Fanless CPUs: The Sound of PC Silence

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Both the Tranquil PC (top) and the Hush Mini-ITX use fanless cooling technologies that let them run almost silently.
Both the Tranquil PC (top) and the Hush Mini-ITX use fanless cooling technologies that let them run almost silently.
Ever thought computers should be seen and not heard? Two tiny systems from overseas vendors aim to make that a reality. I tested a nicely designed, compact system from Hush Technologies in Germany and another from Tranquil PC in the UK. And while neither has enough computing power to displace a workhorse desktop, these largely silent PCs are adequate for basic office tasks and even for some home-theater use.

At the core of both units is VIA's EPIA-M motherboard. Measuring a modest 6.7 by 6.7 inches, it offers an integrated 1-GHz CPU called the C3, a single PCI slot, one DDR-266 memory slot, and integrated graphics with a TV-out jack.

This VIA chip does not require a cooling fan, so companies like Hush and Tranquil can design nearly silent systems around it--a welcome change from today's noisy, multifan desktop machines. Both PCs use technology that draws heat from the processor into the PC's case, effectively turning the chassis into a big heat sink. My Hush PC (cleverly equipped with heat-dissipating metal fins along the edges) did grow noticeably warm to the touch during PC WorldBench 4 testing.

Low Noise, Power

The preproduction black aluminum Hush Mini-ITX PC that I looked at came with 256MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive, a combination DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive, and an inflated price tag of about $1066 (that's sans keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and before taxes and shipping).

The preproduction Tranquil PC, tagged at a relatively modest price of $822 for the box alone, came with more RAM (512MB) and a bigger hard drive (120GB) in addition to its combination DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive. Although the Tranquil was attractive, its case was less refined and its optical drive made considerable noise, diminishing its silent-PC credibility.

VIA doesn't promote the 1-GHz C3 as a performance processor, and our test results show why. The Hush turned in a score of 73 on the PC WorldBench 4 test suite of general business apps; the Tranquil PC logged a 67. In comparison, even the eight value laptops on this month's PC World's Top 15 Notebook PCs chart managed an average WorldBench score of 101.

Despite their low benchmark scores, both machines proved quite capable of handling Web surfing, e-mail, and office tasks in informal testing. In the living room, each played DVD movies competently, and (working with my own add-in PCI TV tuner card) each successfully captured TV content at VHS quality. On the other hand, when I ripped a CD on them, both silent PCs took about twice as long as my PC (likely due to the limitations of their slim-line optical drives).

Of the two, the well-built Hush PC is the better value despite its higher price. Either makes a good choice if you don't need a lot of computing power and don't mind spending extra for an ultraquiet PC.

Hush Technologies Hush Mini-ITX

Preproduction unit, not rated
Beautifully designed, but a little underpowered and overpriced.
Price when reviewed: $1066. Current prices (if available)

Tranquil PC

Preproduction unit, not rated
Less expensive than the Hush, but its optical drive was too loud.
Price when reviewed: $822. Current prices (if available)

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