Danny Yee >> Tech notes

Building a Cheap Computer

I was looking for a device to sit at a remote site and hold off-site backups (rysnced over the Internet). NAS systems seemed too inflexible or too expensive, so I built a very cheap computer that could run a full Linux system (Fedora in my case).


The parts were sourced from i-tech (operating as SpotIT). Which came to exactly $300 (Australian).


Putting the pieces together was easy, once I worked out that the hard drive just fitted sideways under the optical drive.

I couldn't get the Fedora 12 install from USB working, so I borrowed an external DVD drive for the install.


The case is only 32cm deep, 28cm wide, and 9.5cm high, but it has room for a floppy drive, a DVD drive, and a 3.5" hard drive. A second 3.5" drive could easily be fitted in the optical drive slot, while the floppy space could hold a 2.5" drive. (The motherboard only has two SATA connectors, however, so any three-drive setup would involve a PCI-E card going in the one card slot.)

This system worked out at about the same price as a cheap two drive NAS system. The box is not as compact as a NAS and the power consumption — about 40 watts — may be slightly higher. But with this system I can do pretty much anything I can do with a full computer. In a pinch it would be perfectly usable as a desktop.

One drawback is that it only has 100Mbps ethernet. For my purposes that wasn't a problem, but if you were using this for live storage you'd probably want to put a GB ethernet card (or a wireless card) into it.

The system is not at all noisy, but not cutting-edge from a quiet or silent computing perspective. Using an "Ultra Low Noise Adaptor" to reduce the 8cm case fan voltage from 12V to 5V helps a bit — with that and AAM turned on on the hard drive, the noise threshold is set by the power supply fan.

Underclocking the CPU to 200MHz might be an option, but at that speed it doesn't cope with rsync + ssh + kcryptd at full speed.

The system has been running for more than two years — since 2009 — without any problems.

Tech notes << Danny Yee