An old Athlon XP based server started to have troubles booting up, and a replacement of condensers didn't help, so it was time to pick up the wallet and go shopping.
Components and price paid (including possible shipping):
Intel D945GSEJT Atom N270 motherboard 112.70e
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 320GB 2.5" 50.90e
MW3H36GS 36W switching power supply 24.68e
Kingston KVR533D2S4/2G 2GB 533Mhz CL4 SO-DIMM 48.00e
Sums up to about 236 euros.
Beside the lowest powered Intel Atom I considered a SheevaPlug computer or similar, but they come with only 512MB of system memory, which was too little for me. Also the shipping costs would have made it more expensive than the Intel Atom board. The benefit would have been far lower power usage.
The system was built in an old ATX case I had laying around. The PSU sized hole in the following picture is just big enough to fit a hand in to check how hot the heatsinks get (not too hot to keep a finger on when idle):
Next the motherboard. This box is firewall, amongst being a web, mail, media and many other things server, and so it needs two NICs. The extra NIC fills up all the PCI expandability, except for a mini PCIe slot. After I upgraded the BIOS to the latest one the board started to use the memory at CL4 as specified instead of CL5.
The hard-drive fastened with 2.5" -> 3.5" brackets I had. This is the only component that makes noise in the system. First I tried to fit in an old 3.5" ATA drive, but despite the manual saying it should work, I wasn't able to get the motherboard to recognize it. The drive was unresponsive and made awful head parking clicking sounds many times in a minute until I disabled the faulty "advanced power management" features with "hdparm -B 255". This didn't raise the measured idle power consumption.
The power supply. Specified MEPS: IV and CEC: IV and EUP. After much unnecessary waste of time, I found this means it has specified minimum efficiency of about 82-83%. I believe this is true at loads at least down to 20% of total DC output, but the specifications are not that clear. The PSU makes annoying whine when nothing is plugged to it and it is connected to the wall. Otherwise it is silent.
- (13 +- 1)W draw from wall socket at idle measured with an energy meter.
- (19 +- 1)W maximum peak load observed so far.
- The HD makes some noise.
- Temperature inside the case barely rises from ambient (measured).
I was able to use the Gentoo Linux installation on the old Athlon XP system directly, because both systems are 32-bit i686. The N270 CPU does not support 64-bits. I copied the data from the old harddrive to the new harddrive, configured a new kernel and it was ready.
I like (+):
- Relatively low power consumption both idle and load
- Does not heat up a closet
- Noticeably faster than the Athlon XP (900Mhz) system it replaced
- Easy software migration
I dislike (-):
- Irregular SO-DIMM memory and incompatibility of the old HD increased costs
- Pretty much non-expandable unlike standard ATX PC
- The northbridge and southbridge have high power draw compared to the CPU.
- Temptation to buy a neat small case for it