Tag Archives: home-server

Using Zotac Zbox CI327 Mini PC as Router (feat. Pfsense)

This past Christmas, I tasked myself to build my very own home server / lab. The goal was to do so at as little an upfront and running cost as possible. One of the components of a home server is a good customizable router. My requirements were modest but power efficient hardware, dual Ethernet ports (for WAN/LAN separation) and intel network adapter, fanless design for quiet operation, and ideally not more than 50 euros.

On the christmas eve, a Zotac Zbox CI327 on local classified ads caught my attention. It checked all the boxes except for an intel network card. After some reading, I decided to bite and went to pick it up. Since it was the evening of 24th December, it really felt like a Christmas present for myself!


CI327 has a fanless design and it depends on its sturdy metallic body for cooling. Which means when I first picked it up, I was pleasantly surprised at how heavy and sturdy it felt, despite the plastic-y looking frame (not that that would’ve been a bad thing at 35 euros either).

Don’t you love it when you set your expectations based on what you’ll be paying for something and then it turns out to be something you’d have paid 3x for and still would’ve felt good?

The rubber foot double as screws to open the box, and can be opened without a screwdriver so that is cool.

Realtek NIC woes

If there’s one thing that’s not ideal about the CI327, it is that it comes with a Realtek NIC. I knew people recommended against buying anything with Realtek NICs, but I went with it given the price. Soon I found myself debugging very strange network issues involving the internet capping at 100mbps and sometimes the entire LAN interface refusing to route any traffic.

Upon analyzing the dmesg output, I realized it was a very common issue for this device. I tried to follow any advice that I found and it turns out it had to do with outdated drivers which upon updating resolved the issue.


My main motivation of buying the CI327 was to use it as a router for my home network. I was obsessed with setting up a real home server, and the first step towards it (at least how I envisioned everything) was to have a really powerful router that pulls internet from the ISP provided modem and connects everything.

Pfsense was very easy to set up, with the only challenge being finding a display and keyboard to run the setup script.


While I had really no idea what I exactly I wanted from Pfsense, all I could really do was run some speedtests off the LAN port and make sure nothing’s getting bottlenecked with a quick internet speed test.

And it seemed to work. I was getting the full throughput of the bandwidth provided to me by my ISP. All that I had to do now was to hook up a switch and a Wireless AP to this LAN network and connect all of my local devices to this network.

TP-SG608E Network Switch + Huawei AX2 Pro Wifi 6 Access Point

I went with the TP-Link TP-SG608E as my managed network switch. The LAN port of the CI327 is now connected to the WAN of the TP link switch, and from here the Synology NAS, Dell Optiplex homeserver, Huawei AX2 Pro Wifi 6 access point and a Raspberry Pi are connected.


In conclusion, the setup is working good enough that I sometimes forget that I have all of these moving parts powering my home network. There’s some interesting software running on both the Dell Optiplex and the Raspberry Pi which I might write a post about in the future. As far as the Zotac Zbox CI327 goes, it is probably one of the most value for money tech purchase I’ve made and I’ve very pleased with it in spite of the little Realtek woes.

Thank you for reading!

Building vs Buying a NAS – A non-hardware nerd’s perspective

After years of contemplating on making or buying myself a NAS, I finally decided to bite and got a Synology DS223j two-bay NAS as a present for myself for Christmas along with two refurbished 16TB Seagate Exos hard drives.

Rewinding a bit

For most of my life, the only “backup” I had was a 500gb hard disk that came preinstalled in the Fujitsu A514, my first laptop. I had also bought a 120gb solid-state disk at the time and immediately replaced the hard disk with it. The hard disk went into an enclosure and I used it to back up any important data as my laptop went through frequent cycles of OS reinstalls during my distro-hopping era.

Any time I’d want to back up my photos, it would become a folder on the hard disk and then cleared from phone storage as phones came with much smaller storage back then. I remember having 16gb internal storage on my Galaxy Note and thinking I’d never fill it up no matter how many pictures I take.

I used Gmail and the 15gb storage the free account comes with was enough for email and the occasional document sharing via Google Drive. Life was good.

At some point I hooked this 500gb drive to my Raspberry Pi running Nextcloud and even had my very first “NAS” setup.

In 2018, I had some INR 300 of Google Play credits that I used to get some of the apps that I wanted to support and use pro versions of, like Nova launcher, Tasker etc. Along with those, I got the 100gb Google storage plan (at INR 130 a month) and started backing up photos to Google Drive. It was an okay cost as I was already working by then and had some money to spare for subscriptions.

Since then, I had kept that subscription and even upgraded it to 200gb after moving to Berlin.

Problem statement

The problem I set out to solve was to get rid of some of the cloud storage subscription fees I’m paying each month. I was paying duplicate fees for cloud between two Google accounts (and an iCloud account), so the plan would help get rid of two of the three subscriptions resulting in some 50 euros saved each year while providing me to actually follow the 3-2-1 backup strategy for some important data that I wouldn’t want to lose.


Late last December I got a bit obsessed with watching computer build videos. It was fun to learn something new, and to be honest it also was entertaining. From the videos, I learned some important considerations that I’ll have to think for myself before spending my first Euro on this new project.

  1. Number of drive bays: While a NAS can just be a single drive attached to the network, generally they also offer redundancy (using RAID configurations) for NAS with two or more drive bays. I knew I’d want a RAID 1 so I’d need at least two drives.
  2. Idle power consumption: Power is expensive in Germany and I’d want to stay away from any old hardware that’s cheap to buy but very expensive to run. The last thing I’d want to do is invest in a NAS that I’m going to not keep running all the time.
  3. NAS application / operating system: Ideally, I’d like some bells and whistles like automatic backups to make my life a little easier and not having to do that manually. The popular NAS applications come with add-ons that allow more specific usecases. TrueNAS, Synology and others have public pages where one can see if the application they’d need is available on the platform they’re choosing for the NAS.
  4. Gigabit access speeds: I wanted to NAS to be accessible at the same speeds as the rest of my home network, which is currently at a Gigabit. Fortunately, that seems like the minimum one gets in 2023.


I also learned about what other people prioritize in their NAS, but it didn’t resonate with me. More specifically, I couldn’t justify the price overhead that acquiring those features needed. Namely,

  1. SSD Cache: While there are many strategies to use an SSD for read and write caching, it primarily makes read/write operations feel faster for some use cases. I thought this was over-optimizing for my modest use case.
  2. CPU / RAM to run containers / VMs: I also found that folks like to run Docker containers / VMs on their NAS and need more powerful CPU and added RAM. This hadn’t even crossed my mind, and as such, I stayed true to the “if I didn’t know it exists, I probably don’t need it yet” principle.
  3. Multi-gigabit or multiple LAN ports: Folks opt for 2.5 or even 10gig LAN ports on their NAS for faster transfer speeds. Now while I’d looove to have transfer rates more than 120 MB/s, I’d need to upgrade my entire home network to multi-gigabit LAN and WLAN, and that’s expensive. That also would mean having a beefier CPU to handle the transfers which would increase the cost of NAS hardware itself.
  4. Four or more drive bays: This was the one I was most unsure about; Most if not everyone one reddit suggested to get at least a 4 bay NAS and then just using a couple of the bays until the requirement arises. It sounds reasonable, but I have a feeling that the requirement for 4 bays would never arise and 16TB in RAID-1 is going to be enough for a very long time.

Building vs buying

The nerd in me wanted to really go down the route of buying all the parts and assembling everything myself. The videos I had watched made me confident enough that I could pull it off. Building a PC is fun, and truth be told, I’ve never actually built one for myself.

Having said that, I also recognized that I’m mixing two things together; my requirement for a secure and reliable NAS for my critical data and my desire to build a PC that I can experiment on. I’ve lost important data in the past and I didn’t want to risk it. Especially not after having just watched a bunch of videos and never actually having built a decent PC myself.

I decided to pick up a Synology 2 bay NAS DS223j with 1gb RAM and a relatively weak but does-the-job quad-core Realtek CPU. The cost of the NAS was 180 euros. To do with it, I got a couple of refurbished 16TB Seagate Exos drives, each of which was 180 euros, for a total cost of 540 euros.

My rationale behind going down this path was as follows:

  1. I don’t trust my PC building and setting up skills enough to offload all of my data to the built-NAS and then cancel a couple of cloud subscriptions.
  2. At 4-5 watts of idle (hibernation) and 16 watts of under-load power consumption, it is comparable to a relatively efficient Mini PC.
  3. Hardware isn’t cheap in Germany, and actually saving money on hardware would require sourcing parts off Aliexpress which takes time and is often less than reliable.
  4. Building a PC and setting up the necessary software takes time. I could use this time on another project (home server blog post coming soon :D).
  5. Synology’s DSM (their proprietary operating system) comes out of the box with remote access via QuickConnect.

Tradeoffs I’ve ((sub)consciously) made

I feel like I’ve given up on some of my preferences when going down the Synology NAS route. And while some of these are conscious, there are some that will only show up once enough time has passed. In any case, I’m still documenting some of them here.

  1. Open source and free software: Synology DSM only runs on Synology hardware, at least officially. It means I’m stuck to using Synology software for as long as I’m using this hardware.
  2. Synology tax: Like I mentioned, using these off the shelf NAS’s requires paying the software and marketing budget of the companies in addition to the cost of the actual hardware. That’s fair, of course. Just something to be aware of.
  3. NAS hardware: I’m sure my “16TB ought to be enough for me” might not age very well. I also faced some situations where the NAS really slowed down and made me realize that it is running a very under-powered CPU after all. Again, tradeoffs.
  4. Noise: Seagate Exos drives aren’t the most silent hard drives. My wooden floor made it much worse and I ended up putting the NAS on a softer raised surface to absorb some of the vibrations. I believe this problem would’ve not completely vanished had I chose to get non-enterprise drives like the Seagate IronWolf, but it would’ve been better.
  5. Electricity costs: While my Synology NAS is efficient, and consumes single digit Watt power most of the times idling, it will still add 30-40 euros of additional power consumption to my yearly electricity bills (at 10w average power consumption 24x7x365 and 40 cents per kWh).
  6. Breakeven cost: From a purely utility perspective, it will take some years of not using Google Drive and iCloud before the cost of investing in a personal NAS is broken even. This is especially true if I do not fill up the 16TB that I have and then have regular need to access those files. This isn’t factoring in the added electricity cost, nor can I effectively compare the reliability of Google Drive to a NAS set up at home. Overall, for most people without the need to store TBs of data, Cloud is a very logical option.

In closing

I hope that was informative in some way. I am looking forward to seeing how my investment turns out and if the list of tradeoffs grows further. I’ll leave you with some pictures of the NAS.

Fresh out of the box with its accessories
Initial setup in my “Lack rack”. It has since been replaced but wait for an update on that.

Thank you for reading!

Wifi Router Keeps Disconnecting Exactly When Speed Testing

I got a cheap Huawei Wifi 6 Router (AX2 Pro) which was the only sub-20 Euro router I could find on the market that supported Wifi 6. It is a used one of course, and the person I got it from got it from their previous tenants, who I assume got it from China (or Aliexpress?) because the product doesn’t support any language other than Chinese.

I knew that before buying, but I thought it was an okay tradeoff given the Wifi 6 capabilities at the price. So after an hour of Google Translating every item in the UI and setting everything up, I was very excited to run an internet speed test.

To my surprise, the Wifi connection just dropped as soon as the speed hit 100Mbps, crashing with a “socket broken” error. It was as if someone pulled the plug exactly when I ran the speed test. I tried again with the same result. I could surf the internet, watch youtube and do other things just fine. Just not run a speed test.

Connecting my laptop with the Ethernet cable gave me the full 1Gbps, what I was expecting. Interestingly, I could replicate the behavior of the router restarting via any device and exactly while speed testing.

I was a bit disappointed, but not a lot. After all, blindly buying cheap imported routers off kleinanzeigen ought to have its risks. I sat down to write the seller (who probably had never once tried to run the router, just passed it on from her tenants to me) that the product they sold was kaputt, simultaneously trying to come up with a search query that’d probably match someone else’s description of this problem.


As I was writing my seller a message (not exactly expecting a refund, as these things are sold with zero guarantees), it occurred to me that benchmarking an electronic device ought to push its power utilization. It would make sense why the device would operate normally otherwise. I immediately checked the output of the power supply and the required input from the router. TADAA!

The seller gave me a TP-Link power supply that supplied 9V at 0.6A but the Huawei router was expecting 12V at 1A. I fanatically searched my box of cables and adapters to find a power supply and found a variable power supply that could help with the case.

As expected, that was it. As soon as the router got the right juice, it started pushing 900mbps+. I find that very impressive, given I picked it up for just 20 euros! Welcome to your new home little guy.

Thank you for reading!