Historically I’ve used a stack of Pi 3’s and 4’s as Linux servers to run the various internal services I use. Hosting this site is one of them. I’ve replaced them all with a single Lenovo ThinkStation.
Lenovo make small (book-sized) office computers with capable AMD64 hardware.The M710q is a powerful little box that takes up around the space of four Raspberry Pi’s, but without needing to deal with the poor OS support of the Pi. It takes two SODIMM units, DDR4. It can take a 2.5” drive, an M.2 (2280) NVMe drive, and (potentially, depending on the variant) a second M.2 (2280) drive. The unit itself is available in the UK through amazon for £150 delivered, and is a serious option for a home-server with mainline Linux support and typical home-rack workloads.
Before contrasting the hardware to the Pi4, it’s worth talking about OS support. Of all SBCs currently on the market, the Raspberry Pi series of SBCs are probably the most supported in terms of GNU+Linux and BSD operating systems. However, documentation for running niche services on the Pi4 is generally poor, and I’ve typically found developer support to be lacking. That isn’t always the fault of the developer. The Raspberry Pi (in general) has been around for a long time, but it’s still encumbered by proprietary drivers that are a bit shit, carefully constructed kernels that are best used as-is, and (for all it is touted as such) a mediocre ‘general-purpose platform for computing’.
With AMD64, those problems tend not to exist. Given the ubiquity of the hardware, you can throw practically anything on it with fine results. Most documentation will target the system you’re working with. Issues, if you encounter any, will likely be useful to report to developers, and are likely to be resolved. And above all, you aren’t hamstrung by the average age of packages in the Raspbian repositories, to which the only solutions are prayer and running an even-less-supported distribution.
There is, at this time, a slight amount of pointlessness to comparing the hardware of the two. M710q’s are available in what feels like a limitless quantity, whereas Raspberry Pi 4’s are like gold-dust and are currently subject to scalping of the worst sort. Nevertheless, here are the key figures, using the £150 M710q available in the UK through Amazon:
I haven’t included all the hardware information on the two devices, and I’ve made some concessions in making these lists. The Pi 4 doesn’t come with a power supply, while the M710q does - but I imagine most people buying a Pi 4 probably have a Micro USB charger about their house. With that said, I also skipped the GPIO and DSI/CSI camera ports on the Pi, because they’re not really things I’ve ever used in a home-server setup.
I did however mention that the Pi doesn’t come with a MicroSD card. Mostly out of annoyance. Even the ‘faster’ MicroSD cards are kind of shite, and when we’re talking about server usage, there’s merit even in the M710q’s rather small SATA 3 SSD.
Power usage is perhaps worth considering. There’s a lot of variables that go into calculating that, and I have no statistics to give you. EnergyStar estimate the ‘average’ annual power consumption of the M710q at 55.70 kWh/year. What they consider ‘average’ is probably not my use case. For the Pi4, I’ve seen numbers around 40 kWh/year at maximum load the entire time, so likely far less if we were to find the same ‘average’.
We all know the Pi4 will be cheaper to run, but honestly, I’m likely saving more than the difference by shaving my head and not using a hairdryer. And you could probably make up the difference by replacing a single incandescent light-bulb (if you haven’t already).