This article describes how to build your own silent, fast, eco-friendly Linux-based PC for use in a digital music listening system. The PC is based on a high-end Via mini-ITX board, passively cooled case with heatpipe technology, Debian Linux, and a little creative embedded elbow grease.
This system is the fourth dedicated Linux-based music server that I’ve built over the past eight years. For the first time, though, I tried to do the job right, rather than just making do with spare parts. After all, digital music is no longer an interesting experiment, but the primary focus of my listening setup, despite all of that vinyl gathering dust in the basement.
Sonos Digital Music System
Vendors of Linux-based music equipment (Sonos comes to mind) often poke fun at amateurs like me who still roll their own — arguably for good reason. Commercial systems like the Sonos Digital Music System (pictured at right) have slick features like synchronized multi-room playback that are light years beyond my crude hacking capabilities.
Yet, a real Linux computer is a toolbox that can do anything the user is capable of doing with it. For about the cost of an entry-level Sonos setup, the system described here can also serve as a LAMP server and development host, a digital video recorder with high-definition component video capabilities, or as a silent livingroom Web and email kiosk, to name a few possibilities. So, there are tradeoffs on both sides of the build/buy equation.