Building Tiny, Ultra Low Power PCs

In previous posts, I've talked about building your own desktop PC, and building your own home theater PC. I'm still very much in love with that little HTPC I built. Not only does it have a modern dual-core CPU, and fantastic high-definition capable integrated video -- it's an outstanding general purpose media sharing server, too. But the real punchline is that I eventually got that box down to an insanely low 44 watts at idle. That's in the ballpark for a powerful laptop, and far better than your garden variety desktop PC, which will draw somewhere between 100 to 200 watts of power.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

It’s actually 20% bigger than normal size on my screen!

What’s all the fuss. The PC/104 and PC/104+ form factors (3.55 3.775) have been around since for years in the embedded systems market.

Personally I’d rather have a 600MHz ARM based iMX-32 or XScale device running well under a Watt. Of course though it is about software support I guess. Plenty of open source code including Linux that will run on ARM though.

Hey, I am building a Pico-ITX for my car and I did go the route of inexpensive flash car but the problem is I found out that the write speeds on the cheap ones make using its impossible. (with times of 1.5mbs write… it makes you think something is broken). now the read times of these carts can still hit blazing (like 250mbs read) so starting windows is nothing, but click from folder to folder and installing apps SUCK. so don’t cheap out on the CF card. I got one of those high quality ones and it did bump the write rate to 10mbs which is far more acceptable, and the read rates max out at 300mbs ( i used a sata to cf adapter).

… I meant i.MX31

2W -

Like many others, I’ve a WRT54GL running Linux. It draws ~8 watts, is my asterisk server, my wireless router, and my network gateway.

Great post as usual!

I’ve got my eye on the MicroClient Sr., by NorhTec. 1W, fanless, 500MHz CPU, integrated MPEG2 decoding… although I am more interested in it as a headless command line only server. It looks like shipping is kind of expensive and I’m not sure if it comes with a power supply or not. But the price still seems pretty good. My only reservation is that it only has one Ethernet port.

Captcha bypass test.

Just noted that this takes 12 V DC input. I have 3 of those portable 12 V battery things that can boost your car if the battery dies. They have a 12 V output through the cigarette lighter attachment. I also have a solar charger that can charge them.

What I would like to do would be to have a computer that ran from those batteries.

  • It would avoid the 20% loss when converting from AC to DC.
  • It would avoid using AC power at all for the computer, probably the monitor would be plugged into AC.
  • I could charge one battery while running the computer from another battery, then swap them.

I’ve just built an desktop PC similar to your HTPC. I find it pretty quiet compared to my old P4, and it’s perfect for the things I use to do with my computer at home, so thank you for the idea!
Now I’ve got a much more efficient PC for 200€ more or less

I’m using a very similar board (ALIX 3C.3) as my main desktop computer. I run a browser on it locally, and for everything else I connect to a colocated server. Overall, it works great; the only downside is that it only supports a single monitor, and then just VGA.

I’ve put a Mini ITX PC in my car to play music. It’s running a modified XP with some XP embedded components patched into it to enable Enhanced Write Filter and Minlogin so boot-up times are shorter and disk writes are cached in ram. It’s booting off CompactFlash with a little app that I wrote that searches any USB keys plugged in for music and queues them up.

The project was a lot of fun and I learned a bit about electronics too as I realised there weren’t off the shelf components that I could use. It’s a great learning experience if you have the time and drive to try something out!

Hmm. I noticed in the user reviews for this $75 Intel Atom motherboard:

I got this yesterday with 2gb of ram and loaded Mac OS X Leopard and ran great.

A mini-itx system might be an interesting choice for building a frankenmac to play with, too…

Here in Switzerland, there is a company called PC Engines ( You may want to check out their ALIX boards.

I have myself the old (end-of-life) WRAP board running m0n0wall ( on it.

Check out this as well. Not really similar as you can’t fiddle with the OS or anything. But if you need a low power consumption + grandma proof PC, I’d get this:

I can’t wait till the CherryPal comes out!!! Hopefully the market niche will expand, gain a foothold, and prices will continue to drop drop drop.

What would I do?
list ;o)

  • Run an asterisk box
  • Check email and do an audio notification of interesting ones
  • Run a flat panel as a picture frame and every third pic show a
    slide of the weather forecast it gets from the web.
  • Monitor Amber Alerts (and show them on above mentioned monitor)

More to come when I think of them.

I can’t wait till the CherryPal comes out!!!

Wow, their 2 watt claim is impressive. Not so impressive is the way their website links to a direct IP address when I click through to products…

Heres another tiny PC