Home Zoom box

6 Jun 2024


I spend a fair amount of work time on Zoom calls, and for that my regular work desk works just fine. However family video calls are another matter, especially with my kid involved, as the best location for that is the sofa. For some years, I used Skype with an Xbox One and a Kinect, which was pretty good, but Skype TBH kept going downhill (and as I just found out while writing this, got removed entirely from the store). I've instead been using Zoom in a variety of configurations, and wanted to walk through how I got there.

Ideally, I'd just be able to give Zoom some cash and solve it that way. I've used this sort of thing in offices before, and they've been really good. OTOH, the low end of their recommended hardware looks to be in the >£1k range (and a lot of it is "Contact Sales" pricing), so that's out. I don't need something quite corporate-level slick, and definitely not willing to fork out for that.

Next up was the usual "just run it on a Pi" options. This doesn't work for various reasons. Firstly, outside of Android, Zoom doesn't provide an ARM version (and I've tried it under x86 emulation on a Pi, it's just not fast enough). I could install Android on a Pi, but IIRC last time I tried that the webcam support just wasn't there (although the release notes on some things indicate it might work now as this was a few years ago).

Ok, so I guess I need a cheap PC. First attempt was with a BMAX mini PC, cost about £80 off Amazon. This has 6GB of RAM which was nice, but also an Celeron N3350 processor, which turns out to be pretty anaemic as these things go. It's almost enough to run Zoom full screen with one other participant, but not quite. I managed to instead then get a Dell Wyse 5070 which second hand goes for about £70 on eBay with a Pentium Silver J5005, which as it turns out is roughly twice as fast and so that'll do nicely :) Added a cheap webcam and a wireless keyboard and we're good to go hardware wise.

Software wise I could have just done this by hand, but ended doing this in a somewhat overkill manner. I had a NixOS setup on there for a while but ran into issues when trying to upgrade Zoom at some point which would have resulted in the 32GB internal SSD running out of space. I could probably have figured out what was using up all the space, but it was faster to just install Debian, which only takes up ~4GB even with the same set of packages (approximately) installed. There's a Paracrine setup under the same repo that does at least most of the config (barring some bits of xfce config that were too fiddly for me to want to extract). Along the way, I added dry-run support to Paracrine, as that was really useful when trying to extract some of my hand-tooled setup. Only bit that was of any real hardship to get working was the HDMI audio, but others had already solved that one for me.

All told, probably ~£150 for the whole setup, and it's a low-enough power box that I can just do Suspend on it when it's not in use and not worry too much about it.

Previously: Home Assistant IP ban allow list plugin