G31 And E7200: The Real Low-Power Story

Combining Performance and Efficiency

Combining minimal power requirements with decent desktop performance seemed to be a nearly insurmountable task for many years, but it now seems to be possible. There are processors and chipsets on the market that will allow you to run a decent desktop system at a very low idle power level, while providing amped-up CPU performance when it’s needed. We’ re taking a look at two motherboards, which their vendors Foxconn and Gigabyte aim at power-conscious customers, and pairing them to one of the most affordable mainstream processors on the market: Intel’s Core 2 Duo E7200.

Efficient Computing Requires Reasonable Components

When you want to create a truly efficient computer, you must bid farewell to some of the components that you may have once taken for granted. First of all, it is necessary to avoid hardware that increases idle power without doing anything important—this includes all add-on cards and drives that you may not really need, as well as most high-end or enthusiast products, and discrete graphics cards in particular. Once this decision has been made, you can go ahead and select your components according to your efficiency goals.

Upper mainstream and high-end graphics cards are typically some of the most power-hungry, as most are optimized for 3D features and performance— often at the cost of high power consumption. Despite recent optimizations in Nvidia’s lineup, for instance, most high-end cards still don’t offer sufficient power saving options, resulting in idle power requirements of graphics cards that match or even exceed the power requirements of an entire entry-level PC. While a high power requirement is not an issue as long as you get something in return, components in idle mode don’t provide any benefit, so we demand minimum idle power during times of low or no activity. In the case of our test systems, this meant we bid farewell to gaming in order to stay with the integrated graphics unit. Luckily, there is always the option of upgrading to a discrete graphics card down the road should it be something you’re missing.

Components: Core 2 Duo E7200 and G31

Once you accept the fact that powerful graphics, high-end components, and numerous disk drives cannot be part of an efficient low-power computer, you can choose the right foundation for your machine. We went with a mainstream Core 2 Duo E7200processor manufactured using 45 nm technology, which runs on a 1,066 MHz FSB with a 2.53 GHz core speed. Unlike the E8000-series, the E7200 has only 3 MB rather than 6 MB L2 cache. We’re also arming this setup with 4 GB of RAM and a nimble 7,200 RPM hard drive.

We decided to look at two motherboards using Intel’s G31 chipset: Foxconn’s G31MG-S and Gigabyte’s GA-EG31MF-S2. Both are reasonable platforms for our high-efficiency PC project.