How to (not) set up a RPi V3 server

A few months ago I set up a server running Archlinux on a RPi V3 using a 2.5′ USB drive for root. It is now dead.

One day I innocently did “pacman -Suy” as usual, and it didn’t restart. After that it was very unstable for days until it – the RPi V3 itself – appears broken. That is, I get very random errors, like different kernel panics, trying to boot it. I let a friend try to boot LibreELEC on it (his power, SD-card, TV) and it displayed the 4-color-splash-screen and the little lightning indicating power problem.

There are different ways to connect a USB HDD to a RPi.

  1. Let the RPi power the USB drive.
    (it works sometimes, you can try max_usb_current=1 in config.txt)
  2. Connect the USB drive to a “usb extra power cable” (google it) to take the load off the RPi
  3. Connect the USB drive to a USB hub that has external power
    (optionally, also power the RPi from the same USB hub)

With my unfortunate broken RPi V3, I used method (1) for a hard drive rated at 1.0A (the USB<->SATA-chip probably consumes some power as well). I did use a proper original RPi power supply though, but I believe I somehow stressed some component of the RPi V3 continously taking more than 1.0A from a single USB port.

Findings using USB hub to power RPi + HDD

I have an old USB Hub with a 2.0A rated power supply. I now use it as the only power source for a RPi + USB HDD (The USB Hub and RPi are connected both ways in a loop).

  • RPi V2 + 1.0A 1TB HDD: frequent under-voltage warnings
  • RPi V1 + 0.6A 320GB HDD: works perfectly

So, that particular USB Hub will drive my RPi V1, and I will find another solution for the RPi V2.

Conclusion

I have written several articles about using RPi as a server.

My sober and responsible conclusion must be: don’t (use Raspberry Pi for production Linux servers). It is simply not worth it. First it is not so cheap as you think when you have bought all cables, adapters, cases and chargers. Second, your time my not be for free. Third, performance is bad. Forth, stability is limited and don’t expect very long service time.

The cheapest NUC setup is a more rational choice.

I also believe a QNAP or Synology with virtualisation technology could be a better choice than running (multiple) RPi.

Nevertheless, I never learn, and I am now replacing my broken RPi V3 with two old Raspberry Pi (V1 + V2). I mostly use them for Syncthing and backup, I guess two is better than one, and I have unused USB Harddrives.

Archlinux vs Raspbian

I have come to like Archlinux for RPi. However, the frequent and relatively large upgrades that come with a rolling distribution feels somewhat unoptimal for a low-performance system living on an SD-card.

This time, I am back with Raspbian, because

  1. Raspbian is now based on Debian 10 (buster) right from start (I believe the Debian 9 release of Raspbian was kind of late)
  2. There is simple minimal Raspbian Buster Lite image suitable for servers or headless systems
  3. Creating an empty file named “ssh” in /boot before starting the first time lets you ssh into the brand new raspbian system, so you can easily install with neither keyboard/display or serial

I simply have nothing to complain about with Raspbian anymore.

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