As PC technology migrates from business and home offices to all parts of the house, so the issue of noise becomes ever more important. Even if you use your PC principally for work, who wants to put up with the constant rattle and hum of cooling fans? If you want to listen to music or watch TV as well as work, then a loud computer is really a non-starter. A number of companies specialise in low-noise systems: earlier this year we looked at the Poweroid 1200, which is based around the fan-free Zalman TNN case. Although effective, this system is also very bulky and heavy. A more house-trained alternative is the Hush ATX from Hush Technologies: we looked at the living-room-orientated Media PVR model, although Hush does a range of regular-size and small form factor systems aimed at various market sectors -- including business and CAD/CAM users.
The Hush ATX Media PVR comes in a desktop-format case made from solid aluminium, with a brushed fascia that gives it more the appearance of a piece of hi-fi equipment than a computer. All that metal -- you can get natural (silver) or anodised (black) colours -- is put to good use at the sides, which are fashioned into serrated fins that conduct heat from inside the system to the surrounding air. To access the inside of the case you must remove six special screws (a tool is supplied, but you can improvise if it gets lost) and lift the lid, which is festooned with airflow-promoting holes and backed by a metal grille. Inside, you'll notice that, instead of cooling fans, the key heat-producing components (the CPU, chipset and graphics processor) have heatsinks fitted with pipes that carry heat to the sides of the case, where the aforementioned aluminium fins do their dissipation job. The power supply is also fanless, while the hard disk drive is mounted in a special low-noise enclosure. The other notable aspect of the Hush ATX's design is the riser card that plugs into the AGP slot and one of the PCI slots. This allows the graphics card and the TV tuner card to sit at right angles to the normal orientation, making for a more space-efficient layout and better airflow. Overall, the Hush ATX Media PVR is superbly constructed, and it looks and feels very smart. However, it's quite heavy at around 15kg.
The Hush ATX comes in a number of configurations, but our review sample was built around an FIC P4-865PE MAX motherboard with a 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 in the CPU socket; the chipset is Intel's 865PE and there are four DIMM slots, two of which were filled with 256MB PC3200 modules. You can boost the RAM complement to 4GB if necessary, although the 512MB complement should be enough for most purposes.
Graphics are handled by a 128MB ATI Radeon 9200 card fitted with VGA, RCA and S-Video connectors. The card supports resolutions up to 2,048x1,526, including a couple of 16:9 aspect ratios (1,920x1,080 and 848x480). TV tuner and PVR functionality comes courtesy of a PCI card -- Hauppauge's WinTV-PVR 250, which comes complete with a remote control. Of course, if you're going to record a lot of TV you need a big hard drive and a DVD writer: these are both present and correct, in the form of a fast 160GB Seagate Serial ATA unit with a rotational speed of 7,200rpm and a TEAC DV-W22E DVD-RW drive. The front panel carries a power button, two FireWire and two USB ports, and a pair of 2.5mm audio jacks. At the rear, you'll find the full set of FIC P4-865PE Max ports – parallel, 2 serial, 2 PS/2, RJ-45, 4 USB and audio (line in, line out, mic).
Performance isn't the be-all and end-all for a system like this. We've already commented on the Hush ATX's solid build and smart hi-fi style looks. We're pleased to report that it also lives up to its name, being almost silent in operation. Of course, that silence would be no use if the cooling technology didn't actually work; however, extensive usage in our labs did not result in any ill-effects due to overheating, so we can only conclude that the heatpipe/case fins arrangement does indeed work.
For the record, BAPCO's SysMark 2004 returned a score of 403 in the Internet Content Creation test, which uses applications like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Windows Media Encoder, Macromedia Dreamweaver and Macromedia Flash 5 to test a system's performance under a fairly demanding regime. This compares pretty well to the fastest PC we've tested to date – Dell's 3.6GHz Dimension XPS, which scored 490.
Service & support
Hush Technologies provides support by phone and email -- the company is German, and you call a +49 number for the former. The support page on the Web site provides driver downloads and other useful links.
Edited by Charles McLellan
Additional editing by Tom Espiner