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Are You Recyling Old Hardware for Your DIY? The Environment Isn’t Thanking You

Tags: , , , , Date/Time: February 17, 2022 @ 12:35 am, by raindog308

Energy NeedsDo you have a home file server?  Maybe because you want to serve media files to your TV/Roku/etc., share info among family members, backup your devices, etc.  If so, what do you use?

LowEnders are usually DIY types and I bet many of our readers have home file servers built out of old (or maybe brand new) parts, running some flavor of Linux/BSD/FreeNAS/etc.  That was my approach for a long time though lately I’ve switched over to Synology NAS appliances, Raspberry Pi, and mobile chip-based systems.

Why?  Because it’s cheaper.

I mean power as in electricity.  My previous main file server was an old desktop i5-4690-based system that I put into a CoolerMaster case with 8 hard drives (2 for root & mirror, and 3 sets of mirrored 8TB drives).  Ignoring the drives’ electricity use (which I assume will be constant regardless of which device is powering them), the big x86 system lists at 84W for the CPU alone, not including all the fans needed to cool the beast.  The Synology DS920+ (4-bay) has a J4125 Celeron which takes 10W.

Yes it’s an unfair comparison because I can do a lot more on the  i5 than on the Synology, but the point is that as just a file server, recycling old gear can be expensive.  I have many times people saying “just take an old i3 and use it for a firewall” and I cringe because the cost-per-watt is so high compared to a dedicated appliance.

Note that there are other NAS devices that take less power even than the comparatively beefy (for this space) Celeron.  Some of  Synology’s budget line is based on Realtek chips.

Personally I’ve found that for some tasks, single-board systems like the Raspberry Pi can perform well.  I’ve had a Model 3 running 24×7 for 3 years (with occasional freezes and needs for reboots – it’s not perfect but it’s 3 nines).  Every hour it does some intense I/O processing for 10-15 minutes to generate the next hours’ worth of digital photos to display, and it’s done that more than 25,000 times.  (Says something about the microSD card manufacturer as well!  I need to check the brand.)

I wouldn’t use a Raspberry Pi as a firewall because it probably can’t keep up with traffic, but for monitoring tasks, light web apps, etc. it is a capable and virtually power-free device at under 2W idling.  2 watts!

The average per-hour rate in the US is 14.12 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour).  So over the course of a year, the 84W i5 is going to cost about $104/year to operate.  The Synology is more like $12.50, and the difference is actually a bit more when you figure in the i5’s greater cooling needs, etc.  At $90/year, the Synology pays for itself in 18 months on hardware costs alone!

Is this truly better for the planet?  It’s a complicated answer because the Synology has to be manufactured, the Intel system has to be disposed of, etc.  But some of that is unavoidable because systems don’t last for ever and ultimately must be disposed of.  I have to think that replacing gear with systems that use less power is a net benefit to the environment.

There’s a rich ecosystem of NAS, firewall, etc. appliances that may suite your needs – and the planet’s – better than that old Pentium.





  1. Hans Stoffel:

    The power consumption of a CPU correlates very well with the amount of work the CPU is doing – and in a file server your CPU is usually (close to) idle what means it consumes almost nothing.

    A well configured desktop system (without graphic adapter) consumes altogether about 10 to 20 Watt while idle, not more (measured with one disk of course, not 8).

    To minimize the power consumption it usually makes most sense to look at the power saving functions of the existing system, in your case besides the system bios also the disks; their power saving functions are often overlooked and with altogether 8 disks they bear a huge potential that pays off in every system they are build into.

    And even if the Raspi consumes only 2 Watt (depending on the power supply its often rather 4 Watt due to conversion loss!) I would consider retiring it: the additional power consumed by the desktop if you let it do all the jobs the Raspi is doing now will be even less.

    Of course new hardware can reduce the power consumption but to calculate it you need the real data, measured by an energy meter; just comparing the TDP of the CPU is highly misleading and the real effect is far away from your calculation.

    February 17, 2022 @ 3:27 am | Reply

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