[dwm] Low Power Fanless Computer

From: Matthias-Christian Ott <ott_AT_mirix.org>
Date: Sat, 25 Apr 2009 02:59:12 +0200

after a few months of latop-only computing (my good old P4 1.8Ghz is now -
after 7 years - a Windows machine in our household), I plan to switch to a
normal computer again.

My requirements are the following:

  o Low power consumption (< 10W; 25W upper limit)
  o Support for major Free Software operating systems (no strange, custom
    GNU/Linux distributions), especially GNU/Linux or NetBSD
  o Fanless and no moving parts
  o No proprietary drivers, etc. (BIOS and bootloader acceptable)
  o Standard form-factor or custom case/enclosure (if so, hole for rp-sma
  o Smallest form-factor that is possible (I don't understand why computers
    are still the size of a bottle crate)
  o Standard connectors (USB, VGA/DVI, Ethernet)
  o VESA mount (if possible)
  o low budget (< 500€)

After I found no RISC processors or SOCs, I looked at x86 CPUs. There three
low power architectures: VIA C7 and Nano, AMD Geode and Intel Atom.

VIA's technology (especially the C7) seems to be out-dated. VIA offers a
mini-itx board with its Nano CPU (VIA VB8001), but it has small fan and its
power consumption is slightly above the limit.

AMD's Geode is obsolete as well. The Geode LX family has the advantage of
low power consumption and small form factor. However, the performance per
watt ration is low.

Intel's Atom processors are modern and have probably the highest performance
per watt ration. However, the smallest affordable form-factor is mini-itx
(I talked to several companies that manufacture smaller industrial boards,
but the price performance ratio was terrible and buying one of those would
be my last option). Similar to the Nano most of the Atom Boards have a power
consumption that's a bit above 25W (there are the Z510 and Z530 embedded
Atom CPUs, but the come with the GMA 500 graphics chip which has no free
drivers). Nvidia's Ion, especially the Acer AspireRevo, seems to be quite
promising, but has proprietary drivers.

I wanted to ask you (because you very likely use your computers the same way
I do) whether you think the Geode is sufficient for the next three years or
so, otherwise would buy a cheap Atom mini-itx computer.

Usually I use my computer just for programming, typesetting (mainly
with groff and heirloom-doctools, but also occasionally with LaTeX),
reading and research. I don't need any computing power for simulations,
calculations, etc.; I can get access to bigger machines if I really have
such special tasks.

What bothers me a bit are these multimedia applications (video codecs,
etc.) and particularly web applications. I'm really not sure if the
Geode would be able to render on of these new JavaScript + HTML =
graphics-and-user-interface-API web apps in one and a half years or
so. Moreover, I can't imagine the CPU to decode a medium-sized h.264 videos
which seem to have become today's quasi-standard.

Maybe you know a better alternative.

Received on Sat Apr 25 2009 - 00:59:12 UTC

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