Moved to a $70 Lenovo Thinkcentre M73 Mini PC Server

I decided a couple weeks ago to try out Channels DVR after cutting the cord a couple months ago. BUT I first wanted to validate that Channels worked as advertised before I invested any real money in hardware like a NAS or PC Setup. I already had a HDHR Quattro tuner running with a HDHR Servio and as most know the HDHR DVR interface is just plain awful! I had an old Dell XPS 13 sitting around doing nothing but collect dust and I decided this would be a good starting point. It has a Core i5 2476M 1.6Ghz(turbo to 2.3ghz) Windows 10, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, a USB to Ethernet adapter and a 4GB Seagate portable USB drive for storage. Channels installed easy and fired right up. Live playback was good, but as soon as it had to transcode (software only), it worked but not great frame rates, but still worked. However, it did not want to be visible from outside the home network, even with the proper routing setup on my Linksys Velop router. And as I travel a lot for work, having out of home streaming is one of main draws of Channels for me. So, I decide to blow away Windows and I installed Ubuntu Linux 19.04. The machine is now super speedy and now I had hardware transcoding available with Channels! It worked like a champ streaming in network and out of the house. I only tested it with 2 out of network streams going at once and it worked good enough but the frame rates weren't super high and it took a little bit for playback to start. It worked good enough to prove to me that Channels was worth the $80 a year and was the solution I wanted to use.

Now that was ready to spend some money I wanted a mini server I could tuck away and let it do it's thing. I was looking at getting a Intel NUC or a Gigabyte Brix, first with 8th Gen Core -I3, i5 or i7 processors but ultimately the prices pushed me towards ones with Intel J5005 or a J4105 as the prices to go up to an I3 or I5 just didn't seem work the extra cost for this box to just run Channels. (Plex already runs on my iMac without issues so no need to mess with that) I had a spare 256GB SDD sitting here and 8GB of memory is cheap at $40, so I was spending about $180 for the Gigabyte with a J4105 or $240 for the NUC with the J5005. Then I came across the Lenovo thinkcentre M73 with a Core i3-4130T (Haswell Architecture running at 2.9ghz) with 8GB of RAM and a 500GB drive for $70 shipped on eBay. Turns out the place selling them is a 10 minute drive my house. I realize the Brix and NUC are new architecture with new implementations of Quick Sync, however for $70 I was willing to take a chance on this box.

I ordered it and had it in my hands an hour later. I swapped out the 500GB Drive for my SSD, backed up my server on the Dell Laptop and uninstalled Channels from the Dell. I installed Ubuntu Linux 19.04, which honestly takes almost no time at all. I swapped over the Seagate USB Drive and installed Channels with a restore of my setup and was up and running in about 15 minutes. Seriously, if you're messing around with Windows, just install Ubuntu you'll be glad you did.

Immediately, I noticed significantly better channels performance. Everything is faster. I tested it on a mix of Fire 4K sticks, Fire 4K Cube, AppleTV 4k, Mac, PC, Android and Windows devices. The guide loads instantly and I had them all going at once (either live tv or playing back recorded shows) and streams start almost instantly and now streaming with transcoding feels effortless with frame rates of 125fps transcoding 1080p 9mbps which recording 3 shows and watching on 3 seperate TVs. Looking at the logs, commercial detection for a 30 minute program takes about 3 minutes. Commercial skip while watching a program is virtually instant.

Performance is fantastic and I think I would have gotten similar or slightly better performance out of the NUC and Brix but with an additional cost. Still, I am impressed with the performance for $70 and how easy it was to setup and run. I will say, I could have easily gotten a used small form factor PC for similar money with better processor and performance but at a penalty of higher energy usage and possibly noise from fans. However, where I have this running is in my bedroom and I have it tucked away on top of my armoire in the bedroom so being super quite is key. Additionally, I do believe that my next purchase will be a video specific drive in a USB enclosure to replace the Seagate portable usb drive. Performance appears fine on the Seagate but I question the longevity of the portable drive.

The short version of this post is that I'm happy with the $70 server and it's doing everything I had hoped it would! I would recommend getting one or one of it's many similar mini PC cousins (HP, Dell, etc) and you'll be happy with the performance and the money you saved.

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Sounds great. Can you link to the hardware you bought?

Sure can, here is the info:
Ebay listing:

The ebay listing is now out of stock....but just looking there are lots of these m73s for sale in the same price range. They have 5 different processor options with the one I picked up being the second lowest offering.

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As an update. We had fall break this last weekend and out of home streaming worked excellent. I have a 12 Mbs upload stream on my Comcast internet and we were able to stream in the car over LTE without issues. And at my sister in laws house it also worked great over wifi. We didn't test any multiple streams.
Also, after we returned, I upgraded my drive to a 4TB Seagate Seawolf in an external USB3 enclosure. The portable Seagate 4TB drive performed fine but was constantly warm and it was never meant to be the permanent solution. So, I shut down the DVR, and copied over the DVR folder to the new drive, started the DVR back up, pointed it to the new drive and did a reboot of the computer. I had read on here that there can be issues without a reboot when changing drives...I don't know if that's still true or not but better safe than sorry! Performance of the Seawolf drive is excellent. Looking at the logs, my times for commercial detection have been reduced to 1 minute 30 seconds to 2 minutes for a 30 minute program (down from 3-3 1/2 minutes) and 4 - 5 minutes for a hour long show (down from 7-8 minutes). This is while playback of other shows is also being delivered. I have made my portable 4tb Seagate drive a backup drive for now.


I think this is definitely the best way to go w/ Channels DVR. I did almost the exact same thing, but I wanted to use an internal 3.5 inch hard drive and a desktop-class quad core processor since the same box would be running Plex simultaneously. Not quite a "small form factor," but still compact enough to tuck away out of sight. $110 all said in done w/ 8 gigs RAM and a Core i5-3470S

The rest was the same, it came with Windows 10 and I blew that away in favor of Ubuntu. I had intended to use an old SSD I had laying around for the OS and software but an unfortunate accident involving a weird mounting bracket and underestimating the force I was using ended in a broken SATA connector and a very dead SSD. So everything's on the main drive right now... I'll probably revisit that at a later date.

Got a link?

I'm afraid I don't, but it was a one-off I got from eBay, the seller only had that one. But there are tons of comparable small desktops over there all the time. I think it tends to be a dumping ground for computers that had been leased to corporate customers and have been rotated out for newer models.

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What’s the advantage of switching from windows to Ubuntu?

There is less overhead. OS is smaller. Don't need to periodically restart the system cause something got hosed or you need to apply a Windows update. Can SSH to it and fully admin through the shell. Has a package manager. Can support many different filesystems and network with all them. Can use all sort of open-source *nix apps. Can run most software legally for free.