Making a small, quiet print server

I had a spare laptop laying around gathering dust since the hard drive died. I did reuse it at one point for a media center and server but it was too high maintenance and I already had a PS3 to stream media.

So, I decided it was going to be a print server now. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a hard drive and I don’t want to install it onto a USB drive (performance issues and the computer cannot boot directly from USB). It also has to be low power and cheap. Storage isn’t an issue.

The best balance I could strike up was to use a CompactFlash card along with a CF to IDE adapter. A true SSD would be too expensive and a traditional harddrive would use too much power. CompactFlash also has built in wear leveling – an extra bonus.

All of this hardware cost me AUD$27 – pretty damn cheap SSD combo. You can find them all on eBay (though I highy suggest you get the CompactFlash card from a reputable source and brand rather than eBay even though it may cost much more – most of the memory cards on eBay are fakes and won’t last).

And finally, when it’s put together, we have our ghetto SSD!

Before you go booting your installation discs, remember to enter the BIOS and disable things you don’t need. This will save power.

Excited, I booted up my Debian 6.0 disc but unfortunately it simply froze. I hit Ctrl+Alt+Del and ran expert mode and found the problem. The kernel was frozen at “Probing EDD (edd=off to disable)”

The fix is to simply add the said string to the boot parameters.

Finally, I got to the familiar Debian install screen! Yay!

I’m not going to go into too much details about the rest of the installation. It’s pretty much follow the prompts from there.

One thing I would recommend though is when you get to the partitioning screen, make sure to set the noatime options. This stops the last access times from being written to disk – saving precious write cycles.

Finally, I rebooted and I was amazed at how quickly the system booted! From the GRUB prompt disappearing to the login prompt only took 3 seconds!

I was very excited and ran a speed test on the drive immediately and was very pleased with the results! It gave me values between 5 to 10MB/s. For an old computer that’s pretty good!

From here, things were pretty straightforward. I was amazed at what Debian 6.0 had to offer. Wireless drivers were already included and I even had the graphics driver installed 😛

So, I set up a SSH server, then hooked the printer up to the computer and tucked it away under the desk.

I won’t go into too much detail on installing CUPS and setting up the correct permissions. There are numerous guides that tell you this.

The hard bit after setting up the print server was getting my Mac to print to it. Adding it through the printers interface in System Preference won’t work.

You have to go to http://localhost:631/ on your Mac and select the “Administration” tab. From there, you add a new printer.

Select “(http) Internet Printing Protocol” and the URL should be something like this: http://yourprintserverip:631/printers/your_printer

Select the print drivers appropriate for your printer and click Add Printer. Print a test page to check it works.

For Windows, it’s really easy. Just add a printer as you normally would but select Network Printer and select the option to print to the internet and use the same URL as above.

At the end of the day, you’ll (hopefully) have a working print server! Enjoy printing from anywhere in the house.

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