ROCK on NUC alternative - Lenovo M90n

Here is a low cost NUC alternative that runs unmodififed ROCK. I couldn’t find a 8th gen i5 NUC for similar money. Specs are a little overkill but this configuration is on sale for $399 through Lenovo.

Lenovo m90n
8th gen i5
8GB RAM
500 GB SSD
built in wifi and bluetooth
Win 10 Pro - Which I will replace with ROCK

To make this work, all you need to do is modify the BOIS settings. However, if you are like me and want the ability to possibly switch back to Win10 in the future, you need to create some install media as the unit ships with Win10 Pro preinstalled and no media. If you don’t care about that, skip that section (steps 4-8). ROCK installs quickly, less than 5 min. For me start to finish, including creating Windows media, and Roon backup and restore took less than 1 hour. That included reading documentation, figuring out the BIOS settings and taking notes. If you follow this guide, it should go much faster. Of course the backup and restore times will vary based upon your Roon library. Excluding backup and restore, this should take no more than 15 minutes.

Prep

  1. Go to your current Roon Core and do a backup. This can take a while so start it now. Unless you have a huge library it should be complete by the time you need it.
  2. Download ROCK image
  3. Flash image to USB

Create Windows 10 media

  1. Boot Lenovo
  2. Go through Windows 10 setup
  3. Download Windows install and create media (USB or ISO)
  4. Take a screenshot of the Windows Product ID (key). Be sure to save it somewhere not on the Lenovo m90.
  5. Shutdown

Install ROCK image on Lenovo

  1. Start the computer. Press F1 immediately when you see the Lenovo logo
  2. Change BIOS settings. IMPORTANT, you must change them in this order.
    10a. Advanced, Window Modern Stand By - Disable
    10b. Startup, CSM - Enable
    10c. Boot Priority - Legacy First
  3. Insert USB created in step 3
  4. F10 - Save and Exit
  5. Start and press F12 immediately when you see the Lenovo logo. Choose the USB drive for boot.
  6. Answer questions and it ROCK will be installed. Once complete you will have the ip address for the ROCK. NOTE, you must have an ethernet connection. No wi-fi.

Post Install Config

  1. Go to ROCK web interface and check CODEC. They are probabaly missing.
  2. Connect to ROCK via SMB and save ffmpeg file to CODEC directory. See the following for more info. https://kb.roonlabs.com/Roon_OS_Missing_Codecs
  3. Reboot ROCK from web interface.
  4. Go to you old Core and verify the Backup from step 1 is complete. Once it is complete. Shutdown the old Core.
  5. Using a Mac, Windows PC, iPad or Android tablet (no phones) start Roon connect to ROCK. Since this is your first time launching ROCK, you will be asked to log-in when you connect. Instead of logging in, click “Restore A Backup” in the lower-left hand corner.
  6. Restore your Roon backup from step 1. My music and backups are stored on a NAS so I entered the network locations at this time. At this point your new ROCK will have the same name as your old core. Don’t worry about that, just proceed. We’ll fix that once we are in Roon. I had to log into Roon after restoring the database. It said my license was already in use so I simply told it to deauthorize to old Core. It continued and then everything was there in ROCK. I chose to go into Setting, Setup and change the name of the Core to ROCK so I would know I was connecting to the new server. Remember because I restored from a backup it originally had the name of the old Core. All my Audio sources where configured. My backup was configured. But I suggest you verify that yourself.

Enjoy listening to your new Lenovo ROCK.

Note: this little device is near silent but not fanless. I can’t hear the fan when I am 1 ft away. When running my centeral HVAC is louder. So is the slight hum from my plasma display. This ROCK will not be in my listening room anyway. It will be mounted in a closet with my networking gear.

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M90n Nano
Starting at: £639.99 in the UK! for an i3. On the Lenovo website…

In the US, it has been on sale since late June for $399.

https://www.lenovo.com/us/en/desktops-and-all-in-ones/thinkcentre/m-nano-series/ThinkCentre-M90n-1/p/11ADS0B100

I think that this is a MOCK as it is non NUC, but what an excellent guide which will most certainly help others.

You can of course take the easier way out, and what I usually do, and just buy a second hard drive to load ROCK on.

Boot up the Lenovo with Windows and get that setup, then remove that hard drive completely and store it away. Put, another hard drive in and load ROCK. If I need to switch to Windows I can just switch hard drives.

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Daniel, yes that would absolutely work. Though you still need to update the BIOS. Wish I would have thought of that as a 128GB SSD should be pretty cheap. Unlikely I’ll ever need to run Win10 on this box but I like being prepared.

Looks like the M90n has slots for two NVMe drives… So you could have ROCK on one and Win10 on the other. How hard would it be to toggle between the two at boot time?

I’m trying to decide between the 8i5 or 8i7 M90n and an 8i5 NUC. Looks like the NUCs might be slightly better performers. Thoughts?

Michael, I should probably open up my m90n and see what is inside. The documentation from Lenovo is a little confusing as they fanless model are also part of the m90 family. You can definitely install 2 drives but one might be a SATA.

As far as toggling between the 2 operating systems, you would need to simply change the bios setting first as ROCK requires legacy support and Win10 needs UEFI.

I feel the 8i5 m90n and 8i5 NUC should perform similarly. I came from on old MacBook Pro that was adequate. Two for me the i5 is sufficient. The only reason I choose the m90 over a NUC was price. $400 vs. $600 for the i5 versions. I tried specing an i7 m90n and it was over $1000. At that point the 8i7 NUC is a better deal at roughly $700.

Right now (In the US) you can get a base NUC 8i5 for around $400. Throw in memory and a boot drive and you’re still well under $500. The 8i7 with memory and a drive would come in under $700.

The 8i5 M90n is $400 with the 8i7 M90n at $579 and they both come with memory and a drive (as well as Win 10 Pro). So overall, the NUCs are about $100 more than the M90n right now. But I believe the CPUs in the NUC spec out faster than that in the M90n. Whether than would make much of a difference to Roon is unclear.

I do have a growing library (~3600 albums), I stream to multiple zones although rarely more than 2 or 3 at a time. I’ve used DSP but not invested in it in a big way. Of course, I don’t want hardware that would eliminate the possibility either. I suspect the M90n would be more than sufficient but hoping to hear from folks that are using it to see if they’ve had any issues.

I went ahead and ordered the 8i7 version of the M90n. My goal is to move RoonServer from my 8 year old i7 desktop which has been acting a bit flakey to the M90n to solely running RoonServer. Initially, I’ll run it on Win10 (since M90n comes with it) but hope to get ROCK installed at some point. Stay tuned…

Thanks to @Tarun_Kundhi for pointing out this deal and the detailed instructions to install ROCK.

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I’ve been using a Lenovo m910 tiny desktop machine for Roon for more than a year now. (Internal 2TB SSD, about 11,000 files, connected directly to DAC via USB) I thought of installing ROCK, but I just left Windows in place and installed the Roon server to see how it would go. It’s a powerful little machine, so everything runs smooth as silk–I have had zero issues–and it’s silent, even when it warms up. I disabled unnecessary services to reduce Windows overhead, and I can manage the machine easily via remote desktop. I added HQPlayer about six months ago. No problem at all. It’s been a set-it-and-forget-it configuration. Whichever way you go–ROCK or Windows–these machines are all over eBay and are a real performance bargain.

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What is interesting about the M90n is that the power rating is almost half of the NUCs - 15w max tdp vs 28w of the NUC. That should translate to the M90n running quite cool and perhaps with less need of the internal fan. The single thread ratings of the M90n are a bit less than that of their 8i5, 8i7 NUC counterpart CPUs although the CPU Mark ratings are quite a bit less than the NUCs. From what I’ve been able to discern from the many posts, the single thread rating is likely a better judge of Roon routinE responsiveness and performance.

M90n in the house! Easy setup although restoring Roon from backup was a bit confusing … after I installed RoonServer, I logged in first rather than using the ”Restore from backup” link obscured at the bottom of the install page in a small font. But it was easy enough to reinstall and do it right.

I did install on the provided Win 10 Pro SSD. The M90n is tiny and runs quite cool. When the fan does kick in it’s still very quiet. At some point I will pick up a 2nd nvme ssd and install ROCK just to compare.

So far, I would not hesitate to recommend this to anyone looking for a very small footprint RoonServer. Pretty slick, particularly at the low price Lenovo is selling them for.

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