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Last post Author Topic: Low energy use always on pc -- what's better, a laptop or a mini (htpc) pc?  (Read 12461 times)

mouser

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I have a project in mind that involves having a pretty low-power (but not trivial) pc that is always on.

Assuming that hardware cost is not the major factor, what i wonder is whether it would be better to use a low-powered laptop or one of these small low-energy home-theater type pc's.

The thing's that concern me are:
1) energy use -- since it's always going to be on.
2) hardware longevity (i worry that a notebook won't fare well being left on 24/7).

Note: While i would like to use this pc to stream audio, i will not be using it for heavy duty video processing (no dvr, no video streaming); so my concern is not having the cpu power to do the things i want to do.

Thoughts?
« Last Edit: March 30, 2010, 07:56:39 AM by mouser »

40hz

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What software will you be using to stream your audio? And does the stream need to be remotely accessible - or is it for just for inside your local net?


mouser

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haven't gotten that far in thinking yet, but it's really just for lan usage.

JavaJones

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So you definitely need a general purpose system for your needs? Perhaps you can give a more full outline of the things you'll be doing with it?

- Oshyan

mouser

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The truth is that my intent is to use this pc as more of an art piece, to drive a touch screen lcd that will be mounted on the wall in a picture frame.
So as for what will be running on it -- all manner of interesting displays, simulations, art, etc.  But it will probably also be used to play music.

JavaJones

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Ok. And do you want it to run Windows, or would Linux, etc. be fine?

- Oshyan

mouser

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I have not yet decided what OS to run; but i dont want to purchase something that locks me into one or another OS.
« Last Edit: March 30, 2010, 01:16:34 PM by mouser »

JavaJones

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Ok, so you don't have a specific enough idea of the use to be comfortable getting anything less than a fully flexible system? i.e. you don't want some kind of embedded, purpose-built, or otherwise non-standard system?

- Oshyan

mouser

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right, i want to use a general purpose pc using a standard OS, with standard usb/keyboard/etc.

f0dder

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Go for an Atom-based board - that's probably going to be the most flexible choice. It packs a fair amount of punch, but still has very low power consumption, and can be run passively cooled. There's plenty of options for casing (you don't really get that with a laptop), et cetera.

Be careful about the edition you choose, though - some (of the earlier?) models have extremely inefficient chipsets (compared to the CPU), and this end up drawing a fair amount of power in total. I think the ION ones are supposed to be decent, and iirc that chipset adds the power to decode HD video, in case you decide to do that later on :)

Too bad the Atom CPUs don't have AES acceleration, that would make them very interesting to me.
- carpe noctem

mouser

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ok so f0dder is one vote for a tiny pc instead of a laptop, e.g.: http://www.mini-itx.com/

Eóin

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I ordered myself two of these BeagleBoards just recently for a similar purpose to what you're suggesting.

2708776217_9f660db58d_o_d.png

4wd

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ok so f0dder is one vote for a tiny pc instead of a laptop, e.g.: http://www.mini-itx.com/

+1 for an Atom based Mini-ITX machine - the newer D410 and D510 will also let you choose an x64 OS.

JavaJones

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Eoin's example is exactly the direction I was going in until you said you wanted basically a low-power general purpose PC with standard OS. You could run Linux on the BeagleBoard, but not Windows (well, except WinCE), so it may be a bit limiting.

So my vote would probably be for a "tiny PC", probably Atom-based, like f0dder said. That's as long as you really have no need for the portability of a laptop, and particularly if you have interest in more flexibility and customization down the road.

A big question is what you'll be using for display. If you're putting it through a TV, the screen on a laptop will be a waste. So might as well go with the small PC option. However if you'll need some kind of display and it won't be an existing TV, then the laptop option starts to sound better.

- Oshyan

mouser

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none of you have actually addressed my 2 explicit concerns:
1) power usage? (is one much higher than the other?)
2) longevity of device? (is one more likely to outlast the other if they are on 24/7?)

the portability and built in screen on a laptop is a plus, but not a showstopper.

since the device does not have to be placed in a really tiny space, i dont need a really tiny beagleboard type thing; in terms of size, a mini-itx would be fine, as would a laptop.

JavaJones

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none of you have actually addressed my 2 explicit concerns:
1) power usage? (is one much higher than the other?)
2) longevity of device? (is one more likely to outlast the other if they are on 24/7?)

the portability and built in screen on a laptop is a plus, but not a showstopper.

since the device does not have to be placed in a really tiny space, i dont need a really tiny beagleboard type thing; in terms of size, a mini-itx would be fine, as would a laptop.

Well, it's a tough thing, hehe. Here's my best answers:

1: Generally speaking an equivalent laptop hardware-wise is going to use less power per component because they're all optimized for super low power, *including the PSU*. So an Atom-based laptop or netbook will generally use less power than a desktop of equivalent specs, *especially* one with a separate LCD monitor. That being said, if you go for all low power desktop components, you can get close or perhaps even beat a laptop, with a carefully configured build.

The average laptop uses between 10 and 20 watts of power at idle, some less. That goes up to 30-60-ish when under full load, depending on the laptop and CPU. When charging and running at the same time, it's more, but that's not likely to be a common thing in your usage scenario.

Atom-based netbooks/laptops generally use even less, of course. Idle is 5-10 and load is up around 20-25. e.g. http://reviews.cnet....-2.html?tag=txt;page
Asus Eee is the stand-out here at least than 20w at load:
http://reviews.cnet....-2.html?tag=txt;page

Remember also that these numbers include the display! A comparable desktop, even super low power, will use similar levels of power *without the display*. Cnet actually has some good power usage info in its reviews, as you can see above, and they do desktops too. Here's an Atom-based desktop review and you can see the power usage is actually fairly comparable, but again remember this is without the monitor:
http://reviews.cnet....-2.html?tag=txt;page

Here you can see an all-in-one Atom-based system with very low power use, and it includes the monitor of course. Still more than a netbook, but the screen is probably larger, so that may account for some: http://reviews.cnet....-2.html?tag=txt;page

2: Unfortunately point #2 contradicts #1 which is that laptops tend to be less reliable over the long term *and* are more expensive and more difficult to fix if they do break (generally speaking). Still, most of the wear of a laptop is in moving it around and having exposure to lots of dust on a regular basis. If you keep the air paths clean, keep the bottom and sides well ventilated, and don't move the laptop around much, it has a good chance of surviving for an acceptable amount of time.

As for size, it's not the fact that the small boards are small that makes them appealing, it's just that a helpful byproduct of size is generally lower power use as well. Hence the mini-ITX approach vs. full-size ATX. The tiny size is not a requirement, but smaller size does enable as well as generally go along with lower power use in the market.

If it were me I'd get the laptop just for versatility, unless you already have one, or you really want to tinker with a hardware project. The laptop option will generally be faster and easier and get you closer to the results you want in short order, but the hardware build would be more challenging and potentially enjoyable. If it's the software side of things you really want to tweak, the laptop will give you the quickest, easiest platform to do that.

- Oshyan

mouser

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thanks JJ -- very useful  :up:

Carol Haynes

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I would say a micro-tower type would be your best bet in terms of reliability and longevity as it is easy to fix if anything goes wrong (not true of a laptop). Also micro-towers are easier to use passive cooling whereas laptops generally have to have fans kicking in all the time to keep them at sensible temperatures.

A micro tower isn't going to be as energy efficient as a laptop but by chosing sensible hardware (such as using onboard sound and graphics, not too much memory or ultra fast CPU, bare minimum of anything else and keeping drives to a minimum and use slower models) you should keep power to a minimum and mean you don't have to run a very powerful PSU. I would guess the extra running cost is likely to be easily outweighed by the purchase price and potential repair costs.

The Atom is an interesting idea but I have never used one so can't really offer constructive comments on that.

Eóin

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here's another idea, the Viewsonic VOT132. iI admit it doesn't address either power or longevity questions but one cool feature is CUDA and you did say you're interested in running simulations and generated art on the display.

40hz

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From my experience, unless you already own or plan on cannibalizing an existing laptop, I'd go with a mini-PC. Reliability is just not there when it comes to a laptop that's being run 24 x 7.

One alternative worth looking into is some of the new "net top" systems.

The only one I've had direct experience with is made by a company called CompuLab. They make a line of net tops marketed under the name fit-PC. The model I'm familiar with is the Slim XP model. This got used as a small office media server by one of our clients.

The Slim XP is a 4x5x1.5 box w/60gb HD, 512 RAM, E-Net and WiFi connections that came to about $250 including a copy of Windows XP Home. Power consumption runs around 6W max. Very nice product.

They've since upped the ante with a  newer line that packs more RAM, bigger HDs, Gb NICS, and faster processors. They have Linux and Windows (including Win7 Pro) based systems, along with some "bare-bones" configurations. Power consumption is still below 10W.

Link to fit-PC main site:  http://www.fit-pc.com/web/

We bought the one we installed through CompuLab's storefront on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co...mp;me=A3J2VUK9571N8X

A recent in-depth review of the new fit-PC2 model can be found over at the Phoronix.com website.

Link:  http://www.phoronix....lab_fitpc2&num=1

Video presentation on YouTube:  http://www.youtube.c.../watch?v=RtM8ScjjwnA



Cool tools.  8)

JavaJones

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Oh wow, fit-PC2 is cuuute! It's the size of a small router for god's sake! And 8W *under load*? I think we may have our winner. I wish the Phoronix review had power measurement and comparison with their reference system though. I'm curious just how much more power a dual core Atom with ION uses. If it's just a bit, then I'd be inclined to go for that since it's still ultra low power, but more capable. Still, the fit-PC2 is awesome for most needs IMO.

40hz, I've resisted saying this in the past when others have done so, but now I am compelled: you really do know something useful about everything, don't you?

- Oshyan

nudone

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sorry to not add anything about power consumption, i'm just wondering if it's worth considering which machine you'd prefer to own if/after you become bored with your experiment. which is more useful to you in the long run - netbook or desktop pc.

mouser

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Quote
wondering if it's worth considering which machine you'd prefer to own if/after you become bored with your experiment
nick, that's definitely a question i am asking myself, as well as the question that JJ points out -- do i want to have fun tinkering with hardware or do i want to get right to the software.  not sure the answer to either just yet.

but basically from what i am hearing, there is no really strong reason to prefer one over the other in terms of power use and longevity, though laptops may have an advantage in terms of convenience and power use, and mico pcs in terms of longevity and maintenance costs.

40hz

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If you're up for tinkering, one good source for micro-mini and pico form factor hardware is   www.mini-box.com

They've got a very big selection. We looked at building until we found out about the fit-PC product line and went with that just to save some time and money.

If I were configuring something like a custom RADIUS server/router combo, or some fancy Asterisk box, I'd probably build. But for everything else, I'd rather just buy and "get busy" using it. That might be because I know a lot more about software than I do about hardware; so once I have a running system, I can almost always get it to do what I want.

If you're a real hardware wonk you'll probably feel differently about it. ;D

 :)
 
« Last Edit: March 31, 2010, 10:17:18 AM by 40hz »

Eóin

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Not to hijack, but I never heard of a wonk before  :D