Hello Chromebook

I bought my wife an HP Chromebook 11 for her birthday this week. I’ll admit that part of the reason for my choice of gift was my own curiosity. I wanted to see how good a Chromebook was, and whether it would be a better choice to use in schools than the current (expensive) tablet craze that seems to be going on…

First impressions are that the device is the perfect size and weight. The keyboard is great to type on (I’m using it now), with well spaced keys that have a responsive travel and good tactile feedback. Error-free typing without looking is definitely easy on these things, so anyone who needs to write a lot would find an HP Chromebook 11 very nice. The screen is much better than I expected at this price point, with a very bright and crisps display with excellent viewing angles. ChromeOS is easy to use without training, and of course it plays very nicely with the Google Apps stuff. If you’re a heavy user of Google Apps, I’d highly recommend carrying a Chromebook around with you!

The only snag was the inability to print. Sure, you can collect your docs from Google Drive on another machine with a printer, but that’s a bit clunky. Also, given that we have a networked printer at home I wanted to be able to use that. This is another of those Linux-to-the-rescue stories, so with a bit of tinkering all is well. Here’s my solution:

  • Install CUPS onto my HP Proliant Microserver and add our network printer to it
  • Connect CUPS to Google CloudPrint with some python magic from Jason: https://github.com/armooo/cloudprint
  • Set up an application specific-password to use in my Google Account (just in case…)
  • Give cloudprint the account details
  • In my Google account, share the new Google Cloud Print printer with my wife, so she can use it too.

I still need to tweak things so that the cloudprint connector will start automatically, but I very rarely reboot the server, so not sure when I’ll be bothered to get around to that!

HP Proliant Microsever

I bought a 300 GB NAS box about 10 years ago, and although it still works fine it had finally filled up.  The thought that it has all my digital life on one spinning disk was also making me feel uneasy – especially given that it has been spinning for a decade. So, I was looking for something bigger to replace it but I knew that I wanted something with some redundancy against physical hard drive failures.

Now, these types of redundant NAS boxes don’t come cheap and they only do one job, so I was finding the costs hard to justify. Perfect timing then that I came across a great deal from HP on their Proliant Microserver. They were offering £100 cash back, which meant that I could by the server for a little over £100. I also bought two 2 TB hard drives at the same time, so the total cost was about £250. This compared very well to the NAS boxes I had been looking at that were nearer the £500 mark.

Of course there was the added bonus that I would get to install the operating system, and configure everything myself. Some people will see that as a hassle, but I love it when I know how all my computer bits work on the inside! Naturally, I opted for an open source solution and decided to install Ubuntu Server 12.04 LTS.

The HP Proliant literature claimed it had RAID built in, but I soon realised that this is handled in software by the BIOS and takes some processor cycles. A few quick tests convinced me that I wouldn’t use the built in RAID and instead opted for Ubuntu’s software RAID instead. This was more configurable, and seemed to perform faster than the built in solution! Having never built a RAID array before, I opted for RAID 1 which means that each of the 2 TB drives is a perfect copy of the other. This means that if one drive fails, my data is safe on the other.

The install was very easy (hooray for Ubuntu!) and with the addition of some Samba packages, it didn’t take long before I had a working NAS. It performs very well, and is much faster than the old NAS box it replaces.

So, was it worth the marginal extra effort over a ready-made-off-the-shelf NAS? Definitely. I now have a small, relatively cheap to run machine that currently provides:

  • Two terabytes of redundant storage to all the devices on my network
  • A 24/7 solution for uploading data from my Fitbit activity tracker, using the libfitbit software library by Kyle Machulis
  • USB power for my Raspberry Pi

Future plans include adding a streaming webcam server, and an AllStar link node for amateur radio.

If you’re looking for a small home server, then I’d recommend the HP Proliant range. Especially if you can get it with a cash back offer like I did.