Mediadevices power reduction quest Pt. 2: PopcornHour C200
This is the second out of three blog entries about my quest to reduce te energy conscumption by the 24/7 media equipment I use at home. The first device was my PC. You can read up here.
Next up is the PopcornHour C200. Within the chain of devices, this one is probably used the most. It’s my primary NAS, it contains all video- and audio content and is connected by HDMI to my Samsung 40D8000. Another great feature is it’s ability to take care of all NZB downloads. So it’s my workhorse, but how much do I actually feed it.
First a little background on the C200. It’s made by PopcornHour (Syabas), the leading brand in networked media tanks. Which basically means as much as a NAS with video output capabilities. It’s build around a Sigma SMP8643, 667MHz floating point processor/video decoder. The macrovision brother SMP8647 is found in many blu-ray players. Out of the box, there’s a load of supported file formats and containers. There’s a very active community with lots of great third party apps and modules, most of them free. So, it has a lot going for it, but despite it being a second generation device with a large costumer base, you get a lot of cons with it as well. Lets start with the good:
- Great picture quality
- Integrated NAS, download and media playback device
- variety of network protocols like NFS, SMB, FTP, etc.
- RF remote, so no line of sight necessary for control
Now for the bad:
- Lack of firmware updates while containing a lot of bugs , specially in the first year after release
- While advertised as 10/100/1000 network capable, the network speeds are nowhere near gigE
- Power supplies die like crazy! It’s all over the main support forum
All that aside, it is a great device that supports most of my media needs. But power consumption is the topic so here goes!
At popcornhour.com, it’s rated 13W when idle with no extra devices attached. This means no must-have-internal-hard-drive which instantly defeats the purpose of a ‘media tank’. So the specs are useless. And there’s another issue. Like many others, my power supply died after two years. Probably due to heat build up. It uses passive cooling for noise reasons. Knowing a bit of electronics I can say the power supply is of bad design and bound to fail under heavy and continues use. I replaced it with a standard ATX PSU taken from a HP thin client PC. A bit of cutting to make it fit, but it does the job. There’s no way to tell how this affects the power consumption, because the efficiency of a supply means it can draw less or more current while doing the same job. However, this is MY C200 so IT is under scrutiny.
The C200 knows three power states, indicated by the illuminated power button; Standby (red), on but no video output (orange) and full on (white). When in the ‘white state’, it can vary from idle with the hard drive spinned down, all the way to video playback with network activity and some unzipping on the side. I hooked up my Fluke 87 and DIY current splice adaptera and after examining the power usage in every possible situation, I can safely say it draws between 40 and 44 Watts on average. 40 When doing nothing and 44 when playing a 1080p video with subs enabled. The reason for this relatively small variation in power is thanks to the C200’s dedicated hardware video decoder mentioned earlier. No heavy software processing, so additional energy use is low. Removing the hard drive saves 2W, but then you need to stream all content over the network which cost you 2W as well, and there’s the extra power used but the network router, switch and separate hard drive/NAS, etc. All other power is used for memory, network interface and other electronics. These all stay on at idle, even with the video output turned off.
Because its my main NAS, I need (almost) instant access from anywhere. Standby might be an option, BUT… I left out the C200’s biggest drawback, it doesn’t have wake-on-lan. Yes good folks, the PopcornHour C200 networked media tank with all it’s bells and whistles doesn’t come with a WOL option. This means it always needs to be full on for it to be accessed remotely. There’s no way of getting it out of standby, other then physically pressing the power button. The hard drive spins down after 5 minutes of inactivity, but that just saves you a mere 2W. This pseudo NAS uses 40W when idle, compared to e.g. 8W from a Synology DS212+. It’s the amount I would expect from a PC, not a dedicated media player with HDD.
Let’s talk money. My C200 is up and running 365 days of the year. The few hours it’s down are compensated bij the extra power used while downloading and unzipping new media. Let us assume an average consumption of 42W. That’s 367.9 kWh per year. We pay roughly 22 cents per kWh, so the PopcornHour C200 sets me back 80,94 euros annually. Off course, it’s okay to spend some money to run it to my liking. I’ve downloaded tons of content and watched many hundreds of hours of video directly or streamed from it, but a constant 40W at that price? I have to be able to do better than that.
So what are my alternatives? A dedicated ‘true’ NAS will have faster network access and better power ratings. NAS boxes with the ability to run PLEX media server, like the Synology DS412+, are available as well, but they still don’t pack enough raw power for proper HD transcoding. And I still need something connected to my TV set. Other networked media tank manufacturers like Dune, AC Ryan, Western Digital, et cetera won’t do a significantly better job and PopcornHour is the market leader for a reason. A dedicated media center PC might be a good option. Configurable exactly the way I want it, standby and WOL option and it can replace the PC from part 1 in it’s role as PLEX media server and double als a PLEX client as well. But most of them are not that energy efficient at all. Except for… wait for it… the Mac Mini. There it is again! It can do everything the PopcornHour AND current PMS PC can do and much much more, but with a fraction of the power and it comes with HDMI- and optical audio output. The C200 and PC combined use 91 watts when idle, the Mac Mini just 14W! But 599 euros is still a lot of money…
To summarize. Like The PC from part 1, I’ve got another big power user in among my multi media devices. There’s probably the not-so-orignal power supply to blame to some extent, but I suspect the original PSU doesn’t do a much better job at being energy efficient. And there’s no option to make it go to sleep, let alone wake it up again. Very inefficient indeed! Together, they use a total of around 735 kWh (160 euros) a year just to keep them running. “Need to… stop… buying… Apple gear… argh!”