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The review sample came packed in a big carton, not surprising given the 70 lb weight of the F-50. The hefty metal handles on the top of the case certainly came in handy during unpacking. A lot of gear was included ? a wireless keyboard/mouse combo from Logitech, a slew of cables, and a very fat padded personalized 3-ring binder with software CDs, manuals and other documentation. It was an impressive package, marred only by the really beaten up Styrofoam top and bottom caps for packing materials. Apparently, this was an early sample that had been through the shipping wringer, and VoodooPC assured me that the packaging and packing materials have been improved since the early production runs.
Enough with pedestrian details; let's jump straight into the heart of the matter: The PC itself. Here is Zalman's description of their case:
The TNN- 500A consists of two large aluminum heatsink plates. These heatsink plates transfer all heat from the GPU, CPU, etc., to the exterior through natural convection. Since natural convection requires no moving components, a system equipped with TNN 500A is absolutely silent and has an unlimited life cycle. It is also 100% recyclable, making it environmentally friendly.
In fact, the entire case is one giant heatsink. I neglected to measure the thickness of the extruded aluminum panels. I would not be surprised if it was 1/8", perhaps even thicker. Most of the case is built of this heavy gauge black anodized aluminum. While it is not impervious to cosmetic wear and tear, it would take serious effort to really damage it in any way. The product shouts: Heavy Duty, Industrial, Macho. Whether the look is attractive is very much a question of taste. It is different and unique enough that people are likely to love it as an example of industrial, function-over-form design... or hate it for being too big, hard to integrate into the decor, and ugly the way a boiler is ugly to most people.
You've already seen the front perspective. Here are a few more photos.
This photo of the top and side shows the large banks of vertical fins which comprise the sides. Also visible are the ventilation holes on the top near the back, and the large metal handles. The bottom panel is similarly ventilated; more on this later. Those handles ARE necessary to move the machine around. You can also see two of the feet.
Here's what greets you when you swing open the hinged front door, which has a magnetic push latch. The components are visible; there is no inner front panel. The optical and floppy drives are at the top, the hard drives below them, and the VGA card is visible behind two removable aluminum pieces whose only function seems to visually block what's behind it. At the bottom is the front control panel.
The back door is identical to the front except for the absence of the logo. Behind it are the motherboard connection panel, access to the VGA and PCI cards, and the main AC power panel. The two slanted copper colored tubes are part of the CPU cooling system.
Those funny curly holes have a function: The cables route through them. There are four sets of these cable-routing holes: front top and bottom, and back top and bottom.
The heavy-duty swivel wheels have a center pod which goes up or down when the orange dial is turned. Once it goes down far enough, it makes contact with the floor. Turning it a bit more raises the wheel off the floor. Do this to all four wheels and the unit becomes stationary. It's easy to avoid wobbling even on an uneven floor. Raise the center pods, and the unit can be moved easily on the swiveling wheels.
In case the dimensions of this PC did not sink in, let me repeat them: 11.25"(w) x, 16"(d) x 22.5"(h). It is big. How big? Here's it is in a lineup with a ARM Systems StealthPC (using an Evercase 4252 case), a Hush ATX PC, a Hush Mini-ITX PC, a Shuttle Zen, and a Mappit A4F.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS - IN USE
The system was preloaded with Windows XP Pro, fully updated. It worked without any problems that I detected, which is nice. MS Windows XP requires a slew of updates via their website and it is not uncommon to spend hours doing this dreary task even with a broadband Internet connection.
Firmware for the motherboard and other hardware were all up to date as well. The preloaded software included many associated with the hardware components. Any application I tried ran smooth and fast, including...
- Adobe Photoshop
- Macromedia Dreamweaver
- MS Office
- Creative-related sound apps
- Preloaded games (A Tom Clancy title and a couple others that were part of the ATI video card package)
It is a very fast, quiet machine. There are no fans; hence there is no fan noise. However, there is the noise of the two hard drives. During light use, the occasional drive access noise occurs very noticeably against the otherwise extremely low noise level of the system. The seek noise seems louder in this system than on most, perhaps because of the contrast. And while the drives are actually very quiet in idle, these are IBM/Hitachi drives. Not good. More on noise later, with SPL measurements.
Some Quibbles: There were a few things that struck me as rough and not engineered well enough in a machine that costs this much:
- The HDD noise mentioned above.
- The cable-routing holes all have sharp edge that easily and (and did) cut into the insulation of the cables, whether they be Ac power cords, data cables or headphone wires. Over time, it could actually cause serious problems. A bit of rubber insulating material over the sharp edges would easily solve this problem.
- The door latch mechanism is a bit rough. Sometimes it catches and does not operate smoothly.
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