I’m Not as Green as My Name Suggests

With my name being Richard Green, one could go some way to try and associate me with environmental tree-friendliness. Contrary to that, I am actually extremely energy inefficient. My biggest energy crux in my current Windows Home Server machine.

Running on a Dell PowerEdge SC1425 with two Intel 2.8GHz Dual Core Xeon processors and 6GB of DDR2, this thing is total overkill for Windows Home Server and isn’t actually very good at it’s job either. Granted, it’s got dual Gigabit Ethernet for teamed and reliable network connectivity and it’s got SATA-II drives for high speed data movement, but at the same time, its in a 1U chassis which means it only supports a maximum of two drives, and it’s got a 450W power supply which when faced with the two Intel Xeon processors, both of which are designed at 90W power consumption makes for an eye-watering electricity consumption report.

I did try to enhance the usage profile of the machine by using an add-in for Windows Home Server called LightsOut, however the great feature of this software, which is to sleep and wake the server at pre-defined times during the day remained useless on the PowerEdge. Being a server machine its power supply doesn’t support the S3 power state which means it doesn’t support sleep – Only Shutdown and Restart, as a result, meaning the server stays on 24×7.

Granted, I could manually shutdown the server each night and power it back up again during the day when needed, but that’s not the design of a server. It’s designed to be accessible when you need it. My view on energy efficiently and environmental impact kind of fits this mantra also. I’m quite happy to spend a little money on energy efficient products if it will benefit me, and if my way of life isn’t impacted as a result. This example of powering down the sever manually has an impact because it’s an additional action upon me to complete, it means the server is potentially unavailable during start-up periods when I want it and generally makes the appliance less useful.

I’ve been looking around at what other people have done with Windows Home Server machines and seen a growing trend in Atom powered machines with low power consumption, designed for always on availability. My issue herein is that I have a 19” server rack in which all of my kit is mounted so the device needs to comply to the form factor to make it suitable, which basically rules out all of the pre-built systems from people like HP and Asus, so I’m being hurtled back into the world I escaped a few years ago – Self build.

The criteria for the project are quite tight:

  1. 19” Rack Mount Chassis – 1U, 2U, 3U or 4U is not really important.
  2. Support for at Least 4 SATA-II drives.
  3. Ideally support for a regular ATX PSU to reduce cost and improve efficiency over a server PSU.
  4. As near to silent operation as possible.
  5. Low power consumption.

After trawling the internet for quite some time on the subject now, I believe I have produced the ultimate solution using the following:

  • X-Case RM400/10 4U Rack Mountable Case
  • ASUS AT3IONT-I Intel Atom 330 and nVidia ION Montherboard
  • StarTech 4-Port PCI Express SATA-II Controller
  • Corsair Value Select Memory
  • Corsair CX400W Power Supply
  • Western Digital 1TB SATA-II Green Hard Disks

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The case from X-Case at http://www.xcase.co.uk/product-p/case-x-case-400-fslash-10.htm?CartID=1 is the building block for this system. It allows me the flexibility to use my existing rack at home, while in a 4U chassis is gives enough room for 10x 3.5” hard disks and 1x 5.25” optical drive, although my machine will not have one installed as Windows Home Server can be installed via USB.

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The ASUS, Intel Atom, nVidia ION Motherboard trick box from Novatech http://www.novatech.co.uk/novatech/prods/components/motherboards/miniitxmotherboards/90-MIBCT0-G0EAY0GZ.html gives me a Dual Core 1.6GHz processor which under full load only draws 8W of power and yet does not require active cooling, and only uses a passive heat sink, all the while, the miniITX form factor of the motherboard keeps the remaining power draw to a minimum.

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The motherboard hosts 4 SATA-II ports, so needing to increase that to come close to the 10 drive support of the case, I will add a StarTech 4-Port PCI Express SATA-II Controller. The StarTech card was chosen because it appears to be the only card to combine SATA-II and PCI Express interface, as many of the other cards such as those powered by the Silicon Image 3114 controller are PCI based. The StarTech card can be seen here http://www.leaf-computer.de/raid-controller-4-port-sata-ii-pcie-x1.html and can be purposed from Leaf Computers via Amazon Marketplace.

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The Corsair CX400W power supply from Overclockers UK at http://www.novatech.co.uk/novatech/prods/components/powersupplies/corsair/cmpsu-400cxuk.html is of good efficiency and also being near silent with a slow rotating 120mm fan to keep the air moving. This supply also has six SATA connectors for the hard drive power needs and four Molex connectors which can easily be converted to SATA once the need arises.

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The Western Digital hard disks are of the Green variety. The demands of a Windows Home Server are not high speed disk access, unlike a RAID10 SQL Server. The needs are for high volumes of always available storage. The Green drives give SATA-II high speed access while providing a low thermal output because of the adaptive rotation speed controls and also the low power consumption.

Although only speculation based on figures collected from sources around the Internet, I believe that the Windows Home Server of this specification would consume a mere 32 Watts at idle and 38 Watts and full load when using 2 1TB Green drives. The drives consume about 6 Watts each, so simply add this amount for each drive added. The other advantage, is by using a standard ATX power supply with 12V 4-Pin connector to power the motherboard, I will have support for S3 power state, allowing the server to be put into Sleep overnight. This will allow me to reduce the operational hours from 24×7 to 17×7 in my example.

Using an online power calculator, we can see that the server of this specification will consume only 16 kWh (Kilo Watt Hours) per month. I have an in-line power meter currently connected to my personal computer which I will be attaching to the Home Server in the next day or so, and then I will be able to see the real-world draw of the current PowerEdge SC1425 to compare the two and see the potential savings.

I will create a new post to show the comparison once the data is available.

Windows Home Server Review

Windows Home Server is not a new product by any means – It was first released to RTM in July 2007. Power Pack 2 is the current update release and Power Pack 3 has been in Beta via Microsoft Connect for some time with no clear release date in site still.

What is Windows Home Server?

Windows Home Server (WHS) targeted as SOHO markets for people with multiple computers, media sources and devices who want to centralize, share and backup their files and media.

Windows Home Server, commonly found pre-installed on devices like the HP MediaSmart Series of devices, which are small form factor computers which more closely resemble Network Attached Storage (NAS) due to their ability to house many disks.

Windows Home Server is no new operating system however. It is actually Windows Server 2003 Small Business Server (SBS) with a pretty shell GUI on top and a few modifications.

The design of WHS however is that you never actually access the server. The access is completed via the Home Server Console which is a GUI installed on client computers, which serves a double purpose. One, it provides administrative access to the server for someone in the house with the admin password. The second purpose is that it configures the client to work with the home server allowing it to access the shared media and files and to work with the backup features.

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The Myth of Leaving it Plugged In

The aged old myth of leaving your laptop plugged in forever and a day remains strong even today.

Many people claim that this is an old adage that doesn’t apply to modern Li-Ion (Lithium Ion) batteries, however there is just as many people who disagree. Even Apple agree with an official statement on their site about not leaving your laptops plugged in all of the time:

http://www.apple.com/batteries/notebooks.html

However, an article on the Dell website doesn’t recommend the same thing – In actual fact it neglects to comment on what you should do once your notebook is fully charged. HP even circumvent the topic in their article.

http://www.dell.com/content/topics/global.aspx/batteries_sitelet/en/replacement?c=us&cs=29&l=en&s=dhs
http://h20271.www2.hp.com/SMB-AP/cache/122140-0-0-155-121.html

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Slipstream Integration for Windows Vista DVD

So I know that Windows 7 is Release Candidate now, but that doesn’t mean people don’t still want to install Windows Vista, and what a better time to rebuild your Vista box if you don’t fancy the step to 7 than now?

I spent a few hours last night working on my Vista image on my WDS (Windows Deployment Server) and I’m really happy with it. I’ve never really meddled with the Vista DVD much in the past because I got confused by the Windows Image format and how to service it initially but once you get your head round it, it’s really easy.

I’ve now got a Vista DVD with the following integrated:

  • Service Pack 2 RTM
  • Internet Explorer 8 RTM
  • Remote Server Administration Tools

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The Future has Landed in Our Kitchen

Well I said I was going to get a server for my birthday and I wasn’t kidding.

It arrived yesterday with FedEx – My nice new Dell PowerEdge SC1425.
Unfortunately my birthday isn’t until Wednesday next week so I’m not allowed to start playing with it until then say the powers that be although I did fire it up last night to make sure all was well – It’s quiet compared to the 6450 I have currently but we’ll see how that pans out with some load 🙂

My Birthday

So it’s my birthday on Thursday next week – Not long now.
I’ve been getting pretty pumped over the last couple of weeks about asking people for a new server for our house and I had my heart and mind set on a Dell PowerEdge 2650.

Well I was looking on eBay at the weekend at which one to buy from which seller when I found a beauty. I was hoping for the Dual 2.4GHz Xeons, but this guy has the Dual 3.06GHz Xeons and the seller was a bit silly as his price was about £100 under everyone else selling a 2650. Silly me though….I deliberated for too long and someone else realised his mistake.

Feeling a bit bummed out Nicky looked the sellers other stuff and saw a PowerEdge I’ve never heard of before. It’s a Dell PowerEdge SC1425. It’s 1U with Dual 2.8GHz Xeons. I was sceptical at first as being 1U it only takes 2 hard disks, but wait….it takes SATA disks.

It was bought fairly soon after, so some April 9th, I will be in possession of my new server.

San Jose Here We Are

So we flew out of Heathrow Terminal 5 on Sunday at about 2pm, landed at San Francisco about 4.45pm, 8hrs behind UK time after a traumatic demon child filled 10hr flight here, but that said the flight was great. We flew British Airways on a 747 which was an experience being on something that big, and I have to say I was most impressed by their in flight entertainment service which was an on-demand video, music and TV service meaning we could watch what we wanted when we wanted and it worked really well. I’d love to know what they had running that for a media server because it must have had a hell of a lot of horsepower under the bonnet!

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Elonex OneTwo3 10.2″ – Another Eee

This week is the Computex convention in Taipei where Dell are expected to announce officially the launch of the various dubbed named Mini-Inspiron UMPC notebook, however one I wasn’t expecting to see was another UMPC appearing from Elonex in the form of a 10.2 inch model.

According to the information from the Computex show, the Elonex OneTwo3 10.2″ UMPC notebook will feature a hard disk up to 80GB, WiFi and a webcam, however there were no more details there at the time of this being written.

The laptop looks good, but personally I think the Eee and the proposed Dell Mini-Inspiron look nicer, but it’s all down to personal taste.

You can see the pictures for yourself at http://210.241.128.64/downloads/pictures/2008060210044773951/108231_L.jpg. The rate this UMPC market is moving, Apple better hurry up and release a MacBook Mini or they will get the door shut in their faces due to the number of other companies trying their hand at this. Whilst Apple already have the MacBook Air, the ultra-thin notebook, it is not in the league of these UMPC devices.

Will It Ever Work?

More time passes by and still my PC is broken and still no news from Gigabyte. Me and Nicky have been trawling the Dell Outlet site for cheap PC’s which are suitable to my liking for me to buy as a replacement and sell my older parts on eBay, and today I found one that was up to the job.

A AMD Athlon64 X2 2.8GHz with 2GB RAM and all the other goodies I need to be able to keep the Baby-Green website running which lets face it, it hasn’t been of late (or since April even!). Our digital camera came back today from Sony which is now all working well, so we will be able to start taking some better pictures of Madison now she is getting so grown up again, although you won’t be able to see them until I can get the site going again. Here’s a picture of the PC for anyone that’s interested.

Dell usually take about a week to deliver the PC and I’m guestimating around 2 weeks for me to get the site full up to speed. I’d like to point out to everyone that views the site and this blog site (obviously) that you will not notice anything happening with the site immeadiatly, but fear not, for this is because I am re-building the site from stratch will all new content, which will make the site more professional looking like it’s been made by someone with some skill and not just someone who picked up a website creation manual.

If your interested to see how I’m getting on with re-designing the site, you can by all means take a look at what I’m working on, but do bear in mind that content on their is very liable to change, and not of, if any of the links to other pages will work, so the single page that you see is all you’ll get for now I’m afraid. Check it out here http://www.baby-green.co.uk/dev/testmain.php.

I’m going to get back to my Microsoft exam revision now as I’m planning on taking my Windows XP exam next week, so I will be sure to let you all know how I get on with that.

Bye x