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Low-power CPU (and motherboard) question.

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Last response: in CPUs
November 13, 2009 12:26:06 PM

Hi All,

I'm looking at building a home NAS box and I’m hoping you can point me to a CPU/mainboard combination to base everything around. I'm considering 2 options, so I'm looking for two answers - but, critically, for both the primary consideration is low power consumption. Note that I’m not necessarily looking for the best processing power to wattage efficiency – neither of these should have to work very hard – and in both cases the box will be a dedicated file server, so there’ll be no need to drive anything other than:
- Local SSD for OS;
- Gigabit Ethernet (on PCI-e?) with WoL;
- SATA controller (possibly x2) running 4 disks on PCI-e;

Option 1: Box runs FreeNAS or OpenSolaris with software RAID5/6 managed by ZFS, vanilla 4-port SATA controller (or maybe 2 if I’m feeling adventurous);

Option 2: Box runs Linux (probably) with hardware RAID5/6 controller.

Any insights gratefully accepted! Thanks in advance – Adam…

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November 13, 2009 6:23:55 PM

I just got a kingston ssd for $110 at frys (2 day sale ended yesterday). It's virtually silent and I like the lack of hd chatter caused by vista or windows 7 in the background. Newegg had an asus itx board with 4 gigs of memory for around $250 in one of their email promos this week. It's one of the few boards with 2 ram slots for using up to 4 gigs of memory. Newegg also has some itx boards with case; the best deal was for $86 recently with free shipping, but they start at $120 now.
November 13, 2009 6:53:15 PM

AMD Athlon II X4 605e 2.3GHz Socket AM3 2MB Cache =£106
ASROCK M3A785GMH/128M 785G Sopcket AM3 VGA DVI HDMI Out 8 Channel Audio MATX Motherboard=£59
November 13, 2009 7:27:25 PM

Even a low performance SSD would be fine for the OS as it'll do very little with what you want it for, if using Linux/Unix you could probably get away with a USB flash drive for a really cheap option, and the only performance impact would be the boot-up time.

Back to your questions...
I'd probably go for FreeNAS as it's pretty simple but the end result could be pretty much the same with other Linux/Unix.

In addition to the CPU wattage it's also worth looking at the chipset wattage too, as an example on some of the earlier Atom systems the chipset used more power than the cpu.
The AthlonII X2 235e isn't a bad choice for this usage:
- 45W TDP.
- Can use a 700-series chipset which are very efficient.
- Motherboard and CPU are not expensive.
- Since it's fare more powerful than you actually need, you could lower the frequency and voltage (and maybe even one core) to save more energy (leaving the option to increase it again if you ever need more performance in the future.
- Motherboards exist in Mini-ITX, MicroATX and ATX.

Failing that I'd opt for some kind of Atom.