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Fanless, Linux-friendly Kaby Lake mini-tower drives seven 4K displays

Feb 13, 2018 — by Eric Brown 2,529 views

Compulab’s rugged “Airtop2” mini-tower runs Linux Mint or Win 10 on a Xeon E3-1275 or Core i7-7700 CPU with optional Nvidia Quadro P4000 graphics plus up to 64GB DDR4, a 6-drive NVMe/SATA subsystem, up to 7x display ports, and optional M.2 and FACE modules.

Fanless computing designs are fairly straightforward if you’re running an ARM SoC or an Intel Atom, but it gets a lot trickier when you’re packing a high-end Intel Core CPU. Two year’s ago, Compulab’s Intel Broadwell-based Airtop computer pushed the envelope in providing high end features — and supporting high temperatures — without the noise, power draw, and maintenance issues involved with fans. Like the similarly designed Airtop, its new Airtop2 mini-tower supports up to -40 to 70°C temperatures, yet it supplies faster 7th Gen “Kaby Lake” Intel processors and higher end features.

Airtop2 front, back, and angled views
(click images to enlarge)

Airtop2 compared
to a keyboard

(click to enlarge)

Compulab’s “Natural Airflow” cooling technology features a multi-stage heat-exchanger with a mirror-polished copper plate that works with criss-crossed, flat heat pipes. These in turn are cooled by upward flowing air-tubes that exploit a stack effect based on the temperature gradient between the tubes and the air within.


The cooling system has separate cooling and thermal zones for CPU, GPU, and storage. (For more details on the similar, 2016 version of the Natural Airflow tech, see our previous Airtop story.)

The highly customizable, made-to-order Airtop2 starts at $1,335 for a barebones, no RAM, no storage system with a quad-core, 3.6GHz/4.2GHz Core i7-7700 with 65W TDP and integrated Intel HD Graphics 630. The server-class, up to 3.4/3.8GHz Xeon E3-1275 v6 with 73W TDP costs $44 more.

Those prices are only for the 0 to 45°C model. You’ll add $49 for -20 to 70°C and $124 for the full -40 to 70°C. Like the Airtop, the system measures 300 x 255 x 200mm.

Airtop2 exploded view
(click images to enlarge)

Based on earlier Compulab offerings, such as the recent Fitlet2 mini-PC, we imagine a pre-loaded Linux Mint image will cost a bit more and Windows 10 Professional will cost a lot more. The system is compatible with other Linux and Windows variants, as well

Airtop2 block diagram
(click image to enlarge)

Aside from the new processor options, the major improvements include a doubling of maximum RAM to 64GB of DDR4. The storage system has also been upgraded. Once again, you get six storage sockets, but this time two of them support the PCIe based NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) solid state drives, which offer higher-bandwidth and lower latency than the Airtop2’s 4x SATA 3.0 HDD/SSD slots. In addition, if you choose to use up your free PCIe x16 slot, you can add an optional “NVM3” card, which furnishes three more NVMe slots with NGSFF support and up to 9500 MB/s throughput.

Airtop2 detailw
(click images to enlarge)

Those of you who plan to use your Airtop2 system for games and high-end graphics, however, may instead want to use that PCIe x16 for one of two discrete graphics card options. The higher end choice is the Nvidia Quadro P4000, which offers 1792 CUDA/Pascal cores, 8GB GDDR5, and support for up to four 5K displays (5120 x 2880 at 60Hz) with HDR color support. There’s also the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060.

Airtop2 internal view after opening with clamshell door, and front and rear views of its mainboard
(click images to enlarge)

The two discrete graphics options provide their own 4x and 3x DisplayPorts, respectively. Since either one of these cards works in conjunction with the integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 and the Airtop2’s default 2x DisplayPorts and single HDMI 1.4 port, you can drive up to seven 4K displays simultaneously. The GeForce also adds an HDMI 2.0 port.

Aside from these major options, there’s an expansion slot that supports Compulab’s FACE modules. One of these, for example, adds 2x USB2.0 ports and 4x GbE ports (standard, SFP+, or PoE) to the default allotment of 2x GbE and 6x USB 3.0 ports (see the chart below for all the FACE modules).

Airtop2 FACE module options
(click image to enlarge)

The Airtop2 also provides a pair of M.2 slots that support optional WiFi-ac/BT 4.2 and 4G (with SIM card slot) modules, respectively. These are backed up with 4x antennas. Three serial ports are standard, and you can six more with an optional FACE module. Other standard features include S/PDIF audio and two pairs of 3.5mm analog audio in/out jacks.

The Airtop2 has dual wide-range power inputs with automatic failover, a novel clamshell opening design for easy access, and other high-end features such as a OLED display for diagnostics. TPM is optional.

Specifications listed for the Airtop2 include:

  • Processor — Intel 7th Gen (“Kaby Lake”) with Intel C236 chipset:
    • Core i7-7700 (4x Kaby Lake cores @ 3.6GHz/4.2GHz); 65W TDP
    • Xeon E3-1275 v6 (4x Kaby Lake cores @ 3.4/3.8GHz); 73W TDP
  • GPU/display ports:
    • Intel HD Graphics 630 with 2x DisplayPort 1.2 (4K @ 60Hz), HDMI 1.4 (4K @ 24Hz)
    • Optional Nvidia Quadro P4000 (8GB) discrete graphics via PCIe with 4x DisplayPort 1.4 (5K @ 60Hz or 4K @ 120Hz)
    • Optional GeForce GTX 1060 (6GB) discrete graphics via PCIe with 3x DisplayPort 1.4 (4K @ 120Hz), HDMI 2.0b (4K @ 60Hz)
    • Up to 7x simultaneous 4K displays with Graphics 630 + one of the optional graphics cards
  • Memory — Up to 64GB dual-channel DDR4-2400 (ECC or non-ECC) RAM via 4x sockets
  • Storage:
    • MicroSD slot
    • 4x SATA 3.0 for 2.5-inch HDD/SSD with RAID
    • 2x NVMe (PCIe x4 and M.2 M-key 2280/2260/2242/2230)
    • Optional NVM3 card (via PCIe x16) with 3x NVMe and M.2 M-key 2260/2280/22110; NGSFF support and up to 9500 MB/s
  • Networking:
    • 2x Gigabit Ethernet ports
    • 4x Gigabit Ethernet ports via optional Compulab FACE module
  • Wireless:
    • Optional 802.11ac + BT 4.2 (via M.2 E-key cards)
    • Optional 4G cellular via M.2 B-key plus microSIM socket
    • 4x SMA antennas
  • Other I/O:
    • 6x USB 3.0 ports
    • 2x optional USB 2.0 ports (via FACE module)
    • 3x RS232 ports
    • Audio — S/PDIF output; 2x analog audio in/out; HDMI and DP audio; second ALC1150 audio codec (via optional FC-AT2 FACE Module)
  • Expansion (also see above):
    • 1x PCIe x16 Gen 3 (normally for discrete graphics or NVM3 storage)
    • M.2 E-Key (normally for WiFi/BT)
    • M.2 B-Key (normally for 4G)
    • FACE module socket (normally for FC-AT2)
  • Other features – I3M OLED display with keypad for power consumption, temperature, and system info; diagnostic LEDs; TPM 2.0 in chipset; optional discrete TPM; Kensington lock; wall and DIN-rail mount; RTC with battery; easy access with clamshell door lock
  • Power:
    • 2x redundant 19-24V DC inputs with automatic failover
    • 8W to 240W consumption
    • FPGA-based digital power and reset
  • Operating temperature — 0 to 45°C (standard), -20 to 70°C (extended), or -40 to 70°C (industrial)
  • Dimensions — 10.0 x 30.0 x 25.5cm (W x H x D)
  • Weight – 4.5 to 7.5 k
  • Operating system — Linux Mint, Windows 10 Pro, or barebones (other x86 Linux, Windows etc. distros supported

Further information

The highly customizable Airtop2 is available starting at $1,335. Compulab’s Airtop2 shopping page offers feature configuration forms to determine final pricing. More information may be found on the Airtop2 announcement page and product page.

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