This is my tech lust. I desire this consumer object like non-technical people crave the most recent iphone model. I have perfectly serviceable server hardware but it leaves me cold. I want something that I can get excited about. This is an Intel NUC D34010WYKH and it’s small, fast, power efficient, expandable and sexy. Throwing away old hardware and putting this in its stead will surely make my (digital) life complete.
Like many other home-/amateur-web-server projects mine started on leftover hardware. An old netbook a friend of mine had sitting in a cupboard. It was not a hit as an ersatz mini-laptop – it got hot, it even ran openbox slowly, i had to squint – and it was not ideal for the server job either. So it quickly found a replacement in another leftover-parts zombie from the very same cupboard. This is an Atom powered desktop with plenty of storage but mot much oomph. It i stashed away in in a cupboard in my living room where it gets disquietingly hot. As long as I don’t plug in anything in the front USB ports I can close the door. It is important to close the door because the machine is ugly and not all that quiet.
And it works. It runs an impressive range of server software, from the WordPress powered blog you’re currently reading to a music server that does live conversions from flac to mp3 whenever I stream from outside the local network. It even works a media computer with a very TV unfriendly openbox UI. Sure, WordPress could be more responsive but that could probably be fixed with caching and the like. The only thing I’ve given up on was OwnCloud as that was agonizingly slow. But for every function that OwnCloud brings to the table there is always something better to be found in a single-purpose application. See: OwnCloud’s feed reader plugin vs. Tiny Tiny RSS.
So why am I not content? I practically got the hardware for free and while it might not be the most economical in terms of power usage, it would probably take years to recoup savings from a new hardware investment.
The best explanation I can come up with is this: While the software side – i.e. my configuration, my content and the general maintenance level) was hackish and ugly, it seemed perfectly fitting that it should live inside this ugly old piece of junk. It was like a storage container: You open it, you throw stuff in, you close it. Nobody cares about whether a storage container is stylish or ugly. Now that I have an increasing amount of my online presence there – including email – and I have made efforts to clean up both on the frontend and the backend side, the analogy is more that of a house and less that of a storage container. You care whether your house looks like shit more than you care about how your storage container appears.
So why the NUC (which stands for Next Unit of Computing in case you were wondering)? I can’t deny that size and looks enter into it. It doesn’t take up a quarter of the space that the current server does and I would want it to be visible. Not because I want to show if off, I just want to see it myself and revel in it’s forms.
But I don’t want to compromise the functionality of my current machine which also acts as a file server. For file serving you need harddisk space and lots of it. So two recent developments have come to my aid: For one thing Intel decided to do tall boy versions of each of the NUCs so that it would have room for a 2.5″ SATA drive in addition to the mSATA SSD cards that are the machine’s root drive. The other thing is that we now have 2.5″ 2 Tb drives that are so thin (9.5mm) that they can fit inside the NUC without having to throw out the lid. Thank you, Samsung/Seagate.
Finally there’s the increase in speed. Upgrading to SSD would give a healthy boost in itself but I suspect that you should be able to sense the difference between an Atom processor and an i3. Could a Celeron model suffice? Yeah definitely but the difference in cost is not all that great and the Celeron model got recalled and had it’s CPU replaced. Which might have fixed things or not. And with an i3 I would have a living room computer in addition to a server. With modern display outputs and all kinds of newfangled connection options that I don’t even know what are but am sure to find out and have ample use for. I could use it as a Steam machine with one them new fancy steam controllers. Playing Crusader Kings 2 from my couch actually sounds pretty sweet. And I could install a decent “Home Entertaintment Application” (the generic term for things like MythTV) instead of my trashy Openbox install. Sweeter still.
But yeah, mostly I seem to be in the thrall of this weird identification with my hardware. Which is irrational in a smartphone owner but surely much more so with a server whose job is to live a quiet and unnoticed life unlike the phones of today. I guess there’s no escaping consumerism even in the server room.