Saturday, 26 January 2008

Silent Server

A few months ago I set up a home server using an old box. Unfortunately that old box died shortly afterwards. Furthermore, it was quite noisy as it had been originally spec'ed as a high end workstation. So I went in search of a replacement, with a view to have a server that would be as silent and energy efficient at possible.

In this quest, I came across VIA, a Taiwanese company that specialises in low power x86 compatible processors and motherboards. You can get most of their hardware in the UK from mini-itx.com. But I'm not good at building a box from scratch so I really needed something already assembled. I found that at Tranquil PC, a small company based in Manchester. Here is the configuration I ordered from them:

  • An entry T2e chassis with DVD-R drive, colour black.
  • A VIA EN15000 motherboard. I choose this one as it is the only one that they offer that comes with a Gigabit Ethernet port and the new 1.5GHz VIA C7 processor, which is one of the most power-efficient.
  • 1GB RAM. Experience tells me that this is more than I need but having extra RAM should enable the machine to take on more tasks in the future.
  • A 100GB 2.5" HDD. I could have gone for a larger 3.5" HDD but I don't currently need the extra space and laptop drives are significantly more energy efficient and silent than desktop ones.

I received my T2e a week or so later. Unfortunately, it had been damaged in transit and the DVD drive was not working properly anymore. The support people at Tranquil PC were very nice and very efficient and arranged for the machine to be collected and sent back to them. It came back a week later in full working order.

I replicated the original install that I had done on the old server. Having done it once, it went very smoothly, everything working first time. The obvious difference from the start was how little noise the T2e makes. In fact, the only audible noise came from the DVD drive spinning the installation CD. Otherwise, it's as if the machine was switched off. Impressive! And it looks really cool with the blue glow coming out of the front panel. As I have a plug-in energy meter, I decided to check how much power this machine drew. So, once the installation was finished and the machine was up and running, I restarted everything with the meter in between the wall socket and the PC's plug. Results:

  • Max power consumption when starting up: 30 Watts.
  • Standard power consumption once in operation: 25 Watts.

In other words, this machine consumes about the same as a small standard light bulb without ACPI enabled. Once I've enabled ACPI and tweaked it somewhat, I should manage to make it consume even less.

This proves that a server doesn't have to be a big power hungry and noisy box, it can be a small machine that is so silent you forget it's switched on. There are currently few suppliers for that sort of hardware but my guess is that it will become more common. In the meantime, head to Tranquil PC to find one of those.

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