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November 27, 2002 -- by Mike Chin
There have been suggestions and requests by readers for reviews of quiet systems. This is more difficult to do than with components as the higher cost of a whole PC and shipping considerations makes review samples harder to come by. There are also much fewer quiet system integrators than quiet component makers; the market is still largely focused on DIY builders and enthusiasts. Thanks to ARM Systems, we are pleased to finally bring you our first PC system review, many months in the making. We expect this system review to be the first of many to come.
|| Stealth XP 2000+ PC w/Windows XP Pro
Over the past year, the number of consumer choices for quiet PC systems has expanded significantly. No, you still can't go to any Big Box Computer Store and confidently buy a low noise system, but the numbers are increasing. Most of the quiet PC makers and vendors listed on http://www.silentpcreview.com are smaller system integrators.
ARM Systems is a veteran amongst them, having offered their line of build-to-order Stealth "Noise-Reduced" PC systems for three years. A systems integrator established in northern California since 1986, ARM Systems does business with customers all over the US, both corporate and private. Their Stealth systems were introduced in response to consumer demand, and have been refined continuously. Due to this steady evolution, ARM Systems say that their current offerings are quieter than the original model, despite being many times more powerful. Both AMD and Intel processors are offered in their Stealth line
It's a handsome if conventional unit, black rather than the usual beige, with a hefty weight. It comes with matching black keyboard and optical roller mouse. From the outside, there's little to distinguish the ARM Stealth PC save the red logo on the bezel. But on the inside...
There is no model number specified for the review sample. The Stealth line is infinitely customizable with their EZ Configurator ordering system. The CPU options are many, ranging from the 1700+ to 2600+ for AMD XPs, and 1.8 to 2.8 GHz for Intel P4s. The review sample is a mid-line product with good performance and high value which has been in the testing room for... months. My sincere apologies to ARM Systems for the long wait.
A system virtually identical to the test model can be purchased for US$1,256.44 with Windows XP Pro preinstalled. The difference is the CD-writer, which is now a faster model, and the warranty option is one year parts with 90 days on-site service. This can be extended all the way to a 3 years parts plus 3 year on-site service deal.
The Stealth review sample is a machine whose noise level would be considered amazingly low in most offices and very quiet in most homes. Yes, it is possible to go quieter, but probably not if you are trying to maintain reasonable production efficiency, consistency and safe shipping. We here at SPCR have little experience assembling PCs in large numbers, and certainly not in shipping our creations. I doubt my elastic suspension drive PCs would survive being trucked a thousand miles. We also take weeks, sometimes months to tweak our custom PCs. (Heh - let's face it: for many of us, the quest for PC silence is a way of life -- roll out of bed, do the bathroom stuff, grab a coffee, hack with PC fans for half an hour, get to work, check SPCR and forums for anything new...)
ARM Systems say they have shipped thousands of Stealth PCs and learned many lessons along the way. Their rules of thumb:
- Ensure survival through the torture test of shipping. Extremely heavy HSF units are out because of their higher likelihood of breaking loose in transit and becoming a wrecking ball trapped in the case. Through-the-motherboard bolted HSF are preferred, partly for the same reason of security in transit but also for performance consistency.
- Use high quality components to ensure reliability. 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 typical summer weather (up to 30C or 85F). This means setting up the machines for at least the capability to be adjusted by the user for hotter conditions with fan speed controls.
- Avoid changes in noise during operation. They feel that variable noise is more audible and objectionable than steady noise.
The component details tell much about the ARM Stealth:
|ARM System STEALTH Components
|ARM Stealth black 4252NR Mid Tower case
||Robust 17" tall steel case with excellent airflow design and unique noise damping features. Common to Stealth line.
|Seasonic 350W Stealth Enhanced PSU
Higher power version of Seasonic SS-300FS APFC modified with a Panaflo FBA08A12L1A fan (our own quiet reference) The standard PSU option is the Zalman 300W model, also modified with the Panaflo fan.
|MSI KT3 Ultra2 (MS6380E) motherboard
||VIA KT333/VT8233A DDR333 Chipset. Unlike many boards, this one does not sport a noisy little fan on the chipset.
|AMD ATHLON-XP 2000+
|| Palomino core CPU (in this review sample)
|Alpha Novatech PAL8045 heatsink with Panaflo 80mm fan
||A quieter option, the 8045 is long establish as a top performer with through-the-board mounting system. The standard HS option is the Zalman 5100CU all-copper HS with Zalman 60mm fan.
|256MB DDR266 SDRAM
||Kingston brand, single strip
|3.5 inch 1.44MB floppy drive
| Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB 7200 RPM HDD mounted with ribbed one-piece Isodamp grommets by EAR
||The silent PC enthusiast's reference hard drive, the single platter Barracuda, decouple-mounted into a custom-fitted drive bay with purpose-designed elastomer grommets. See text for effectiveness.
|nVidia MX440 64MB DDR video card with Zalman ZM17CU heatsink and Panaflo 80mm fan on Zalman FB-165 fan bracket.
||One of many video card options available, all the way up to a 128MB GF4600.
|Plextor PX-W1610A CD-R
||Not too noisy, but no longer available.
|Four (4) Zalman Fanmate 1 fan controllers
||The fans for CPU HS, VGA card, front intake and back exhaust are all fitted with the Zalman Fanmate controllers, which allows the voltage to each fan to be adjusted independently from 5V-11V. (Note: Panaflo fans are part of the Alpha 8045 HS option. The standard fan option is with 80mm Zalman fans for case and VGA fans, and stock 60mm fan for the 5100CU CPU heatsink.)
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