The Easiest Way to Turn Your Old PC Into a Media Server

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Turn Old PC Into Media Server

Give your old PC new life as a media server! One of the most frustrating things about technology is just how quickly a piece of tech can become obsolete (think the various iterations of the Apple iPhone for example). By repurposing your old PC as a media server, not only do you give new life to a technology you paid good money for. But those outdated specs can host your movies, music library, games and all other media. And you can stream them through other devices like your laptop, desktop PC, tablet or phone – and you don’t have to be tech savvy to do this.

What You’ll Need

Windows is the most popular operating system around. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a nightmare running a media server on an old Windows PC. This is because Windows is a resource-heavy OS, and software support for media servers has been underwhelming and riddled with issues on Windows.

Ubuntu is a variant of Linux. It’s a much lighter OS compared to Windows and should work on computers that are decades old.

Here are all the things you’ll need to get your old PC up and running as a powerful media server.

1.    Old Computer

The most important thing to note about your computer is its architecture. Your processor will most likely be 32-bit, which will require a certain version of Ubuntu. If your processor is 64-bit, you’ll enjoy a little bit of additional power.

It’s safe to say that a 64-bit version of Ubuntu won’t work on a 32-bit processor. So, the first step is to right-click on the Windows icon found in your taskbar and select “System.” You should see the processor architecture next to “System Type” under “Device Specifications.”

If you don’t have any experience with Ubuntu, we strongly recommend you check this guide to familiarize yourself with the OS.

If your computer already runs on Linux OS, then you can go ahead and skip to the appropriate section of this guide, where we install the media server software.

2.    USB Stick

We don’t recommend a newer USB stick since it might not be supported by your old PC. The best thing is to go for a USB 2.0 stick with 8 gigabytes or more.

3.    Ethernet Network Connection

An ethernet port in your old PC is extremely important. This is, after all, a media server, and so you’ll need a reliable connection that’s not prone to outages or other problems.

If you don’t have ethernet compatibility, you can buy a powerful WiFi adapter and hope you don’t run into connectivity issues.

How to Set Up a Media Server

Once you have everything ready, you can begin setting up your old PC.

1.    Download Ubuntu Server Edition

The first step is to find the appropriate version for your PC. It’s easy to download a 64-bit version on your computer, as they’re listed on Ubuntu’s official website.

32-bit versions may be harder to find since Ubuntu stopped releasing new versions for this architecture. You can find community versions that support 32-bit processors.

The most important thing is to choose the proper LTS version, which stands for Long-Term Support. These versions have security and maintenance updates that are installed automatically.

The file you download should be in .iso format and shouldn’t exceed 100 MBs.

2.    Create Bootable USB Drive

Once you have the .iso file, you need to create a bootable USB drive with the Ubuntu OS. For this, you’ll need to download Rufus, which is the easiest and fastest tool to create a bootable drive.

Once you open Rufus, you’ll find a small window with a couple of options and the “Start” button at the bottom. First, click on the disk image next to the “Create a bootable disk” checklist, then select the ISO file and make sure the USB drive is selected in “Device.”

Choose the FAT32 file system and select the default cluster size. You can check the “Quick Format” box for a faster operation. Once you hit “Start,” wait a couple of minutes and you should have a bootable USB drive ready to go.

3.    Boot PC Using USB Drive

Now comes the fun part. Make sure you won’t miss any files on your PC since this will entirely wipe all the data.

Restart your PC, then jump into your BIOS settings from the first welcome screen. The button for BIOS can differ from one computer to the other. It could be F1, F2, F10, F12, or the delete button. Check your motherboard’s documentation and hold the appropriate button until the BIOS screen appears.

Next, you’ll need to search for “Boot Order” and enable booting from your USB stick. Again, this could vary from one PC to another, but it’s usually easy to find.

Some newer motherboards have something called “Secure Boot,” which prevents your PC from powering up by untrusted firmware. You can check Microsoft’s post on how to turn it off.

Click to boot a Chromebook from a USB.

4.    Install New Operating System

Once your computer boots up, you’ll be welcomed by Ubuntu’s setup. Select the language, keyboard layout, and network adapter. Choose “Minimal Installation” and select “Download Updates” and “Install Third-Party Software.” Don’t enter anything in the proxy address.

Now, you need to select the drive you’ll be using. Choose your PC’s hard drive and select “Erase Disk and Install Ubuntu” Then, set up the PC’s name, server name, and create a username and password.

5.    Install DLNA Server

Once you’re done, your PC will boot up into Ubuntu. Now, we need to install the DLNA server. This is the server that will allow you to turn the PC into a media server.

There are a lot of variants for DLNA, but we chose MiniDLNA for our old PC. Installing DLNA is extremely easy, but you’ll be required to type some things into the Linux Terminal.

Open the terminal and type “sudo apt-get install minidlna”. You’ll need to enter your password, then it’ll download and install the server.

6.    Configure DLNA Server

Now that you have MiniDLNA up and running, you’ll need to configure it. We do this by installing Nano, the terminal text editor.

Type in “sudo nano /etc/minidlna.conf.” Search for this line, “media_dir=/var/lib/minidlna,” then type below it “media_dir=AV,/var/lib/minidlna/videos.” This enables you to create a directory for your media.

Add “inotify=yes” below it, then save the file using CTRL+O. You can press CTRL+X to exit the text editor.

Now, all you need to do is transfer your media files to the directory you’ve created. Restart the server using “sudo minidland -R” and rescan the files using “sudo service minidlna force-reload.” You can also just restart your PC and it will do the same thing.

7.    Test Your Media Server

That’s it! You should now check that everything’s working by using the server’s IP address. The easiest way to get your IP address is to click on the network icon and choose “Connection Information” from the menu. The media server’s IP will be labeled “IP Address.”

On a different device, enter the IP address of the server followed by “:8200.” You should get a screen with all the files available on the server. If you don’t get anything, don’t fret. Just go back and check the configuration file for any typos. Even a single comma can cause the media server not to work.

If you’re still having issues, check your network connection to see if it’s working. If all fails, restart your PC. This will enable your media server to scan the directories again and detect the media files.

The only downside of MiniDLNA is that it doesn’t support transcoding. If the file you want to play is unsupported by your device, it won’t work. You should generally stick to .mp4 for video, as it’s the most commonly supported format.

In Summary

Innovative use of technology is not just for the workplace, you can also use it for the comfort of your home. The best part about turning your old PC into a media server is as long as you have access to the internet, you can even stream your movies, music and games on vacation without paying for streaming services like Netflix, AmazonPrime and Hulu. All it costs is time and your knowledge of Ubuntu. But don’t feel limited. You can use any Linux distro you know your way around. Dust off your old PC and put it to good use.