Saturday, February 25, 2006

Mac Mini

Mac Mini
With the popularity of the Mac Mini, the abundance of reviews, and chances that most of you have at least seen one, I'll try not to bore. However with it's super small size and quiet operation, it makes for a perfect Small and Quiet PC!
Granted it doesn't run the more common Windows, but OS X is actually a very friendly operating system and has quite a few neat features not found in Windows. We won't get into any Windows vs OS X discussion here, but each has it's advantages and for general computer use both are equally acceptable.
Although the old G4 processor is somewhat dated and underpowered, it's perfectly fine for day to day tasks of email, surfing, chat, skype, light photo editing, playing back MP3s, DVDs, etc. The base model starts at $500, but the $600 model is probably the better choice with built-in bluetooth, wifi, and a larger 80GB notebook sized HDD. Also included is a slim DVD/CDRW drive, DVI and VGA out (same port with an adaptor), 512MB RAM, OS X Tiger, and iLife06 media suite. It's not as cheap as Apple would like you to think, but considering it's the smallest widely available PC out there (minaturization comes at a cost) and it comes with Apple styling/branding, it's actually not too bad.

The Mini (seen here with the Nano and a 2nd Gen iPod) makes a wonderful addition as a second computer, and comes pre-installed with all the software to play DVDs, stream internet radio, play MP3s, dock with your iPod, download/edit/view photos, connect your bluetooth accessories, email, .. And it really is plug, and play.

With it's tiny size and low noise, it fits unobtrusively in the bedroom. An optional $20 DVI to S-video adaptor allows it to be connected directly to a TV with very decent image quality at 1024x768 resolution.

The Mini only has two USB ports (plus a firewire) and all located in the back, so adding a USB hub is probably a good idea. This $5 matching white unpowered hub works just fine.
Also a bluetooth mouse and headset (handsfree skyping and occassional late night DVD viewing) are easily paired. Apple's sleek looking bluetooth keyboard however was a little pricey and a little large, so a matching small sized silver USB keyboard was selected instead. It even has a backlight for glowing at night...

So how quiet is it? Well the Mini also uses an external brick PSU which helps keep out a good part of the heat and noise. It does have one fan that can get loud when the CPU is loaded, but I've had my Mini for a year now, and it's only a rare handful of times where I heard this (during some installations/updates and when compiling an iPhoto album). The only other source of noise is the notebook hard disk spinning inside. Depending on the HDD that comes inside your Mini (as Apple uses several brands/models) the noise level may vary. My Mini originally came with a Seagate Momentus that was certainly not quiet and had an annoying clicking noise every time it tried to park it's head. However replacing this with a Samsung notebook HDD made it very quiet. It's still audible late at night in a quiet bedroom, but the soft whir easily fades into the background.

How about further silencing to obtain the inaudible PC? Unfortunately with it's very small case and custom cooling solution, this makes any modding very difficult unless you happen to have good metalwork machining skills...

Mac Mini 2 - Intel Core Solo
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Monday, February 20, 2006

P2-AE2: Silencing Update

Simply using some software utilities, it was very easy to get the Pundit to run very quietly without getting too hot. Using CrystalCPUID to replace Cool'n'Quiet, the Sempron 3000+ was undervolted:
-- State Multiplier VCore
-- IDLE 4x 1.10v
-- LOAD 9x 1.20v
Speedfan was then used to control the fans, using a LOW setting to keep fan speed down, and a HIGH setting once temperatures got hot under load. The LOW settings was selected so that the fans were virtually inaudible over the spinning of the HDD. The HIGH settings were selected based on the highest fan speed before the ASUS fans clicking became apparent from a distance of 2 feet.
-- LOW : CPU Fan = 20% 700rpm / SYS Fan = 40% 1200rpm
-- HIGH : CPU Fan = 30% 1200rpm / SYS Fan = 60% 2100rpm

With an ambient temperature of 22C, the following system temperatures were recorded when the PC was idle in Windows, and when put under load with Prime95:
Idle --- LOW ----------- 29C 38C 42C
Load -- LOW ---------- 50C 48C 46C
Load -- HIGH --------- 43C 41C 43C

During the day, the system is inaudible at LOW and even with my ear within 2 feet, I have to listen very carefully to hear it over the ambient noise. At HIGH the system becomes audible, but the sound is smooth and not loud.
At night however, in a very quiet room even the slightest noise becomes apparent. At the LOW setting, the main source of noise is the spinning of the 2.5" HDD. The Samsung MP0402H used is actually a very quiet single-platter drive, rated idle noise at 2.2Bel and tested by SilentPCReview at 17dBA from a distance of 1m. I would say this is quieter than many notebooks found on the market today, and very close to my Mac Mini in which I installed the same HDD (the Mini having the slight advantage of a more enclosed case to help muffle the sound).

Both fans are setup to bring cool air into the case, with the hot air being forced out the side vents. Switching the direction of one or both fans did not improve the cooling. One problem with the ASUS fan was the extremely audible clicking especially at higher rpms. I tried setting the PWM frequency to the highest with Speedfan or using a rheostat fan controller but it didn't help.
The stock AMD fan seemed to be smoother, but when run at low rpms wasn't any better than the ASUS. The holes on the AMD fan didn't match up, but a little encouragement from a pocket knife made sure it fit nicely onto the heatsink. I also tried several other 70mm thin fans including a Sunon Maglev, but alas none proved any better than the ASUS fan.

Next thing was to try a 80mm thin fan. Despite it's high speed rating and dual ball bearings, the Zalman 80x15 fan is a very smooth fan that runs nicely at low rpms. No clicking or whining here. There was just enough room for a 80mm fan, but of course the mounting holes didn't match the 70mm sizing of the heatsink.

Well you know those millions of twist ties that come tied around the cables of every appliance/accessory, well here is a chance to recycle and put them and put them to good use. They handily allow the 80mm fan to be mounted securely onto the heatsink. They probably aren't extremely heat resistant, but they are tied to the heatsink mounting frame on the motherboard which shouldn't get too hot.
With the ASUS fan, I had to keep the rpms low to prevent the clicking from getting too loud, but with the Zalman it was only the wind turbulence noise once the cover was put back that limited the high setting. This allowed the HIGH fan settings to be significantly quieter than the ASUS fan, and overall temps ran cooler, notably the SYS temp by 5-6C.
Idle --- LOW ----------- 28C 33C 41C
Load -- LOW ---------- 52C 42C 45C
Load -- HIGH --------- 42C 35C 40C

Even at night, the HIGH settings were very quiet, producing only a soft whooshing sound. I tried to see if airflow could be further improved by adding the virtually silent Sunon 40mm, but unfortunately there wasn't space near the vents for even such a small fan.

For those curious about fanless systems, even with the case open and undervolted, the system temps would slowly rise to the point were it got too hot. However with just one 80mm Panaflo M at 5v and an open case kept temps at a relatively cool CPU 41C, SYS 35C, HDD 35C under load.

Well with the HDD being the main source of audible noise from here to a truly inaudible PC, we couldn't let it go without a try.
First attempt was to suspend the HDD, so none of the vibrations will resonate onto the PC frame. Here some rubber bands are used, but this is actually a poor choice as over time they tend to crack/cut/break especially in a hot enviroment; in anycase this is just temporary. Four rubber bands were wrapped around the bottom mounting screws,

strung through the chasis and held together at the top by a handy (recycled) twist-tie. Unfortunately the 2.5" doesn't really vibrate much in the first place, and this suspension didn't make any perceivable difference noise wise.

Next thought was to enclose the HDD and muffle the sound, but at the same time not let it suffocate in it's own heat. With the plethora of external notebook HDD enclosures available for as little as $5, this seemed like an easy solution. The aluminum casing would allow some of the heat to propogate out of the enclosed space and at the same time keep in the noise. The drive did actually run 2-3C cooler, but unfortunately there was no perceivable difference in the noise level (I should have known this from using those extermely audible external enclosures). Stuffing a soft cloth to close up the opening where the IDE cable passed did help dampen the noise very slightly, but also caused temps to rise 1-2C. Maybe a thicker casing or adding some acoustic dampening material to the outside? Will experiment more with this later...

The HDD noise is less noticable from the front of the case, so placing the system with the front facing you will help. Also with it's horizontal orientation, locating the Pundit on a tall shelf or on top of a counter may make it virtually inaudible with the slight insulation help from the furniture plus with it not being at ear level. I also thought of mounting it upside down to the bottom of the table, but wasn't quite ready to drill any holes in my desk.
From the fixed legs and thin width, the Pundit wasn't designed to be orientated vertically, although it can be done. Here it's put up on some tapes to let air out the downward facing vents. The temps were slightly warmer but still acceptable. If you choose this orientation, you should lean it against a wall or side of the table and preferably fix it to prevent it from tipping over.

(Photos removed for those with weak hearts)
Hoping to get better thermal performance, I attempted to replace the pre-applied thermal paste with some better performing Artic Silver/Ceramique, but found the heatsink stuck to the CPU and impossible to remove. If you change enough heatsinks/CPUs you may have had the gut-wrenching experience where upon removing your heatsink you find you have accidentally yanked out the CPU along with it (while the socket is still locked)! Well this time I had to forcefully do that as the only way to get the heatsink off (heating/cooling the CPU made no difference)!! Very fortunately no pins were damaged.
Even with the heatsink/CPU off the motherboard, I had a very hard time trying to pry the CPU from the heatsink, and when I finally managed, had to resort to some serious scraping to remove the remaining bits of thermal-super-glue. Shame on ASUS for using a substance closer to adhesive than paste, making it extermely difficult to replace a CPU on the Pundit without risking damage. If you plan on eventually upgrading your CPU in your Pundit, remove the pre-applied thermal-super-glue from the beginning and replace it with something like Artic Silver (non-adhesive type).
That being said, after all that work and scare, the temperatures were no different with the Artic Ceramique applied.

Next - Stealthed and Silenced

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

HP Pavilion S7320n Slimline Media Center

HP unveiled their new Pavilion Slimline s7300 Series PC on January 4th of this year at CES which according to their press release "gives consumers all the power of a fully loaded PC in one-third the size of traditional tower PC."

Interestingly HP has selected an Intel Celeron M processor, normally found in low end notebooks. This also means low power consumption, low heat, and potential for a very quiet machine.

Unfortunately this series seems to be avaliable only in the US at this time, so I can't offer any first hand experience. However from the limited user reviews online, all the feedback has been quite positive. Razzl mentions "does all of the things my recently expired full-size desktop did, only silently--no fan noise deafening you"; westernwoman26 mentions "extremely fast and quiet"; and even a SPCR poster Aglio mentions "This thing is very quiet. I'd be surprised if it's 25db at 1m; the loudest thing about it is HDD seek noise. My external HDD makes more noise." Even this Pc Mag review review rates it as "very quiet". Of course the ambient noise level and tolerance for acceptable noise is different for everyone, but initially this sounds promising.

The size although still large for a SFF, at roughly 9.75" x 4.5" x 13.25" can still be considered quite compact. It's roughly twice the volume of the ASUS Pundit, but it's vertical orientation means it could fit nicely under the desk or even on top without occupying too much desktop/floor space. Also the PSU is built in so there is no extra power brick. The more spacious interior also means the possibility of better airflow and more modding options.

An additional plus for this system is that it is very good value. For the higher end s7320n model, this is being sold online for US$550 (excl monitor) and HP is also offering a $50 mail-in-rebate. At only $20 more than the system I built using the Pundit barebone, this system includes a larger 200GB HDD, a faster 16X DVD writer with Lightscribe, and in addition has a 56k modem, 9-in-1 memory card reader, SPDIF connector, and comes with Windows XP Media Center Edition. If purchased seperately an OEM version of MCE sells for around $120, the Celeron M 380 1.6ghz CPU another $120, and around $150 for a 200GB HDD, Lightscribe DVDRW, and card reader. That leaves around $110 for the cost of the remaining barebone which really isn't too bad.

The PC Mag article reviewed the lower end s7310n with a slightly slower Celeron M 360 (1.4Ghz) processor and 512MB RAM. The Sysmark2004SE performance compared to a Sempron 3400+ desktop it was roughly 20% slower, but pretty much on par with a Celeron 340 (2.9 Ghz - non M) desktop. Also it seems that the one PCI slot in this system is occupied by a modem card, if you don't need that function potentially you can replace it with a low profile TV Tuner card or offer other expansion options.

Pictures from PCMag.

More information on the s7320n can be found on HP's PDF spec sheet.
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P2-AE2: For the PC silencing enthusiast

For those of us who spend time trying to make our PCs run as quiet as possible and expect anything described as silent to be practically inaudible even in a low-noise late night environment, some further details on the silencing potential of this machine.

The fan unfortunately does exhibit quite a bit of whining/clicking even at low speeds and can be heard when listened to carefully. Most of the whine is coming from the CPU fan, and although the smaller case fan also has some whine when listened to closely, the volume level is significantly lower. I guess part of this is due to the PWM and fan bearings. CPU fan.

Upon removing the fan from the heatsink, some whine/click can still be heard, but much less. The problem seams to be the fan vibrations causing the heatsink to chatter and making the whining noise. The heatsink is attached to the fans via a two seperate metal frames; the CPU fan to one frame that sandwiches the copper heatsink onto the motherboard CPU socket using 4 spring loaded screws, and the chassis fan to another frame that very loosely holds the other free floating end of the heatsink in place. This frame is secured to the back of the chassis by only one screw. Simply holding the fan firmly helps reduce the whine/click. I might try tightening the frames or looking for some heat resistant silicone sealant to dampen the vibrations and hold the heatsinks firmly in place.

Although the volume level of the CPU fan is quite low around the 1000rpm (low CPU load), the unsmooth sound even when decoupled from the heatsink makes it unsuitable for a silent PC. There probably are not a lot of choices for a good smooth 70x15 mm fan, let's see what we can find... I have some old fans I tried before on the AOpen XC Cube SFF which used a similar sized CPU fan, but I'll have to dig them up. A quick glance over at my Sempron retail box and I see the AMD stock cooler fan is the exact same size. Although this Delta fan is rated at 0.45A compared to ASUS 0.15A, it is much smoother, has less vibrations, and not noticably louder spinning at the same rpm. I will do further testing once I dig out my other fans and look for the best candidate. Alternatively there is also enough room for a 80x15mm fan (like the Zalman) although attaching it to the 70mm sized holes on the heatsink frame may require more creativity.

The smaller second system fan doesn't even spin up at idle and even under CPU although it also has some click/whine, it's noise level is much lower and you have to be within two feet to notice.

The BIOS settings for ASUS Q-fan on this board unfortunately is limited to ENABLED or DISABLED. No setting of high/low target temps like some of ASUS's other boards. With Speedfan, I was very disappointed as I was unable to get this to control the fans via Windows. However I was very glad to discover later that unlike my other ASUS boards, disabling Q-fan in BIOS didn't automatically allow Speedfan control, I had to go into the Advanced Configurations and set the PWM mode for the ADT7463 chip which interestingly enough had much more options than most and even with Q-Fan ENABLED in BIOS, allowed Speedfan to take over the fan control
- Auto on CPU TEMP
- Auto on LOCAL TEMP
- Auto on REMOTE2 TEMP
- Always on full
- Controlled by hottest of LOCAL and REMOTE2 TEMP
- Controlled by hottest TEMP
- Disabled
- Manually controlled

The added control of Speedfan will certainly allow for much better flexibility to achieve a "silent" system. For example the quieter chassis fan can be set to take some of the load off the louder CPU fan.

As far as temps/fanspeed read by ASUS Probe, under load CPU=45C/2000rpm SYS=36C/1700rpm, and idle CPU=30C/1000rpm SYS=37C/0rpm. This is with CnQ/Q-fan enabled and 24C ambient. These temps are quite similar to a same CPU/chipset system I have running at work in a larger mATX micro-tower case.

The two sides of the case is moderately warm, and I was initially puzzled why. Only looking more carefully at the system did I realize both fans are for intake and not for exhausting. This is completely opposite to the AOpen XC Cube SFF which also only two fans, both for exhausting. Maybe the absence of the PSU inside the case makes this setup work better? I will also try reversing the direction of the fans, maybe just the chassis fan for exhausting. I also happen to have a Sunon 40mm 0.8W fan, which would happily fit along the side vents. Although small fans are normally a bad idea, I found this particular fan very smooth and inaudible at low voltages. Of course with no additional fan or even power headers, it will need to share a fan header with one of the other fans using a y-cable.

Another nice surprise was the very low power draw. Measuring AC power consumption from the electrical outlet using a clamp meter
31W idle
55W load with Prime95
60W load Prime95+DVD+HDD

For my work system using the same CPU/chipset/ram config, only a larger 3.5" HDD and SFX PSU, consumes around 50% more power!! (48w idle, 80w load). From various SPCR threads, it seems that these external brick PSU combined with a DC/DC convertor can perform around 80% efficiency under light loads meaning the Pundit system draws 25-48w DC . From the manufacturer specs, my Hitachi 7k80 80G HDD at work typically draws 5.7W at idle compared with the 0.85W of the Samsung MP0402 40GB notebook HDD in the Pundit, the difference is around 5W. Assuming power draw for all other components being equal, that would mean the SFX PSU at work is only running at around 40-50% efficiency which sounds a little too low, even for a cheap PSU that came with the case (I would have expected at least 60% efficiency). Maybe the Pundit's K8M800 board is running more efficiently, or the external brick setup is performing at an even higher 80% efficiency?
In anycase the Pundit's power consumption is very impressive - at full load running HDD and DVD it consumes as much power as a 60w light bulb, which really isn't a lot considering today's PCs.

Undervolting is not supported in BIOS, but thanks to CrystalCPUID we can control that from Windows on any CPU+mb that both support Cool'n'Quiet (for Semprons only s754 3000+ and above). With several other Sempron 3000+/K8M800 systems I had no problems getting the system to run stable at 1.1v (the lowest voltage allowed for these cores), however for this system I had to keep volts a little higher 1.2v. This drops AC draw a further 8W to 52W. This must be pretty near a record low for any SFF running a conventional desktop CPU.

The way the system is oriented with the legs fixed on the bottom strongly suggests placing the system horizontally on a flat surface; like on your desk or a nearby countertop. Unfortunately with the fan vents facing up, this also means most of the fan noise is directed at your ears. There is no stand or legs for horizontal mounting, and the thin 2" height also means it won't stand up stable by itself. Maybe I'll try mounting it sideways to the inside legs of a desk or hanging it down from under the desk?

Some other silencing features include a soft rubber casket that goes between the HDD and the bottom of the chassis cage. However as there is direct coupling of the HDD to the side of the chassis, the benefits maybe limited. Using a Samsung notebook drive however, which was practically inaudible in this system did not allow me to test this. The BIOS also has a very interesting feature for directly setting the Acoustic management mode of the HDD without the need to use Hitachi's utility. This is the first time I have seen such a feature.

So far this is only day 2 with this system, but so far the silencing potential looks positive. Happy to receive suggestions/comments via blog or the SPCR thread.

Next - Silencing Update

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More information about silencing computers can be found at
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Thursday, February 09, 2006

P2-AE2: Special BIOS options

The BIOS allows the Acoustic performance to be set on the HDD. Normally this has to be done using Hitachi's HDD Feature Tool utility which has to be run from a boot disk/CD, this is the first time I've seen it in a BIOS.
Checking with Feature Tool, the BIOS does in fact set the Acoustic Management level on the Samsung harddisk. For those not familiar with this option, this will help reduce the head seek noise on the hard disk. This maybe at the cost of some performance loss, the effectiveness of this mode depends on the HDD, and not all models have this. According to the Feature Tool utility, the range for AM setting is from 128-254. The BIOS settings result as follows:

On Chip SATA BOOTROM nicely allows you to boot/install Windows directly on a SATA HDD without the need to load drivers from a floppy. Unfortunately there are still boards out there without this useful function.
The Q-FAN (automatic fan speed control) option unfortunately is very sparse only allowing ENABLED or DISABLED. Unlike ASUS's A8NVM-CSM board which nicely lets you set the high and low temperature targets so fans throttling can be customized.

Next - For the PC Silencing Enthusiast

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P2-AE2: Size compared

This barebone measures roughly 11.25" x 11.5" x 2.25".And the external brick power supply roughly 6.5" x 2.5" x 1.5"

How does it compare with to the very small Mac Mini?

The chassis is actually about the same height, however the Pundit's legs bring it up a little taller than the Mini.

If we look at width and depth however, the Mini is clearly much more compact.
Next to it is also an AOpen EZ18 XC Cube, another SFF PC, albeit without an external power supply.

Everyone has different tastes, but personally the Mini and the AOpen appeal to me more looks-wise. The Pundit has a relatively nice clean look, but I find the look of the top vents and unstealthed drive somewhat distracting.

Next - Special BIOS Features

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P2-AE2: Other components

My unit came with a Toshiba slim DVD-R/RW drive installed. However this is an option and I believe it depends what the reseller or local distributor decides to install. Some retailers mention a combo drive DVD player only with CDRW whereas others have no mention at all.

One problem I noticed is that the tight fit of the case opening would sometimes block the drive and prevent it from opening. Adjusting the frame where the drive is installed fixed this problem, but if you move your PC around a lot or have it where it is occassionally jostled, this may require some extra work. Also with the location of the power switch where you would normally find the eject button on most other PCs, you have to be careful not to turn off the PC by accident when you want to eject the drive door.

On the bottom of the hard drive cage, a soft rubber pad is included which should help dampen some of the hard disk vibration from being transferred to the chassis.
However this is for the standard 3.5" HDD, when using a quieter 2.5" notebook HDD this poses a little more of a challenge.
In interest to get the system running quickly, I'll look for a mounting solution later...

The external AC/DC power supply brick is a Lite-On rated at 100-240 V 50-60Hz input and 19v 6.3A 120W output.

The DC/DC conversion circuitry (seperating 19v in 12v/5v/3v/etc rails for running a PC) is fully integrated into the motherboard. So there is no hope of pulling this out to be used in another PC (a 120W AC/DC brick with a DC/DC convertor suitable for PC use alone costs around $80 online, more than a third of the Pundit's price).
The silver block is where the power lead runs into from the external brick.

The audio board was removed for taking the picture, here it is installed back in.

Next -> Size Compared

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P2-AE2: Cooling

Both the case and CPU vents for air intake are located at the top of the case. A bright label nicely reminds you not to block these vents in 7 different languages. The exhaust vents are located along the full length of both sides of the case with similar dot openings. I initially mistook that the fans were used for exhausting air like on several other SFF.

There are only two fans in this system both located on a common heatsink. The heatsink is made of two blocks that are connected by what seems to be a heatpipe. The larger block (lower right in the photo) goes over the CPU. The smaller block (upper left) is actually just a grill that goes over the K8M800 nb chip. However this does not rest on the chip, but is held above it by a screw to the rear of the chassis. I assume this space is left so cool air can be more freely brought into the case and at the same time helping to cool the CPU heat transferred from the heatpipe.

Here the heatsink is detached and the bottom view probably gives a better idea how this works.
A layer of thermal paste comes pre-applied.

A Sempron 3000+ E6 revision CPU which supports Cool'n'Quiet is installed.

The main CPU fan is a 70 x 15 cm fan from AVC rated at 12v 0.15A (pictured). The case fan is a smaller 60 x 15 cm fan rated at 12V 0.1A.

Installed and looking from the side gives an idea of the clearance once the case is closed. This is around 7 mm so there is the possibility to upgrade to a thicker (and potentially quieter) 70 x 20 mm fan if one can be found.

Next - Other Components
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ASUS Pundit P2-AE2 slim barebone

ASUS Pundit P2-AE2
Slim form factor barebone for AMD socket 754 with an external power supply.

The Pundit P2-AE2 is a moderately priced and very slim barebone using the VIA K8M800 chipset. ASUS previously released other versions of the Pundit, however this is the first time with AMD socket 754 support and an external power supply; both strong pluses for making a very quiet computer. AMD's s754 Sempron processors run very cool and consumes low power, meaning there is less need for loud fans to keep the system running at acceptable temperatures. The external power supply means there is no power supply fan, often one of the loudest components inside a small form factor PC. Moving out the power supply also allows the case size to be reduced, but at the same time this can restrict airflow and make the system more difficult to cool quietly.

With basically no internal expandability, not even a PCI slot, it would seem this barebone is targeted more at the budget user, for low-powered home/office use. Firewire maybe the only nice extra not usually found on a budget board; there is no DVI, SPDIF, HD-Audio, or video-out making this an unlikely candidate for a HTPC. Serial and Parellel ports are also missing, although that is quite understandable as use for such connections are gradually fading out.
That being said however, the system in my opinion is pretty good value if you are looking for a basic and quiet system for the office or maybe a low powered home server. The system will even happily playback H.264 video at 480p which I am embarassed to say my current HTPC has trouble with (XPM2200+ Nforce2 system).
The price I paid was around US$220 for the barebone, but this included a slim DVD/RW which bought seperately would cost more than $80. Adding a Sempron 3000+ (Cool'n'Quiet enabled) CPU, 1GB RAM, and a 40GB Samsung notebook HDD the total system cost is around $480 (excluding monitor and OS). Although not cheap for a budget PC, when you consider this is a SFF PC it's actually a pretty good deal.

The quality of the chassis is very similar to previous Pundits. Not as refined or solid feel as the AOpen or Shuttle SFFs, however still decent and not something I would call cheap. With the open top, this was one of the easiest PC installations ever, not much different from installing onto an open motherboard maybe only the heatsink requiring a little more care. Excluding the time to take photos, the total hardware installation took less than 10 minutes.System integrators will love the ease of setup.

Using a quiet notebook HDD, the two fans become the only source of audible noise in the system. The fans are automatically controlled by the motherboard to slow down reducing the noise, and only spin up when the system gets warm under load. Compared to most any other out-of-the-box desktop, this system is certainly quiet under light CPU use. It is slightly louder than a Mac Mini (which only has one fan and a relatively well enclosed case). Under heavy CPU load (running Prime95) however the fans do get louder, and although not to an annoying level, certainly louder than what I believe most people would accept for a "quiet" computer.

Of course if most of your PC use only involves surfing the internet, typing email, chat, Skype, playing back MP3, downloading, etc then this makes a very good out-of-the-box-quiet barebone PC.

A closer look at:

1. Cooling
2. Other Components
3. Size Compared
4. Special BIOS Features
5. For the PC Silencing Enthusiast
6. Silencing Update
7. Stealthed and Silenced

More information can about the Pundit P2-AE2 be found at the ASUS website .
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