Get a Dell Optiplex FX160 instead of a Raspberry Pi

If you’re thinking about getting a Raspberry Pi to use as a little low powered home server, then maybe consider a Dell Optiplex FX160 instead. It’s faster, cheaper and still relatively small.

The FX160 is a “thin client” computer, released by Dell for enterprises that don’t trust their employees with a proper computer and give them a Citrix (or something like that) desktop instead. As the leases on these things have ended, shitloads of ’em have appeared on eBay/Gumtree/Grays Online. A new batch of FX160s has just appeared on eBay for AU$59.95 and free shipping. This is the same Melbourne store I got mine from.

Check out the specs sheet and the service guide. They have all the info you need on the FX160. Here’s some pics of the little guy:

This is why I reckon the FX160 is better than the Raspberry Pi 3:

Intel Atom 230/330 CPU – way faster than the RPI’s ARM CPU and x86 based so will run more software (e.g: Plex Media Server). Just check these benchmarks out.

2x DDR2 full size RAM slots – can chuck in 2 or 4 or 8GB of RAM compared to the RPI’s 1GB. Extra RAM is cheap as too, here’s 4GB of the stuff for $19.

Space for a 2.5″ drive – a proper SATA HDD! 2TB 2.5″ drives can be extracted out of external HDDs that go for around $99 pretty often at Officeworks during a sale, or ~$130 from MSY. 320-500GB 2.5″ drives are easy to come by used on Gumtree too from people who upgrade their laptops to SSDs.

Gigabit ethernet – the RPI only has 100Mbit ethernet, pretty shit for a file server. The FX160 has a proper PCIe Gigabit NIC.

Multiple USB ports – don’t need to worry about overloading the USB power rail here (e.g: external bus powered HDDs or wi-fi adapters) and there’s more USB bandwidth as there’s 3 seperate controllers (2x USB 1.1 & 1x USB 2.0), not just one for everything (storage, LAN, etc.) like on the RPI.

Runs silent – with an SSD installed, it’s dead silent. There’s a HDD fan, but I’ve yet to hear it turn on.

Half size Mini PCI slot – it’s designed for wireless cards, but you can get little SSDs in the same form-factor. They’re not 100% tested – some people say that the slot is whitelisted for specific Dell WLAN cards, some have successfully installed H.264 decoding cards. I ordered one, so I’ll give it a crack and will update this post in ~30-60 days whenever the slow boat from China arrives in Melbourne.

Cheap overall – Raspberry Pi, case, power adaptor – AUD$73.26. Dell Optiplex FX160 – around AUD$60. A fresh batch just appeared on eBay Australia, but if you’re in the USA there are fucktonnes on eBay too. Just search for Dell FX160.

Low power consumption – ok, sure it’s not as low as the RPI, which will absolutely max out at 10W, but an x86 box with a 1TB 2.5″ HDD & 2GB of RAM cruising along at ~20W is great.

I’ve been using an Optiplex FX160 with the Atom 230 CPU (single core) for a few months now as my home server, running the following:

  • sabnzbd
  • deluge
  • Headphones
  • Plex Media Server
  • UniFi controller
  • Pi-Hole
  • LAMP stack running webui-aria2 & miniflux
  • Dynamic DNS updater
  • File server

It does all this without breaking a sweat. Downloads off BitTorrent and Usenet max out my 100/40 NBN fibre, Plex works perfectly (except video transcodes, audio transcodes not a problem) and SMB transfers max out gigabit ethernet. I popped a 1TB 2.5″ drive in there, which is plenty for my storage needs. There’s bigger 2.5″ drives if you need, or even just plug in an external HDD (you’re limited to USB 2.0, but not a big deal if all it’s doing is serving video over Plex).

I love the Raspberry Pi, but unless I need the GPIO ports or the ability to run off a battery, I’ll stick with a cheap thin client box instead.

Anthony Agius

The Sizzle is curated by Anthony "@decryption" Agius, who has been hanging around the tech scene in Australia like a bad smell for over a decade.

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