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I'm going to replace my old 2004 vintage desktop PC soon and I have an idea of what I want to do, I'm just not sure if it's possible or realistic.

In the time since I built the old PC it has slowly become less used as a PC and more as a file server, so I figured I'd build a small file server which could also function as a router/DHCP/DNS/whatever box.

The idea is to base it on an Atom system. I have my eye on the Intel D510MO for the moment. This supports 2 SATA disks, and I'd prefer to dedicate those to data storage. I'd like to install Ubuntu Server or maybe Debian on a 8/16GB USB flash drive. I have seen plenty of tutorials on how to perform an installation from a USB drive, but I can't seem to find any info on actually booting and running the OS from USB flash. Is this even possible? Is it practical?

This box will mostly be used for:

  • Making backups of mine and my wife's notebooks via LAN. Will use SMB or NFS for this.
  • Digital media storage, which will be accessed by a Mede8er box with no storage of its own. I will most likely use NFS for this.
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up vote 1 down vote accepted
  1. Yes, Linux on a USB flash drive is doable. @David Spillett discussed some of the options on another question today. The other question is Ubuntu-specific, but the general concepts ("LiveCD"-type installation versus "hard-drive"-type installation) are pretty much distribution-agnostic.

  2. Frankly, I'm not a fan of the Intel Atom D510 CPU. Check the Atom spec chart. The Atom 330 is practically the same CPU with 2/3rds the power consumption. You can find a variety of Mini-ITX Atom 330 boards (on Newegg or elsewhere) that provide more SATA ports or other configurations. I grabbed Zotac's IONITX-F-E Atom+ION board (3 SATA ports, Wifi PCIe) a few months ago and have been very pleased with it.

    I was building a desktop/HTPC though; if I were aiming for a network storage server, I'd be looking for more SATA ports. The 2 SATA ports on your D510 board is pretty limiting. Newegg lists a couple other Zotac boards with 4 SATA ports, and the NM10-B-E with 6 SATA ports. (The NM10-B-E is a Mini-DTX board, so it may not fit a Mini-ITX case. It uses the D510 CPU.)

    [*] I've only linked to Zotac boards because I have direct experience with one particular model and feel comfortable recommending it. There are other Atom boards from other manufacturers; research before you buy. My main point is that the board you've mentioned may not be the best choice.

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Thanks for all the info. I am in no hurry with this, I'll be researching for at least another month before I start finalising my decision, so the extra info is appreciated. A colleague actually mentioned the HTPC option as well, so I'm going to research that too. Would make sense to just have 1 box rather than 2. – ThatGraemeGuy May 25 '10 at 7:40
That comparison btw the D510 and the 330 is very interesting indeed. If you want a completely passively cooled system, given that neither of them supports Speedstep, you may well be best off with the 8W 330 rather tha the 13W D510. The only other real diff I see is the memory interface. Interesting. Ah! But by integrating the memory controller with the chip, surely in a decent mobo that power is being saved elsewhere? – T.J. Crowder May 26 '10 at 14:09
After glancing at the Zotac ION specs I decided to do a price comparison between my original idea vs an HTPC and the HTPC actually wins on price by a small margin. I can only get the IONITX-A model from local South African etailers, but the spec is basically the same except the IONITX-F has a PCI Express slot. Will probably end up building an HTPC, but for the moment the research continues.... – ThatGraemeGuy May 26 '10 at 20:01
@graeme: IIRC the IONITX-A-U includes an onboard power supply. not sure all IONITX-A models do. a 90W PSU may be limiting; be sure to factor that into your research. (my final choice came down to the -F-E and -A-U models, and i went for the PCIe slot over the onboard PSU. ymmv.) – quack quixote May 26 '10 at 20:12
All of the A series do indeed have the 90W PSU. Most of the reviews I've read have done power measurements and they all show this board averaging about 27W when playing 1080p video. I'm planning to get either Samsung EcoGreen or Western Digital Caviar Green drives, which use about 6 or 7W under heavy load. I think 90W ought to be plenty. – ThatGraemeGuy May 27 '10 at 8:09

Disable discs on the mainboard if there is any (just to be sure). Plug in your USB (choose a FAST/reliable one). Boot up the Ubuntu install disc and you can simply install it to the USB driver.

About the USB stuff. USB drives are not reliable so you will be taking chances every day. If you want a reliable system , use Raid1 or simple one HDD as the system + data , the other one as data. (well, raid1 is needed if you want backup. However, Intel Atom boards won't support that as far as I know. (You can play with software raid.))

I would go with a custom built small PC. Get a mainboard with good raid support, integrated vga, in-built 1gbps lan, get a low consumption cpu, and you only need to build/get a good case which supports fanless (or one fan) design, so you get almost a noiseless PC. (And you can hang up 4 HDDs in Raid5 for example.)

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Flash drives are not reliable? How so? – Nathaniel May 24 '10 at 21:43
The motherboard I'm aiming for only has 2 SATA ports, so another disk for the OS is not an option. Maybe 2x 8GB USB flash in a RAID1 would work. I don't care about motherboard RAID support, software RAID is just fine. – ThatGraemeGuy May 24 '10 at 21:50
Oh, and RAID is redundancy, not backup ;-) – ThatGraemeGuy May 24 '10 at 21:51
Yeah but what kind of backup do you call BACKUP if its not redundant? "Oh dear just put your copies there and you can delete them"... "Whoops dear our photos are gone because one of the drives died".. Well. "Not-so-important" backup is OK but family stuff and such.. || Flash: They are not. How often do you hear about things like its stopped working, they cant recover data, etc. Its not supposed to work like this. Its supposed to have a short life, bringing data from point A to B. But you can use it, but be prepared. (Its like a SSD with much shorter life) – Shiki May 24 '10 at 21:55
hehehe! I still have to say that RAID isn't backup, don't ever treat it as backup. RAID protects you from a disk failure, whereas backup protects from other problems, e.g. filesystem corruption, human error, fire, etc. Backups should be offline and offsite if possible. – ThatGraemeGuy May 26 '10 at 11:20

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