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.