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 Post subject: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 2:19 am 
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Hi all,

I am new here so hello to everyone and apologies if this has already been covered.

At the moment this is purely theoretical question but... I run a low power atom PC as a network gateway with all the associated services (DHCP, Samba file shares, firewall, router etc). The current setup is as follows :-

- D945GCLF Atom motherboard (original heat sinks removed and running on Zalman NB47J and one Alpenföhn Ötzi Northbridge cooler)
- Second network card in the PCI slot
- 2Gb RAM
- 500Gb WD Scorpio Blue 2.5" drive
- Enermax 300W PSU

I have no idea of the power consumption that this uses at the moment but performance wise is is perfectly acceptable for my needs. I run this as a headless server so graphics capabilities are of no issue.

So the future.

I have read people slating the new generation of atom boards saying that for the power they draw there are "better" alternatives but never quantify these. I want to theoretically build a new server that has similar capabilities in terms of processing power but I want it to draw as little power as possible. It does not need to be an atom based set-up and it does not need to be totally silent (some fans are allowed) but it does need to have two NIC's.

What would you build and what kind of idle power consumption would you expect from the whole set-up?

Cheers


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 3:51 am 
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Your generation of the Atom platform is called Diamondville. SPCR measured its idle power draw at 27w with a not further specified 80plus SFX PSU. Your 300w PSU could increase that value to 30ish values.

The current generation of Atoms called Pine Trail can undercut the power draw by 10-15w, while increasing performance slightly, esp. since your board features a single-core Atom 230 - pretty much the slowest x86 CPU made in this millenium (save for the few VIA C3s).

In terms of bang for the buck, an AMD Sempron 240 coupled with a mainboard sporting a 740g or 760g chipset can be undervolted and underclocked to come in at just over 20w too, while costing the same and almost doubling performance. If you spend like 20$ more, you can even get an Athlon II X2, which can also be run at under 30w. The same goes for Intel's Core i3 platform, but that will double the cost.
Now, all of these will draw significantly more power than an Atom while under load. A gateway/server like yours should almost never exceed its idle state though.

Also, your 300w PSU could be replaced with a Pico PSU. Depending on what PSU you have now (had an old 300w thing lying around?) that could drastically reduce your power consumption.

Question is: why would you want to?

- more performance? you already said no.
- quieter? you already said no.
- cheaper? it will be years until these investments will amortise.
- greener? better get a green provider and use a Pentium 4 ;) that way you support green energy.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 6:04 am 
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Thanks for the reply.

The question is at the moment "theoretical". I see the atom as a low (processing) power low consumption board to fit the needs of probably 90% SHO back-end needs such as file shares and network routing. What really got me curious was the number of messages I have seen around various places saying that the atom boards are essentially inefficient and there are less power hungry options out there. I was curious what other "efficient" options would be available today. As every, there is always going to be a compromise.

As you say, for me, in terms of momentary cost savings and energy cost saving (TCO), to change would take a relatively large amount of time to recoup.

My next step is exactly as you pointed out, to replace the PSU with something quieter and more efficient and then even possibly put the thing in a case :roll:

If the new MacMini is anywhere near as efficient and low power as I have read, then that would be a fantastic option apart from the fact I need 2 NICs.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 7:11 am 
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There are all kinds of nonsense dissing Atom out there.
There are also true statements which don't apply to you. For instance many Atoms are not very efficient at crunching numbers where higher power consumption can be offset by better performance but are quite efficient at idling.

Your Atom board is not efficient. But some are very efficent. There's always a price/performance/heat tradeoff.
If you don't care about performance you can get low power consumption for very little money by buying used gear.
As stated above, PSU efficiency matter.

There's a lot of stuff that consumes less power than your Atom but it would be a waste of time to look at it because you should be able to replace your Atom board with a newer Atom board for $70 max (and that's without considering the used market). What's more interesting is what can beat the power consumption of newer Atoms while at least equalling the performance of your current setup:
-mobile Atoms, especially some of the ones used in fitPCs and some netbooks
-mobile Core2 (like some MacMinis)
-ARM setups can use very little power obviously
Anyone can add something to the list? Are there boards with very low power consumption on the AMD side? Is any VIA CPU even in the running?

In your situation, I would not bother with underclocking/volting mainstream CPUs, fiddling with laptop gear to get a second NIC or dealing with the inconvenience of ARM software and simply go for a newer Atom but I don't value ultra-low power consumption that much. Part selection and sourcing is so much easier with Atoms. But if you value ultra-low power consumption, look into ARM.
If I had money to burn I might consider HP's Microserver because its power consumption, while a bit high, is low enough for me and I value reliability (which remains to be demonstrated but chances are it'd beat cheaper alternatives). Buying a fully-built box is also an appreciable time-saver. It would be overkill for your application however.
EDIT: if you have money to burn the best option might be a fit-PC actually. I forgot they have 2 NICs.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Oct 28, 2010 8:53 am 
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For a low-power gateway/firewall machine, I use an Alix2d3 board from PCEngines. It's based on the AMD Geode processor. The whole machine uses about 5 watts total, and is about the size of two decks of cards laying next to each other. The hard drive is a compact flash card.

I don't know where you are located, but shipping from Switzerland to the USA was very fast (about a week IIRC).

Another low-power option for the gateway/firewall machine is to get a wireless router that works with 3rd-party firmware. In my case, I use a Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 w/DD-WRT firmware. I haven't measured its power consumption, but given its size and that it never even gets warm to the touch, I can't imagine it pulls much over 5 watts.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 1:50 am 
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Now those PCEngines boards look pretty cool.

I am now wondering if I can run the network services and samba from that and the and put my 500Gb drive in a USB housing and share the data via the samba mount. I can then potentially re-task my atom as a media PC for my music :-)


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 3:42 am 
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I didn't mention the Alix boards and other Geode options because they're a good bit slower than your Atom. But an Atom might be overkill for your application. Google for the kind of speeds people are getting from Geodes.
You can indeed share a USB drive with samba by mounting it to a shared directory. But it might be even slower than Samba is when sharing a non-USB drive. AFAIK, "samba mount" usually refers to mounting a share which is something else.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Oct 29, 2010 12:47 pm 
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Maybe fit-PC2i could be an option http://www.fit-pc.com/web/

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2011 6:38 am 
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what exactly do you need the cpu power for?

I'd say for most routing/firewall/dhcp/samba purposes a Netgear WNDR3700 + openwrt would probably be just fine. Uses 5-10 Watt.

I'm really surprised that ARM/MIPS solutions for NAS/routing don't get the love they should on these boards, considering the absense of any noise (most solutions do not have a fan). Using Atom for these purposes doesn't make much sense imo due to the far superior performance/watt by ARM/MIPS.

I suppose for some people, the ability to run Windows is more important than the hardware characteristics of these devices...

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2011 7:28 am 
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If you want the lowest possible consumption, ARM is the way to go but Windows ain't the only thing you might want a more standard CPU for.

The Netgear you talk about isn't much cheaper than a fanless desktop Atom. You'd save what, 100 kWh per year? Maybe less depending on how much power your external HD ends up comsuming. Aside from making the job of installing software more tedious and time-consuming, the CPU is not nearly as good. USB will slow you down. And the puny amount of RAM will be a pain. What Samba speeds can you get with it? What compression and encryption performance do you get (for remote backups)? I'm sure it could make for a good router (that's what it's sold for)... but as a file server?

I wish there were good ARM servers supported by good distros with up-to-date software. Let me know if I missed a product. People have been talking about ARM servers last year but has there been any progress?
Atom is currently quite attractive for the time being. AMD has better products... but they're not nearly as cheap.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2011 9:36 am 
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HFat wrote:
If you want the lowest possible consumption, ARM is the way to go but Windows ain't the only thing you might want a more standard CPU for.

The Netgear you talk about isn't much cheaper than a fanless desktop Atom. You'd save what, 100 kWh per year? Maybe less depending on how much power your external HD ends up comsuming. Aside from making the job of installing software more tedious and time-consuming, the CPU is not nearly as good. USB will slow you down. And the puny amount of RAM will be a pain. What Samba speeds can you get with it? What compression and encryption performance do you get (for remote backups)? I'm sure it could make for a good router (that's what it's sold for)... but as a file server?

I wish there were good ARM servers supported by good distros with up-to-date software. Let me know if I missed a product. People have been talking about ARM servers last year but has there been any progress?
Atom is currently quite attractive for the time being. AMD has better products... but they're not nearly as cheap.


what do you need gob loads of RAM for when you aren't running a GUI? Running windows is just wasting RAM for a server system imo (unless you can run it headless?). Fileservers don't need much ram at all, unless you use it for connecting many, many clients concurrently.

64 MB might be a tad low when you want to run a webserver with php support on it, but for the purposes the original poster indiceted, i.e. dhcp/samba/routing/firewall, you definitely do not need much ram (would be doable with 8-16MB).

I'm running a webserver/php/freeradius (EAP-TLS)/samba/ftp/l2tp-ipsec vpn/mysql server on a QNAP TS-119 (running Debian Squeeze) and only 68 MB of RAM is currently in use out of 512MB available. php is about the only thing where you notice that the cpu is not a 2+ GHz out-of-order execution part, but I doubt an Atom will do much better in that regard.

Further more, for me and no doubt for many others, it's not only about the electricity saved. Reduced power consumption also means less cooling/noise and longer uptime on a UPS or other battery.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Tue Jan 04, 2011 12:31 pm 
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FrankL wrote:
what do you need gob loads of RAM for when you aren't running a GUI?

It depends what you mean by "gob loads" but if you mean more than 64M: VMs of course but also sweet, sweet disk/FS cache (slabtop says I have 50M of inode and dentry cache alone for a server with less than 80G of data) as well as backups (unless they are very unsophisticated), monitoring (want graphical web reports?), installing and so on. Sure you can make do with little RAM if you don't care about performance but RAM's so cheap! Why bother?

Your QNAP box is nicer than the Netgear. It's got a halfway decent CPU and a decent amount of RAM. That'd be enough for many purposes as long as you don't mind being limited to stuff that runs on ARM. But the price? For a box that only supports one drive?
You may not understand how cheap a fanless (you can't beat that by consuming less power!) Atom box can be. Look up D410PT (if you think single-core CPUs are fine). And 512M DDR2 DIMMs are practically free. It will last a very long time on any halfway decent UPS. Are there ARM boards on the market that can compete with that? I'd be very interested.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 6:45 am 
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yeah QNAP has never been the cheapest option around. Regarding only one drive bay: it does have an eSATA port for expanding the storage capabilities. I got it because it is fanless; the versions with more drive bays have a fan, and I do not need more than 1 drive in my NAS. It is very easy to install debian onto a USB stick, and use the the internal SATA HDD only for NAS storage needs. It then is powered down whenever it is not in use (for absolute silence). Further more, the arm repository for Debian contains any package I have been looking for up to now.

If you want dirt-cheap, the Seagate Free Agent Dockstar seems to sell for around 30 USD on the web. It's got the same CPU as the QNAP TS-119 but only has 128MB RAM and USB connectivity (no SATA). It also can run Debian Squeeze.

For ARM with more power, we need to wait till NAS devices with Cortex A9 designs become available (hopefully dual or quad core). ARM is also rumoured to be working on 64-bit support for their next generation processor designs and also on VM-related stuff. It'll be an exciting area to keep an eye on the next 5 years.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 7:55 am 
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What virtualization can you get on ARM? What kind of ZFS or XFS support do you have for example? Red Hat doesn't even support it on 32 bits x86. There are unofficial packages but they don't work right. Ah but you can't run RHEL at all, right? Lots of people are used to run that and there'd be a learning curve in switching to Debian. There's also closed source stuff that won't run on ARM such as Spideroak's client (so far as I know)... and Windows of course.
Yes, you don't "need" this stuff but that makes ARM a less versatile platform than x86. So I think the advantages of ARM have to be compelling and, right now, the only ones I can see are the small footprint, the electricity savings (not worth it in most cases) and of course the deals you can get on the used market (I basically got my ARM NAS for free considering the value of the included hard drive).

Thanks for the Seagate dock pointer. That would have been awesome for $30 but availability seems to be very limited here. The only shop I've located that carries it sells it for over $100 and people are selling second-hand it for over 50$ without shipping (no offers right now). Too good to be true I guess...
If you can get them at $30, you could probably sell some on eBay. The cheapest BIN price right now is over $75 (someone in HK who has affordable shipping).

I hope these ARM server-grade chips won't be vaporware and that they'll make them available to board and server vendors this time, not just to NAS vendors.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 9:19 am 
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ah ARM is not a compelling alternative for server use _right now_. But for home NAS and routing purposes its great (imo), which is the topic of this thread.

The 64bit and virtualisation support is being worked on by ARM. After taking the mobile/embedded market and making headway into tablet/netbook markets, the server market is the next focus point for ARM. It will probably take another 2-3 years before it'll arrive though.

Also keep an eye on Microsoft. They have taken a license for adapting the ARM designs; something they would not need when they only would want to make a windows version compatible with ARM arch (Windows CE/Mobile has been running on ARM for ages). They seem to have taken notice of the superior performance/watt of ARM chips, and the scalability prospects. Why would they want to create custom designs? Who knows, but some sort of acceleration for running win32 binaries for x86 comes to mind for example.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Wed Jan 05, 2011 3:21 pm 
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Ok it might be a couple of years off but here is some interesting news regarding ARM.

Microsoft just made the announcement today that they will be supporting Windows on ARM. Linky

Nvidia has also Announced a future ARM CPU for Desktop, Server, HPC. Linky


As for ultra low power PCs for use as a server what other thoughts do people have. I like the idea of running a Linux distro on ARM hardware or even an Atom if it was able to run fanless. Having two NICs as mentioned in the OP requirements would be great.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 6:15 pm 
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Can anyone comment on any VIA based motherboards that may be worthy of consideration for low-cost, low-power applications? A local store carries the ASRock pv530 motherboard which is priced similarly to the cheaper Atom D410 boards but claims full HD acceleration, downsides I can see vs the atoms are lack of GbE and 64 bit OS support. The application would be a minimal x86 box to run up to 2 hard drives and a PCI-E dual ATSC tuner, could also put a GbE card in the PCI slot. Have not been able to find any reports of a system built with this board.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:57 pm 
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My concern about that board is that it might not be so low-power. That VIA chip is 90nm. Atom is 45nm. Of course power consumption is more ocmplicated than that but that's a bad start. Until someone tests it, it's an unknown quantity I'd be wary of.
But this Intel/VIA comparison could turn out to be irrelevant: if Anandtech's latest power consumptions numbers for the Zacate boards are not disingenuous, AMD will be the low-power choice for some time to come. The AMD boards should be significantly more expensive than this VIA board (initally at least) but they may be worth the premium for those wanting low-power x86 boxes.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Jan 28, 2011 3:54 am 
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The pv530 is pretty much a VIA C7, so it's going to be a fair bit slower than even a single core Atom. Also, many cheap VIA boards don't have PowerSaver so the CPU can't clock down when idle.

If you care about maximum network throughput a PCI GbE card won't cut it. The PCIe one on the Atom board will do much better.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Jan 28, 2011 10:18 pm 
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I've seen it suggested that some newer PCI slots support 'true' gigabit but maybe that's not the case with that pv530 board. 266 MB/s seems to be the max for 32 bit conventional PCI in general, would seem to be about enough for full duplex gigabit ignoring overhead. Onboard gigabit would be preferable for sure though, it would be sort of a waste to tie up the one PCI-E x16 slot with a lan card but a PCI card should at least be much faster than the onboard lan.

In my case low cost would be a higher priority than extremely low power consumption but I do like the idea of both lining up, if the VIA is really bad for idle then it might not be the best. The cheapest Atom + ION boards available here (single core) come out at around the same as a low end socketed motherboard with dual core cpu, at C$120 together I think I would rather have the versatility of the faster cpu. But if the pv530 board can manage 1080p playback for $60 (plus lan upgrade cost) then I start to wonder if I could live with the limitations and do any transcoding on other machines. In between those two options pricewise would be the non-ION Atom boards, have not seen reports of how the dual core versions do on HD playback, but I know my N270 machine can just barely manage the x264 720p stuff.


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:02 pm 
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alongwor wrote:
I have read people slating the new generation of atom boards saying that for the power they draw there are "better" alternatives but never quantify these.
Read this review of an alternative to the Atom, including the benchmarked comparison's with the atom, and you will have difficulty bringing yourself to buy the Atom.
http://www.anandtech.com/show/4134/the- ... or-miniitx

It is very detailed, very thorough and very compelling.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 12:40 am 
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There is no such thing as "the atom". It's an OK shorthand in comparisons with Sandy Bridge for instance which crushes all Atoms across the board. Not so with these new AMD chips.
Engage your critical faculties and read the hopelessly biased review you linked to. You'll note that the item referred to as "atom" in the review is last year's $75 board. The comparable Atom board in that review is the 2009 model and is not referred to as "atom" but as "ion". The $75 board doesn't have the fastest Atom chip or the best IGP obviously. Yet it's faster than the reviewed AMD chip at some tasks. We don't know exactly how much the new boards will end up costing but it should be obvious that, for the money, you'll get better multithreaded CPU performance with Atoms if nothing else. These new AMD kits have many advantages of course but let's not use gaming or Javascript benchmarks to evaluate the general performance of emdebbed boards, alright?

Cheap dual-core Atoms boards only have a VGA output. Whether they can play your 1080p content or not, this alone may make it worthwhile to spend a bit more if you want to feed a 1080p display (or higher).


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 4:58 am 
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HFat wrote:
Engage your critical faculties and read the hopelessly biased review you linked to. You'll note that the item referred to as "atom" in the review is last year's $75 board.
That is interesting. I frankly am not that familiar with these lower end chips.... other than with my acer netbook with performance that pukes.

Anandtech is a pretty credible review site. As credible as SPCR. I find it difficult to believe they would do a review that was misleading. If it turns out that you are right, I am going to be very troubled. I rely on them as a trusted source.

Can you provide a more complete explanation about your assessment of the current atom compared to this new AMD chip... top of line - to - top of line.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 6:16 am 
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With a chip like this, why consider anything other than a Sandybridge for any computer other than one running on batteries...

Core i5-2400S
http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/cpu/di ... html#sect0

and even then maybe for that as well:

Core i7-2820QM: Sandy Bridge Shines In Notebooks
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/cor ... ,2838.html

Here are some real live prices:
Core i5 2400 LGA 1155 Boxed Processor 3.1GHz (3.4GHz Turbo Boost) $149.99
http://www.microcenter.com/single_produ ... id=0354590
ntel Core i5-2300 Sandy Bridge 2.8GHz (3.1GHz Turbo Boost) 4 x 256KB L2 Cache 6MB L3 Cache LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor BX80623I52300 $184.99
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6819115076

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Sat Jan 29, 2011 10:38 am 
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The obvious reasons why one wouldn't go for a Sandy Bridge is cost. In a thread called "low power", Sandy Bridge is a bit out of place as well.

Anandtech is a credible source but it is biased. It is of course sometimes misleading. There is no contradiction. Most sources are biased which is why one should strive to understand their biases instead of searching for unbiased sources. This particular review is more biased than usual however. A cursory reading should make that obvious.

We should wait for prices to settle down before making a complete assessment of Zacate/Ontario vs. Atom.
But I can already say that the Atom line has issues. Intel has bridled the Atom line in order to push its more expensive chips and it's made it difficult for competitors to integrate Atoms into better products because it is a monopolistic corporation. AMD's offerings do not have these limitations which is why I favor AMD products when they're price-competitive.
I suspect AMD's new chips will be preferable to the more expensive Atom products until Intel reacts to the competition while the cheaper Atoms will remain the choice of people on a budget who can live the limitations of the Intel boards. But let's wait for prices to settle...


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Tue Feb 01, 2011 6:58 am 
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HFat wrote:
The obvious reasons why one wouldn't go for a Sandy Bridge is cost.
Not so obvious to me.

Looks like you can get a high end zotac motherboard with an atom and a 90 watt power supply for about $190. This model appears to be newegg's most popular model
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6813500027

That is probably a little over the cost of an 1155 Sandy Bridge ITX motherboard when they become available again.

At Microcenter I can buy a 4 core Core i5 2400 LGA 1155 for $149.99. This is a chip that idles at under 4 watts (yet according to SPCR out performs an i7-965) and which also operates well within the same 90 watt power supply power envelope.

When using it for H.264 playback it uses about an extra 5 watts, the rest of the time it ticks along at 4 watts:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article1143-page5.html

The cost difference is about $150. And the Sandy Bridge is substantially more like to be able to handle Win 8 or 9 when it comes along, My estimate is consistent with SPCR's cost estimates for the 2400 plus a board. See:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/Sandybridge_CPUs

Unless you get your operating system and software for free, and like to keep extra special purpose computers around that will need to be upgraded too soon, why would you not pay a few bucks more for a good general purpose computer that is almost as energy efficient as an Atom based computer... energy efficient measured by average energy utilization when left on 24/7?

Please can someone other than hfat help me with this? There must be a reason. I'm just not seeing it.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Fri Feb 04, 2011 9:16 am 
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Posts: 6
I'm not sure I understand the appeal of the higher priced atom boards either, ION adds considerable cost to allow HD playback but with a more capable CPU you wouldn't need it. If your budget for CPU and mobo together is $100 or less and you don't necessarily care about HD playback today, is there an obvious alternative to available Atom boards that would have equal or better power consumption and performance at a given price point?


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2011 7:01 am 
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Location: Colorado, USA
I'm guessing a PICO PSU would be nearly perfect for this sytem, and since it's 96% efficient, would save you a lot of watts.

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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Aug 04, 2011 2:08 am 
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I have no idea of the power consumption :shock:


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 Post subject: Re: Low power usage PC
PostPosted: Thu Aug 11, 2011 4:27 am 
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I saw in shops they sold PC's the size of a playstation 2. I wonder is that what mini ITX is? dont need to be a super powerful PC.. I just need something that can run bittorrent and/or bots like OpenKore (I found a private server that allows botting..)

thanks for the advise... might actually look into this...

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