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Intel Atom based server - my experiences

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July 26, 2009 10:23:59 AM

Now I know I'm not the first person to attempt using an Intel Atom based solution as a server, but I know there will be many out there who may be considering doing the same so I thought I would share my experiences with you.

Now you may ask why I would use an Atom instead of a more powerful platform that would be available for around the same price? Well, basically it comes down to the fact the power usage of the Atom is really low and a the intention of a server is for it to be running 24/7. Energy prices in the UK are cheaper than they used to be, but are still high enough to keep you mindful of which appliances and lights are left on. I've played around with spare P3 parts and this functioned well as a server, but I was always mindful of the power it was using.

What do I use the server for? The main use is as a file server for myself and two members of the family, this could have been achieved with a NAS but I wanted the additional flexibility. I have Orb running so that I can access my music collection from my mobile phone - this isn't great but this is down to limitations of the Orb mobile software and the 3G network in my town. I don't want to leave my main PC, which uses anything up to 500W, downloading a torrent all day - I now do this on the server.

What else have I had it doing? You may be surprised to hear that I've actually used it for transcoding divX to DVD a few times - on occasions where the speed of the process isn't the be all and end all it works great. I've often left a batch of 5 or 6 video files converting while I've been at work, safe in the knowledge that it's barely using any more electricity than if it was idling or serving a few files. In terms of speed, I've monitored it a couple of times and it appears to transcode slightly less than real-time - so a 90 minute movie should take around 95-100 minutes to transcode. (This is with TMPGEnc DVD Authoring software).

What OS do I use? I use Windows Home Server, a simple XP setup with shares would have been fine but I like some of the extras that Home Server offers - such as the ability to access all of the shared files remotly, and backup PCs automatically. Windows Home Server is essentially Windows Server 2003 with a few tweaks to make it more friendly to the mass market. Most of the configuration is done remotely via "connector software" but if you remote desktop to it, you'll find a lot the elements of Server 2003 are available to you. You could essentially use it as a web server as well if you wished.

Full hardware details...
Intel DC945GCLF2 with integrated (Dual Core) Atom 330, Intel Graphics, Realtek HD Audio, Gigabit LAN
2GB DDR2 RAM (To be honest I think this may be overkill for what I use it for, but RAM is so cheap these days)
Western Digital 250GB IDE Hard Drive (Pulled from an old external MyBook drive).

Bad points of the setup...
I can't fault the performance of the system but in my case the hard drive needs to be looked at, hence the reason why I don't have more storage than 250GB. I have no RAID or secondary backup, and the drive itself consumes a lot of power and generates more heat than anything else in the system. Until SSDs of a large size become available and more affordable then this will just have to be the way. I backup all my really important stuff online anyway but I'll be looking into redundant backup options in the near future.

In summary, if you're considering using an Atom as the basis of your server then go for it! It works much better than I imagined it would, CPU usage is always in single figures when doing normal server tasks.

If you would like any more information, or would like me to test how it performs doing other tasks then please let me know I will be happy to try it out.

Hope this was interesting/useful to you.
July 26, 2009 11:28:06 AM

Cool. How long have you been an Intel employee?

Atom for a server, lol, my friend has an Atom netbook and its slower than dog doo doo.
September 3, 2009 11:57:58 PM

What an asinine and ignorant comment. You don't seem to know much about servers, which is what this stub is about. Or you could read the stub instead of knee-jerk commenting on just the headline and putting your foot in your mouth.
beezer73 said:
Cool. How long have you been an Intel employee?

Atom for a server, lol, my friend has an Atom netbook and its slower than dog doo doo.

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September 4, 2009 2:22:23 AM

Thanks for sharing your experiences. its nice when people do this, because the rest of us can gain more experience than we ever could afford/do.

Just out of curiosity, do you know what the total power draw of that system is at idle/max?

In that system you are probably right about the hard drive. 8W or so doesn't sound like much, but in an atom system I guess it is. Have you looked into the Western Digital Green drives at all? I don't know if they save an appreciable amount of power, but it might help.
September 11, 2009 2:00:22 PM

I'm interested in doing something very similar - would you mind adding what PSU and case you used for the server?
September 11, 2009 3:27:09 PM

beezer73 said:
Atom for a server, lol, my friend has an Atom netbook and its slower than dog doo doo.


Atoms are great for low-use 24/7 servers because they can handle most things that the typical home/office server needs to do they don't use much power. Obviously you wouldn't want to use them for running amazon.com.

The only reason why I'm planning to upgrade my Atom server to something more powerful is because I use it regularly for video compression (it's a MythTV box as well as a file server/web server/zabbix server/zoneminder server) and merely managing near-realtime is getting a bit painful. Once I do that it will get downgraded to web server/ftp server/etc, for which it's fine.

Biggest issues for me are that the Intel Atom motherboards can't handle many disks (so no big RAID arrays) and that finding a PSU which efficiently provides the 40-60W the average Atom server needs is not easy.
a c 96 à CPUs
September 11, 2009 4:02:47 PM

Quote:
I'm really hoping intel will release a quad core Atom. Would be pretty sweet


It would be a while as Intel would need to make a monolithic dual-core or quad-core Atom to accomplish that. The current dual-core Atoms are two single-core dies put next to each other on one substrate, Pentium D Presler style. I don't think the 945 chipset used with the Atoms can handle the four CPU dies needed to make a four-core Atom setup. I bet that some of the older Xeon chipsets could, but unless you want to do a custom dual-CPU dual-core Atom setup with a Xeon chipset, I don't think you're going to see four Atom cores on a board. I highly doubt that even the server makers like Supermicro that do make Atom-powered servers would shell out the coin for making a dual-CPU, dual-core Atom setup since the market would probably be pretty small. Although, a lot of the problems with the Atom setups do stem from its old and relatively limited chipset...

If you want my honest opinion, I'd suggest you go with a low-power quad-core CPU like one of AMD's 40-watt Opteron EEs or Intel's 38-watt Nehalem Xeons. Those are a little bit more power hungry than four Atom cores would be, but they would be much faster, have the ability to use a decent amount of ECC RAM, and have expansion capabilities. If you don't want to spend that much, then get one of the Core 2 Quad Q8200s units or a Phenom II 905e and undervolt and underclock it. An Atom with 2 GB RAM and the ICH7 southbridge may be okay for a little home server with a couple of SATA disks in RAID1 or something, but if you want much bigger, go with lower-power server or desktop gear.
September 11, 2009 4:07:13 PM

I built an AMD sempron rig that uses less idle wattage than the Atom/945GC boards with there outrageous 50 watt idle consumption. My Sempron rig would idle at 37 watts, with 55 watt max power consumption, with twice the performance of the atom 230. For a better file server, try a used netbook. N270 cpu and the 7 watt varient 945 chipset. Close the screen and achieve a 9 watt idle power consumption. Cheaper than a EEE box and takes up virtually no space.
September 11, 2009 4:07:44 PM

mindmasher,

Thanks for sharing this. When I first read the title of the thread I started laughing my butt off, thinking, "What joker would use an Atom for a server!?!?".

However, I realized that the main goal of your server is 24/7 availability, and not speed. Accessing files can be done on basically anything. And you've off-loaded non-critical tasks like encoding over to your server so it can do it greenly.

Your observations are fascinating. Thanks so much for sharing these. Please ignore beezer73, he obviously didn't read a word past the title.
October 8, 2009 1:50:57 AM

mindmasher said:

I can't fault the performance of the system but in my case the hard drive needs to be looked at, hence the reason why I don't have more storage than 250GB. I have no RAID or secondary backup, and the drive itself consumes a lot of power and generates more heat than anything else in the system.

Would using a 2.5" hard drive help with the power consumption here?

Thanks for sharing, i'm looking to build a similar one myself, mainly for torrent purposes.
October 8, 2009 2:45:53 AM

swordsman said:
Would using a 2.5" hard drive help with the power consumption here?


Probably... but the WD 'Green' 1TB drive only takes about 2W at idle in any case, so for the price and performance improvements over a 2.5" drive you're probably better taking that option.
October 29, 2009 12:27:25 PM

I´ve been using an intel atom board as a server for the last four months and it works great.
My setup includes 2x 1TB sata drives running Ubuntu, squeeze server and samba for file sharing.
As soon as I can the printers will also be attached to the box, now they are running on HP wifi printer server and there´s problems on half of the attempts to print, usually easily resolvable, but problems anyway.
I use the samba to share media files like divx and many nights it´s serving at least two streams simultaneously over a Belkin n/g router without disruption.
I use Transmission as a bittorrent client without problems.
All the parts are mounted in an old XTC chassis which was very noisy with the heat sink for an athlon but runs smoothly with the power and bridge fans. The connectors plate don´t match because the board is smaller than the XTC´s itx but it´s something i can live with.
February 9, 2010 1:46:31 PM

I am going to create an Atom Based Server. I thought no one else had tried it. I am going to be using a cheap Mini-ITX board, A nice low power 1TB drive, a Pico-PSU (A Tiny little PSU no larger than some matchsticks) and maybe 2 fans, I haven't though about how much Memory and I proably will create a Script (I am going to use Linux) that will make files I choose be converted into a .ZIP and sent over to my laptop - I've seen this before and hopefully I can find it! I hope it goes well and thanks for giving me some extra tips!!! I am also going to put this on the Mini - ITX website (www.mini-itx.com) so look out for it (I am going to call it "ATOMserver", of course) :pt1cable: 
February 9, 2010 1:47:27 PM

Quote:
I'm really hoping intel will release a quad core Atom. Would be pretty sweet


that'd be sick :sol: 
Anonymous
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February 19, 2010 2:56:00 AM

I have been running an atom 330 - D945GCLF2D Windows Home Server for a while now. Just wanted to share my experience. I think its a great way to go if you want the 24/7 always on server. It is also used as a print server, so I dont have to turn the server on when the wife wants to print something. Ordinarily, this set up can stream VOBs over my home network without any problems. But, I have found some streaming choppyness when the server is attempting to do other chores such as a computer back ups, a backup data base clean up, and copying 5 gig folders to the server. So, have the back up and clean ups scheduled during the middle of the night and dont copy large folders to the server when the family movie is playing.

If you are still shopping for a low power solution, consider the E3000 celerons as they use about 20 watts at idle.

I have also run a WHS with AMD Brisbane 4000, and I do not get any streaming choppyness when the server is doing other chores.

Hope that helps!
April 27, 2010 1:22:06 PM

What cases do you guys use for your set up? I am looking for the smallest box I can get that will fit in 3 hard drives. I am aiming for a media server/HTPC. So it needs to be small and smart and silent as it will be sitting with the TV but still need to squeeze in a few HD so I can dump plenty of data on there.

I am holding out for D510 atom with ION2 which seem to be taking for ever to start showing up.
April 27, 2010 2:57:35 PM

bzdemes said:
What cases do you guys use for your set up? I am looking for the smallest box I can get that will fit in 3 hard drives.


I just bought the cheapest case available at the local computer store :) . The MythTV frontend uses an HTPC-type case, but I forget the manufacturer and the design prevents me from installing the DVD drive with an Ion motherboard as the power cables get in the way.

Chenbro have a mini-ITX server case with four hot-swappable drive slots which looks interesting, but it's a lot more expensive than a $50 micro-ATX case.
June 18, 2010 4:02:00 PM

Yup, Intel Atoms are sounding good, I've got a (very) energy inefficient server running right now and am going to upgrade from its Pentium 4 HT 3.00GHz to an Intel Desktop Board D510MO Mini-ITX which includes an embedded Intel Atom D510 CPU with heatsink (NO fansink!) . The CPU is Dual Core with HT so should be powerful for:

- Server 2008 / 2008 R2
- File Serving 1x 1TB (will backup to another through LAN as I will have to break current RAID1 :(  )
- Serving my family's website (web - http://gladwells.dyndns.org | intranet - http://gladwells.intranet)
- DHCP to lend addresses from 192.168.1.1-99
- DNS for name translations (helps provide http://gladwells.intranet at 192.168.1.100)
- Torrenting (uTorrent), Orbit Downloader (not p2p, online)
- Occasional video rendering/DVD Video ripping
- Regular backups and defragment

The old servers specs are as follows and only the MOBO/CPU will be upgraded:

CHASSIS: Antec 200 (swap for M-ATX P3 case when upgrade)
PSU: 400W Macron (hey, it was free!)
MOBO: ASUS P5B-E Plus
CPU: Intel Pentium 4 3.00GHz LGA775 with Hyper Threading Technology
RAM: Corsair Value 1GB
HDD: IDE WD Caviar 80GB (30GB WIN/Rest as Data Store for backups etc.)
ODD: NONE (plugin IDE if needed)

The upgrade will only cost $150AU :na:  Be super quiet aswell as the P4s driving me mad!
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June 18, 2010 5:07:28 PM

This topic has been closed by Mousemonkey
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