Sometimes I should give in to my impulses

For at least five years now I’ve been telling myself that, as nifty as it would be to play with the hardware, I really shouldn’t spend money on a small-form-factor PC.

This was not an easy temptation to resist, because I found little systems like the Intel NUC fascinating. I’d look over the specs for things like that in on-line stores and drool. Replacing a big noisy PC seemed so attractive…but I always drew back my hand, because that hardware came with a premium pricetag and I already have working kit.

Then, tonight, I’m over at my friend Phil Salkie’s place. Phil is a hardware and embedded-programming guy par excellence; I know he builds small-form-factor systems for industrial applications. And tonight he’s got a new toy to show off, a Taiwanese mini-ITX box called a Jetway.

He says “$79 on Amazon”, and I say “I’ve thought about replacing my mailserver with something like that, but could never cost-justify it.” Phil looks at me and says “You should. These things lower your electric bills – it’ll pay itself off inside of a year.”

Oh. My. Goddess. Why didn’t I think of that?

Because of course he’s right. A fanless low-power design doesn’t constantly dissipate 150 watts or more. Especially not if you drop an SSD in it so it’s not spinning rust constantly. There’s going to be a break-even point past which your drop in power consumption pays off the up-front cost.

Now to be fair to my own previous hesitation, it might be that the payback period was too long to be more than a theoretical justification until quite recently. But SSDs have been dropping in price pretty dramatically of late and when the base cost of the box is $79 you don’t have to collect a lot of savings per month to keep the payoff time below 12 of them.

I’m expecting the new hardware (which I have mentally dubbed “the microBeast”) to arrive in two days. I ended up spending a bit more than that $79 to get a 250GB SSD; with the DDR3 RAM the whole thing came to $217. This is pretty close to what I’d pay for yet another generic tower PC at my local white-box emporium, maybe a bit less – itself a sign that the crossover point on these things has indeed arrived.

I could have gone significantly cheaper with a conventional laptop drive, but I decided to spend a bit more up front to pull the power dissipation and longer-term savings as low as possible. Besides, I like quiet systems; the “no bearing noise” feature seemed attractive.

I’ll take notes on the microBeast installation and probably post a report here when I have it done.

72 thoughts on “Sometimes I should give in to my impulses

  1. I went fanless mini-ITX almost ten years ago to replace my old mail server, almost exclusively for power savings reasons. Only pulled ~20 watts on average, and so deliciously silent. Caseless, just sat on little rubber feet on my desk. Sadly, it recently died. Now I’m looking at going even smaller and using some form of RPi. Doesn’t take much to run sendmail and a custom web server written in ~35 lines of Go.

    Curious why the power savings metric never entered your considerations, though. Maybe there just wasn’t enough of an efficiency gain in micros through the 90s and early 00s, and the thinking stuck? I can only imagine how happy the utilities budget people were during the big shift to mini’s.

    I guess micros just existed in a different use space early on for too long, and then had efficiency decisions favor CPU over wattage for too long after that. Hmm. I’ve not seen a retrospective on systems power efficiency over the years; might make for interesting reading.

  2. Why not use a raspberry pi for this? It has enough power and uses even less energy. It’s cheaper as well!

  3. So… did you use power meter or used nominal power to calculate the time power saving would overcome the cost of microBeast?

    • >So… did you use power meter or used nominal power to calculate the time power saving would overcome the cost of microBeast?

      Not yet. I’m going by Phil’s very experienced judgment here – I don’t own the right sort of power meter. I do have a bit set to find one of our electric bills and see if it includes enough info to support a back-of-the-envelope calculation.

  4. How much mail do you get and send every day? I have a Raspberry Pi and a small drive that seems to work well in a form factor about the size of a Magic game deck. Well under $100

    For a new builds Western Digital has a 1 Tb drive that plugs into the Pi (Google “Pi Drive”) It comes with a “shark fin” case that holds the PI and is about $80. New Pi 3 with built in wireless and a power wart has the entire system sitting on a shelf. (I use VNC to get into my collection of Pi’s, after initial set up they run headless). You should be able to put it together for under $180.

    Of course you’ll need to scout around for a Pi person to help set it up. ;-)

    • >Of course you’ll need to scout around for a Pi person to help set it up. ;-)

      One of the reasons I went with the Jetway is that Phil has already deployed these; I can get help from him if I get stuck.

  5. The thing with the power savings paying for the new machine is that it rarely works out that way. When the only reason to “replace” an old machine is to save power, then the old machine is by definition still good enough to use, and hence you will keep using it. Who throws out perfectly working and capable computers? Not any nerd I know. Instead of saving power, you will just add the power consumption of the new one to the bill. That said, these little passively cooled PCs really are fascinating. Glad you found a reason to rationalize buying one.

  6. @ESR

    I didn’t understand the response about the “no hardware clock” part. Can you say some more?

    As far as Raspberry Pi support, your local WC school district has tons of classes using the Pi. There are also Maker groups in Wilmington (Barrel of Makers) and in Philadelphia that do Pi stuff.

    • >I didn’t understand the response about the “no hardware clock” part. Can you say some more?

      The RPi doesn’t have a clock crystal on board, and no backup battery to keep a timer running.

  7. Using intel-architecture for personal/family mailserver is useless waste of electricity.
    I’m now running my mailserver on Banana Pi, which consumes less than 1A from 5V smartphone power supply.

  8. @ESR OK, thanks. For what it’s worth you can get RTC daughter boards (they call them hats) for ~$8-$12 that work if a RTC clock is a deal breaker. For the servers in my house that need internet access (like your usecase of an email server) I just rely on NTP. Which when the internet is down is a problem.

    I’m going to hazard that you have a NTP server in your house, so maybe that’s not a big deal.

    While I know that you don’t want for things to work on or fiddle with; the new sets of boards like the Raspberry and other fruit (Orange and Banana, etc. from other vendors) are interesting to play with. Now that they are multi-core and have a GB or more of RAM, they cross the line between being little toys to the realm of nice Linux based systems you can do lots of “server” like applications on.

    • >The New NTP Guy is worried about not having a clock chip?

      :-)

      Yes, in part because I might run unstable or crashy versions that we haven’t seen fit to let escape into the real world.

      But that was an inevitable (and funny) question.

  9. Just to plug the more-open alternative, the Beaglebone Black is approximately a RasPi 2, but more open – actual schematics, etc, are available. Oh, but it has 4GB onboard flash along with the microSD.

    • >the Beaglebone Black

      I liked the specs on the Beaglebone Black. But I don’t have a nearby friend who has already troubleshot his way through bringing one up.

  10. Yes, I’d long wanted to replace grelber with something smaller, but wanted something with an RTC. The C2 doesn’t have one of those (and the code is too young).

    And there is a slight drawback to your plan, in that your basement could use a space heater in the winters. Cat-heat alone is not quite enough. Can I talk you into a mainframe instead?

  11. As for useful power measurement, this is a good story: http://www.gizmodo.com.au/2012/03/home-energy-monitoring-app-busts-aussie-teens-secret-party/

    I have tended to use these for power measurement: http://www.amazon.com/P3-P4400-Electricity-Usage-Monitor/dp/B00009MDBU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459694904&sr=8-1&keywords=power+measurement

    They are not particularly accurate at low draw, but usually when I look at what modern gear can draw and compare it to what it would have used only a few years ago, it is good for giggle value.

  12. > Who throws out perfectly working and capable computers?

    I do, when there’s good reason to. This is good reason.

    Rather than throw it out, see if anyone you know would benefit from it. I find that nontechnical family members can still get good use out of hardware long after I consider it obsolete. They get an endless stream of free computer upgrades and I get to not have extra systems lying around trying to mind-control me into inventing a use for them.

  13. “Can I talk you into a mainframe instead?”

    I’ve even got one or two I can donate to the cause!

    “Rather than throw it out, see if anyone you know would benefit from it. I find that nontechnical family members can still get good use out of hardware long after I consider it obsolete.”

    IIRC, grelber’s getting quite long in the tooth…

    Hrm. You know, I’ve been using non-x86-architecure machines for my net-facing servers for years. Hadn’t thought of a Pi-class machine for that job, but one of those with a few hundred gigabytes of SSD would serve for what I use that box for, and be a lot less expensive to replace than the Itanium I’m currently using. Is there a server-focused distribution for one? Or, better yet, Gentoo?

    • >IIRC, grelber’s getting quite long in the tooth…

      It is. While I’m not having overt problems with it yet, grelber has been in service long enough that the bad end of the bathtub curve could be reasonably expected within, oh, two years. This was a factor in my decision.

  14. Yes, my Itanium runs Gentoo now. I greatly prefer it for a net-facing server because you have complete control over what gets installed, and if it’s not installed, it can’t be cracked.

  15. Funny this thread should appear now. Just yesterday I got a call from a friend who’s looking for some servers to build a lab. I’m giving him two big servers and hoping he’ll take the rack they’re mounted in too. I ran big kit at home for decades, but for the last two years everything has been sitting idle except for a Raspberry Pi with a couple of drives attached to it. It consumes so much less power, and at this point I’d rather have the floor space back.

    (Of course, I have access to a data center, so this might not work for everyone.)

  16. > (Of course, I have access to a data center, so this might not work for everyone.)

    We all have access to a data center, if we want – that’s what “The Cloud” is all about.

    There’s always a tradeoff between ease of access (both physical and network), data security and privacy, level of control, cost (to buy/rent, ongoing maintenance/support, power, ….), etc., etc.

    I suspect that for (mostly) privacy and ease-of-software-support reasons, Eric wants his mail server where he can touch it.

    • >I suspect that for (mostly) privacy and ease-of-software-support reasons, Eric wants his mail server where he can touch it.

      Also cost/risk control. My own mailserver is a thing that I buy once. It’s not going to go away because I forget to or can’t afford to pay a cloud subscription, at which point my data would irrecoverably go poof.

  17. I have two Raspberry Pis. One runs Linux, the other Plan 9. CPU-wise they are both more than capable of supporting serious development, if Emacs (or Acme) is your IDE and C, Lisp, or Python your programming language.

    I had been looking into the purchase of a FitPC for light serving duties, to avail myself of the better I/O bandwidth, real-time clock, and other niceties that come on a PC platform. Of course if it’s I/O bandwidth you want, nothing beats that mainframe, but I haven’t the space for such a beast.

  18. The cost estimates I’ve done on low-power equipment haven’t been justified for me on cost-savings. Most processors these days have a lot of power management in them such that something which has a TDP of ~100W , the idle power consumption is on the order of ~5W. Most residential servers are going to be idle most of the time. That’s something like 4 kWh per month, or about $6/year.

    My personal consideration has been to go to low-power processors so that I can avoid spinning fans. It’s much nicer being able to compute to the sound of the birds outside rather than fans blowing. I still have a number of moving parts to eliminate in order to get rid of all noise, and I’ve been far less stressed along each step of the way.

    • >Most processors these days have a lot of power management in them such that something which has a TDP of ~100W , the idle power consumption is on the order of ~5W.

      Are you sure you’re including the whole power budget? It’s not only the dissipation from the processor itself that’s an issue; there are motors turning fans, and platters in disk drives.

  19. Interesting. Seems to be a 5 year old CPU. Here’s a 4 year old review of the system (or a very similar one):

    http://www.silentpcreview.com/article1263-page1.html

    I built a mini-itx system for a diy firewall project, oh more than 10 years ago now. It wasn’t quite as low power as yours, and 40mm fans suck (rather than blow). I sold it, and went with a PC Engines embedded-type board instead, a WRAP (yes, 2 full generations obsolete now it was a while back). That unit worked wonderfully and I still have it, though it’s no longer in production as it were.

    I’ve been considering a new embedded-type board, but this is tempting. Looks like the price is so thanks to a markdown to clear out obsolete/discontinued hardware, but that’s fine by me.

  20. Myself, I’m wondering about something similar to this or smaller, but with multiple real ethernet ports and a wireless card. (Currently I use a ~15-20 watt netbook as a router and workstation. It’s a single-core, single-ethernet system with 1 gig of ram, so something a little larger with more ethernet would be nice.)

    (Beaglebone black vs Raspberry Pi) The beaglebone black has/had more hardware than the Pi, and the Pi foundation seems to *not* like sharing hardware design (witness the discontent when someone said they’d release a clone with the same cpu…). But Beaglebone black is PowerVR graphics, which is pretty locked down, while there’s work on a FOSS driver for the VideoCore (Pi’s GPU). Both are supposed to be nasty architectures.
    (That said, what Alexandru Voica has said seems to imply that Imagination may be trying to get some work towards FOSS drivers going, but they’re not managing to find anyone because everyone is sceptical…)

  21. >Why not use a raspberry pi for this?

    I can’t get past the “no hardware clock” part.

    Also in re various other PI and ntpsec comments

    There’s this other way to get time called GPSD. Gives you a highly reliable clock. Some guy called ESR wrote it :)

    A pi plus a USB GPS (something like http://www.amazon.com/Generic-Receiver-Gmouse-Laptop-Navigation/dp/B01174FUHU/ , haven’t checked to see if cheaper options exist) should work just fine. I tried using the pi GPS hat but failed due to my inability to solder things but the USB version solves that (the hat was also more expensive). Pi2 or Pi3 plus this would be what I’d recommend. Pizeros look like they’d cut the price down further but they don’t because you need some special USB converter gizmos that add to the cost (also only 2 USB ports with one for power means you need a USB hub too as well as the converter thingy because you have to have 1 USB net connection + 1 USB GPS )

    These things are so cheap you can always have one for your production mail server and a second one to test new dodgy versions of NTPsec on. The test one wouldn’t need anything more than a microSD.

    • >There’s this other way to get time called GPSD. Gives you a highly reliable clock. Some guy called ESR wrote it :)

      And it’s because I wrote it that I’m aware to the friction it can introduce.

      A GPS doesn’t give you time on demand when a system boots – the skyview may be bad. Thus it’s best used not as a primary clock source but as a way to drift-correct an RTC with a battery backup.

      Yes, it would be a cute trick to set up a Pi with no RTC and a GPS hat as a mailserver. It would also be a recipe for hassles I don’t need. The few more bucks for a system with an RTC seems like money well spent to me.

  22. I used to run my own web/mail/etc. server on castoff hardware at home served by a business-grade cable-modem connection…started doing that when I got my first cable-modem hookup back around 2000. Around ’06 or ’07, I did the math: server in a coat closet on a business cable-modem connection vs. a VPS somewhere else and a residential cable-modem connection. At the time, I could get a faster residential connection and a moderately powerful VPS for less than I was paying for the business connection. Since then, the math is even more lopsidedly in favor of not running a server at home: my current VPS provider is only charging me around $16-$18 (think the actual price is €15.12 or something) per quarter for (IIRC) 2 GB RAM, 50 GB disk, and more data transfer than I’ll ever use. That’s enough to handle mail (including a webmail interface and anti-spam) and multiple websites using multiple technologies: PHP, Perl, Python, and ASP.NET (via Mono). I have root access, so installing whatever software I want to run is as easy as it is on any other Gentoo box.

    Local power consumption for a VPS, of course, is zero. Even over a trans-Atlantic link, it’s also more responsive than a home-hosted server would be, due to the low upstream speeds most cable and DSL service providers offer.

    These small computers are useful for plenty of things. My TVs are driven by Raspberry Pis running OpenELEC. (One of them replaced an Acer Aspire Revo nettop in that role.) I’ve used them for process monitoring in my homebrewing. I’ve used them to manage cryptocurrency miners. Unless you absolutely must have physical control of your webserver or mailserver for whatever reason, though, I’m skeptical that tiny computers at home are the ideal solution for your server needs.

  23. > Who throws out perfectly working and capable computers? Not any nerd I know.
    > Instead of saving power, you will just add the power consumption of the new one to the bill.

    I have a Dell 690 under my desk that hasn’t been powered up more than twice in the last year.

    The Mac Se on the shelf over there, likewise.

    I’ve got 4 1U servers in the garage. Not plugged in, not powered on.

    All of them (well, except the SE) could be doing something.

    So thrown out? No. But they aren’t heating my house.

  24. > “I’ve thought about replacing my mailserver with something like that, but could never cost-justify it.”

    I long ago quit running my own mailserver(s). Now google hosts my “professional” domain (for my brother and I) and for my “personal” domain zmailcloud.com hosts it.

    60 bucks a year (for zmailcloud) gets my schiznit hosted on a Zimbra server with a really good webmail client, IMAP and Pop if I want, and all the integrated other stuff that comes with it. Hosted in someone else’s datacenter on someonelse’s redundant hardware and they have to get up in the middle of the night when it craps out.

    OTOH, I’ve had a microITX motherboard running a 1ghz Via chip running for slightly over a decade now as the home server. does DHCP and DNS for internal stuff via DNS MASQ which lets me echo ad.doubleclick.com > /dev/null, acts as a print server for the HP 5 MP that refuses to die, and a couple other little things.

    It’s going to have to be replaced soon, but I’ll probably get a mac mini and hook that to the TV (26 inch LCD panel. My main monitor is bigger than my TV).

  25. I’m going by Phil’s very experienced judgment here – I don’t own the right sort of power meter.

    I concur with Dave’s recommendation of the Kill A Watt. You can get them on sale for not much, and they’re easy, useful, and nifty.

  26. Correct me if I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that, out of climatic context, power consumption of a computer is not a good proxy for running cost. All the energy that goes into a computer eventually becomes heat, which makes a computer, from a certain perspective, a fan heater that also performs calculations. If your computer is in a room which is normally heated or cooled, then the power consumption must also be considered from the viewpoint of computer-as-heater. In a room that is heated thermostatically, a computer has no net contribution to power consumption (Excluding differences in price per joule of electricity vs. gas). In a room which is being actively cooled, its power consumption is increased, as the AC must work harder to vent the extra heat.

    Tl;dr, Power consumption means more in hot weather than cold.

  27. @Lambert: one one hand side, the computer is not a very good heater (as in heat per kWh).

    On the other hand side, you are right that heat budget might play some role, so best to compare average electricity bill of the same month (or at least the same season) before and after.

  28. > the computer is not a very good heater

    I’m doubtful of that. Where does the rest of the energy go? (Especially given that all energy naturally tends towards being heat.)

  29. > Also cost/risk control. My own mailserver is a thing that I buy once. It’s not going to go away because I forget to or can’t afford to pay a cloud subscription, at which point my data would irrecoverably go poof.

    Yes, but if you’re using a cloud service you’re also, ideally, paying for your backups and disaster recovery to be done for you in a way that benefits from economies of scale, whereas if you do it yourself… well, we’re back to what happens if you forget to or can’t afford to.

  30. I love the Pi, but it’s tragically close without being *quite* the right thing for a microserver. You get a quad-core gigahertz CPU and a gigabyte of ram for $35 (!!), running darn near stock Debian; add a power supply, case, and minimal boot media and you’re closing in on $50. Worse, there’s no SATA, really pretty much only USB for I/O.

    The Banana Pi is very nearly the right thing, but I’m not sure the software support is quite there; I hear very mixed things about that.

  31. > Worse, there’s no SATA, really pretty much only USB for I/O.

    Well, USB and SD. Whether that’s enough depends on how “micro” your micro-server is.

  32. I recently decided to replace a pair of 15-year-old servers, and I decided to go with a fanless/low-power solution.

    I have a couple of Pi 2’s running Raspbian, but I do not trust them for long-lived internet-connected systems. For systems that I want to run uninterrupted for 15 years, I want a distribution has a huge userbase, produces LTS releases, and allows seamless on-line upgrades to subsequent LTS releases. For me, that’s stock Ubuntu Server LTS on x86_64 hardware. Raspbian doesn’t yet fully support on-line distribution upgrades (and forget about LTS releases), but I’m hopeful that will change in the future.

    With that in mind, I looked for some x86-based mini/micro ITX solutions, but all of them would cost me $200-300. They didn’t impress me enough to justify the costs. After more searching, I found and pre-ordered a pair of these boards:

    http://up-shop.org/up-boards/2-up-board-2gb-16-gb-emmc-memory.html

    It has an Intel Atom x5, 2GB RAM, battery-backed RTC, and has mostly the same footprint/ports as a Raspberry Pi. $99+shipping. I only need to buy a case and power supply (another $15) to have a finished system.

  33. If you want *really* cheap sff systems for various things, look on auction sites for retired corporate thin client desktop systems.

    I have one that’s been partway turned into a serial console server (it has a PCI slot into which I’ve placed a 4 port serial card). Slightly larger than a hardcover novel, 800 MHz pentuim class CPU, 256mb ram and I bought it last decade for $30. Should be somewhat better hardware available these days.

  34. If GPSD isn’t good enough to provide accurate current time in iffy weather, then NTPD should be able to pull something decent, provided you have connectivity to NTP servers. And if you don’t, then you probably won’t be processing any mail, now will you?

    • >If GPSD isn’t good enough to provide accurate current time in iffy weather, then NTPD should be able to pull something decent, provided you have connectivity to NTP servers. And if you don’t, then you probably won’t be processing any mail, now will you?

      Please stop trying to complicate my life. I prefer paying a bit more for an RTC to having additional moving parts in my boot sequence, I really do.

  35. You can just about run stock $DISTRO, where $DISTRO has an armv7 port, on a Pi 2; of all the extant ARM systems out there the Pi enjoys the most support.

    The major problem with the Pi comes with its slow I/O and lack of RTC. The major problem with x86 is that it is inherently insecure; all recent x86 CPUs come with remote management firmware that runs at “above the OS kernel” privileges, gives an attacker complete control over system memory, etc, and is required in order for the CPU to operate.

    Jay Maynard is wise to avoid x86 for net-facing kit.

  36. You cited data survival as one of your reasons for avoiding cloud services. Make sure this doesn’t ever hold the only copy of anything critical. Particularly with only one drive. Particularly if that one drive is a SSD.

  37. >Please stop trying to complicate my life. I prefer paying a bit more for an RTC to having additional moving parts in my boot sequence, I really do.

    You aren’t going to run NTPD (or skip it and put ntpclient in both an init script and a cron job) because you trust your RTC better than NTP?

    Mr. NTPsec doesn’t want to eat his own dog food. Wow.

    • >You aren’t going to run NTPD (or skip it and put ntpclient in both an init script and a cron job) because you trust your RTC better than NTP?

      It’s not that, it’s that I want the event logs to make sense even before ntp achieves sync.

      I don’t think you understand how a system without an RTC can get strange. The case I’ve actually seen is that, lacking a time reference, the system will think it’s second 0 of the Unix epoch when it comes up. Time won’t be corrected until ntpd achieves lock.

      There are two reasons this is a bad thing. One: it confuses log analyzers, which aren’t expecting the system clock to make large jumps. It can also confuse the crap out of cron – fire jobs when you really don’t want them to run. Two: What if, for some diagnostic reason, I’m booting without an Internet connection?

      It’s not that I don’t trust my own ntpd, it’s that not having an RTC introduces potential edge cases into my system-administration problems that I want to avoid.

      It’s a little annoying being told that I ought to expend significant amounts of effort to create more fscking edge cases. I’m not building this system to demonstrate my ability to extract useful work from mimimalist hardware, I’m building it get the goddamn work done. It’s not a stunt. It’s not a toy. I want to set it up and touch it as little as possible afterwards.

      You’re also operating under a misapprehension about how NTP works. Yes, you can beat it into outright setting a clock, but that is unusual behavior that you pretty much have to manually trigger. What it wants to do – what it’s really designed to do – is condition a clock that has drifted slightly, by changing the tick rate.

      You need to learn the meaning of the phrase “too clever by half”. Perhaps one of our British regulars will explain it to you.

  38. > > I suspect that for (mostly) privacy and ease-of-software-support reasons, Eric wants his mail server where he can touch it.

    > Also cost/risk control. My own mailserver is a thing that I buy once. It’s not going to go away because I forget to or can’t afford to pay a cloud subscription, at which point my data would irrecoverably go poof.

    Speaking of privacy and risk control, install this box with whole-disk encryption. Yes, it means that you have to lay hands on it to get it to reboot (say if you have a power outage). However, it also means that if it gets subpoenaed or stolen, the $SNOOPS won’t be able to read your email. (IANAL, and you should check with one to confirm, but I don’t think you can be compelled to give out your boot password, because of 5th Amendment rights.)

    • > However, it also means that if it gets subpoenaed or stolen, the $SNOOPS won’t be able to read your email.

      I don’t keep sensitive data on grelber for exactly this reason. Mail gets pulled to snark every 5 minutes, and snark *does* have whole-disk encryption.

  39. In case anybody still cares… while looking for something else earlier today, I ran across the ODROID-C1+, yet another Raspberry Pi clone, but this one does have a RTC (if you spring the extra $3.50 for the battery and cable), gigabyte ethernet, and an eMMC connector. That’s actually quite tempting.

    The power differential between that and a low-power x86 probably isn’t worth worrying about if your concern is payback on electricity rather than running it off AA batteries, though.

  40. > (IANAL, and you should check with one to confirm, but I don’t think you can be compelled to give out your boot password, because of 5th Amendment rights.)

    #include

    This is my understanding as well, at least in the US. You can be compelled to provide your fingerprint to unlock your Touch ID-enabled iPhone, but a passcode/word/phrase or key of some kind count as “information”, which you can’t be compelled to provide absent a grant of immunity against prosecution for the fruits thereof.

    Therefore, do not use a biometric as the sole authentication factor controlling anything you want kept secret.

    > Yes, it means that you have to lay hands on it to get it to reboot (say if you have a power outage).

    If instead of whole-disk encryption, you only encrypt the filesystem(s) where your mail software is configured to store data, you could have it notify you via SMS that it had rebooted, at which point you’d SSH into it and provide the key to allow it to get back to processing mail etc. again without physical access.

    This is something I’ve been kicking around; how would I build a server that I could hide somewhere so that neither burglars nor bureaucrats would be likely to get their hands on it, and even if they did, they’d have nothing. I think a lot of people need something like this.

  41. You can buy RTC hats for the Pi you know.

    The problem is, then you have a slightly-less-shit machine that’s still not good for much more than toy server loads. The Pi is fantastic in “kid’s first PC” or hobbyist robotics/IoT applications, but the limited USB 2.x and Ethernet bandwidth means that it will crumple under any real I/O load.

    So a fanless ITX microserver is the way to go. It’s just too bad there are few, if any, good cheap non-x86 solutions in this space.

  42. The Pi is fantastic in “kid’s first PC” or hobbyist robotics/IoT applications, but the limited USB 2.x and Ethernet bandwidth means that it will crumple under any real I/O load.

    True.

    But “ESR’s personal email” is not real I/O load and never will be, will it?

  43. I’m a little sorry that I brought up the RTC thing. I have many Pi, they boot and they sit and wait for an NTP time to happen. In most cases my end of the interwebs are working and it happens and they go on line. So that use case works for me. If they can’t get to NTP then other bad things are going on that will most likely take my attention.

    Our host wants a RTC so things boot cleanly with the right time from second 1. It’s his usecase, he is willing to spend the money to get it. He’s done the Money vs Heartburn and came up RTC needed. No need to rag on him, it’s simple: He’s the customer, he has the requirements and he has the cash. He’s not a hardware guy, he loves the sound of soundless CPU cycles at his right hand and the phone number of a hardware guru to fix it in the left.

    And while I’d be happy to scarf up a Pi and a RTC and drive 30 mins to his house and set up a base system, the other thing is the primary usecase is email. People that run their own mailserver are very detailed and manage that very closely. So the Pi isn’t the best “Hey Eric, lets try email as your first interaction with the Pi” Needs some level of trust and love before it gets one of the crowns applications.

    Hardware goes into cycles. This laptop is my primary life, very, very, very little gets changed on it. It’s backed up and that’s about it. Across the way is the laptop with all the new wizzy stuff. When it works over there for a long time, it gets moved across. So I don’t change stuff out (like Eric) until it’s about to catch flames and die.

    At the Astro Lab stuff gets moved to a Pi and it works and it stays there. Could I consolidate workloads into fewer Pi? Sure. Is there any value? No. So they get labeled and stacked and they just run.

    So Eric, enjoy your new box. When you get free moments ask and I can show you some Pi stuff, but I don’t think it will push or pull you in a new direction.

    • >So Eric, enjoy your new box.

      It was supposed to get built today. The DRAM showed up on time; the Jetway and the SSD, not.

      I has a sad. :-(

    • >I’m going to guess that lots of people have mailed this article to Eric about building a Raspberry Pi as a Stratum-1 NTP Server.

      The guy that did that build is supplying helpful advice.

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