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Networking Hardware

USB-Based NIC Torrents While Your PC Sleeps 246

jangel sends us to for news on a prototype device created by researchers from Microsoft and UC San Diego. It's a USB-based NIC that includes its own ARM processor and flash storage, and can download files or torrent while a host PC is sleeping. As a result, its inventors say, the "Somniloquy" device slashes power usage by up to 50x. The device requires a few tweaks on the host OS side save state before sleeping. The prototype works with a Vista host but the hardware comprising the NIC is based on a Linux stack. Here is the research paper (PDF).
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USB-Based NIC Torrents While Your PC Sleeps

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  • by nnnich ( 1454535 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:48PM (#27740235)
    I had the realization that I'm not geek enough to care about posting on this topic.
  • I felt... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anenome ( 1250374 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:50PM (#27740253)

    I read the article, then I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of music executives cried out in terror and were suddenly calling their RIAA lawyers...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:53PM (#27740273)

    Plug it in at the end of the day, pick it up in the morning. RIAA/MPAA catches the traffic? No tracing it back to you.

    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:56PM (#27740333)

      If it had Wifi, you could just stick it to the bottom of a table at your favorite coffee shop.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:04PM (#27740401)

        If it had Wifi, you could just stick it to the bottom of a table at your favorite coffee shop.


        Pulled directly from the link:

        The resulting device, pictured above, includes a 200MHz Marvell PXA255 processor with 64MB of RAM and 16MB of flash storage, 10/100 Ethernet, WiFi, and an SD slot which was fitted with a 2GB memory card.

        • by Pentium100 ( 1240090 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @11:41PM (#27741123)

          2GB memory card - not nearly big enough. My torrent PC has 320GB hard drive which sometimes is too small.

          A nice idea though. Now add a IDE or SATA port to it and make it autonomous, well, like a PC with the torrent software, so that I can:

          1.set up the network, load the .torrent files, disconnect it from my PC, connect it to a battery and leave it somewhere to download. The ability to change MAC address would be useful.
          2.If it is used as a network card - the small CPU should still work and download files so that if the host PC freezes or has a BSOD the downloads continue.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            Hence SD. You can get 8GB for like $20.00. That's enough data that you will want some of it before the whole thing fills up -- meaning you can delete what's already there and let it fill up again.
            • You underestimate the size of HD video, I think.

              Fine for discographies and DVD-Rips or even SD TV shows (a season or two at a time), but HD TV shows and movies would be out of the question.

              • Also, I usually download several series or seasons at once, if the torrents are slow and part of my connection is left unused. And don't forget torrents that have the whole show and are usually very large, with those I can't download a part of it, move it to another HDD then download another part or I will not be able to seed effectively. So the whole, say, 60GB stays until I download the last file and seed it for some time (not always to 1.0 ratio; if the torrent has a lot of seeds I better use my limited

      • by Aranykai ( 1053846 ) <> on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:10PM (#27740467)

        This is why I bought an eee. Run quite awhile when the monitor is turned off :P

        With a 26GB cap on my down pipe a month, it really saves me that I can stash this thing at the library and pull all my low priority large files.

      • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:20PM (#27740529) Homepage Journal

        If it had Wifi, you could just stick it to the bottom of a table at your favorite coffee shop.

        You might need to build a dumb USB power supply for it though. How about a 9 volt battery, a resistor and a zener diode?

      • by igny ( 716218 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:28PM (#27740601) Homepage Journal
        You better use the competitor of your favorite coffee shop.
    • From the article:

      When the host PC initiates sleep, the Somniloquy detects this and transfers network state to the secondary processor, including ARP table entries, IP address, DHCP lease details, and wireless SSID, thereafter becoming capable of "impersonating" the host.

      Sorry... still no anonymity. Did you actually think the same developer responsible for DRM-enforcing Windows Vista would actually help produce a device that might make you immune to it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sorak ( 246725 )

      Where I went to school, they had an excellent means of blocking p2p traffic. After the RIAA started suing schools, they made it a priority to make sure no one could connect to a bit torrent network from their internet accounts.

      They also had the PCs locked down to the point where it was nearly impossible to change a setting (with impossible being the goal), and had a ghost scheduler set up to reformat and re-image the drives at 3am.

      That doesn't mean it can't be done. But, in some campuses, it would be more p

  • No need. (Score:5, Funny)

    by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:54PM (#27740287)
    I already torrent furiously in my sleep.
  • 50x less? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enry ( 630 ) <.ten.agyaw. .ta. .yrne.> on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:54PM (#27740307) Journal


    It's one of the following:

    1/50 the power usage


    a standard PC uses 50x the power of this NIC

  • KillerNIC? (Score:4, Informative)

    by bstreiff ( 457409 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @09:55PM (#27740313)

    Isn't this somewhat akin to what the much-hyped KillerNIC [] was all about-- a separate device to offload network activity (for example, BitTorrent downloads)?

    • Re:KillerNIC? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Vu1turEMaN ( 1270774 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:22PM (#27740545)

      No. Not at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by artor3 ( 1344997 )

      This one works while your computer is in a sleep state. The KillerNIC does not. Sure, it could in theory, but the software to do so doesn't come with it, and no third party ever developed such an app.

      So while hardware offloading network activity is nothign new, software to run downloads while the computer is asleep is quite new, and quite nice.

      At a reasonable price, I'd consider getting one myself, just to save on power costs.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by blitzkrieg3 ( 995849 )
      In a way this is the exact opposite. The KillerNIC is designed to offload network processing to a host OS on the NIC while the computer is on. It promises do deliver better performance by using more power.

      The NIC in the article acts a passthrough when the computer is on, and only starts doing its work when you turn the host PC off. It promises to deliver better energy usage by shutting the PC off.
  • there are so many other low-powered devices that will do so much more. like you could probably mod a router to run rtorrent and plenty of NAS already have torrent support. i have rtorrent running off a pico-itx board that also hosts my website,email,ftp,ssh,gopher,xmpp, a few python socket servers for random crap and if i had a script that would make me appear to be logged in on all those social networking sites 25/7 it would run this too.

    having something that only supports bittorrent seems pretty limiti
    • having something that only supports bittorrent seems pretty limiting when you can have a fully featured unix CLI-based machine with plenty of room for expansion. but i said the same thing about a device that would "only play mp3's" in 2000

      From the article, it's not just bittorrent - they've got other large downloads in mind too. It'd be nice to be able to leave a device like that downloading something like the entire debian stable branch for my particular architecture to a soon-to-be-cheap 64 gigabyte micro

    • all those social networking sites 25/7 it would run this too.

      Either that is a typo of I missed the memo.

      • Talk about typos!

        I need to learn how to press that Preview button first. Is there a way it always Previews before posting (while logged in)?

    • you could probably mod a router to run rtorrent

      Bittorrent clients can be resource intensive though. rtorrent appears to be ncurses-based, which is a bit spartan for my taste. I've been using azureus, but the memory consumption is ridiculous - like, 200+ megabytes for 1 or 2 torrents!

      What's an easy-to-use, full-featured, but resource-light torrent app?

      • Transmission is my favorite. Really doesn't get any better IMO. Light, looks good, does everything I want.

        Deluge is my second favorite. Not as light, not as snappy, a bit ugly, but about a thousand times better than Azureus.

        I use uTorrent (muTorrent) on Windows.

        • Oh, right, links. All links go to screenshots page, unless the home page has some.


          1. Transmission [] (Linux, OSX, BSD, Solaris)
          2. Deluge [] (Linux, mediocre Windows port available)


          1. uTorrent [] (Windows, Mac beta port available)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Charan ( 563851 )

      there are so many other low-powered devices that will do so much more.

      The important part of this work isn't that there is another device to do your downloading. Yes, there are better devices for that.

      What these guys have done is design one way to keep your PC in low power mode as long as possible. One reason that people keep their computers on is that they want network services to be available. (Some keep their computer on because it's downloading torrents. I keep my computer on because I might want to SSH in or access my files remotely.)

      This device is one way to kee

  • by Rooked_One ( 591287 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:04PM (#27740405) Journal
    well... thats the color that little icon with a u on it is at least :P
  • by jdb2 ( 800046 ) * on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:09PM (#27740455) Journal
    It's called the "Killer NIC" []. It's a PCI Express network card which offloads network packet processing to a custom embedded Linux distro running on a 400MHz ARM processor with 256MB of RAM, and oh, it works with Vista. As it's independent of the main CPU, it can run applications, such as a bittorrent client [], while the main CPU attends to other tasks while still acting as a NIC for the main CPU even if one of the on-board applications is also network oriented -- they call this "Flexible Network Architecture" [] or "FNA apps." Oh, and did I mention that it has a USB port for storage of such applications and any associated data ( such as files downloaded via Bittorent ) on a USB flash drive?

    Another "great innovation" from Microsoft.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locutus ( 9039 )

      Dell did it one step better and put the ARM chip in the laptop along side the x86 CPU. I forget what version of laptop does this but it's currently used for instant-On but has full network access and I guess it shares it with Windows since they said Windows can boot while using the ARM stuff.

      But as someone else stated, why not just put DD-WRT oh your router and let the torrents work from there.


      • But as someone else stated, why not just put DD-WRT oh your router and let the torrents work from there.

        2 things

        1. The KillerNIC doesn't work while the computer is in sleep mode
        2. The KillerNIC (or a DD-WRT capable router)is never going to get put into a laptop

        I'd jump on this NIC in a heartbeat if they could shrink it down to ExpressCard size,
        though I suspect it'll just eventually get integrated into Intel motherboards.

    • You forgot to RTFA and find out that the Killer NIC won't do it while your computer sleeps.
    • The KillerNIC can not do this independently of the host like this device can. With Microsoft's prototype you can put your main computer to sleep (not off) and it continues to download.

      The smart bit I see is the interaction: the take-over of the network state by the NIC from the main PC and vice versa, and the transfer of torrent files (this of course includes the downloaded bits and so), current connections, and whatnot. That is quite cool and afaik not done before.

      So this one for a change appears to be a

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by DragonTHC ( 208439 )

        The killer XENO pro and Ultra WILL do this while the computer sleeps.

        though the device is pci-e and will require a BIOS that supports this function.

    • Another "great innovation" from Microsoft.

      This really is better than vista. It lets us seed our favorite flavors of Linux (And also copies of XP, just to add irony to injury) without clicking through Microsoft's bastardization of sudo.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by master811 ( 874700 )

      Wrong, the Killer NIC doesn't run whilst the PC is sleeping.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by jdb2 ( 800046 ) *
        While that may be true with current revisions, I see no reason why it couldn't continue to operate off of +5V standby power, or, failing that, a wall-wart. If my power supply [] is a typical example, then there's at least 15 watts available on the +5VSB rail when the computer is in S3 sleep. It takes no great leap of imagination to implement switching to an alternate power source when a change in the ACPI power state is observed. The only reason this "Somniloquy" is able to operate while the computer is in sta
  • by PopeGumby ( 1125507 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:10PM (#27740461)

    Yeah, but can it stay up all night looking up wikipedia for names of obscure early-90s dance acts and then scour all the torrent sites for full albums instead of just "Best of 90's Dance You Like Me Now?" compilations, and then stare at bittorrent, begging more seeders to come online to increase the speed from 0.01KB/s, and then say "screw it" and download the latest metallica and eminem albums on principle, delete them without listening to them, because it doesnt really like metallica or eminem, and then wander off to youtube to watch old WCW videos?

    If not, it can't truly duplicate my torrent experience.

  • Eh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo ( 555040 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:17PM (#27740511)

    The trouble is, this extra hardware will be a PITA to use. You'll have to have special versions of all your torrent software, IM software, etc that run on this device. The complicated way it works means that it will be heavily OS dependent, and vulnerable to all kind of glitches and problems. It's just too complex a technology to use in order to save a few watts.

    Worse, every time it wakes up your main machine's mechanical fans and hard drives, it increases the wear on those components.

    A much better approach is a multi-processor PC with the technology to completely shut down un-used CPU cores and reduce fan RPM, combined with SSDs for storage. Such a setup would let you continue to run your normal software - even let you use the PC for low powered desktop apps - and when you do something that demands more power, the system would wake up.

    Right now, AMD is much better for this : the low end, passively cool ATI graphics cards will run at a fraction of their normal clock-speed when idle in desktop mode. The current quad core AMD CPUs will severely underclock the unused CPU cores as well. It's not as good as a complete shut-down, but a decent AMD rig with variable speed fans (with an SSD of course) can now be built to run quietly on low power, but provide high performance on demand.

    • I think you may need to RTFA:

      4.4 Applications Using Stubs

      To demonstrate how modest application stubs can enable significant sleep-mode operation in Somniloquy, we have also implemented application stubs for three applications that were popular in our informal survey: background web download, peer to peer content distribution using BitTorrent, and instant messaging. For all these appli- cations, we did not have to modify the operating system or the existing applications on the PC, which were only available to us in binaries. To capture the state of the application for the respective stub, we wrote wrappers around the binaries.

      Emphasis mine.

      • It's capturing the information from a specific location in memory that is specific to the version of the OS you're running.

        At the minimum, the software would have to know where to look in :

        Win XP
        Win XP 64 bit
        Win Vista
        Win Vista 64 bit

    • What? Why would it be doing all that stuff with integrating with the OS, spinning up your hard drives etc? All it does is run its own internal torrent app, which you point at a tracker. It then downloads the torrent by itself, into its built-in flash memory, without needing anything out of your computer except for a 5v power supply. Then when you turn your computer on in the morning it presents itself as a flash drive containing the files... simple!
  • by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:18PM (#27740523)
    Here's something that hobyists have been doing for a long time. Get a router or NAS that can run Linux and put all the services you want on it. You now have something that works when your computer is completely powered down (not just in S3 sleep mode), requires no USB ports and if you really want to you can enable wake-on-LAN on your computer and have the same ability to remotely wake your computer with a particular network message as this board gives.
  • by enoz ( 1181117 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:25PM (#27740567)

    Zombie computers.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You can purchase a linksys router that will download your torrents to a usb hdd or cf card. One less thing that takes up a usb port.

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @10:30PM (#27740621)

    This is dumb. I mean, every house already has a running device with an ARM processor: their router! It would be so much more logical if torrents ran on the router than on a PC. For one thing, the router could throttle back the torrent if computers on the network were asking for data, and it could upload full bore when everyone is asleep.

    Before you post links to routers with a USB port and a shoddy torrent client: I know about these, and it's a step in the right direction, but the interface needs to be much better. I should click on a torrent file on my bedroom computer and have that torrent be loaded into my router.

    I like the idea that this thing accepts SD flash cards. Pretty soon, 8GB will be trivially cheap, and that could serve as cache. Periodically, as the cache fills up, the router could wake up a computer, transfer finished files to it and put it back to sleep. This wouldn't be hard - any proper geek could write a script to do this.

    • Hmm. Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
    • by blitzkrieg3 ( 995849 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @11:18PM (#27740965)

      This is dumb. I mean, every house already has a running device with an ARM processor: their router! It would be so much more logical if torrents ran on the router than on a PC. For one thing, the router could throttle back the torrent if computers on the network were asking for data, and it could upload full bore when everyone is asleep.

      I like the idea that this thing accepts SD flash cards. Pretty soon, 8GB will be trivially cheap, and that could serve as cache. Periodically, as the cache fills up, the router could wake up a computer, transfer finished files to it and put it back to sleep. This wouldn't be hard - any proper geek could write a script to do this.

      This makes me wonder if this is already possible with a little hardware hacking and something like openwrt. The only piece currently missing is the "I'm going to bed" packet from the client to the router, and the "go back to sleep packet" you mentioned. When a client goes to sleep, the router takes over the connections using whatever the mechanism is in this paper, and starts caching rx packets.

      Then either when the buffer gets full or a certain pre-defined packet signature triggers the router, the router can send a replay of what happened at 100Mbps back to the client, which is all transparent to the OS.

      The caveat of course being that the network stack would need to be similar, you can't have the client machine thinking it sent a RST where the router didn't. And the router would need to decide which packets it can handle, and which are unimportant, and which need to cause a wakeup. But on the surface there isn't a lot stopping a POC of this kind of thing.

      • by SpazmodeusG ( 1334705 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2009 @12:26AM (#27741405)
        Well if the router is always on anyway why have the services only switch to the router when the computer goes to sleep? Why not have the services permanantly running on the router?
        A lot of people run rtorrent on their WL-500g's and use an rtorrent front end on the PC. It works perfectly well. rTorrent continuosly downloads on the router and the front end transparantly displays information as if it was downloading locally. No moving of the service to have it running on the PC or embedded device is required.

        Really this board in the article has no advantages over a bittorrent capable router that i can see. It only allows 1 computer to make use of the services on the embedded device, so you'd need 1 for each computer. It takes up 2 USB ports when really it already has connectivity to the computer via the LAN anyway so why the need for USB at all? It still requires the modem/router to be on to work, so it uses more power than just a bittorrent router. It doesn't work when the computer is in hibernate or off completely, only when in S3 or above. It doesn't have any other storage options but the SD-Card...
        I could go on but you get the idea.
      • Tooooo complicated. I got koolu net appliance ~2 years ago. Unfortunately they do not sell them anymore, however there are bound to be loads of equivalent low powered PCs. It is a AMD Geode based box with 512Mb ram and an 80gb hard drive. I run Ubuntu server on it. Only uses between 7-11 watts which is around what a PCI card would use anyway.
      • DD-WRT [] is what you're looking for.

        Bittorrent, webserver, whatever--it's Linux, put whatever you want on it. Runs on tons of routers, though the lowest end ones are usually a little weak to both keep up with routing and do downloading. Has a web config and torrent interface, I think.

        Instead of the complicated "cache, wake computer, transfer, sleep computer" thing, just plug an external hard drive in to the router and share it with Samba or something.

    • Pretty soon, 8GB will be trivially cheap I'd say it is already there at $20.00. I remember when a 32MB usb drive cost more than that (and I'm not at all old.)
    • Periodically, as the cache fills up, the router could wake up a computer, transfer finished files to it and put it back to sleep. This wouldn't be hard - any proper geek could write a script to do this.

      That's great if you don't seed.

      I mean, every house already has a running device with an ARM processor: their router!

      Well, my ADSL modem maybe has ARM CPU, but my router has x86 :).

  • The makers say this is a proof of concept. But it isn't. Networking protocols are incredibly flexible, on purpose. This device cannot know how to answer on a given socket unless the code I've written to answer is running on this device. Which isn't going to happen since my code is running in a different address space, on a different processor architecture on a different OS.

  • Neat concept (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Demonantis ( 1340557 ) on Monday April 27, 2009 @11:42PM (#27741129)
    I like the idea it makes the computer much more efficient. The one design decision that confuses me is the choice of using the nic card. I guess it benefits those without a router, but couldn't you just develop a os for a nas that does the exact same thing. Main benefit is that it doesn't require a proprietary nic card designed for torrenting.
  • something similar (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tibman ( 623933 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2009 @12:15AM (#27741333) Homepage

    My housemate has something similar. It's the typical NAS with two drives, but the cool part is the web interface. You can c&p torrent urls straight into it and even manage all your existing torrents through the web interface. So every computer in the house has a central torrent location. When it's time to play L4D we don't have to go around checking which machine is sucking all the band, we just log into the NAS and pause the torrents.

    Just went and looked at it. It's a D-link DNS 323 (company link: []).

    I'd say the d-link beats the Microsoft research team's device (even though gumstix is awesome). No pc required and it can sit anywhere on your network.

  • by Browzer ( 17971 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2009 @01:25AM (#27741803)
    "In the office environment, 52% of respondents left their machines on for remote access, and 35% did so to support applications running in the background, of which e-mail and IM were most popular (47%)."

    Never mind the fact that emails are saved on the server, but is this device is really necessary in case "An instant messenger (IM) client will require the PC to be on in order for the user to stay "online" (reachable) to their contacts."

    So instead of telling a significant number of respondents that they really don't have to leave their computer ON to run background applications such as IM and email (unless of course you are running an IM/email server at work or home), the author does a cartwheel while holding a sermon on how to be green.

    Now that everybody has get some green in order to be green, something similar but different, here is a bare-bone OS running on a daughter card (PCIe) which allows secure access to the host's hardware even when the host is OFF but the motherboard still has power. []. Works with Dell. A must if you don't have unrestricted physical access to your servers, and every once in a while the main power cycles but your servers don't boot/reboot automatically.

    Small correction to the main article, a couple of the authors are from University of California, San Diego and not University of San Diego.
  • In case you prefer something more than a preconfigured appliance: []

    Debian is also available, in fact it officially supports [] devices like this.

  • Read TFA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rdebath ( 884132 ) on Tuesday April 28, 2009 @02:06AM (#27741997)

    It might be linux, but it's still crap.

    • It turns itself off when the host turns on.
    • It cannot act as a router
    • It cannot act as a bridge or half bridge
    • It cannot bond it's ethernet to the host's ethernet.
    • It only works with specially modified applications that talk to a windows vista driver.
    • It only does anything when the host is in 'S3' suspend, even if given external power.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.