Certified Silent: EPCN Streacom FC9 Fanless PC

SPCR Certified Silent PCs
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THE SPCR CERTIFIED PC: A SUMMARY

There are two classes of SPCR Certified PCs:

  • SILENT PC: 15 dBA@1m or lower SPL with the system in idle, 20 dBA@1m or lower at maximum load.
    The noise level of this class of SPCR certified PC is low enough that in most environments and most workloads, it is effectively inaudible. Even at maximum possible load (with both video card and CPU running full tilt simultaneously), it remains very quiet.

  • QUIET PC: 20 dBA@1m or lower SPL with the system in idle, 27 dBA@1m or lower at maximum load.
    The idle noise level of this class of SPCR certified PC is low enough that in most environments and most workloads, it is very quiet; it may even be inaudible, like some SPCR Certified Silent PCs. At full load (most notably extreme 3D gaming or extended video processing), it is still quiet, although definitely audible. This certification is designed for gaming enthusiasts who want their PC to be very quiet in normal use but don't mind a bit of noise in exchange for very high performance during game play when headphones or speakers are sounding gaming effects.

All SPCR Certified PCs must also meet these criteria:

  • No rapid changes in noise. The noise level increases or decreases gradually so that the change itself does not become a source of annoyance.
  • No prominent tonal peaks. These are narrow frequency peaks that sound like pure tones. Especially in the middle and higher frequencies, they can be extremely annoying even if low in amplitude.
  • Maintain acoustic levels and safe operating temperature for all components even under high load, in ambient temperature up to 30°C. The reference system submitted by the vendor is tested by SPCR in a hemi-anechoic chamber with the air temperature at 30°C.

The Fine Print: Each certification is valid for a period of 24 months from the date of testing, or until core components are no longer available. The vendor may offer component alternatives that differ from those used in the reference system tested by SPCR, but must ensure that their acoustic or thermal properties cause the overall noise level to rise no more than 2 dBA SPL above the reference sample or beyond the SPL requirements of the certification class (ie, Silent or Quiet).

ACOUSTIC & THERMAL CHARACTERISTICS

This is the core of the SPCR certification for a PC. Many tools are used to analyze the system:

The basic approach is to assess the noise, thermal and power characteristics at idle, and then at full CPU and GPU loads. The testing is conducted entirely in the SPCR anechoic chamber. Measurements under load are recorded 10 minutes after all temperatures stabilize. This can take upwards of an hour in some cases, which is an artificially long time for either CPU or GPU (never mind both simultaneously) to be at continuous 100% load; it simply does not happen in actual use with real applications, even the most demanding 3D games. With the torture test settings, Prime95 loads up an Intel CPU like no other real application, as does FurMark with any GPU. When run together, they comprise a far more extreme torture test than used by 99% of PC system integrators.

All the testing is now done at 30°C room ambient temperature. Electric space heaters are used to raise the air temperature in the anechoic chamber to 30°C. The heaters are then turned on/off as necessary to maintain that room ambient during testing. The hot room pushes the cooling capabilities of any PC to extremes, especially with the extended time of the artificial maximum CPU/GPU loads. This was done in response to feedback from users in hot climates as well as vendors considering participation in the SPCR Silent/Quiet PC Certification system.

Some other system states were added to the testing:

  • DVD playback, which engages the optical drive, as this is a noise source.
  • 1080p video file playback
  • TMPEnc video encoding of a 60 minute 720p video from WMV to MP4 format. This is to check cooling and noise during a typical real-use high load, likely the highest any user will apply in a non-gaming application.
Test Results: EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC
System state
idle
DVD
HDD Seek
1080p
TMPEnc
Prime95
P95+FM
AC power
30W
37W
35W
36~39W
43W
56W
67W
CPU
45°C
51°C
47°C
48°C
60°C
67°C
74°C
PCH
57°C
60°C
59°C
60°C
60°C
63°C
70°C
Mainboard
40°C
42°C
41°C
42°C
42°C
43°C
48°C
SPL @1m
Except when the DVD drive was engagede, the unit emitted no measureable noise during testing. Whatever electrical noise it might have made always remained below the 10~11 dBA ambient noise floor of the anechoic chamber. No noise was heard at any distance. The AC/DC adapter did make some buzzing noise at high load, but this was only audible from less than one foot away.
SPL - ISO 7779 Seated User (0.6m)
SPL = Sound Pressure Level in dB, A-weighted
Ambient conditions: 30°C, 10 dBA - Off/Sleep Mode: 2.1W

Noise - With the exception of the DVD drive, no component in the sample EPCN Streacom FC9 Micro ATX Fanless PC emitted any noise to break above the 10~11 dBA ambient noise floor of the anechoic chamber during the entire testing, even at the half meter distance specified for "seated user" SPL per ISO 7779, a computer noise measurement standard. It is an unequivocally silent machine.

The AC/DC adapter made a low level squealing noise when AC power draw exceeded 55W (ie, during Prime95 and/or Furmark), but this was audible only from a foot away. It could not be measured at the half-meter ISO 7779 "seated user" distance. The fact that the adapter will normally be on the floor behind a desk or cabinet makes its audibility extremely remote even for those with hyper-sensitive hearing.

The DVD drive made a single soft clicking sound when power to the PC was engaged. When used to play a DVD movie, it emitted a smooth broadband noise measuring 17 dBA@1m, or 21 dBA@1/2 meter. The soundtrack of whatever program is being watched obscures the sound of the DVD drive, even from a meter away, and especially if the PC is placed under a big screen TV, with the viewers seated at any normal distance from the screen.

There no reason to believe a Bluray drive offered by EPCN for this system would differ much in acoustics.

Cooling - In the hot 30°C environment of the test chamber, the CPU, GPU and motherboard all ran fairly warm compared to a typical fan-cooled PC. Still, in all the typical real-world applications (DVD play, HDD seek, 1080p playback and video encoding), CPU temperature never exceeded 60°C; typically it was around 50°C, or just 20°C above ambient. The temperature of the PCH (Platform Controller Hub or motherboard chip) was consistently around 60°C, which is a bit high, but again, the high test ambient temperature has to be taken into account. It was only during the extreme torture test of Prime95 + Furmark that both CPU and PCH temperatures hit or exceeded 70°C, which is near the borderline for safe operation. No CPU throttling or any other system misbehavior was observed during any of these tests.

EPCN's claim that this PC is safe to operate at up to 30°C ambient is justified.

Energy Efficiency - The power draw of this system is a modest 30W at idle. Under 40W for any type of video playback is excellent, as is the 43W seen during video encoding. With power turned off or in sleep mode, the system drew 2.1W, which is low but not quite the sub-1W level that can be achieved with the latest generation of CPUs and motherboards. The maximum draw of 67W after an hour of full CPU/GPU load is excellent.

Performance is not a criteria for SPCR Certification, but for the record, this PC with its 240 GB Intel 520 SSD boots to the Windows 8 desktop in around 16 seconds, and has a Windows Experience Index of 5.2 (determined by the lowest sub-score in Graphics). It provides very good performance for all applications; the only real limitation is in demanding complex 3D gaming.

Summary

The EPCN Streacom FC9 Fanless PC easily qualifies for SPCR Silent PC certification. In normal use, even at extremely high, extended loads, the system remains silent, with real SPL well under 10 dBA at any distance. It could be regarded as the first "0 dBA" PC SPCR has certified.

SPCR Certification Report: EPCN Streacom FC9 Fanless PC (PDF)

Link to EPCN: SPCR Certified Silent version of the Streacom FC9 Fanless PC

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