So the new computer arrived today. In a fortuitous feat of good timing, the Brown Truck of Happiness came up the driveway right after I got the kids squared away for their naps, and I was able to spend my lunch break putting together the barebones kit I had ordered.
The new system is an nVidia ION box, and it’s tiny. Here’s a shot of the desk post-rearranging:
As you can see, it fits comfortably in front of the mouse pad with room to spare.
It’s fanless, and dead silent, except for the occasional read/write noises from the hard drive. Graphics performance seems to be pretty damn good for such a small box–I got about 40fps in World of Warcraft at native resolution (1280×1024), and all detail medium/high.
This is definitely not a barebones kit for the first-time system builder. Because the case is so small, everything is a super bitch to put together. The case only has space for one hard drive and one optical drive, and you have to install the RAM before putting in the HD, because there’s no clearance left above the RAM chips once the hard drive is in. The assembly was an exercise in routing cables. The whole thing is sort of like a Chinese puzzle box–you almost have to make a diagram before putting in the components, because you have to follow a certain order to get it all in on the first try.
Here’s the case with motherboard and hard drive installed. As you can see, the mainboard is only barely bigger than a 3.5″ desktop HD. I had to remove the power supply for HD installation to have enough space for my hands in that little case.
Here’s a shot from the side, without the power supply or DVD toaster installed. You can see there’s not a lot of space in that case even without the PSU in place.
The CPU is an Intel Atom 230, the same chip that’s in most netbooks. The case is a mini-ITX, and they make mITX boards with more powerful CPUs, but I’m not sure I’d want to try something with more heat output than the low-voltage Atom. As you can see, the Atom’s heatsink has no fan on it–it’s passively cooled. A more powerful processor would require a fan, which would make noise…and sit right up against the PSU, with no clearance left.
Here’s the case with all the components in it. You can see what a tight fit everything is, and how little space remains between the top of the heat sink and the bottom of the power supply. The power connectors for the SATA HD actually sit on top of the RAM modules.
Here’s a shot taken during OS installation. (I put XP Pro on it, which suits the Atom better than the bloated mess that is Vista. The ION box feels just as responsive under XP as the Core 2 Duo system did under Vista.) You can see the size difference between the old PC, and the new ION. The old box (which will now be Robin’s gaming system) wasn’t exactly a hulking beast, but the new one is maybe a third its volume.
All in all, that little ION rig is pretty neat: whisper-quiet, virtually no heat, and small enough to fit into a large-ish purse. I measured the power draw at the wall, and it pulls 32 watts under load while playing World of Warcraft.
That said, if I worked for a company that had a hundred of those as user desktops, and I had to maintain that fleet, I’d take up custodial engineering instead. That tiny little case takes up little space on the desk, and it’s neat to see that much capability in such a small form factor, but working on it isn’t much fun.