Netbook Server

We explain how to use a netbook as a server, as well as some of the down sides of a netbook/server. Here's what you need to know about using a netbook as a server in your home or office.

Although netbooks were once very popular, their chief strength was being cheap and small. Tablets, smartphones and ultraportable laptops saw off the netbook menace by virtue of being truly portable and truly useful. So many people have netbooks lying around doing not very much. One option for using an old netbook is to convert it into a server, for use as a media server in the home, perhaps. Here's we explain the pros and cons of using a netbook as a server, as well as a general outline of how to use a netbook as a server.

Why use a netbook as a server?

On the face of it, it's an obvious solution. After all, a server is a low-spec, low power PC, and so is a netbook. One problem with netbooks is their small screens and cramped keyboards, but you need access the OS on a server only when you need to change something or something goes wrong. So that isn't an issue.

Even better - because a netbook is designed to be portable it should have a decent batter. So although you will want to run it from the mains, having the battery in situ means you have a built in emergency power supply failover. If there is a power cut, the battery will kick in for a few hours and allow you to make the necessary adjustments.

And going by the rule that the best tool for a job is the tool you have to hand, the very fact that many tech users will have a netbook lying around unloved makes them a decent option.

Using a netbook as a server: the down sides

There are a few things to consider, however. The first and most important one is that it is likely that your netbook runs with a home version of Windows XP or Windows Vista. That means it won't have the file-sharing options required to make it usable as a server of any kind. For most server setups you need to be able to utilise at least the three main file-sharing protocols: AFP for Macs, SMB for Windows, and the NFS Linux protocol. So you'll need to install a server OS.

There are other connectivity issues, too. Put simply, saving to and from your netbook/server will operate only as quickly as the slowest connection in the chain. The ethernet port on a netbook - if it exists at all - will likely be of a slower, consumer rating. So you shouldn't expect superfast speeds.

And given that your netbook probably has only 128GB of storage you may need to loop in some external storage. That will almost certainly require you to use the USB port, and that is going to make saving to the server and even slower process. Either that or you have a very small server.

You have to factor in the noise of having a constantly working netbook in your life. And consider the effect that will have on your netbook: a netbook isn't built to work 24/7, so using it as a server will probably reduce its lifecycle. You need to find a way to reduce the heat that builds up to reduce this issue, and you may find that your netbook draws more power than would a dedicated server.

Use a netbook as a server: is it worth it?

If you need a media server from which to play music around your home, and you have a netbook to hand, the down sides outlined above shouldn't put you off. Most of them can be dealt with. We just wouldn't recommend that you attempt to use a netbook as a shared server in an office. The speed and storage issues alone would make the game worth less than the candle. But you'd have no such problems when storing and accessing small media files.

You do have to solve the OS issue, however: simply download and install Canonical's free Ubuntu Server in place of Windows. Problem solved. (Other Linux server OSes are available.)

As to heat, noise and power. Situate your netbook/server away from direct light, and preferably away from the room in which you will mostly be enjoying your music. You might consider running a small fan or external heatsink some or all of the time to help with heat (remembering that this will increase power draw).

The bottom line: don't buy a netbook to use as a server. But if you have one you don't use it is worth a try, following the advice outlined above.

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