As mentioned awhile back, the aging server box that was being used to host this blog started to develop some stability issues and I decided to replace it with an Intel Atom based machine. After nearly a month spent waiting for some back-ordered parts to arrive the build is finally complete. So how does it compare to the system it replaced? Well first off, let’s talk specs. The Atom D510 build used the following components:
- Intel BOXD510MO Motherboard with Integrated Atom D510 CPU
- 4 GB Kingston DDR2-800 Memory
- Corsair 60GB SSD
- Aywun MW-101 Case
Here’s a shot of everything unboxed and ready to be assembled:
And here’s one of the build with everything installed and ready to be shut away inside of the case:
All told the total cost of this build was just slightly under AU$400, including GST and shipping fees. Nearly half of this was allocated to the Corsair SSD, so a comparable build may be attainable for closer to $300 if you’re willing to settle for a traditional HDD. As this system was intended to do duty as a server box, however, I felt that the performance benefit provided by the SSD was more than worth the extra cost.
Anyways, the system being replaced by the Atom build is a retail Hewlett-Packard box that was purchased way back in 2001. It has the following specs:
- 1.3 GHz Intel Pentium 4 (no HyperThreading)
- 256 MB PC-800 (400MHz) RDRAM
- 40 GB Western Digital HDD (IDE)
- Stock motherboard, case, audio, etc.
This system is all but worthless today, but back in 2001 it retailed for close to $1100 (with bundled monitor and printer). In its defense this old P4 box delivered a solid decade’s worth of performance and proved itself to be entirely capable of running a number of different servers, albeit under very light workloads. But all things must come to an end, and it’s time for this dinosaur to be replaced.
So how does the Atom processor stack up against this 10-year-old beast? Here’s a screenshot from Super PI comparing the two (the Atom is on the left, and the P4 is on the right):
Now it’s worth noting that this is not and cannot be an apples-to-apples comparison between the two CPU’s, as all the other variables (RAM capacity and speed, disk architecture, etc.) have been changed as well. But I think Super PI probably does a fairly good job of isolating the CPU, and at the 1M setting the task should be small enough that the difference in RAM capacity between the two systems doesn’t come into play.
Assuming that to be the case, the Atom D510 makes a fairly strong showing for itself. It comes in at roughly 3 times faster than the 1.3 GHz P4, and since the Atom D510 is a dual-core CPU one should expect it to be up to 6 times faster under a well-threaded (i.e. server) workload. That’s quite an improvement over the old system, although it’s worth noting that my desktop system (an Intel Core 2 Quad based machine clocked at 3.5 GHz) can breeze through the same benchmark in just under 15 seconds. So by modern standards the Atom CPU is quite slow.
But sheer performance is only part of the story. The other reason why I opted for the Atom based server is the Atom platform’s low power consumption. If I wanted the fastest server possible I could simply use my desktop for the task, and leave it running 24/7. And then I would cringe every time my utility bill was due. With the Atom my goal was to attain reasonable performance using as little power as possible, and after looking at the numbers I can only conclude that it delivers as advertised.
Using a Kill-A-Watt device I measured the power consumption of each system at the wall, and worked out that the 10-year-old P4 system draws 90 watts of power while sitting idle, and around 110 watts under full CPU load. The Atom system, on the other hand, weighs in at 17 watts while idle, and a massive 21 watts under full CPU load.
So 6 times the performance, for less than 1/5th the power consumption (and before I forget, the Atom system is virtually silent as well). With those numbers the Atom system starts to look like 100% win. I can run one box and get much better performance than the old system could deliver at a fraction of the energy consumption, or I could use the same amount of power to run a cluster of 5 Atom servers for 30 times the performance.
But in any case, that’s my Atom server build, and overall I’m quite pleased with the results. The Atom D510 provides a nice bump in speed over the (admittedly decrepit) server box that it replaced, while also using much less power. If you need a cheap, basic, quiet server box for low-volume workloads then an Atom-based solution is an option worth considering.