I’ve gone back and forth several times trying to make something work in our system for a central core unit that operates as a media server, smart home control hub, and file server. It seems like everything I try to do ends up in failure. My point is: Read what I go through and decide what you want to try for yourself. I was trying to make a single system that could do everything, but its starting to look like my attempts at bringing it all together are not going to work as I had hoped and I may have to instead build something custom for our needs and figure out how to make it all work together.
My attempts thus far…
First there was the original home server we used back before we ever moved into the RV. We had a 2012 Mac mini from Apple running iTunes. In retrospect, I wish I had never sold it. While iTunes is not the best media server software out there, the combination with our MacBooks, iPhones, and Apple TVs was working perfectly fine. Ever since then its been a struggle to make everything work together.
The main problem with a Mac mini though, is that its not really built for traveling along bumpy roads and remaining stable and error free. The macOS is great, iTunes is great with Apple TVs, but the Mac mini I had used a 1TB standard disk hard drive and not an SSD, so it could have easily gotten damaged during travel. Upgrading the internal hard drive to SSD would not have been impossible, nor would have been finding some way to protect it from shocks, but at the time we needed the money and I wanted something smaller and cheaper.
That lead to the Lenovo IdeaCentre Stick PC, which works decently and can stream at an okay speed, but the 2GB of RAM and lack of an ethernet port slows things down. I had been running it for awhile but found that it was lagging a lot. This was most likely due to the fact that it was using Wifi N and not AC, but ideally, I would like something that has a builtin ethernet port so we have less to worry about with things not connecting to the wifi network properly.
That in turn led to trying to use a Raspberry Pi. I’ve built a few Pi’s in the past and even had one laying around that I wasn’t using, so I decided to give it a try. The first attempt worked fine, but I tried to make it do more than it was able to handle. I was adding file serving, automatic downloads, and Plex Media Server. Plex was running well, but I decided to reset the operating system and start from scratch, much to my chagrin. After I reinstalled raspbian, nothing seems to be working right. It won’t see all my music, but now it can find my movie posters. I’ve tried deleting and restoring the Music library, and still there is nothing. I’ve also got a problem where many movies won’t play. It either says “Loading…” and then jumps back to the movie selection screen, or it starts loading and then quits. I have no idea what the problem might be, but I’m frustrated with it.
The Raspberry Pi does work great for running Emulation Station so we can play old video games and I was able to easily set up a microSD card with openHABian, so at least that part should work. Since the Raspberry Pi has an ethernet port, it should work better as well. If I can get it to work. So far, it hasn’t been ideal.
Back to mini-box.com
I’ve searched for several carputer companies trying to find something that would be ideal in our situation. I would prefer something that is built for the demands of a vehicle, can run on DC power, and does not take up a lot of space. I went back to mini-box.com and realized their prices were not as outlandish as I had originally thought. They have complete systems, aside form RAM and SSD, for under $300. This is affordable. The processors available only seem to be Bay Trail generation Intel chips though, which are coming up on 5 years old now. I’d rather have a newer generation if I could find one, but that seems to be the hard part.
Then there is e3io.com
While doing a random search just for “carputer”, I found e3io.com. Their computers are far more expensive than the mini-box computers, but damnit, they look solid. They are built better for fitting in a dash, and while we don’t have a space issue, it would be nice to be able to include a computer in the dash. We have about a 12″ square hole to fill with various gadgets, and the slot is pretty deep with a lot of dead space farther back, so we can easily fit a computer in the dash. It would be a pain if we had to open it up and fix something or replace a part, but the e3io computers seem far more capable for dealing with the bouncing conditions of road travel and, more importantly, they can come with i3, i5, or i7 processors. This would be a huge improvement over a Bay Trail Atom processor, but it comes with a higher price tag. While I’d love to include on in the system, it may have to wait a bit until we can get together the funds to afford one.
If it comes down to cost and time, I’ll just go with a mini-box case and power supply and get the other components from somewhere else like Newegg.com. Then I can probably get it cheaper and get a more powerful computer, but it comes with the hassle of having to build it myself. That’s not out of my league though as I’ve built many computers in the past, but I’d rather have something that I knew would all work together and come preassembled.
Part of the goal of the Smart Home on Wheels project is to make a system that you can replicate and install in your own RV. We don’t want you to have to buy computer components, assemble it all, install an operating system, update everything, add all your media, and make sure it all works. We want something you can buy yourself, plug in, and run with it. Simplicity is key here, which is why its taking so long to get everything together.
When this is all completed and pulled together, I will also be putting it all together into one PDF or ebook so you can download that and just go step by step through everything. I’ll include some of the failures and missteps, but I want people to have instructions they can just follow and not have to read all the stuff that didn’t work out.