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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Building a very low power, full featured desktop - Fluffy2 - 5.9 Watt high-end desktop computer - mux' blog

Fluffy2 - enclosure (interview with designer)

Video Link...

Fluffy2 - 5.9 Watt high-end desktop computer

Door mux op zondag 02 september 2012 23:44 - Reacties (6)
Categorie: Fluffy2, 20W all-in-one, Views: 12.505

Click here for the Dutch version of this blog

Today I am going to tell you about my newest build: Fluffy2 and how I got her as efficient as she is now. I’m only going to talk about the computer bits today, not the custom screen and other parts which will be discussed in later blogs. This will also be the post I will link to from other media (i.e. various tech forums). For those new to my blogs I would like to take the time to introduce my passion for efficiency.

Mux' laboratory

What I want for my computers is low power consumption and efficiency. That last term means that I want them to achieve maximal performance while using minimal power, money and space on my desk. To accomplish this, I do not hesitate to solder the most essential parts right off the motherboard to see if that helps in it’s power consumption. Also, to help both myself and others, I often design special electronics to make personal computers more efficient. Since I am one of the few people willing to go this far for the cause, there is not much information available about the risks and gains of these methods. With this blog, I am trying to educate people in a vast range of relevant subjects: From low power computer displays to power supply technology, an explanation of power factor correction and the work logs of my previous low power builds: Dennis (20W Core 2 duo), the award-winning Fikki3 (8.3W Core i3) and Floppy2 (9.5W NAS), the last of which does not yet have its own blog entry. Also, I like to give my computers names so everyone knows which one I am talking about. For instance, today we are going to discuss Fluffy2, the successor of Fluffy, formerly my main computer.

A grayish 3D-render of Fluffy2

In contrast to my earlier builds, Fluffy2 is going to be an all-in-one computer: this means the computer is going to be built into the monitor. It will also be a high-end computer: The parts are among the fastest currently available, it has as much RAM as will fit in it and the monitor will be of the IPS variety. The case is a custom design with an integrated and quite massive passive cooler, and features a battery so Fluffy2 can keep working in case of a power outage or, well, if I want to take her to another room.

You might mistake this for a bomb, but it's really an 8-cell lithium ion battery that goes into Fluffy2.

The need for lower power consumption

Computers are extremely important in our modern daily life. Not just your own computer, but the computers at your office, the ones in the grocery stores, the data centers that allow me to share this blog with you and all the computers we need to, for example, buy something online. All these computers have something in common: they are over dimensioned for their use. What I am trying to say is: None of those computers are working at full power all the time. A computer that is working at full power all the time, would be seen as slow or noisy and would be quickly replaced. The logical consequence is most actual (over dimensioned) computers are idle a lot of their time (70% idle time in data centers and over 95% in home computers). In that idle time, the computer still uses power, but it is often impossible to turn it off to save on the electricity bill. It turns out the total power used while the computer is idle, is often more than the total power used while the computer is actually doing useful work!
Just as a quick example: right now, my computer is almost idle: My CPU-usage is less than 5%. Can I turn my computer off? Of course not, I am writing a blog! So what I want, is for the computer to use as little power as possible while it is idling. This is what I have been concentrating on for the last few years and it has yielded some nice results. Here is the idle power consumption of my computers over the past couple of years:

How to build a low power computer

So, how does one go about making the most efficient computer in the world? The first thing you need to do is to specify exactly what you want from your computer. A lot of people would say ‘I want a fast computer that will last me 3 or 4 years’. But what is fast? And do you really mean that 3 years, or do you secretly already know you replace your PC every other year? Maybe instead you want to use it much longer, or give it to your little niece when it becomes outdated? You need to be as concrete as possible in your specification. This is a proper foundation to build on, so you won’t be tempted to change something in the foundations later on (which could collapse your whole building - to stretch this metaphor).

For instance, my own specifications for Fluffy2 were:
  • It needs to be completely silent. No fans.
  • Total power consumption including screen <20W
  • It will become an all-in-one computer
  • It needs to be altogether wireless. I want to be able to pick her up and walk away with her.
  • The monitor has to be IPS.
In a future blog, I will explain how these specifications led to the components I chose. Anyway: with your own specifications, you can check which components match your requirements. The key to your success is: make sure your components just meet your specifications. Do not go above, do not go lower either. In my experience, at this point you will have a pretty short list of suitable components.

With this short list in hand you can make targeted low-power choices:
  • Processors: Both Intel and AMD make comparably power-efficient processors.
  • Motherboards: Intel and low-end to mid range MSI motherboards are the way to go here. Avoid Gigabyte and Asus if you're going for efficiency.
  • Memory: Do whatever you like. I've investigated this a couple of weeks ago.
  • SSDs: Avoid LSI/Sandforce and JMicron. Make sure you put as much often-requested data on your SSD so that any hard drive in your system may spin down.
  • Hard disks: Never use RAID, it has no use and has a very negative effect on your power consumption. Use as little hard drives as possible, preferably of the highest necessary capacity. One 3TB disk is more power efficient than two 1TB disks. If not more than 1TB of space is needed, go for 2.5" models.
  • GPU: If at all possible, use an integrated graphics chip, not discrete graphics cards. Most modern-day game titles, as well as basically all graphics-intensive programs can be run on IGPs nowadays at acceptable frame rates. Only use discrete graphics if they're absolutely necessary.
Advanced techniques
(read more at link below)
Skipping on Down...

Door mux, zondag 09 september 2012 18:54
Sorry, the project isn't finished yet. This is one of the biggest parts in the project, but e.g. the casing isn't done yet. I'll try to get a link on hackaday once the whole thing is finished and characterized. You'll get lots of pictures of the end result then.

As for the parts:
Intel Core i5-3570K @ stock speed
Intel DQ77KB motherboard
2x8GB Crucial DDR3-1333 (also stock speed)
Intel Ultimate-N Wifi-link 5300
MyDigitalSSD 64GB
Logitech MK701 wireless keyboard set
Custom LVDS/LED power supply board
Custom UPS-board and battery
Custom casing
Custom cooling
Panel from LG IPS231P


I like his Design very much! I love the Aluminum Industrial look!:) And this is something that a person could build their self. If they were really dedicated to the task and maybe had a few tool making skills. I was a Tool and Template Maker in an Air Craft Manufacturing Plant for 10 years. So, I'm use to working with Sheets of Aluminum. Until I saw this one. I had no interest in "All-in-one" Computers. Too hard to work on or Upgrade...  But, now I just might rethink my love for the Old Big Box Desktop Computers:)


Building a very low power, full featured desktop

Building a very low power, full featured desktop - Hack a Day
Fluffy2 - 5.9 Watt high-end desktop computer - mux' blog
8.5W Core i3-based desktop computer (English) - mux' blog
Fluffy2 - Ontwerp van de behuizing - mux' blog
Fluffy2 - enclosure (interview with designer) - YouTube

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