Fanless PCs, the latest rings in this tree

I'm Jason Firth.

I'm never a fan of when the website is down in spite of the fairly small number of readers (hi everyone!), but I have wanted to make a change for quite some time.

In a previous entry, I talked about migrating from from my previous hosting provider. Godaddy was a decent host, but they made some changes that stopped this blog from operating properly, so eventually I switched. I didn't really want to go with a third party host, but after fighting with trying to get a port opened to the outside world, I decided it was safest to do so. At the same time I started playing with Nextcloud, a service that's sort of like a self-service google cloud. I really like nextcloud, and every few months I see it get better and better.

Unfortunately, nextcloud isn't a small or simple program, and eventually the hosting company got upset with me for using to much resources on their servers. They offered me to pay a large sum for their top plan, but I wasn't really feeling warm and fuzzy about third party hosting -- who was to say they wouldn't take the money and still be upset with me for using too many resources? Besides that, there were things I wanted to do that I'd want direct control to accomplish, so I decided to run my own server. In my experience, fans are the #1 most likely cause of failure on a PC, so I decided my websites would run on a fanless PC. I found a fantastic deal on an NDIS 163 fanless sign PC. The specifications of the PC are right on track with what I was looking for: a Core 2 Duo low energy CPU, and a SATA hard drive. It came with a Crucial MX500 SSD, but I wanted to use a spinning hard drive for this server because in my experience spinning hard disks are still the most reliable choice for long-term storage.

I looked inside at the box, and found some standard DDR-3 memory slots, a couple mini pci-e card slots for wifi or wlan, and a replacable CPU block. The heat sink for the CPU and chipset connected to the top of the machine with some thermal pads. Overall a simple, boring design which is exactly what I wanted.

The power connector turned out to be the biggest issue. The power connector is KPPX-4P 4-pin male connector. I determined by looking at the circuit board that the top to pins were positive, and the bottom two pins were negative. Miracle of miracles I actually happened to have such a connector in my house, so I quickly built a power supply.

It's surreal turning on a PC like this. Most PCs announce that they're running with a loud whirr, this one doesn't have anything like that. Even the mechanical hard drive is so quiet that all other ambient noise in the room overwhelms it. You don't hear a thing.

If anyone is coming here hoping to find out if you can use an NDiS-163 as a daily driver PC, I strongly recommend against it. I ran pcbenchmark in Windows 10 and what I found is that it was relatively fast for the components within, but really very slow compared to anything you'd use on a regular basis. Mobile versions of CPUs tend to be de-rated to reduce the energy consumption, so even as a core 2 duo, it is already slower than usual, and the video is just a standard intel integrated graphics which don't like Windows 10 very much at all. Based on the temperatures this ran during setup (The core temperatures were below 40C) I expect this machine to run for decades without issues, which is what I wanted. Worst case scenario the hard drive fails and I install another one.

To be honest, for the sake of a good story I wish I could tell you there was a bunch of excitement and interesting problems setting up the computer, but there wasn't. The machine is a pretty straightforward intel-based machine, and ubuntu server installed without any problems. This document contained all the basic steps for installing nextcloud, and the only big change is I switched from php 7.2 to php 7.4 since I saw that the next version of nextcloud won't support 7.2 any longer. 

I've wanted to use nextcloud talk between my wife and I, so I used This document to set up a TURN server. Such a server acts as a go-between if two machines are both behind NAT and thus cannot talk to each other directly. This meant that video conferencing functioned -- which is fantastic. Imagine, you get full video conferencing without a middle-man. Everything involved is your own hardware!

I used this tutorial to set up encryption, so everything is https. Google pushed for https to be default on the Internet quite a few years ago. Frankly, it's sort of a waste for 99% of what you'd do. Did you really need to encrypt this article to read it? It's free for all to see, you know... Regardless, playing ball with Google is a pretty much a given in 2020, so I went ahead and did as they asked.

One of the problems I faced last time is that I couldn't get a port 80 or port 443 to the outside world. Thankfully, I resolved the issue by taking control on my own -- replacing the phone company's router with one of my own. Now I face a problem of dynamic IP addressing. Someone made a great article here that shows how to automatically update your dns records within 15 minutes of an IP address change. I followed that and now all my sites resolve to their domain names.

And that's about it! Like the rings in a tree, I can go back and see the signs of the different eras of my websites, and I love the process of learning how to set it all up.

Thanks for reading!