Jan 13, 2023

(+) Convert Your Old Computer into an In-Home Server

The following is a Plus Edition article written by and copyright by Dick Eastman. 

If you upgraded your home computer to a more modern system, you may still have the old system lying unused in a closet or some other place. There are many uses for old computers, such as giving it to a family member, installing Linux on it to experiment with a new and more secure operating system, or any other number of worthwhile projects. I would suggest you consider converting the old computer into a server. 

There are several good reasons for having a server in your home:

    A server is a good place to store backup copies of your important files. In case of a hard drive crash or an accidental erasure in your primary computer, you can quickly and easily restore the needed file(s) from your file server.

   Placing your data in one place makes it easy to share files amongst your own desktop, laptop, and tablet computers, as well as with your cell phone and even with the devices of other family members. You can use the server as a “media server” to let all computer devices within the home access the music, videos, and other files that you have stored on the server and make them available to all computer devices within the home.

   Making backup copies of files stored on a server is generally much easier than making backup copies of files stored on multiple individual computers, such as your desktop and laptop computers and the computers of other family members. For example, if you use a backup service such as Backblaze, you can first copy all your important files to the in-home server, then use Backblaze to copy all those files from the server to off-site storage space in the cloud. This makes it easy to ensure that all devices in the home get backed up while no device runs slower while the backup is in progress.

   A server can easily also share printers, CD-ROM drives, and other computer devices amongst family members’ computers. If your new laptop does not include a CD-ROM drive, you can use the one installed in the server in the same manner as if it was installed within the laptop. The same is true with a printer: connect a printer to the server computer, and then make it accessible to all family members.

    It is easy to set permissions on who/what can read/write to the server. For instance, you might want to keep adult content available only to the adults in the house. You also might want to give family members “read-only” access to some files so they will not accidentally erase or overwrite the ones you wish to save.

    With the addition of more software, it is possible to use the server as a web server on the Internet. The web server would allow you to make any information you wish available to others on the World Wide Web. You can even make your genealogy information, your bowling league’s newsletter, or your son’s Cub Scout den’s newsletter available to everyone else online.

    You can use the old computer that is now a server to share videos, music, recorded television broadcasts, and more amongst all television sets and network-connected stereo systems in the house.

    You can lock the server in a closet or in some other location to prevent theft. (You need to allow for ventilation, however.)

    It is educational. You can learn a lot about computers and servers when you set up your own system.

You can place the server on your in-home network. (You probably have an in-home network even though many users of broadband do not know they already have a network installed.) You can do this with almost any Macintosh, Windows, or Linux computer built within the past few years, even a laptop system.

The hard drive in your old computer probably has less storage capacity than that of your newer system. However, that should not be a limiting factor. The old hard drive certainly is big enough to use for a while as you experiment with the server software. Depending upon how much data you wish to store on the server, the present hard drive may have enough storage space to last for years. You might only wish to store your important documents or perhaps family photographs in the new server. However, if you do need more space, it is relatively cheap these days to purchase and plug in an external USB hard drive whenever you need it, adding more space than you probably will ever need.

I recently converted an old MacBook Air laptop into a server, and it is almost as easy to do the same thing with a Windows computer. The battery on my old laptop no longer would hold a charge more than a few minutes, so I thought it was useless. Not so! I simply plugged it into a power outlet, and now I leave it running all the time as a server. One advantage of a laptop is that they usually are optimized to use as little power as possible. Leaving a laptop powered on all the time and connected to an electrical outlet will have very little impact on the monthly electric bill!

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