Your next ultra-powerful, ultra-tiny PC could look like a Brillo pad or copper-hued Chia pet, if a crowdfunding-slash-preorder campaign by Silent Power meets its goals—and then delivers on some ambitious engineering promises.
That copper mesh may look ridiculous (or ridiculously awesome, depending on your perspective), but Silent Power says the "metal foam" provides much better heat dissipation than traditional finned heatsinks, and is the key to making its PC completely passively cooled (read: No fans)—and therefore whisper quiet.
Here's the description via Google Translate, so ignore the rough grammar. (Silent Power is based in Germany.)
"The Silent Power uses as a heat sink copper metal foam. Copper conducts heat better than any other industrial metal. The structure of a foam, the heat can spread over an enormous area. To the very hot regions inside the metal foam, the air is heated more than in the outer regions. The air expands due to the heat in the inner stronger and is pressed automatically to the outside. This creates its own micro-circulation, which dissipates the heat more efficiently. A fan as cooling is no longer necessary. Moreover, the heat is distributed on an up to 500-fold greater surface area. Composition of microcirculation and an extraordinarily large heatsink surface make the use of more powerful hardware [possible]."
Staring at the pictures, I couldn't help but wonder: What about dust? Fear not: The team says the metal foam can be vacuumed, as nerve-wracking as that sounds.
Silent Power PC configurations include a quad-core, power-optimized Intel Core i7-4785T processor, 8GB to 16GB of RAM, and either a 500GB hard drive or a 1TB SSD, depending on the configuration you choose. The machine also includes four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, Gigabit ethernet, audio-in and -out ports, and a sensor on the front that can recognize if large objects move nearby.
"The idea of the SilentPower is to use every module of a desktop PC (mainboard, graphic card, soundcard etc.) and bring it to one single mainboard," Holger Ficht—who is developing Silent Power with Stefan Klaussner and Michaela Leimberger—told me via email.
"We split the 'big mainboard with all components' in three mainboard levels. The hottest components (CPU, GPU) are on the top with the head sink. In a middle mainboard level, there are some controllers etc. And at the buttom mainboard level, we have SSD-Chips etc. All components are fix bonded on the mainboard. So we need no space for connectors, cables, air-volume etc… We need only some single parts from the OEMs (e.g. Intel-CPU, Nvidia-GPU etc.) All of the rest is our own design. "
Ficht says that a deeply custom engineering design allows the team to stuff the Silent Power mini-PC with components that wouldn't normally fit into its scant 6.3-by-3.9-by-2.75-inch frame. For example, the machine will include Nvidia GeForce GTX 760 graphics, despite the fact that a GTX 760 normally measures in at more than 9 inches long.
"The GTX 760 is larger in form as a graphic card [but] most components are on one side," he told me. "But we use three boards/cards with several layers (e.g. you make your conducting-paths on the surface, then a isolating ceramic-layer, then the next conducting path... and on every path you can integrate some microelectronic-devices, e.g. you can make a resistance by make a conducting path thinner with lasered bottlenecks). And every mainboard level has an up- and down-side. So we have [plenty of room] to integrate the graphic card components."
Can Silent Power pull it off?
As awesome as Silent Power looks on paper, its wildly ambitious design raises some questions. The available photos of Silent Power are of renders or early prototypes, and the $60,000 the company is trying to raise doesn't seem like a ton of money considering the engineering hurdles that will have to be conquered to design a highly customized machine like this. Can Silent Power actually deliver on its promise?
Worryingly, this crowdfunding campaign isn't actually the first time the team behind Silent Power has tried raising money for its project. The previous attempts were unceremoniously canceled by Indiegogo, forcing the team to take this independent approach, as detailed on the Silent Power blog back in June.
"After we were deleted without warning and justification off Indiegogo twice (and you did not respond until today on our five e-mails), we have our project devoted an entire page."
Remember: Indiegogo is known for its largely hands-off approach to crowdfund hosting. That's not to say Silent Power isn't legit—far from it—but it does raise some warning flags for would-be early buyers, especially given the PC's unorthodox design.
The Silent Power mini-PC will roll into production in spring 2015 only if it reaches $60,000 in pre-order sales. The company promises to return all funds if that goal isn't met. Silent Power also offers a no-questions-asked, 60-day money-back guarantee after your payment in case you get cold feet, though the website doesn't specifically say whether you're eligible for a refund if the production hits snags. Prices range from about $930 to $1,550—small, decently powerful, and passively cooled PCs don't come cheap, especially when they're not quite real yet.
Update August 3 2014: Paypal has frozen Silent Power's account. More and more, it's looking prudent to wait and see if this project becomes reality before investing your money in it.