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Compact, rugged PC packs Xeon heat, keeps cool fanlessly

Jan 14, 2016 — by Rick Lehrbaum 3,825 views

[Updated: Jan. 18] — Compulab’s compact, rugged “Airtop” PC uses 5th Gen Xeon and Core CPUs, supports four simultaneous displays, has dual GbE ports, and accepts PCIe GPU cards.

Yokneam, Israel-based CompuLab is well known for its rugged Linux-friendly computer-on-modules (COMs) and single-board computers (SBCs), as well as for several lines of rugged, fanless Intel and AMD based mini-PCs, including its Fitlet-PC, Fit-PC, Intense PC, and uSVR systems, plus a Mint Box created in collaboration with the Linux Mint project. Now, the company has added a higher-end, 7.5 liter, fanless PC called “Airtop,” aimed at workers, gamers, and servers, and based on Intel’s 5th Gen Xeon and Core processors of the Broadwell variety, running at turbo clock rates up to 3.8GHz.

Compulab Airtop prototype driving four displays
(click image to enlarge)

Compulab uSVR

(click to enlarge)

Compulab’s new, relatively compact, vertically oriented Airtop systems are encased in a slick-looking, diecast and extruded aluminum enclosure. But here’s the really cool part: according to the company, these systems are capable of dissipating the heat from up to 200 Watts of internal power consumption without fans or active cooling of any kind. Not only that, but they can do that well enough to operate within spec in environments as extreme as -40 to 70°C. This apparent violation of the laws of physics is enabled by a “patent-pending heat-exchange system that stimulates airflow without moving parts,” explains Irad Stavi, Chief Product Officer at Compulab.

Compulab Airtop front and rear views
(click images to enlarge)


Airtop features

Although numerous Airtop configurations are possible, Compulab is initially offering its Airtops in four models that differ according to their included processors, optional PCIe GPU cards, RAM, and storage:

  • Airtop-W — workstation model — includes a Xeon Processor E3 plus an Nvidia Quadro M4000 graphics card
  • Airtop-G — gaming model — includes a Core i7 Processor plus an Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 graphics card
  • Airtop-S — microserver model — includes a Xeon Processor E, 32GB of ECC RAM, four HDDs in RAID configuration, plus six Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Airtop-DIY — barebones model — supplied without processor, memory, storage, and discrete graphics card

The Airtop can also support other LGA1150-socketed Intel processor SKUs beyond those that appear in the list of standard models above, according to Compulab’s specs. The system has two 240-pin DIMM slots, which you can populate with up to 32GB of dual-channel DDR3-1866 RAM, with or without ECC circuitry.

Airtop block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

For mass storage, there are six SATA3 interfaces, courtesy of the system’s C226 (“Lynx Point”) I/O hub chip. Four of these route to an internal drive bay that accepts four 2.5-inch HDD or SSD drives. The other two go to an mSATA slot, plus a slot that accepts the super-small M.2 2280 SATA SSDs.

The minimally configured Airtop gives you three display outputs, including a DisplayPort plus a pair of HDMI interfaces that support resolutions up to 4096×2304 at 25Hz, and the system’s audio interfaces include optical S/PDIF, analog in/out, and HDMI audio. Other I/O includes a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, along with three RS232 serial ports.

Rotating Airtop’s side panel lock (upper image) results in easy access to internal configuration options. It’s like a small suit case!
(click images to enlarge)

Assuming you want to configure it beyond its baseline functions, the Airtop offers two other expansion options, the most prominent of which is a full-height, half-length PCIe x16 (PEG) Gen 3 slot that can gladly accommodate powerful GPU cards such as the Nvidia Quadro M4000 or GeForce GTX 950 cards bundled with the Airtop-W and -S models. Or you plug in anything else that fits in that size slot. Yet another expansion option involves the use of Compulab’s unique FACE modules, one of which comes preinstalled in the Airtop-S model, to boost its GbE port count up to six.

Airtop’s really cool air-flow tech

Compulab has been developing the Airtop’s “natural air-flow” (NAF) cooling system for about three years, according to Stavi. Subsequent to our initial publication of this post, the company published a page that describes how NAF works. According to Complab system can pump up to 200W of heat generation out of the system without moving parts or liquid cooling. Additionally, several photos and a video (see farther below) have been provided to conceptualize the ins and outs of the thermal wave created by the NAF tech.

Airtop airflow visualization
(click images to enlarge)

Basically, thermal energy is transferred conductively from the system’s principal heat generators — such as the CPU — to the sides of the case, which are extrusions that have hollow air-flow tubes that are oriented vertically. The result is a chimney effect, whereby cool air is drawn upward through openings in the bottom of the sides by hot air rising and exiting through holes in the top of the sides. (Hint, don’t lay this system down on its side during operation!)

Natural air-flow construction details
(click image to enlarge)

Designing NAF into a system that needs to be easy to configure, upgrade, and service was not a simple task, recalls Stavi. “It was very important to us to allow users to choose hardware, install and upgrade it at will. Too often, passive-cooling stands in the way of easy service, so Airtop is noteworthy for addressing the challenge of excellent serviceability of a fanless system,” he said.

“It is noteworthy that Airtop’s cooling capacity surpasses that of similar active cooling desktops,” added Gideon Yampolsky, Compulab CEO. “However, the real breakthrough in NAF technology is its scalability. Unlike conventional fanless cooling that scales with surface area, NAF scales with volume, making it an effective solution for many real-world cooling problems.”

Summary of Airtop specs

Specifications listed by CompuLab for the Airtop systems include:

  • Processor — Intel 5th Gen (“Broadwell”) processors, including:
    • Xeon E3-1285L v4 — 4x cores (8x threads) @ 3.4GHz (3.8GHz turbo), 65W TDP, integrated Iris Pro Graphics P6300
    • Core i7-5775C — 4x cores (8x threads) @ 3.4GHz (3.7GHz turbo); integrated Iris Pro Graphics 6200
  • Memory — 2x DIMM sockets, for up to 32GB dual-channel DDR3-1866 (ECC or non-ECC) RAM
  • Storage — 4x SATA 3.0 (up to 6Gb/s) interfaces, usable with:
    • Up to 4x 2.5-inch HDD/SSD internal drives with RAID support
    • 1x M.2 M-key slot
    • 1x mSATA slot
  • Networking:
    • 2x Gigabit Ethernet (integrated)
    • 4x Gigabit Ethernet (via optional Compulab FACE module)
  • Wireless:
    • WiFi 802.11ac + BT 4.0 (via optional mini-PCIe cards)
    • 2x microSIM sockets (for mini-PCIe options)
    • 4x SMA antennas (for mini-PCIe options)
  • Graphics:
    • Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6300 GPU (integrated in Intel processor); supports quad display mode
    • 2x HDMI 1.4a, up to 4096×2304 @25Hz
    • 1x DisplayPort 1.2

    • Optional add-in full height PCIe GPU card
  • Other I/O:
    • Audio — S/PDIF; analog audio in/out; HDMI audio
    • USB — 4x USB3; 4x USB2 (via optional FACE module)
    • 3x RS232 ports
  • Expansion:
    • 1x PCIe x16 (PEG) Gen 3 full-height, half-length slot (for discrete GPU or other options)
    • 2x mini-PCIe sockets (1x full- and 1x half-size; both with PCIe and USB signaling, and associated microSIM sockets)
  • Other features — TPM module, Kensington lock
  • Enclosure:
    • Dimensions — 10.0 x 30.0 x 25.5cm; (W x H x D)
    • Constructed of diecast and extruded aluminum
    • Passively cooled, 0dB noise level
    • Shock/vibration specs — (tbd)
  • Power:
    • Primary and backup inputs — 19V DC via 2x mini-DINs; 10-200W consumption
    • External AC supply — 100-240VAC 50/60Hz input @ 250W; 19VDC output @ 13.15A
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 45°C (standard), -20 to 70°C (extended), or -40 to 70°C (industrial)
  • Software — Linux 32/64-bit, Windows 7/8/10 (32/64-bit), Windows Server 2012 R2; Phoenix BIOS with Legacy mode, UEFI 2.2 mode, and secure boot

The Compulab video below shows how the Airtop’s natural air flow cooling system works.

Airtop air flow demo

Further information

Compulab says it’s currently limiting Airtop shipments to reviewers and key customers, but will open up general availability during Q1. Initial pricing, which varies according to pre-installed processor, memory, storage, and GPU options, starts at $1128 for the “DIY” model (processor, memory, storage, discrete GPU not included). More details may be found at Compulab’s AirTop page. All Airtop models include a 5-year warranty, says the company.

(advertise here)

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3 responses to “Compact, rugged PC packs Xeon heat, keeps cool fanlessly”

  1. bernstein says:

    A way more interesting combination may be an Xeon E3-1265Lv4 with 35W combined with a half length GTX 970 at 145W. Given that this combination loses 30W TDP on the CPU and adds 55W on the GPU it might be necessary to underclock the CPU slightly but even then it will be way faster for gaming, yielding a true 4K silent 8 liter gaming rig!

  2. Irad Stavi says:

    Such a system is feasible with natural airflow technology, but would require some changes to current Airtop design.

    Best regards,
    Irad Stavi

  3. Jon says:

    Would have been nice if this met the min specs for the Oculus Rift.

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