Smoothwall Firewall project

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Switching to a small footprint Intel NUC computer to do everything - unexpectedly surprised at performance

I don't know about you, but I have a variety of computer systems in my house for a whole range of uses. Everything from a Mac mini to an Amazon Firestick, all doing their job for the task required. However the Mac minis I have serve as media servers and players but are getting a bit long in the tooth, so I decided to upgrade the media server with an Intel NUC.

I decided to spec it as fully as possible and gave it a 6 Core processor, 32 GB RAM, and a 1TB m.2 NVME SSD drive. This should make it future proof for a good few years, that was the thinking. It came in at around £700, which was way less than a new Mac Mini.

Its main purpose in life was to support 4 USB 3.1 Gen2 external hard drive boxes (Akitio) for all my media and backups. If it was capable of anything else that would be a bonus, but not expected. It is attached to a 32" Samsung curved monitor with 144Hz refresh at 2.5+K - crystal clear and super responsive.

I installed Xubuntu as the base operating system, though I only use openbox window manager on it to reduce the overhead of the host operating system even further. That has been a great learning curve to show how little GUI you actually need just to get stuff done.

However, the real surprise happened when I spun everything up, was just how fast this little box is. The memory wasn't being used by the media software (Plex) so I thought let's try running a few docker containers on here as well to do other network jobs for me. No issue at all. I currently have the following running on the box 24/7
  1. Pi-hole DNS service
  2. Portainer container manager service
  3. Jenkins job management service
  4. OpenVPN service

So, I thought, I wonder how it would perform if I stuck a few virtual machines on there as well whilst it's doing everything else.

No problem at all, I'm currently running a beta version of Ubuntu and a separate Arch Linux using KVM and QEMU, and it still is not scratching the sides of what this little box can do. It's currently using 8GB of RAM and the load on the server is never above 3, even while everything is running and I'm streaming HD content to other parts of the house.

Considering I used to have tower machines cluttering up my workspace to do this sort of thing, I now have one device to do it all.

Intel have just brought out a new edition of these, with even faster processors and RAM capacity, so I will be getting one of those to work alongside this one when my other Mac Mini dies.

The Mac mini's served me well, but I have now found a better device and with all the cost savings of not buying Apple kit again, I can literally have three for the price of one.

30/01/2022 Update

I have added several more docker containers to the machine to see just how far this can be pushed 

  1. Gitlab for source code control
  2. Plex for home media and music playback
As before with all these services running and pushing the device with streaming and carrying out all it's other functions it is still performing perfectly.  The replacement of the installed plex server to use a docker container is simply one of ease of maintenance. There is nothing wrong with the installed app version, but keeping plex up to date now is just a matter of a "Docker pull" and I've got the latest version - no Library issues etc.

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