ARM Systems StealthPC P4-3.2 Powerhouse

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FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The review sample came packed in a very substantial box, especially considering that it only contained the PC -- I'd specifically asked that keyboard, mouse and monitor not be included. The shipping weight was an amazing 49 lbs. (over 22 kg.)

The packing is also very substantial as shown by the photos below. The foam pieces are custom made with an industrial foam injection molding machine at ARM Systems' facility. It all fits tightly together so that nothing shakes or moves within the box, yet is cradled in shock-aborbing material and is easy to unpack.


Unpacked StealthPC explored by curious Ms. Kitty Kat, who finally gets a mention in SPCR.

Not surprisingly, the PC itself is very hefty: It weighs 38 lbs. or over 17 kg. (Ms. Kitty refused to lend a helping paw, despite my cries of help.)

ARM Systems have shipped thousands of Stealth PCs and learned many lessons along the way. Their rules of thumb to ensure shipping survival, according to Steve Collins of ARM Systems:

"The process of shipping a system thousands of miles, or sometimes even locally can place a computer system under more g-forces and shock stress than most customers, or some vendors, ever realize. To deal with that kind of abuse, we use double-walled heavy weight custom designed shipping boxes and we own an industrial foam injection molding machine right here in our shop to ensure the systems are safeguarded in transit. All of our boxes and foam systems are designed and tested by 3rd party freight experts outside our company and then stress tested to exceed national shipping standards by size, weight, and content. The reality is that we work too hard to design and build the StealthPC to not have it show up in pristine condition.

"Secondly, all component products inside an ARM StealthPC are designed to survive very heavy abuse by the freight carriers. Extra structural supports are installed inside to lock down heavy video cards. Massive heatsinks are bolted through the motherboard and cross-braced on the underside to ensure the mainboard is safe and the CPU cooler stays solidly put. All other items inside are tied down, secured and otherwise gorilla-proofed."

ARM's basic approach to building StealthPCs has not changed, which is a good thing, in my view:

  • Use high quality components. Warranty service costs eats up whatever can be saved on buying slightly cheaper but lesser quality components. Particularly important as quieter PCs tend to run a bit warmer, which causes higher component stress.
  • Ensure safe cooling in summer weather (up to 30°C or 85°F). Their noise target for the hottest condition is <30 dBA/1meter. Their machines can be adjusted for effective cooling by a technical user for even hotter conditions. Of course, the noise target is unlikely to be met is such hot conditions.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS - IN USE

The system arrived with Windows XP Pro fully loaded and totally updated; at least it was on the day that I plugged it into my network and checked Windows Update. The OS worked without any glitches that I could detect. This is impressive. The number "fixes" required for Windows XP to be safe and up-to-date runs into many dozens and the size of data probably runs well over 100 MB and it is not uncommon to spend hours doing this dreary task. It's also not uncommon to run into glitches with updates. I am told that ARM Systems maintains a huge specialized cache system on their web access server so that downloadable upgrades from Microsoft and other are available at LAN speeds rather than web download speeds.

Motherboard firmware and related software for Windows all seemed to be installed and up to date as well. The preloaded software included many associated with included hardware but also utilities that are not normally a part of Windows or hardware:

* Power DVD
* NTI CD-Maker
* BurnIn Test
* Creative - a huge number of titles associated with Audigy 2ZS Platinum
* WinZip

All of this software worked perfectly well right from the start. Again, this may not be unusual, I have experence with less than ten new completely prebuilt systems, but I found it really pleasant and impressive that all the software in the system worked so well straight out of the box.

Naturally I marvelled at the sheer speed of any applications I loaded and tried, including...

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver
  • MS Office
  • PowerDVD
  • NTI CD-Maker
  • Creative-related sound apps

My impression after a week of casual use was that this is a very fast, quiet machine. In normal use, this StealthPC does not change its noise output much, staying pretty quiet most of the time. It's only under intense video and CPU stress that the fans speed up a bit and I become aware of increased noise. More on noise later, with SPL measurements.



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