Old laptop/Cheap computer for media server

I want to build a very cheap, low powered computer to use as a media server for a few peoples files to be accessed via smartphone. I've got an old (dell inspiron 1300) laptop which still does it job and could be used or I could build a cheap, basic computer to be plugged in all the time. Any thoughts on the bare minimum that would need to make such a thing?
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  1. I usually recommend laptops for media servers. They typically draw about 10-15 Watts while idle, possibly less if the screen is turned off. A modern i3 desktop system designed for low power draw is going to be up around 30 Watts. An older Core 2 Duo system around 60 Watts. And an old P4 will be over 100 Watts idle.

    Media servers tend to be left on 24/7. Over a span of a year, a 50 Watt difference in idle power works out to 440 kWh. At the average U.S. price of $0.12/kWh, that's over $50 in extra electricity costs each year. If your system draws more power, or you're in a region with higher electricity prices like Europe, the cost difference is even bigger. And since you already have the laptop, might as well try it first, then if it's not satisfactory you can build a cheap computer or buy a newer laptop.

    Unless you're planning to regularly serve multiple video streams, a 5400 RPM laptop drive bigger than about 250 GB should be more than fast enough (about 30-50 MB/s). Even an external drive plugged into USB 2.0 should be OK (25-30 MB/s). I don't know how fast the drive on an Inspiron 1300 is.

    It'll be better if the laptop has a gigabit ethernet port, but it's not essential. A full 1080p raw blu-ray stream is about 18 MB/s, so won't fit on 100bT ethernet. But 720p, SD, and 1080p MP4 streams are much smaller and will fit in 100bT just fine. 100bT is more of an annoyance when you use the laptop as a file server, because reads/writes are limited to about 12 MB/s. But most video streams fall well below that cap.

    Will the videos be stored in a format the smartphones can play natively? Or will it need to be transcoded in real-time? I suspect the CPU on the Inspiron 1300 won't be able to transcode HD streams in real-time. Even the AMD Brazos and some Atom CPUs have problems with that task. So that might be a reason to opt for a newer system.
  2. Thanks for the advise, as the internet here tends to be pretty crappy anyway I recon Ill just try the laptop with a 1 TB drive. If it turns out to be useless then I can always incorporate the drive into whatever I build.
    My only thoughts against it were that the laptop has been designed for portability and low power rather than extreme prolonged use. But Important stuff can fit on an SD micro and go everywhere any way, and if it breaks it breaks.
    Power maximum is 38.43 watts and sleep 0.54 in sleep mode so if I can wake on LAN i'm laughing there. Could always squeeze a little more out by disabling/removing graphics card, wireless adapter and what not but doubt its worth the hassle.
    One last thought, would setting daily restart schedules help prolong the life span?
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