Umbrel Home

UmbrelOS Dashboard

The Umbrel Home is a tiny, $399 home server that runs UmbrelOS — a home server distribution that’s most commonly used for cryptocurrency applications, but is just as capable as a general purpose home server operating system.

The machine features an Intel N100, 16GB of memory, 2TB of storage, and gigabit ethernet. It also includes Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and three USB ports, although I haven’t been able to find any use for those with the stock operating system. At least not the current version.

The product is quite slick, especially the setup process. You connect it to your network with an Ethernet cable, plug it in to power, wait about 30 seconds, and open the dashboard in a web browser.

From there you can create your account, go through some basic setup questions, and start installing apps.

Applications and Features

UmbrelOS offers an excellent assortment of applications. From files and productivity to media and more. You can find an app for just about any use case. At the moment, I have the following installed on my Umbrel:

  • Bitcoin Node — Allows you to run your own, personal Bitcoin node. This can be paired with other applications to reduce reliance on third-parties for wallet apps and other Bitcoin-related services.
  • Calibre Web — An ebooks server. I’m using it to store PDF copies of product manuals for the items in my home.
  • File Browser — A simple file management application.
  • Jellyfin — An excellent open source media server.
  • LibreTranslate — An open source alternative to Google Translate and other similar services.
  • Lightning NodeLightning is a layer 2 payment protocol that allows for more efficient Bitcoin transactions. Running your own node lets you participate in the network by routing payments and self-custody your Bitcoin on Lightning.
  • Mealie — A recipe server. I don’t have too much in it now, but I plan to give my wife access when I have a chance so that we can both store and share recipes through it.
  • MeTube — A web interface for downloading videos from YouTube and many other video hosting sites.
  • Overseerr — A slick requests manager with Plex integration.
  • qBittorrent — A BitTorrent client with support for proxies.
  • Transmission — Another BitTorrent client with an interface I prefer, but without built-in support for proxies.

Umbrel Application Store

You can view the whole application store on the web, but Home Assistant, Nextcloud, and Plex are a few other notable entries.

Aside from the application store, Umbrel has some simple system monitoring, which you can use to keep an eye on storage, memory, and CPU usage. There are also some basic settings like the option to select a different wallpaper, enable two-factor authentication, and remote Tor access.

The Issues

Although the experience has been generally positive, I have run into a handful of snags along the way.

  • I’ve run into occasional SSL errors with my Lightning Node. The fix is relatively simple, but requires using SSH or the system’s built-in command line interface.
  • The Bitcoin Node has randomly dropped to zero peers and stops updating. Restarting the app hasn’t resolved the issue for me and I end up having to reboot the entire system.
  • Speaking of rebooting, the first time I tried using the “Restart” option from within the web interface, the reboot never completed. I waited for several minutes and eventually used the power button to force the shutdown. Since then I’ve only used the “Shutdown” option in the web interface and then started it back up using the power button on the front. That method has been far more consistent for me.
  • I’ve had instances where the Umbrel becomes randomly inaccessible from some of the computers on my network.
  • There’s been a couple of times where my two-factor authentication codes didn’t work for logging in. I had to disable the feature from another system where I was already logged in. I can’t say for certain whether this was an Umbrel issue or something wrong with 1Password, though.

UmbrelOS did receive a software update while I was writing this piece, which claims to address the issue where it was inaccessible on the network. But I haven’t had enough time with it to know for sure.

Aside from those bugs, there is one glaring omission on UmbrelOS. And it feels like the kind of feature that the team should be working diligently on, if they aren’t already. UmbrelOS needs support for USB storage.

I still have plenty of storage left on my Umbrel — 2TB is a great starting point — but if you wanted to use the device for Plex, Jellyfin, or Immich, you’ll almost certainly end up wanting additional storage.

Overall

The Umbrel Home is an excellent package overall. The interface is slick and it offers a great assortment of applications on a sufficiently powerful system for a decent price. If the team is able to address the bugs and add support for USB storage devices, it feels like something I could recommend to average users.

As it is now, I think of the Umbrel Home as more of an option for tinkerers and technically savvy individuals. The type that aren’t afraid to jump into a terminal from time to time, but want something that’s a bit easier to get up and running than the alternatives. Or perhaps, this would be a good option for a more technically savvy person to setup for a family member, knowing that there could be the need for occasional support when things go wrong.

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Home Server Storage Upgrades

My current, primary home server has been humming along quite nicely since I upgraded to the 2018 Mac mini a few years ago. And I’m still using the OWC ThunderBay 6 that I bought in 2020 to house its storage.

The Mac mini that I ordered was just the base model with 128GB of storage. Rather than booting from the internal drive, I’ve been using an NVMe SSD that occupies the M.2 slot in the back of the ThunderBay. Up until just a few days ago, I was using a 1TB drive for this purpose. That size was chosen because it was the right price at the time and served my needs.

Since then, my needs have changed a bit, though. I started running a few virtual machines on the Mac mini, which I wanted to run on SSDs for performance reasons. But the 1TB boot drive just wasn’t going to be large enough. So I re-used a 2TB SATA SSD that I had lying around to store the virtual machines until I was ready to make an upgrade to the boot drive.

I was finally able to upgrade that drive a few days ago. I swapped the 1TB drive for a 4TB NVMe drive from Crucial.

The process was as simple as could be. I put the new drive in an external enclosure and ran SuperDuper! to clone the boot drive. Once the cloning process was complete, I moved the new drive into the back of the ThunderBay and booted from it. And that’s it. The whole thing, including copying the data, only took an hour or two.

I moved the virtual machine files to the boot drive and removed the 2TB SSD from the ThunderBay.

The ThunderBay now has a 4TB NVMe SSD that I’m booting the home server from, two 8TB Seagate hard drives that I’m using for media storage, and two 14TB Western Digital hard drives that I shucked and am using for local backups — the home server itself and every other computer in the house.

It’s about time I start thinking about upgrading those spinning disks too, though.

The two media drives are about 80% full, which is generally the threshold where I think about upgrading. I know how I am, so this whole process will likely end up taking a handful of months to complete.

My typical strategy when upgrading drives would be to buy two new drives that would be used as the new backup storage and then demote the old backup drives to media storage. This felt like the most cost effective way of increasing my available storage over time. But I don’t think I want to do that this time.

The 14TB drives that I shucked from their USB enclosure are a little loud. They’re fine for backups because I have a bit more control over when my backups take place. I have them all scheduled to run when I’m not in the office — I’m using TimeMachineEditor to accomplish this.

I sit about three feet away from the home server throughout my work day and the media drives are in nearly constant use during that time. If I used these louder 14TB drives to store our media, they’d drive me mad. I just don’t want to hear them all day long.

So I’m left thinking about upgrading all four drives in a fairly short period of time — probably over the course of a month or two.

At the moment I’m looking at 16+TB Western Digital Red drives. The company had a bit of a hit to their reputation a handful of years ago when it was discovered that they were selling drives that used shingled magnetic recording (SMR) without labeling them as such. But my understanding is that they’ve gotten better about labeling their drives and WD Red’s are quieter than Seagate Ironwolf drives.

Seagate Ironwolf drives are typically cheaper than WD Reds, though. And given the size of the drives that I’m looking to purchase, that can’t be ignored. I’ll have to do some more research to see just how much louder Ironwolf drives are and whether they would be something I could contend with. I suspect I may end up buying WD Reds that I use for media storage and then larger Ironwolf drives for backups.

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