Exclusive: AMD's amazingly tiny and powerful Project Quantum dissected!

We tear down this little, liquid-cooled, two-story PC to find out what makes it tick.

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That’s not true, that’s impossible!

Yes Luke, search your feelings, there is indeed an Intel CPU powering AMD’s Project Quantum. It’s specifically a Core i7-4790K “Devil’s Canyon” chip. A lot of AMD FX  fan boys will be heart broken to see  an Intel CPU inside instead of an AMD PC but there’s no real reason to despair. AMD officials have said from beginning they could have based it on an AMD CPU too. But in the here and now, AMD knows who is in charge and it’s not Charles from the sitcom show.

devilscanyon Gordon Mah Ung

Just in case FX fan boys don’t believe it, here’s a close-up of the Intel Core-i7 4790K powering this AMD PC.

A specially modified motherboard

The motherboard is indeed off-the-shelf, but if you look at the pictures, it’s been heavily modified. For a point of reference, this image shows an unmodified Asrock Z97E-ITX/ac board. Note those silver blocks near the top.

asrock Asrock

Here’s a stock image of the Arock Z97 Mini-ITX board used in Project Quantum.

The shot below shows all those silver blocks (of the rear I/O) removed, leaving just the gigabit port. AMD uses a short dongle that plugs into the ethernet port that goes to the back of the machine. Why? You probably didn’t realize it from looking at the picture of the back of the machine, but AMD actually mounted the motherboard backwards. The back of the board faces the front of the machine. The whole board is also inverted to make contact with the water block. 

theboard Dan Masaoka

The machine is based on an Asrock Z97 Mini-ITX motherboard. And yes, look again fanboys, that’s no AMD CPU.

Here’s a look at the front of the motherboard. The Main Power Connector on the motherboard has been rotated 90 degrees and a small PicoPSU-style power adapter plugs into it.

power Dan Masaoka

This is actually the front of the Asrock motherboard, facing the rear of the machine.

This is not a DIY build

One thing I’ll say about Project Quantum is that it’s not an easy build by any stretch of the imagination. Just getting out the water block and motherboard was a serious pain. Every tightly packed cable I pulled represented rebuild time, time in my life i'd never get back. Project Quantum, at least in this state, presents best as a completed or nearly completed product.

I did get it back together, but not before sweating bullets. If AMD ever does manage to turn Project Quantum into a commercial product, I’m sure custom cable length cables will be used. Even then, I’d probably want to buy a Project Quantum, then build it from the ground up on my own.

boardout Dan Masaoka

Getting this motherboard out is not for the faint of heart. At one point, I called AMD to see if I could send it back in pieces. I was told no.

One day, it might actually be sold

Project Quantum is indeed an incredible little PC. It ranks among one of the coolest I’ve seen in a small production run. Yes, I’ve seen modded  PC’s that are even more amazing and certainly wired better but those are one-off machines. From nosing around Project Quantum, I can only conclude that AMD actually intends, or at least hopes, to market it.

I make that statement based on the simple fact that there’s no other logical reason for Project Quantum. AMD could have just jammed its new Fury X cards into off-the-shelf, small-form-factor case, or hired a modder to craft a few machines, and called it a day. Why burn engineering time and precious (and dwindling) resources to make it?

topdown Gordon Mah Ung

I can only conclude that AMD intends to sell Project Quantum somehow.

So if AMD is intent on making Project Quantum, the question is, what would it be used for? The company isn’t likely to sell directly to consumers. That would just anger PC OEMs, giving them another reason to run into Nvidia’s arms.

Where could AMD sell Project Quantum machines without angering OEMs, and who needs such a crazy-looking and compact water-cooled PC?

The answer: VR. 

With VR positioned as a hot tech buzzword with billions at stake, AMD could potentially sell Project Quantum machines packaged up with the VR headset of choice. It could be a turnkey product for Hollywood, universities, and corporations. Project Quantum rigs could run small demo kiosks or even be used to build small VR “theaters."

At least, that’s what I can conclude. Such a use wouldn’t offend its PC partners as much,and it's a context where such a small, cool and powerful box would actually be called for. 

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Maybe, just maybe, AMD wanted to spend tens of thousands of dollars and months of work to make a dozen Project Quantum rigs just because it’s friggin’ cool.

projectquantum2 Gordon Mah Ung

Project Quantum is incredibly cool, but what will it be used for?

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