With apologies for the length of the post, I’m recounting my experience switching my Roon server from Windows to Linux. The short version of the story: it went great, and I’m delighted with the result. The long version follows . . . .
I’ve been running Roon happily under Windows 10 on a Lenovo M910q Tiny computer for a while. The advantage to Windows was that it came on the computer. Using Remote Desktop, installing Roon is easy. Managing files and adding music is easy. But Microsoft released Windows 11 with no support most tiny computers like mine. That means the OS will be essentially unsupported. What’s the alternative?
Linux has been around for decades. It’ll run on anything, even ancient hardware. A minimal install can run headless (no monitor, keyboard, or mouse), and you can use the Cockpit web GUI to administer it. With a little experience, you’ll feel like you’re dealing with a reliable appliance over which you have complete control. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve had experience with various systems since the age of mainframes and minicomputers and have used Linux in the past. (Installing an OS from a USB stick is so much easier than mounting a tape reel!)
So I decided to make the switch. I started by using the same kind of machine I’m running Roon on now–a Lenovo M910q Tiny for testing. You can find them cheap on eBay. I’ll bet they’re getting even cheaper now that they won’t run Windows 11. I got a cheap one, so I could keep my current system running while I puzzled all this out. (I intended to redeploy the test box for remote network access later, so it’s kind of a planned expense anyway.)
Over the course of a week or two, I installed several versions of Linux to get my feet good and wet. I tried Elementary, Linux Mint, Ubuntu, Ubuntu server, and Debian. To me, a graphical interface (GUI) added to much overhead, and complicated getting to the machine remotely (though you can still login to a command line interface). I wanted to set up an appliance. Ubuntu server offered a lot more features than I needed. The Debian distribution (on which Ubuntu is based) is simple and it’s easy to install a real-time kernel–perfect for an appliance that does nothing but play music. That’s what I went for. Debian 11, real-time kernel, 16GB of memory.
Should you do this conversion? If you have some experience with Linux (or Unix variants), it’s not much of a challenge. If you don’t, this is probably not the way to go. Practically everything you do will involve typing commands. You’ll have to edit some configuration files to get everything you need up and running properly. Since a minimal install has no GUI, the options for editing might seem primitive. That said, current distributions of Linux are pretty fantastic. Gone are the days of compiling programs and fishing around for the right drivers. Everything just works. I installed Cockpit on the machine, so now it has a clean web GUI for administration.
What about Roon? It runs perfectly. The web interface seems more responsive–basically instantaneous–probably because the machine has no other real work apart from Rooning. Everything sounds great–not a single hiccup. It’s been up for weeks now, and all the logs show a happy machine. The nightly backup (iDrive) works reliably. Finally . . . I was running HQPlayer on my old Windows install, so I tested the embedded version with Linux. Once it’s installed, you can configure everything through a nifty web interface. It also works fine. If you go this route, you will need to purchase another HQPlayer license because even though it does the same thing, it’s a completely different piece of software from the desktop version. I haven’t done that yet purely as a disposable-income matter.
That’s the long and the short of it. Now I can keep my Roon server current with no concern about Microsoft’s calendar.