Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Search for Spec

What do we want?

To start with, I think it's best that I make a note of my demands and then we'll see which I have to compromise due to technical realities. So here's my list:
  • Low Power - it's a server running 24/7 (so ideally around 10 watts at idle).
  • Mini-ITX form factor (we don't have much space).
  • At least 2Gb of ram.
  • A way of using my old IDE SSD root drive (so I don't need to re-install).
  • Able to run silently (or as near as possible).
  • Able to ramp-up performance to run Minecraft.
  • Let's not have any cost restrictions at this stage!

My research so far has shown a few flies in the ointment..
  1. The IDE SSD (solid state drive) in my current server was bought about five years ago and back then I decided to get this type in order to utilise one of the IDE disk ports on my system board. It only had two of the newer SATA sockets so it made perfect sense at the time, but hardly any of the new boards retain this old technology.
  2. The 10 watts target seems impossible because the majority of system boards are built to a price without real thought of power use. Even the fanless (so called) lower power boards are typically greater than 35 watts (in fact some are 50 watts).
I'll come back to the SSD issues at a later date as I feel I have bigger fish to fry. Right now I've got to concentrate on system board and processor efficiency.

In Need of Intel

I decided to spend a little more time looking into the AMD E350 based system boards to see if a more efficient version of the Gigabyte board could be found. Best seems to be the MSI E350IA-E45 which manages about 28 watts in idle. I'm starting to feel like I'm flogging a dead horse!

Then I stumbled upon this article that compares an E350 based system board with an Intel Core i3-2100T.

If you go straight to page 11 you will see that the i3 is seriously low when idling, at only 9 watts. And it's only 10 watts higher than the E350 under load (yet four or five times faster). The secret seems to be the 'T' on the end of the cpu's model number, which signifies "Ultra Low Power" and this uses various underclocking and voltage reductions to achieve these amazing benchmarks. The results of these tricks is to reduce it's TDP value from 65w on a standard i3 to just 35 watts.

Lets see how this works:
  • Idle is at about 9 watts.
  • It's faster at performing tasks than the E350 (so it's quicker getting back to idle)
  • Therefore you use less power.

nb. TDP (Thermal Design Power) is the maximum amount of power the cooling system is required to dissipate.

OK so that decision has been made,.. motherboard selection should be easy!

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