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need to build a low power computer

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April 20, 2007 2:34:24 AM

I need to build a low end computer that draws less power idle for tasks like downloading. It doesn't have to be fancy just that it won't draw a huge amount of power from the grid. I left my computer on forever and recently turned it off when not used and the savings on my electrical bill was significant. Any pointers on this?
April 20, 2007 2:55:42 AM

I suppose it comes down to how LOW you want to go.

About the ultimate in low power is the AMD Geode offerings or something in the way of VIA chips for microITX motherboards.

NOT looking at a lot of horsepower there, but enough to run XP and do office type stuff and downloading.

A couple links to help get you started if you're interested.

VIA: http://www.via.com.tw/en/initiatives/spearhead/mini-itx...

AMD Geode: http://wwwd.amd.com/catalog/salescat.nsf/doclookupweb/2...
April 20, 2007 3:08:59 AM

So how about those mini form factor computers?

How much am I expected to spend on a simple computer that is based on a AMD Geode anyways (not going to use a case)

their power draw is comparable to a laptop right?
Related resources
April 20, 2007 3:29:11 AM

I second VIA, awesome for low power builds. This is the psu you should get, super small, plenty of power for most thing VIA, and it's cheap.

Silent PC Review article

Also, check out Mini-ITX.com, that link leads to their store, but they plently of great articles and stuff too.
April 20, 2007 3:33:54 AM

I've been thinking about it, and you'd probably be happier and be less expensive to go VIA. I haven't found much on the Geode line from AMD.

Here's the MB and proc:

http://www.google.com/products?q=via+mini+itx&btnG=Sear...

And cases:

http://www.google.com/products?q=via+mini+itx+case&btnG...

Plus the ITX standard is compatible with more standard PC parts I believe

EDIT: Well, it looks like I found this on the Geode finally: http://www.google.com/products?q=amd+geode+motherboard&...
April 20, 2007 3:37:05 AM

I built my media server on VIAs EPIA platform. With two 320GB HDDs it draws 23 watts when usage is high, and as low as 11 when the drives have been idled.

It's a bloody useless PC - but it's fine for serving music and movies across the Wifi network to my media streamers.

Saves about $27 a month in power.
April 20, 2007 3:38:26 AM

Yes, I believe their powerdraw would compare to a laptop.
April 20, 2007 4:40:41 AM

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...
a b ) Power supply
April 20, 2007 8:15:54 PM

Just get a lowend Core2 like the e4300 at stock speed or a 65W amd chip. Get a case that has a PSU maybe a 400W or something. A large passive cooler and an exhaust fan. Set your pc's power saving settings to go to sleep when you aren't using it. Just stick with a single hard drive and that's all. Either that or get one of those slim PC from dell or HP or something. They use the lower powered laptop chips and use very low power.
April 20, 2007 8:48:09 PM

Quote:
I suppose it comes down to how LOW you want to go.

About the ultimate in low power is the AMD Geode offerings or something in the way of VIA chips for microITX motherboards.

NOT looking at a lot of horsepower there, but enough to run XP and do office type stuff and downloading.

A couple links to help get you started if you're interested.

VIA: http://www.via.com.tw/en/initiatives/spearhead/mini-itx...

AMD Geode: http://wwwd.amd.com/catalog/salescat.nsf/doclookupweb/2...



Fry's used to sell a Geode 1750NX machine with 128MB RAM, 40GB HDD, and a CDRW for $99. With Linspire. Or whatever they're called now. Awesome deal, I wish I would have taken advantage of it.
April 20, 2007 11:07:49 PM

Super link...alot of cool tinker toys for the big boys :D  .
April 20, 2007 11:30:55 PM

My underclocked/undervolted Dell Inspiron 1200 laptop has a power consumption figure of 9 watts when the lid is closed (screen off).
August 6, 2008 1:08:09 PM

i built one low power computer with scrap lying in the garage recently.
Specs:
Pentium 166 MMX underclocked to 133Mhz @1.8V
128 MB SDRAM
20 GB 2.5" Laptop HDD
SiS 530 based mother board
Dlink Ethernet adapter.

The whole setup now draws very little power. Removed the stock hearsink that was stuck and replaced it with an old P3 heatsink with the fan removed. It barely gets warm to touch.

I get more than 20 hours backup on my 300VA UPS running on a 60Ah car battery.

During the day i can completely run the computer off the grid via 40W Solar Panels.

You can get better power efficiency if you use the newer Mini ITX or Pico ITX boards.....but for this config i did not spend a dime.



July 2, 2009 2:25:12 AM

For downloading from a low power device you would really be hard pressed to beat an ARM based NAS running linux like a SLU2, DLink DNS 323, etc... If you don't mind a little bit of linux work you can run a device that uses a handful of watts has it's own HDD that only gets spun up when it's needed and it can run all of your favourite downloaders. The HDD adds a few watts when its spinning but thats all. Even the fan only runs when it needs to.
July 5, 2009 4:18:32 PM

Hello susanpret88,

@ rahimiv If botting and low power computing for DLing is what you desire I would absolutely have to suggest th Intel platform of the Atom 330 @ 1.6GHz on Intel D945GCLF2: 41W idle, 45W loaded.



It is well efficient enough to run those tasks and more. I tend to stay away from via platforms except for CarPCs That are only really going to be a low power media Pc (no HD.) Even then I would choose something like the Via C7 2.0 GHZ with the jetway J7f5M motherboard combo. This route is much pricier than buying Intel but it does use less power (toss up), it has DVI and Atom D945GCLF does not. Aslo while the C7 2.0Ghz is a decent processor it does not have the balls of the Atom dual core 330 @ 1.6 ghz).

http://www.mini-itx.com/store/basket.asp?action=add&pro...

I have personally used both these boards and others. Aside from particular reasons to use another board for other purposes there is no reason why either one of these Specified Motherboard combos will not get the job done and then some if you would like. Be mindful that if you need DVI get the J7F5M motherboard if you do not do yourself a favor and get the Atom 330 D945GCLF (this board will even run MAC OSX10.5.5). It is your choice Mate. Their are plenty to choose from. Look around @

www.mini-itx.com

www.logicsupply.com

www.mini-box.com

www.intel.com/go/miniITX

www.minipc.ca

www.itxdepot.com

www.TigerDirect.com

www.mitxpc.com

I could go on and on with links but, I'm sure you will find what you need within one of these Sites.

Also a good way to keep down those watts is to use a solid state PSU such as a Pico PSU or better. Look around Mate you will find it all. Its just a click away. :bounce: 
July 5, 2009 6:17:03 PM

Date WTF :pfff:  @me

same applies to rest of you new guys though!!
August 22, 2009 1:27:33 AM

Hi ya!

I need some advice, I'm looking to put together a file server using very low power hw and freenas. So, I thought the Jetway J7F3 AMD Geode NX1750 Mainboard + 2x 500gb 2.5" hdd's. although this would be great for a home file server, I need it for a small office with 5 pcs which will use it for there main network storage. I will also be connecting 2x external HDDs for backup through bacula. Seeing as there are no media requirements, is the geode powerfull enough?

Cheers
a b ) Power supply
August 22, 2009 3:35:14 PM

This is an example of a necro thread that was revived for a good reason. I can even see justification to give low powered systems their own forum. With many of the articles by Mr. Roos and Mr. Schmid targeting low power issues and higher demand by people like RVers, Greens and other off the grid people it makes sense to give low powered fans a place they can call their own.
August 27, 2009 12:32:50 PM

have you looked at the Fit-pc2. runs on 6 watts. and is smaller then a CD.
with all the power of a desktop. check out www.fit-pc.ie
February 21, 2010 5:59:26 PM

there is a tool to automatically put computers into standby or wake them up at certain times or using WOL.

That helps conumers, schools and universities as well as companies significantly reduce their energy cost for IT and reduce their carbon footprint at the same time.

Have a look at http://www.itpowersaving.com
They calim that between 20% and 60% of Desktop PC are left on at night or over weekends at that even with 5 computers in your office network, electricity savings amount to $400 a year.

University of Berkeley has evaluated the current leading power-saving solutions and eventually chose our software to automate campus PC power-saving. Read about their case at: http://greensoda.cs.berkeley.edu/wiki/index.php/Desktop
Univ of Berkley has also linked ASDM to wireless power meters in order to precisely measure actual energy saved vs. an estimate.
As you can see their results are quite impressive.

best regards,
Babba
March 30, 2010 8:10:34 PM

This thread is nearly 3 years old !
Low powered motherboards and PC's have come a long way in that time.
A bit like the difference between a Penny farthing and a racing bike.

Technology sites such as this always suffer from this problem. The guy who originally asked the question asked it so long ago, that he's probably forgotten asking it ! and probably doesn't care anymore.
May 2, 2010 4:23:43 PM

gjimmy, even if it is a old thread, it is very useful for other people. I googled for low power server and got here, so this info was useful and hope it will be more useful to other people as it is updated.

I've bought a clamp-multimeter in order to measure the power they drain. My mains voltage is 127v. Here are the results:
- Browsing the web with many open tabs (Dell Core 2 Duo @ 50% load, 2+2gb ram, medium lcd brightness): 0.3 A (38.1W)
- Idle desktop computer (Athlon XP 2500+, 1+0.5gb ram, 2 sata hd, no monitor): 1.1 A (140W)
- Full load (computing huge factorial at windows calc, heh) desktop computer (the same one): 1.5 A (190W)
- CRT monitor: 0A at standby, 0.5A powered on with medium brightness (64W)
- CRT 23" TV: 0.6 A (76W)
- 2.1 soundspeakers, 28W RMS: 0.1A at standby or medium power (13W), 0.3A at full power (38W)

I spend lots of time at the computer everyday, frequently leaving it powered on between "real world" tasks. As soon I realized I could use the notebook for most of my tasks spending 40W instead of using 200W desktop computer, I almost stopped using my desktop. This started to make me thing about making things more energy efficient.

Recently we felt the need for a home file/print server. 5 people in one house, 3 notebooks plus one destop... such a hassle keeping up where are all files. Since we already use sun heating for water and fluorescent bulbs, I don't think it would be smart to leave powered on forever a 140W PC idle most of the time just to download torrents and share files and printer across the network, so I got a NAS which is supposed to do this stuff.
Obviously, things could not be perfect. The nas itself has lots of limitations on speeds and management, and spends 10W on full load (downloading stuff) and a little less when idle. I bought a USB 500gb 3.5" HD to attach to the nas, so the HD also needs some energy to spend (accordingly to http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp it is 10w per sata hd or 17w per pata (ide) hd). Linear power supplies for my adsl modem, wireless router, nas, external 3.5" HD... Why not put everything being powered by a single (more efficient) switching power supply? I have lots of working AT PSUs around, so I could use one of them. Meanwhile, I've been looking for some kind of simple cheap networked media player I could plug into my network to stream music from internet and from the NAS, and found only very expensive ones. Staring at my huge collection of old PCs, I started to wonder if I could make any of them efficient enough to be powered all day long without costing me too much.

Then I wrote some guidelines:
- Leave the PC only with the essential hardware, putting away everything unnecessary that could spend energy.
- No monitor. I should control the computer using LogMeIn or other remote computing feature.
- Use some sort of hardware to allow media playback control without the need of a screen. Options are: keyboard shortcuts, IR remote control or a simple web interface I could access from my mobile (my cellphone does not have wifi, but it is able to browse the internet using bluetooth PAN if there's a computer with bluetooth around - having a always-on PC would also be good to provide bluetooth internet for the cellphone all the time). There's also a bluetooth app which enables the use of the cellphone as a mouse or a basic remote controller for media player, but it is not enough e.g. to handle playlists.
- Need usb port at least for the external 500gb drive and for bluetooth dongle. I think some of the not-too-old motherboards have two onboard usbs, I may then use a usb hub if I need more ports.
- Need some easy way to share the files with windows computers.
- Underclocking and undervolting to ensure it will spend as little energy as possible.
- Use a light OS, maybe TinyXP or DamnSmallLinux, whichever makes it easier to remotely play music, queue downloads or torrents, and demands lower power.
- As I said, older hd drives spend more energy. So, if needed, I could use a SSD to boot the OS (there are some cool CF-to-IDE adapters out there). But I've read somewhere about network boot, if it enables me to dispose of the hard disk it will be great.
- Eventually I may start using the computer for some simple automation tasks, through software and hardware (serial or parallel port) I may develop.


But I started to figure out some problems:
- Will I really be able to make the computer (processor, motherboard, ram, NIC, soundcard, hd) be energy-efficient enought to spend total of 20 or 40 watts? My NAS setup should use 10w for the HD and other 10w for the sata HD, plus some watts for the sata/usb converter.
- I have some 286, 386, pentium 75, pentium 133, pentium 166 and celeron 700. Among the ones I have, what's the processor that would suit better the requirements (low power, underclockability) and give the best performance?
- What would be the minimum RAM amount needed? The oldest pcs only take EDO pc66 memory, and I think I only have 4*16Mb of it. I have around 128 or 256mb DIMM pc100/pc133 ram. If I need more to be able to do network booting, I might find some 512mb to buy, though they're rare.
- I'm unsure about if DSL, tinyxp or other os would be more suitable for this task. Any guess?
May 5, 2010 12:30:50 AM

Damn, it seems I write so much I scare people away :p 
May 5, 2010 8:11:40 PM

Haven't read all the posts here yet, but I'm back to the idea of reusing laptop CPUs to build desktops. I was considering that last (Sept 2009) year and then my desktops started to die so I just bought all new at Newegg's Black Friday sale.

Now I'm going to be the recipient of a couple (or several if I'm lucky) of nearly dead laptops. I don't know their specs but there not over 3 years old.

I've been wanting to build a mini-ITX system as a Home Theater PC for the bedroom. I'm thinking that I'll use the hard drives in the desktops if they are still good (just discovered Icy Dock 2.5" to 3.5" adapters) and the fastest working CPU for the mini-ITX system.

I found this motherboard:

Open Box: BIOSTAR A690EI2 AM2 AMD M690E Mini ITX Athlon64/FX/X2 /Sempron / Turion 64 Server Motherboard

and this case:

APEX MI-008 Black Steel Mini-ITX Tower Computer Case 250W Power Supply

on Newegg.

I need to figure out what else I'll need to get. I've got parts here and there and will probably cobble something together.

Of course buying all new would be around $300 to $400 if I shop the sales, so my budget for this needs to be below that. The case and mobo are alreay $150 unless I can find a much cheaper mobo, maybe closer to $50. Then there's $100 for RAM. I might need a video card and wireless too, again depending on the mobo.

I'll be back and let you know more specifics once I actually get the laptops and figure out what I've got.
May 5, 2010 8:21:08 PM

I've been looking around a little. Here are some new thoughts.

Are there any mini-ITX boards out there that would allow me to reuse the laptop RAM. I think I'll have at least 2 1GB modules. Maybe even 2GB modules. That would save on the RAM.

Also looks like most of the motherboards available are going to be for industrial applications which means they will be more expensive at retail. Looks like it is time to fire up eBay and look for some deals.
May 5, 2010 8:47:10 PM

eliasalberto said:
Staring at my huge collection of old PCs, I started to wonder if I could make any of them efficient enough to be powered all day long without costing me too much.

Then I wrote some guidelines:
- Leave the PC only with the essential hardware, putting away everything unnecessary that could spend energy.
- No monitor. I should control the computer using LogMeIn or other remote computing feature.
- Use some sort of hardware to allow media playback control without the need of a screen. Options are: keyboard shortcuts, IR remote control or a simple web interface I could access from my mobile (my cellphone does not have wifi, but it is able to browse the internet using bluetooth PAN if there's a computer with bluetooth around - having a always-on PC would also be good to provide bluetooth internet for the cellphone all the time). There's also a bluetooth app which enables the use of the cellphone as a mouse or a basic remote controller for media player, but it is not enough e.g. to handle playlists.
- Need usb port at least for the external 500gb drive and for bluetooth dongle. I think some of the not-too-old motherboards have two onboard usbs, I may then use a usb hub if I need more ports.
- Need some easy way to share the files with windows computers.
- Underclocking and undervolting to ensure it will spend as little energy as possible.
- Use a light OS, maybe TinyXP or DamnSmallLinux, whichever makes it easier to remotely play music, queue downloads or torrents, and demands lower power.
- As I said, older hd drives spend more energy. So, if needed, I could use a SSD to boot the OS (there are some cool CF-to-IDE adapters out there). But I've read somewhere about network boot, if it enables me to dispose of the hard disk it will be great.
- Eventually I may start using the computer for some simple automation tasks, through software and hardware (serial or parallel port) I may develop.


But I started to figure out some problems:
- Will I really be able to make the computer (processor, motherboard, ram, NIC, soundcard, hd) be energy-efficient enought to spend total of 20 or 40 watts? My NAS setup should use 10w for the HD and other 10w for the sata HD, plus some watts for the sata/usb converter.
- I have some 286, 386, pentium 75, pentium 133, pentium 166 and celeron 700. Among the ones I have, what's the processor that would suit better the requirements (low power, underclockability) and give the best performance?
- What would be the minimum RAM amount needed? The oldest pcs only take EDO pc66 memory, and I think I only have 4*16Mb of it. I have around 128 or 256mb DIMM pc100/pc133 ram. If I need more to be able to do network booting, I might find some 512mb to buy, though they're rare.
- I'm unsure about if DSL, tinyxp or other os would be more suitable for this task. Any guess?


Here is one guideline/consideration you didn't mention: How long will it take to recover the cost of the system with the energy I save?

While I don't leave my lights on just to burn electricity, I also don't have the slightest clue as to how much each watt (or Kw) cost me. I seem to recall a recent article mentioning six to ten cents per Kw. I'm not going to do the math, but offhand I'm guessing that since I pay about $200 a month to the electric company that it would take me several years to recover the cost of a low power computer if it only saved me a couple of Kw a day.

While I do enjoy being frugal and reusing instead of tossing out, I do consider the opportunity cost of spending too much time trying to figure out how to reuse and save money. If I can work a couple of extra hours and earn the cost of the new parts, or if I can mow my lawn instead of paying someone to do it, or if I could just enjoy listening to music on my new system instead of waiting until I build it from used parts, then what is that worth to me. (That's a long sentence and probably isn't very clear. I'll have to come back and rework later.)

I'm probably way off in my cost perception and would welcome enlightenment. It will give me something to consider while I'm waiting for the laptops.
August 7, 2010 8:11:55 AM

This may be an old thread but it is still an important one and deserving to be continued. I agree with eliasalberto that, if practicality and finance are the issue, it doesn't make sense to squeeze the last watt out of the system. However, there are settings such as the third world (where I am) and some mobile applications where we really do want a 7 watt rather than a 20 watt computer. The Fit-PC2 and the Aleutia are the candidates I know of. Of course, this thread may be more about building a system from scratch, but one of these options might currently be more useful for most people.
August 8, 2010 6:49:51 PM

Elias,
It was a long a$$ posting, but lots of food for thought - esp for those trying to salvage old stuff. I was in a similar situation. I wanted to run a pc 24/7 from which I could store and serve video and audio media. I have a old Dell Dimension L7000 with an Intel Celeron (697.74-MHz 686-class CPU) and 1/2 gig of ram.

Running a shared folder via XP was horrendous. I downloaded a program called FreeNAS. It's got almost zero overhead, so all resources are devoted to file sharing. It works great as a simple home server. And since it's run via a browser, I was able to unplug the keyboard, mouse, monitor - I even took out the SoundBlaster Live audio card. All this brought the PC down to around 60w (according to my Kill a watt).

The box boots from the FreeNAS CD and I've got a blank 3.5 floppy in the drive. The floppy serves as configuration disk - so if there's a shutdown you don't have to reconfigure all your network settings.

I still wasn't happy so I took out the old PATA drives and slapped in a couple 1.5Tb SATA's. Of course I had to go to Fry's and get a $20 PCI->ATA controller (mine's by Sabrent). These two mongo drives use less than half the power and have 100x the capacity!

Bottom line, this thing runs at 30w idle and ramps up to 45 when both drives are spinning.
a b ) Power supply
August 9, 2010 1:45:33 AM

This topic has been closed by Mousemonkey
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