Certified Silent: EPCN Streacom FC9 Fanless PC

SPCR Certified Silent PCs
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EndPCNoise was the very first PC vendor to partner with SPCR for certified silent PCs, going back to the Model Eleven in 2006. This Washington-state system integrator is a pioneer in silent computing, and has remained active in the field for a decade. EPCN has produced both fan-cooled and fanless systems with extremely low noise levels. Their latest submission for SPCR certification is a fanless Intel Core system with no moving parts except for an optical drive.

EPCN's Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC is a horizontal desktop style PC built, naturally, around the fanless Streacom FC9 chassis. We've reviewed several Streacom fanless cases fairly recently (FC8 EVO, for example) so most SPCR should be familiar with this brand. The Streacom cases feature heatpipes transferring CPU heat to heatsinks that act as side panels in passive cooling systems. They are designed explicitly for fanless operation. They are built to a price — while not the most robust or efficient heatsink cases, they work well enough, look good enough and are priced modestly enough that they could become the defacto everyman's silent, fanless case. The FC9 is one of the several Streacom variants with a big bank of cooling fins on each side of its fairly low profile chassis.


EPCN's Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC looks much like a classic minimalist high end audio/video component product.


The rear view and the AC/DC adapter tells us otherwise. The adapter supplies 12VDC to a picoPSU which powers the computer. This is a full-fledged modern PC with a wide array of inputs and outputs.

The design goals for the EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC are:

  • Flawless HD Video, HTPC and General PC performance.
  • Good cooling of all the components under a wide range of conditions up 30°C ambient.
  • Silent.

SAMPLE SYSTEM DETAILS

Time now to consider the specifications of this fanless PC test sample:

EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC
CPU    DualCore Intel Core i3-2120T, 2.6 GHz (35W TDP)
Motherboard Asus P8Z77-M Pro
Chipset   Intel Panther Point Z77
Memory   8 GB (DDR3-1333 SDRAM); 2x 4 GB Kingston 99U5471-020.A00LF  
Video    Intel HD Graphics 2000 (2300 MB)
Audio   Realtek ALC892 @ Intel Panther Point PCH - HD Audio Controller
Disk Drive   INTEL SSDSC2CW240A3 (240 GB, SATA-III)
Optical Drive   Silverstone SST-SOD02 Slot DVD
OS Miscrosoft Windows 8 Pro 64-bit
Windows 7 also available.
Power Internal DC power board + external 150W AC/DC 12VDC adapter
Case Streacom FC9 "heatsink case"
Price $1810 (as configured)

This sample uses components that are a bit older than some of the other options on the EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC page. The i3-2120T CPU is now two generations old, with Ivy Bridge and Haswell (3rd & 4th generation) Intel Core CPUs having appeared since Sandy Bridge.

The sample unit was prepared in mid-June, and the day that it shipped out to SPCR was the day that Haswell chips and motherboards first arrived at EPCN. Rather than delay another couple of weeks to prepare a new system with Haswell parts, EPCN elected to send the Sandy Bridge sample. The EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC web page page reflects the new inventory changes, with the new Asus H87I-PLUS socket 1150 motherboard and two 65W TDP Haswell CPU being the new options. A system in the Streacom FC9 with the latter CPUs cannot be part of this SPCR certification, as the TDP of the CPUs is too far above that of the 35W TDP of the i3-2120T in the test sample.

EPCN reports that their experience so far with the 65W Haswell chips has been problem free in the Streacom FC9 case, with load temperatures not significantly higher than that obtained with the 35W Sandy Bridge parts. They are awaiting delivery of 35W and 45W TDP Haswell parts for systems they intend to submit for SPCR certification testing. That should be within the next few weeks.

The question in this system is how the thermal test results with a Sandy Bridge 35W TDP CPU compare with higher TDP CPUs. Does the case/cooling system have enough headroom to handle the higher power/heat of the Haswells? The Haswell chip has documented as running hotter than previous Core generations, due to a higher base clock rates and the use of less-than-ideal thermal interface material (TIM) under the heat spreader which covers the actual die. Another key differences is that Haswell incorporates a voltage regulator within, integrating as many as seven external voltage regulators in previous CPUs.

Peter Nickol, Chief System Designer at EPCN, says the integration of the voltage regulator in the CPU is an advantage in fanless heatsink cases like the FC9. "The CPU could run hotter as a result of the integrated VR, but the CPU is always the easiest thing to cool as the case cooling system is optimized for that. But board-mounted components take a real beating in fanless systems because of the absence of airflow, which they generally need to stay running cooler. With the VR off the board, motherboard longevity should improve quite a bit, especially in low or no airflow cases like the FC9."

In any case, EPCN created a new product page specifically for the SPCR Certified Silent version of the Streacom FC9 Fanless PC, with order options limited to Sandy Bridge CPUs. A second sample with Haswell parts is planned for SPCR certification soon.



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