I want to turn my laptop into a home media server with linux


I want to turn my old laptop (intel i7, 8gb ram) into a server to be able to be accessed on and away from my network.

I’d like there to be an actual OS on there with a desktop environment so I could occasionally use it for quick tasks as well.

Can this be done safely without the need for constant maintenance? I don’t have much computer knowledge and don’t have the time to spend keeping the laptop safe besides the occasional update. I would mainly be using this as an archive for older documents as well as a way to stream videos and music.

Thank you for your help,


I would say yes, it could.

If you want something that you don’t have to update all the time, take a look at debian stable. A lot of people don’t like debian, but their release cycle is pretty long and you don’t have updates every single day.

Another option would be Ubuntu LTS or one of it’s derivatives. They are pretty easy to keep going. If you want something lightweight, use Lubuntu or Xubuntu, they are lighter on system resources, but still full desktop environments. Of course you could always just use Ubuntu, and install whatever DE you want afterwards.

I would avoid any rolling release distributions as they will have frequent updates, and are more likely to break stuff.

I personally use Plex, but some don’t like it because it isn’t open source. It works great for Music and Video streaming, but I don’t use it to transcode on the fly. And pretty much every device since the Xbox 360 has a plex client available, which is great. Most smart TV’s have one, at least the ones I have used.

There are other programs like Plex, the only other one I have used was Emby, but I didn’t like it as much.

For the documents part I would recommend to just ssh ( Make a good key, I recommend ed25519 ) into the machine, or use rsync over ssh if you need to get a file. I prefer rsync to scp because 1. if you are already in an SSH tunnel you don’t have to worry about data leakage, and 2. rsync can resume a file download if the connection is broken. This can be helpful over crappy connections.

If you must have a GUI there is also sshfs, which mounts a SSH directory as a local one and you can then browse it as normal. But this is *nix / Mac OS only AFAIK. You can just set up a samba share for Windows, although it’s not quite as secure.

While I am not an expert on Linux (trying to learn how to use it), I will agree with Duncanyoyo1about the assumed stability of Debian; but I will have to say I found Debian very hard to install and setup. So I just gave up on it. I tried Ubuntu and found that much easier to install and setup. As long as @jowsao sticks with the default Linux kernel included with Ubuntu, use the Long Term Supported version of Ubuntu (currently version 18.04) he shouldn’t have any need to mess with upgrading Ubuntu.

As to what media server software Jowsao should use, I do have very strong opinions about which software to use for that job. Both Plex and Emby will get the job done and they both have there strengths and weaknesses. I am currently using both, but I mostly only use Emby. I use Emby almost exclusively for two reasons; one Plex needs an active Internet connection, and it collects information on you. So if I hate Plex so much, why do I use it? Good Question When I use Plex it is only for its better handling of subtitles than Emby.

I would say go with ubuntu 18.04 or with any other ubuntu, such as linux mint, depending on your desktop choice.

Setting up an smb share is about the same on all of them. Ubuntu is stable and its easier to install some of the programs you might want along the way. Since you also want to use it as a notebook. Both ubuntu and debian are fine otherwise. Once they run, neither needs much mainteance and care. Probably good idea to check wether or not they automatically install security updates. I know its the default on ubuntu server. But Im not 100% sure about the desktop version.

If your video library isnt all that big you might also be fine in that regard just playing it straight from the smb share. Works great. You just dont have the plex features (pulls metadata for you, mobile & tv apps if you shell out some $ (actually, the TV app is free to use, forgot about that for a sec) and life decoding witch isnt really required unless you want to watch from outside your home, or on very low powered devices.

You want to be able to access this computer when you are away from your network? As in away from Home, Remotely at a different location? Is that correct ?

If you answered Yes to my first question, You would have to consider how you plan on accessing this machine safely outside of your network, That is the critical point and can potentially leave your home network vulnerable to intrusion. With that said, It can be done… with some thought and work.

Linux is not the appropriate solution for someone who doesn’t have much computer knowledge or time to spend.

Keep Windows 10 on it with auto-updates enabled and simply install Plex Media Server. Forward a non-standard high-numbered port (like 62202) from your router to the PMS laptop on port 32400. Boom, done.

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It’s possible the OP wants to acccess the network remotely as well…

He said a home media server, so that’s doubtful.

If he wants to run his own bespoke dropbox or whatever, I would discourage that for someone who lacks both knowledge and the time to learn.

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I caught the first line of the OP which lead me to believe that, in which I agree with you

Depends, on wether or not @jowsao would be even comfortable using a Linux desktop for ‘occasionally use’. But if so would definitely check the rest of the boxes more so than Windows does.

@jowsao Your definition of “quick tasks” would maybe be useful here.

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How so? Windows does all that stuff. It’s certainly aggressive about security updates.

Yeah… it does, since it kinda has to. Witch is just one of the reasons Linux will use up less resources doing the same thing here. But Windows works too for that, not really saying that it would not be an option.
Personally, I would not use Windows for that, because the only point I see in that is familiarity. But that’s a good enough reason for most of the world to use it. So… can’t argue with that too much.

Well, I wouldn’t use windows either. That’s not the point.

It’s easy to get caught up in the absolute best way to accomplish a task and forget your audience. Telling a non-technical person short on time to install linux just so he can run a plex server is not great advice.


What I recommend based on the OP’s scenario is Windows 10 for day to day use with plex server running in the background for his away from home media needs.

I would also set it up so it would automatically log him in if the computer reboots itself due to windows update.

Although me recommending windows in a linux sub-forum is a bit counter productive, so this thread may get moved to general OS as there is more than one way to solve this issue

A bit more on-topic, if the OP wants to use linux with minimal learning, ubuntu + plex server may also be a thing, my only issue with this recommendation is he will have to learn the filesystem structure in order to get plex to read the media directory.

Dropbox does have a Linux variant iirc, so that can be useful for accessing files, unless he wants to go all out and learn how to setup seafile or nextcloud which would take quite a bit of time.

Ubuntu+Plex will be easiest to set up, instructions how to do that is even below thanks to @AnotherDev . For Archiving older documents, I would seriously invest in a NAS if they are important to you.


I get your point there might not be so bad of an advice. Also notebook compatibility may or may not be an issue. I would guess chances are it will probably work these days. But that’s not really set in stone. He didn’t say a whole lot about that.

Spot on :clap:

Relatively modern setup

Change Linode information into home/laptop IP information.

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I agree with most what has been said. If you want an easy, low maintenance Solution, go with whatever OS is more comfortable to you. Any Linux, Windows or Mac will do what you need.
If you’ve never dabbled in Linux before, there is a learning curve and some time investment required. It’s not hard, but not no problem either. Things are different. I agree with Ubuntu LTS for a first try Linux Server.

For access from outside of your home: Determine if your Router does support Port Forwarding. You need that. Next, you’ll need a Dyn DNS Provider. I personally use No-IP with their free tier, but there are other options. My Router even automatically updates the DynDNS for me. When that’s set up, you can get access to your Server. Either that, or your Internet Provider offers static IPv4 Addresses (which i doubt).
Securing that properly is another topic and out of scope here.

freemyip.com is a free DDNS provider as well :slight_smile:

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This is mine. On a Lenovo ThinkPad T420…

Was running Fedora but ran into issues with its firewall and a DNS server, so now on Ubuntu.
Male to female SATA cables coming from the HDD and CD SATA connections come out from the bays under the laptop with little holes ive made, and one eSATA on the side. This laptop also has a miniPCI SSD I use as the boot drive and VM storage.
Also added an old AquaComputer Aquaero 5 fan controller to show temps and fans speeds, also comes with a relay so I can turn the PSU off safely when the laptop is shutdown.
All held in an old Lenovo monitor stand. Proper getto!

I was away for work for 2 months recently, and had this server accessible via OpenVPN with no problems so could use Plex, upload pictures, listen to my music etc. Uptime has been around 6 months, but have had to move it for decorating so recently off, although you could keep it going on batteries and the HDD’s will remount when they are powered up again, im sure I had a power cut when I was away, still worked! When the laptop is on batteries I have it set in the BIOS to not give USB power, so the fan controller will shut off after 20 seconds, flick the relay and turn off along with the PSU (if not off already), helps if you have writecache on as allows the data to be written with plenty of time after the system stops.
Local network backup using rsync is reliable, with transfers at 117MB/s on a gigabit network.

Hope this give you some inspiration! Enjoy, its a fun project!

I thought it kinda funny that a laptop originally from IBM is now working as a basic home server. Love it! Plus these ThinkPads are fantastic!

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