Mitchell “Moe” Long is a dedicated homelabber.

What, exactly, does that mean? It means he’s a study, a devotee -- of the art of homelabbing -- that do-it-yourself hobby dedicated to the custom tinkering of computer hardware.

Homelabs provide a way for self-driven techies to learn more about topics like server technology through doing; they experiment and build out their environments at home.  Through this sort of hands-on experience, they’re able to learn more, faster, about hardware, software, networking, security, and more.

Homelabbers often choose the lifestyle for many reasons, not least among them being the opportunity for increased control and hands-on experience. Traditional computers offer a great out-of-box start; but a homelab boasts an environment tailored to fit their specific needs.

Long says, “With a homelab, like with a conventional scientific lab, there’s a lot of testing constantly. I’m always swapping components, trying new media server software, and tweaking settings to optimize performance. I am always learning.”

Homelabbers can be passionate about they do. In Long’s own words: “Whereas some people show off pictures of their kids or pets, I pull out pictures of my server.”

His own homelabbing journey began when he kept hearing about Plex; he’d heard that it offered a complex, “DIY” experience similar -- yet more customizable -- than products offered by certain “on demand,” billion-dollar-revenue media streaming companies.

He wanted to build his own environment -- so he did. He started by digitizing his DVD and Blu-ray collection and created a media server with Plex. Later, he spun up a game server on his machine.

And then, rather than purchasing cloud storage, Long decided to create his own.

Several years prior, he had inherited an aging Shuttle XPC with no operating system installed. He resurrected it for his purposes -- installing Lubuntu, a lightweight Linux distro, and upgraded the RAM and CPU.

He enjoyed reaping his rewards, and this first encounter with homelabbing showed him that getting hands-on with the software and hardware was significantly easier than he’d imagined.

There was also the gratification: doing his own setup felt more satisfying than just purchasing a machine “ready to go” out of the box.

Long says, “Ultimately, I had more control over the components and thus could create a machine that fit my needs.”

There are many TS140’s like it, but this one is his.

Among Long’s current prized homelab hardware collection stands a colorfully-decorated Lenovo TS140. And while there are many TS140’s in the world, Long’s, understandably, is one-of-a-kind.

  • Quick snapshot of specs:
  • 4 TB Seagate hard-drive
  • Ubuntu 16.04 LTS
  • Plex as a media server
  • Steam as a gaming server.
  • Linux distro.
  • Several epic stickers, including CoreOS, Raspberry Pi, Girl Develop It, and OpenSource.com.

We asked Long if there was any reason he picked this particular entry-level tower, and his reply was: “The TS140 is a true cult classic, lauded highly on forums like r/Plex. Part of what swayed my decision was the community feedback on the TS140 from folks who clearly knew their stuff. Specifics like power draw, noise level, and processing power proved the TS140 a pretty beastly server.”

He added, “I ran a few benchmarks with Plex transcoding. According to Plex documentation, “If your average is about 1.3 or greater, then transcoding speed is sufficient for what you're trying to do.” My logs with the TS140 read 19, which is pretty spectacular. On one client device the client bottlenecked the stream because the server was transcoding faster than the client could handle the stream. That’s a very good problem to have.”

He wanted a trim, classic, reliable “always on” server -- not a “behemoth.”

And the barebones setup was another bonus. While he could’ve built his own 100% custom server from the ground up, he liked having a foundation to start with -- and the TS140’s solid internals, CPU and motherboard were appealing.

Long loves Linux.

Long loves Linux, and he’s not shy about it. “I knew I wanted a Linux operating system as my base, so opting for the TS140 meant I had a solid hardware foundation and could install Linux on my own hard-drive.”

Long chose the TS140 because he wanted something he could tinker his Linux distro around. Long is passionate about Linux, noting that with its built-in SSH, it is easy to manage through SSH and SFTP (while using fewer system resources).

“The first Linux distro I used was an Ubuntu derivative, and I quite like Debian-based Linux operating systems. I chose Ubuntu 16.04 LTS for its ease of use and wide-ranging compatibility. I enabled OpenSSH so I could manage my server remotely.”

Go Long! More on Moe.

Mitchell "Moe" Long is a  freelance writer and editor; he is founder and editor-in-chief of Cup of Moe, and Staff Writer for MakeUseOf, htpcBeginner, and Bubbleblabber. A Tar Heel born and bred, he concentrates on tech, usually Linux, gadgets, and home theatre PCs. But he also dabbles in film, TV, and music journalism.

If you want to learn more about Moe and his homelabbing adventures, check out his pages on cupofmoe.com, MakeUseOf, htpcBeginner, and Bubbleblabber. While you’re at it, follow him on Twitter at @mitchellclong and @Cup_of_Moe -- or on Facebook page Cup of Moe.

While you’re at it, feel free to read up on his personal reviews of the TS140 -- on htpc Beginner and MakeUseOf.