Home Server Part 3 – Choosing a Computer (2 of 2)

In the last article, we looked at two of the ways you could get a computer ready to run home server software. Today, we’ll look at the last two:

  1. Repurposing an old computer
  2. Building or buying a new computer

The next post in this series will deal with installing an operating system, which will be applicable to both of these and running your server as a virtual machine, which was covered in the previous article.

Picking Your Hardware

Repurposing an Old Computer

If you have an older PC sitting around that you aren’t using, it might make a great candidate for a home server. You don’t need much power or even hard drive space to run one or two server applications, but obviously the more you want your server to do, the more powerful it will need to be. Unlike a normal computer, which usually focuses most of it’s resources on a single program, a server will be balancing whatever variety of services you choose to put on it.

I recommend at least 2 GB of memory and at least 250 GB of hard drive space for your operating system. You should look for a processor capable of 2 GHz as well, but if your computer was built in the past decade you probably meet all of these requirements easily.

I also highly recommend a machine with a second hard drive so you can keep your operating system and software separated from any data. For example, if you ran PhotoPrism, which lets you access, categorize, and search through your personal pictures, you’d likely store your images on a second, larger drive that doesn’t need to be quite as fast. Later on, we’ll look at network storage options, but for a simple, all-in-one device, you’ll really want a second hard drive. You can always add a second hard drive, too, if your computer has room.

These are all recommended minimum capabilities, and you can certainly use a more powerful machine.

If you’re sure you’ve extracted all of the files you want to keep from the computer, the hardest part of making sure an old computer doesn’t have any hardware on the verge of failing. If you have a more modern PC, this article can help you use the tools you already have to make sure you don’t have any problems. You can also create a boot CD with hardware diagnostic tools which will run when your computer starts up, like the Ultimate Boot CD, and this option will work on any computer. The site explains how to run each tool, but I recommend running at least Memtest86, as most hardware problems will be in the memory.

You could also skip this step and dive right in! You can diagnose hardware problems later if you need to.

Building or Buying a New Computer

Buying a computer is simple, so I don’t have much to say about it. Any PC built in the past couple of years and sold at major stores is going to work fine. Memory, CPU, and disk space are important, but you don’t need to worry at all about things like graphics or bundled peripheral devices (unless you want them for something else). My main recommendation is that you buy a desktop, not a laptop, because it gives you a lot of room for expansion later (and I’ve found desktops are just sturdier and more reliable in general).

Here’s a good, inexpensive machine that will do the job:


Building a computer takes a bit more work and might not be for everyone, but you’ll get exactly what you want. My own home server was originally my main desktop computer at home; I built a new computer this year and repurposed the old one. I don’t have too much time to get into the details here of how to build a computer from scratch – though I may add an article on that later – but I can offer some advice.

  • It’s better to hardwire than use wireless, especially if you’ll be streaming video from the server. You won’t need to worry about built-in wireless.
  • A disk drive isn’t important. You can install the server operating system with a flash drive, so skip it unless you want it for something else.
  • The M.2 drives are lightning fast, but as long as your OS and software are installed on an SSD, you’ll get enough speed.
  • I like medium to large cases myself for the airflow, storage capacity, and ease of installation.
  • You won’t regret more storage (unless you have or plan to get network storage), so a 4 TB HDD or greater is reasonable for your data.
  • CPU isn’t terribly important; you can skip the graphics card altogether as long as your motherboard can output even basic video.

Here are my own server specs; you won’t find most of this stuff available now because it’s too old, but it’s a good reference point (note there’s no power supply listed as I upgraded at one point and can’t remember which model I picked up):

You can get more powerful equivalents of these for a fraction of what I paid (except the HDD, which is fairly new).

What’s Next?

If you’ve chosen to run server software right on your computer, you can skip the next article, but for everyone else, whether you create a virtual machine to run the server, you repurpose an old computer, or you go and buy or build a new machine, you’ll be ready to install a server operating system on your computer. The next article in this series will deal with that, and also serve as a simple introduction to Linux, which is far less complex than it might sound.

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