Transform your old desktop into a digital swiss army knife.

By | October 26, 2015


Previously, I wrote about some PC myths, NAS4Free (N4F) and its possibilities, and how to install NAS4FREE, trouble-free. This post will show how easy it is to modify and tinker around with any old desktop PC you may have lying around collecting dust, and turn it into a useful machine for storing files, backing up data, file sharing, website hosting, and so on. The N4F operating system itself is lightweight and has very few system requirements to work (4gb of RAM should work). It could make for a good weekend project as well as a learning experience. The internet and computer technology are omnipresent in our day and age, so I think everybody can benefit from a small tech project and should continue to read on!

old desktop with internals

Fun fact: you can install your PSU facing up or down depending on where you want the air to circulate.

On the right is my old desktop from 2010, I’ve upgraded since then, so I decided to enlist it back into use. I took out the unnecessary components and gave it a little dusting (a can of compressed air isn’t expensive and is well worth it). Most software can be installed with just a USB flash drive, and Windows is already shipping the installation media on USBs, so I took out the CD/DVD drive. You should keep yours in if you’re unsure or don’t want to deal with converting .img files to .iso files, and vice versa.

gutted desktop pc

Case with power supply removed, as well as HDD cage

I documented how I took apart and reorganized the internals in this imgur album – so head there for all the pics. This included taking off the strange plastic panels that manufacturers insist on making and cleaning out the cob webs. This HP Elite desktop was actually pretty well designed and wasn’t too much of a hassle. You aren’t required to upgrade any parts, but if your old desktop had issues with overheating or noise, it might be a good time to get some thermal paste or a new case/CPU cooler.

desktops media bay

The media bay I removed is right above the red SATA cable.

All I did was add three Western Digital Reds to my old PC. I accomplished this by removing components I wouldn’t be using, like the DVD drive and media bay. The point of doing this was to reduce energy consumption, while also reducing the overall temperature inside the desktop – which in turn improves performance by putting less strain on the cooling components. This ultimately translates to a more stable server and part longevity. The media bay housing fits perfectly with a 3.5″ HDD, and I was able to mount it with screws so it wouldn’t wiggle around.

I'm holding the HDD power connector up so you can see what happens if you don't plug it in right - the bottom half broke off.

One of the HDD power connectors broke because of the stress on the connection over time.

WD RED NAS Drives :)

3x WD Red 3TB NAS drives to use in a software raid configuration.


Finished Product: The desktop is now quietly humming, out of sight, underneath a table (slightly elevated off the ground). The power cord and an Ethernet cable are the only things hooked up. I can access the console remotely with the use of the PuTTY tool. I have ZFS RAIDZ-1 set up, allowing me 8.11 TB of usable space, while also providing redundancy if no more than one drive (of 3) fails. Snapshots are routinely taken, as well as data scrubbing to protect against bit rot. I added a command that launches a jail upon startup, initializing my own Emby service, which streams my media to any wireless devices like Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, and Roku. The hardware I have can serve up to 5 or so clients. All for, more or less, free. Cheers!

lean mean desktop machine

This machine won’t be doing any tasks which require a GPU, so I’ll save more space and energy by taking it out (note: NAS4FREE install might go more smoothly having it in at first).


Here are two screenshots of the NAS4Free webgui – it’s simple yet pleasing and gets the job done. There are also some basic live graphs you can access to get an idea of your CPU and bandwidth usage.

n4f main page

ZFS Pool information:

zfs info

6 thoughts on “Transform your old desktop into a digital swiss army knife.

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