Assembling desktop replacement, stress on energy efficiency ...

Forum: LXer Meta ForumTotal Replies: 22
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Jul 12, 2009
12:40 PM EDT
The early focus has to be on the CPU and motherboard pair.

Prefer AMD over Intel to encourage competiton (and the former's history of being a better value)

To me a quad core seems overkill for my needs, however, I can get AMD Phenom 9150E 1.8GHz rated at 65 watts for $79 (plus tax). Nonetheless, I have seen glances of dual core units supposedly running at 45 watts, which may easily suffice for my limited needs.

So the questions are, what useful function does the additional core(s) perform either currently or in the near future that make this a desirable option? Can anyone suggest the better fit of efficiency and satisfactory performance for my limited needs: mostly programming and writing along with more leisurely surfing the web? If you can include pertinent links.

On the motherboard, it would have been Asus. Now with their deferral to MS I would prefer another product line. Needs, support of SATA drives, at least DDR2 memory and USB 2.0. It would also be nice to have the network embedded on the board.

On the case and power supply I like this unit: a 380 Watt power supply supposedly with greater than 80% efficiency. Some may find the choice odd when they see the likely tower (full size, very large fans - but weak meaning quiet*) with excess space that I will never use, but should improve the air flow. I am open to considering a more efficient unit.

Tower case: Desirable for reasons described above. In the current location air flow is restricted by my desk's overhand and a nearby file cabinet in my office. If I move the new unit to the opposite side there is a bit more open space.

I will leave the other components that I think I need for later discussion, e.g. the SATA drive, RAM and the more complex choice of a dual head video card. [DVD burner will either come form the current unit or more likely use a portable unit that gets only light use at this time.]


Seriously Txt.

* A major positive, since the current unit a gaming type tower with four fans is too noisy.

Current unit, full size tower with most parts circa 2001 - 2002, running on an Athlon XP 2660+ with only 1G of RAM, a video card [Roswell ? with perhaps 256 M of RAM] using the legacy nVidia driver and a couple of Seagate drives with a total capacity well under a half Gig. Writeable CD and DVD drives that get very little use.

Jul 12, 2009
2:22 PM EDT
I ran across this awhile ago and it looks interesting.

Jul 12, 2009
4:36 PM EDT

Thanks, but not to my tastes. I had seen the machine in the link and it is not what I want. The netbooks are not as bad as I imagined, but they too are a little too compact and marginal for an office machine.


Jul 12, 2009
4:52 PM EDT
I've been thinking of putting a new machine together myself.I was looking for Atom power saving but with more oomph.After seeing this article and the fact that these things could run pretty much anything I needed it looks like a nice way to go.I'm still trying to make up my mind on what I want to do.

Jul 12, 2009
5:49 PM EDT
I know this isn't actually an answer to the question, but have you considered a laptop?

For "power savings", I think a laptop tends to be quite electrically frugal, and light and small for minimal physical impact.

Just a thought.


Jul 12, 2009
6:26 PM EDT
Txt, the extra cores are really useful if you run many programs at the same time. Or even a single program that knows how to make use of them. See the difference using Firefox on a JavaScript heavy site like Digg. On a dual-core it's much smoother because the JS engine can run on the second core. Now imagine you have 3-4 more programs running doing stuff, like compiling software.

So, how many cores is really up to what you do with your machine.

Since you want to be energy efficient I would consider an SSD instead of HDD for storage if you can get by with just 40GB of storage or so. No moving parts means less power used. Also less heat so your fans can run slower or you can even have fewer. If you do use a HDD use just one (less power) and get an USB drive for backups and the like. Using two drives in RAID is all nice and geeky, but HDDs drain a lot of power because of the motors.

Get a smaller power supply. If you're not running many HDDs and don't have a massive graphics card then you don't need 380 Watts. See if you can get by with 250 Watt or even 200.

For graphics, I suggest ATI. They're not *quite* as good as Nvidia at the moment but work on open source 3D drivers is moving fast. I bought an ATI RaedonHD 4830 and I am happy with it, though it's probably too powerful for you (i.e. power hungry). I bought ATI because they support the FOSS drivers. Nvidia isn't and their closed driver is lacking new features (e.g. RandR 1.2) and they're not lifting a finger to help Nouveau. You may want to look into a passively cooled one (less fans, less power) but don't do that if you have airflow problems. Passive GPU cooling works if you have a good, open case and good case fans.

Tip: Buy a heatsink for the northbridge to replace the small, crappy fan. Not only will you be able to eliminate a fan (less power used) but the small low-quality fans they put on there are often the most noisy part of your computer. As soon as a little bit of dust gets in they start to make a lot of noise.

Another fan tip: Get the biggest CPU fan that will fit. I got a massive 5" Zalman in my case. The bigger the fan, the slower it can rotate to provide the same airflow. That saves on noise and may help you get a better cooling (which you say you need).

Jul 12, 2009
6:26 PM EDT
Multi cores will help if you do many things at the same time, or have multithreaded apps. Do you compile multiple applications at the same time, while doing something else? Is your compiler multithreaded? I just compiled the new version of the Mana World on my dual core system, and it only used one core. If your answer is no, then You may not benefit much from the extra cores. Though if I am remembering correctly the Phenoms turn off unused cores, so it may not be much of a hit. I haven't looked into it in awhile, so I very well may be wrong.

You don't need to worry about SATA connectors, since they are standard on everything, you may need to worry about IDE connectors if you are going to recycle IDE drives, some new motherboards don't have any IDE connectors on them. Integrated networking has also become pretty standard.

For information on linux compatibility and stuff Phoronix is a good resource.

Jul 12, 2009
6:34 PM EDT
Quoting:I just compiled the new version of the Mana World on my dual core system, and it only used one core.

Use the -j option. E.g. "make -j2" to use two cores, or just "make -j" to use all available cores.

Jul 12, 2009
6:52 PM EDT
Thanks Sander, I don't do much with compiling but for the occasion that I do need to, this will be helpful.

Jul 12, 2009
8:45 PM EDT
Interim report [will be back tomorrow to comment on suggestions, I promise*]:

My bent was always for a dual core a minimum and I am glad it has a positive effect. Upon reading this review , I am going to spend slightly more and probably go with this CPU an Athlon II X2 250 , which is supposed to be a true dual core whereas the Phenoms are not true quads. Along CPU I am leaning towards this motherboard a GIGABYTE GA-MA770T-UD3P AM3 that was suggested in the afore mentioned review. What bothers me, is both the review article and at least one user's review of the board mentions using this CPU with this board, yet it is not listed as a supported chip.

I guess I will call Newegg prior to placing my order. Also I will be doing more reading prior to locking myself into this choice, but I like not spending my money with Asus, since they found it so easy to abandon Linux. I just hoped they were paid well for their perfidy**.


* Unless something terrible happens, which is always a possibility. Or I forget.

** Because I could never get cashable checks for my prospective work as a shill for MS. Oh well {sigh).

Jul 13, 2009
8:44 AM EDT
Bob, I have a laptop, but also a circa 2002 unit. Though I have at times used a laptop as my main development machine, I have found the (so-called) desktop unit better. In addition, implicit to my needs would be a larger screen with a higher resolution that adds to the unit's weight and more importantly its price. Even towers are still much cheaper and are not as fragile.

Sander & others, as my quicky note from last night indicates I have bought into the need for a multiple core unit. However, I was rather struck by the assertion that the AMD Phenom units were not yet fully multiple core. That surprised me, because I had read that when Intel was behind AMD its quad core was no more than a splicing of two dual cores, which was supposedly inferior to the upcoming AMD product line.

Anyone have anything bad to say about Gigabyte motherboard I have tentatively selected? In the past, when I condidered a Gigabyte boardI tended to learn about problems, hence, I opted for an Asus model.

Sander, about the solid state drives. Early on I was quickly enamored with the potential gain such drives should hold. However, fairly recently I learned that in nearly every case the advantages were not there, except in the case of the then new Intel product line that came at a very large cost burden. [Sorry I cannot find the review, but I remember it to be long, detailed and not one that compared it to a standard hard drive unit. Tom's Hardware?] It asserted every drive other than the two Intel units quickly lost their performance advantage and were, therefore, grossly overpriced. I am uncertain if this article also confirmed the expected energy requirements were also no better, or even worse, than a conventional hard drive. If not in that article, others have measured that to be the case.

I also remember an update stating that the Intel drives once holding a significant percentage of its capacity as data saw its performance drop precipitously.

So SSDs, at this time seem to drain one's wallet without any real performance advantage. Thus, I ask you: why should I let electronic component manufactures rob me, when the bankers and Wall Street does it so much more efficiently and with such elan.

[All serious]

Thanks for the input,


Jul 13, 2009
9:18 AM EDT
The Phenom X4 is a monolithic quad core and the X3 is a quad core with one core disabled. The gluing technique doesn't work with an integrated memory controller.

The Core2s Quads are two dual cores that share the same package. The Phenoms and i7s are monolithic designs.

To do a glued design AMD would have to almost double the pins on the chip, which wouldn't help at all.

A faster dual core will be faster in most circumstances, unless you have lots of heavy applications open at the same time.

SSDs use quite a bit less energy to operate so if you are shooting for efficiency they are the way to go, though I haven't looked at the ROI between getting an SSD vs. a HDD. That is something you will have to analyze.

I have had good luck with gigabyte MBs in the past, though I haven't bought new computer stuff since 2005, so I can't speak for any of the current generation stuff other than what is available through the web.

Jul 13, 2009
10:43 AM EDT
Quoting:On the motherboard, it would have been Asus.

Be careful, some Asus motherboards and Linux do not like each other at all. Even the ones with splashtop Linux built-in. For example I get kernel panics at boot on my P5Q3 with kernels newer than 2.6.27.x...

Jul 13, 2009
11:20 AM EDT
> ...about the solid state drives.

AFAICT, they're probably not cost effective in your case, since you're probably looking a significant amounts of storage. Theyy're really only good for the 64GB and under market at the moment, and the faster ones come at a decided premium.

Jul 13, 2009
11:22 AM EDT
To-the-Bomber (this time not Ballmer), thanks for the information on the CPUs, still a little befuddled on the differences between real dual or quad cores, but I am going dual that should suffice for my needs. Regarding SSDs energy use, I have seen in several reports where the reviewers said they measured the actual electrical use and the SSDs were hungrier than a larger conventional hard drive (in the range of 120 -160 G, I believe the latter was used for comparison). Another objective measure is battery life, which I believe does not show the expected improvement. Therefore, right now, most if not all, SSDs do not seem worth the required price premium.

I should clarify my criteria, by energy efficiency I am not intending that to be the standard by which all decisions are made. I am primarily seeking better (or lesser) energy use along with a more up to date hardware.

tbuitenh, previously Asus has worked, however, their lock step realignment with MS has put me off. Any experience with Gigabyte mbs or another more Linux friendly product line?

Thanks for the responses,


Jul 13, 2009
11:37 AM EDT
JD, [Are you a lawyer?] Intel does offer a 128G version, but the Price!!! Got to take my pills, bye.


Jul 13, 2009
11:40 AM EDT
> [Are you a lawyer?]

No, a lowly computer/network tech. :)

Jul 15, 2009
7:55 AM EDT
The selection of components is proving more difficult than I expected. I think I made a lucky choice of selecting the AMD Athlon II x2 250 that seems to meet my needs. However, I had decided to slow the process and just start with a new motherboard and CPU within the old tower, at least initially. But the Gigabyte 770 model will only support two ATA devices making the transition more difficult than I expected.

I still intend to take the slower path, but now I need to reconsider what I will spend on a mb or if I go with the first choice whether I have to rush into a purchase of a SATA drive.

[Correction: the mb I rejected previously for an upgrade was a MSI unit not Gigabyte.]

Another item that disturbed my placid state was an article on LXer [url=yesterday]yesterday[/url] that implied that boards with on board video that were used for 2D rather than were less energy efficient than the specs implied.

Txt. signing off for now, hoping I am not terminally confused by all the choices and problems. Thanks to all that commented.

Jul 15, 2009
9:02 AM EDT
With the incredibly cheap prices of hard drives, you may just want to splurge and get a new one. You should check out the cheap video cards as well and see how they compare with the integrated solutions.

Jul 15, 2009
9:13 AM EDT
You don't see too many newer mobos with more than one ATA connector on them. Most things are going SATA these days.

Jul 15, 2009
9:46 AM EDT
> ...or if I go with the first choice whether I have to rush into a purchase of a SATA drive.

You should almost certainly go with a SATA drive, simply for the performance increase.

The best deal I've seen recently is this one:

Though you may also be interested in his more "eco-friendly" model:

> You don't see too many newer mobos with more than one ATA connector on them.

Agreed. They're almost non-existent. One ATA connector appears to be the new standard. My GeForce 6100 AM2 was the last one I saw save for a single ASUS model which I don't think is made anymore either.

The current equivalent GeForce 8100 only has a single ATA connector.

Jul 15, 2009
10:45 AM EDT
I'm happy to see ribbon cables become extinct. Even SATA CD/DVD drives have dropped down to reasonable prices.

Jul 15, 2009
11:18 AM EDT
Txt -

Except for the big case, sounds like you are trying to put together something like my mythbox, which has a 45 watt dual-core Athlon 64 and 380 watt power supply.

If you don't need quad-core, go dual. The performance pickup from dual to quad isn't nearly as dramatic as it is from single to dual. It's a queuing theory thing -- your likelihood of being delayed at any dispatch opportunit is a functon of the likelihood that all servers are busy. with one server that's equal - utilization (say 70%). With 2 servers, that equal to .70 * .70, or 49%. Three servers = .7 * .7 * .7 = 21%.

That 49% -21% looks big, and is, but ignores the fact that you've already eliminated one major source of delay: a single CPU hogging app (say, an mp3 encode). 1->2 is a huge improvement that will notice. 2->4 is a nice improvement that you might notice.

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