Need to build a power-saving PC..

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Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:40 pm

Hey all,
I have a 3 year old PC which still runs beautifully, but I've recently moved into my own home and need to start being power-conscious.

Existing Setup:
- Core i7 920 2.6GHz
- 6GB DDR3 1600MHz RAM (only 4GB working atm due to motherboard issues)
- 650watt Corsair PSU
- GeForce GTX 260
- 500GB Caviar Black System Drive
- 2x 250GB Barracuda Data drives in RAID 0.
- Sound card is a firewire recording interface

Beyond heavy interweb usage, I use my PC for game development and music composition, both of which require Windows-based software. The occasional LAN party also requires me to have Windows.

I'm just looking for something in the sub $1,000 range that uses minimal power, is quiet and stable, and can hibernate / sleep with ease (most PC's I've used tend to crap themselves every few sleep attempts). Wondering what sort of features I should be looking out for in various components? What sort of PSU to look out for? Motherboard? etc.

Thanks,
Rhys
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:32 pm

How about a laptop? You can tell how much power they need, worst case scenario, by looking at the power supply rating. 10s of watts for an entire system including a monitor... now that's power saving!
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 9:35 pm

Uh... if you really want to save money on power consumption I've got a new idea that's very cost effective: Put the machine to sleep whenever you aren't using it! Off is even better, but a suspend-to-RAM uses very little power and doesn't make you wait around for the machine to reboot.

If you are determined to buy something new then I'd first look at an easy update: Get an LCD display with an LED backlight if you don't have one already. If you don't have one, get a Kill-a-watt meter, or equivalent, and you'll see that the LCD can use quite a bit of power all by itself.

Only after all of that would I be looking at a new machine. If you really want more efficiency, a non-overclocked non-extreme Ivy Bridge will save power while beating the i920 by measurable amounts. If you need a discrete GPU, I'd recommend a GTX 660 since they have about the best performance/power efficiency bang for the buck right now.

EDIT: Just plopping the GTX 660 into your existing machine will certainly help game performance, and it might even save power compared to your older card.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:02 pm

Have you tried sleeping this particular PC? I'm running an i5 2500k system with Win7, and it gets put to sleep an average of twice daily, 5-6 days a week. Destabilization, if any, is measured on the order of a couple weeks and by that time quite a few somethings (Steam games, Windows Update, Adobe, Firefox, antivirus) have downloaded and installed updates, so it's due for a reboot anyway.

Your profile suggests you might be in Oz, so I assume you're paying around $0.25/kW-h and probably using A/C to hold down the heat, which will definitely make a person paranoid of the utility bill. But work out the math on that and you may find your new computer build has a payback time, measured purely in terms of power savings, on the order of a couple years. Per chuckula's recommendation I would start with installing a modern GPU and using Sleep Mode. If you still run into gremlins, then you can upgrade the rest of the PC around the graphics card you've already bought.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:25 pm

Crayon Shin Chan wrote:How about a laptop? You can tell how much power they need, worst case scenario, by looking at the power supply rating. 10s of watts for an entire system including a monitor... now that's power saving!
I did consider this, but for what I'd be getting, they're often quite expensive. I don't need mobility, and I think I'm paying a lot for mobility when I get a laptop. I do already have a MacBook Pro that I could run Windows on, but I use it at work and I like to leave it at work during the week.

Uh... if you really want to save money on power consumption I've got a new idea that's very cost effective: Put the machine to sleep whenever you aren't using it! Off is even better, but a suspend-to-RAM uses very little power and doesn't make you wait around for the machine to reboot.

If you are determined to buy something new then I'd first look at an easy update: Get an LCD display with an LED backlight if you don't have one already. If you don't have one, get a Kill-a-watt meter, or equivalent, and you'll see that the LCD can use quite a bit of power all by itself.

Only after all of that would I be looking at a new machine. If you really want more efficiency, a non-overclocked non-extreme Ivy Bridge will save power while beating the i920 by measurable amounts. If you need a discrete GPU, I'd recommend a GTX 660 since they have about the best performance/power efficiency bang for the buck right now.

EDIT: Just plopping the GTX 660 into your existing machine will certainly help game performance, and it might even save power compared to your older card.
I tried putting the computer to sleep when I wasn't using it, but as mentioned, I found it crashed far too often when sleeping all the time. Often not waking up from sleep, blue screening, etc.

I'll definitely consider an LED backlit screen. And thanks a lot for the tip on Ivy Bridge and GTX 660. I'd love to go for a Mini-ITX motherboard with Ivy Bridge, if they exist yet. I'd need the GTX 660 though, and FireWire is often not available on the Mini-ITX's so I'd need a PCI-e card.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Mon Sep 10, 2012 11:31 pm

What about Mini-ITX? Are there any performance considerations for these if the components are the same (e.g CPU / RAM)?

I considered this setup:

- Intel DH67CFB3 Mini-ITX Mainboard
- Intel Core i5-3570 3.2GHz
- Corsair 8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
- OCZ Vertex 4 128G SSD
- IEEE1394a PCi-Express x1 Card
- FSP 400W Aurum Series PSU, 80PLUS Gold
- Lian Li PC-Q11 HTPC Chassis

But is the PSU too overpowered? What should I be looking at, if I may later on add a video card?
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:33 am

The X58/ICH10 chipset had ACPI S3 (STR/Sleep) issues.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 4:44 am

RhysAndrews wrote:What about Mini-ITX? Are there any performance considerations for these if the components are the same (e.g CPU / RAM)?

I considered this setup:

- Intel DH67CFB3 Mini-ITX Mainboard
- Intel Core i5-3570 3.2GHz
- Corsair 8GB (2x 4GB) DDR3 1333MHz
- OCZ Vertex 4 128G SSD
- IEEE1394a PCi-Express x1 Card
- FSP 400W Aurum Series PSU, 80PLUS Gold
- Lian Li PC-Q11 HTPC Chassis

But is the PSU too overpowered? What should I be looking at, if I may later on add a video card?


If i had a critique about that build it would be the motherboard and maybe the case which has a CPU cooler clearance of only 65mm.

Also, i presume you want a new discrete video card, what did you intend to buy for such a small form factor? I'm thinking that a GTX 670 would be your best bet since, size wise, is simillar to a HD 7770.

Edit:
Erhm but i suppose with it you will be over budget. Then maybe look at the 7850/7870 cards or the GTX 660 Ti
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 5:41 am

Intel motherboards are generally a good choice for power efficiency. It might, however, be easier to go Micro-ATX, if you're considering a discrete GPU.

This Micro ATX board has firewire built-in, for example:
http://www.ddcomputer.com.au/prod-BLKDH67GDB3-proddes_Intel_BLKDH67GDB3_Motherboard.html

and maybe put it in a nice Micro-ATX case such as:
http://www.ddcomputer.com.au/prod-TJ08B-E-proddes_SilverStone_'Temjin_series'_TJ08E_Black_mATX_Case.html

Combine that with one of the FSP Aurum Gold supplies you were looking at (although note the 400w one only has a single PCI-E power connector, while the 500w has two, and you need two for even the more efficient newer high end GPUs) and add an Ivy Bridge CPU & memory to your taste and you'd have a pretty decently efficient machine that should idle much lower than your existing one.

Oh also, when looking at RAM for use with an Ivy Bridge CPU, try to stick with 1.5v RAM rather than stuff that needs 1.65v. The 1.65v stuff is generally older stuff, and Intel don't like current CPUs providing that much voltage to the RAM.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:06 am

I think you should go with a micro ATX board. At least with that you have more then 1 pci-e slot so you can do firewire and a discrete graphics card, plus a third whatever ya need down the road slot :)

MINI itx will not save you much power if any, it will just limit the amount of add on cards u can use to only 1 . I think that is a bad idea.

As for these newer boards sleeping i have a p67, h61 and h67 chipsets all running win7 and they sleep and wake pefectly.

For a psu do not cheapout. Get yourself a antec, seasonic or coarsair PSU with up to 500 watts. you wont need more then that. The antec earthwatts 380 watt psu has great reviews. Many people here use them and it has plenty of power for a 660ti.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:12 am

I'm not a fan of Mini-ITX for a gaming PC. Micro-ATX is much more expandable (4 PCIe slots vs. 1) and it's cheaper, too.

Take a look at something like:
Intel Core i5-3570K
ASRock Z77 Pro4-M or Asus P8Z77-M micro-ATX motherboard
2x4 or 2x8 GiB PC3-12800 or PC3-14900 that runs CAS 9 at 1.5 V
Radeon HD7850 2GB or HD7870 2GB
128 or 256 GB Samsung 830 SSD
1-3 TB hard-drive
BD-ROM/DVD-RW
Integrated audio
Antec NSK3480 w/ EarthWatts EA-380D micro-ATX case with ATX power supply


My last several PCs have worked flawlessly using sleep/resume with a variety of processors and chipsets: Core i5-3570K w/ Z77, A8-3850 w/ A75, Core i7-2600K w/ P67, Phenom II X4 955 w/ 785G and Phenom II X3 720 w/ 780G.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:08 am

Really...I don't think you would be saving much power by replacing that build. Remember that at absolute most, you might be drawing 650 Watts (but probably less). From a power saving perspective, you would save a lot more by replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent ones (LED is even better, I think), LED backlit screens, raising the thermostat in the summer 2 degrees (down 2 in winter), turning off nonessential lights, electronics, etc...I think you get the idea.

If you're actually replacing a computer (like a solid upgrade), sure, going with a power efficient build makes sense, but dropping $1,000 for a minimal upgrade just to save power is going to take a very long time to pay itself back. How much are less power are you going to be using? Let's say you save 250 W, or .25 kW. If you were running the machine 24/7/365 and lived in Chicago (estimating $0.15/ kWh, which is high), it would take you three years to earn that $1,000 back.

Point being, if you want to save power, try some other ways first, and maybe make your next complete build a power saving one.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 8:35 am

Ah, you're all great! Very helpful hints, here.

@superjawes - You've prompted me to actually work out how much power my PC uses. I've just always taken it for a bit of a power hog but I could be quite wrong. But when you add the ReadyNAS Duo, Billion 7800N, powered studio monitors, etc, it becomes a bit of a worrying load. Every bit saved counts.

Rather than 'dropping' $1,000, I may have the option of selling this machine to my work to be used as a tape backup server. This'll allow me the money required to make a lesser machine more aimed at power saving.

I think I'll go with Micro-ATX, thanks for the tips there. Just always liked the idea of making the tiniest computer I could :)
Discrete GPU is not important if the onboard gfx can handle a smooth framerate on games like Call of Duty 4 and Minecraft - even if graphics level isn't overly high. But I guess having discrete as an option is important - and firewire on the mobo is useful.

LED backlit monitor sounds like the way to go, too.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:06 am

My technical communications class in college centered around proposing a sustainability project to the school, and that really forced a focus on how much money and power the project would actually save versus how much it would cost. But of course, a college campus tends to have such things in use more often, so the savings can be considerably more :wink:

If something is a significant upgrade, I see so reason not to choose the lower power option, assuming you aren't sacrificing functionality. Just make sure that you're burning your cash to save pennies on your power bill.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:16 am

My guess is that you're somewhere in the 260W range for the tower. Definetly get a Kill-a-Watt meter to measure power usage of appliances around your house. The upgrades you're talking about are looking like they will be less than a 60W light bulb worth of power savings. You need to consider how much you're spending on these "power efficient" upgrades and how many months/years of "extra computer power usage" the money for those upgrades could pay for. Basically, you should be looking elsewhere for power savings.

RhysAndrews wrote:Discrete GPU is not important if the onboard gfx can handle a smooth framerate on games like Call of Duty 4 and Minecraft

I believe those games are quite different in terms of "graphics demand." HD4000 graphics on Ivy will probably not get you smooth framerates in COD4 at 1080 resolution unless you're at low low detail settings. (maybe somebody can help me out with some proof) If you want something decent, maybe consider an AMD 7770 at 155W system power consumption using an i5-750 processor.

To get any significant amount of power savings, you're going to have to sacrifice performance from what you've got now. Something like one of the new IVB i3 processors and an AMD 7770 would still provide a good gaming experience, but would definetly be a step down from your current system in terms of game development and music composition. How much of a step down that would be, or if it would even be noticeable for your usage, I don't know.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 9:57 am

I think Ryu Connnor's comment about the X58/ICH10 problems is pretty much the answer here. The OP needs different hardware that will use sleep mode correctly, and then he's not saving the 60W difference; he's saving nearly all of it (less a few trivial W of standby power) when the machine is not in use.

Plus, he said he can sell the old machine to a business to make the cash difference, which pretty much covers the other end. So, may as well assemble a nicely-appointed Ivy Bridge system and go home happy.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 10:52 am

ludi wrote:The OP needs different hardware that will use sleep mode correctly, and then he's not saving the 60W difference; he's saving nearly all of it

The link I provided shows 260W under load and 120W idle...I just shut my computer down, that saves the 120W idle power consumption too, but whatever. I guess it depends on what kind of coin he can get for his existing system. If the sale almost covers the purchase, then go right ahead.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:42 am

RhysAndrews, bear in mind that most of the current crop of high-end GPUs, despite drawing a lot of power at load, do not draw much at all when you're not in game. It'd definitely be worth getting a discrete GPU if you want to game, all you have to do is make sure you get one that idles well.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 11:57 am

If you do upgrade your processor. Get the "S" variety. They have a lower power draw.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Tue Sep 11, 2012 1:40 pm

As some have suggested, definitely get a Kill-A-Watt. It really opened my eyes to how much power my gear was using.
I was able to lower my power bill significantly by changing my usage habits like turning lights off when they are not in use, unpluging wall warts, using CFL and LED lighting (spot lighting). The second thing I did was to make a custom power profile in windows and set the power saving features to my needs like turning off the display in 5 min and have the comp go to sleep in 20min.
By doing all those small improvements, I was able to cut my usage by 100kw!!

To make my life easier in turning stuff off and things that don't have a power button, I bought this:

http://www.amazon.com/Belkin-Conserve-Switch-Energy-Saving-Protector/dp/B003P2UMNK/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1347387382&sr=8-7&keywords=belkin+power+strip
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Thu Sep 13, 2012 8:43 am

TR's GTX 660 review includes your GTX 260 for comparisons if you're interested.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Sat Nov 03, 2012 11:49 am

The thing that has broken sleep for me has been old hardrives, old fire wire cards, old sound cards, and old network cards. If you have upgraded several times and kept older hardware in your system, it might be time to retire them.

Since your planing to tear appart you system anyways for upgrading you could spend some time troubleshooting your sleep problem. Start my having bare minimum of stuff in the machine to make it run and send it to sleep. Try it without being connected to the internet, and with wired keyboard and mouse and onboard graphics if you have it. If your still having issues even with the stripped down PC then try (It can be a real pain, I know) you can use a fresh install of windows too.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Sat Nov 03, 2012 12:39 pm

Snag a kill-a-watt power meter.

For point of reference, I built a machine running a Celeron G530, H61 with integrated gfx. 29 watts idle and mid 40 watts under full-load with 1 desktop hard drive. Sandy and Ivy are two extremely power-efficient architectures. Keep in mind as you start going from a Celeron to Pentium up to an I7, you're going to be adding more to your peak power consumption. My i7-2600k system pulls around 120 watts under full CPU load and usually between 180 and 200 while gaming due to my 6950's ampere-appetite.

My girlfriend's i3-2120 and 7770 rig pulls around 120 watts while gaming and 90 or so under full cpu load.

Also, 7k series Radeons gate-off most of themselves while the monitor is off massively dropping idle power consumption.

For good power consumption numbers on individual processors, check out www.lostcircuits.com. The reviewer there puts a current-sensor on the 12v line feeding the processor to get an accurate measure on raw CPU power consumption.
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Re: Need to build a power-saving PC..

Postposted on Sat Nov 03, 2012 3:26 pm

You might consider just throwing an ssd into your current system and leaving your computer off when you don't need it. Boot times with an ssd are much better, and it'll give you a snappier system overall too.
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