Cheap Remote Power Control

web power switchThe best-kept secret in remote, web-based power control is the Digital Loggers LPC Ethernet Power Controller. Don’t let the hilarious 70s porno background music and voice-over complete with GIANT ANOUNCER VOICE put you off. This is simply the only cost-effective multi-outlet power controller for home office use. For about $100 shipped you get a web-based, eight-outlet controller that’s built like a tank: wall-mountable metal case, built-in cooling fan, “real” heavy-duty wall outlet receptacles. In a year of use I’ve never had it unexpectedly change the state of an attached device, and I’ve never had to reboot it. If you’re really hard-core, it’s even controllable via code (see PDF manual for example PERL script).

Though I have been completely happy with the unit, there are a couple of quirks. For one, I’ve sometimes been unable to log in remotely using Internet Explorer, especially over public Wi-Fi. Continued attempts will cause a temporary security lockout. The workaround is to use Firefox (before the lockout!), which has never failed. The only other complaint I’ve had is noise. The tiny, high-speed case fan makes this the loudest device in my office (always on, of course), except on the hottest days when the processor fan on my P4 maxes out.

One of the nice things about the big metal box school of design employed by Digital Loggers is you’re somewhat encouraged to crack the case. Once my warranty is up in June I’ll probably drill some holes and replace the fan with a larger, slower one. I’m also going to investigate the possibility of splitting half the outlets onto a separate power supply, thus allowing for some UPS-protected outlets and some unprotected ones. Theoretically the supply side of the relays should be independent of the switching side. I probably wouldn’t even consider this kind of mod on a more expensive or injection-molded plastic unit.

For server rooms, Digital Loggers also offers an intriguing upgrade unit, the EPCR2. This ads extra outlets (though still eight circuits), dual power supplies and power cords, metering and monitoring, front-panel override switches, and backup dial-up access via serial ports–all in a 2U rack-mount chassis. I almost bought this one, but the $300 price tag was a little much for home use.

A note on customer service: Because I was working on a deadline (leaving for vacation), I ended up ordering by phone to discuss expedited shipping. Digital Loggers is a small company, and they keep it old school–hand sending email confirmations and seemingly remembering your name between calls. I had not experience that level of customer service since having a personal sales rep at CDW in the 90s (and I was spending a lot of corporate money with them to get that). Quite refreshing.

I can’t recommend this product or company enough.

4 thoughts on “Cheap Remote Power Control”

  1. Very nice post. This is exactly what I am looking for.
    It is a petty that they don’t have operations in Europe… so I have to pay 100 extra for delivery plus 35 for the auto-ping feature (that is the key for me).

    Thanks for the review.

  2. The fan is INCREDIBLY annoying — easily louder than all my other equipment combined.

    Any ideas how to muffle it?

    I can’t even put this unit into service unless I get it down to normal computer noise levels.

    I’m willing to crack the case open, if someone can tell me how to safely replace the fan. I only need to switch about 1 amp of equipment, so overheating hardly seems likely.

    Otherwise the unit seems great. But it’s like going on a date with a wonderful person and discovering that her voice is like “Janice” in the TV show “Friends”.

  3. I finally got around to cracking the case to fix this loud fan problem. The unit has a 40mm x 40mm x 20mm internal fan running at 12V. Unfortunately there’s no room for anything else and 40mm fans are usually pretty loud. My solution was to play around with a 1K-ohm potentiometer (variable resistor) until I could find a sweet spot for low noise. It turns out the fan won’t star reliably above about 120 ohms. I ended up using a 100-ohm potentiometer in series with a 10-ohm resistor. I also installed a SPDT switch, with the resistors on one side and hot-wired on the other side. As a result, I can run the fan at 100% or vary it between around 90% (10 ohms in circuit) and just above stall (110 ohms in circuit). My fan buzzes at most of the middle values, so I’m running it at 100-110 ohms of resistance (slowest possible speed), making the unit effectively silent. If you’re going to attempt this, I’d suggest replacing the fan at the same time (though a different fan might need to be paired with slightly different resistance to achieve the desired level of quiet). The bearings on mine are already going, but I didn’t have a replacement. Also, the fan draws about 0.75 watt, so make sure to use at least 1-watt resistors.

  4. Guys-
    Martin here. I worked on the design team. Thanks for the feedback. You can unplug the fan if you're running it under 120F. It's just there to add reliability in high temperature environments. The noise source is often dirt trapped in the small gap between the fan blades and the case. Clan that out and things will quiet down. Check out our new firmware – multi-user logins, internal BASIC scripting language & a few more features. Thanks again for the feedback! PS. Promise to eliminate the fan in June '10

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