Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6908/compulab-intensepc-system-review-fanless-ivy-bridge
CompuLab Intense PC System Review: Fanless Ivy Bridgeby Dustin Sklavos on April 20, 2013 12:01 AM EST
Introducing the CompuLab Intense PC
The last time we checked out a fanless desktop system, it was Logic Supply's LGX AG150. While affordable, that system was powered by Intel's Cedar Trail Atom processor, a chip with serious teething issues under Windows. Today, though, we have a beefier beast: can CompuLab's Intense PC with an entirely fanless enclosure handle the heat from a 17W Ivy Bridge CPU?
While performance isn't exactly liable to be intense, what's certainly intense about the Intense PC is its weight. What you're looking at, essentially, is one massive heatsink with a computer at its center. The Intense PC is almost three pounds, so it's roughly as heavy as an ultrabook, but it's a lot smaller and denser. CompuLab's site says the Intense PC is ruggedized to take a beating and handle industrial situations, and I believe it.
|CompuLab Intense PC Specifications|
Intel Core i7-3517UE
(2x1.7GHz, Turbo to 2.8GHz, 22nm, 4MB L3, 17W)
|Motherboard||Custom QM77 Board|
|Memory||2x4GB Hynix DDR3-1600 (maximum 2x8GB)|
Intel HD 4000
(16 EUs, 350-1000MHz)
|Hard Drive(s)||500GB 5400-RPM Hitachi CinemaStar C5K750 SATA 3Gbps HDD|
|Power Supply||External ~30W PSU|
Realtek RTL8723AE 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz Wireless Ethernet
Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
Speaker and line-in jacks
|Front Side||4x USB 2.0|
Speaker and line-in jacks
2x Removable Wi-Fi antennae
2x USB 3.0
2x USB 2.0
2x Gigabit ethernet
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1|
7.5" x 6.3" x 1.6"
190mm x 160mm x 40mm)
Customizable FACE module
|Warranty||2-year limited parts and labor|
Starts at $399
Review system MSRP $1,149
The base $399 model is CompuLab's barebones: it comes with an Intel Celeron 847E, which offers just 1.1GHz dual core operation and ditches the RAM, HDD, and OS. What's important to keep in mind is that while none of the specs are particularly fancy, the enclosure is. I can't stress this enough: this is a giant block of metal with ports and a computer hiding inside it. It's also intended for predominately industrial applications, and comes with a 24-month warranty standard. This is effectively enterprise-class.
CompuLab sent us their top of the line model for review, so this is as good as the Intense PC gets before you start upgrading it manually. The Intel Core i7-3517UE is a dual core processor that runs at 1.7GHz nominally, up to 2.6GHz on both cores, and up to 2.8GHz on a single core. The HD 4000 does take a slight hit compared to the conventional i7-3517U, though, sporting a top speed of 1GHz instead of 1.15GHz.
Backing up that processor is 8GB of DDR3-1600 courtesy of Hynix, and the memory is user expandable to 16GB. The Realtek wireless is serviceable but not outstanding; as even smartphones are starting to graduate to 5GHz wireless, settling for the 2.4GHz band only is kind of a drag. Thankfully that's also user replaceable. Finally, the biggest drag may just be the storage subsystem. There's a full-size mini-PCIe slot inside the chassis,
but that slot does not support mSATA, which in my opinion is a pretty big omission at this point in the game. and it does support mSATA.
The chassis also supports a single 2.5" drive, but the 500GB, 5400-RPM Hitachi drive included lowballing it. I see why they chose this model specifically; heat tolerances are actually very high, with a maximum operating temperature of 70C, and the drive is designed for 24/7 operation. Still, in this day and age, a $1,149 computer shipping without an SSD is a bitter pill to swallow; if reliability is an issue, shipping an Intel SSD would've been appreciated.
Application and Futuremark Performance
Testing the CompuLab Intense PC is almost an academic exercise; mostly we want to make sure the Intel Core i7-3517UE is performing up to snuff and not being thermally throttled. I've hopped a lot of my desktop benchmarks over to the new mobile suite to keep everything lined up, so there isn't a tremendous amount of comparative data here. Still, you should get a pretty good idea of how the Intense PC stacks up against similar low-noise or no-noise boxes.
Unfortunately these are currently the only comparative results I can offer, but they paint a fairly clear picture. Any system running an SSD is going to perform better in PCMark 7, that's a given, and both Puget Systems boxes are operating off of SSDs. The Lenovo ThinkCentre M92 Tiny is a different beast, offering superior CPU performance with its low-wattage quad-core processor.
|Intense PC||Dell XPS 12 (i7-3517U)|
|3DMark (Ice Storm)||24472||32841|
|3DMark (Cloud Gate)||2997||3721|
|x264 HD 5.x Pass 1||21.69||29.83|
|x264 HD 5.x Pass 2||4.19||5.51|
Above are the remaining benchmark results compared against Dell's XPS 12 ultrabook featuring the non-embedded Intel Core i7-3517U.
It doesn't look good. While actual core temperatures for the Intense PC are pretty good, I suspect the embedded CPU is throttling more, and/or the BIOS for the Intense PC is keeping the chip from hitting higher thermals. Since the chassis is one big heatsink, the CPU would need to be kept under a certain temperature to avoid actually burning anyone who chooses to use the system. Performance isn't bad, but we're clearly looking at about 20% of the i7-3517U's potential left on the table.
Update: The embedded i7-3517UE actually has a nominal clock of 200MHz less than the standard i7-3517U, so the Intense PC's performance is actually pretty close to where it should be.
User Experience, Heat, and Noise
If absolutely nothing else, the user experience of the CompuLab Intense PC is a sound one. Since internally we're looking at a pretty basic Ivy Bridge-based system, there's no reason for anything to lack polish, and CompuLab wisely eschews Windows 8 entirely in favor of either Linux or Windows 7. The only place things really trip up are when you have to access the mechanical hard drive, but that's to be expected.
It should go without saying that the Intense PC is dead silent. The dense metal chassis prevents any of the sound of the hard drive from even escaping. The port layout is smart, and the system is surprisingly simple to service: a single screw holds a sliding panel on the bottom into place, and that panel holds the 2.5" drive. From there you can access the RAM and mini-PCIe slots.
Where things begin to get a little hairy is the heat. Since the Intense PC is, as I mentioned before, basically a big heatsink around a computer, that means that thermals can be come an issue. Internal thermals aren't really the problem, as you'll see below.
Getting heat off these components isn't a really big deal. The hard drive runs hot, but still well below spec, and the CPU runs comparatively frosty. Yet while the CPU's temperature isn't an issue, the temperature of the surface of the Intense PC is. At idle or under a modest load the Intense PC is safe to touch, but under stress I found the surface painfully hot. You're not cooking any eggs on it, and it's not going to produce third degree burns, but it's definitely too hot to actually handle. This isn't unexpected but it's definitely worth bringing up.
There are no surprises to be had where power consumption is concerned, since we're talking about a 17W CPU, a QM77 chipset, and a hard drive specced to draw no more than 3W.
The Intense PC peaks at 36W, which is a little high but still totally reasonable. What I do find interesting is how competitive the higher wattage quad core ThinkCentre M92 is at both idle and load.
Conclusion: Successful for It's Intended Purpose
If you're looking for a small fanless PC, there's typically a good reason why. It goes without saying that the CompuLab Intense PC isn't for everybody, or even for the majority of users, but it definitely serves its purposes. Like the fanless Logic Systems LGX AG150 we tested, the Intense PC can handle kiosk duty, but its more burly chassis also lends itself well to industrial environments, and it's more customizable as well. The front of our review unit features four USB 2.0 ports, but CompuLab offers alternative "FACEs" which can change the connectivity of the unit. That includes adding more gigabit ethernet ports, which can allow the Intense PC to operate as a heavy duty router or server.
Where things get hazy is the price tag. The 2-year warranty is good but not earth shattering for what's essentially a business-class product, and if you want this bad boy shipped with Windows you might be paying a premium. The LGX AG150 can be had for $409 with Windows 7 32-bit, but an Intense PC with a Celeron will cost you $549 before you even add in a Windows license. The LGX AG150 also ships with an SSD standard, something CompuLab can't claim.
Thankfully for CompuLab, they're not in the most direct of competition. If barebones x86 performance is where you need to be, the LGX AG150 will take care of you, but if you need some horsepower or a more rugged build, you're already looking at the Intense PC. The Intense PC also offers substantial customization options. If you need more performance and are willing to sacrifice complete silence and some durability, Lenovo's ThinkCentre M92 Tiny is also a solid alternative. My point is that while each of these systems has something to recommend it, none of them directly outclass each other.
I'm almost getting tired of saying this in reviews, but I've handled a lot of specialized kit and the Intense PC is no different. You already know if you were in the market for something like this, and the information you needed was just if it worked and how well it worked. I'm pleased to report it works and works well, and while you do lose a small chunk of the performance you might have expected from the i7, it's otherwise a fine and solid product. If you need it, and the price is not an object, the CompuLab Intense PC will serve you well.
Update: The mini-PCIe slot does support mSATA. The i7-3517UE is also 200MHz shy of the stock i7-3517U, so the performance drop is actually a more reasonable one.