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Green (efficient) powerful desktop

Last response: in Systems
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September 24, 2010 10:44:33 PM

Approximate Purchase Date: next 30 days

Budget Range: 800-1500

System Usage from Most to Least Important: VirtualBox (isolate kids activities from wifes, software development testing); everyday web surfing/email, photos, home video, light gaming (mostly older games for now...eg Stronghold series)

Parts Not Required: need everything. May want 2nd switched monitor in neighboring room.

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: don't care..probably want pre-built...long history with Dell

Country of Origin: US

Parts Preferences: feel like I want a Core i7

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No

Monitor Resolution: currently using 1680x1050 on my 15" notebook

Additional Comments:

I love to tinker, but at this stage of life, time is scarce. I have 4 young kids and a lot of other commitments along with being a self-employed software engineer.

This will be an all-around work & family PC. My wife will use it most of the time for web/email, photos, etc. Some home video editing. Kids educational software. Some older games. I will probably setup a virtual PCs for my wife and kids via VirtualBox.

I will also use the PC from time to time for testing software and/or running a server in VirtualBox.

My objectives:
- something powerful that will serve us well for the next 4-5+ years
- energy efficient (learning to live green and healthy)

Questions:
What should I consider for energy efficiency? I just read up a little about the 80 plus certification for PSU's here on this site. Other considerations? I'm guessing I want a tame graphics card for our needs.

I'm curious if I go i7 desktop, how much power it will be sucking at "idle" or web surfing.

Should I be looking elsewhere than Dell? (I don't have time to build from scratch) If so, what advantage?

Beyond this power machine, we will use 1-2 notebooks/netbooks.
September 25, 2010 1:42:01 AM

If it's efficiency you're after, I would avoid the i7 9xx's. Those 130W TDP draw a lot more power than their Lynnfield brethren. An i7 8xx perhaps if you want the 4 cores & 8 threads. Their power draw is much less, and they keep up with or beat the lower priced 9xx's. Power draw here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2839/8

Couple it with a low power GPU. I'm partial to my 4670 which is the highest AMD card of the past generation you can get that does not require a PCI power connector from the PSU. In the latest generation the 5670 is the highest you can go for a "board powered" card.

With an i7 860 and the 4670 (rest of config in sig) when web surfing I'm idling at around 79 W (just took a peak at my kill-a-watt).

Here's a more recent article, presumably different test bed, shows the Lynnfield i5 7xx's and i7 8xx's are still kings at idle, good to average under load: http://www.anandtech.com/show/3937/amds-fall-refresh-ne...
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September 25, 2010 1:47:05 AM

greenLiving said:
What should I consider for energy efficiency? I just read up a little about the 80 plus certification for PSU's here on this site. Other considerations? I'm guessing I want a tame graphics card for our needs.

You may want to wait for Intel's latest architecture, Sandy Bridge, to arrive early next year. It will come with an all important die shrink (45 to 32nm) for the quad-core processors, an efficiency/performance gain of ~20%, and improved integrated graphics (now also included with the quad-core processors). The integrated graphics would be good enough for older PC games and will draw less power than a dedicated graphics card.

http://www.anandtech.com/show/3922/intels-sandy-bridge-...
http://www.anandtech.com/show/3871/the-sandy-bridge-pre...

If you need to buy now, it's just as important that you get a recent graphics graphics card (low end Radeon 5XXX or 6XXX) because of the improvements in efficiency.

If you can get a prebuilt computer with an 80 plus power supply, it is definitely worth it. I wouldn't upgrade to an 80 plus power supply if the computer you get doesn't come with one, though. I did a hybrid life cycle analysis of the benefits of upgrading to an 80 plus power supply for a college course a year ago, and the results were mixed. Power supply production is anything but environmentally friendly.

greenLiving said:
I'm curious if I go i7 desktop, how much power it will be sucking at "idle" or web surfing.

Subtract ~50W from the numbers in these charts to get the power consumption of just the processors at idle and at load, respectively:

http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/desktop-cpu-charts-2...
http://www.tomshardware.com/charts/desktop-cpu-charts-2...

The LGA1156 intel processors (Lynnfield and Clarkdale, i3-530 through i7-875k) are much more efficient than the LGA1366 ones (Bloomfield, i7-920 through i7-960). The most economical of the current processors is the i3-530 which draws ~20W at idle. One of the Lynnfield i7s (i7-860 through i7-875k) will only draw a few watts more, but one of the Bloomfield i7s (i7-920 through i7-960) will draw more than twice as much power.

greenLiving said:
Should I be looking elsewhere than Dell? (I don't have time to build from scratch) If so, what advantage?

You can't pick and choose your individual components with Dell. You won't be able to select a really good power supply (not even an 80 Plus one by the looks of it), and you might have trouble finding builds with the most economical graphics cards.
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September 25, 2010 2:04:00 AM

I would also consider including an SSD. Their power consumption at idle and load is much lower, and you will get much snappier performance in general. The difference in power consumption will only be a few watts, though.
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