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10 more thoughts on Roon ROCK + Intel NUC

  • This post is a ten-point follow-up to the short film about Roon ROCK.

    1. ROCK is a small, headless Linux operating system (OS) that puts Roon on an Intel NUC, but not all NUCs support ROCK. Roon Labs has published a list of supported devices here. Dual-booting ROCK is not permitted.

    2. Some users have reported that ROCK will run on other types of PCs. Which PCs? How could anyone possibly know? PC hardware combinations run into the millions. The only way to know for sure if ROCK will run on your PC is to try it for yourself. If you’ve yet to take the plunge on buying hardware and don’t wish to waste your money, I’d strongly recommend sticking to one of the Roon-supported Intel NUC models.

    3. If you’re already in possession of a NUC (or other PC) and find that, for whatever reason, ROCK won’t install or run on it, don’t be disheartened. We don’t have to resort to Roon (the app) running on top of Windows 10 just yet. Most popular Linux distributions will install and run on most PCs (obscure hardware aside), after which Roon Server (Core) can be installed by following the official instructions here. (Will ROCK run inside a virtual machine? I’ve no idea.)

    4. Running Roon Core on top of a more popular Linux OS is not the same as running ROCK but it will be close enough for some people. But wait! Running a more popular Linux OS offers one key advantage over ROCK: an ability to run other apps alongside Roon Core. I have a 2016 i5 Intel NUC (pictured above) on which I run Ubuntu 20.10 and where Roon Core and PLEX monitor the same hard-drive of songs. Why? Regular readers will know of my sharp enthusiasm for Plexamp when taking music out of the house.

    5. Roon’s Remote apps are a little slower to connect to the Ubuntu-d Roon Core than ROCK on a NUC (or Nucleus) but that difference could be down to the hardware differences between the various devices. I wish I had time to wipe ROCK from the NUC used in the video and put Ubuntu on it. That NUC was purchased with Patreon money and it’s only fair that I return it from whence it came by giving it away as a prize in a forthcoming Patreon competition.

    6. I should have gotten this one out of the way earlier: I hear no audible difference between ROCK running on an Intel NUC, ROCK running on the Nucleus or Roon Core running atop Ubuntu. That’s with each device running as a server only, connected to my home network’s router with Ethernet cable.

    7. Which of the three sounds the best when also connected to a USB DAC? I’ve no idea. However, I do know that a Raspberry Pi 4 running VitOS is on par with the Nucleus and that an ALLO DigiOne HAT applied to the RPi 3 (or 4), running S/PDIF coaxial into the same DAC, sounds better than all of ’em.

    8. Roon’s Nucleus is the only device I’d place within spitting distance of the listening position. Why? Fan noise. That is, unless…

    9. One of the bigger differences between Roon’s Nucleus and a DIY NUC server is the fan. The Nucleus does without, its case acting as a heatsink to the CPU and SSD, but the NUC runs a fan for active cooling. If you want to remove the fan from your NUC, you’ll need to swap out the enclosure for one that does passive cooling (per the Nucleus’ case). Taiwan’s AKASA makes fanless Turing cases for both 8th and 10th Generation NUCs. YouTube channel Snazzy Labs walks us through the Turing install process here.

    10. If you wish to keep the NUC in its stock case and have it run as quietly as possible, I recommend opening it up to clear the dust from the fan and its exhaust at least every six months. YouTube channel Damoslab covers us on the how-to here. As Aussie Damo’s video illustrates, household dust building up inside the NUC over months (and years!), can cause the fan to work harder and when a fan works harder it makes more noise. A can of compressed air makes this cleaning job much easier. When in use, placing a doorstop on top of the NUC partially damps some of its fan noise.

    And that is all I have to say about that.

    Further information: Roon | Plex | Ubuntu

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

    A short film about Roon ROCK

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