Since the Raspberry Pi 4 came out last year, we now have an excellent candidate to base the mini server on. The faster processor and option for up to 8GB of RAM opens up more possibilities for what you can do with it, including now being more than capable as a general Linux desktop system, so with all that in mind, I'd like to introduce the NODE Mini Server version 3.
- Raspberry Pi 4
- Pololu USB 2.0 Type-C Connector Breakout
- USB-C Male Plug Breakout Board
- Micro HDMI Male Component (Wedge Type https://www.aliexpress.com/item/32648810091.html)
- Male USB 3.0 Plug (692112030100)
- Female USB 3.0 Connector (48405-0003)
- 25x7mm 5V Fan (JST XH 2-Pin connector)
- 10pin 100mm 1mm Pitch Flex Cable
- 20pin 50mm 0.5mm Pitch Flex Cable
- USB3 to mSATA SSD Adapter (Smooth Underside)
- Male USB 3.0 Plug (692112030100)
- mSATA Solid State Drive (up to 2TB)
- HDMI Type A Connector (47151-1001)
- 2x 10pin 1mm Pitch Connector - (52271-1079)
- 20pin 0.5mm Pitch Connector (52746-2071)
- 20pin 0.5 Pitch Connector (20FLZT-SM1-TF)
- Micro SD SMT socket (Generic)
- Top Cover PCB (88x88mm 1.6mm thick)
- Male USB3 PCB (7x14mm 2mm thick)
- Female USB3 PCB (19x14mm 1.6mm thick)
- HDMI-A PCB (21x24mm 1.6mm thick)
- Micro HDMI PCB (14x18mm 1mm)
- Micro SD PCB (52.8mm x 49.2mm 0.8mm thick)
- 5x M2.5 x 6mm Countersunk Screws
- 4x M2 x 20mm Countersunk Screws
- 4x M2 x 6mm x 3.5mm Brass Threaded Insert
- 4x M2.5 x 10mm Screws (for securing fans)
- 4x M2.5 hex nuts
Like the previous versions, one of the main goals here is to package the Raspberry Pi in a form factor that makes it a little bit more useful as a regular mini server or computer. That means putting it all in a neat box, with all the ports on one side.
Compared to the previous version, I decided to simplify the concept further, so everything is encased in a 92x92mm enclosure, with a thickness not much larger than the Pi itself at 26mm or about 1 inch.
The case comprises of a single 3D printed piece, with a top cover made from a custom PCB. This has 4 brass threaded inserts soldered into the corners, giving us a simple way to secure everything together via some long screws.
Stick some rubber feet on the bottom, and you have a really simple, sleek computer that is fairly easy to recreate. It's small enough to power on, and leave running in the background.
Something I tried really hard on this time around is to add as much modularity as possible. Some of you'll be happy to hear that this version requires no modifications to the actual Pi itself, and this is achieved with a range of custom pluggable adapter boards I made.
Firstly, in order to get the USB-C power port, and one of the HDMI ports on the back of the case, you now simply have to plug in the adapters, and add a 3D printed frame to hold everything together.
It's worth noting that the HDMI adapter works fine, though I can't confirm it works up to 4K, as I don't have a 4K display to test on. I know digital video signals can be a bit finnicky sometimes, so that's an area that needs more testing.
Another add-on option is an mSATA SSD, which connects to the USB 3 port, allowing for faster transfer speeds. What's cool here is that you can now optionally boot directly from the SSD if you want.
These USB3 to mSATA adaptors are easy to find on Ebay etc, but be aware they're not all the same. You'll need the one with the smooth underside.
Speaking of boot options, I have also designed a micro SD extender board, giving you access to the micro SD card underneath the computer without having to take everything apart. This also moves the card away from any potential heat problems on the board that can sometimes cause failures.
Depending on what you're using the mini server for, you may require more or less heat management, especially if you'e slamming the Pi and using the SSD, which both generate a bit of heat. Again, here there are various options.
On mine I have 2 fans running whenever the server is on. I've designed other frames for holding 1 fan or no fans too - it all depends on what you're doing. You could hook up a transistor and set the fans to only come on when the CPU core temperature reaches a certain level.
Finally, the look of the device itself is also customizable. Since the case is 3D printed, you can choose whatever filament color you want, and there are a bunch of different soldermask color options for the top cover.
You could 3D print that top cover too, and just glue it in, though it won't have as good heat resistance, or look as polished as the PCB.
Something like this would be ideal for the nacent decentralized web, where the users own and run these systems themselves. These devices allow the users to run inexpensive nodes that create the P2P infrastructure to store and distribute data through these networks.
Crypto nodes, other blockchain based systems, seed servers, data distribution like IPFS and Dat, and decentralized social network servers for protocols such as Scuttlebutt, for example are all good use cases.
Other always-on stuff like setting up your own VPN, or a general Linux VPS work really well too. Media servers and network attached storage are another good candidate, as well as self-hosting applications like running websites, email servers, chat servers, and general data storage.
And like I mentioned a few times, the increased CPU speed and RAM options mean now we truly have a candidate for a mini Linux desktop system too, and all at a pretty low price.
Like the previous versions, all the files and a list of the components are available at the top of the page if you want to build your own.
I'm going to probably sell some dev kits with all the parts unsoldered and unassembled, so if you've got the skills to put one together, print your own case and test everything out, that could be helpful. It might not be available for a few weeks, but keep an eye on the shop. This will be a small run, aimed at the early adopters and tinkerers.
I'm also fully open to other people selling kits or premade servers on their own sites. I think that'd be a great way to build this up as an open standard that others can develop and iterate on.
Like the other projects, I want to set up a dedicated website when I get the time, as a central hub for how to make these, and showcasing any addons or extras other people make. If you do start selling these, let me know and I can add the links to the site once it's up and running.
Another thing I've been thinking about is how this kind of design could work well as a stackable, multi Pi server system, for a really tiny home lab. Since the bottom of the case is open, you could, say, stack 3 of these on top of each other, removing the covers from all but the top one, so the fans circulate air from the bottom, through all the Pis and out the top.
Alright, that's it for today, I hope you found this interesting, please consider sharing this if you think others will enjoy it. As always, thanks for watching and I'll see you in the next video.