Aesthetics

Note: PC-Club has started offering an alternative case for the Silencer since we received our initial unit for testing. The new case is a CoolerMaster ATC-620, and it is black in color. The internals remain the same, and given our comments on the LCD, we think that the CoolerMaster case is an acceptable alternative. This review, however, is using the Athenatech case and so we cannot comment on the actual build, aesthetics, etc. of the CoolerMaster. Also, the images in this article are rather grainy, and for this, I apologize. Unfortunately, it is a limitation of my current camera (which I will hopefully replace in the near future). The case and other components should not have the speckled look seen in the images, if that's any help. Here's a quick digital camera mini-review: do not purchase a Fuji S5000 - the ISO speeds are limited to 200 and 400, which results in grainy or grainier images. 10X optical zoom is nice, but it doesn't make up for the low quality sensor.

   
Click images to enlarge.

The exterior of the Silencer is relatively interesting. It's a thinner design and it could blend in quite well as a HTPC (Home Theater PC) system. As configured, that is not the intended market; but with the addition of a TV-tuner card, that is definitely one potential use. The case is made of silver plastic and steel with blue highlights. Opinions will differ, but we find it to be just different enough from the standard case to be attractive, without going into the realm of the gaudy. The top of the case (or side, depending on how you set it up) has a ventilation area that is above the CPU region at the rear of the case. It should help a bit in getting cool air into the case, allowing for the use of fewer fans.

The front panel has silver doors covering the optical drive and front ports, with a sliding blue door hiding the floppy drive. Power and reset buttons are located in the center blue area of the case, and in the lower right are three buttons for adjusting the front LCD. The remaining sections in the top-left, top-right, and middle right are simple covers that are fixed in place. What was that about an LCD? That's right, there's a small LCD located at the bottom of the blue stripe. Information on the temperatures of the CPU, HDD, and system is displayed, as well as the time and hard drive activity. The LCD is back-lit by a moderately bright blue light. If you want a dark case, you probably won't care for the LCD, but enterprising users can probably figure out how to disable the light. Also shown in the LCD is the current time and date, and you can set an alarm as well. (Who puts an alarm on a computer case? Am I alone in thinking this is just a little odd? It's something that I would expect from a $5 digital watch, not a moderately expensive computer case.)


Click to enlarge.

We like the concept of the LCD, but there are a few problems with it. First, the light as we already mentioned might be too bright for some tastes. A simple on/off button for the light would have been a great addition. The more important problem with the LCD is that it loses its settings whenever the system is turned off. So, unless you run the system 24/7, the clock and calendar will be of little use. An even bigger gripe is that the alarm defaults to "on" whenever the system is booted. If you leave it running, 11 hours after powering on, the alarm will go off. It's not the end of the world, but it shows lack of attention to detail on the part of Athenatech. If we owned this case, we would seriously consider unplugging the LCD/alarm in the present configuration, mainly due to the alarm going off at random times. It's unfortunate, as the case is very attractive otherwise.

One item to be aware of is that while the case appears to be designed with the ability to function in either a tower setup or lying flat, it really doesn't do either perfectly. In a vertical orientation, you'll need to worry about the DVD drive and take care when inserting and removing CD/DVD discs. Using it in the desktop orientation seems to be a good idea, but the temptation to block the vents on the top of the case with papers or - heaven forbid! - a monitor might be too much for some people. An LCD would probably be fine sitting up there, but we definitely wouldn't recommend placing a CRT on top of the case. The other problem with laying the case flat on its side is that the LCD on the front is made for the vertical orientation, so the text would be sideways. This doesn't prevent the use of the case in such a configuration, but again, it is a small concern that will affect certain users.

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  • yacoub - Sunday, May 29, 2005 - link

    "If you lack such amenities and live in an area where indoor temperatures can break 90 C,"


    90 degrees Celcius?! LOL!! :D
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 26, 2005 - link

    Oops... fixed. Reply
  • finbarqs - Friday, April 01, 2005 - link

    I stand neutral on this situation. Perosonally, I'm not into small computers, but i think that the Pentium M is an incredible platform, offering insane performance for such low clock speeds. (Instructions per clock?) but anyway, expensive to say the least... But it WAS a good idea to offer the Pentium M to the mass market.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - link

    PC-Club asked us to review their Silencer. Find me another Pre-built Pentium M system from anyone on the market - I'm not aware of any. If HP, Dell, Micron... whoever asks us to review a system, we'll do our best to accommodate them. Besides, PC-Club is not exactly small - there are over 50 retail outlets scattered across the US, although the majority are in CA. Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - link

    #17: Statistically speaking, most people are average, so "the 75% of the hard core" would probably be more like the "10% of the readership".

    So this box is targeted towards the "30% average" who can't build a better box. My numbers are made up of course, but it's true that statistically the average probably can't build a decent PC.

    Besides which, if I wanted a PC for 25% of the cost, 60% of the performance, and even quieter, I would buy a Mac mini, and Anand has very thoughtfully reviewed one for us.
    Reply
  • deathwalker - Wednesday, March 30, 2005 - link

    #16...its a good thing our federal government doesn't ever violate us!!....PC club? Lord where will we go next when we get desperate. I imagine the 75% of the hard core Anantech followers could do as good or better. How is it these jokers get space on this valuable tech. info website? I suppose next time i throw a box together I will write my name on it in crayon and send it in for a review. Reply
  • ElFenix - Tuesday, March 29, 2005 - link

    technically, you're supposed to remit sales tax to your local taxing authority on mail order purchases. when i worked at dell they pounded into us that you cannot tell people they save money because they don't have to pay sales tax. doing so is a violation of federal law. Reply
  • Zepper - Monday, March 28, 2005 - link

    Yes, PC club should have wired the case's LCD into the +5VSB circuit and/or provided battery backup for it. Any tech that can find his butt with both hands should have been able to figure that one out. But I still like the Athenatech A100 series - hard to beat for the price.
    . But when I'm building something that will total that much perhaps a Chenbro or Enermax Venus caae would have been a better choice.

    .bh.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, March 28, 2005 - link

    Just in case this isn't clear (#12), I *DO* like the system. The problem is that when a system is close to getting everything right, it just makes the areas where it falls short more noticeable. If I were actually buying the system, I'd go with the CoolerMaster case and two Seagate/Samsung HDDs. Also, $100 for assembly is generally less than I charge people. For a full PC setup with OS and software, I typically charge $150 unless it's a close friend/family member.

    #9 - Yes, you can build something reasonably silent on your own. I sort of take that as a given. Although I think you'll often pay more in the end, people that like to build their own PCs aren't really the target market for this system.

    #10 - The point on taxes was that depending on location, it can add a lot. If you buy online from a site that doesn't have a retail presence in your state, you don't get hit with taxes. (I.e. Newegg is in CA and NJ, so if you live elsewhere you don't get taxes added in.) Now granted, you're *supposed* to pay taxes on these items anyway, but I don't know anyone that does. :p

    #11 - I absolutely stick with my assessment of the Fuji S5000. Of course, the graininess is really a big problem when you're doing closeups. For pictures of people and such, you won't notice it much. Tweaking the colors and such also tends to make the graininess show up more, but it's necessary at times. It's not a *terrible* camera, but there are better alternatives in the price range.

    #13 - The PSU is standard. My comment on the "usually a 200W" is related to the case purchased separately, i.e. at Newegg. The comments on the speakers and sound I agree with. I don't think an Audigy 2 ZS is necessary for most people, and it is an option at PC-Club (for $100 - retail version).

    *Whew!* I think that covers everything. Again, I think PC-Club did a good job with this system, but there are still flaws and I feel it's my job as a reviewer to point them out. I hope that my article convinces them to offer an Athlon 64 flavor in the near future, as I think that would be a better alternative for gaming.
    Reply
  • blckgrffn - Monday, March 28, 2005 - link

    I would be pretty pissed if I got this computer, too. The components seem to be mismatched... having owned a Falcon-Northwest, I can attest to the fact that people who don't buy a dell or an emachine are going to be very picky about the system that they paid a good premium for. Any system from any OEM that wants to be considered elite needs to be well thought out and well implemented. I remember looking inside my Falcon and just saying wow about the cable management, the fans were quiet but pushed a good amount of air, and all of the components were at home with each other - unlike having a Raptor and a crazy loud fan in a SFF PC. That is just dumb and makes you wonder what they were thinking. Also, there was an allusion to a Power Supply upgrade just for Anandtech - a video card like that pretty much crys out for a 250watt+ QUALITY powersupply, not just a generic 200 watt one.

    I admit the price looks good for this system considering the components, but do not forget that it is supposed to be a gaming box - why wasn't there at least a Audigy 2zs thrown in for good measure? Ridiculous, as well as the speaker choice for a $2,000 system. I think that the FragBox from Falcon-NW is a very good SFF PC alternative, or if you don't care about size grab a good deal on an XPS.

    This article was a nice bit of fresh air, it seems that too many reviews (not here, really, but in general) seem to overlook flaws rather than point them out. If I wanted to hear about how great a product was, I would read their marketing BS.

    Thanks you Mr. Walton for an honest review.
    Reply

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