back to article How I built a zero energy cost, zero carbon home server

How do you make the electricity bill for your home computing disappear? I decided to try to find out. Historically computer kit had been responsible for about 90 per cent of our electricity bill at my home office for my ISP and consultancy business. I ran one of the UK’s first ISPs, and even in my new, smaller home, I was …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sheevaplug here

    Running debian squeeze home server, and hosting POP3/IMAP/SMB/HTTP/HTTPS/Bittorrent.

    It uses hardly any power, and has excellent uptime (only when we get a power cut).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How much power?

      The 11.6" MacBook Air uses ~4.5W when idle (20W when maxed out). I would have expected this little plug computer to use much less. Although I suppose it does cost much less. But the author did have to jump through a bunch of hoops due to limited memory/storage.

  2. Lottie

    This sheevaplug

    Sounds pretty amazing.

    Congrats on making crazy 'leccy savings!

  3. ScottXJ6

    excellent article

    It does make you realise that a lot of 'servers' are indeed overkill, with power consumption not normally thought about until the leccy bill comes in.

    I built my homeserver on a pinetrail atom board, 4 disks for storage and a solid state for OS (open solaris), but the usage is still 60w, but with further optimisations might be able to get that down.

    any kind of delayed file system commit is dangerous with respect to powercuts, but if your UPS'd up its a nice way to save some power.

    I thought about using a seperate array of USB sticks as a temp buffer and commit its contents to disk at designated disk spin up times, but was quite happy with 60w in the end. ZFS makes errors on flash storage ok (got about 10 sticks lol)

    what i wasnt happy with was 15w for a vodafone sure signal (even when not in use) and another 12w for an ADSL 2 router...

    Kudos for downsizing though!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ESXi 4.1

    I've consolidated all of the servers I use (about four) down to a single CentOS/VMware server v1 box, which has three WDC green disks (one for backup VM) and typicall pulls about 30W. I am currently in the process of converting it to ESXi 4.1 running from a USB stick. The UI for ESXi is much nicer and it's a load faster, also with running it from a USB stick, the WDC Green drives will be able to use even less power as they intelligently spin down.

    I have considered using solar PV and batteries to power my MythDora box, which is solid state with mass storage provided by a VM, but I just can't get the numbers to add up. It looks like I won't even be able to use the amount of energy embedded in the creation of the PV cells in their lifetime, I'm hoping that the next generation of PV will remedy that.

    Furthermore, I'm probably going to virtualise the mythdora back end if the USB passthrough on ESXi works better than previous versions.

  5. Oliver Smith

    PogoPlug here

    Same architecture as the SheevaPlug, but with less memory. I've wiped the PogoPlug custom firmware off mine and am now running the PlugBox flavour of ArchLinux on it.

    I also encountered occasional errors with USB storage - usually it'd produce a handful of USB-related error messages in the system log, then pretty much lock up all access to the drive 'til I either pulled the USB cable or reset the box. However, since kernel 2.6.35 (where there were some patches to the orion-ehci USB driver that the sheeva platform uses), I've had no trouble whatsoever with the USB storage.

    1. Anomalous Cowturd

      Me too!

      Also running PlugBox Linux (Arch), and running mail, SFTP, Web server, and BitTorrent.

      Boots off an 8Gig Flash drive, with 300Gig spinny glass for main storage. Completely silent, draws about 5 Watts under load, and cost £53 brand new in a box off Fleabay.

      Bloody marvellous!

      Except it's PINK!

      1. Anonymous Coward

        add 2 quid to the bill,

        buy some black spray paint and paint it black, if you mind the colour ;)

  6. Anton Ivanov


    I have been doing similar stuff for 7+ years now. Though my personal preference till this day stays with VIA EPIA and Crusoe. Marvell, PPC and other more esoteric CPUs may be all fine for most server tasks, but they will immediately run out of grunt if you try to do something like an AES256 encrypted backup on it (yes I am mad to do that for home machines and I know it).

    An old Crusoe (or Geode) based HP thin client can have up to 512M (1G for Geode) and run off any 2.5 in laptop drive (or off the shelf 44 pin flash module) once you have applied some bolt cutters to the case to allow fixing the drive (or moved the motherboard to an ATX case). The Crusoe eats 8W (measured at the plug and accounting for the inefficient dead rat so probably less), the GeoDe 14W. Via depending on the model eats 8 to 20W (again measured at the plug) and can do AES on the fly without even noticing. Recent AMD is also quite good (funnily enough). If you enable Cool-n-Quiet, a fully blown Athlon 3200+ system eats around 30W (at the plug) once it has down-clocked to the lowest setting in idle.

    As far as the power draw from the "big network disks" - MAID is your salvation. While I cannot spin-down or put on flash the $HOMEs in my house as some of them contain 9G+ of mail I have put all the non-critical data like media, backups, photos, etc onto a separate big JBOD which powers down when not in use. So the total power draw for around 5-6TB of storage including an always-on 1TB RAID 1, two servers and a firewall is around 60-80W depending on load.

    Also, using laptops for anything is a BAD IDEA (TM). They always have something that overheats and their MTBF in always-on mode is abyssmal. Most thin clients use the same components in much more accessible cases, on reasonably standard motherboards with much better cooling. They are also much easier to vandalise to hook up proper networking and storage if needed.

    In addition to laptopmode, /tmp and /var/tmp on tmpfs there is one more setting in recent Debian (and probably ubuntu as it takes from there) which is very useful to keep power down and disks spun-down when idle. It is the "lock on tmpfs" and "run on tmpfs" setting in rcS.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Via EPIA

      Yeah - I've stuck with Via for my home server - the router and server run at about 20 - 24w, and you don't have to do too much creative with cutting back on $FAVOURITE app. It's important to me as we're off grid, so ALL our power comes from the wind and a tiny bit from solar.

      Oddly, when I wrote up my installation on the Tectonic website a while ago, mostly about the importance if sensible software options, most comments were asking about how I set up the power side - turbine, batteries, inverter etc.


  7. There's a bee in my bot net

    Nicely done

    Puts my sub 40W mini atom based home server to shame...

  8. Gordan

    Write Reduction

    "This brought up a feature of excessive write to storage in particular: such writes might prematurely wear out the SD card."

    I have done a fair amount of work on this very same thing for my machines with SSDs. I submitted a SSD saver patch on RH bugzilla here:

    In general, booting up produces several MB of write. I have reduced this to essentially zero by putting things that don't need to be persisted to tmpfs, e.g.:




    /var/log (only on laptops)



    There are a lot of additional things that are on tmpfs, depending on the application of the machine (e.g. browser caches).

    I also disable swap in favour of compressed RAM as swap:

    Other things you may want to check out for lowering CPU power consumption is undervolting via PHC. Intel chips have a LOT of margin for error in them, and I have generally achieved peak TDP drops of up to 25% on Core2 class CPUs with no loss of stability (verified by days of OCCT and other testing). Have a look here:

    All the functionality is already built into Intel processors since the Pentium M, you just have to leverage it properly.

    You also mentioned CPU governors and on-demand one specifically. Conservative CPU governor generally yields much better results in my experience.

    1. Jim 59


      The sheevaplug CPU is Marvell, not Intel. By default, the sheevaplug does not have a tmpfs area, and with only 512Mb of memory, care would be needed in setting one up. It also does not have any swap by default. On my desktop PC, I put the firefox cache into tmpfs for performance, but I don't know if it made any difference.

      If you upgrade the Sheevaplug SD card to class 10, it can read+write very fast. Not sure how that impacts overall performance though. Most sheevaplug apps are not read/write intensive, and most files are cached I guess.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    embedded Linux

    I've run a home file server for years. Now that 4 bay NAS boxes are becoming affordable, and taking on a raft of additional features, it seems that one day soon I will be able to ditch the server for something under half the size with less than half the energy consumption. Which as a bonus would cause a significant increase in UPS backup time.

  10. Wild Bill
    Thumb Up

    Great Article

    Only understood about 1/3rd of the tech stuff, but interest certainly piqued in this sheevaplug malarchy, for home media streaming etc.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Sheevaplug here too!

    Another Debian-based sheevaplug system, in this case running lenny. And running a similar set if services to AC above. I'm using a Seagate 'FreeAgent' USB disk which goes to a reduced power setting if not accessed for a while - from 8W to about 2.5 according to my metering.

  12. Gordan

    You missed a trick

    "mkfs -t ext3"

    This is sub-optimal in terms of flash wear. To minimize wear, you should drop the journalling, too. Either use ext2, or better, try ext4 with ^has_journal. You don't really need journalling - fsck on a SSD is really fast anyway on the rare occassion you actually need it. For metadata-heavy operations, omitting the journal saves a LOT of writes - up to 55% on metadata-heavy operations:

    1. Goat Jam

      And on top of that

      you should use the "noatime" directive in fstab to stop the FS from writing the timestamp for every time the file is *read*

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Actual savings?


    So what were the actual savings, when you take hardware purchased, and your time (yes time has a cost if you're running a business) into account?

  14. Jim 59
    Thumb Up


    Re the consolidation, you have not given any details of what you migrated from, which is a bit frustrating for the reader. If you migrated a rack of Sun boxes and a NAS into one sheevaplug and a flash drive, clearly there was a lot of redundancy there.

    Well done on the energy conservation, the lengths you have gone to to minimize it, and the detail in your account. If the sheevaplug is internet facing, I would upgrade the OS in order to keep getting security updates. The NewIT site has pre-built Debian images for download.

    Not sure about the USB problem. My own sheevaplug, running Wordpress and a couple of webcams, has the SD card formatted as ext2, as I read that the ext3 journal is bad for SD cards.

  15. Mr Spuratic

    Sheeva plug

    The Sheevaplug can push the USB to 750mA, above the 500mA per-spec. I run a 500GB Toshiba bus-powered disk directly on mine. I understand it's the startup current which is usually the issue, rather than normal running.

    I get the odd glitch (all clear for ~5 months now) which I'd always put down to brownouts. Disk momentarily disconnects and reconnects.

    However, many people report PSU issues (the melty or magic-smoke types) with these, and bus-powered drives are implicated.

  16. Lee Dowling Silver badge


    Although the energy-saving tech might look cool, your biggest no-brainer was replacing 600W of various unnecessary equipment with a laptop. The biggest advantage of that is, of course, battery backup but if you have 600W of equipment doing what a bog-standard laptop could do in the first place it means you weren't keeping a check on your servers anyway. You admit yourself that most of them sat idle which suggests that, at the point of purchase, these machines were unnecessary and probably quite expensive. If your previous equipment had been strung out, then sure - upgrading to a more powerful but more energy efficient machine makes sense but you could have *always* done this.

    You don't have computers to sit idle unless they are there purely for redundancy purposes, at which point you HOPE they never do anything else but sit idle and you can't gain that redundancy any other way.

    The rest of the article seems a bit pointless - 30W is more than low enough to come into the "electrical noise" or even "cable loss" category of any modern home (£3 a month-ish? £30 a year?) and every optimisation you made after that was actually costing MORE in terms of materials, production, configuration, shipping, etc. The K8055 is also overkill for a simple monitoring task though I have used them a lot myself.

    And, at the end of the day, you could have done this in 2001 for the same saving. Mini-ITX VIA EPIA pull only a handful of watts (an in-car PC I built takes only 7W in full operation, including a K8055, internal drive and various USB gadgets) and does 600MHz (or 1Ghz) on x86 even on the older models - the model I use was actually one of the original boards that a school I work for was throwing out, originally specced as a Linux thin-client. They don't need fans, last forever, take standard PC hardware, are compact and pull about the same as the SheevaPlug - they also benefit from having LOTS of ports including good old fashioned RS232. Sure, the Sheeva's a nice gadget but it's nothing spectacular. Go look at the latest GumStix, for instance.

    Personally, I think you'd have been better off with a couple of mini-ITX's (lot cheaper and more standardised to replace in the long run, and you could even move down to nano-ITX etc. as they start to pack more in), or possibly just a decent laptop from the start. In the long run, the prices you spend on things would have been better diverted to basic hardware and more power generation - a couple of 60W panels would happily run a bog-standard mini-ITX board with a normal laptop hard drive for ages and no having to worry about tuning the system.

    I think it's just a "boy's toy" project rather than something practical. If you want "zero energy", there are much better ways of doing it without having to buy new, state-of-the-art hardware and tweaking incessantly.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Eh?

      "Sure, the Sheeva's a nice gadget but it's nothing spectacular. Go look at the latest GumStix, for instance."

      The Gumstix isn't generally a plug-and-go piece of kit, unless they've revived the Waysmall stuff very recently. One might also have some reservations about how well supported the OMAP stuff is compared to some of the other ARM variants.

      "I think it's just a "boy's toy" project rather than something practical. If you want "zero energy", there are much better ways of doing it without having to buy new, state-of-the-art hardware and tweaking incessantly."

      Well, sure, you could even buy carbon offsets and pretend that the problem is completely solved without anyone doing anything. Personally, I think it's interesting to see how far people want to go, even if there isn't a convincing argument for them to have gone quite as far as they have.

    2. Jim 59
      Thumb Down


      I think you're being a bit harsh there mate. The OP is just sharing his experience. Yes, the article is imperfect, but this is El Reg, not the proceedings of the IEE.

    3. Nigel 11

      Not at all pointless

      "30W is more than low enough to come into the "electrical noise" or even "cable loss" category of any modern home (£3 a month-ish? £30 a year?)"

      Rubbish - if you regard this as research. One person finding out how to save 30W now can become 30MW if a million people do. the same. That's quite possible if the know-how is spread and the technology becomes mainstream.

      But before it happens, we need better micro-power servers than a ShevaPlug. Something like a MATX board with all the connectors one would expect to find on it, but an ARM processor.

      The energy-wasting villain of the piece is Microsoft, doing everything it can to prevent any Windows-incompatible hardware being made available to the masses.

      1. gerryg

        yes, but

        I agree with your sentiment however let's not get carried away. The UK's energy consumption is measured in TW and getting 1 million people to save 30W is a drop in the bucket.

        1kW raises 1kg (~ 1litre) of water by 1 degree celsius. 1 bath ~ 80 litre of water raised say 12.5 degree celsius = 1MW

        I fewer bath/year by 1 million people = 1GW

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      How much do you think the Shiva costs?

      You can get a few Shiva plugs for the cost of a gumstik. The cheapest gumstik is more than a Shiva and doesn't have networking, USB, or a case. When include expansion boards, you can get 4 Shivas for that price. The newer guruplug has dual ethernet. A quick check on mini-ITX prices show them about twice the price of a Shiva without case, RAM, or power supply.

      I got my Shiva for $100 and picked up a pogo last week for half that.

      There are a lot of people with huge redundancies in the server farm this is allowing the growth of virtualization as they combine all the under utilized severs onto a single physical machine.

  17. Christian Berger

    It's very specific

    So someone who needs the computing power of a small ARM-based device previously running a server farm. That's hardly a hard case for consumption reduction.

    However it's a nice run down of what one can do in certain conditions. :)

  18. Ian Yates


    Out of interest, what sort of services are you guys running on SheevaPlugs (or equivalent), and what sort of load does it sensibly handle?

    I don't run a commerical site from my home server, and I can see the benefits of downscaling for the image-sharing (mostly family) stuff I do.

    1. mike panero

      Photo sharing?

      Whats wrong with a hotmail account? you get 25G of online storage FREE

      Come to think of it my buffalo nas can do all that with a dynamicDNS name, I think thats about 15W

      1. Ian Yates

        Re: Hotmail

        Hotmail? Have I missed something? Do they now offer photo-sharing services for non-Hotmail addresses?

        I currently use Flickr for public photos and my NAS for stuff that's generally just for family.

        The advantage I can see of this box is a dedicated external server, adding an extra layer of security to my NAS and being more hackable for custom services.

  19. Dave Robinson

    A bit too weedy!

    I have a Core i3-530, 4GB of RAM, and 1TB disk. On this, I'm running for virtual machines under Proxmox VE. And all for a tad under 25W at the plug, when everything is idle.

    Oh, and I forgot to mention it's bloomin' fast when it needs to be. Much faster at virus scanning email, for example, than my previous Via C7 setup.

    1. Goat Jam

      The core i3 530

      has a maximum TDP of 73W.

      Yes, I realise you included the caveat "when idle" but does it really drop back to single digit watts when idle? (assuming mobo, RAM, disk and other gubbins are using at least 15W at idle)

      I have an atom based server myself and I have been considering going to the i3 but I am having trouble finding data on power use other than the max TDP figure mentioned above. Any info regarding idle you have would be appreciated.

      1. Nigel 11

        Trouble wuth current Atom

        The trouble with the current Atom CPU design is that it doesn't use very much less power when it's idle. Something like 20W busy, 17W idle. And it's not really quite fast enough if you want to use it as your everyday graphics station rather than just as a no-display server.

        The Core i3 drawback is that with 73W to dissipate when it's busy you'll need active cooling.

        Intel should get as much of the Core's energy usage optimisation into an Atom asap. 20W peak, 5W idle ought to be do-able. Maybe 30-40W peak better, just as long as the thing has thermal throttling done in such a way that the CPU restricts itself to 20W and still offers decent performance once it's heated a passive 20W sink to the maximum acceptable temperature. 5W plus 40W bursts would average under 20W for many usage patterns most of the time.

        (Why do I like passive heatsinks so much? Silence, reliability, and another minor waste of energy eliminated)

        1. Gordan


          @Nigel 11: "The trouble with the current Atom CPU design is that it doesn't use very much less power when it's idle. Something like 20W busy, 17W idle."

          I suspect you'll find these figures come from a system with broken power management. I have had two Atom N450 devices so far and both have had fundamentally broken EIST. EIST drops the voltage as well as the clock speed when the CPU is idle, and this is done by the CPU setting it's VID to a lower value. Motherboard is supposed to notice this and reduce the voltage to the CPU. Unfortunately, on a lot of manufacturers are too useless and incompetent to read the documentation and implement such things properly in their motherboards. They also tend to over-volt the CPUs to boot, which causes overheating problems. I will name names:

          1) Dell - Mini 1012.

          Completely ignores the CPU VID (tested with Linux PHC). You can drop the VID from maximum to minimum (the limits are hard-set in the CPU) while the CPU us running under full load at full speed, and the thermal output doesn't change, nor does the power draw, and the machine doesn't destabilize during a stress test. Sensors also show 85C CPU temperature and I measured over 60C on the underside of the machine using an IR probe. Needless to say, it got sent back as unfit for purpose and dangerous to use. A number of reviews also mention the machine gets unreasonably hot (keyboard gets too hot to type after 2 hours of kernel compiling!). This tallies up with 2 hours battery life in light use compared to 6-7 hours from a very similar Asus eee 1005PR.

          2) Advantech AIMB-212N-S6A1E motherboard. Same effect as the Dell Mini 1012, but this one has BIOS bugs to boot where manual memory timings get completely ignored. I even had a reply from their tech support confirming that:

          - Yes, there is an issue.

          - No, they have no plans to fix it.

          - They argued EIST is an overclocking feature (they did not respond to my pointing out that EIST a part of the standard spec for Atom N450 with appropriate links to Intel's own documentation on the subject, datasheets, etc.)

          In the latter case, this leads to a machine that should have a TDP of < 9W (CPU+SB on the N450) having a power draw (checked from a Class 4 PoE switch that I run it off) of about 20W idle and 24W at full load.

          The quality of hardware implementations these days is _dire_.

  20. PaulWizard
    Thumb Up

    What about ALIX

    Nice article, I have a few ALIX systems which are also pretty good on power consumption. The models I have are the alix2d13, GEODE chipset, 500MHz, 256MB RAM, 1G CF Card for main disk, 4-6W power (9-18v input range), running NanoBSD (can be found in FreeBSD /usr/src/tools/tools/nanobsd <- yes, tools twice, don't ask me why). I have one running on a site with no mains from a solar panel and batteries (the panels charge more than is consumed overnight). It uses a USB stick for /var/logs and other modifiable content. Connects up to the net via a 3G dongle. I have a bunch of apps on mine, including lighttpd and openvpn. Very good if you need a server/firewall and have a low power budget.

  21. Steve X
    Thumb Up

    More on the PV, please

    My home CPU needs are much lower than yours, so I run a Linksys NSLU2 with OpenSlug embedded Linux, with flash for boot but a real spinning disk for data (MP3s etc.). It serves files via NFS & Samba & does some routing/DHCP/Bind/SSH/etc. Sits in a cupboard with ADSL, switches and some TV & Sat gear, all powered via a UPS, so total draw is ~90W. I'm sure a chunk of that is due to inefficiencies of the UPS.

    The cupboard is under the eaves & faces almost west, so does get hot in summer. No A/C yet, just a powered fan to vent the space, but it's been close sometimes. Since the heat comes from Sun falling on the roof I've also considered putting PV panels on that part of the roof, to 'intercept' the sun's rays and do something useful with them instead. Not sure how to handle the winter snow, though!

    I'd be interested to see a followup with details on your (or anyone else's!) PV power arrangements.

  22. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    My solution

    I only run an email and media server at home but my solution was to switch to a Fit-PC2. It only has an Intel Atom and 1GB of memory (might have been better to go for more RAM in hindsight) it manages to run Win7+VPop3+TVersity+Squeezebox without problems(*). In use it's a bit sluggish if you try and multi-task and MMC under Win7 is painful but by and large it trogs along without intervention by me. Typically it consumes less than 10w with another 15w for my ADSL router.

    So - not likely suitable for what the author needs but anyone else running a simple home server might want to look into it. It's also small and light enough to attach to the back of your TV.

    (*)Although on the fly video transcoding is not practical :)

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Great Job!!!

    You are running full blown servers out of something smaller than a shoe box, and consuming less energy than... pretty much anything, as far as I could understand.

    Now you have PLENTY of room to UPGRADE if you wish to run it out of a single notebook-size case. Embedded PSU, keyboard, screen... a notebook even looks roomy and overkill now.

    Please proceed with this no-nonsense at flank speed.

  24. Joe Montana

    Sheevaplug too

    I also consolidated my hardware at home to a sheevaplug, i used to run an old sun ultra-2 and a generic x86 box 24/7.

    Now i have a sheevaplug running apache, asterisk, dnscache, cups, cacti, syslog (collects logs from the router) and openvpn.

    BTW, to the guy who mentioned that doing an AES256 backup would cripple a sheeva, these processors have a hardware SSL engine integrated and should have no trouble with AES256 when properly configured.

    That said, the marvell kernel is quite old but has all the drivers and performs well, the mainline kernel has a rather poor driver for the crypto engine... It would be interesting to see someone perform benchmarks between the stock kernel and the mainline kernels because the marvell kernel seems to have various additional options for offloading to the ethernet controller and such.

  25. Anonymous Coward


    If your main server keeps hanging and crapping all over your filesystem, I'd call that a deal-breaker, to be honest, regardless of how many watts you might save. Still good to see some extolling the virtues of non-x86/x64 architectures...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Yes, i did something similar with a NanoITX board. (It draws a massive 10W though as i use a 32GB SATA SSD and a 16Gb USB stick where everything gets mirrored on a nightly basis) and a Pogoplug is on the horizon for me. (I run a few websites, an instance of TorrentFlux, an FTP server, a Mail server, MySQL, DNS and few other things on a Debian setup. Still spends most of its time doing nothing. )

    As for not surviving the winter, One thing worth noting is that most solar cells seem to be more sensitive in the Infrared, and they dont get charged much after late autumn. (And of course Lead-acid batteries have ridiculous self-discharge rates, so you cant really store the power from the summer for long periods alas.)

    I noticed this myself when i rigged a solar panel with a motorcycle battery, to use as a netbook charger when i'm camping. Despite the fact the solar panel was out all winter, the battery was almost totally dead when easter came around.

  27. madmattttt


    may as well just turn your heating off and buy a big jacket - far easier way to save cash and a million times less dull. get a girlfriend

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      If care to read the article

      the author has a wife, and kids. trundle back to your troll-bridge.

      1. Nigel 11

        Oh, be fair

        For anyone who cares about their personal CO2 output, pullovers all round and turning the central heating down to 18C is a good way to proceed. (I'm assuming their home is insulated to the maximum practical extent). Obviously one's partner has to be on the same wavelength. Kids won't even notice, it's always grown-ups that notice chilly extremities first.

        And there's a case for spreading this know-how, just as much as the know-how for micropower servers. Trouble is, us geeks are the last people who'd be listened to. Imagine how much energy would be saved if the fashionistas made chunky knitwear de rigeur!

  28. David Given
    Thumb Up

    SheevaPlug FTW

    I use a Sheevaplug, too; it's plugged into a home-made SSD built of four 16GB USB keys (achieving about 20-30MB/s). I run Debian, which works beautifully, and use lighttpd rather than apache and postfix rather than sendmail. It's great.

    There are a few minor issues: the USB chipset is a bit dodgy, meaning that I'd get occasional I/O errors on some combinations of hardware; the uboot USB support is very poor, meaning that I had to apply the scary uboot upgrade patch to boot from SD card instead; and it is *extremely* limited on ports. I have far too much stuff hanging off the single USB port.

    I'm thinking of upgrading to a GuruPlug Server (twin 100 megabit ethernet, more USB ports, and eSATA! I could finally use a real SSD!), but there appear to be heat dissipation issues with it, so I'm leaving it be for a while until they get that sorted out.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Delayed commit on write.

    Try mounting that ext3 partition with barrier=1 .

  30. Anonymous John

    Paragraphs 2 and 4 are virtually identical.

    You could have saved another few microwatts there.

  31. zipzap


    Better still, disable write caching altogether if you are not using an UPS... But you ARE using an UPS, right? Right?

  32. Phil Endecott

    QNAP TS-119

    The QNAP TS-119 is a nice aluminium box with the same CPU as the sheeva plug, but with space for a SATA disk. Mine runs Debian and has a 64 GB SSD. It's a bit more pricey, but it feels a lot more solid and is faster than using USB flash drives (which I did before on an NSLU2).

  33. Joe Burmeister

    Sheevaplug melt

    Sheevaplugs are brilliant..........but their power units aren't.

    Here's a picture of the replacement of the power unit sent me 6 months after the original burnt out.;topic=1428.0;attach=1732;image

    I'm running a external power unit now. Many "usb 1-1: disconnect" or "I/O error" are actually because the power pack is melting. Maybe I was unlucky, but there are melty pictures of the power units all over the place.

    I'd buy another if this one was smashed by my daughter or something, but I'd be waiting for the power unit to fail.

    Until the power unit issues are solved, it's not ready to be Eben's FreedomBox. ;-)

    1. Wcool

      Same here

      You are not alone, my Sheevaplug burnt out as well and I had nothing hanging off the USB port.

      Replacement AC/DC cost me 15 pounds including shipping :(

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Did you look at JamVM as a JVM? I haven't had a proper play with this yet, but it's supposed to work on ARM and looks like a very low resource VM - and it will run Tomcat.

  35. Chris Cartledge
    Jobs Halo

    Mac mini

    For those like me who could not do all the techy stuff, a low power but expensive Intel solution is Mac mini. which uses less than 10w when idle.

    In passing I can never understand why the idea of saving electricity seems to offend some commentators so much.

    1. Chemist

      "I can never understand why the idea of saving electricity..."

      Agree entirely. In the UK 1 W..year ~~ £1

      I too shifted to a dual core atom when they became available for my file/print/misc server

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @ Lee Dowling/Eh?

    Exactly. Why not re-use a 2nd hand laptop? If a UPS is available, the laptop doesn't even need a working battery, which makes it dirt cheap on the 2nd hand market. Otherwise there are plenty of obsolescent and/or partly broken laptops around, many of the broken ones are still more than capable of doing stuff like this (eg add keyboard or monitor) rather than going to landfill (or maybe China/Africa for metal reclamation).

  37. Graham Bartlett

    @AC, "full-blown servers"

    No, he's running a veeeery slow server for something which doesn't have to handle more than a half-dozen hits a minute. This is not by any stretch of the imagination a "full-blown server".

    It's a neat bit of work, sure. But like a Scrapheap Challenge vehicle (or like Samuel Johnson's dancing dog), the wonder is that it does it at all, not that it does it well. Which it appears it doesn't (because it falls over regularly), even before you start looking at the performance figures.

    If you really want to save leccy, hand your hosting over to a hosting company. Sure it'll be running on some full-fat server, but that full-fat server will also be hosting hundreds of other websites. Even if you all changed to using Sheevas, overall the one server will almost certainly be using less power.

    1. David Given
      Thumb Up

      @Graham Bartlett, "full blown servers"

      Sheevaplugs aren't that slow. I benchmarked one with nbench as about equivalent to an AMD Athlon running at 1GHz (integer only; there is no FPU). Figures here:

      I run my personal website off one. Last year I got reddit'd, and got a traffic spike: on average about 50 hits per minute for a day (unfortunately I don't keep enough logs to know what the peak traffic was). I use lighttpd and the winstone servlet container; even using the crappy OpenJDK interpreted Java engine, it ran without a wobble.

      I wouldn't want to run PHP or apache on one, but for certain classes of problem and the right setup they really shine.

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      You forget

      that a single core Xeon with 512 MB memory was considered a full-blown server not so many years ago. I think a key lesson is that tweaking the apps allows much more efficient memory use. Programmers (embedded systems' guys excepted) have become lazy about memory use, due to its low cost. This is why we need the equivalent specs of a Cray Y-MP to run the latest incarnation of Office (check the recommended system specs).

      As Niklaus Wirth said: "Software is getting slower faster than hardware is getting faster"

    3. Jim 59


      Interesting point about the full fat server. The sheeva takes about 4 watts, and can host several websites - less than 1W per site. If the full-fat server can do better than that, its far from obvious.

      Web servers don't need mongo-power. The sheevaplug can serve pages fast enough to survive a slashdotting, apparently. My own sheeva-based blog loads faster than The Register front page, according to pingdom measurements.

  38. Peter 39

    retail sheevaplug

    These are sold to end users as "TonidoPlug" and are available in U.S. from

    I'm not related to them - just a satisfied customer.

    There may well be other vendors but this is the one I found. Nice system.

    BTW the "PogoPlug" is somewhat similar but has less memory (128 instead of 512, I think). You can get it for a bit less but I prefer the additional memory.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chumby one

    I've been using a VIA 600MHz mini-ITX board as a home server for a while now powered by a modded ATX PSU. It boots from USB flash and has a 2.5" disk for bulk storage and consumes about 10W when idle.

    I decided to try something a little bit different and got a Chumby one. It's power consumption in its quiescent state is actually less than the USB hub plugged into it and it tops out at about 3W. It's a slight step down in terms of performance though: only a 450MHz CPU and 64M of RAM as opposed to the 256M I have currently. It boots from removable TransFlash though which is a definite win over a WRT.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    I will be referring every comment about a lack of IT content in any other Reg article to this one

  41. Adam Trickett

    ARM Servers

    Aren't ARM thinking that you can create a fairly cold, high density sever farm using their architecture? They would make x86 blades look ludicrously over spec'd.

    I know Marvell are doing wonders with their ARM chips, but AMD could make a killing against Intel if they could churn out a cold ARM based server platform.

  42. Dick Emery

    Now all we need...

    Is huge data storage that runs on thin air. Right now I have about 7-8TB running in a large server case consuming far too much for my liking.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    Is it me?

    "I became so worried about using a little electricity that, I continued to contribute to over-population"...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Excellent point

      The biggest contribution *anyone* can make to climate change is to avoid getting yourself, or anyone else (delete as appropriate) up the spout. Anything else is pissing in the ocean.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        I'd far rather high quality genes were perpetuated than genes from welfare "breeders"... which appears to be the direction we're currently going in when chavs and chavettes get paid to pop sprogs out while everyone else has to hold down a good paying job and wait stupidly long before popping out their one and most likely only child...

  44. Ian Stephenson


    Will it play Crysis?


    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      can we have

      an icon for that?

  45. Doug Glass

    Ointment and Flies

    Too bad it'll take him 117 years, at current recovery rates and costs, to reach that point where the cost benefit of his investments are positive. It'll take that long for him to reach that break-even point considering ALL his costs. Too bad most people have actual jobs that don't allow for such experimentation. Or have no job at all in some cases. Nice try though; IT angle or no.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Pushing the limit of what is possible

      is always the primary aim of experimentation. Not monetary gain. The initial step from servers to laptop does seem to pay off quickly, the further electricity savings maybe not.

      Having said that, a bookkeepers mentality has rarely been the key driving force in discovery.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward



  47. Hayden Clark Silver badge

    The solution is broken..

    ... as the guy admits.

    It needs repeated fettling to deal with the flakey drivers that cause it to lose data on the USB-attached storage. So it's fine - as long as you don't mind losing data, and it won't stay up very long.

    In what sense is that "stable"?

  48. andy gibson

    Is the author's dad

    called Adam by any chance?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Good guess.

      The name's a bit of a giveaway isn't it?

  49. Chris Pollard

    Just plugging it into the wall would save most of the £1000 electricity bill

    Plug the server into the wall for almost the same saving I'm guessing. No solar power needed.

  50. mike panero

    I love stuff like this

    Ah Linux the grown mans meccano

  51. Martin

    I considered a Sheevaplug...

    ...but in the end, I went for a Dockstar. It's a Western Digital jobby and it cost me £35 new. It runs my Squeezebox server beautifully - cheaper than the old Dell that I used to use!

    This is the guy who did the real work - I just followed his instructions.

  52. Stevie


    Impressive. Crisps for you.

  53. E 2

    The man is a genius.

    "One unfortunate detail is that the Sheeva came with Ubuntu 9..."

    Hear! Hear!

  54. ArmanX
    Thumb Up

    I've always liked software-related low-power projects...

    Good job on the server; I've recently upgraded my home server and my media center to Atom boxes, from standard desktops. Same specs, cheaper hardware, and a whole lot smaller current drain!

    Now, I'm assuming this is connected via Ethernet... I've always wondered if it would be possible to set up a (very minimal) web server on nothing but a chip and a wire... I know the web server side is possible (someone built a webserver on a PIC processor, if you can do that you can put one anywhere), but what would be really cool is if you could run it purely off leech current - just leech it out of the Ethernet directly. Not to be confused with power-over-ethernet, obviously. Hmm... what's the max leakage current allowed on Ethernet?

  55. NogginTheNog

    My turn!

    I used to run my home server on a Via C7. Unlike all you hackheads I run Win2008 and Exchange 2007 forced an upgrade to a Athlon 64 laptop chip, *overclocked* to 2.1GHz (though it spends idle time at just over 1Ghz of course).

    The mobo is a standard MSI PC board, 4GB RAM, 2 x 250GB 2.5" drives in a RAID1, all unecessary gubbins switched off. Appswise it runs as an internal DC, DNS, DHCP, Exchange with Outlook Web Access, uTorrent, fileshares, and a Tor relay 'cos I'm a sharing soul. It also runs a web proxy which uses some of the RAM for it's cache.

    The CPU has a fuck-off big cooler designed for a gaming box so it runs passive. SpeedFan reports the CPU temp as around 20' in the summer, around 16' in the winter!

    Overall power consumption is in the low 40s, up to the 50s when pushed. Slightly worse than the old Via, but it does a lot more, a lot better.

  56. HooHah!

    Fit-PC 1

    I've been running two Fit-PC 1s for network services on my SOHO network for several years. The only reason for two is that one is the firewall, the other provides everything else (including amanda backup to a 1 TB Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex), and (being paranoid) I wanted those functions separate.

    The Fit-PC 1 is clearly underpowered compared to more recent small machines, and I would not recommend them to the author of the article for his application (if you can still get them). But they are solid reliable machines, well worth the price. They consume ~5 watts max each (my measurement).

    I would suggest the Fit-PC 2, though.

    The Fit-PC 2 should run from automotive 12 volt power. Folks using PV can bypass the inverter and wall wart to power them. That saves you those inefficiencies.

  57. Anonymous Coward


    It sounds like you had a ridiculously over the top setup to begin with if you could feasibly downsize to a laptop then a Sheeva Plug.

    Interesting enough read for the home user though but then again most home users don't have a server farm in their spare bedroom...

  58. paulc

    What happened when the sun went down?

    You were trickle charging big leisure batteries during the day I hope...

    This article has implications for those of us who want to go off grid in mobile homes, caravans, tents and boats...

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "How I built a zero energy cost, zero carbon home server" - you didn't, on both counts.

  60. Pahhh

    WD MyBook World

    I dont know the Western Digital MyBook World hasnt been mentioned.

    Its a Linux based small board with a harddisk. Its preconfigured to be a file server but can be tweaked to serve web pages. Some people have even put a media server on it.

    Considering 1/2 the solutions mentioned so far involve using a harddisk for mass storage, you might as well use that device. I think I picked mine up for around £110.

    Thats a Linux machine, with 1TB of harddisk with network connectivity.

    Ok, its not the fast machine on the planet and the RAM is low - 32MB - but for most things you dont need much.

    A thought anyhow. Here is some info to what people used them for:

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