Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bye Bye Pentium 4 Server

No sooner had I assembled a mini home theater PC for the TV room, but Amazon Vine offered me a Zotac MAG HD-ND01-U which is basically the same thing in a more appliance oriented packaging.

The guts of my original HTPC will now be moving into the house's new Linux/MythTV server: add a large hard drive, a cheap DVD drive and a larger case. This is going to save me a lot of electricity. A Pentium 4 is a pretty poor choice for a lightweight server, and is now draining over $10 of power a month; the new Atom based server should draw less than a third as much energy and maybe less, as I'm hoping the more modern design will have better idle characteristics. I'll save quite a bit of money in the long run in mothballing my old Dell. And the new Atom/Ion motherboard should be fine for serving the occasional file and recording TV shows.

2.0 GHz Pentium 4 + hard drive + external hard drive = 110 W (or so) at idle
Atom N330 + laptop drive + sleeping hard drive = 25 W idle

If I pay a dollar for ever 10W per month then I'm saving around $8 a month or $96 a year, so the added $180 I'm spending will be paid for in 2 years (or in 4 years if I had had to buy a motherboard and RAM). And I'll have a quiet server that isn't annoying me constantly with its fan.

[Update: It's so pleasantly quiet in my laundry room today. Just have to migrate the svn server on the little NAS to the new server and it's going to be so peaceful in the basement.]

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Holding onto Legacy PCI Cards is Limiting

After the happiness of putting together an NVidia Ion HTPC for the TV room, I've been looking at replacing the Linux server in the laundry room. It's a typical noisy, energy hog of a Pentium 4 Dell, non-gigabit ethernet, with multiple hard drives either inside it or in an external case. I'd like to replace it with a low power, quiet, modern model. I could collapse my MythTV backend, SVN server, and file server, into one box and save on the order of $15/month in electricity. So, I'd like to move to something like:
  • Dual core Intel Atom N300 processor
  • Ion chipset
  • Small SSD boot drive
  • Large (1.5 or 2.0TB) Green Drive
  • 2 GB RAM
  • mini-ITX form factor

The fly in this ointment is that I have a ATSC tuner on a PCI card in the current box (a very reliable PCHDTV 3000), and getting a mini-ITX Ion with a PCI slot is limiting. As far as I can tell, it is limited to one motherboard: the ASUS AT3N7A-I. And anytime I see customer reviews that include such tidbits as "noisy fan" or "uses more energy than other Ion motherboards" I start wishing for other options.

And the other option is to go with another network tuner. I already have one HDHomerun which along with my PCI tuner gives me the capacity to record three simultaneous shows on the rare days when that's a good thing. Replacing the PCI version with another HDHomerun would open up a larger world of Ion or Atom motherboards with more modern card slots. I even see that Silicon Dust has recently released an economy single tuner model which can be had from newegg for $81.97 shipped. And this will keep the new server cooler and quieter, as well as having another tuner Windows Media Center on my wife's computer can access. Win, win, win.