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AOpen EY855: Can the Pentium-M Make SFF PCs Cool and Quiet?

Fast, Compact And Quiet

A Quiet Barebones Pentium-M PC

AOpen's latest offering, the XC Cube Ey855-II, proves that all small form factor (SFF) PCs do not need to be noisy. AOpen is largely able to accomplish this feat by combining the low power and heat capabilities of Intel's Pentium-M notebook CPU with a specialized ventilation design.

Additionally, AOpen also takes advantage of the Pentium-M's features, normally reserved for notebooks, to add value to the XC Cube that competing SFF PCs or desktop PCs do not offer.

These features include the Pentium-M's built-in Speedstep Function, which was originally designed to conserve the battery life for notebook computers. Specifically, the Speedstep function lowers the CPU's clock speed when the PC runs idle or for light workloads. At lower speeds, of course, the CPU consumes significantly less power.

The EY855's software manages to use the Speedstep Function, so as to turn itself down to a low simmer when in idle mode. This means not only does that the unit conserve power, but also produces the pleasant side effect of lowering fan speeds and noise levels.

Meanwhile, AOpen doesn't offer any surprises when it comes to the EY855's case. It's more or less identical to the one used in an older model, the EY65, and also features the same set of interfaces and connectors on its back side as well. Even when you crack the case and look around inside there's really nothing special that calls attention to the presence of the built-in Pentium-M processor. The layout of interface sockets and major system components appear completely unchanged. Even the nice cable layout matches the older model exactly.

Appearances aside, a careful look at the technical specifications speaks to the differences between the EY65 and the newer EY855.

The CPU socket looks a lot like the old 478 pin model for Pentium-4 processors, but a close count of pinholes reveals that an extra connection is present. This is to accommodate the Pentium-M Mobile CPU, which in fact has 479 pins rather than 478. Likewise, the chipsets on the motherboard include special components that were previously found only in notebook computers.

The i855 GME Northbridge and ICH4 Southbridge chipsets are used to integrate the Pentium-M processor with the motherboard. Other chipsets are also used, primarily to add support for Serial-ATA drives and dual channel DDR2 memory.

Nevertheless, it's obvious that the EY855 hasn't been designed to capture much attention from gamers or those who need lots of number-crunching horsepower. Because the Pentium-M currently tops out at 2 GHz, those who require maximum PC power will have to look elsewhere. That said, Internet or office application users should find the PC more than adequate.

Real gamers, on the other hand, will probably want to invest in much more CPU and graphics power, such as CPUs running no less than 3 GHz, and systems with SLI mode - Scalable Link Interface, with which two identical high-end graphics cards are combined to substantially boost graphics power and capability - in other words, the EY855 just doesn't cut it for serious gaming.