Do you have an old PC in the closet that’s been sitting there and collecting dust?
Well, it’s time to put that old machine to good use.
We will tell you if and how you can turn your PC into a server.
We’ll also discuss a few different use-cases for your new server.
Can I Use A PC As A Server?
Yes, you can use any PC as a server if you install the right software and operating system.
Your PC must have enough hardware power to execute the tasks of a server.
The parts must be reliable because a server is always on.
Additionally, you need a router to create a network that allows your server and other devices to communicate.
If you plan on sharing large files or streaming content, it’s best to connect your server to a 2.5 Gbps Ethernet connection.
If your onboard port is 1 Gbps, you can install a PCIe expansion card to give you the required speed.
Although your clients can connect via WiFi, use Ethernet for your server connection to get maximum speed and reliability.
Why Your PC Can Be A Server
Many people think a server is a specialized type of hardware, but it isn’t.
It’s just a computer that plays a specific role in a network.
Therefore, any computer can be a server if it has the right software, operating system, and hardware resources to perform its tasks.
You can even turn a cheap Raspberry Pi into a server if you don’t want to perform intensive tasks.
Admittedly, servers in data centers don’t look like regular PCs.
They’re thin and flat and don’t come with many I/O ports.
However, that’s because these machines are built for a specific purpose.
They handle hundreds or thousands of requests simultaneously.
On the other hand, your PC is a general-purpose machine.
It needs a general-purpose processor with many I/O ports and larger cooling.
One of the things a general-purpose computer can do is act as a server.
What Does A Server Do?
A server’s job is to respond to requests over the network.
The computer that sends the request is called a client.
Once the server receives the client’s request, it creates an appropriate response and sends it to the client.
Let’s explain that with an example.
When you open a web page on your browser, your computer is the client.
A hosting server is responsible for loading the page.
Here’s how the process goes:
- You click on the web page’s link or type its address in your browser’s address bar and hit enter.
- Your browser sends a request to a DNS server that maps the human-readable URL to a number-based IP address that’s harder for humans to memorize.
- The DNS server returns the IP address of the hosting server to your browser.
- The browser sends a request to the hosting server, asking it to send back the page.
- The hosting server receives the request, retrieves the text and design from its database, and returns the page to your browser.
- The browser receives the page and displays its content.
Other than hosting and loading web pages, servers can perform many tasks, including:
- Print files remotely.
- Send and receive emails.
- Stream video and audio files.
- Store and load files for cloud storage.
- Retrieve information from a database.
- Record and store footage from security cameras.
You don’t have to use different machines for different purposes.
It’s possible to configure the same machine to act as two or more types of servers.
For instance, the same PC can be a streaming server and an email server because streaming and email run on different ports and require different software.
You can even create multiple virtual machines on the same physical machine.
These virtual machines act as independent computers with independent operating systems, but they share the physical resources of the underlying machine.
You can then configure each virtual machine for a different purpose.
For example, you can have two virtual machines.
Then set one to record and allow remote access to your security footage, while another acts as cloud storage, letting you store and retrieve files from any location.
With this setup, your applications won’t interfere with each other.
Therefore, you get maximum reliability and convenience.
Note: If you want to take things one step further, you have two hard drives and assign each to a separate machine.
This way, one of the hard drives will be mostly busy storing data, while the other will mostly retrieve data.
Can An Old PC Be A Server?
If you have an old PC that you want to turn into a server, properly clean it and remove all the dust.
Also, refresh your thermal paste to enhance heat exchange between your CPU and cooler.
See if the specs support your application.
For example, a cloud storage server won’t need much processing power or RAM.
On the other hand, a hosting server will perform complex operations and needs a relatively powerful CPU with enough memory.
If your PC is older than 10 years, see if it can handle the operating system and server software.
For example, older machines may be unable to run Windows 10 and 11.
Finally, check the power supply.
As your server will always be on, you need a PSU that can withstand constant use.
Your CPU and motherboard will be the least likely components to require an upgrade.
However, installing more RAM and storage, especially an SSD, is almost always a good idea.
In most cases, your PC server won’t need a graphics card.
Depending on the application, your personal server may pay for itself and the upgrades in cost savings in less than a year.
For example, you can have multiple terabytes of storage in your server and avoid paying hundreds of dollars to Google every year.
With the right configuration, the cloud storage in your house will work just as reliably as Google Drive.
How To Turn Your PC Into A Server
To use your PC as a server, you need to check its hardware reliability, as explained above.
Then it’s time for the software aspects.
The first item on the list is an operating system.
1. Operating System
As a home user, you can use a regular version of Windows 10 as your OS.
The job of an OS is listening for connection requests, receiving them, and sending them to the right application.
For example, the OS on an email server listens on port 25 for incoming requests.
If one arrives, it wraps the request in a thread and notifies the email management program.
If you’re building a home server for a few users, you don’t need a specialized OS.
On the other hand, if you have more than ten users connecting to your server simultaneously, you need a server OS.
These operating systems are designed with better memory management capabilities and theoretically allow unlimited simultaneous connections.
They’re also full of security and network optimization features that don’t exist in other OS.
However, they don’t have the aesthetics of a consumer OS, which isn’t necessary for their purpose.
Microsoft has the Windows Server lineup.
If you don’t want to pay a large license fee, though, you can use Linux-based operating systems such as openSUSE and CentOS.
Many Linux-based options offer better performance and more features than their Windows-based counterparts.
Remember that you don’t need a server OS if you only plan to use the server for yourself.
A regular Windows installation will be enough.
Once you’ve chosen and installed your OS, it’s time to install and configure the server-side application for your usage.
We’ll cover a few common use-cases below.
2. File Server
A file server is probably the easiest server you can run as it only requires an OS.
Your file server won’t need much computing power because file transfer over a network isn’t resource-intensive.
You can install as much storage as you want on the machine.
If you’re using Windows 10 or Windows Server, follow these steps to set up your file server:
- Create a folder on your server and give it an easy-to-understand name.
- Right-click on the folder.
- Go to Give access to > Specific people.
- On the top dropdown bar, select Everyone.
- Change the Permission level to Read/Write.
Then go to your Network and Sharing Center > Advanced Sharing Settings and turn on the following items under the Private settings section:
- Network discovery
- File and printer sharing
If your network is public, change it to private because this type of sharing won’t work on public networks.
Finally, go to your client machine and follow these instructions:
- Open This PC.
- From the top bar, select Computer > Map network drive.
- Select a drive letter (e.g., Z).
- Type in the address of the folder on your server. It consists of two backward slashes, the server’s computer name, and the folder name (e.g., \\MyServer\SharedFolder).
- Click Finish.
If you get an error, go to your computer’s Network and Sharing Center and turn on the previous settings.
3. Network Attached Storage (NAS)
You can turn your file server into a NAS if you want to access your files from any device (not just computers).
As a NAS, your server will be just a device that stores files.
It essentially acts as an external hard drive accessible from all the devices in your network.
Therefore, it could be a waste of resources.
To turn your PC into a NAS, you need a NAS operating system that also takes care of the application layer.
TrueNAS CORE, formerly known as FreeNAS, is the recommended option.
4. Cloud Storage Server
You can turn your simple file server from the previous scenarios into a cloud storage server.
This way, you won’t be limited to your home network.
You can access files from anywhere as long as your server is powered on and connected to the internet.
Another benefit of this setup is that you can even manage your server from your home network without connecting a spare monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
Windows has a built-in tool for remote access.
Assuming you’re using Windows 10 on your server, follow these instructions to enable remote access:
- Hit the Start button and type in Settings.
- On the left-hand sidebar, select Remote Desktop.
- Change Enable Remote Desktop to on.
- Confirm your choice.
From now on, you can use the PC name shown on the same page to connect to your PC from anywhere worldwide.
If you want to connect using another Windows computer, open the Remote Desktop Connection app from the Start menu on the client computer.
Then enter the server name and connect.
If you want to establish a remote connection from your smartphone, tablet, or another non-Windows device, read this official guide from Microsoft.
Other than Windows features, you can install third-party remote monitoring apps on your server and client.
These programs come with extra features and security.
Plus, they don’t require learning how to use multiple client formats.
You can take control of your server remotely to manage files and settings without any trouble.
Teamviewer, Anydesk, and Pulseway are some options you can consider.
Each one has different features and offers free and paid versions.
5. Media Server
A media server lets you stream audio and video content to one or multiple clients on any device.
As you can imagine, the scenarios are endless.
For example, instead of watching a movie on your PC, you can stream it to your TV without plugging in a USB stick.
And if you get tired of sitting on your couch, you can watch the rest of the movie on your smartphone while lying in bed.
You need a media management system to turn your computer into a media server.
Jellyfin is the leading media server management system that we recommend.
It’s free and comes with many cataloging and file management features.
However, if you’re willing to pay, you can install Plex or Emby, which have more features.
The first step is to download the server version for your operating system.
You get to choose between a stable and an unstable version.
The stable version has fewer bugs and has undergone more rigorous testing by the community.
On the other hand, the unstable version contains the latest updates and improvements.
However, it may have more undetected or unresolved issues.
If you aren’t tech-savvy, go with the stable version.
Follow the on-screen instructions to install Jellyfin on your server.
Then set up your audio and video libraries.
Jellyfin has a range of client players for any platform, from TVs and smartphones to computers.
Download and install the client player and enjoy streaming.
Here’s a YouTube video to guide you through the process of setting up your Jellyfin Media server:
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can You Use A Server As A Gaming PC?
You can only use a server as a gaming PC if it’s a general-purpose computer and has the right specs.
A gaming PC needs a strong CPU and at least 16 GB of RAM.
Most importantly, it needs a graphics card with a powerful GPU.
Specialized servers tend to have many slow cores rather than a mix of efficiency and performance cores.
They also usually lack a GPU and dedicated I/O ports.
You can’t use these servers for gaming.
2. How Can I Use An Old PC As A Server?
You need to install the right OS and server management program to convert an old PC into a server.
These depend on the use case and the number of users connecting to the server simultaneously.
For small networks, Windows 10 and 11 are sufficient.
If you want to serve more than ten users, you need a server OS, such as Windows Server or CentOS.
You also need a server management application to handle the software aspects, such as Jellyfin for media servers, FileZilla for FTP, and Hexamail for self-hosted emailing.
3. Is A Home Server A Good Idea?
A home server is a good idea if you store your files on multiple devices and always have trouble finding them.
With a home server, you can centralize your storage, making it easier to manage files.
Plus, you can create a media server that lets you play audio and video across devices in your home.
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