Fanless Ultra Powerhouse PC by EndPCNoise

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VISUAL TOUR: More of the Interior


This photo shows the back side of the front panel ports and the remote IR sensor.


The optical drive and the hard drive are mounted on metal shelves that protrude from the left panel.

The 400W PSU has modest power capacity by today's standards. 216W combined for +12V along with 180W for +3.3V and +5V lines suggest closer compliance with ATX12V v1.3 than v2.0 or later. Dual vidcards need not apply. Although it's not specified, the unit is clearly equipped with Active PF correction. Zalman say it has 80% efficiency ? at an unspecified output load, presumably full load?


A closer look at the Smart Drive 2002 which encloses the Seagate hard drive for reduced noise.

IN-USE TESTING

Test tools and conditions

All the testing was done in a carpeted room, 6 x 3 x 2 meters in size. It is furnished with several large desks and workbenches, and the long walls are lined with shelves. One of the short walls has windows covered with heavy drapes. The temperature was 20~21°C, and the ambient noise was 19 dBA.

  • AC power was measured with an Extech Power Analyzer / Data Logger 380803 power meter.
  • Component temperatures were monitored using SpeedFan 4.27.
  • CPUBurn was used to stress the processor and system.
  • 3DMark05 was used to stress the graphics card.
  • A movie DVD was used for playback for additional load on the system.

Acoustics

When the PC is powered up, the only component that makes any noise is the Seagate hard drive. This drive is not simply mounted in the case. It is enclosed in the Smart Drive 2002, which effectively combines noise damping foam and aluminum walls to reduce noise. Some initial whirring from the HDD can be heard in a very quiet room, but only from pretty close up, Once the Windows desktop is up and the system is stable at idle, the noise of the drive is not really discernible from more than about a meter distance. With the PC pushed under the desk, the only time the noise of the HDD becomes discernible in normal use is when it is seeking. It is a soft thrumming noise that's very low in level, and you have to work to hear it.

The measured SPL went up from the room ambient of 19 dBA@1m to 20 dBA@1m when the EPCN PC was turned on. The HDD seek noise rarely deflected the meter's indicator by more than another decibel.

At very close range in our very quiet room, with the PC in idle, a mid-to-high pitch tone (1~2kHz) could be heard at certain angles. Close investigation of this noise suggested that its source was the hard drive, which was surprising, as it is further enclosed in the Silent Drive 2002. Note that with the PC under the desk, we were on our hands and knees with our ears half a meter or closer to the PC in order to hear this noise. At times the soft whine disappeared altogether, depending on the angle between listener and PC. Most of the time, it was not audible even when it was there because it was too soft in level and quite directional.

The DVD-RW drive added the usual whooshing noise when it was used. During the initial scan of the disk, the noise was fairly loud, reaching 40 dBA@1m. In a secondary speed level reached about 40 seconds after disc insertion, the noise level dropped to about 30 dBA@1m. In normal play mode of a DVD or CD, typical noise was not audible.

It's safe to say that in normal use, this computer will be effectively inaudible in the vast majority of environments for the vast majority of users. It is not likely that anyone actually using the computer in the same room will have a low enough ambient for its noise to become significant or even audible. A bit of mouse clicking or keyboarding is enough to obscure any noise it emits.

Thermal Performance

The total heat in a desktop PC is equal to the power it demands from the AC outlet. This electrical power is converted almost entirely into heat, much of which must be dissipated effectively in order to keep the components from overheating.

Power & Thermals: End PC Noise / TNN-500AF Fanless Ultra PC
Load
AC Power Input
CPU
GPU
MB
HDD
Idle
104W
42°C
51°C
33°C
37°C
CPUBurn
(8 hrs)
166W
46°C
52°C
37°C
41°C
CPUBurn + DVD play
174W
45°C
52°C
36°C
37°C
3DMark05
180W (peaks)
45°C
54°C
36°C
37°C

The thermal behavior of this system can be described as very cool and stable. Temperatures for all the component vary little from idle to maximum load. If the MB temperatures represent the ABIT motherboard's northbridge chip temperature, it means the board's heatpipe/heatsink system works very well. Probably, it also means that the heat from voltage regulators on the motherboard are being effectively wicked to the external casing.

The TNN-500AF is supplied with a handful of aluminum heat conduction blocks that go between the back of the motherboard (behind the voltage regulators) and the outer casing (the heatsink). Here is a photo of them from Zalman web page on the TNN-500AF.


The white at the end of the aluminum blocks is thermal tape.

According to Zalman,

"When the Rear-mount Thermal Blocks are installed on the back-side of the motherboard in line with the position of the FETs (Field Effect Transistor) and the Northbridge chipset, each can lower the FET temperature by 10 to 30°C and the Northbridge chipset by 5 to 10°C."

EPCN technicians confided that applying these devices is challenging, as the thermal interface material is not sticky. It is easy to picture how it could make installing the motherboard a truly tedious process. However, with no fan in the case, not using them is unwise. EPCN techs have come up with an assembly solution, however, one that ensures good transfer of heat from the VRM to the outer casing of the TNN-500AF.

Certainly, it's clear that the TNN-500AF's heatpipes conduct the heat from the components to the external heatsinks/casing most effectively. The Prescott never rising past 46°C or the GPU never rising past 54°C ? this is superlative cooling performance. EPCN's clean and experienced assembly undoubtedly contributes to the cooling efficacy of the system. Interestingly, even after half a day of continuous CPUBurn stress testing, the case only became a bit warm to touch, never hot.

Other Details

The Windows XP installation seemed perfectly normal and was customized with the EndPCNoise logo. All the drivers and utilities for all of the various component worked fine, including the iMon multimedia software interface for the remote. The system restore disk was a nice touch of professionalism.

CONCLUSIONS

This EPCN system goes to extremes for low noise, farther than most quiet PC seekers are likely to go. The sheer size, weight and $2,500 price tag of this system tends to limit it to those who truly need extremely low noise or have deeper than usual pockets. What you get is a very capable, carefully assembled, very well packed and shipped system that's just about bulletproof.

  • The TNN-500AF case used for this system is tougher than any we can think of. If such a tough enclosure is necessary, this is a very good choice.
  • Fanless cooling means that it can survive much better in a dustier environment. A fan-cooled PC gets quickly clogged in dusty environments, and suffer high wear and tear as well has dangerous drops in cooling efficiency as the dust blocks filters, vents and cooling fins.
  • The cooling performance of this system is superlative. It is as good as any fan-cooled system we've encountered, and it manages to do this at an effectively inaudible 20 dBA@1m.
  • Despite the excellent cooling, the system does not require any maintenance or care (such as in a water cooled PC). In fact, with no fans to wear or filters to clog, it is maintenance-free. Even putting a book atop the PC is no cause for worry; because the whole case radiates heat, there's no single vent that might cause overheating if blocked.

About the only way that EndPCNoise's system could still be improved, acoustically, is to provide an option for a quieter notebook hard drive in place of the standard Seagate HDD offering. Apparently, the quieter Samsung drives have been very difficult to source recently due to contraction obligations by Samsung to a major OEM system vendor. But these days, high capacity (>100GB) notebook drives are available, and one of these inside a Smart Drive 2002 HDD enclosure would bring the noise level down to a level that even the most demanding SPCR aficionado could not find fault.

All in all, the EndPCNoise's Powerhouse PC: Fanless Ultra is an impressive, quiet, capable PC.

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