Server FaultLow energy, low cost 24/7 hardware linux box?
[+43] [19] Luis Soeiro
[2008-10-01 17:54:57]
[ linux hardware firewall voip ]


What kind of hardware do you know of that can provide:

  1. Very low power consumption (< 5W);
  2. Silent operation;
  3. Low cost;
  4. Compatibility with a major linux distribution, such as debian;
  5. Internal Solid state disk for booting the OS and basic applications;
  6. External or internal ports to plugin high capacity HDs (Sata ou USB), for downloads and file serving;
  7. Two Ethernet ports (for routing and firewalling);
  8. Optionally a Wifi-port

My guess is that some kind of ARM-based machine would work. I've even given some thoughts on using an old notebook or WindowsCE machine.

Ideally, I want to leave it always on. I want to ssh to it to manage it and maybe run a VNC server. Of course you can't have it all. If it is too slow to send a x264 signal to DVI out, it is ok. But I would like to run some VOIP sw on it.

So, do you know of anything that can be used to that purpose? (please give some links, if possible)

(2) This is really not a relevant question, as I don't see what it has to do with programming. - Geoffrey Chetwood
(3) Running a low power machine at home to host things is VERY relevant... I am quite interested in good responses to this question - Mike Stone
(2) @Mike Stone: Please explain how this relates to programming. - Geoffrey Chetwood
(2) Well, I often want to self host a simple web app I create, in my own home with my own hardware. I actually had a box running 24/7 but the power usage jumped my electricity bill too high, so I would most definitely want to hear the answer to this question - Mike Stone
(2) These questions don't have to be about programming. Just of interest to programmers. Things like the chair you program in and the source code control you use aren't programming questions, but they are fine here. - Thomas Owens
(1) So, it may not be a question directly related to an actual act of programming, but it is most definitely relevant to programmers, and I absolutely LOVE seeing these kinds of questions here, and I would be very upset to see them disappear - Mike Stone
(1) I agree with Mike and Thomas. These types of tool questions are important. - Marc Reside
Just don't let Aku see this thread :-) (I'd reopen it anyways, but still, that guy is WAY too aggressive in closing) - Mike Stone
(1) I have many programming things I'd like to try with this small box: home automation software (from lights to the the door bell), news crawler, bazaar, tomcat and apache, image processing for motion detection (web and security cams, etc). So many things related to programming... - Luis Soeiro
In my opinion, this would be much more appropriate on Server Fault. - Matthew Flaschen
Server fault is for people who manages multiple Computers apparently not a single server... More like, when it's live. - Omar Kooheji
[+6] [2008-10-01 17:59:46] jsl4980

Check out Plat'Home [1] for preloaded Linux micro servers. They specialize in tiny ultra low power servers. Their open micro server [2] is compatible with Debian, has gigabit ethernet ports, power over ethernet, and 2 usb ports. alt text


[+5] [2008-10-01 17:58:03] warren

I'd look at the various systems running on Via's C3 architecture: they're pretty fast, will run from an SSD, and draw only a few watts.

Alternatively, you might look at the Soekris [1] boxes. One of the guys in my local LUG uses the Soekris boards to make pretty fast routers running m0n0wall.

Also, see the DSL store [2].


[+5] [2008-10-01 18:14:55] lindelof

You might want to check out the boxes made by Soekris. [1] They're small and fulfill all your requirements except WiFi. I have written a blog post [2] documenting how I installed Debian on one of them.

enter image description here


[+4] [2008-10-01 18:05:35] Barry Brown

Some of the low-cost routers supported by OpenWRT or DD-WRT have the features you're looking for, including USB2.0 ports for expansion. They don't have much memory, though, so running any kind of GUI on them is out of the question.

[+4] [2009-05-31 08:00:14] Barry Brown


Marvell introduced their SheevaPlug [1] product earlier this year. It's a $99 "wall-wart" with a 1.2 GHz ARM-like CPU, 512 MB RAM, 512 MB Flash, a USB port, and Ethernet. Consumes 5-10 watts. More info at [2].


The Guru Plug Server Plus [3], also by Marvell, contains two gigabit ethernet ports, USB, and eSATA interfaces, 801.11b/g, Bluetooth, and an SD card slot. It has 512MB RAM and 512MB Flash. Cost is only $129.


I've read that the GuruPlug has serious overheating problems, especially when handling much traffic over its NICs. - ptman
[+3] [2008-10-01 18:05:45] ypnos

Recently, the fitPC slim was introduced to market:

Gadgettastic [1]

Pros for your requirements:

  • preloaded with two major Linux distributions
  • 802.11b/g included (Master mode is possible)
  • powerfull CPU (AMD Geode x86, 500 Mhz, 128kb L1 & 128kb L2)
  • IDE 2.5" optionally included, can also be used for CF-Card w/ IDE adapter
  • 256 to 512 MB RAM included
  • USB 2.0 ports
  • Power consumption in your range, obviously silent operation


  • only one ethernet port
  • price range $245 to $295 (not bad, but I heard about cheaper devices)

Possible solution:

The fitPC 1.0, predecessor and still available, comes with 2 ethernet ports. Other than that, it is a little bit bigger in size and some of the specs are not as good. Basically, you trade the second ethernet port against WLAN, RAM, size and one USB port.

You should also have a look at [2]. They have articles about several similiar boxes, mostly based on Via Eden processors.


Since I'm running a fitPC 1.0 at home happily 24/7 with gentoo on it, I can testify that 256 RAM is a limitation unless you don't mind running headless. And the third USB port is not lost, just hidden (the pins are on the board waiting for a header). The size difference is actually height difference - ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ
[+3] [2008-10-01 18:19:45] Sam Stokes

The Linksys NSLU2 [1] might be an option, although it only has one NIC. It's sold as a NAS device (plug in up to two USB hard drives and it shares them), but it's well documented [2] how to install various Linux distros (including vanilla Debian) onto one of the USB hard drives and use it as a general purpose box.

It's low on RAM - 16 or 32MB - and the CPU is not very powerful, so it probably isn't suitable for heavyweight server software. Lightweight web serving, firewall and routing should be just fine, though. And I'd be surprised if you could find a cheaper and lower power solution - it's about £60 (probably less on Ebay) plus the cost of a USB hard drive, and it's fanless (though the hard drive won't be!) therefore silent and low power.


[+2] [2008-10-01 18:05:12] mwilliams

You could check out the Space Cube [1]. It supports just about every one of your requirements except for the dual NIC, though you could use a USB NIC if you really need two. Priced at $325, though I don't know if it's immediately available.

Space cube size comparison


(1) The Space Cube is the typical device for every geek to immediately fall in love with. However, for its price tag (despite the availability problems), it looks quite underpowered in comparison to other offers. - ypnos
(1) that is an AWESOME machine just to look at it! I almost want to run out and buy one now.... - Mike Stone
I second the awesomeness. Oh my god. - Till
@ypnos The bang -4- buck issue with these small devices is epidemic, IMHO. The price of mini-itx rigs is crazy when you look at it, but all of the other small rigs are silly priced also IMHO. - Will Hartung
(1) Hmmm, the article indicates that the machine will probably be priced closer to 1500 GBP when it goes to consumer market. Not so cost effective ... - Marc Reside
[+2] [2012-01-25 10:25:51] anyone

check out the Globalscale DreamPlug:

and D2 Plug:

they seem to be nice devices. both consuming ~5W come with 800+ MHz

unfortunately they are only sold in USA and UK :-(

[+1] [2008-10-01 18:15:30] DGentry

The PCEngines ALIX [1] boards use AMD Geode processors, which are low power x86 processors. Soekris [2] boards also use the Geode.


[+1] [2008-10-02 06:18:58] Ted Percival

Linutop 1 [1].


[+1] [2008-11-06 16:31:52] Seiti

Before I bought my Qnap NAS Server [1], I was really interested in the Kurobox [2].

Took the info below from the website:

the KuroBox/HG, sports a

  • 266Mhz PowerPC processor;
  • 128MB of RAM;
  • 2 USB;
  • 2.0 Ports;
  • a 10/100/1000Mbit network interface.

Consuming 17 watts, being very silent at 22dB.

The KuroBox comes without a hard drive, but can hold any standard IDE (parallel ATA, not SATA) 3.5" drive. The KuroBox runs on a Linux kernel, and has multiple options for actual distribution. Actually, any Linux distribution that supports PPC will work, but so far the community has ported over Gentoo, Debian, Fedora and Sylver's Distro (which is the current incarnation of the Kuro's original embedded distribution).


I own a kurobox that I use as a 1 Tera-bytes NAS. It's running Debian Lenny and works very well. It's a very cool device, powerful but also very energy efficient ! - paulgreg
[+1] [2009-06-01 08:21:20] Tim Post

A Beagle Board [1] would work for you, however like others my suggestion would entail using USB peripherals. It comes with Linux out of the box and is very developer friendly.

A friend of mine is using several of them for his robotics hobby projects and can't stop raving about how easy they are to work with. I was considering one when contemplating getting back into RC planes and helicopters.

If you get any run of the mill USB hub and disassemble it, you could fit everything into a neatly packed small box.

I've used some 3.5" biscuit SBC's with built in dual nics, etc .. which promised < 5W consumption, however I found it got closer to 7 as I started actually using the daughterboards .

Please update this and let us know what you got and how it went for you :)


[+1] [2009-11-27 18:08:08] Scott Szretter

I am collecting related information HERE [1]


Nice work! I'll take a deeper look at it. - Luis Soeiro
Nice site! Lots of links. Needs updating? - Barry Brown
[+1] [2012-01-25 10:40:08] Kenny Rasschaert

The CuBox [1] by SolidRun is a nifty little thing, available for 135 USD / 99 EUR + S&H.

enter image description here

The first batch sold out very quickly, but they are taking orders for the next batch.

Quoting from their website:

Named by combining the words 'Cube' and 'Box' and while being less than 2"3 in size, the platform can stream and decode 1080p content, with desktop class interfaces, all in less than 3 Watt (*) and less than 1 Watt in standby.

The platform is based on Marvell Armada 510 SoC and includes the following key features

  • Linux based distributions like Ubuntu, Debian and others
  • Android
  • 800 MHz dual issue ARM PJ4 processor, VFPv3, wmmx SIMD and 512KB L2 cache.
  • 1080p Video Decode Engine
  • OpenGL|ES 2.0 graphic engine
  • HDMI 1080p Output (with CEC function)
  • 1GByte DDR3 at 800MHz
  • Gigabit Ethernet, SPDIF (optical audio), eSata 3Gbps, 2xUSB 2.0, micro-SD, micro-USB (console)
  • Standard Infra-red receiver for 38KHz based IR controllers.
  • No JTAG required. Unbrickable for Developers (**)

(*) Test was done while streaming 1080p / 10Mbps h.264 advanced profile content over 100Mbps. Worst case power consumption might be higher.

(**) Bricking a product (software wise) is a common mistake developers do. The product incorporates features that can recover the system, without the use of JTAG, even if the boot loader was completely erased.


[0] [2008-10-01 18:07:58] tsg

A very low-energy and low-cost solution would be the Asus wl-500 gP [1]. It doesn't have SSD, but it does have USB ports so you can attach external harddisks.

It's normally used with OpenWRT, but you can also run debian on it [2], with some work.


[0] [2008-10-01 18:18:25] ost is pretty good

I have an ALIX running as my main router (has 3 ETH ports) with ALIX is offered with 1/2/3 ETH Ports, pc card slot for wifi, usb, vga, serial (the very basic version has at least 2 eth and serial I think)

The ALIX Board runs AMD Geode CPUS (which are x86 compatible), the whole thing is silent, has a CF slot for solid state storage and they are pretty cheap. I don't know about power consumption though...

[0] [2008-11-12 21:10:33] deadshift

Soekris net5501 I have with a 4G CF card. Uses 6w at 500MHz. I turned the CPU down in BIOS to 400 MHz and it's down to 5.3 watts. No video card. 4 10/100 ethernet, plenty for firewalling. I stuck a USB wireless dongle in from Linksys, 1 additional watt.

The fitpc slim looks more like what you're talking about, and ethernet USB dongles are pretty cheap. You'll need the ata adapter for a CF card.

[0] [2010-06-20 01:46:46] Amardeep

Technologic Systems, Inc. makes a board called a TS-7800 that appears to fit your list of requirements 100%.