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Building an Energy Efficient, Always-On PC?

Cliff posted more than 7 years ago | from the a-softer-hit-on-the-electric-bill dept.

Power 155

An anonymous reader asks: "Like many readers, I find it necessary to leave my home PC running 24/7, for things like web or FTP servers, BitTorrent, or simply to make sure I don't miss any messages on IRC or my instant messaging client. It has been about 3 years since I built my current PC, and keeping it running all the time uses a lot of juice. With my next PC, I would like to do what I can to keep the power-consumption to a minimum, without sacrificing processing power or other features. What should I look for when choosing components for my PC, and what other ways are there to keep the power consumption down?"

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Dont bother. (2, Interesting)

brejc8 (223089) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560717)

Energy efficient in which way? For the sake of the planet or for your electricity bill?
Generally the energy expended into making a product is directly relative to its price (see Marx and Aristotle). Whether the product is fantastically overpriced and the profits are used to fly CEOs around the world in personal jets, or if the product is made in a sweatshop where the workers are obviously not earning that much and have a greatly smaller carbon footprint than others. Every cent you spend is in turn spent on power. So, don't buy an expensive new PC claiming you are saving the planet.
I have such a box myself, it runs MythTV, mldoneky, a webserver, dhcp, samba, mail server... I made it 4 years ago using a cheap 2.4GHz Celeron which is dog slow yet is more than enough for the tasks. On a supply meter it uses an average of 60W. This translates to about £60 of electricity a year ($120).
Say I make a new machine which uses just 40W (unlikely), this machine would have to cost less than £20 per year of usage. In your 3 year cycle you would have to make it for £60 ($120).

Re:Dont bother. (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561073)

What you say is more or less true. But cost-of-purchase ain't the only part counting. Total cost is what counts.

So, a more expensive solution that uses less power, and thus ends up costing less in total, over the lifetime of the PC, will likely also be more environmentally friendly. It'd be better for your electricity-bill too.

At $0.15/kwh, saving 50W (say going from 100W average to 50W average) is worth $65/year in a always-on device. So, if such an always-on home-server is used for 3-4 years, that saving in power-consumption would be worth paying something like $200 more for initially.

In other words, if you can save 50W by spending $200 more, it's probably worth it, if you save less than that though, it's probably a waste no matter how you turn it.

Re:Dont bother. (2, Funny)

daeg (828071) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561855)

It also depends on how the power is used. If it's being used in the CPU, it's going to kick out a lot of heat, which can't be ignored, either, although can be hard to quantify. If your system is using less power, it's also probably kicking off less heat. If you're in Florida like me, you should pay attention to that, considering most Floridians air condition for 10-11 months out of the year.

Re:Dont bother. (2, Interesting)

swillden (191260) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563317)

It also depends on how the power is used. If it's being used in the CPU, it's going to kick out a lot of heat

Actually it doesn't matter where it's being used, in the CPU or elsewhere, every watt into your computer is going to end up heating your house.

If your system is using less power, it's also probably kicking off less heat. If you're in Florida like me, you should pay attention to that, considering most Floridians air condition for 10-11 months out of the year.

OTOH, if you live where you have to heat your house a large part of the year, the heat it gives off may offset the energy cost. In my case it's a little more expensive to heat with electricity than with natural gas so the energy into the computer isn't free, but the heat does effectively reduce the cost a little.

Re:Dont bother. (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 7 years ago | (#18568169)

Actually, no. It does not matter where the power is being used. All of it turns into heat regardless.

Re:Dont bother. (3, Insightful)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561851)

Well, the OP didn't say whether he was interested in low power in order to save on his electric bill, or for ecological reasons, or both. But you're right, it's not necessarily ecologically sensible to buy new hardware. In my area, the garbage company runs a disposal site for hazardous household waste, and when you go there, you see big stacks of computers. They have a program where if you ask, you can take computer hardware for free. For someone who really wants to do a favor to Mother Earth, it might be a very sensible way to pick up a case, a CD drive, and a hard disk. If there isn't anything like that in your area, chances are you can get those parts pretty darn easily at a garage sale. I picked up a really nice CRT recently at a garage sale for $10. I put it on a machine at the school where I teach that doesn't get used very often, so the electricity isn't a big issue. It sure beats dumping that same CRT in a landfill.

Re:Dont bother. (2, Interesting)

smchris (464899) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563451)

Seems relevant. He doesn't say whether he has a T1 to the home but, if not, it seems like his modest needs probably don't require anything like a three-year turnover. Our home DSL web server does what we need with an 800 mhz Slot A and a 2-gig scsi (recycled from ebay at 4+controller for $30).

Third World way to be efficient. Don't toss it if it works.

Re:Dont bother. (3, Informative)

smallfries (601545) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565403)

I'd agree with your points about the cost of making a new machine versus the savings; but instead of saying don't bother I'd recommend playing with the software a little. Lots of people have "24/7" servers at home for the same applications, but how many people actually use them 24/7? With me it is more a case that I want access 24/7 even if I just use it a few hours a day on average. Have a look at a hibernation kernel and WakeOnLAN. If you can bring the server up to a good point remotely with just 30sec latency then the real power saving is having it shutdown 80% of the time. Using a longhaul governer and scripts you can ensure that it stays up when it needs to (ie during a bittorrent download) but then shuts down when there are no active processes on the system.

Re:Dont bother. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18566351)

2.4 GHz being dog slow? Apparently you've never used a 486 (which was lightning fast when I bought it).

Not one... two. (3, Interesting)

Baddas (243852) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560729)

Use two PCs. One small Via Epia 700mhz to do your webserver and bit torrent, and another PC with whatever spec you desire to use when you need to do processor-intensive stuff.

If they're networked, you can just as easily copy files over when you need them, or stream media across.

Re:Not one... two. (4, Funny)

PipOC (886408) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561709)

A C7 would likely be a much better choice for a webserver, you get SATA, and a much faster processor, which is much more suited to serving web traffic. And if you're hosting torrent files you will likely be having lots of disk access, making SATA a huge benefit.

Re:Not one... two. (1)

jgrahn (181062) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565593)

A C7 would likely be a much better choice for a webserver, you get SATA, and a much faster processor, which is much more suited to serving web traffic.
Since when do you need a fast processor to serve web pages over a (most likely) fairly slow link?

And if you're hosting torrent files you will likely be having lots of disk access, making SATA a huge benefit.

Only if IDE disks cannot fill his internet connection. I seriously doubt that is the case. And how fast disks do you need to fill IDE, anyway?

Re:Not one... two. (2, Informative)

AusIV (950840) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563697)

I'd also think you could use wake-on-lan to get the lightweight to wake the heavyweight either at predetermined times, or on certain events that would require the heavyweight.

Re:Not one... two. (2, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 7 years ago | (#18567215)

I've done exactly this, although I wasn't going for anything particularly lightweight -- it's a 1.8 ghz amd64 with a gig of RAM. But, for instance, I can SSH in to the server and have it wake the desktop, then SSH into the desktop and tell it to reboot to Windows, then VPN+rdesktop, if I need (for instance) a real version of MS Office on the go.

One thing I'm toying with is finding some sort of device which can be controlled via USB or somesuch to turn on and off power at will. Thus, I could have the server wake the desktop, then the desktop can turn on its own speakers and wake me!

Re:Not one... two. (1)

bobbozzo (622815) | more than 7 years ago | (#18568531)

A Taiwanese company called GemBird makes USB controlled power strips.
Some info and a pic at:
http://people.debian.org/~ocsi/project/sispm [debian.org]

They were at CES last year trying to find a N.A. distributor. It doesn't look like they succeeded:
http://www.gembird.cn/index.html [gembird.cn]

I wouldn't say their stuff is particularly high quality, btw.

Re:Not one... two. (1)

Znork (31774) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565253)

"One small Via Epia 700mhz"

To skimp even more, one could take a look at linux based/capable NAS and/or DSL router devices (Linksys WRT54GL or NSLU2, for example). They're cheaper and probably use even less power than an Epia, and can manage many low processing always-on tasks.

Low power consumption CPU is needed (2, Interesting)

ipsender (727730) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560787)

Simple... run Linux on an ARM-based machine - http://www.iyonix.com/ [iyonix.com]

Re:Low power consumption CPU is needed (2, Insightful)

aliquis (678370) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566123)

For that price he could probably afford loads of electricity.

Re:Low power consumption CPU is needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18566605)

I'm using a linksys NSLU2 and a 120GB USB 2.5" laptop hardrive running debain.
5v 2amp PSU.
It runs a apache, bittorrent etc.
http://www.nslu2-linux.org/ [nslu2-linux.org]

Flash (1)

Rhett's Dad (870139) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560797)

Try replacing a hard disk or two with flash memory, at least for the stable parts of your system (i.e. pretty must unchanging files). I plan to use a CF card along with a CF-to-IDE adapter on my next Linux box, for the generally unchanging parts of my system (/boot, /bin, etc). Not only am I expecting it to make it a faster box, but I expect the power requirements to be much smaller than a hard drive would have been. Also, passive cooling with heat sinks... no fans = no power running said fans

Re:Flash (1)

zerOnIne (128186) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562699)

Beware of that plan! I tried that exact same thing this past December and quickly found out a very odd "feature" of most CF-to-IDE adapters; specifically, they don't wire through DMA properly. So your BIOS will support DMA, your CF card will support DMA, but the signals never actually get through. Now it takes this particular machine a few minutes to boot while linux tries to turn DMA on but keeps timing out. And yes, I've tried passing a few different kernel parameters at boot time but to no avail. You're much better off going with a simple USB thumbdrive (which most BIOSes will happily boot from these days), and the price for the size will be about the same as card + adapter (unless you've got a stockpile of CF cards floating around, of course). I'm probably going to be doing just that in the future with this machine at some point, but since I've already mistakenly invested in this tech, I'm going to stick it out for a while at least. Though I will say that there is at least one manufacturer who purportedly makes adapters with proper DMA handling. Their name escapes me at the moment though.

USB-to-CF Adapters (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563085)

You can also get USB-to-CF adapters, and assuming they're USB 2.0, they should do about as well as USB memory sticks for performance, while letting you use that old CF if that's useful to you, or new CF if you prefer to buy your memory that way.


And assuming that your OS will let you spin down the disks that aren't in use, keeping most of your running system on CF will keep things quite and low-powered except when you actually need disk.

Re:Flash (1)

zeenixus (571630) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563961)

I have several cf-to-ide adapters by pc engines and they all work with dma. Of course, these are also the same guys that make the "WRAP" boards, so maybe they know what they are doing.

Re:Flash (1)

zerOnIne (128186) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565917)

Yeah, I picked up a no-name adapter, and poking around online afterward this seems to be a fairly common problem. It's apparently something that's not hard to get right, but just a lot easier to get wrong.

Re:Flash (1)

saskboy (600063) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564357)

You could also run the OS right from RAM, if you use a small distro like Damnsmalllinux.org and avoid using a hard drive completely. The storage can be on a USB memory stick.

Re:Flash (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 7 years ago | (#18568665)

I had been looking into that but decided against it since I'd need a HDD anyways for all the services the OP talks about - from receiving messages, through web-serving through torrenting - you name it. By the time you're actually using your server, there's always some kind of activity that wants the hard disks spun up at least once every 20 minutes or so - so if it is effectively always spinning, then I might as well pot /boot onto it as well and skip the whole memory-stick thing entirely.

However I really, truly do not need any kind of CPU power like even old systems have these days. My server is an Athlon Thunderbird 1.2 GHz from 2000 and I have it deliberately underclocked by a factor if 2 to 600MHz because that is still plenty fast for the bit of I/O it has to perform even at extreme times. At this low speed it turns out that even at full utilization (that is: Prime95 torture test) the processor temperature never rises above ~55C when cooled passively with a big sink but without fans. I figure that shaves more watts off the system than I could save any other way...

Very simple (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18560799)

Get a Mac.

Two words. PSU & powernowd (2, Interesting)

A beautiful mind (821714) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560825)

1. Buy a good PSU, one that is energy efficient.
2. Run powernowd (with AMD cpus, under linux), which scales down your cpu clock if not under heavy load.

Re:Two words. PSU & powernowd (1, Informative)

PipOC (886408) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561765)

Intel has speedstep technology which does almost precisely the same thing as powernow. Core 2s also have significantly lower power consumption than AMD processors. If you're really into running ultra low power you could run a mobile processor for the desktop, on something like this board http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8 2E16813202004 [newegg.com]

Another mislead AMD/Intel power comparison. (4, Informative)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562893)

Sorry dude, Core 2s do NOT have significantly lower power consumption than AMD processors.
And even when they do, it is not so spectacular when you factor in the lack of a memory controller. (I like the Core 2, hate the P4)

Sorry, this is a COMPLEX subject. How so? Intel and AMD measure Power needs by a different yardstick. AMD makes many parts, has two different processes, and even on the same process has varying power needs.
The AMD 65nm desktop chips use VERY LITTLE power, often kicking the butt of the core 2 duo, especially at idle.

If you really want to save power on a powerfull x86, you undervolt/underclock a 3600x2 65nm chip. At this point, you will worry much more about the power consumption of your Power Supply, Video Chipset and Hard Drive.
As some have suggested, Plug in a large Flash memory device for files accessed but not updated regularly, spin down the HD after a time delay(HD's have a finite number of start ups), look for an efficient supply, and look at the newer AMD integrated video chipsets.(I think you will find these chips consume much less current than others)

Re:Another mislead AMD/Intel power comparison. (2, Insightful)

dnorf87 (1082671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565701)

AMD and Intel rate their processors TDP (Thermal Design Power) differently. Intel rates their TDP by typical usage, while AMD gives the maximum the chip is capable of consuming under severe conditions. Check out the TDP of comparable Intel and AMD processors, then get back to me on that. I think AMD's power consumption is pretty impressive if you include the fact that they have an integrated memory controller, and how they are usually a process behind Intel (90nm AMD vs. 65nm Intel). At least AMD has new, very energy efficient 65nm processors out. Much better :)

Re:Two words. PSU & powernowd (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566143)

Uhm, I've got the impression that AMDs is quite basic and works best when the CPU is more or less idle, but when it does it clocks down further below than the Intel chip (atleast back then) and that it's therefor more efficent for a system which is mostly idle. The Intel version however is more advanced and also works to some extent during load and therefor the Intel chip will use less electricity on a more busy machine.

Is that still true? Have it ever been? :)

Regarding power consumtion then no, the Intel chips doesn't "ave significantly lower power consumption" than AMD processors, it's just that their rating is typical there on the AMD it's really max.

I guess the Core 2 Duo have a small lead in performance/watt atm thought.

Don't forget the monitor (5, Insightful)

Pyrex5000 (1038438) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560857)

Using an LCD monitor instead of a CRT will drastically cut your power usage. Turning off the monitor while not at your computer will help as well, instead of just letting the screensaver run. The monitor can consume more power than the PC itself.

Re:Don't forget the monitor (2, Informative)

shaitand (626655) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561401)

This is my typical recommendation for clients. Power management functions in windows are highly unstable. The PC doesn't wake half the time if you use any power management beyond having the monitor go on low power mode. The monitor uses less power when off then on low power mode.

The advice is simple. Turn off all power management. If you walk away for a second your system will be ready and responsive. If you walk away for 15+min turn off your monitor. If you leave for 8hr+ turn off your PC.

Re:Don't forget the monitor (2, Informative)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562993)

I agree, screensavers are a power robber. Not only does the cpu/gpu work harder(thus consume current), the monitors are active as well.

On the other hand, I want to caution that in Monitors or TV's, LCD's do not always save much power per inch of display. It depends on the model. I have one CRT that takes only 30 percent of the standby power of one of my LCD's. Since they are "off" more than on, this negates a lot savings.

An interesting side note, my CRT takes less power when displaying a primarily black screen, my LCD's don't.

Re:Don't forget the monitor (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565111)

An interesting side note, my CRT takes less power when displaying a primarily black screen, my LCD's don't.

That is expected, actually. LCD's work by blocking out the backlight. Their "natural" state is transparent, so in theory they should even use slightly more power when showing black. In practice I doubt you can measure the difference.

Kuro Box (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18560891)

I just recently bought a Kuro Box for exactly the same reasons - low power, low noise, always on. You can load it up with Gentoo or Debian, so you can do bittorrent, ftp, http, etc. And it's cheap!

The only downside is that it's headless, but for me that wasn't an issue. If that really bugs you, you can set up a vnc server on it and graphically steer it from your PC.

Check out the kuro website. [kurobox.com] It has links to their wiki and forum.

Re:Kuro Box (2, Informative)

harryman100 (631145) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561243)

This works well as a server, My flatmate recently bought one, and it worked pretty nicely out of the box - he stuck gentoo on it (which took a bit of fiddling), but now has a v low power file/web/subversion server which is on constantly.

However, the power is LOW, don't expect to be able to do much other than just let it sit and serve a few bits and pieces. I bought myself a Via Epia fanless 1GHz motherboard last october, which works as a mythtv front/backend, apache server, subversion server, a synchronisation machine (I have a script on both my other two computers which when run, will rsync all the important stuff, so that all 3 always have everything I need. The board itself takes about 15-17W, + a bit exta to power the PCI card, and the Hard Drive. I haven't measured it yet, but it's saved us quite a bit of money on our electricity because i now only need to turn my desktop on rarely.

The OP seemed to be suggesting he was looking to replace his current machine with a low power option. This is nearly impossible to do without having to make a significant performance sacrifice. What I suggest instead, is going for a low power, always on server to do all the stuff that you need to have available constantly, and then just turn off your powerful machine as often as possible.

Re:Kuro Box (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18562025)

There's something similar from linutop. [linutop.com]

I'm a little nervous about running a diskless system with only 128 or 256MB though. To do without a swapfile, I'd want more RAM than that.

Re:Kuro Box (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562765)

Maybe we should mention Genesis Efika [pegasosppc.com] aswell, cheap mobo + 400MHz PPC + 128MB ram + 100mbps.

VIA boards work well, but not as fast as Core (3, Informative)

wirelessbuzzers (552513) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560897)

For off-the-shelf desktop use, it's hard to beat the Mac Mini. Core duo, notebook hard drive, notebook optical drive, draws like 50 watts at idle. I hear the Acer L320 is going to be similar. No graphics in the Mini, but maybe there will be in the Acer. Good graphics cards are pretty much guaranteed to have high power consumption these days; I'm not sure if you can idle them down.

For light-duty serving, I've been very happy with the latest round of VIA boards (and I've heard the slightly cheaper Jetway variants work just as well). I have an EPIA EN12000EG fanless board running in one of those $30 mini-tower cases from Fry's (or something). The board draws something like 13 watts at idle, and 25 under load. This includes the CPU, RAM and chipset. If you can spin down the hard drives, they'll only be a few watts more, and adding in the PSU inefficiency, it'll be maybe 40 watts AC.

If you just want to serve stuff, you can toss in a 2.5" SATA hard drive (or two, for RAID) and no optical, and fit the whole thing into a case smaller than a Mac Mini, for a lower price than the Mini, with less power consumption than a Mini, even with 2x160GB notebook drives. Or you can put in an optical drive, and it'll be slightly bigger than the Mini.

I've used one of the previous round of these as a desktop machine. Its audio is decent, and as long as you're mostly browsing the CPU is fast enough (compile jobs are slow, but they're much more tolerable with the new C7 proc). The integrated graphics suck, so you won't be gaming on it.

Re:VIA boards work well, but not as fast as Core (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18561271)

It should be pointed out that the Mac Mini is efficient for the fact that it primarily uses mobile components -- things that normally go into a laptop. I think the power consumption numbers the parent quoted would also include the display, as I believe the Mini only consumes around 20W at idle and 25-30W under load (say... playing a DVD).

With that being said, laptops are also a good option and are typically more efficient, consuming 30W under load, and that includes a display which can always deactivate itself after a certain amount of idle time. Mobile power management is also typically as good as you get. A Core2 Duo is also overkill for things like HTTP and FTP servers -- I used to do virtual hosting for friends way back on a Pentium 200 w/ 200MB of memory without a problem. You get the option of mobility to boot, even if it largely stays parked on your desk.

Storage is always limited, but external firewire drives can add a lot of space without a lot of noise, and with excellent performance. I have a 500GB WD myBook. It spins itself down after 10 or so minutes of inactivity, and when spun up it's barely audible.

Re:VIA boards work well, but not as fast as Core (2, Informative)

MojoStan (776183) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563383)

For off-the-shelf desktop use, it's hard to beat the Mac Mini. Core duo, notebook hard drive, notebook optical drive, draws like 50 watts at idle.
Since the anonymous reader wants to "build" the PC, I think a Mac mini recommendation (a good pre-built choice) should be accompanied by the AOpen miniPC barebones series [aopen.com] . The specs and form factor are nearly the same, but AOpen allows a wider selection of components. Systems can be assembled-to-order at MyAOpen.com [myaopen.com] . Barebones miniPCs can be bought at many places like Buy.com and TheNerds.net.

If this form factor is restrictive, then the Mac mini's energy efficient notebook chipset (Intel 945GM) can be had in a microATX motherboard w/PCI Express x16 slot (Asus N4L-VM DH [asus.com] , $82 at Newegg), a FlexATX motherboard (Tyan Tomcat i945GM [tyan.com] ), or Mini-ITX barebones (MSI Axis 945GM [msi.com.tw] ).

Re:VIA boards work well, but not as fast as Core (2, Informative)

jabuzz (182671) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564609)

While a Mac mini is power efficient, the point is that something like a Via C7 mini-ITX is more power efficient still. I recently built an always on device, used a EPIA EN12000G fanless motherboard, with a picoPSU 60W power supply, 512MB of RAM, a 60GB 7200RPM always on rated Hitachi 2.5" drive (you can get up to 160GB 7200RPM laptop drives now), and fitted it in a Pack-BOX enclosure, complete with a PCI Unicorn based ADSL card. They do a slightly bigger version of the case that takes a 3.5" drive or two 2.5" if you want to run RAID1.

This combination is drawing under 20W, and is fanless to boot for added reliability. The whole lot is mounted on the wall under the stairs. While the processor is slower than a Mac mini, it has a faster hard drive and no fans. The next step is to add in a battery backed PSU as an UPS. As the picoPSU can operate on 6-26V, so I don't need a traditional UPS which will be a lot less energy efficient.

A laptop (4, Interesting)

pipatron (966506) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560911)

A laptop is already constructed to use as little power as possible, so for non-performance critical tasks, it would probably be quite useful for an always-on server. Built-in UPS is also handy, and it can be tucked away in some closet without taking any room, while still having an emergency keyboard and screen if you need to perform administration tasks on it.

For storage, a couple of USB-drives would be useful, I bet they don't draw much more power than the drive itself.

Re:A laptop (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560951)

Yeah, I bet a drive doesn't draw much more power than the drive itself.

Re:A laptop (1)

Atlantis-Rising (857278) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563759)

But the enclosure does.

USB drives a very bad choice for power savings (1)

jbridges (70118) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562657)

Bad idea to use USB drives for low power because they generally do not spin down when idle.

Same is true with most RAID adapters (Areca does support spin down).

Leave the boonies (0, Offtopic)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 7 years ago | (#18560963)

Move to man's natural habitat: the city [walkablestreets.com] .

If using AMD Athlon 64... (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561001)

... use its Cool'n'Quiet if your motherboard has this CPU and supports it. It's nice when idled and not using the machine so much (e.g., surfing the Web).

Now, if I could make my Windows XP Pro. SP2 stable. Others and I [amd.com] can't figure out why I get blue screens with Cool'n'Quiet enabled.

Underclocking (4, Informative)

pizza_milkshake (580452) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561117)

Check out your underclocking options on your current machine; I found that Linux's 'ondemand' cpufreq policy governor made a real difference on my machine: http://parseerror.com/~pizza/cpufreq.html [parseerror.com] You can also check around in your BIOS to underclock your machine; but the disadvantage there is that the change is permanent; with Linux's CPU governors and a modern CPU your machine runs at full clockspeed only when the cycles are needed; I believe Windows has similar options.

Re:Underclocking (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561661)

I am doing the same with my AMD Athlon 64 754 system. It seems to work well. See my newsgroup thread [google.com] . I tried stressing it and idled it.

Temperatures are nice when idled (room is about 78 degrees(F):
temp1: +95 F (high = +172 F, hyst = +106 F) sensor = thermistor
temp2: +96.8 F (high = +176 F, hyst = +167 F) sensor = thermistor

Gumstix (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18561233)

Use one of these: http://www.gumstix.com/ [gumstix.com]

A used Pentium-M based laptop (5, Informative)

Jerf (17166) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561251)

Buy yourself a used Pentium-M based laptop. If you don't need to actually use the computer directly, buy one with the screen broken, which tends to make for some darned cheap laptops. You can hook up a monitor to it, which is how you'll put your OS on it. (Remember, laptops have mouse ports, USB ports, and display, so you can use them as a conventional computer just fine, and most laptops have the graphics chips to drive a higher resolution that their native LCD resolution.) The money you save on buying a cheap laptop like that make up for a lot of power bill, especially with the broken screen bonus.

Get the model number of the laptop in advance, cross-reference that with the chip that it uses, then find the power consumption for that chip if you want to double check. I hear the later-model ones are (surprise surprise) more efficient, but they're all pretty good AFAIK.

As somebody else said, the built-in UPC isn't bad, and a Pentium M will have all the power you need for non-floating-point functions; any Pentium M can handle even a moderately-sized website if you wanted.

Re:A used Pentium-M based laptop (0, Redundant)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561755)

One major reason that the newer notebooks might consume less power on average is because the desknote type system has been marginalized. Those systems were just monsters in weight and power consumption, I've seen some that used desktop Pentium 4 chips. One guy I knew used carry-on type luggage to haul it around rather than a notebook bag, because it was too big to fit in any existing notebook bag, being 2" thick, 17" screen and requiring two or three honking fans.

PC vs Mac electricity consumption (3, Informative)

lancejjj (924211) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561269)

My home PC server, which I left on 24x365 for email, backup, etc, ended up costing me well over $150 per year in electricity just for the PC (no periferals, monitor, or anything else).

Noticing this cost, I compared a bunch of Macintosh and PCs, as you can see in this article on PC and Mac electricity use. [blogspot.com]

As you can see, it's pretty easy to see that the cheapest devices can end up costing more in power alone.

If you plan to run an electronic device close to 24x365, factor electricity consumption into your purchase decision. Also factor in devices like cable modems, wireless routers, and so-called "sleeping equipment" - in combination, they can easily put another several hundred to your electricity bill every year. I use an X10 "appliance" controller to truly switch off idle equipment.

My total monthly electric consumption these days is well under 100 KWh.

Re:PC vs Mac electricity consumption (1)

Urgoll (364) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562165)

My total monthly electric consumption these days is well under 100 KWh.

My god, what kind of house do you have to use that much electricity, and where do you live? My house doesn't use a quarter of that in a full year, including heating. And I'm in Canada!

Re:PC vs Mac electricity consumption (1)

Nonac (132029) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562853)

I suspect you are misreading your electric bill. Even turning on a 25 watt light for three hours every day would use more electricity than you are reporting. The average US household uses about 9000kwh per year, so the 100kwh per month stated above actually is pretty low.

Re:PC vs Mac electricity consumption (1)

lancejjj (924211) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562883)

My god, what kind of house do you have to use that much electricity, and where do you live? My house doesn't use a quarter of that [100 KWH/month] in a full year, including heating. And I'm in Canada!
A single 100 watt incandescent light bulb, on 24 hours a day, consumes roughly 73 KWH per month:

    100 watts * 730 hours/month = 73,000 watt-hours per month, or 73 Kilowatt hours per month.

Your 25 KWH over a year is equal to having a 3 watt light bulb on 24x365. Either you freeze your ass up there, or you might calculate KWH differently in Canada.

Re:PC vs Mac electricity consumption (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566365)

Uhm, you are thinking about 100.000 kwh, right? :)

Build an iMac (1)

CmdrPorno (115048) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561445)

My 20" iMac with the Core 2 Duo processor uses around 70-80 watts with the display on, and 30-40 watts with the display (but not the entire computer) in sleep mode. That's less than half of what the Dell it replaced used. I'd bet a similar Mac Mini uses the same or less amount of power.

Re:Build an iMac (1)

jdray (645332) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562493)

An article over at macnn.com about how a Mac Mini outperformed an (old) XServe [macnn.com] says that the Mini used .37 amps at its peak. Presuming that was measuring the 110 Volt side, that's just over 40 Watts running full steam. I'd call that fairly power efficient.

A laptop with no fan... (1)

neurocutie (677249) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561579)

As several have mentioned, the obvious choice for an always-on PC is a laptop, as long as you don't require a lot of disk bandwidth. Remember that even an old 486-66 can saturate a T1 line, so almost any laptop will do (but get one with a good lithium battery, definitely not NiMH or NiCd).

The added advantage of these older laptops is that their CPUs do not require a fan -- the fan is the number one problem with most PCs. I've had PC's run for *years* continuously without reboots or crashes. Invariably what give out on these things are the fans, power supply or CPU. Higher powered CPUs (500Mhz or greater) generally have fans, although most are regulated, which is good. But many older Pentium laptops didn't need a fan at all... even better.

I've got a couple of websites running off old Toshiba P5-100 laptops -- work fine for what they need to do: webserving, FTP, TELNET, email, etc.

Get a vhost (4, Insightful)

Mr.Ned (79679) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561681)

A good option is to get a cheap virtual host. You get root, install what you like, run what you like, and it uses less power - none of yours - because there are several mostly-idle virtual machines on the same host.

Disk space is relatively expensive, and this may not be an option for you if by 'BitTorrent' you mean 'fill up my 500GB hard drive'.

ideas (3, Informative)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561687)

As others have pointed out, if you can find an obsolete laptop, and just dedicate it for your 24/7 applications, that's going to be by far the most energy-efficient solution.

Get a Kill-A-Watt [thinkgeek.com] , so you can actually measure how much power various things are using. Until I got one, I had no idea that my computer's speakers were drawing 12 W all the time, even when the computer was shut down.

2.5" hard drives are more energy efficient than 3.5" ones. You need an adapter cable, and also an adapter to mount it in a standard desktop PC's cage. A 2.5" drive is more money for the same storage, but all hard disks are ridiculously huge for most people's needs these days.

Get an 80PLUS rated power supply. The 80PLUS thing means that not only is it efficient, but it's also made in a more ecologically friendly way, without lead, etc. I've heard a lot of conflicting claims about how you should choose the capacity of your PS compared to the power your machine uses. Some people say a switching PS is most efficient if you run it near its maximum capacity, and others say it's most efficient at 50%. I came across something on usenet recently where they actually collected data, and they found there really wasn't any clear relationship. It's dangerous to get a PS that's not rated high enough, because your machine may use an unusually large amount of power during the boot process, and it may boot unreliably if your PS isn't rated high enough.

Try to get all the ACPI power management features of your machine working. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done. Many BIOSes default to only doing S1 sleep mode, which hardly saves you any power at all. That's because a lot of older hardware can't handle S3.

For your mobo, choose something with integrated video, rather than using a video card. If you're into gaming, this is yet another good reason why you don't want your always-on machine to be the same as your main machine you use all the time.

Re:ideas (2, Informative)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562871)

As others have pointed out, if you can find an obsolete laptop, and just dedicate it for your 24/7 applications, that's going to be by far the most energy-efficient solution.

That's an easy way to get energy efficiency, but you can build a desktop more efficiently. 80PLUS PSU, Turion CPU, etc., and your desktop can be lower power than older notebooks, while significantly faster.

Some people say a switching PS is most efficient if you run it near its maximum capacity, and others say it's most efficient at 50%.

They're most efficient near 100%. HOWEVER, if you're buying an 80PLUS PSU like Seasonic, they have nearly the same efficiency through the whole range. That was one of the parameters for 80PLUS certification.

If you check out the PDFs on http://www.80plus.org/ [80plus.org] they give you a clear graph of efficiency over the range of power draw of all the PSUs they tested.

For your mobo, choose something with integrated video, rather than using a video card.

That won't save you any power at all. A $20 AGP ATI Mobility card will use less power than an integrated chip, and still have better performance.

Re:ideas (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563109)

>>As others have pointed out, if you can find an obsolete laptop, and just dedicate it for your 24/7 applications, that's going to be by far the most energy-efficient solution.
>That's an easy way to get energy efficiency, but you can build a desktop more efficiently.
"Find an obsolete laptop" means buy a used one, not build one from scratch.
>80PLUS PSU, Turion CPU, etc., and your desktop can be lower power than older notebooks, while significantly faster.
No way. You simply cannot build a desktop machine that's lower power than any reasonably modern notebook. See this post, for example. [slashdot.org]

Re:ideas (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564049)

"Find an obsolete laptop" means buy a used one, not build one from scratch.

"That's an easy way" means: that's an easy way to do okay.

You simply cannot build a desktop machine that's lower power than any reasonably modern notebook. See this post, for example.

That's idiotic. Just because a few people don't know how to do it, doesn't change the facts.

Re:ideas (1)

rossifer (581396) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563497)

That's an easy way to get energy efficiency, but you can build a desktop more efficiently. 80PLUS PSU, Turion CPU, etc., and your desktop can be lower power than older notebooks, while significantly faster.
How old of a laptop are you talking about? My svn/trac/ftp/web/email server is a 2001 IBM Thinkpad A21p (850MHz P-M, 512MB RAM, 100GB 7200rpm drive) that draws 20W idling and 34W going full tilt (with the screen off, natch). According to the numbers on the power brick, my 1999 Thinkpad 600X had similar power consumption. As do the two 2005 Thinkpad R51p's (1.7GHz Centrino) I'm using as workstations.

There's no good to mediocre desktop PC (aside from the Mac mini, which is essentially a laptop in a different box) that consumes that little power with any kind of performance.

So, what kind of power consumption can you get from a desktop? If you can beat 34W while compiling the kernel and get it done quickly, you should stop whatever else you're doing and start a company assembling PC's. Please let me know if you do, I would be very interested to see what you come up with.

Regards,
Ross

Re:ideas (1)

evilviper (135110) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564177)

There's no good to mediocre desktop PC (aside from the Mac mini, which is essentially a laptop in a different box) that consumes that little power with any kind of performance.

I said, in no uncertain terms, "you can build a desktop more efficiently."

So, what kind of power consumption can you get from a desktop?

Slightly lower than you can from even the best laptops. Mobile components work just as well in desktops as they do in laptops (eg Turion CPU). However, you can get slightly higher efficiency from the power conversion, slightly more efficient components like video. Eliminate fans, and other benefits like lower price.

If you can beat 34W while compiling the kernel and get it done quickly, you should stop whatever else you're doing and start a company assembling PC's.

I'd be happy to, if you're providing the funding. Areas like microATX systems, low-cost ($200) PC, and high quality desktops are woefully underserved and overpriced, for reasons I certainly can't explain.

Re:speakers (1)

Leemeng (970560) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565585)

Damn, you're right about speakers. Mine run off a 12W AC adapter, so they've been eating up 12W 24/7. I'm gonna use a power strip with switches and turn them off when I'm away/asleep.

Be careful with VIA EPIA stuff (1)

DaleGlass (1068434) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561749)

I tried to use that as a base for a silent box some years ago. This didn't go well.

I got the "Nehemiah" version, which uses a 60mm fan. I also got a case with a fanless supply (brick + electronics in case) to try to make it as silent as possible.

  • 60mm fans are noisy and hard to silence. The case was too thin and cramped to install anything larger in it and had two 60mm fans as well.
  • The board itself was crap. Performance was very unimpressive (but that could be expected). It turned out my board had only the RNG and no encryption acceleration (so watch for that if you want it). Onboard LAN failed to work properly, corrupting packets only when uploading. It managed to download a whole gentoo install, but ssh connections would drop every few minutes with an error from ssh (forgot which). It also had stability issues and would regularly lock up.
  • Board + hard disk + CD drive made the case seriously cramped, and very hot, so I wouldn't risk running it without fans.
  • After some months, the power supply in the case failed (bad capacitors). I'm pretty sure that wasn't the source of the problems with the board though, as I tried a different supply before with the same results.


So, based on my experience, some recommendations:

  • Stay away from VIA if possible. If you go with them, research it really well. I've been burned by VIA stuff several times.
  • Don't get one of those tiny cases. They're cute, but have no airflow. Get a case where you can stick a big, silent fan if needed.
  • Don't get a case with a strange power supply, it'll be a pain to fix.


Re:Be careful with VIA EPIA stuff (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562707)

I've had the opposite experience with similar gear. The differences were a slower CPU than the "Nehemiah" so completely fanless, and it isn't a VIA motherboard even if it uses their chipset (ebox-III - I got the "big" one with enough space for a laptop disk and a parallel port - but still smaller than a mini-ITX system). Having a solid aluminium case that looks like a BBQ plate and a big heatsink that is stuck with thermal paste to the case helps. I also put Gentoo on it so I could squeeze as much out of the slightly different CPU architecture as I could. Being a slow machine it did live out the Gentoo joke of taking three days to compile everything (mplayer, openoffice and thus of course X as well) and while it did get warm with all the hard disk activity it did not overheat. A solid state disk would be an option now that the price has come down.

There's little Intel Xscale boxes available with FreeBSD installed as an even lower power option - power over ethernet can feed them. There's also a pile of embedded industrial things running linux but they may be a little harder to get hold of as single items.

Cooling is all about the case (1)

Alt0n (862320) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565247)

Sounds like you didn't manage your own expectations very well. Lacking the time or inclination to design a passively-cooled Nehemiah system, I bought one (See http://www.hexus.net/content/item.php?item=606&pag e=3 [hexus.net] ). It's an elegant, silent and reliable living-room PC.

My Strategies (3, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561795)

Turn the monitor off when you aren't using it. An LCD monitor is more energy efficient than a CRT.
Buy a low-end video card. The high end cards are energy hogs.
Use a CPU that you can scale back operating frequency on using CPUSPEED etc when the machine is idle.
Don't buy more CPU speed than you need. Consider buying a low power version of the CPU you are getting.
  Consider a motherboard that you can use a portable CPU on.
Buy the smallest feature size CPUs. They are usually more energy efficient.
Use smartd etc. to spin down your hard drives. Right now that usually means IDE drives - spinning down
    SATA drives on Linux can be a challenge - it depends on kernel & drivers. Each hard drive = 10 watss
Don't install more RAM than you need.
Get a motherboard that allows you to turn off unneeded stuff like serial ports etc.
Buy an efficient power supply.
Use something like the Killawatt power meter to measure your results.
Switch to compact flourescent bulbs!!

Do all this and you should be able to get into the 60-70W idle range. Since 1W-year
=$1 that is $60/year.
The flourescents will save you at least another $100/year.

Re:My Strategies (1)

scdeimos (632778) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563649)

And don't use anything other than a "Blank" screen saver, reducing CPU/GPU loading when the computer is just sitting idle.

My build (3, Interesting)

TopSpin (753) | more than 7 years ago | (#18561875)

Optimizing for low noise and cost based on off-the-shelf parts led me to this setup. It isn't the lowest power setup I can imagine, but noise and power are directly proportional in most cases. My goal was a very low noise, low cost always-on headless server running Linux with fault tolerant storage, at least one Gb NIC and enough processor and RAM to use for common development tasks. Based on measurements performed here [silentpcreview.com] and some guess work I estimate this is pulling 40W at idle and I can't hear it a beyond a meter.

MB: ASUS M2NPV-VM. AM2 socket with on-board Nvidia video, SATA etc. Not running a discrete video card is a large power savings.

CPU: Athlon 64 3500+ AM2 Lima core. This is a recent single core CPU from AMD. Easily obtainable from Newegg et al. The nice thing about it is the low TDP of 45W. This approaches portable CPUs while not costing so much. Stable at 1.2V (perhaps lower if I tried) and works well with cpufreq.

Case: Antec NSK3300 MicroATX. Small and quiet. Uses a high efficiency 300W power supply with a non-standard form factor. I doubt this machine can pull enough juice to get the fan moving at full rate. It's silent 99% of the time.

The rest: 1GB of "value ram", a pair of quiet 250GB WD disks and a Intel Gb PCI NIC I got somewhere. If you want to save more power run 1 disk, cut the RAM in half and don't add a fast NIC. Probably just under 30W at that point.

Re:My build (2, Interesting)

afidel (530433) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563003)

Why not go with the 64 x2 3800+ EESFF which has more horsepower and a TDP of only 35W. Also using less ram might result in MORE power usage as the HDD seeking probably uses more power than the RAS cycles on the ram.

Two boxes is the way to go (2, Insightful)

toddestan (632714) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562055)

It sounds like you leave your computer on all the time, and use it for a variety of tasks, and you are looking for a machine that can do all of that while being easy on the electric bill. This hard to do, as things like high powered CPU's, high end video cards, and lots of storage tend to not be low power. I suggest you get two computers. Get a low power machine, either an old laptop or a P3 and offload all the tasks like the FTP server and the bittorrent duties to this machine, and leave it on 24/7. Old laptops work great for this, as they are built for low power and have a built in UPS. P3 systems also work well, many ex-corporate P3 class systems are quiet, low power, easy to work on, and dirt cheap. Then you get a high power machine, and only have it powered up when you need it. You can have the two computers set up next to each other, and use Synergy [sourceforge.net] to run your IM/IRC on the 24/7 computer while doing whatever on the high end machine at the same time.

If you still must have it all in one desktop machine, one way to cut the power usage if you like lots of storage is to try to only have 1 HDD in the computer, and put the rest on USB/Firewire harddrives which you can then shut off when you don't need them.

Re:Two boxes is the way to go (2, Interesting)

Verte (1053342) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563633)

I concur- one more powerful computer you can use for your real tasks, and one for your background stuff. these guys [cappuccinopc.com] have some interesting stuff. There was one company in a post on /. a while back that had a 1GHz ARM machine in a really, really tiny case. Can't seem to find the article.

Hackable linux router (2, Informative)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562111)

Depending on what you want to do, you may be able to get away with using a linux-based router running OpenWRT (or something similar) for some services. You won't be able to have any large local storage (although you can access other drives over the local network), but the power usage would be pretty hard to beat.

Re:Hackable linux router (2, Informative)

John Jamieson (890438) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563081)

Good point. Another option is the Linksys NLSU2 or the newer Gigabit Buffalo storage device. Do some homework to figure out how you are going to spin down the hard drives ahead of time. (do you want to buy a drive that supports it, or do it in software)

Re:Hackable linux router (1)

tomblag (1060876) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564023)

Seems pertinent.... osx is running on appletv now.. linux should be doable once someone gets some drivers up... nice form factor, low power cpu, fairly expensive, and a sff.. sounds really tasty to me.. any other takers?

Some ideas of my own (3, Interesting)

Ant P. (974313) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562829)

I've tried to solve exactly this problem myself. Here's a few things I've tried:
  • Strip down the hardware. Having another PC is a good place to start, that way you can run a headless server. Disable things you don't need in the BIOS. If your stuff isn't CPU-heavy, consider using a Pentium 2. They can run fanless, which is a nice thing to have in any case. If you can live without optical/floppy drives, disconnect those too.
  • Tweak the kernel. cpufreq is quite good, works on a lot of processors and doesn't have much of a performance impact. Remove or modularise any hardware drivers you don't need, since the kernel might decide to keep them powered off if it can't use them. Also enable performance tweaks like DMA in the disk/network stuff.
  • Don't run unnecessary software. More unused RAM is more disk cache. Read the documentation on Linux's laptop mode setting too - you can make it force the hard disk to stay powered down and only write every few minutes. If you can, just skip the hard disk altogether and run everything from tmpfs.
If you're still not satisfied, you could try some more extreme methods like disconnecting indicator LEDs.

Bios (3, Interesting)

chriso11 (254041) | more than 7 years ago | (#18562999)

I'd like to echo some of the above points. I was making a NAS server that was to be on 24-7.

1) Dump the high performance GPU. A cheap PCI video card saved me 50W.
2) Seasonic makes some nice 80% efficiency PSUs. Well worth it.
3) Turn off integrated peripherals in the BIOS. Are you using the Parallel ports and serial ports? Lower the bus frequency if you can.

I found that a cron job to turn off the CPU at midnight, along with the auto-turn on timer in the BIOS set to 7:00 also worked quite nicely.

Re:24 X 7 NAS (1)

Technician (215283) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563647)

I was making a NAS server that was to be on 24-7.

I considered making a NAS, but it was about the time several NAS in a box solutions came out. Lacking space for yet another full size box and concerned about I went with one of the pre-packaged solutions. I settled on one that does run Linux. It uses a Riser filesystem. It supports both the Unix shares as well as SMB, both of which can be shut off. The drive is easly partitioned for mounting an encrypted partition. This works well. A mounted encrypted partition shows just like any other partition. After a power down or shutdown, the encripted shares do not auto-mount. It requires going into the web base admin interface, much like a router, and entering the encrypted volume key to mount it. Nice. A stolen drive protects my data with no intervention. All the regular user/password login's are supported.

http://reviews.cnet.com/SimpleTech_SimpleShare_NAS _server/4507-3382_7-31261848.html [cnet.com]

Silentpcreview.com (3, Informative)

sgent (874402) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563623)

Take a look at Silent PC Review [silentpcreview.com] . Although concentrated on silent computing, any power usage produces heat requiring fans -- so they spend a lot of time worried about power/heat as well. The site is focused on building your own pc, so they do a good job reviewing components, 2.5 in disk drives, etc.

One word: laptop (1)

Cervantes (612861) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563711)

One word: laptop.

I picked up an old Dell 1Ghz laptop, added an external HD with a USB enclosure, and plugged in all my gizmos with a docking station. Now it does all my 24/7 tasks, hosts my domain, etc. A PCMCIA -> SCSI card serves up my tape backup. VNC means I can keep it tucked away in my rack (though, technically, it's connected to my KVM too), it's quiet, power efficient, low heat, and a little research ensures it won't explode on me.

Don't get me wrong, it's no speed demon, things run slower than if I used a decent desktop... but really, for something that's on all the time, that doesn't really matter if my backup takes 3 hours instead of 2, or email takes a bit longer to process.

And, with this thing handling all my mundane tasks, I can have my main desktop dedicated to being a solid game machine. Best of both worlds.
Don't try to make one machine do all your tasks. Running all the time to do low-cpu tasks, and being a solid desktop machine, are two different things.

Not a good laptop application (2, Interesting)

Whuffo (1043790) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563713)

I tried doing this with a laptop. I found that a moderately loaded laptop running 24/7 generates a bit more heat than it can dissipate; it was OK all winter but when the house warmed up in the summer it started having problems. It died while I was trying to figure out what to replace it with; the main board was turning brown from the long heat soak. The answer was a small Pentium-M based desktop machine. With a right-sized power supply, large fans turning very slowly, etc. it's very quiet and uses very little power. This little machine (2 GHz Pentium-M) is running my home controls and weather station, doing frequent FTP uploads of weather data, serving web pages, acting as a home file server, etc. Even running Windows XP (yes, I know) it's rock solid. After almost two years it's never crashed and only gets rebooted when the power fails or an automatic update forces it to reboot. The slow turning fans don't suck in dust bunnies, so it's been totally trouble free. You could do worse...

Notebook + battery (1)

tomblag (1060876) | more than 7 years ago | (#18563763)

This has come up on /. before, interesting topic. I was very surprised to find I was spending around 100 bucks a year on just power for my pc. Similar to what was posted above.

If your looking to cut back yer power in a big way, you may wanna check your light bulbs first, cause generally, your going to be using more power there than in a typical pc. For your pc, using a notebook is a good idea. One bit of advice I got from the previous post on /., is to remember to use your fricking battery on the laptop!

Is there software built into any laptop, that allows you to switch between battery/outlet when either reaches low/high threshold? I have a couple years old hp pavi, which I believe doesn't have anything like that.

Use an old machine. (1)

dbloodnok (100625) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564105)

Depending on how much CPU grunt you need, you could pick up an old second-hand machine (maybe even for free). Re-use is better than recycling anyway.

My gateway is my old desktop from 1999. Celeron 300, 384Mb RAM, 4Gb + 40Gb disk, 2 network cards, modem. Measured the power usage for 3 months using a proper power meter (spinning wheel one like the power companies use to bill you). Ended up being almost exactly 30W averaged over that entire time.

Old PowerMac works for me ... (1)

trampel (464001) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564185)

Like some posters suggest, use a dedicated always-on machine.

You may go even lower than an EPIA processor.

My home server is a PowerMac 8200/100 (100MHz 603 CPU), which runs Debian just fine and draws around 30W according to Kill-O-Watt.

USB Mass Storage (1)

whichpaul (733708) | more than 7 years ago | (#18564631)

Perhaps you could look into substituting the hard drive with a USB mass storage device (AKA thumb drive). Most modern mainboards support booting to USB and some linux distros are able to be installed onto such devices. USB 2.0 would provide tolerable performance and you can easily add or remove storage space.

Think different... use an NSLU2 (2, Informative)

mspohr (589790) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565191)

In looking through the reasons you need to have an always-on PC (web or FTP servers, BitTorrent, or simply to make sure I don't miss any messages on IRC or my instant messaging client), it looks like most of these could be done using a Linksys NSLU2 with Linux installed. You will need to fire up another PC to access it but I hope you won't be sitting in front of the PC 24/7.

It uses only about 5w and you can attach flash or USB disks if you need more memory.

http://www.nslu2-linux.org/ [nslu2-linux.org] will tell you everything you need to know to set up the applications you need.

AMD Turions on the desktop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#18565881)

You'd be surprised how much peformance you can get while still having low power consumption, heat, and noise. I just built a PC with the following (power-relevant) parts: a AMD Turion MT37 on ASRock K8NF6G-VSTA motherboard, Dynatron A41 CPU cooler, Powertek 500 RT power supply, and a WD caviar SE 80GB SATA drive. Then once assembled, I've been monitoring it with a Kill-a-Watt power meter...the system draws about 50 watts at idle, and so far hasn't peaked above 72 watts during high processing and disk activity. That's about $200 in parts from NewEgg. It runs super cool, silent, with minimal power draw while still giving you the full capabilities of a full desktop (including expansion, which a laptop doesn't offer).

The real key to it all is the CPU and the hard drive, and not having a horrible power supply with a low PF/power conversion factor. The motherboard and CPU cooler power draw should be fairly consistent and interchangable, although you'll want to ensure you get a Cool-N-Quite compatible AMD motherboard for the Turion. This box only has a 80gb HD...I'm sure you can buy any larger, newer SATA-II HD 7200 RPM and likely have low power draw.

I run a small computer lab, and heat + power draw has always been a factor. I've built many systems around the mobile Athlons and now the Turions, and I've always been impressed. So much that I barely buy anything else now. Intel Core Solo/Duo would be good too, but it's just too hard to ignore the price gap between, say, the AMD Turion MT37 and the cheapest Core Solo on Newegg.

Forget VIA, get an underclocked Sempron (2, Interesting)

AmiMoJo (196126) | more than 7 years ago | (#18565939)

Get a Sempron and underclock it. Check out the Silent PC Review forums for info on good boards and sockets, but IIRC the 3200+ 939 is a good underclocker. Run at low speed and voltage with a high efficiency PSU.

The VIA EPIA boards are all very nice, but when you look at the cost of the board, enclosure, psu etc, you realise it will take about five years to recoup the cost in saved electricity vs the Sempron.

That is the biggest problem with energy efficient tech IMHO - it's too expensive. 25 years to recoup my £10,000 investment in solar panels? No thanks.

Lower power PC - use a mobile processor? (1)

sidetrack (4550) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566205)

I've recently created a fairly low power, high spec PC. Unfortunately, I needed 64bit, and HW virtualisation assitance, so I couldn't get the power that low.

2x 60G laptop hard disks (1 watt each) as a mirror
3x 500M Maxtor (7 watts each spinning, 1 watt on standby), RAID5 (less frequently accessed data - spun down >90% of the time)
1x Asus N4L-VM (~ 3 watts, 945GM chipset + graphics) "Socket 479" motherboard.
1x Core 2 Duo Mobile T7400 2.16GHz (30 watts full speed / both cores flat-out, but about half this with speed step, and less if idle)
- you could use one of the much lower power ~6 watt ULV (ultra low voltage) Celerons, or Cores.

And when it's idle, it runs http://climateprediction.net/ [climateprediction.net] .

If you don't need that much horsepower, go for a VIA MiniITX, or an ARM for your always-on box, as other people have said. All-in ~65watts, not as good as I'd hoped, and I may be able to get it down a bit further using a more efficient PSU, but at least it's doing good science whilst it's on!

Linksys slug - or other options (1)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566267)

I use a "hacked" Linksys NSLU2 [nslu2-linux.org] to run:

  1. Network-attached storage for back-up/file sharing (its intended purpose) (samba)
  2. DHCP/DNS service for my local network (dnsmasq)
  3. IMAP mailbox/mail gateway (CYRUS/Fetchmail/postfix)
  4. local iTunes server (mt-daapd)
  5. VPN access to home from work/mobile - "properly" through openvpn, or using ssh port forwarding (often easier).
  6. Long downloads with ctorrent, wget etc.

I'm using it with an external USB hard-drive, but its quite possible to use a USB key (in which case it would be totally silent).

One hint - there are several alternative "firmware" packages that you can choose from: I went for "openSlug" which completely replaces the original firmware with a mini linux distro. I'd probably advise going with the superficially more kludgey-sounding "unslung" that keeps the original Linksys (linux-based) NAS system but lets you add packages. It seems to have a better range of packages and keeps the web interface.

If you want something that "just works" rather than a several days of cracking nerdy fun, an increasing number of network-attached hard drives have bittorrent clients, FTP servers etc. out-of-the-box e.g. this [qnap.com.tw] (Not a recommendation, just an example).

Laptop (2, Insightful)

fozzmeister (160968) | more than 7 years ago | (#18566645)

Is probably the most mature low power solution, other alternatives are things like MicroATX etc.
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