you don’t need to worry about ARM compatible software like with the RPi. Many folks say they can get them for something like $20 – $30 each. Great!
But welcome to Canada. You can find that price… but shipping is usually considerably more than the sale price. When looking at the bottom line, I decided to scale up and look at more powerful versions. I found a Dell Wyse 5070 for a reasonable price including shipping and tried it out. The CPU was much more capable (I got the Pentium J5005 version) and seemed to have a LOT of expandability.
Once I got it though, I wondered if this would be a good desktop machine, and not just a mini-server. A fanless machine that runs on 7W (typical – about 16W when under max load!) could be nice. It has very nice display support (2x4k monitors + 1 2560×1600 displays at once!) and loads of USB3, including one USB-C, as well as gigabit Ethernet. I do 90% of my work over a RDP connection anyways, and Remmina is awesome.
Needs some upgrades though.
I picked up a cheap 512GB Timetec SATA III SSD ($30), and it was detected and works immedately after installation. I tried to install Debian on it, and… it works perfectly! The hardware I got only had 4GB of RAM installed, which is a little tight. After one incompatible stick (Silicon Power â€ŽSP008GBSFU240B02) I knuckled down and got a slightly more expensive stick of 8GB Crucial â€ŽCT8G4SFS8266 (also about $30). Again, works perfectly right away. Now I have a quad-core 12GB/512GB machine running a modest desktop (I use LXQT) environment at 4K.
It runs Bloons TD6 and Creeper World 3 (from Steam) amazingly well, and as we all know, these are among the prime criteria for success and productivity. (I haven’t really tested 3D graphics, but I can’t imagine that’s its strong point)
I also decided to plug in a $17 9560NGW wireless card to get the full experience… almost the same experience as the SSD and RAM, I just needed to make sure I installed the correct realtek and intel firmware packages from the Debian non-free-firmware repositories. Poke out the two knockouts in the case and now I have bunny ears, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.