What is a home server, and how can you build it?

Anton P. | September 22, 2022

A home server can be an alternative to cloud storage options or for running a game server. It has many use cases, from remote access to enabling smart home automation gadgets. You can use popular open-source operating systems to build it, and you control data traversing it.

Furthermore, you can repurpose old hardware for a second life. However, a home server is multipurpose, capable of more than storing files or hosting multiplayer games. Thus, learn what personal servers can do for you and where to start.

home server

What is a home server?

A home server is a computing server used in residence for users’ needs. It can power up other gadgets, host web services, store data, or facilitate remote access.

According to research by Parks Associates, households in the US own 16 internet-connected devices on average. This number might not even include a home server. Thus, why would you add another computer to your household?

Well, setting up a home server is not as expensive or challenging as one might expect. Some basic command line knowledge is enough, and you might already have an old computer. You can successfully repurpose it to build a budget-friendly home server and quickly access files on your local network.

Setting it up can be an educational and beneficial experience. It might not be a solution for everyone, but it highly benefits people working or running businesses from home.

For instance, a home server facilitates virtualization, letting you play around with another operating system. The best part is that you do not risk spoiling your main setup.

Benefits of a home server

A home server can be a gift for your home network. However, it also requires you to dig deeper into its proper setup and maintenance. The first step is figuring out what exactly you wish to do with your designated hardware.

Here are some ideas to get you excited and inspired about setting up your first server:

  • Storage for all your files. You can replace cloud storage like Google Drive with your home server. Thus, you won’t need to rely on a third party to keep your data secure and private data.
  • Virtualization opportunities. You can set up different operating systems for testing or increasing productivity. Essentially, you can run several virtual machines within a single host.
  • Streaming media. A media server lets you turn any computer into a home theater. Another advantage is streaming your media library to multiple devices and sharing content with friends.
  • Website hosting. You can self-host websites with a dedicated computer, domain name, and a DNS provider or static IP address.
  • Build your own VPN. It is convenient to set your home server as a VPN so you can access all resources from anywhere.
  • Chat servers. A personal server can also help you build truly private messaging solutions.
  • Running personal email servers. Home servers in your local network can also work as your new email service providers.
  • Bitcoin node. You can build a personal node for verifying payments and Bitcoin legitimacy.
  • Password manager. Personal servers can also host password managers after installing open-source projects.
  • Home security system. You can dedicate a server to dealing with home security gadgets.

What do you need to build a home server?

The second step is figuring out all the components you need to make your home server successful. Here is a basic list of things that you should have to make this process less intimidating:

  • A computer. An old machine can be a home server. The exact hardware specs highly depend on what you plan to do with it. For instance, will it be a game, media, or hosting server? Processors with four cores and eight threads are decent beginner options. However, you can go for more if necessary.
  • An open-source operating system. The operating system should align with your goals and support the software you wish to install.
  • Robust internet connection. Internet speed that makes home servers smooth depends on their tasks.
  • Router, preferably with Ethernet cables. Use Ethernet cables to connect your home server to the internet. It guarantees better speeds and stability.
  • Other components depend on your goal. Say you want to run a password manager. Then, you will likely need an open-source project like Bitwarden or LessPass. You can consider Plex or Kodi to turn it into a media server.

Other things to consider before setting up a server at home

Server maintenance can be challenging. However, it will be easier if you think of these aspects:

  • Pay attention to the noise of a home server and place it in a location that won’t be too distracting.
  • Do not forget the cooling aspect to ensure that your device does not overheat.
  • Instead of a computer or an x86 device, you can choose an ARM device. For instance, Raspberry Pi is an option if you do not need a highly powerful server. It will be more budget-friendly but might lack software compatibility.

Why a home server is a privacy-focused solution

Email services, cloud storage providers, or instant messaging options are convenient and can be relatively private. For instance, many privacy-oriented messaging apps have emerged on the market.

However, you still need to rely on a third party to handle your communications respectfully and cautiously. A home server can free you from this attachment to various providers, like Google and Facebook.

You get more control over various processes, like holding incoming and outgoing messages. The downside is that you must manually implement a security strategy for your server.

Example use case: how to build a home media server?

A media server grants easy access to your personal media collection or free titles beyond your library. It can help your friends and family stream it anywhere after you give them the means to connect.

So, let’s illustrate how a home server setup looks for a media server:

  1. You can use a Network Attached Storage (NAS) device or a computer to build your media server.
  2. Say you choose an old computer as your home server to remain in your budget. Your device should have optimal processing power and a lot of storage space for media. However, an i3 processor and 2GB of RAM can be a good starting point.
  3. Another important criterion is that the server should remain online at all times. Therefore, Ethernet cables are the best for avoiding interference or other drawbacks.
  4. Generally, a media server will likely work smoother if you choose a PC instead of a laptop.
  5. Now, you can choose a service to power up your media server. Most of them can run on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers.
  6. Installation of the chosen application software works similarly to any other program you choose to bring into computers. It is the one that makes your content available over a network.
  7. After the setup, you can create libraries and incorporate new media. Some applications available for your server can organize content automatically, too.

So, should you start building your first home server?

Whether you should start building a home server depends on your current resources and needs. For instance, if you have an old computer sitting idly, you might turn it into a utility. However, say you are unsure how a server can benefit you.

Then, spending money on a NAS or Raspberry Pi can be wasteful. Of course, it can be all about your learning experience. ARM devices like Raspberry Pi can be a decent place to start. They are less expensive but capable of handling most home server use cases.

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Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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