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Aleutia H3-R Fanless Core i5 Media PC

Aleutia H3-R is a completely fanless media PC from the UK sporting a 35W dual core Sandy Bridge processor housed in a rugged passively cooled enclosure.

September 5, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product Aleutia H3-R
Fanless Mini-ITX System
Manufacturer Aleutia
Retail Price £699 (base configuration)
£1223 (sample configuration)

Aleutia is a British company based in London which began operation by providing low cost PCs to internet cafes in Africa. Since those humble beginnings they have branched out to many countries across the globe. Their systems are underpowered by modern standards but Aleutia believes that horsepower found in typical desktop PCs outstrips the needs the majority of users. Rather than pumping their computers with more GB’s and GHz’s than the average lay person would ever require, they instead focus on giving their desktops solid industrial designs with an emphasis on low power consumption and low noise — in fact many of their machines are completely fanless like the H3-R, which they tout as a “Fanless Rugged Media PC.”


The H3-R ships in a plain brown box, bulging from the padding protecting the system inside.


Unboxed.

If the case looks familiar, you may recall it housed Logic Supply’s SolidLogic Montevina which we reviewed almost a year ago. Logic Supply calls the enclosure the Serener GS-L10 and it’s available for purchase on their website. It features heatpipes that pull heat away from the processor, piping it to a set of external aluminum heatsinks lining the sides and top of the enclosure. The Montevina had a socket P motherboard, a mobile Celeron processor, and GMA 4500MHD graphics (three generations old), so it wasn’t exactly a powerhouse. It was fairly energy efficient though, with a maximum power draw of less than 50W measured from the wall. The H3-R has similar power requirements but is equipped with more up-to-date hardware.


Package contents: system, power brick, WiFi adapter, DVI to VGA adapter.

The H3-R is offered with a low power desktop dual core Sandy Bridge CPU, either a 2.5 GHz Core i3-2100T or a 2.7 GHz Core i5-2390T. Both chips have integrated HD 2000 graphics, Quick Sync video encoding technology, and Hyper-threading, but the i5 also has TurboBoost (boosting the clock speed up to 3.5 GHz in single-threaded operation) and enhanced virtualization and security features. Our sample shipped with a i5-2390T, an Intel H67 mini-ITX motherboard, Intel 510 120GB SSD, 8GB of RAM, and a 60W AC/DC power brick. A DVI to VGA dongle and a USB wireless network adapter was also included (no WiFi onboard) though we’re not sure if either accessory ships with the product in retail.

Aleutia H3-R Configuration Options
Model
Base Model
Sample Configuration
Top Configuration
Processor
Core i3-2100T 2.5 GHz
Core i5-2390T 2.7 GHz
Core i5-2390T 2.7 GHz
RAM
4GB DDR3
8GB DDR3
16GB DDR3
Storage
250GB 7200RPM HDD
120GB Intel 510 SSD
120GB Intel 510 SSD
Operating System
None
Windows 7 Home Premium
Windows 7 Ultimate
Price
£699
£1223
£1591
Warranty
1 Year
N/A
3 Years (+£199)

Of course the cost of a fanless system comes at a significant premium. The base model with a i3-2100T, 4GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and no operating system costs £699, while our sample configuration comes in £1223. Note that there’s a £35 delivery fee for shipping to North America and there’s no option to buy it in US/CAD currency.

Specifications: Aleutia H3
(from the product
web page
)
Size and Weight
Weight: 3197g
Size: 224 x 195 x 79 mm Width x Depth x Height. Feet add 4mm.
Processor and Memory
Processor: Dual Core (2 x 2.5GHz) Intel Sandy Bridge Core i3-2100T CPU with 1333 MHz FSB and 3MB Cache. 64-Bit CPU, 2 Cores, 4 Threads. 35W TDP (base model)
Chipset: Intel H67 Express Chipset
Memory:. 2 x 2GB DDR3 240-pin SDRAM (1333MHz) or 2 x 4GB DDR3 240-pin SDRAM (1333MHz) or 2 x 8GB DDR3 240-pin SDRAM (1333MHz) Dual Channel RAM. Dual RAM Slots and BIOS Supports maximum of 16GB RAM. We always use Kingston or Corsair RAM, never generic
Connections
USB 2.0 Ports: 4 in rear
USB 3.0 Ports: 2 in rear
Rear I/O: Audio In/Out, Gb LAN, 4 x USB 2.0 Ports, 2 x USB 3.0 Ports, DVI-I, HDMI, DisplayPort, DC Input, eSATA, S/PDIF TOSLink Optical Audio
Graphics and Audio
Graphics: Intel® Integrated Graphics Media Accelerator HD2000
Display: Dual independent displays supported, each with a maximum resolution of 1920x 1200. (There are three display ports but only two can be active at once.)
Audio: Intel HD Audio
Motherboard: Intel DH67CF Clear Fork
Connectivity
LAN: Intel 82579V: 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet Controller
LAN Features: PXE Boot and Wake-on-LAN supported
Storage
* Solid State Drive (MLC, 2.5″, SATA-II):
* Intel 320 40GB SSD (200 MB/s read speed, 45MB/s write speed)
* Intel 320 80GB SSD (270MB/s read speed, 90MB/s write speed)
* Intel 320 160GB SSD (270MB/s read speed, 165MB/s write speed)
* Solid State Drive (MLC, 2.5″, SATA-6 Gbps):
* Intel 510 120GB SSD (450MB/s read speed, 210MB/s write speed)
* Hard Disk Drive (2.5″, SATA-II): Western Digital Scorpio Black Hard Drives (250GB/500GB), 7200RPM, 16MB Cache
Power Consumption and Details
Power Consumption Standby: 2.8W (Tested on AC Mains with system in sleep mode and headless).
Power Consumption Idle: 17.0W (Tested on AC Mains with Monitor Connected and USB Mouse and Keyboard Connected, Windows 7 on mechanical Hard Drive Booted).
Power Consumption Peak: 50.0W (Tested on AC Mains with CPU, Chipset, RAM, and Drive maxed at 100% using Futuremark 2010 software).
Power Supply: Onboard 12V DC PSU (11.5 to 12.5 V Range). Requires 12V regulator to run on 12V Battery.
AC Adapter: 12V 5A (60W) External Fanless AC Adapter with IEC Cable Connector. UK, EU, US, Australia Plug selected automatically based on delivery address.
Operating System
Linux: Ubuntu Linux 10.10 Maverick Meerkat 64 Bit, OEM Installation (user selects language, keyboard locality, username and password)
Windows: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-Bit, Windows 7 Professional Edition 64-Bit, Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 64-Bit.
Operating Conditions
Operating Temperature Range: -10° to 30° C (15° to 86° F).
Warranty
All Aleutia PCs and Servers include an International 1 Year Return to Base Warranty. Customer Pays Return Shipping to UK. Aleutia fixes or supplies replacement PC and Aleutia pays shipping to send to customer.

2 Year and 3 Year RTB Warranties are available at an extra price. Add the warranty to the shopping cart and we will contact you to collect payment via Google Checkout or bank transfer

Advanced Swap Out warranty is available for business and institutional customers in the UK. Contact sales [at] aleutia.com or call 0844-ALEUTIA for more information.

PHYSICAL DETAILS

The Aleutia H3-R measures 224 x 195 x 79 mm or 8.8 x 7.7 x 3.1 inches (W x D x H), with the feet adding 4 mm to its height. The case volume is 3.45 L, much larger than the 1~2 L volume of a typical nettop, but the H3-R of course packs much more horsepower and hefty heatsinks to cool it passively. The system weighs in at 3.2 kg or just about 7 lb.


The case has a plain front with dull yellow and green hard drive and power LEDs. If you’re interested in seeing the interior, check out our SolidLogic Montevina system review.


The H3-R has a single ventilation source, a small row of holes on the bottom of the case.


The system sports an Intel DH67CF motherboard which offers S/PDIF, DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI-I, eSATA, and USB 3.0 connectors at the back. The power switch is also located in the rear so it would be more practical to use wake-on-USB to start/resume the system.


The AC/DC power brick is a FSP model with an output of just 60W.


The USB WiFi adapter that shipped with our sample is a TP-Link TL-WN321G, unfortunately a 802.11g model. For a wireless media PC streaming HD content, 802.11n would be preferable.

TEST METHODOLOGY

Measurement and Analysis Tools

x264/MKV Video Test Clips

MKV (Matroska) is a very popular online multimedia container
used for high definition content, usually using x264 (a free, open source
H.264 encoder) for video. The clips were taken from two longer videos —
the most demanding one minute portions were used. To play them we use Media
Player Classic Home Cinema which by default utilizes DXVA (DirectX Video
Acceleration) with supported GPUs. For graphics chips that do not support
hardware acceleration for either codec, the software decoder CoreAVC is
used to render using CPU power alone.


1080p | 24fps | ~14mbps

x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Blu-ray version of an animated short film. It features a hapless robot
trying to repair a lamp on a spaceship.

 

As we’ve reviewed similar processors and graphics chips to those inside this fanless system, our test procedures will only involve measuring the system’s power consumption, exterior temperatures, and noise levels (to confirm silence) at various states. Measurements are made when the system is idle, playing high definition video, encoding audio and video, and when running synthetic tests like Prime95 and FurMark to stress the system to its limits as worst case scenarios.

All nonessential pre-installed software is removed prior to testing, and certain
services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled to prevent
them from affecting our results. Aero glass is left enabled if supported. We
also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep do
not function properly.

System Hardware


Aleutia H3 sample configuration device listing.

 


CPU-Z screenshot: idle.


CPU-Z screenshot: load.

TEST RESULTS

Power Consumption

Test Results: System Power Consumption (AC)
System
Custom mATX System*
Aleutia H3-R
SolidLogic Montevina
CPU
i3-2100T
i5-2390T
Celeron T3100
Sleep
2W
2W
2W
Idle
30W
15W
19W
H.264 Playback
35W
22W
26W
CPU Load
62W
55W**
45W
CPU + GPU Load
74W
55W**
48W
*Asus P8H67-M EVO with Seasonic SS-400ET PSU
**before CPU throttling

Given the superb energy efficiency of Sandy Bridge platforms, it was not surprising that the H3-R used about 4W less than the Montevina system with a Celeron T3100 when idle and during high definition video playback. In addition, compared to an i3-2100T using desktop hardware, the HR-3 used 13~15W less.

The fanless enclosure was fine with the Montevina configuration pulling 48W at full tilt, but the new Sandy Bridge setup was a different story. The power draw topped out at 55W and stayed there for 10~15 minutes before it dropped to the mid 40’s. The CPU had overheated and throttled down to 1.6 GHz to relieve the thermal strain. It seems that the i5-2390T is simply too much for the case to handle, at least when it came to synthetic stress testers (Prime95 and FurMark).


SpeedFan screenshot: CPU temperature on load.

With Prime95 running the CPU seemed to slow down when the temperature reached about 70°C. After cooling off for five minutes it would ramp back up again to normal speed and consequently overheating once again. We repeated the Prime95 stability test with only one thread and got the same result, only it took about twice the time before throttling.

Thermals

With the system failing our synthetic tests we moved on to real world applications running for more than 60 minutes. This time we also recorded temperatures via SpeedFan (the board surprisingly offers four different internal sensors) and externally with a infrared thermometer checking the hottest point we could find on the exterior (between them, the three sides never differed by more than 1°C).

Operating Temperatures
System State
Idle
H.264 Playback
iTunes
Media Espresso*
Hand Brake*
CPU
38°C
44°C
65°C
58°C
69°C
VRM
43°C
47°C
61°C
58°C
63°C
RAM
40°C
43°C
50°C
51°C
53°C
PCH
49°C
53°C
63°C
55°C
66°C
Exterior
34°C
36°C
45°C
40°C
47°C
Sys. Power (AC)
15W
23W
42W
47W
55W
Ambient temperature: 24°C.
*before CPU throttling

The CPU survived audio encoding with iTunes without throttling, staying at 3 GHz or above throughout despite relatively high temperatures. Encoding video with HandBrake caused it to throttle just as it did with Prime95. As the i5-2390T supports Quick Sync, we also tried the same encode using Cyberlink MediaEspresso (one of the few programs that supports this feature). This caused only 10~15% CPU utilization with the integrated graphics chip doing most of the heavy lifting. In this test the CPU also throttled but in an odd way. The CPU clock varied between 2.0 GHz and 3.1 GHz at first, then halfway through it started to shift between 1.6 GHz and 3.1 GHz and we noticed it hitting 3.1 GHz less often. The estimated encode time also increased significantly after this point so it was clear that the CPU had slowed down somewhat. Even more odd was that the throttling occurred despite lower temperatures than when it was running iTunes, though the power draw was higher due to the GPU being tasked in the encoding process.

The exterior of the case heated up quite a bit during the iTunes and HandBrake tests, exceeding 45°C at the hottest point. At this temperature it was rather uncomfortable placing a hand on the machine but it wasn’t hot enough to cause damage, at least not for short periods of time. It’s best to leave the H3-R out in the open, not encapsulated in a home theater cabinet where it could get muggy quite quickly.

Noise


Ah the sweet sound of silence.

Of course the H3-R’s claim to fame is its completely fanless nature. Simply a lack of fan noise doesn’t necessarily make a system completely silent though as there are other noise generators like coil whine from the voltage regulation circuitry or even the AC/DC power adapter itself. Thankfully the H3-R suffered from none of these problems. We were unable to detect whether with our mic or our ears, anything in the audible spectrum. With the system running inside our anechoic chamber measured 10~11 dBA@1m, the same as the noise floor.

Boot and WiFi Performance

In operation the system was incredibly snappy thanks to the Intel 510 SSD in our sample configuration. After optimizing the BIOS for swift booting, the system reached the “Starting Windows” screen in just 7 seconds, and took a grand total of 21 seconds to fully load the Windows desktop with all its shortcuts and system tray icons.

The included USB WiFi adapter was unimpressive, managing an average speed of only 9.4 mbps when transferring a large file over our 802.11g network with the router 25~30 feet away with one wall in-between. This is about half the speed we typically get with 802.11g devices. High definition video, even 720p, often exceeds this limit so this simply doesn’t cut it for a true media PC.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Aleutia bills the H3-R as “rugged fanless media PC” which is a technically accurate description. Being a seven pound tank of steel with numerous aluminum fins, it is of course quite sturdy. The same enclosure bestows it with fanless operation, with heatpipes on the interior piping heat to the heatsinks on the exterior for dissipation into the surrounding air. The hardware can handle any type of media playback you can throw at it except those old fashioned round shiny discs as it lacks an optical drive. It’s also very energy efficient, drawing just 15W AC from the wall when idling and 22W when playing high definition video.

The utilitarian design of the case mirrors the overall experience. Though described as a media PC, it doesn’t have any of the usual amenities, just the ability to play media and output it to a big screen. It lacks a remote, wireless keyboard/mouse, LCD display, the aforementioned optical drive, and software (it’s an almost bare Windows installation). It doesn’t have integrated WiFi either and the included 802.11g USB adapter is not fast enough to keep up with most 1080p video. You can outfit it with third party peripherals and software to make a more enjoyable HTPC experience, but it’s a shame to have to spend more money on an already expensive PC.

Part of what you’re paying extra for is a 35W Sandy Bridge processor, in our case, the highly coveted Core i5-2390T. Unfortunately the enclosure wasn’t quite good enough to handle the resulting heat with all applications. When stressed by HandBrake video transcoder, the system couldn’t stay sufficiently cool, forcing the CPU to slow down to alleviate the heat. The i5-2390T throttled less when we used MediaEspresso with Intel’s Quick Sync encoding feature, but still enough to annoy us. Only during less demanding work like audio encoding would the processor work at its expected speed for long periods of time. Also keep in mind that we conducted our tests in a 24°C environment, six degrees cooler than the environmental threshold claimed by Aleutia. It will fare even worse in areas close to the equator.

In the end, we can’t recommend the Core i5-2390T equipped H3-R. It doesn’t take a lot of horsepower to be a capable media PC, so presumably a Sandy Bridge based system would be used for more strenuous tasks like encoding video, especially given the Quick Sync feature included in the current generation of Intel Core i3’s and up. That unfortunately doesn’t mesh with overheating and an inability to sustain advertised speeds. It’s unfair that such a pricey system can’t be taxed to its limit without caveat, fanless or no. Depending on your usage pattern this may be completely acceptable, though if that were the case the cheaper TurboBoost-less Core i3-2100T would be a better choice.

Our thanks to Aleutia for the H3-R fanless media PC sample.

* * *

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