Tranquil T2e Atom PC review

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After all the pre-announcements and all the hype, we didn’t expect the first Atom processor to arrive in the PC Pro Labs to be found in a desktop PC. Nonetheless, silent PC expert Tranquil is first past the post with its T2e Atom PC – and it’s a wonderful blend of cutting-edge parts and intelligent design that really showcases the Atom’s strengths.

Read the full review of the Intel Atom here.

Tranquil’s familiar T2 chassis remains menacing to behold, with its array of cooling fins and glass-plated, glowing front panel. As befitting the name, there’s no whir of fans here; in fact nary a squeak can be heard from it when it’s on. Unsurprising given the almost complete lack of noise-producing parts inside.

All the hot parts are cooled by the case itself, with heat pipes discreetly protruding in the right places for chips, and fins around the drive bays to give away the fact there’s any cooling going on at all. There’s a little audible hard disk noise, true, but even that’s one of Western Digital’s Caviar GreenPower models, which allegedly gives a 4-5W power saving over most standard hard disks.

Clutter in this chassis simply isn’t an issue, with ample space for upgrades; there’s a spare bay for another hard disk and room for up to three PCI cards as required. And all this space helps keep the heat down, too: during our testing the heat fins barely rose beyond lukewarm, and a Tranquil spokesman joked they could even have left the Atom CPU bare if they’d really wanted to make a point – it’s the GMA 950 graphics chip that produces 70% of the heat coming off the Intel 945G motherboard.

The CPU in the Tranquil is one of Intel’s desktop series of Atoms. Listed as an Atom 230, it’s a single-core chip with a thermal design power (TDP) of just 4W. It runs at 1.6GHz, with 512KB of L2 cache and a 533MHz front side bus. It supports Intel’s Hyper-Threading, hence its appearance in the Task Manager as two distinct CPUs.

With 2GB of desktop DDR2 RAM to keep things running smoothly in Vista Home Premium, it managed a respectable 0.32 in our benchmarks. Not ground-breaking in that sense, then, but the major point is that it’s incredibly economical in producing that performance. With everything sitting idle we measured the Tranquil consuming just 30W, and under full benchmark load this still only rose to a maximum of 36W, barely surpassing 33W most of the time.

To put that in perspective, the Celeron-based Eee PC 900 scored around 0.33 in the tests we got running on it in XP (so lower that score a little for the dreaded Vista effect); while the VIA C7-based MSI Titan 700 managed just 0.36 yet has a higher TDP of 20W. To say that the Atom makes up at most 11% of the Tranquil’s entire peak power draw really highlights its efficiency – we can’t wait to test the battery life of the first Atom-powered laptops.

The Tranquil T2e Atom does have a few foibles that need mentioning, though. That pretty front panel leaves gaps for nothing but the DVD drive, so you’ll need to use the four USB ports on the rear to connect any peripherals. The 10/100 Ethernet port is joined by rather superfluous parallel and serial connections, rather than anything particularly useful. Thus, you’ll need to add £7 for a PCI riser and get yourself a cheap graphics card if you want HDMI or even DVI.

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