Cryo PC’s virtually silent Alto system is a great example of a PC designed from the ground up as a media centre.
Much like QuietPC’s Zeno, the Alto contains not one single cooling fan. The processor, graphics card and power supply are all passively cooled thereby running silent. A 2TB Seagate Barracuda provides the system storage and this is the only noise-generating part in the whole system. It’s enhanced by a 60GB Corsair Force SSD using Intel Smart Response Technology. When this cache is in full effect, it not only speeds up the PC but can also enable the hard drive to power down, cutting back on noise.
These silent components are situated within Zalman’s huge HD503 Home Theatre PC case, styled much like a home-cinema receiver amp and so should blend in nicely with such equipment. Inside all drive bays are vibration-damped to cut down on noise should you need to install and more drives.
It features a large rotary volume control alongside two rows of control buttons and comes with a built-in DFSTN LCD panel which uses supplied iMon software to display various media-related information, so you won’t need to keep your TV switched on to use the system for audio.
The Alto is powered by an Intel Core i3-2100T, the ‘T’ designation for special low-power versions of the processor. CryoPC has further under-volted to reduce power consumption and heat generation still further. It’s the slowest Intel chip in the round-up, coming in just behind Apple’s Mac mini in our WorldBench 6 system benchmark, but delivers ample power for multimedia applications, such as the included Total Media Theatre software.
The nVidia GT430 graphics card adds DirectX 11 support and the ability to play some games if you stick to lower resolutions, although it’s not quite up to the performance of Chillblast’s Radeon HD 6570.
Also included is a quad-tuner Black Gold BGT3595 TV card which supports both DVB-T (terrestrial) and DVB-S (satellite) standards although you could opt instead for a dual-tuner card supporting Freeview HD at no extra cost.
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Review from 26/08/2011
By Andrew Harrison
Introducing apersonal computer to your lounge can be a great way to enjoy all its entertainment potential. But historically this has meant bringing ugly beige boxes that belch noise and hot air, and then require troublesome control with fiddly mice and keyboards – not so easy to wield from the sofa as a desk.
Microsoft made the last task easier when it introduced Windows Media Center to the platform, now bundled with every copy of Windows 7 Home Premium. So aside from the hassle of running anti-virus software and patching the OS with security updates just when you’d rather be settling down for relaxing telly on the couch, there’s just the issue of noise to deal with.
Cryo PC has overcome the near-impossible task with its Alto home theatre PC. With the help of an unusual chip from Intel, a solid-state drive, and fanless graphics card and power supply, we have a eerily quiet Windows PC that won’t make its presence felt acoustically.
In size terms, though, it’s no shrinking violet. Built around a huge Zalman PC case customised for the application, it resembles a home-cinema receiver amp. You’ll need to reserve a large shelf under the TV to accomodate its hulking frame.
Two push-to-open drawers cover front access points: namely, a Blu-ray optical drive above, and removable hard disk below. We’re not quite sure why you’d need such ready access to a raw hard drive, but it’s a neat party trick to be able to slide out big storage on demand. In fact, the Seagate Barracuda fitted here must be the only moving part of the media centre that can elicit any noise.
A Corsair Force Series 60GB SSD is employed not as main boot drive, but as super-cache to accelerate the main disk, using Intel Smart Response Technology (see pxxx for a powerful Chillblast gaming PC using the same tech).
For power, the Cryo PC Alto uses a Seasonic fanless power supply, rated at 460W. That really is more than enough for a system designed from the ground up to consume little power, lest that power is turned into heat that needs venting away with intrusive fan cooling.
At an idle Windows desktop, we measured 50W power consumption. that’s low for many PCs, if five times what the best media centre PCs demand.
One of the keys to successful quiet operation is a very low power Intel CPU. Alongside its powerhouse processor chips, some engineered for home hot-roddery to make them even faster (if hotter and hungier), the chip giant also has low-power variants of its desktop chips. Identified by a T suffix, they’re designed for lower consumption for just these kind of systems.
Cryo PC goes a step further though. It under-volts the chip, to lower its thermal envelope further. The Intel Core i3 here helped the PC to a WorldBench 6 score of 120 points.
Like overclocking, undervolting can be a twitchy business. Whether it was this or the vagaries of Intel’s budding SRT, we saw this PC blue screen multiple times during the lab tests.
The nVidia GT 430 graphics card is no gamers dream, but ought to be enough to accelerate high-def video on demand. In our FEAR games test, whatever the detail setting, the best framerate we saw was 23fps.