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Building a Portable Homelab: Tips and Handy Hardware References

Hardware tips and links to consider when building a portable homelab.
Building a Portable Homelab: Tips and Handy Hardware References
Photo by Michael Dziedzic / Unsplash

Mini PC

There is an endless list of mini PCs on Amazon to choose from.

At first, I was considering fanless options because they are silent and cool (hot, actually).

The weird thing is that even Raspberry PI is usually used with a small fan because it goes wildly hot sometimes. I didn't want to overheat the SSD or make a fire, so I decided to have a fan.

I purchased it a couple of months ago and now there are a lot more options with the next-gen Intel's N5105 for the Raspberry Pi price, which should be even more efficient than the one that I picked.


For diversity reasons, it's advised to buy drives of different brands, models, and times of production. So it makes a lot of sense to gradually buy drives increasing the home storage capacity step-by-step.

What's wrong with entry-level NAS

For my homelab I was initially considering a small and inexpensive NAS device like WD Personal cloud

I found it purposeless. There is only 1 drive, so it doesn't provide any redundancy. Hardware is not that powerful. It's small but still bulky.


Times where HDDs were considered as more reliable than SSDs have passed.
According to the stats, in the long run, SSDs are more reliable.

However, for an SSD the price per TB is still much higher so there is a tradeoff between speed, capacity, and reliability.

3.5 vs 2.5 HDD drives

I was always thinking that 3.5 drives are considered more reliable, while 2.5 are for laptop dummies.

It turns out that it's a myth. 2.5 drives were initially designed to be portable so there is an opinion they are even less vulnerable to vibration and other external impact.

It turns out that 2.5 drives are often used in data centers because they need less space.

Key takeaway: At least they are not necessarily less reliable.

External vs. Internal SATA drives

All external HDDs have plain old good 2.5 HDDs inside. Surprisingly, it turns out that external drives are often cheaper than the exact same models sold as bare internal 2.5 HDD.

It happens because external drive producers are capable of buying internal drives in bulk for cheaper prices and then making further decisions on their external drive pricing policy.

Hard Drive Docks

I love those docks for SATA drives and I was seriously thinking of getting one.

Didn't get it because a dock with 2 drives is still less portable than just 2 drives.

SSD SATA Adapters

Another cool thing is a hardware RAID SATA adapter for M2 SSDs like this. An incredible gadget for a compact and inexpensive solution with redundancy in mind.

I didn't pick one either.

I was going to use software RAID with ZFS, so hardware RAID0, RAID1, or spanning modes of the adapter were purposeless.

I've done a quick research and it turned out that Non-Raid JBOD mode isn't compatible with all the hardware. The SATA controller on the motherboard should support a port multiplier, otherwise, only 1 disk would be available.