Thu, 19 Oct 2006

Silent home servers

The computer which hosts this blog is a venerable Pentium 150Mhz, with 64Mb of physical memory and two decently sized disks. It has been running non-stop mostly without hiccups for several years, and I'm quite happy with it, even if the processing power is so scarce I've been having to tune down some services as Debian has gotten more resource hungry, dist-upgrade after dist-upgrade.

Natura is my 2nd oldest Debian install, coming back from Ham, and after a while it became a home server when it was replaced by an Athlon 700Mhz at my father's house. The only hardware incidents are all related to blackouts or storms: two dead disks and one power supply. The CPU died years ago, but I discovered that many months later. I guess it wasn't so necessary. :)

It is time to replace natura, though. The components are aging and they have become quite noisy, despite my attempts to cleanup the dust. Lately it is so loud that I can't understand how my dad can actually get work done with that persistent noise in the room. Besides, it'd be good to get just a little bit more of CPU power to do a few things that have been postponed for a while now. I have been looking for offerings in the embedded devices market.

I am looking for a device with the following characteristics:

I've found that the Thecus YES Box N2100 is one of the most interesting offerings: 2 Gigabit ethernet ports, two internal SATA HD bays, 3 USB ports... but is a bit too expensive: 350€ (without disks). tbm also told me to look at some cheaper PowerPC devices, but I forgot the name right now.

So, dear Lazyweb, what would you recommend as a natura replacement for a home server?

The mini-ITX boards from VIA sure look nice. :)

I can't tell you much about them but I'd look into it.

Posted by thebluesgnr at Thu Oct 19 19:43:55 2006


the "cheaper Power PC device" could have been the kurobox. My colleague bought one after I pointed him to an IBM site where it was described. Only one hard disk tho, and I don't know about the noise. But it runs Debian.

For a complete silent, but somewhat stripped-down machine without fans & drives, look at Martin-Eric Racine's "Linutop". Looks nice to me, but I don't know if that is what you want.

My personal choice would be: get an Asus V2-AH2 (they are sold for about 130€ here in Germany; see it on my page), put the cheapest socket AM2 Sempron into it (draws not much power, is easy to cool, starts at under 50€ here), and add hard disks and memory as your wallet allows. My boss found it so cool that he ordered a second one for himself (the first was for his parents), and also our secretary bought one.

kind regards, and thanks for all your work for Debian,

wjl aka Wolfgang Lonien

Posted by wjl at Thu Oct 19 20:23:49 2006

I have an old mini-ITX board (EPIA M500).  It sure is silent (I run it off CompactFlash; it has no moving parts).  But it's very slow.  They ought to be slightly faster now, but they're still not that fast.

Posted by plam at Thu Oct 19 21:08:40 2006

I second the VIA mini-ITX boards.

I own one for server use (web, mail, offline backup, and a few other things).

They are small, powerfull enough, silent using their fan-less boards.

They use very little power too, always a plus as far as running costs are concerned.


Posted by Nico at Thu Oct 19 21:15:21 2006

they have a small PC and they preinstall all their systems with Ubuntu. No fans and good features, think the Mac Mini.

Posted by Tad at Thu Oct 19 21:25:57 2006

Definitely look at some mini-itx systems. has a system for $275USD with a 1GHz x86 compatible CPU, up to 1GB DDR2, two 2.5" bays, bootable CF slot, 6 USB ports, and an average power draw of 15W.  Only one 10/100 network port, but you can add a gigabit daugherboard for $20 or a three port gigabit daughterboard for $50.

And if that specific board doesn't fit your needs, they sell the case seperately.  Any mini-itx board should fit.

Posted by Matthew Berg at Thu Oct 19 21:50:58 2006

Sorry that website is

Posted by Tad at Thu Oct 19 22:00:03 2006

I used to run Xbox for this purpose(733 Celeron/64M) which consume about 50-60W with a very quiet fan. Can only support one IDE(which I replaced with a 80G but can be any size PATA) unless you get a modchip with a "Linux bootloader" then you can have 2(but no DVD then). It was running debian sarge. A used one now can be as low as 50USD on Ebay, then add in the cost of the PATA.

I also thought about getting the linksys NSLU2(XScale/64M RAM) which I believe etch has an installer or something similar from ASUS. But seems that they are just too slow comparing with the Xbox. Power consumption is exceptionally low though, no more than 10W and fanless but need to attach USB 2.0 disk.

However, I found recently that I only need to pay a bit more each month(counting the power bill) to use a virtual server provider which have a much faster host system(Core 2, most of the time idle according to "top") and pay for the disk/memory as needed. Mine is 128/5G for 7.5USD/month(power bill of my Xbox would be about 4 USD). Also has the advantage of much faster network link, comparing with home broadband and someone would take care of the reboot etc. if something goes wrong.

Posted by gary ng at Thu Oct 19 22:42:59 2006


You may want to have a look at Synology hardware, it's more a NAS server than a home server but it runs linux and you can add funny server software on it (mt-daapd for example) through a custom Debian

You can get it with a 250-GB hard-drive for around 300 € (in France).

Posted by Olivier at Thu Oct 19 23:51:16 2006

I have a VIA EPIA-ME6000 motherboard and use it for SSH, Samba, Slimserver, and a few other things. The motherboard is fanless and everything onboard works well in Ubuntu. I did experiment running a full GNOME desktop on it at one point but there was a bit of lag. However, a minimal Ubuntu install runs great and doesn't use much CPU power. Best part is it works in a regular ATX case with a standard ATX power supply unit.

Posted by Jonathon at Fri Oct 20 00:53:37 2006

I'm gonna have to agree with the suggestions for a Mini-ITX solution

Mini-ITX is a 170mm*170mm form factor, whose most common use is with Via Epia boards. These feature a VERY low-power x86 CPU, one memory slot, one expansion slot, some disk connectivity (these days 2x SATA and 1x IDE, which is fine for 4-disk MD-based RAID).

Some (but not all) Epia boards are entirely fanless, and you'd simply be left with a choice of case - any x86-happy distribution, be it Debian or Ubuntu, should work fine. See for a fanless low-power 1.2GHz Epia board with a DDR2 slot. Add on a case such as (which will do 4 hard disks if you use all available drive bays, and don't have a CD drive)

Posted by directhex at Fri Oct 20 02:00:05 2006

Another option, if you want something a little bit less "PC", is the Linksys NSLU2 (or a similar device). They're simple ARM machines designed to act as home NAS servers, and can be coaxed into running a full Debian system from an attached USB hard disk. See - In theory, you can have as much disk space as the USB ports allow you.

Posted by directhex at Fri Oct 20 02:04:09 2006

Thought about a Macmini? they are rather cheap but im sure you could get an awesomely cheap PowerPC one off of ebay.

I personally have one of these as a home server - works great :)

Posted by James Dumay (i386) at Fri Oct 20 02:11:00 2006

I have a Cobalt Networks Qube 3 (very cheaper, purchased from eBay) and works very fine. It's a AMD K6-III @ 450 (fanless), RAID, two RJ45 ports, USB and LCD. It is not a superpowerfull machine, but to web/mail/fileserver, storage etc, its very good :-)

This machine replaces my old Sun Netra X1 (very loud noisy). As you say, the noisy is the #1 factor to change the homeserver.

Regards from Bilbao!

Posted by Iban at Fri Oct 20 09:41:52 2006

For quiet cases, two of the best commodity items seem to be the ASUS V2-AH2 ( and the Antec SLK 3300 (

There's a review in German of the ASUS V2-AH2 that says it's very quiet (  That's the only review of that one I can find.

There is a review of the Antec SLK 3300 that says it's one of the quietest normal cases (  It's a MicroATX case that properly fits two hard disks (and then only just).  They have larger ones such as the SLK 4400 and SLK 6500 ( that have much more room, as well as the P150 and P180 ( that are specially designed to be quiet (featuring special cooling channels and dampening of the disk drives).

In general, Silent PC Review ( seems to be a very good resource of information about silent and quiet PCs.

When I bought my current desktop PC (to replace my old Athlon that was also too noisy), I came to the conclusion that Seagate SATA hard disks were the quietest standard hard disks available.  I bought an Athlon XP system with a SATA Seagate Barracuda  and am very happy with the noise levels.

I tried a Western Digital disk the other day and the difference was very noticeable (so much so that I wouldn't use a Western Digital in my bedroom).  To be fair, the WD drive was two years old, and their newer SATA II drives might be quieter, but I'd still recommend Seagate.

Posted by Mikel Ward at Fri Oct 20 13:44:19 2006

As far as power goes, have a look at this table:

The Pentium 1 was definitely more efficient than any other offering from AMD or Intel, however the newer Athlon X2 and Intel Core 2 Duo are much more efficient than any other recent model.

In particular, you can get an energy efficient ("EE") version of most of the Athlon X2s that only consume 35 Watts.  Most of the Semprons and the Athlon X2 3600 also use 65 Watts, compared to the standard of 89 Watts for the standard Athlon X2s.
(See also

Of the Intel options, the lowest-power options in the Core 2 Duo range are designed for laptops only, and the other ones are performance chips, so they're probably more expensive than the AMDs.

For my main desktop, I'm planning on buying the following:
- Antec 3300 Case
- ASUS M2NPV-MX Mainboard (with onboard video and gigabit ethernet)
- AMD Athlon X2 3600
- 1 GB PC 5400 DDR2 RAM

and using one of my Seagate SATA hard disks.  This is going to cost about $600 Australian (about $450 US).

For a file server, I'd downgrade the CPU to a Sempron and save about 100 bucks.

What part of your system do you think is causing the noise?  Another option could be to replace any noisy fans, buy a quiet SATA disk (and a PCI SATA disk controller I assume), and continue using your current system.  Until it dies... ;-)

Posted by Mikel Ward at Fri Oct 20 14:11:45 2006

I echo the sentiments of directhex - a Mac Mini is silent, fast enough, small and pretty, and more or less everything works great with Ubuntu 6.06 out of the box. And you get Mac OS X 10.4 to boot to see what the competition's up to.

One small hiccup is that if you do take a PPC version, you can kiss goodbye to lots of non-free stuff - Sun's or IBM's Java SDK (some sites require a proprietary Java runtime - go figure), a Flash plug-in (many Flash sites put gnash in an infinite loop consuming 100% of RAM and CPU for me), a bunch of video codecs... the good news is that you get to see what an entirely free software desktop feels like in the modern world.


Posted by Dave Neary at Fri Oct 20 15:20:24 2006

I would look into barebones or motherboards that use a processor from VIA.
Most VIA processors are designed with heat and power in mind. (But I've never tried the VIA range, so this is just something I looked into a couple of years back not personal recommendation)

The VIA Eden range are (I think) mostly fanless, but also x86 compatible.

VIA Eden:
The other VIA models are listed at:


Posted by Daniel at Fri Oct 20 16:05:15 2006

Some research into processor choices is important, as well. I have a VIA 800MHz machine that works great. It adjusts the fan speed according to load, though the version I have was not fanless (I'm debating on whether a large heatsink will work in combination with the case fan directly adjacent to it...

But with my particular VIA, CPU scaling is not supported due to some sort of lock-up issue. I'm not sure if the newer VIAs have this issue...


Posted by Chris at Fri Oct 20 19:46:32 2006


if you are located in Europe and primarily looking for a file server, check out the Icy Box NAS1000 or NAS2000.

They are ultra quiet (the NAS1000 without any fan, the fan-speed on the 2000 can be adjusted or turned off), using Arm 200 Mhz processor and are running Linux. Transfer speeds up to 7 MByte/sec reading via FTP, NFS 2,5 MByte/sec.

More here:

Posted by and-linux at Sat Oct 21 13:10:07 2006

I just ordered a Thecus N2100 NAS box fully loaded up with 2x 500GB hard disk drives from myBoomBox (Thecus N2100 YES Box Music Server NAS).

The first thing I'll be doing is installing Debian Etch... :)

Posted by nasgeek at Wed Mar 14 22:20:02 2007

You may be interested in my page about building a Silent MythTV Frontend or Low-Power media Server.

Both are based on the Via EPIA platform.


Posted by pdaly at Thu May 8 21:31:55 2008