ASUS Terminator 2 T2-AE1: Mod-friendly Barebones System

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TESTING

The following tools were used during testing:

Testing consisted of an examination of how the system behaved acoustically in response to changes in thermal load. No performance benchmarks were run; performance in a barebones system depends mainly on the components it is tested with, with the motherboard accounting for at most a 3% difference in performance.

Ambient temperature during testing was 22°C. Ambient noise level was 18 dBA/1m.

Fan Behavior

ASUS T2-AE1 Noise Characteristics
Fan Ratio Setting
CPU Fan Speed
System Fan Speed
System Noise
Auto
2200 RPM
1400 RPM
32 dBA@1m
Both Fans 60%
3600 RPM
1400 RPM
37 dBA@1m
Both Fans 90%
4400 RPM
2150 RPM
43 dBA@1m
Auto, PSU Fan Stalled
2200 RPM
1400 RPM
28 dBA@1m

As the results show, listening to the T2-AE1 was bad news: The minimum noise level of 32 dBA@1m was far from quiet. The noise character was just as bad as the volume, with many different kinds of noise elements audible. The most prominent was the midrange drone that is characteristic of systems that are cooled by high speed fans, but there was also the rumble of low frequency resonance and a high pitched tone in the background.

With the fan controller set to Auto (the only setting worth using), the primary source of noise was the fan in the power supply. Stalling the fan by jamming it with a plastic zap strap dropped the noise level to 28 dBA@1m — just under the 30 dBA@1m guideline that we consider quiet. The quality of noise also improved, with the prominent drone and the high overtone disappearing altogether. The resulting noise was much more broadband, although it still sounded quite rough and growly — a result of two high speed fans grinding away at well below their maximum speeds. With the power supply out of the picture, the bulk of the noise came from the heatsink fan, which still needed to spin fast enough to maintain enough airflow over the small CPU heatsink.

About the best thing that can be said for the noise is that it never changed. Changes in system heat did not appear to affect the speed of the fans at all. Given the cooling overhead in the system (see the section below for details), there seems to be significant headroom to change or slow down the fans without affecting thermal performance. However, the question of how the fan controller will perform under heavy stress is unanswered; that will require more experimentation.

Power and Thermal Characteristics

Thermal testing was done with both fans set to Auto mode, as this was more than sufficient to cool our Sempron processor and the system was already too loud to experiment with the other fan settings.

Activity
AC Power Max
CPU Temperature
Cool'n'Quiet
50W
28°C
Idle
54W
31°C
Full Load: CPUBurn
89W
42°C

The T2-AE1 was very over-cooled for our lowly Sempron 3300+. With a maximum temperature of 42°C, there is at least 15°C of cooling headroom. AMD lists the maximum casing temperature for our processor at a toasty 69°C, so there is potentially much more. This is quite a change from the usual cooling difficulties associated with smaller systems. As mentioned above, there seems to be considerable headroom to tweak the fan speeds down to make things quieter.

Power consumption was in the same ballpark as the other AMD-based SFF systems we've tested. A more detailed comparison is not possible because of different system configurations, but all of the systems idled around 50W and peaked around 100W. Given that our other tests were performed with a hotter Athlon 64 3500+, the slightly lower than usual power under load can probably be attributed to the difference in processor, not the mainboard or power supply.

Audio Recordings of the ASUS T2-AE1 as tested:

MP3: ASUS T2-AE1 w/ Sempron 3300+ & Western Digital notebook drive, Idle and Load: 32 dBA/1m

Comparatives

Shuttle SD11G5 Config 1: Onboard VGA, Smart Fan, max load: 23 dBA@1m

MP3: AOpen EY855-II w/ P-M 1.6 GHz & suspended Samsung notebook drive:
10 seconds normal (25 dBA/1m), 10 seconds w/PSU fan stopped (20 dBA/1m)

MP3: Shuttle XPC SN95G5 with Samsung Notebook Drive, Load: 30 dBA/1m

MP3: Soltek QBic EQ3901-300P, Blower Low, HSF Ramping from Low (33 dBA/1m) to High (39 dBA/1m)

SPCR MP3s: HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

The recordings above were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone is 3" from the edge of the fan frame at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings is 20 dBA or lower.

A quick and simple way to use these recordings for valid listening comparisons is to play the quietest recording on only one speaker (or a pair of headphones) and set the volume so it is just barely audible a meter away. You must turn off any special sound effects, and set equalizer / tone controls to neutral or flat. Don't touch the volume setting afterwards, and use the same one speaker when you listen to any of the other files. The end result will be reasonably close to the actual recorded sound levels.

Here is a recording of a very quiet sound that is barely audible from 1 meter away even in a super quiet room.

For full details on how to calibrate the playback level of your sound system to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page 3 of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

CONCLUSIONS

It is tempting to simply dismiss the T2-AE1 as too loud. Certainly, if you're looking for a system that is quiet out of the box, this is not it. However, its extremely low price makes it worth a second look if you're willing to do some judicious fan modding. The system can be found online for just under US$100, and it should not be difficult to keep the total system cost to under US$300 if inexpensive parts are used.

To use it in a quiet system, a fan swap in the power supply is mandatory. A new low profile CPU heatsink is highly recommended, perhaps an LS-Cable SHS-X500 if one can be found. The rear case fan may also need slowing or swapping depending on what level of quiet is desired.

Despite several oddly placed screws, working with the T2-AE1 was easier than many SFF systems thanks to the ample room around the motherboard once the power supply was removed. The space around the front-mounted hard drive and the screwless access to the expansion slots were appreciated.

Although the T2-AE1 will never challenge for a performance crown, the older technology on which it is based it its biggest advantage. Getting a case, power supply, motherboard, heatsink, and a floppy drive for US$100 is a pretty good deal, and performance is perfectly adequate for office or general use. With a couple of fan swaps, it could end up both quieter and cheaper than the typical complete system offerings of the big manufacturers who usually cater to the low end.

PROS

Very, very inexpensive
Relatively easy motherboard access
Modding potential
Handsome, sedate finish
Easy 2.5" drive suspension
CONS

Noisy power supply
Small, noisy CPU heatsink
Cluttered cables that catch in the CPU fan
Difficult to remove front bezel
Proprietary power supply mounting
On the edge of obsolescence

Much thanks to ASUSTeK for providing the Terminator 2 T2-AE1 sample.

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SPCR Articles of Related Interest

Shuttle SN95G5: A64-939 SFF
Soltek QBic EQ3901 SFF Barebones System
Shuttle SD11G5: Pentium M SFF PC
VIA EPIA EN12000E: Today's Most Efficient CPU & Mainboard

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