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How I Made a Cheap Music Server with a $20 Dell

I spent $22.00 on my Dell Music Server to be exact.

Dell Music Server

Over the years one might say my CD collection has grown some. I’m closing in on 1000 CD’s in my collection and I have a problem: My wife doesn’t like the space it takes. Thus my search began on how to manage my CD collection and at the same time be able to access all my music easily without the bulk and space requirements of a physical CD collection taking up space in our main living area, so my search began for a cheap music server to eventually replace my CD’s and CD Player.

I really want to Buy a Mac Mini But like a lot of other folks, money is tight and spending almost $600 on a Mac Mini really isn’t in the cards for now as there’s home repairs and other stuff like the mortgage that currently keeps our fiscal attention so for the time being, the Mac Mini has to wait. Paired with an iPhone or iPad this really could be the best way to manage your music for under $1000 But what if I could make a cheap music server for a fraction of that cost? I did have to add more memory to get my cheapo dell up and running  A bit of searching led me to vortexbox.org and this is music server software that’s linux based and offers a free and easy way to make a music server out of pretty much any old PC you’ve got kicking around.  I could build a PC for this purpose  but by the time you’ve got the PC built you’re over $300 or more into it  and by that point I’d rather save my pennies and buy what I really want – a Mac Mini. (This might be a good topic to explore further though)

 

The web user interface on the vortexbo

So I searched eBay for some cheap desktop computers and found a Dell Optiplex 280 on ebay that’s obviously been put to use in an office environment but is now off lease. It’s an older Intel P4 processor running  at 2.8GHz but it came with a fresh install of Windows XP, and 512mb of RAM and a 40GB hard drive – enough power to allow me to test the vortexbox software and see if it’s for me and whether I should invest in a faster PC in the future to use as a dedicated music server. As this is really just a hobby, I didn’t want to spend a whole lot of money on a music server just for a PC to test software with and this little $22 wonder got me off the ground to test. I did underestimate the ram requirements of the Vortexbox and had to find another 512mb of DDR2 to get the minimum 1GB of RAM required as the Dell only shipped with 512mb  of RAM and I needed 1GB  of RAM  to get this box up and running.

The Beauty of Vortex Box

You do have to be a bit of technical soul to work your way around vortexbox if you need to add more programs and change some settings  and  you may even have to work with a command line, but I found it relatively easy to do and have been able to get the media server online and I can play my music with Itunes with ease, which was the entire point. Once you have the vortexbox set up who cares if you only spent $20?

Set It, and Forget It   It's easy to RIP a CD with vortexbox Simplicity  is why a Mac Mini is so attractive to me as I want to be able to replace my CD Player – a Rega Planet –   and have all my music in one place.  Once I change a few settings on the Mac Mini I can run the server headless and the Mac Mini is a wife-approved form factor in the living room that’s quiet. This is an important factor that must not be overlooked. But the Vortex Box is a cheaper music server by far, and once you get the server software installed on your PC you can run the music server anywhere there’s a network and power as all the management of the vortexbox is run through the easy to use web interface that you can access from any  PC or even a tablet with  a web browser. The best part about a music server is that it’s hidden from view and yet you can still access all your music and  the convenience far outweighs using storing and caring for a CD collection. In the case of the Dell this  was really just to play with rather than really use as a music server but the software did run on this old P4 computer with just 1GB of RAM, but save for the fact that it’s a slow computer to work with, once I had it setup as a music server I noticed no difference between using this computer due to a quad core PC. Thankfully, you really don’t need a lot of processing power to play music. If I tweaked the server, I could have done two things had I really wanted to use this Dell as my one and only music server:

I could have bought a bigger hard drive to toss inside the Dell. I would use at least a 1TB drive, perhaps even a 2TB hard drive as the cost for the bigger drive isn’t that much more in price. Or – and this is the cheaper option. I have a 500GB external drive that would be put to use as  as an external source for my music. The hard drive doesn’t have to be inside the PC. You do have to configure the vortexbox installation to use an external drive for storage instead, but it is possible and this would be the cheaper option too as I already have the hard drive and it’s bought and  paid for. The best part of using the vortexbox is that you don’t have to touch the server once you have it configured. You can copy all your music to the external drive and hook it up and you’re done. I found no connection or other issues. The vortexbox served and played my music.

Ease of Use But if your music is still on CD’s the Dell music server really shines as all you have to do to get the music onto your music server is to open the CD player, toss in a CD and shut the door. The PC does all the rest from getting the cover art to ripping the CD in flac format. When all the songs on the CD have been imported the drawer opens and you remove the CD and install another. Rinse, Lather, Repeat. As a test I tried to rip Van Morrison’s Best Of and the rip went fine but it did take a while – about 15 minutes. I think this speed could be increased with a faster processor. This is an older computer. But, if you’ve got the time, an old PC and enough storage there’s no reason why you couldn’t use your old PC as a music server with this free music server software   Buy a new vortexbox. If the thought of working and waiting for an old PC sends shivers down your spine you can take the easy way out and buy your own brand new vortexbox with a modern processor and the software installed and pre configured already:

 

This modern music server uses the exact same software as on my $20 dell, but it’s wrapped in a faster processor and is ready to go out of the box. The cheap Dell does take some tweaking to get going, but once it’s running as you like you really don’t have to touch it I found. Summary.  For  the money  I spent on the Dell Music Server I’m quite happy. You do have to be a bit more of a propellor  head  and you many even have to dip into the command line  to get things set the way you like but once you do , I  found  the vortexbox to be easy to use as both an iTunes ana DLNA server. Pros. cheap cheap cheap. and runs on almost any old PC. Cons. Would take some tweaking  to get my entire CD collection on, and at 15 minutes to RIP this might take a while.  Also, the fan is noisy on this PC. You can use it as a server, but not  a player in the same room.  There are other quieter PC’s out there

Comments

2 Comments

ronald

what is the app you are using on the iphone above?

Jim Fitzsimmons

Hi,I think it’s plugplayer. (plugplayer.com). The phone is android so it could be bubble UPNP instead. You just need an app that will allow you to control DLNA devices, as the dell becomes a DLNA/UPNP server with the vortexbox. This has been a really fun project.


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