The Sound of Silence

Back in June 2012, I bought myself a Shuttle X35 fanless PC. This fabulous little personal computer came with a 1.6GHz Intel Atom dual-core CPU, to which I added 4Gb of laptop RAM and a 90Gb Kingston SSD. Result: a stunning little desktop machine more than capable of handling a 1920×1200 monitor and providing me with basic web and email activities, and completely, 100% silent to boot. What’s not to like?

Truth be told, precious little. In fact, the only real “gripe” I could level at the X35 was an inability to power a pair of monitors. But let’s be honest, what could I reasonably expect for £180?

Fast-forward to August 2014 and, sadly, my Shuttle suffered what turned out to be a crippling failure when it’s integrated Ethernet Port decided to die on me. I suspect this was due to  slightly excessive cable tension… but whatever the root cause, it turned out to be terminal. Time to hit the web and come up with a replacement. And I struck gold. The folks over at AtLast Solutions have been building a range of fan-less and small-form-factor PCs for quite some time know, and their experience shows.

A phone call to discuss my requirements and I was recommended the “Newton” system, built around a dual-core i5 processor. Offering 4 cores with hyper-threading, this model had not been my first choice (since I had been tempted by the Core i7 options). However, I soon learned that the i5 alternative has improved graphics (courtesy of Intel HD5000 Pro GPU, roughly twice as powerful as the i7’s 4600GPU) and runs cooler to boot. I pushed the specification to the limit, opting for 16Gb of RAM and a huge SSD, but now have a machine that dual-boots between a 64-bit edition of Win7 Pro [supplied and installed for me] and a 64-bit edition of Linux Mint 17.0 (Qiana). This combination works flawlessly: I can select my OS of choice at boot time, and switch between them in seconds.

No, this is nowhere near the economy level of the Shuttle X35, but, oh my, it simply blows away the older unit in terms of speed and sheer fun. Better yet, the Newton is equipped with an HDMI Port and a Display Port… My Dell 24″ Monitors have suitable connectors, so I now switch between systems using monitor input selectors rather than a KVM switch. Much, much better.

Awesome solution: I’m chuffed.

Huge thanks and kudos to AtLast Solutions!

Taz, Part 4

I think there is (or needs to be) a tradition which states that, just when you think things are going brilliantly well, a snag will come along that trips you up. The build of Taz was no exception to this rendition of Murphy’s Law. The guys at RapidPCs had worked (very) late into the night to put together dual cooling circuits, and get everything topped up with coolant ready for a good cycle of running-in testing, which typically consists of running performance tests to get everything nice and warm, then carefully watching temperatures and cooling system performance.

The preliminary work complete, the guys called it a night… only to return the following day and realise that the GPU wasn’t entirely straight in it’s PCI slot, and that a couple of the tubing runs were in need of some length adjustment. We had a chat about approach on Saturday, and Simon has the machine for another week so that he can continue to fine-tune to his satisfaction. We’re aiming for a really cracking finished article here, with the hope that we can use pictures to showcase the work and win some more business.

The really great news from this assembly, however, is that this system is practically silent, even under the kind of loads used in stress testing. Some of that comes down to good component selection; most of it to a really thoughtful build…

Taz, Part 3

As it turns out, my prediction of Taz being ready early was somewhat optimistic. Although the bulk of the build went extremely well [better than expected] the complexities of building two cooling circuits in one case soon surfaced – not least of which turned out the be the general unavailability of the reservoirs we’d originally chosen. But, from adversity we sometimes capture an advantage, and so things turned out here, in the form of a timely motherboard upgrade.

Well, put another way, in honour of the impending arrival of Taz, one of my friends offered me this absolutely spectacular motherboard upgrade. Needless to say, it was a big hit with the guys at RapidPCs!

Taz, Part 2

Popped in to see the guys at Rapid PCs on Saturday, just to see how Taz was progressing, and the news is beyond good. Simon has fitted the replacement PSU, the motherboard, CPU, the CPU water-cooling block and the RAM. He’s also fitted both radiators (though he’s still working on anchoring the smaller twin-fan unit) and equipped the triple-fan radiator with it’s ultra-quiet fans.

Yes, we’d have to concede that the beige/brown colour scheme of the fans isn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the case… but my primary interest here is having something that’s ultra-quiet. The case isn’t windowed, so the interior won’t be on display, and I’m more concerned with near-silent operation. The picture probably doesn’t do it justice – this is a really great build…

Maybe a week or so to go, if I’m lucky… Whoot!

Taz, Part 1

Popped in to see the guys at Rapid PCs on Saturday, who are in the process of assembling a new machine for me. We’ve adopted a fairly slow, methodical and cautious approach to this build (which makes a change for me!), primarily because I have given the guys such an incredibly exacting specification, meeting it is proving to be quite a challenge. I have to say, it’s great to see them as excited about the build as I am!

The good news is that we’ve now got most of the components we need (pretty much the only pieces left to order are the tubing that will be used to make up two discrete water-cooling circuits and of course all the adapters and joints needed to put them together…  Then, of course, the real fun (assembly) starts in earnest!

Oh, the title of the post, you say? Well, one of the side projects for this build is the assembly of a suitably robust shipping crate in which to carry a machine of this size and weight. Early candidates for the design are based around something made from marine plywood (!!!) and fitted with castors (and probably forklift truck slots). The machine itself is pretty tall, so the case will have two large side panels that will be crying out for some decoration. Not entirely sure what I’ll end up with, but first bid is of a huge stylized “Tasmanian Devil”, in the Disney Cartoon sense. We shall see what I can find!

Components being tinkered with so far range from the very large (the case, image at left, is huge) to the very small (the shiny thing on the right is the machined water-cooling block for the CPU). Going to be good…