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Low electric consumption server > encoder > gamer; <$1000

Last response: in Systems
July 15, 2009 12:52:54 AM

Hi. Looking to build/buy a desktop computer that doesn't use much electricity (main objective) that will do the following:

* FTP server
* Downloading (torrent / rapidshare)
* General browsing / email
* Encoding video
* Occasional gaming (BF2)

Since low electric consumption is my primary objective I would buy a mac Mini (14 Watts idle) except that it doesn't take 3.5-inch hard drives, and it only has a single drive (I would like to have two 1 TB drives mirroring). So the search continues.

Because I will occasionally encode / game, Intel Atom probably isn't an option.

Mainly I'm looking for advice on suitable mobo, CPU, powersupply, and RAM.

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Between now and October 2009 BUDGET RANGE: Under $1000

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: server, encoding, occasional gaming

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: hard drives, keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS (I already have Win XP pro)

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I love Newegg, but will buy from anyone

PARTS PREFERENCES: no preferences

OVERCLOCKING: I might be willing to UNDERclock, but am not overly enthused with the idea


MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1680x1050, 1920x1080, 1920x1200

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: low electric consumption is main priority, but quiet is important too.


July 15, 2009 2:14:54 AM

There isn't any way that a PC will "not use much electricity" if you are also "maybe" on SLI/Crossfire. The best you can hope for is "as little as possible".

This probably is best accomplished with a PC with a "gold" efficiency rating (eg Corsair's 750 and 850 units) and a cpu/mobo/OS that sleeps and recovers very well.

Hopefully someone else can help with "sleep" proficient parts.
July 15, 2009 3:03:53 AM

Twoboxer said:
There isn't any way that a PC will "not use much electricity" if you are also "maybe" on SLI/Crossfire.

Good point. Since my only gaming interest is BF2, and that doesn't require that much video horsepower, let's change SLI/Crossfire from 'maybe' to 'no'.

Also, the computer will be always on, never sleeping. So I'm hoping for something that idles well, like the mac Mini does.

I'll start poking around for "Gold" ratings, but my understanding of power supplies is that they are MOST efficient when running near their capacity... they are not efficient at all when loaded lightly. So a 750 or 850 Watt PSU, even if gold rated, is not going to be too efficient when I'm only drawing 20-40 Watts at my idle... right?

Related resources
July 15, 2009 4:18:18 AM

Yeah, its a problem lol. Most psus will be at their peak 20% thru 80%, according to most reviews I've seen. And the Gold rating requires . . . let me look it up . . . 87%/90%/87% efficiency at 20%/50%/100% of power rating. In any case, Gold will give you the best you can do at, say, 20% of rating, and likely below. It will not come cheaply, but if your system will be on 24/7 . . . say 50W . . . a 10% improvement from the wall would yield 7W/hr, 168W/day, 61.3 KWH/yr. That's only about $7 per yr, so watch your payback. (Of course, more savings will accrue during actual use or when you "game".)

As for "sleep" vs "idle" . . . PCs consume far more than 20-40W (exclusive of the monitor) at what *I* would call idle. Idle is screen on, system at full power except that the cpu has been temporarily slowed due to non-use. Higher power savings occur in a "power saving mode" defined here:

Some text:

"The ACPI specification defines the following seven states (so-called global states) which an ACPI-compliant computer system can be in:

G0 (S0) Working
G1 Sleeping subdivides into the four states S1 through S4.
- S1: All processor caches are flushed, and the CPU(s) stop executing instructions. Power to the CPU(s) and RAM is maintained; devices that do not indicate they must remain on may be powered down.
- S2: The CPU is powered off.
- S3: Commonly referred to as Standby, Sleep, or Suspend to RAM. RAM is still powered.
- S4: Hibernation. All content of main memory is saved to non-volatile memory such as a hard drive, and is powered down. "

Mobos often seem to have trouble successfully recovering from S-States, which is what I *think* you want. (Press a key, the system powers up and responds in a few seconds. Or respond to network requests, etc).

And now you are near the end of where I can be of help . . . I can choose low power parts, but I don't know which parts respond best, nor can I tell you whether a "laptop" cpu chip (lower power requirement) might be possible and if so which might be the best option.

Final note: any significant gaming requirement is going to put you (if Intel) in the E5200 or E7400 class, and make the use of onboard graphics iffy.
July 15, 2009 4:47:21 AM

I recommend Nvidia GeForce 9600GT 59W version, low power and will be able to handle BF2 no probs also nVidia cards can run at 25% factory clock using nTune then you can boost it back to 100% when playing BF2 (just need to set it up and it'll do it automatically). Power saving should be quite significant if power relates directly to clock speed, as per the Tom's article yesterday.

From what I can see, if you are using it as a FTP server, torrent box, it's most likely to be on 24/7 ie there's no need to consider sleep. I'd get an E5200 CPU and undervoltage it / underclock if you want. Even at 2G should be able to handle BF2 no probs.

Lastly for the video encoding, I'm assuming it's on 24/7 then even underclocked it should be able to do the job overnight.
July 15, 2009 1:50:57 PM

Twoboxer: thanks for the fantastic efficiency statistics (I had no idea a PSU could remain so efficient as low as 20%) and all the great advice.

Also, the idea of waking the computer from sleep upon receipt of network requests is intriguing. I wonder if it could be done to respond to an external FTP request. There will be times when I have nothing coming down the pipe via torrent and the only reason to have the computer on would be to respond to FTP traffic (and 90% of the time there wouldn't be any.)

stumpystumped: great suggestion on the underclocking the video card... I didn't realize that was an option.

Anybody know of motherboards that are known as being particularly energy efficient?
July 15, 2009 8:33:11 PM

Wake-up-on-LAN is a feature on at least some mobos/lan adapters, but someone else is needed once again lol. I have never successfully mastered "magic packet" or anything like it. Maybe someone else will jump in again, or you could post that specific question as a "How Do I set up . . ."

As for "energy efficiency" and underclocking, just so happens this was posted yesterday:

You will probably enjoy the read, whether you use it or not.
July 15, 2009 8:59:08 PM

Oklahoma Wolf over at has recently included an efficiency test at 10% load. Hopefully he'll have some decent low-wattage (i.e. <=500W) units to test.
Without measurements, this is little more than an anecdote, but right now I'm running an AMD 4850e on a 790GX board with a HIS HD4670 GPU. It is on 24/7, and I haven't seen any notable jump in my electric bill. It is mostly a Teamspeak server, but is occasionally also used for Guild Wars and web surfing. The PSU is an Antec Earthwatts 380, and the HDD is a new Seagate 7k.12; I'm thinking of putting a SSD in it when they are half their current price.
July 15, 2009 9:13:18 PM

Toms had an article on low power consumption.
They built a system with an e7200 + g31 mb that drew about 70 watts , but the onboard gfx suck and wont game .

Another option would be a Phenom x2 550 + a mb with 790g northbridge chip . That nb has onboard gfx and can even play crysis at low resolutions so you avoid the power drain of a discrete gfx card
Soon there will be 7850g nb chipset boards and these are even better . Article on anandtech about them .
The phenom is fairly decent in power consumption and AMD's cool and quiet technology should automatically clock it down to 800 MHZ when not loaded . This is far better than any intel cpu
This might give you ok gaming potential , plenty of cpu power when you need it and very low consumption while handling basic server tasks
July 16, 2009 3:20:24 PM

Thanks for all the great suggestions and info. For me, 70 Watts is too high to have on all the time. (I will likely go off-grid in the very near future, so it's not the price of electricity that concerns me, but the amount of power I will be able to store in my solar-charged house batteries.)

Since I have a fairly powerful computer at work, I guess I could do my encoding there (and gaming), and make this at-home computer only for serving and data storage.

With that in mind, I'll probably go for the SEVEN WATT Fit-PC2:

Cool that it plays 1080 at 7 W, though I probably won't use that much. Wish it took 3.5-inch drives, but nothing's perfect.

Thanks again for all the info.
July 16, 2009 9:57:54 PM

That's a nice goal. I want to set up a PV system myself, once prices drop a good bit. Have you thought about a decent laptop? You'll likely have a much more powerful system, and you could charge it at work at least some of the time. Consider one or more external USB drives for storage.