My prior experience with running a Bitcoin full node had been mediocre. I didn’t have 210+ GB of disk space to spare on my main PC, so I thought about using a spare notebook instead. But even there I would have to wait hours every time I wanted to use it while it downloaded all the latest blocks I had missed while the notebook was offline.
The Casa Node promised to change that: a small box that would sit unobtrusively next to my router in the living room, always in sync and ready to make and receive payments. My main motivation behind testing the Casa node was to see if there was a magical experience to be had. A product that would make running a full node accessible to regular people, without home servers that are always online, or the time to wait for their home computer node to catch up.
Around two months after my initial order, I received a letter. Instead of my Casa Node, it was a notice from my local customs office. I don’t remember exactly what the problem was (wish I had taken a photo of their letter) but I was able to resolve it by sending them copies of the order history and payment receipt (within seven days, after which they would have simply returned the packet to the US). I later learned that another customer from Germany experienced a similar issue. I cannot confirm if it was Casa’s fault, as I’ve personally had similar problems with German customs in the past.
With that issue resolved and the node in my hands, I sat down and got to the setup.
The contents of the packet:
It also came with a small booklet:
And finally, the node:
I was really surprised to see a cable of which BOTH ends have to be plugged into the same device. Couldn’t you connect the parts internally? I assume it was impossible with the Rasberry Pi computer inside, but might be nice for future iterations.
The last step was to connect the node with the power outlet as well as my router.
I was glad to see that the Bitcoin node was already 99% pre-synced, so I expected it to catch up to the chain tip in no time. Unfortunately, I was in for a rather long wait. Nothing seemed to change for around 20 hours, and the GUI was alternating between “Syncing 99%” and “Starting” as status for my Bitcoin node (I restarted it a few times, hoping it would do something).
The Bitcoin node now worked fine, but Lightning seemed to be permanently stuck at 11%. Nick offered me to connect a monitor + keyboard to the node so that we could do troubleshooting together, I didn’t have that easily available and so I decided to take a break of a few days from getting the node to run. My problem wasn’t with the waiting; it was that the node wasn’t transparent and didn’t show me what I was waiting for. As a result, I grew frustrated because I couldn’t see if I was moving closer to my goal. The frustration disappeared for the Bitcoin node once it started showing the current block height. But with Lightning, nothing moved for 48 hours — a frustrating experience.
The next morning, the fourth day after first unboxing the node, I decided to check the dashboard again, without expecting it to look any different than the past two mornings. But to my surprise, the LN node had finally switched from “Syncing — 11%” to “Active — Online.”
And it worked! After a very cumbersome process, everything had finally fallen into place, and since that, I’ve had no problems in operating the node. It was caught up and online each of the following days and generally working as intended. While I had great support from Casa team members and other helpful people in their telegram chat, all of my problems during the setup (except getting it to run on my primary Internet connection) eventually solved themselves. It just took a lot of waiting. And I don’t wanna lie; the waiting can be frustrating if you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.
The good news is that this could be easily solved by adding a live feed of what the node is doing at any given moment. As a nontechnical person, I just wasn’t used to the slowness of a Raspberry Pi computer. The problem here wasn’t that things didn’t work — they largely worked fine — it was that as an inexperienced customer I had no idea what to expect, what was happening behind the scenes or long how I had to wait — and the node didn’t readily tell me.
I knew what I had coming for me when I signed up for the first batch of an experimental piece of hardware. I’m not a tinkerer, and I get impatient when software (and hardware) doesn’t do what I want it to. But I still got the node to run, and now it largely works as promised. I successfully paid someone on LN. I struggled a little bit to get there, but the cool thing is that software can be updated and I expect Casa to make the setup process much easier for new customers going forward.
Running a Bitcoin full node is a huge pain for people like me. As a product targetting that niche, I currently see the Casa Node a bit between a rock and a hard place. For nontechnical people like me, it feels a bit slow and underpowered compared to the consumer hardware we are used to. It also has a relatively steep price point at $300. Bitcoin aficionados, on the other end of the spectrum, might have a home server or PC that can stomach running full nodes (which my PC couldn’t) while giving them options and control that the Casa GUI removes by design.
As a concept, I still think it’s a great idea and that plug-and-play nodes like Casa are here to stay. I will continue to use it now that it’s set up because it’s legitimately useful. I can make and receive Bitcoin and LN payments without the wait time of an out-of-sync full node. But it will also benefit from more iteration and a more clearly defined target user. Overall it was a slightly frustrating, but ultimately rewarding experience and I hope this review helps potential buyers to get an idea of what the Casa Node looks like, as well as giving the Casa team some ideas for improvement.
And this is just for nodes who don’t allow incoming connections (thus are not seeding old blocks to other nodes). I’m lucky to have an uncapped connection at home, but most people in the world have to deal with a capped bandwidth. Bitcoin blocks are already too large for them, and this is not something that plug-and-play nodes can change either. Keep that in mind when you hear people questioning the importance of small blocks.