by Mike McNamee Published 01/12/2009
Fit for Purpose
A look at some of the tiny solutions presently availableIn case you have been living in a cage for the past decade you should know that the price of your heating bills has been creeping up and going through the roof (in some case literally!). The radiator in the Professional Imagemaker office has not been turned on for over 10 years, such is the computing power stacked up in the room. They deliver about a kilowatt of heat when everything is going at full bore, enough to keep us warm even in winter and something of a trial in a hot summer. Once we became aware of the bills sliding upwards (have you noticed that prices rise with the price of oil but never fall back with it - funny that?) we got hold of some energy meters and looked at the economics.
The results were alarming, with really big power supplies (our smallest is 750watt) and as many as five machines on at any one time, four printers, a scanner, three CRTs and a massive uninterruptible power supply, it was mall wonder that we were warm and that Scottish Power were rubbing their hands in glee! An obvious solution is to turn the machines off or put the computers into hibernation mode. This carries consequences though; Windows machines are so poor at hibernating or starting from scratch that the temptation is to leave them running. This tardiness is a real problem. If a telephone query of any description comes in and the machine containing the information is shut down, the caller has a wait of at least three or four minutes while Windows grinds into life. To the caller this seems like an eternity and there is only so much small talk you can engage in with strangers!
Another problem is that automated backups are set to kick in at unsociable hours when machines are likely to be idle.
This then is the background against which we purchased energy meters and set about measuring a number of small, low-cost, low-energy devices that might be of use for fulltime (ie non-stop) operation. The trigger was the arrival of the CompuLab Fit-PC2 (Distributed in the UK by Anders Electronics) a machine that is so tiny that nobody thinks it is a computer at all - read on.
We've had a number of computers through the door in the last couple of months, but by far the smallest box to arrive contained a Fit-PC2. If they'd put the packaging itself in a jiffy bag it may well have actually gone through the letterbox!
As you can see from the photographs, it's diminutive; when we showed the unit to a couple of people and asked them to guess what it was, a computer didn't figure in the answers.
We decided to investigate if this minuscule PC really could perform the duties of a social-sector, client-viewing machine, driving a projector or perhaps a large LCD screen. The main attraction is that you could hide it almost anywhere (subject to ventilation so its fanless case stays cool), and leave it on 24/7, as it uses less electricity running at full power than some PCs use when turned off.
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