Micro Center is selling the Raspberry Pi Zero for 99¢ as a loss leader. I bought one, then spent another few bucks for a boot disk and a USB-to-Ethernet adapter and a minimal case. Total investment: about $15.
I’m using it as a Pi-Hole machine.
Over the years, I’ve had various boxes around the house that you could consider a home server. Often, these were just my desktop machine doing double duty. Occasionally, they’d be some old semi-retired tower machine shoved under a spare table, gobbling frightening amounts of electricity with spinning drives and cooling fans making way too much noise.
It’s really funny to think that this ~$50 guy is really just as powerful as the >$100,000 “medium iron” HP-UX box I was sysadmining barely more than a decade and a half ago.
These handled the typical home server tasks: holding photos, music, backups, whatever. Serving media inside the house. For many years, this very weblog lived on home servers. With the advent of ubiquitous cloud storage, I’ve outsourced most of these tasks.
It’s still useful to keep some of these things within the home network. What doesn’t really make sense anymore is devoting floor space and lots of watts to some ugly, oversized tower.
Earlier this year I finally bought my first Raspberry Pi system. They’re basically teeny tiny Unix boxes (roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes) for hobbyists. They basically pack a smartphone-level SoC on a small board that can be deployed with minimal fanfare for all sorts of applications.
The netbook business is an odd one, really. As a product category, it's easy enough to describe: take a notebook computer, and start taking things out until you end up with something really small and really cheap. Optical drive? As long as you assume the consumer already has a full desktop or laptop somewhere with a CD/DVD drive, you don't need one. Full sized keyboard? Too big, give them something smaller. Top of the line CPU? Don't need it for basic web surfing and light editing. Tons of storage? This is an appliance, you don't need it to hold all of the user's media.
As a business, though, it turns out it's pretty dicey. It's just not possible to make much money on a $300 computer, no matter who you are. Some companies have done the math and decided that it doesn't make sense for them to be in the business. To be honest, though, the business model doesn't matter much to me -- that's up to computer companies to figure out, not me.
I bought Tammie a little Acer Aspire for her birthday last year. Of course, I probably use it more than she does. It arrived with Windows XP installed, and I'm pretty sure I had the hard drive reformatted within a half hour of unboxing. Yeah, I'm one of them.
I installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and it was OK. The machine was OK for running Firefox, but I had recurring issues: sometimes, the WiFi would just stop working for no reason, for example.
Overall, though, the netbook is still a toy; something to check the IMDb or Wikipedia on while sitting on the couch. It's a nicer toy than it was last week, though.
A neighbor of ours was moving and had stack of crap she was throwing away / giving away. One of the items was a ~3-year old Dell desktop — one of those ugly grey and black towers with the meaningless names (OptiPresidioFlexron 3000 or something.) It had XP Home on it, and she thought the motherboard was bad or something. Really, it was mostly just too slow to be usable and she had a new laptop anyway and just wanted rid of it. She gave it to Tammie, and I figured I’d take a look at it and replace the MB if necessary. After booting it into XP, it didn’t look too bad but I really didn’t want an old Windows box of mysterious provenance on my network, so I wiped and repaved with Ubuntu current. A wireless USB NIC and 15-minute driver hunt later, we have a perfectly adequate 2nd websurfing desktop in the house— total out-of-pocket cost: $20 for the NIC.
You wouldn't believe (OK, actually, you probably would) how much low level BS it took to get the wireless card working in Linux on this silly Dell (short version: Broadcom is the devil), but the payoff is that I'm posting this entry from a nearby Panera (yay for free wireless) while having hot chocolate and a ridiculously tasty cinnamon crunch bagel. I guess that makes this my first ever moblog post... Next step -- pictures.
If you fool around with something long enough, it will eventually break.