Comparing a Small Server and a Printer



  • There was a discussion about if printers were more or less powerful than servers over in this discussion on LDAP security requirements.

    So while I know that the difference is generally huge, I did some research to break it down. First, using the term NAS throws people off. It tends to make them forget that a NAS is just a server designated for the non-trivial service of handling storage. These devices need a fair amount of power because they tend to actually do a bit of work, have a number of security mechanisms in place, and almost always offer general server functions as secondary tasks (like acting as a web server, application server, Active Directory server, database server, etc.) They are "just servers" and, in fact, don't get as small and low powered as more standard servers do because they are dedicated hardware, not VMs.

    So for our comparison, we will use the smallest Vultr VM option, and the smallest Netgear NAS option to understand what the "smallest reasonable servers" look like. And then compare to printers.

    CPU RAM
    Vultr $5 IPv4 Enabled Instance 1 vCPU Intel Xeon 1GB
    Netgear ReadyNAS RN212 4 Core 1.4GHz RISC 2GB

    Now for printers. These specs are not commonly discussed because, quite frankly, no one cares about low power IoT device specs. But they are interesting to know about. In 2015, PrinterStop recommended that you get at least 16MB of RAM, to as much as 128MB of RAM depending on the volume and use case of your printers. With the normal range being 32MB - 64MB. Even if we are generous and call the average 64MB, that's 1/16th the amount of RAM in the smallest reasonable VM we would use, and 1/32nd that of the smallest NAS devices.

    CPUs are essentially never discussed in printers as they simply don't matter. But what we expect to find are IoT processors like M68000, single core MIPS and similar low power processors that would be similarly maybe 1/32 - 1/16th the performance of a cloud vCPU and even less of a quad core physical RISC processor. In some cases we might find low power 32bit ARM RISC processors, maybe even with two cores, but this would be a high power printer indeed.

    Basically what we find is that printers are typically a tiny fraction of the power of even the tiniest, most underpowered servers.



  • My 2002 two PATA drive NAS device was single core SPARC with 4GB of RAM. Because of the way that file servers / NAS work, the RAM requirements have changed little over time.



  • I didn't read the other thread but I know a bit about embedded systems, such as those in printers.

    At the point in time when printers started to have network connections they basically turned into to small ARM computers (similar to raspberry pi, smart phones etc) because then they needed a full network stack.

    Because modern printers does a lot of work at the same time CPU power matters. Memory also matters because it has to be able to hold the print job and also have enough space and juice to render postscript in a reasonable time as well as run the network stack, run the embedded webserver, run the user interface (often touch screen), run WiFi, USB etc all at the same time without freezing up. HP's Laserjet from the early 90's had no such requirements.

    So a typical small multi-function printer has a single or dual core ARM at 1GHz or so. From 256MB of RAM and up. From 256 MB of flash storage or more.

    ARM basically owns the embedded market. Primary challenger coming from the low end is RISC-V which is open source and has no licensing costs. MIPS is basically dead.

    This is a typical CPU made for use in printers:
    https://www.marvell.com/printers/assets/Marvell-88PA6220-PB-20161004.pdf

    Embedded devices are made for lowest cost possible and manufacturers wont spend more than needed but as technology marches on you get faster cores and more memory for the same money or less. That's why raspberry pi for instance costs the same $35 as it did when introduced but has more power.



  • I'd put SOHO printers similar in power to simple SOHO firewall/routers.

    Small SOHO NAS devices as a little more powerful but primarily with a lot more RAM and better network throughput.

    Vultr, even if heavily oversubscribed, should be multiple times faster than the above devices.

    It's also worth to note that a lot of printers are sluggish and only react to buttons after several seconds when printing etc. I'm pretty sure this is because the CPU is heavy utilized and it would have worked better with some more memory and more/faster cores. But small printers are also ridiculously cheap, so every dollar counts.



  • Also, all network capable printers have an embedded webserver running on them.



  • @Pete-S said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    I'd put SOHO printers similar in power to simple SOHO firewall/routers.

    Small SOHO NAS devices as a little more powerful but primarily with a lot more RAM and better network throughput.

    Vultr, even if heavily oversubscribed, should be multiple times faster than the above devices.

    It's also worth to note that a lot of printers are sluggish and only react to buttons after several seconds when printing etc. I'm pretty sure this is because the CPU is heavy utilized and it would have worked better with some more memory and more/faster cores. But small printers are also ridiculously cheap, so every dollar counts.

    yeah, when you're paying $7-20K for a All-in-one, damn you'd think it would have a bit more power under the hood so you aren't waiting on those lack of resources!



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    yeah, when you're paying $7-20K for a All-in-one, damn you'd think it would have a bit more power under the hood so you aren't waiting on those lack of resources!

    Not really. When are you actually waiting on those things? Essentially never. Printers aren't something that anyone is sitting around looking at the interfaces of day to day. So no, you'd definitely not expect that.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    yeah, when you're paying $7-20K for a All-in-one, damn you'd think it would have a bit more power under the hood so you aren't waiting on those lack of resources!

    Not really. When are you actually waiting on those things? Essentially never. Printers aren't something that anyone is sitting around looking at the interfaces of day to day. So no, you'd definitely not expect that.

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore? I'm sure tons of people do, but I haven't in a decade. I deploy AIO. My entire fleet is AIOs, and when you are faxing from them, or scanning to email from them - they are all slow. So yes, I am, and my staff are, waiting on them.



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.

    So AIO to you, is "printer" to the whole world.



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    My entire fleet is AIOs, and when you are faxing from them, or scanning to email from them - they are all slow.

    Who faxes anymore, lol.

    And how can you tell when a fax is fast or slow?



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    So yes, I am, and my staff are, waiting on them.

    On their CPU? You sure?



  • @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.

    So AIO to you, is "printer" to the whole world.

    Absolutely not. An AIO has a printer, but also a scanner (with scan to USB, email, or folder), and fax.

    A printer is a printer only. I deploy both all of the time.



  • @JaredBusch said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    Absolutely not. An AIO has a printer, but also a scanner (with scan to USB, email, or folder), and fax.

    To customers, it's printer 100% of the time.



  • @JaredBusch said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.

    So AIO to you, is "printer" to the whole world.

    Absolutely not. An AIO has a printer, but also a scanner (with scan to USB, email, or folder), and fax.

    A printer is a printer only. I deploy both all of the time.

    See - I very specifically called out AIOs over printers to prevent the opposite from happening to me.. OHHHH you're talking about AIOs.. and I was talking about print only devices.. lol instead I now got it this way - AIO/printer - same difference

    LOL



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @JaredBusch said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.

    So AIO to you, is "printer" to the whole world.

    Absolutely not. An AIO has a printer, but also a scanner (with scan to USB, email, or folder), and fax.

    A printer is a printer only. I deploy both all of the time.

    See - I very specifically called out AIOs over printers to prevent the opposite from happening to me.. OHHHH you're talking about AIOs.. and I was talking about print only devices.. lol instead I now got it this way - AIO/printer - same difference

    LOL

    Really what they all are is copiers. At some point, they started removing the scanning from copiers, then they put it back. AIOs if anything are "copiers" to anyone older than a Gen Zer. We had fax, scan, print, etc. from copiers for a really long time before the trending new "AIO" term came about.

    But since you could print to the copiers, they were called printers, too. Smaller printers didn't have scanners. But now, most do.

    But for purposes of this discussion, AIO doesn't matter. We are still talking tiny devices.



  • Whether scanning, faxing or printing... printers are primarily bound by their mechanical components. There isn't much processing that goes on in those things. Some, for sure, but relatively little.

    Faxing, especially, was traditionally done even without a CPU, for a CPU to be a bottleneck on a fax would be pretty weird.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    Faxing, especially, was traditionally done even without a CPU, for a CPU to be a bottleneck on a fax would be pretty weird.

    Memory more than CPU in a few cases I've dealt with, someone sent 100's of pages (probably intentionally) to our fax which tied it up.

    But restarting the thing resolved it.



  • @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @JaredBusch said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @scottalanmiller said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    A printer - sure, you're right - but who deploys printers anymore?

    Um, everyone. We have a full time printer guy because we do like a dozen a day.

    So AIO to you, is "printer" to the whole world.

    Absolutely not. An AIO has a printer, but also a scanner (with scan to USB, email, or folder), and fax.

    A printer is a printer only. I deploy both all of the time.

    See - I very specifically called out AIOs over printers to prevent the opposite from happening to me.. OHHHH you're talking about AIOs.. and I was talking about print only devices.. lol instead I now got it this way - AIO/printer - same difference

    LOL

    Really what they all are is copiers. At some point, they started removing the scanning from copiers, then they put it back. AIOs if anything are "copiers" to anyone older than a Gen Zer. We had fax, scan, print, etc. from copiers for a really long time before the trending new "AIO" term came about.

    But since you could print to the copiers, they were called printers, too. Smaller printers didn't have scanners. But now, most do.

    But for purposes of this discussion, AIO doesn't matter. We are still talking tiny devices.

    I do agree with the point that normal people call all those things printers these days, rarely will you find someone to call it anything else.

    But - waiting at my devices when using the control panel at the device is still very much a thing - because they are bloody slow, the displays respond slowly, etc. They use the old style of touch sensing, which unlike modern phones frequently misses touches, etc. I'd be happy to add $50 onto my $7K AIO to have it run 100% (though likely much more) faster. Yeah $50 on a $350 desktop model is a lot to add... but knowing what I have now compared to a machine that's $50 more, over the life of 5 years.. yeah, it would be worth it to spend it even on a $350 device.



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    They use the old style of touch sensing, which unlike modern phones frequently misses touches, etc.

    Agreed, but that's not CPU, that's interface hardware. Different issue.



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    I'd be happy to add $50 onto my $7K AIO to have it run 100% (though likely much more) faster. Yeah $50 on a $350 desktop model is a lot to add... but knowing what I have now compared to a machine that's $50 more, over the life of 5 years.. yeah, it would be worth it to spend it even on a $350 device.

    Agreed, but you aren't talking about the same thing that we are discussing here. The interface can go as fast as you can type or see from a 8088 or Z80 processor. That's not CPU or RAM related. So while your final point, of wanting a faster input device, is completely valid, it's also not related to the context of this discussion or the one that spawned it (surprised that printers don't have AD services baked in.)

    This is like stating that you wish the computer in your car was more powerful because it takes so long to drive places. While the computer in your car is important, it's not really a factor in how fast your car can go.



  • The waiting for a response on those LCDs and on the web interface I'm assuming are CPU/RAM bound.



  • @Dashrender said in Comparing a Small Server and a Printer:

    The waiting for a response on those LCDs and on the web interface I'm assuming are CPU/RAM bound.

    Web, maybe. LCD very unlikely. Can't be RAM bound, if that was a case you'd need swap space but printers don't have hard drives and swap space. So RAM is either enough or not enough, not fast or slow like a desktop.

    CPU is possible, but displaying an LCD screen at full speed is trivial for a 486 or an M68000. So it's safe to assume that that is no the case. Web? Possible. But does the web interface impact using the product?


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