Matt Connolly's Blog

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Building a low cost, low power, home server: research

So I’ve decided to go down the path of building a low-power, low-cost, home server. We’ve got several PCs in the house now, as well as an Xbox and a LG hard disk recorder, all of which are network accessible.

My criteria for building the machine, in order of importance, are:

  1. something more powerful than an off-the-shelf NAS so that its expandable and I can run a few web apps and things on it too.
  2. low-power: If I’m going to leave this thing turned on, I want minimum power usage.
  3. low-cost: I really don’t want to spend a lot of money on it.
  4. re-use of existing parts where possible: I have an old PC and several hard drives that I’d like to use.

I’m looking at deploying open solaris, mostly for ZFS.

My initial research shows that AMD make some nice 45W processors, like the Athlon II X2 235e. This seems to be a really good balance between power consumption and processing power, but still may be total overkill for my application. What I’d like to know is, what is it’s idle power consumption.

It’s become standard comparison in cars these days to show power as well as efficiency. In this day and age when we are becoming more aware of our energy usage, shouldn’t PCs have the same thing?

But I’ve also been reading about the newer Atom processors, such as the Atom 330 and D510 which have 8W and 13W power usage respectively, the latter including an onchip graphics controller – which would suit me fine.

2 responses to “Building a low cost, low power, home server: research

  1. jwarnier 25 March, 2010 at 19:31

    I read that the problem with ATOMs was that the chipset is on the motherboard, and might draw a lot of power by itself, while the same features are embedded in AMD CPUs.

    Similarly, as the memory controller of AMD-based is included in the CPU, they additionally support ECC memory (which is a good thing to have for ZFS or storage in general) while you have to take care of the motherboard on Intel-based systems.

    Hope it helps.

    Note: there are already some really good articles about setting up OpenSolaris as (home) NAS on the Internet.

    • mattconnolly 27 May, 2010 at 22:16

      Thanks for the feedback. I can’t remember where I read it, but the newer NM10 chipset that is on the Intel D510 uses a lot less power than the older 945GF series chipsets. The Intel D510 motherboard and processor with 2GB RAM and 2 SATA drives runs on about 37 Watts idle power usage. Not too bad.

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