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February 23, 2006 by Mike Chin with Devon
End PC Noise is an online retail specialist of quiet PC components that started in 1999. The company, based in Vancouver, Washington State, is well established in this niche market, and should be familiar to SPCR readers, as it has been a faithful sponsor of SPCR for a couple of years. Component sales are generally seen as bread-and-butter for most specialist stores in the PC business, but after a couple years of tremendous growth, EPCN is selling more quiet systems than ever before. Low noise may still not be on the average buyer's priorities list, but it is not far off from the mainstream these days. With the continuing expansion of HTPC, low noise computers are more apropos than ever.
EPCN offers a number of systems in several series. The unit submitted for review comes from their Powerhouse series, and it is one of the most elaborate offered: A large, completely fanless, high performance system housed in the Zalman TNN-500AF case, PSU and cooling system. It's not a system of high interest for the average PC buyer, but it is certainly of interest to most readers of SPCR ? or anyone needing a truly quiet PC. This is the first system End PC Noise has submitted for us to review.
As the term "Fanless Ultra" in the model description makes clear, there are no fans in this system. The only source of mechanical noise is the hard drive. All other components are passively cooled, including a heatpipe-heatsink equipped ABIT AW8-MAX motherboard and the Smart Drive 2002 hard drive enclosure, a version of which we reviewed a couple years ago. At least half of the cost of the ~$2,000 system is in the Zalman TNN-500AF. Is it worth the cost?
Some background on the TNN: Zalman introduced the first Totally No Noise system, the TNN-500A, in 2003 to a great deal of excitement in the silent computing community. There were other fanless, passively cooled systems such as the Hush, Niveus Media, Mappit, Tranquil PC and others, but these were complete computers with little or no user-adjustable hardware, often difficult to upgrade seriously. The TNN-500 was the first DIY-oriented offering of its kind, meant for use with any standard desktop components. The completely fanless case, power supply and heatpipe-based cooling system was massive, heavy, and very expensive, well over US$1,000. The basic approach was to make an enclosure that is a massive aluminum heatsink for all the heat-producing components inside, and use multiple heatpipes to conduct the heat efficiently to the aluminum panels where it would be dissipated into the outside air.
Zalman's innovative and quirky heatsinks had already made some inroads in the industry; the TNN-500A catapulted the Zalman name to center stage. It's difficult to estimate the volume of sales Zalman has achieved with the TNN series; as a show piece, it seems to have been a success.
In May 2004, SPCR reviewed a TNN-500A case that was used in the Rage F-50 system offered by the Canadian company Voodoo PC. Our assessment of the case, its integrated power supply and its cooling system was that keeps the components cool despite being completely fanless. Our main issue was the noisy hard drives chosen for the system by Voodoo PC, and the absence of any hard drive noise or vibration damping system.
EPCN's system under review here is built around a more recent evolution of the TNN-500. This one is called the TNN-500AF. The differences between this model and the TNN-500A system reviewed earlier seem subtle, but they are both cosmetic and functional. The AF appears to be a better design, all around. EPCN's system is much quieter than was VoodooPC's fanless TNN-500A-based PC. It is more reminiscent, acoustically, of another massive, fanless, watercooled custom Pentium-M rig from Puget Custom Computers that we reviewed last year.
The carton that came from End PC Noise several weeks ago weighed 92 pounds or 42 kg. It's about the heaviest PC package we've ever received. The carton was also very big. When opened, it turned out to be like one of those Russian nestled dolls. The actual PC was nestled in a custom-fitted cocoon of Styrofoam, inside a double-layer corrugated box, which was nestled inside another layer of Styrofoam? and all of this was inside the third, external corrugated carton. The sheer weight of the system makes it susceptible to damage during handling and shipping, but the extreme care taken in packaging ensured that it all arrived safely. Getting the unit out of the box took some effort.
Triple-boxed, double layers of Styrofoam.
The PC looks imposing: Industrial, technical, and massive are terms that come to mind.
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