Budget Homelab

xx.03.2020

Those were the problems I've faced when playing around with the idea of a personal server. Something that I could tinker with, without any rules or major monthly expenses. And then I remembered - there is a partially broken laptop laying around in my basement.

Current homelab setup.
This is how it looks like. Cable mess is a part of it's identity. Don't judge me. I also substituted server rack for server chair. Way cheaper and easier to vacuum underneath.

At first thought, a laptop sounds like a terrible idea for a server, right? They have low power CPUs, only two RAM slots, and most likely just two SATA connections. You are limited to two fast drives or multiple drives sharing a single connection.

At second thought, laptops are cheap. Getting a laptop with a broken display or keyboard or a heavily damaged laptop with a working motherboard will be considerably cheaper than building a cheap full-sized server.

Advantages of a laptop-server: Low power CPU will drastically reduce power consumption. Since my server has no GPU, CPU remains the biggest consumer of resources. In my case, it is a 15W TDP i7-6500u. It has a built-in UPS. That's right, it comes with a free UPS that will keep your server running, even if the electricity goes out for a few minutes. Low noise. I took out the motherboard from the restrictive plastic body and attached it on a cheap wooden board. Air flows freely, the fan stays off until CPU has to do heavy work, which does not happen very often. And laptop fans are generally pretty silent. At least mine is. Free monitor for your sexy Grafana dashboard. If you get a laptop with an intact screen, you now have a nice dashboard to display cool graphs - it is worth having a homelab just for those nice graphs.

My homelab consists of a laptop mainboard, Raspberry Pi Zero running PiHole, unmanaged switch, and 15.6 inch LCD. All of them together consume between 12W and 25W depending on the load. It costs me around 2.6€/month to run this beast:

And it never exceeds 50% CPU usage doing that. If I had the money for an additional 8-gigabyte memory stick, it could probably do a lot more.

That's it. I just wanted to tell someone about my server. It runs fine, does not require maintenance and attention. It just works... unlike Fallout 76 at launch.

Previous homelab setup.
This is how it all started.