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August 27, 2006 by Christoph Derndorfer
The first article by our new European correspondent Christoph Derndorfer is an interview with Maik Berendt, the founder and director of mCubed, currently one of the most innovative companies in the market for silent products.
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This interview article with Maik Berendt is a behind-the-scenes look at mCubed, a company that is developing products aimed at the "silent PC" market. It's also a look at the mentality that leads people to develop solutions for an all too common problem: the noise our computers produce.
mCubed describes itself on its web site as...
"...a technology leader in developing new hardware and software components for silent PCs. mCubed continues to bring fanless cooling systems with superior performance to PC enthusiasts.
"We develop cutting edge technology cases with sleek designs, heatpipe coolers which are extremely effective and completely noiseless, as well as a revolutionary temperature control system that reduces fan speed dramatically.
"Working with computers should be easy and relaxing, not disturbing and stressing. A PC with our unique structure, combining power and silence simultaneously, is specially designed to be used in any kind of environment, even within the comfort of your own living room."
Site of mCubed's headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
Hello, Maik. Thanks so much for granting me this interview. Could you please introduce yourself and tell our readers a bit about mCubed.
Well, about 3 years ago the noise my computer produced started to annoy me so I began to look for a solution to that problem. At that time the market for "silent" solutions was still very much at its beginning so it was impossible to find a sophisticated solution which was able to address all of my personal requirements. That's when I realized that it should be possible to produce interesting products for that market. So I started looking for a potent partner to put my vision into practice. Fortunately the electronics department of the Technical University here in Vienna quickly hooked me up with someone who shared my vision. Within a relatively short period of time he developed the first version of the "T-Balancer" which was the most versatile fan-controller at the time. This addressed what I felt to be the most pressing issue at the time: the fact that all fans are running at full-throttle even when a system is idle and therefore not producing all that much heat.
After that the next thing we looked at was hard-drives because they were now becoming the biggest culprit when it came to producing noise. Of course the main issue with hard-drive silencing is always the balance between cooling and silencing. That's how we came up with the "Vertical Silence" which in our opinion represented the best compromise between these normally two opposing requirements.
That was the point when we became interested in full-blown solutions so the development of the "HFX classic" enclosures was started. We originally started by looking at all kind of cooling solutions for electronics equipment. We quickly realized that high-end audio gear with its fanless design and massive heatsinks was the way to address the ever-increasing wattage requirements of modern computers.
Within the past year or so we have mostly focused on refining and tweaking our solutions and designing new solutions such as the "HFX mini". We know about our strengths and potential weaknesses and we're aiming to improve our products for our customers. One example is the "T-Balancer" which is now available in a combined PWM and analog version while also offering different numbers of channels (1, 2 and 4 at the time of writing). We have also realized that do-it-yourselvers are rather scarce on the market so this is also something that we have been focusing on lately. But we're also working on the cutting-edge of technology so you can expect some highly interesting products from us in the future.
Looking at your website, you basically provide every category of products that's needed to build a silent system. Which products are the most popular ones?
It may be due to the fact that it was the first product to gain us widespread recognition but the "T-Balancer" fan-controller and its many revisions are still the best selling product in our portfolio.
Why do you think they're so popular?
I dare say that it's the absolute flexibility that we're offering with all of our products. By flexibility we don't only understand the fact that people are able to combine their "T-Balancer" fan-controllers with any other "T-Balancer" unit and therefore come up with perfect solutions for their own systems (if you want 6 controllable fans you can simply combine a 4-fan and a 2-fan unit). Moreover flexibility means that we as a company are able to quickly provide solutions for the latest products. For example with the relatively recent launch of AMD's AM2 socket we were able to provide updated heatsink mounting solutions within 2 weeks after the specifications were announced.
Do you generally focus on the DIY after-market or complete pre-built solutions?
We started off with products which were solely aimed at the DIY market and that's also where our main markets lies today. In the more recent past we have also helped to create complete solutions for our corporate and commercial system integration customer,s so today about 1/3 of our sales are coming from this market segment.
Test assembly of an HFX mini system built around AOpen's CoreDuo platform
Your T-Balancer solutions are amongst the most sophisticated fan-controllers around. What advantages do you think that it has over normal fan-controllers?
Well as mentioned above we believe that our main advantage stems from the absolute flexibility that our fan-controllers offer. Not only were we amongst the first companies to produce a combined analog and PWM fan-controller but we also introduced the capability to really stop a fan during idle operation. Today we're also able to offer unique solutions such as our "sensor ping" feature. This allows users to quickly see the location of specific temperature sensors in their setup by lighting a small LED within the sensor body. Also thanks to our high-modular approach we're able to offer real firmware-upgrades for our "T-Balancer" products which can add completely new features to an already installed setup.
It also important to realize that there's somewhat of a learning-curve within the market before people understand a product's full potential. While we were mainly aiming at DIY-silencers in the beginning we're now regularly receiving inquiries about our products from high-end server providers, companies specialising in HTPCs or suppliers for medical computer-equipment.
The flexibility is also innate to our modular design so we're quickly able to address upcoming demands in the market. In the future we'll be making some interesting improvement and enhancements to the software-side of things while also offering some new circuits for the water-cooling crowds.
What's the fastest processor and graphics combo that one can cool with your enclosures?
Some of our customers are using some top-notch customized solutions to cool their high-end setups so I dare say that the limit is the sky. Seriously though, we have successfully tested AMD 4800+ CPUs combined with Geforce 7900 GTX cards in our labs.
Glossy polycarbonate cover for the HFX mini.
Are you planning on developing silent solutions for high-end SLI setups?
Based on our "HFX classic" enclosures it is easily possible to use 2* Geforce 7900 GTX cards once you spend some time on optimising heatpipe placement and other parameters.
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