back to article Build a 14.5 watt data center in a shoebox

Those supercomputing guys love to build their massive data centers full of hardware and high-end cooling systems. They make you feel like a real man or at least a real geek, which is important. Folks with smaller egos and perhaps smaller hands might consider building a tinier, more energy-friendly supercomputer. Consider this …


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  1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    Yes, but do they run on a spud?

  2. Christian Berger

    What I miss

    What I miss on those boxes is storage and extendibility.

    For years I'm searching for a low-power system which has lots of PCI-slots and can work with at least 4 harddrives. There are a lot of uses for such a machine. For example as a meshed WLAN router, or as an IPTV server. Both applications don't really need a lot of processing power, but a lot of PCI-slots. The second even needs a lot of harddrive storage.

  3. packetStar


    Sounds like my Linksys NSLU2's...Load debian linux, add and external hard drive, scrap off a resistor to get the cpu running at 200MHz and you have a nice little package that only draws 11 watts. I use one to run a weather station (using 1-wire devices and oww), one as a media server and one for fun. The NSLU2 costs about $80. If you take up the low power data center challenge, you should consider using a few NSLU2's in the mix.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Japanese characteristics?

    ""The OpenMicroServer has what we like to think of as very ‘Japanese characteristics,'" said Tomoyasu Suzuki, president of Plat'Home. "It doesn't stand out, and it doesn't complain..."

    ...and if it fails to meet others' expectations, it kills itself out of shame. :)

  5. Hate2Register


    Must get some of these for my home-made space shuttle..

  6. trackSuit

    Just a few changes and they'll sell like hot cakes...

    Provide SATA support, so the units can be upgraded in the future.

    PoE sounds great for avoiding being knee-deep in powerbricks. Maybe offer different power supply options?

    Remove any artificial constraints on disk size -or customers who will buy these units will not be impressed.

    Drop the price to 150 USD, and people will buy spare ones for backup.

    I would strongly suggest giving customers a good product at a fair price which suits their needs. Give the customers the freedom to tweak these units and some amazing things will happen. If the manufacturers are crafty, they will get all the ideas they need for developing the next generation of this kind of product from the people who have tweaked their units.

    When this is done, brand loyalty will be all the greater.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    One Question...

    Where can I buy them?!

  8. Steven Knox


    "The LinkStation Mini uses a pair of 5,400RPM 2.5 inch notebook drives to perform its magic, making it the only Buffalo storage unit not to run on SATA drives."

    Not so. The LinkStation Mini DOES use SATA drives (see This is not surprising, as 2.5" SATA drives have become the norm in the laptop world.

  9. Roger Moore


    Pounds, inches, fahrenheit? I thought El Reg was more uptodate than that. I don't suppose you could provide translations for those of us born since the Medieval ages ended to save us having to convert everything? Either that or at least provide the prices in groats to complete the picture.

  10. Krissie


    What about shoebox recommendations? Every good datacenter needs a good housing, and well, who in the IT world knows anything about shoeboxes?

  11. Leon D

    Come on yankee

    What on earth are all these measurements about? Can we have it in something less 70s (e.g. metric) please?

  12. Ryan

    To paraphrase the BOFH

    *Real* computers have a hole in the front for trees to go in, and a hole in the back for smoke to come out!

  13. Stephen


    Thanks for the heads up on Linksys NSLU2. I'm looking now to find them in the UK!

  14. Robert Forsyth
    Thumb Up

    Freecom FSG-3


  15. Richard


    Anyone find anywhere which sells the Micro Servers ?

  16. Steve Anderson


    I've got an NSLU2 with a pair of hard drives mounted in an old DVD Recorder case. Two cables - mains and network - and it all just... works. Tops. I flashed the firmware to run uNSLUng, but I feel Debian might be in order - I quite fancy the extra flexibility.

    That said, those tiny 'puters look like fun, if expensive, gadgets!

  17. mlist53


    "As far as we can tell, your best bet for going small will rely on wares from Plat'Home and Buffalo Technology."

    search for "single board computer", there are quite a few others - for example:

    most are geared towards router/access point type applications, but most also have options for storage (CF cards, 2.5" drives, etc.)

  18. Stephen
    Thumb Up


    I spent most of today looking at single board computers (SBC), embedded systems etc etc and the most annoying thing is the lack of prices on sites..

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE Just a few changes and they'll sell like hot cakes...

    This is also sold by a typical Japanese vendor

    Here are some Japanese manufacturer/vendor ethics to consider:

    - Any change demanded by a customer is considered wagamama.

    selfish is the closest translation but it is more like an insult that you as the customer ask the manufacturer to change something in his product because the manufacturer knows everything better so the customer should just do his job which is handing over money and shutting up.

    - Artificial constraints ? Well why would the manufacturer remove that ? That way you will not buy the next model. We are still talking about Japan yes ? The country where replacing my hard disk in my toshiba would have set me back around 50 000 Yen. Finding the exact hard disk on ebay and installing it my self amounted to 8000 Yen.

    -Drop the price. Wrong wrong wrong If you are not paying a lot you don't get quality. Japanese products are for some reason more expensive in Japan (with 5% sales tax than say Belgium with 21% sales tax). In general the Japanese consumers will pay whatever without even thinking if the price/product-you-get ratio is acceptable.

    Obvious AC since I still have to live here

  20. DV Henkel-Wallace

    Thanks, I already know the "pleasure" of Buffalo gear

    Having had a poor experience with their gear in the past, we nevertheless in desperation last year bought a buffalo NAS just to tide ourselves over for a couple of weeks until the real gear arrived. Wow, what a mistake. Even the nontechnical staff joined us in throwing it off the roof.

    Which I might mercifully have forgotten had their name not come up this week...when someone complained to me that none of their buffalo gear was reliable.

    Perhaps it's produced by a buffalo's....central processing system.

  21. Charles Manning

    14.5 W is huge.

    Want something lower Wattage? Any Linx box with a network connection can be presesed into service as a "data center" and if you don't need too much storage, you could run a small ARM Linux board with flash memory etc and get something going for less than 3W.

    The smallest web server I've seen is and only uses a few mW that it can steal form the RS232 wires. You could fit a few thousand of those in a shoebox. Of course this stretches the definition of "data center" somewhat.

  22. Ashlee Vance (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: 14.5 W is huge.

    The 14.5 watts included the 10 watt Buffalo NAS.

  23. Lou Gosselin

    They are awsome toys and tools.

    "The LinkStation Mini uses a pair of 5,400RPM 2.5 inch notebook drives to perform its magic, making it the only Buffalo storage unit not to run on SATA drives"

    Not true, many of the kuroboxes support PATA/IDE, and also the previous line of Linkstations (HGLAN) which ran on PPC. I have no preference between SATA and PATA as neither of them are bottlenecks.

    Unfortunately the newer ARM9 models running at 400mhz are much slower at applications than the older 266mhz PPC models. Never the less, I have mine running Apache, SSH, Asterisk (the Callweaver branch), OpenVPN, and Samba for file share. When I only had one Linkstation, I connected USB hard disks to it for back up, now I have an RSync script between multiple Linkstations.

    I have looked at many products for low end server platforms for running trivial daemons on a LAN. I bought the Linkstations explicitly to install Debian. In my opinion the Linkstations are the best value I've seen for this purpose.

    For instance the Linksys NSLU units mentioned above only have 16meg RAM, while most Linkstations have 128meg. It might not affect their intended purpose, but when you configure a GraphicsMagick thumbnail cron job, that ram helps.

    I have heard bad things about Buffalo's customer service, and unlocking them isn't "supported", so it's not for those who don't know what they're doing. That said, the unlocked Linkstations are so cool. Check out for ideas/code.

  24. Mad Hacker

    Mac mini isn't even close

    When the article started I couldn't help but thinking a Mac mini cannot be too far away from these specs, however, I was wrong.

    A similarly sized Mac mini uses a max of 110watts (probably during burning a DVD) and works at up to 95 degrees F.

    Of course it offers a dvi out port, which these don't offer, as well as a higher power CPU. But still limited in expandability.

    Ok, so this is a nice piece of kit. I'd be curious how quickly a few of these setup in a grid could encode video for me. The last video project I did took over 14 hours to encode on a Core 2 Duo CPU.

  25. Tim99 Silver badge

    Have a look at the Excito Bubba

    I have a couple of these

    One of them does this:-

    Linux 2.6, Debian; Apache web server; Dovecot IMAP server (IMAP, IMAPS); Postfix SMTP server; Fetchmail (for fetching email from other pop or imap accounts); File server (http, samba, ftp); Download manager (bittorrent, http, ftp); Printer server; DAAP streaming media server (Firefly); UPnP streaming media server (Mediatomb)

    The other one is used as a backup and for 'development' (Well, OK, playing with it.). You can also install most ARM Debian packages that you might want like MC, SQLite, MySQL (if you really have to) etc.

    They each use < 10 watts. Both of them have current up-times of about 100 days.

    A new one with more stuff is due out later in the year.

  26. Seán


    Just get a WD World 1TB unit and hack it to run ssh. It's got an ARM processor and 32MB RAM and runs linux. It also costs less than €250 which you can put towards the electricity bill.

  27. Geoff Johnson


    I've been running one of these...

    ... for a 151 days now, according to top.

    200Mhz Pentium compatible with 128Mb ram 80Gb of laptop drive fitted and it's virtually silent. I'd expect Windows XP would run (or at least crawl) on it but I'm using Debian Linux.

    Only problem is the painful buying process.

  28. James Anderson

    Metric ?

    I would propose the "fag packet" as the standard El Reg unit for small boxes.

    The Japanese kit looks to be about four fag packets.

    Note to not native English speakers.

    fag = cigarette.

  29. Pete Silver badge

    overpriced, underpowered, no applications or IO

    This is the box that fatgadget are selling for USD. 500. But once you've bought one, what then? It won't run windows, solaris, hp-ux or any other other commercial operating system (I said commercial, for the linux boys & girls). if you do want to run Linux applications, you'll have to port them to it's PPC architecture and squeeze them into the 128MB of memory. Once there, then what?

    These things can't interact with the outside world - except through the spare ethernet port - no digital I-O, no serial/parallel ports - not even a USB.

    If you want to do real work in an embedded environment, buy a TINI or a dedicated embedded system.

    If you are thinking of gettig one of these, save your money. Buy a housebrick and paint it white. it'll have the same functionality, be cheaper and use less power. ................ summary: pointless

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: shoebox

    "What about shoebox recommendations? Every good datacenter needs a good housing, and well, who in the IT world knows anything about shoeboxes?"


  31. Robert Long


    "This is the box that fatgadget are selling for USD. 500."

    Which one is?

    "But once you've bought one, what then? It won't run windows, solaris, hp-ux or any other other commercial operating system (I said commercial, for the linux boys & girls)."

    Plenty of commercial Linux systems available since, oh, 1995 or so.

    "if you do want to run Linux applications, you'll have to port them to it's PPC architecture"

    By compiling them. Not very hard.

    "and squeeze them into the 128MB of memory."

    That's plenty for a data server.

    "Once there, then what?

    These things can't interact with the outside world - except through the spare ethernet port "

    Well, since they're intended for ethernet networks, that appears reasonable.

    "- no digital I-O, no serial/parallel ports - not even a USB."

    Ie, no pointless ports the target market doesn't want.

    "If you want to do real work in an embedded environment, buy a TINI or a dedicated embedded system."

    Fine. Did you especially want to talk about embedded systems? Perhaps posting to an article about embedded systems would be a good idea; this is about data servers.

    "If you are thinking of gettig one of these, save your money. Buy a housebrick and paint it white. it'll have the same functionality, be cheaper and use less power. ................ summary: pointless"

    Summary: Pete has no idea what he's talking about.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Pete v Robert Long

    Fight Fight Fight !

    Personally I know less about hardware than I do about non linear differential equations(lol), but this still seems to be shaping up to be a classic.

    I'm keenly awaiting Pete's reply.

    Flame on ..

  33. Steve
    Thumb Up


    Last time I looked, has NSLU2s for sale. I second the recomendations, nice kit. Does a great job running my home file/DNS/DHCP/FTP/SSH server, loaded with SlugOS.

  34. Stephen
    Thumb Up


    It's crazy how you can pickup a 200mhz router for about £20 or a 300mhz (amd geode) thin client for about £15 but if you specifically go out and try to buy a dev board or the board/cpu alone then it costs more like £100!

  35. Pete Silver badge

    @Pete - correction

    apparently this brick^H^H^H^H^Hcomputer does have a couple of USB ports, and a whopping 8 BITs of digital I-O. I apologise for my earlier ommission and would like to correct my summary of the device. Paint a housebrick white and tie a USB cable around it. You can then use either one as an anchor for a model boat - there: it does have a use, afterall.

    To even hint at the possibility of using it in a datacentre (except possibly as a doorstop) is laughable. Although the article does admit that the box "limps along ...". I already have boxes that perform all the functions this thing claims (ref: mini-itx). I've been using them for years. They're cheaper, more flexible and support a greater range of O/S, being "proper" PC architectures 'n'all.

    Probably the best use for this product is what Buffalo suggest (top of page 2): aim it at windows - preferably someone else's.

  36. amanfromMars Silver badge

    To you, maybe just a Box of Tricks, to others, Pure Magic.

    "A savvy and admittedly deranged admin, however, could take this tiny hardware and build a very energy-efficient data center in a desk drawer."

    Crikey, Ashlee, that's a bit harsh/rich, especially coming from El Reg. Now an AEStranged admin, however, who are very, very crafty and have a liberal use of the word 'supersubatomic', would lead with many factoring advices, for tasks geared as Mother and Nature intended, rather than as cowards deploy ..... for Ye Ole Seemly Seamless Godisagoddess Paradigm Shift into Parallel Dimensions for Overall SuperComputing Control[s].

    And that would be right up the Japanese DRM Psyche which when tempered with the Delights of the Perfumed Garden Lotus Blossoms/Houses of the Rising Sun, would Capture and Hold any Heart and Mind.

  37. Anonymous Coward

    Well, if you've got really big feet...

    ...then you could fit one of these in your shoebox :P

    So far, I've got it pulling 80+ MBytes/sec sustained across dual gigabit ethernet links, and that's just due to the read/write speed limitations of the single disk on the Mac end :)

    I'd be surprised if the 'toy' NAS boxes out there can do that...

    Mine's the one with kevlar & flame-proof lining...

  38. David Hicks
    Thumb Up

    Second the NSLU2 thing

    Buy NSLU2

    Add storage through a caddy or even USB flash sticks.

    Install debian.

    Draws a max of about 7.5 watts (IIRC), though obviously if you have drive caddies or USB bus-powered device you have to factor those in). I have two. One runs my home mail/web/SSH gateway server. The other runs a web fronted torrent app and hosts my media collection, shared via SAMBA and ushare UPnP server so the Xbox 360 can stream stuff.

    Fantastic little machines, shame linksys decided to sell them only as a NAS and not a low powered home server.

  39. Anonymous Coward

    QNAP boxes

    Surely the 500MHz/256MB DDR/2TB HDD (2x1TB 3.5in sata raid1 or 0) - QNAP 209 deserves a mention? and all for less than 20w!

    Downside? yes it has a powerbrick but so do nslu2's (2 if you include most USB drives)

  40. Mike

    Pete v Robert

    I think that Pete's point is that it ain't gonna be doing very much, not really good qualification for a "data centre" data server however is different, data servers don't have to do much.

    Both guys have points to make, and both valid but for different reasons.

    Pete says "these apples are rubbish" Robert says "no, these oranges are spot on"

  41. Stephen

    @QNAP AC

    I guess the difference is that you can get a NSLU2 for about £50 (as usual just convert U.S dollar sign to £ and you get the UK price) whereas the cheapest QNAP boxes seem to start @ about £110??

    I wanted to build a standalone system which does XYZ over ethernet but single board computers, embedded systems etc all start at about £100 with a possibility of not being able to use linux wheras you can pickup the NSLU2 cheap and know its gonna work. Rebox it, install your app, job done!

  42. Stephen

    Thin clients

    I have also been looking at all the old thin clients you can get on ebay for about £10 each which usually have 200-300mhz processors but it seems hit and miss getting linux to run on them which is a shame! I found some documentation on putting it on the *something* T20 models but it looked like quite a lot of work!

  43. Paul

    RE: Metric?

    First we need to set up a standard.

    10's or 20's? And standard or Superking :-)

  44. Mike

    WD Mybook

    Seán is spot on, I have a WD 1Tb MyBook, new cost me £169, with a simple URL 'hack' you have a nice 1Tb Linux system, not very powerful, but huge disk, passive cooling, gig ethernet, small, runs Samba/SSH/webserver and bittorrent client. (if you don't mind a bit of work), great for a 'micro' server and storage is USB expandable too!

  45. Stephen

    Infineon ADM5120

    Well after spending forever looking around and commenting on this post, I decided to give the "Infineon ADM5120" a go from I found them on the openwrt forum and decided I might as well give it a go. It was only £19 although I decided to buy the usb key with the OS already installed for £7 (if im happy with it then I can just buy my own keys from ebuyer for like £4 and do it myself).

    Its only 175mhz with 16mb but it beats trying to fight protection a manufacturer has put on a router and its near enough the same as ebay prices. I only want to run some basic python web scraping scripts and sell it as a device so it should be fine and it works out to be about £25 for a full system you can sell on ..

    £19 - board

    £2.50 - power cable

    £4 - usb 1gb (could prob go lower/cheaper than this!)

    £xyz box...

  46. David Hicks

    Re:Infineon ADM5120

    The NSLU2 isn't a router, and it's not a fight, just grab the debian installer image and use the NSLU2's "firmware upgrade" option on the administration page. It's 266MHz & 32MB, which still isn't much I guess.

    It's been out a few years, anyone know of a similarly low-priced and hackable NAS that's a bit beefier?

  47. Darryl

    @Metric ?

    This coming from people whose main currency is based on 373.241721 grams of silver.

  48. Daniel B.

    This sounds familiar...

    Looks like the NSLU2, but actually marketed as what the NSLU2's being used: low-power servers. I've yet to be able to use my NSLU2 at its full potential, as somehow I'm unable to get gcc to work natively, and the 'toolchain' binaries are gone from the original download sites. Oh dear ...

    I'd think about these as they are MIPS (another non-Intel option!) of SGI fame, and they have TWO ethernet ports, which make them a good option for a low-cost firewall/router. Believe me, I'm in dire need of one right now, if only to stop the script kiddies on their tracks!

    Of course, I could just buy the mini-ITX and build it myself, but *that* option goes around the $1000 mark, way too high for my discretionary budget. Ow.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Daniel B

    What OS are you using on the slug?

    I went straight to debian (I'm sure uNSLUng and SlugOS are great but debian is what I know) and the platform is now fully supported. In fact, after x86, I think it's their most popular.

    Go on, go debian, you know you want to!

  50. Brett Brennan


    VIA VT-310DP - $250

    3Ware 9500-12 RAID - $600

    12 WD 320 disks - $1000

    3U case - $150

    Running the entire system from 12VDC in a motor home (caravan) ...priceless!

    Total power consumption is around 120W at full load - for a 3TB RAID 5 server with hot spares spinning. If I upgrade to 1TB disks...

  51. moronatwork

    what I really want

    is a little box with 10-12 slots, and this motherboard:

    Or something similar, to run solaris x86 + zfs.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Any of those does any kind of encryption

    Corporate standards require file servers to either be locked in a secured place or its contents be encrypted and only be accessible to users authenticated in the AD. None of this products can be used to remove the small office data center+file server combo until they are encrypted.

    Well, at least the locked room can be kept and instead of the big racked thing we can put one of those...

  53. Biton Walstra

    19" rack servers rip & mini-itx in (at home)

    i already dumped all my 19” rack servers for mini-itx boxes in my house. less fuel, less noise, less space & less ups. also all my desktop boxes are gone, now only using laptops. lets say, save the planet and get smaller bills. ;)

  54. Lou Gosselin

    @Any of those does any kind of encryption

    Any of the solutions mentioned should handle encryption if it is possible to upgrade to an unlocked linux kernel. Then you could setup the file system any way you like. None of these are encrypted out of the box however. In my opinion client side encryption would be more beneficial, the server could hold the encrypted files without a key.

    Remember NAS devices are not created equally:

    Linksys NSLU2 = 133MHz ARM 32MB

    WD myBook = 200MHz ARM ?MB

    Linkstation HGLAN = 266MHZ PPC 128MB (faster than the ARM)

    Linkstation Pro/Live 1 & 2 = 400MHZ ARM9 128MB

  55. Simon Klyne

    NSLU2 aka Slug

    The Slug is cool, I use mine as a Solaris JumpStart server.

    Cost about GBP55 plus another GBP55 for the 160G USB disk.

    I even had to install a full build environment on it so I could fix a bug in the tftp server.

    I used it to install a whole bunch of Solaris machines, including Solaris 8, 9, 10 and 10x86

  56. Disco-Legend-Zeke
    Paris Hilton

    This is a great product for the 4K Digital Video Camera. offers a similar packaged drive, optomized for the extremely high data rated generated by their signature product, the RED CAMERA.

    The the $17,500 (body only) camera outputs adobe compatible RAW images at 60GB/second. That's a datastream of almost half a terabit.

    The wonks at red have also finessed this high data rate into a CF system, perfect for short takes, and already widely adopted by the TV news Crowd.

    While high density electronic storage will never replace film (FUJI promises to make 35MM film "forever",) tape is already yesterday's product.

    --- paris icon just cause in the disco legend

  57. Dave

    Another NSLU2++

    I have a couple of these - one as a server with a large USB2 disk attached, plus it runs DHCP/DNS/ntp/others. The other runs the Asterisk PBX software which provides a decent one or two line home service in conjunction with some ATA boxes. The server unit recently clocked up over 400 days continuous uptime, ended only by an extended power outage that exhausted the UPS battery.

  58. Scott


    Or you could do what I did - buy an old Pentium laptop off eBay for a few quid, slap in a new hard disk and a CardBus Ethernet card (also from eBay) and install your favourite Real Operating System (NetBSD in my case). A mobile Pentium MMX will run fanless (5.5W TDP for a 233MHz Tillamook). Plus you get an integrated console device (ie. screen and keyboard) and UPS (ie. battery, if there's any life left in it at all) for free :-)

  59. Biff


    Glad you like the Omnima. One of the reasons I tried to make this happen was my frustration with the price of industrial embedded systems. Linux systems should be available to all, for hardly any more than the cost of a DVD, and that's what we (more-or-less) managed with the Omnima. It would have been much nicer to do the same with an NSLU2 as the hardware base, however the quantity discount for the Omnima boards was just a lot more favourable. We've just put in an order for 1000 more, so keep those orders coming!

    PS: You know, REG should do an article on Omnima - I still can't quite believe how it's all taken off...

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