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Question: Which one would you be using in your operations?
Plug - high load
Plug - low load
Nettop - high load
Nettop - low load
Difficult to decide

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Author Topic: Plug vs Nettop  (Read 7082 times)
.Will
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« on: January 27, 2011, 02:31:11 PM »

Plug High Load = lots of processes, pushing to the limit, using most or all ports available.
Plug Low Load = very few processes, no heavy processing, keeping the heat to minimum, running an hour or so per day max, etc.
Nettop High Load = lots of processes, pushing to the limit, using most or all ports available + HDMI output, sound processing, multiple threads.
Nettop Low Load = very few processes, no heavy processing, keeping the heat to minimum, running an hour or so per day max, etc.

Ever since I read a post about building nettops (small form factor desktop computers) as opposed to using plugs, it became so interesting to me that I now have devoted a good portion of my attention reading about the two to find out whether it is necessary to consider one over the other. In this post, I'll try to be as objective as I can, but am already looking towards the nettops as a possible alternative, for my applications anyway.
Today, there are two major differences between the two: their size and power consumption. However, as we dive deeper into the comparison, it is also important to note other distinct features and capabilities that are unique to each one.

Plug size: 'regular' plug adapter size, about the same as your external hard drive (>= 1 TB) power adapter.
Nettop size: about the same as that external hard drive itself.
About the size: in my opinion, where the size really doesn't matter as much in bed, as it does in corporate espionage or neighbor eavesdropping (and of course we, as law-abiding citizens, don't do either).
Plug power usage: according to various manufacturers, about 3 - 7W.
Nettop power: according to various blogs and tech sites, about 60-80W.

That's all there is to the two major differences. But, if you think about it, there isn't really that sharp of a distinction in power consumption. Taking the average of the two (5W and 25W, respectively), what does an average household pay for a kWh of power? Now, I don't know about UK, Australia, or other countries, but here in US the average for 2010 in the Northeast was 18˘/kWh. That makes it 18˘ / 1000 * 5W = 0.09˘/h versus 18˘ / 1000 * 70W = 1.26˘/h. That's assuming both will be running at their full speed, having 100% CPU load, for the whole hour. Mathematically, there is an obvious difference, but from the operational perspective, it's about a penny for an hour of operation. However, staying objective, this still goes for the plug as the winner.

Now let's look at the two from the applicable stand point. What can a plug do that isn't too power-hungry? Torrents (with picky torrent clients), home-automation, etc - basically anything that's pointed out on the plug manufacturers' list of things. What more can you do on a nettop that you can also do on a plug? Same list of things plus safe 720p or a-bit-stuttery 1080p, minor games, word processing, etc - about everything a plug can do plus some serious desktop work (perhaps even some Handbrake movie converting, but that'd be pushing it, I guess), something that we all actively do on our desktops and notebooks anyway. Only in the nettop case, you can actually place it next to your monitor, safely play movies, download at the same time, and wipe the dust off with a napkin as opposed to taking out the whole desktop and blowing compressed air through its numerous holes. Also, maybe you'll spend ~$300 - #350 easy for a nettop, but you'll also cough out ~$200 - $220 for a decently packed plug (with JTAG, WiFi and all + tax + shipping), and you won't be able to do as much with a plug as you could with a nettop. While this isn't as objective as the math part in the previous paragraph, objectively speaking, nearly all nettop specs supersede if not overcome those of a plug.

So, what are your thoughts? Am I wrong on any points? Probably - I'm not as techy as a few people here, but I understand enough to get myself by. I think I'll understand even more from your input. Believe me, I still want to believe in the power of a plug.

--Thanks, Will.
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radael
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« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2011, 07:45:59 PM »

Hey Will,

I think this comes down to what each person intends to do.  The scenarios you've listed are set up as two polar opposites, and don't include other possible variation.  There is a category of persons who will use their machines lightly, but constantly (or, at least, they want it to be available constantly).

For example, my Sheeva is a replacement for an old NSLU2, and will be running my (residential) telephone system.  So, Asterisk is almost the only thing that will be running on it (along with an email agent, maybe a few other minor ancillary programs).  (For games, or whatever else, I'll use a notebook or desktop.)

That being the case, this Plug will be running 24 x 7 x 365, but not doing much except when handling calls.  Since the reason for running a home PBX is to reduce costs, lower power usage is one of the more relevant issues.  Minimum noise and no moving parts (noise and wear) are also non-trivial.

So, between the "Squeezing every bit of performance out of the machine" and the "Not going to do hardly anything with it", I'd say there's another position: "I'm only going to one (or a few) things, and I want the minimum machine that will do it effectively and reliably."  From my point of view, the latter is exactly the sort of place where a hobbyist will latch onto something like a Plug.

Good luck with your decision.

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.Will
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« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2011, 08:22:35 AM »

So, between the "Squeezing every bit of performance out of the machine" and the "Not going to do hardly anything with it", I'd say there's another position: "I'm only going to one (or a few) things, and I want the minimum machine that will do it effectively and reliably."  From my point of view, the latter is exactly the sort of place where a hobbyist will latch onto something like a Plug.

While I didn't use the exact wording, I think this is what I pointed out under the second option - "Plug Low Load = very few processes, no heavy processing, keeping the heat to minimum, running an hour or so per day max, etc." I just wanted to get a general idea of what members here are viewing as their plug applicability. I used to play a lot of different games on my desktop (which I still have and adore dearly), be that nightly geek, tinkering with different video cards, looking through various motherboards, overclocking things a bit, this and that, etc. But things have changed dramatically since I've started college - now it's mostly little applications that nevertheless need to be working constantly in order to deliver their purpose at the end - testing of different movie conversion formats (heavy CPU load, but only a few hours at most), ability to be remotely connected to via either Team Viewer or LogMeIn, light-weight torrent client, and that's pretty much it. Space - yes, it's a big issue, as I have quiet a few books laying around, room is congested as it is, hard to get around - full-time college, you get the idea. Power consumption - again, isn't that big of a deal, but sure, the less the better. WiFi isn't that necessary, since I have an external USB WiFi card, but still a plus. At this point, I mostly see my future investment to be a low-cost, low-maintenance, low-power replacement for my desktop applications. Those are mostly (in the order of their importance):
    Torrent client;
    Virtual Box running Windows;
    Movie conversion app (Handbrake);
    Perhaps a surveillance system, consisting of one camera.

Questions:
    What generates less heat - the USB-powered WiFi card, or a built-in card?
    Can a plug safely run a one-webcam (so far) surveillance system 24/7, which generates a 250kb .jpg every 1-2-3 seconds - roughly 3.5 GB/day?
    In general, if my desktop is 700W, but isn't running at full speed most of the time, it doesn't consume the whole 700W/hour, does it?
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Blüto
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« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2011, 10:17:48 AM »

There's a problem in game theory called the 'sunk cost dillemma' which explores the problem of why people won't abandon something they've put considerable personal investment in, even if they would come out far ahead to simply cut their losses and move on.

I'm on my third Plug Computer now: the first was a USB model that died of a bad PSU, the second was the notorious GuruPlug Server Plus which I returned before the warranty window expired, and the third is an eSATA model graciously provided by GST in exchange for said GuruPlug (and has been humming along very nicely until its own PSU dies, which I expect sometime before the end of 2011).

The Plug Computer has one proven use case: because it's so small, so low-powered, and so complete in its Linux capability, it makes a good NAS controller, very much better than almost any entry-to-midrange consumer NAS. (In fact, I bought my first SheevaPlug to replace a Synology DiskStation which had the same CPU, far less RAM and Flash, and no freedom to customize or replace the firmware).

I've grown very fond of having a NAS, but I'm concerned that my SheevaPlug won't live out the year, and I predict it will conk out between Halloween and Christmas, just when any disposable income I might have will be earmarked for other things. I'd be wise to make plans to replace it now, but with what?

  • I have an Everex gPC Mini that could handily take over for the SheevaPlug except that it lacks eSATA, and therefore needs an external controller of some kind to talk to my RAID Enclosure. I could buy yet another SheevaPlug or at least a replacement PSU, but that would only postpone the decision for another year, or until they stop making spare PSUs or the SheevaPlug Classic itself.

  • I could order a DreamPlug and possibly repeat the GuruPlug debacle, but that's the sunk cost dilemma talking. Even if the dreamplug works exactly as advertised, it just reinforces my commitment to subsidizing a failed platform. In any case, the plug Computer has ceased to be even a relatively cheap option this time around. At $99 or even $129 it was worth considering, but at $179 plus delivery? That puts it in direct competition with nettops that it pales in comparison to.

  • Finally, I could buy a nettop like the Zotac ZBOXSD-ID10-U or better yet the ZBOX-HD-AD01. At this point I need only a NAS controller, so one of these plus a $20 2gb SODIMM should cost the same or less as a DreamPlug, be delivered in days rather than months, and be warranted to last a year at minimum.



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.Will
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« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2011, 11:05:03 AM »

There's a problem in game theory called the 'sunk cost dillemma' which explores the problem of why people won't abandon something they've put considerable personal investment in, even if they would come out far ahead to simply cut their losses and move on.

I'm on my third Plug Computer now: the first was a USB model that died of a bad PSU, the second was the notorious GuruPlug Server Plus which I returned before the warranty window expired, and the third is an eSATA model graciously provided by GST in exchange for said GuruPlug (and has been humming along very nicely until its own PSU dies, which I expect sometime before the end of 2011)...
  • I could order a DreamPlug and possibly repeat the GuruPlug debacle, but that's the sunk cost dilemma talking. Even if the dreamplug works exactly as advertised, it just reinforces my commitment to subsidizing a failed platform. In any case, the plug Computer has ceased to be even a relatively cheap option this time around. At $99 or even $129 it was worth considering, but at $179 plus delivery? That puts it in direct competition with nettops that it pales in comparison to....
  • Finally, I could buy a nettop like the Zotac ZBOXSD-ID10-U or better yet the ZBOX-HD-AD01. At this point I need only a NAS controller, so one of these plus a $20 2gb SODIMM should cost the same or less as a DreamPlug, be delivered in days rather than months, and be warranted to last a year at minimum.

I don't want to sound too big or important, but please do update us on your experience with the eSATA model. As I understand, it's the same GPSP (server plus) model that failed on you; you didn't mention the reason.
Looking at some reviews of the two alternatives you mentioned, it appears that the ZBOX-HD-AD01 gets hot rather quickly, which I think is a big issue with any considerable application. Things we intend to run on plugs are meant to be run mostly 24/7 - something that needs constant attention and adequate heat dissipation. Also, not something you indicated, but still worth mentioning is that one user "could not run Windows Media Center at 1080p without noticeable delays and motion artifacts."
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Blüto
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« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2011, 12:11:00 PM »


The eSATA Sheevaplug is substantially identical to the original except it has an eSATA connector and a version of uBoot capable of booting from an attached drive (the GuruPlug could only be booted from NAND or USB).

When the SheevaPlug was introduced back in 2009, it occurred to everyone that the device was just an eSATA port shy of being the best NAS controller EVAR. One guy actually installed his own eSATA port from the circuit-board up, you can read about it in the Hardware forum if you're interested in how he did it.

GST started manufacturing an eSATA version of the plug, but made resale arrangements only with CTERA (who essentially took it off the market by selling it only in conjunction with its own services) and NewIT in England, who distributes it throughout Europe (and cheerfully exports it back to the USA, where savvy Americanos can pick it up in a snazzy black case if they choose to buy it from overseas).

What the eSATA port buys you is disk performance. USB performance is somewhere between severely deteriorated and crippled when you have multiple datastreams crossing the pipe (like a backup running at the same time a movie is streaming). The Sheeva's CPU has to drive that interface, so the processor works very hard to manage the connection. eSATA runs very fast, almost the same speed as an internal SATA connection, and works well even given multiple or bidirectional streams and without overloading the processor to do so.

I'm not handy enough to install my own eSATA port, but when the GuruPlug came out it had an eSATA (plus all the other stuff) for about the same cost as reimporting an eSATA Sheeva from the U.K., so I went with it. I had the perpetual reboot variation of the heat problem, and notified GST of my intention to return it right away. I  explained that all I really cared about was the eSATA port, the rest was just gravy, and if they could see their way clear to sending me one of those I'd consider it an even exchange.

They did, I did, and all was well until my original SheevaPlug lost its power supply several weeks later. My eSATA plug still runs like a champ, but I don't anticipate the power supply living out the year, and I won't be easily able to afford a replacement when I suspect it's likely to blow.


What the Plug Computer is really good at is providing the services of a Network File and Print Server:

* Secure access to your LAN while away from home via the Internet (and/or through a web browser via a firewall),
* Linking private LANs together via the Internet,
* Internet traffic caching and filtering, to improve the performance and security of your LAN,
* Running a private web or mail server,
* Operating or monitoring security cameras,
* Providing, securing and sharing data between family members (public and private directories),
* Centralized and/or RAID-backed storage of your family's computer data,
* Streaming audio and video files to devices that are equipped to play them back,
* Operating a VoIP phone system ...

Those sorts of things. Of course any computer running Linux can do the same, but the Plug computer is (supposed to be) small, cheap, and reliable enough to run unattended on a 24x7 basis.

What the Plug Computer is NOT good at is creating or processing graphics, audio and video files, because it has no graphics coprocessor or floating point unit but multimedia requires a great deal of that kind of number-crunching.

In regards to your WLAN question, a USB WiFi dongle will generate less heat, and what heat it does generate will be dissipated outside the case, but it will put a load on the CPU which will generate heat in itself. Pick your poison.

if I buy a Zotac, I'm buying it to replace my eSATA SheevaPlug. If it's fast enough to play back video (I'll be using Linux exclusively, which has far lower overhead than Windows) that's a big fat bonus, but I already have a MythTV/XBMC/HTPC (the aforementioned Everex gPC Mini), I just want a NAS controller that I don't have to replace on an annual basis.

And no, PSUs draw their wattage in proportion to their load. A 700-watt PSU should draw very little power when idle, but quite a lot when it's transcooding a DVD to H.263 for playback on an iPod. Smiley
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.Will
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« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2011, 12:42:15 PM »

What the Plug Computer is NOT good at is creating or processing graphics, audio and video files, because it has no graphics coprocessor or floating point unit but multimedia requires a great deal of that kind of number-crunching.

...

if I buy a Zotac, I'm buying it to replace my eSATA SheevaPlug. If it's fast enough to play back video (I'll be using Linux exclusively, which has far lower overhead than Windows) that's a big fat bonus, but I already have a MythTV/XBMC/HTPC (the aforementioned Everex gPC Mini), I just want a NAS controller that I don't have to replace on an annual basis.

So, in other words, it wouldn't be a good idea to convert movies on it? I don't want to turn this into a classifieds thread, but if you do decide to buy that Zotac to replace your SheevaPlug (as in "SheevaPlug goes to the back burner"), would it be possible for me to buy that SheevaPlug from you (they don't make those anymore, do they?), given a sensible price reduction, etc? Honestly, I want to try out this whole plug thing, but wouldn't want to spend a considerable amount of money on a decently packed (port-wise) Plug, only to find out months later that it isn't going to reduce my operational costs, maintenance or experience. Unless of course, by GST's very vague return policy will change to a few months as opposed to one.
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Dammuozz
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« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2011, 01:29:16 AM »

Nettop power: according to various blogs and tech sites, about 60-80W.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv300VDiS2U&feature=player_embedded

go to 11:20, he says 19-20w idle and 26w full load


dammuozz
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sprunz
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« Reply #8 on: January 29, 2011, 08:17:22 AM »

Hi,

Hello everyone, I am new to this forum.

I've been using this nettop (http://www.fit-pc.com/web/fit-pc2/fit-pc2-specifications/) for about a year, with a 500MB 2.5'' HD inside. Use it for mail server, ftp server, family photos site, and all my CD's are ripped (FLAC) on it so that I can access it from my home stereo as well as anywhere around the world.

Power consumption? Yes: 6W at low CPU load / <7W at 1080p H.264 playback / 8W at full CPU load / 0.5W at standby

As for the size, it's barely more that a plug. You can also use it as a desktop, you sitck it to the back of your screen, you don' t notice it's here.

What do you think?
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Blüto
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« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2011, 10:32:38 AM »

I'm not sure you could convert movies on the SheevaPlug at all.

1200 MHz sounds fast compared to a CPU that runs at 300, 500, 800 MHz, and it is, but ARM CPUs are far slower than a Pentium of the same clock speed for any purpose that involves floating-point arithmetic. 

For comparison, this benchmark measured the floating-point performance of the original SheevaPlug as 35 times slower than a 1.2 GHz pentum M and 86 times slower than a 2.4Ghz Core2Duo. In other words, it might take the SheevaPlug between a day and a half to four days at 100% utilization to transcode the same video that the Pentium M could do in a couple hours or the Core2Duo in real time.

ARM CPUs are frequently designed without the circuitry for floating-point arithmetic, and that's part of the reason they deliver such good performance at such low power. When they encounter a calculation that requires floating-point, they have to run a short machine language program to find the answer rather than execute a single instruction in hardware, and that takes much more time to do.

If floating-point performance is a design consideration, some ARM CPUs have onboard floating-point, some can be outfitted with floating-point coprocessors, and sometimes specialized hardware like a Graphics Processing Unit can be used to handle the heavy lifting on the CPU's behalf. 

You would be well-advised NOT to buy a Plug Computer for any sort of media transcoding because there are probably mobile phones better equipped for that kind of work than the SheevaPlug. I doubt you could run any OS other than Linux under virtualization for similar reasons, though you wouldn't need to (Linux chroot can load and run a 'guest kernel' that would let you run Slackware under Debian if you chose, so Linux virtualization under Linux seems pointless.)

I haven't decided if or when to dispose of my Plug(s). I've heard that grafting a 5V/2A AC adapter onto the plug works better than the original PSU, but if I do sell them I would prefer they went to someone who understands the PSU could fail at any time, a replacement part could take weeks or months to obtain, and might need to be replaced again ten or twelve months hence. I'll send you a PM when I know what I plan to do.
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.Will
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« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2011, 04:53:29 PM »

So, I currently have the following in my tower: Intel E8500, 4GB worth of 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800, glued onto ASUS P5N-D LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 750i. If I purchase something like BOXDQ45EK (LGA 775) motherboard, put my E8500 in there in addition to all other useful stuff like the RAM I already have, a Ubuntu distro, maybe an optical drive, all I'd have to but would be the case itself, the mobo and the power supply. Would it make more sense, in term of cost at least? I like to recycle stuff.
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dommorsp
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« Reply #11 on: January 30, 2011, 01:11:50 PM »

Would really like to have a look at this file, could you please creat a new link. thanks!
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Dammuozz
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« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2011, 04:00:33 AM »

So, I currently have the following in my tower: Intel E8500, 4GB worth of 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800, glued onto ASUS P5N-D LGA 775 NVIDIA nForce 750i. If I purchase something like BOXDQ45EK (LGA 775) motherboard, put my E8500 in there in addition to all other useful stuff like the RAM I already have, a Ubuntu distro, maybe an optical drive, all I'd have to but would be the case itself, the mobo and the power supply. Would it make more sense, in term of cost at least? I like to recycle stuff.

or you can spend even less and get a fanless and greener pc...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121442&cm_re=intel_atom_d525-_-13-121-442-_-Product

you still can use your ram, disks and power supply...but with less money a pc that wastes less energy and makes less noise!!


dammuozz
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Dammuozz
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2011, 04:07:31 AM »

oops the model I posted uses SoDIMM so you may find this model, that uses DIMM RAMs, better

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813153187&cm_re=intel_atom_d525-_-13-153-187-_-Product
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TitanFan
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« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2011, 09:40:48 PM »

Hi,

Hello everyone, I am new to this forum.

I've been using this nettop (http://www.fit-pc.com/web/fit-pc2/fit-pc2-specifications/) for about a year, with a 500MB 2.5'' HD inside. Use it for mail server, ftp server, family photos site, and all my CD's are ripped (FLAC) on it so that I can access it from my home stereo as well as anywhere around the world.

Power consumption? Yes: 6W at low CPU load / <7W at 1080p H.264 playback / 8W at full CPU load / 0.5W at standby

As for the size, it's barely more that a plug. You can also use it as a desktop, you sitck it to the back of your screen, you don' t notice it's here.

What do you think?

The fit-pc does look like a good comparison to the plug, as it is quite small and very low power like the plug. It seems to come to cost in all of these comparisons, as the fit-pc will be over $100 more expensive than the new dreamplug. Everyone is concerned that the dreamplug will be a failure like the shiva and guru plugs, but if it just manages to work as advertised, it's a good deal.
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