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The little tail of a silent sofa PC

This post should help to guide others and to help avoiding mistakes for building a fanless sofa pc. I‘m aware modern fans are very silent, please I beg you don‘t try to convince me if a fanlass pc isn‘t desirable anymore. I hope others could share similar project here so I also could get some new ideas ;-)

Where I came from: In 2015 my Playstation 3 system died, which was used for gaming (sic!) and watching bluerays and youtube videos on my flat screen. The fat PS3 was – for my point of view – noisy and my old Core Duo laptop was only a bad replacement. This system couldn‘t start without opening the lid, press power button, booting, than closing the lid. Also did the small cpu fan drove me nuts. Even worse the HDD was slowly dying. After half a year of pain I decided to buy a sofa pc. Also fulled by the hopes of Valve Steam Machine may lead to a higher market share thus more games in the future i choose Linux. My Desktop is Linux for ages so no gamble here (Otherwise I would properply bought a game console as a sofa pc again.)

After the pain of the PS3 and the old laptop I wanted a system without moving parts. No hard disk, no fan, no waterpump.

Evaluating the Options

I got my hands on three laptops one Dell with new Intel i7-6600U and two older HP with AMD A8-6410 and A6-7430. I tested the latest Ubuntu Beta on those systems. Thus if 3D was working and if the system was stable. I used „Unigine Heaven“ benchmark to test the systems and note down the results for the screen resolution 1080p of my flat screen with High and Low settings and measured the peek system consumtion. Than the laptops where returned to there owners. Somewho I either forgot to do the power consumtion for the A6 or didn‘t bothered due to system was nearly identical to the A8. The A8 had also an additional GPU – which was pain in the *** to operate under Linux. For the Intel system I lost my values. I later got my hands on an newer Dell laptop with 7600U - and the values were better but afaik in the same ballpark.

CPU            GPU                  High Low  Peek Power in W
AMD A8-6410    N/A                  67   168  34
AMD A8-6410    AMD R5 M240 1GB DDR3 122  240  41
AMD A6-7310    N/A                  80   201
Intel i7-7600U N/A                  251  509  46,4

The Intel system was the most capable but also very expensive back in the day. Alot of passive cooled NUCs system were available on the market but I couldn‘t find a (cheap) system with the option to add a dedicated GPU. I target the performance of the Intel system which should be good enough to play emulator stuff or some strategy game.

1st Gen – Fujitsu Furso S920
After searching some month for a system I stubled over a ThinClient from Fujitsu. Because Fujitsu also sold the ITX mainboard to industrial pc the documentation was good and very detailed. The ThinClient was passive cooled, had official Linux support from Fujitsu, a PCIe-port (even through not x16), enough power for a smaller dedicated GPU and in my opinion a nice case. I had some doubts if the AMD GX-424CC – more or less a A8-6410 clone – had enough punch in the long run. Another risk was the GPU. I was not sure if the a passiv cooled Nvidia GT 730 would really work with the power limitation and fit. AMD had sadly no GPU option available because I would have preferred a open source driver.

CPU          GPU                              High Low  Peek Power in W
AMD GX-424CC N/A                              58   143  27,96
AMD GX-424CC Zotac GT 730 Zone 2GB 64Bit DDR3 187  389  46 

I ordered the S920 together with a Zotac GT730 with whopping 16GB RAM in 2016. The GT730 was indeed a tight fit.
The system itself did run fine: no noise and mounted on the back of the flat screen invisible but even if somebody saw the box it was small and looked imho good. The graphic performance of the APU was – as expected – not good. But sadly the GT730 was also not as fast as I hoped for even if the numbers suggest it should have been good enough. The biggest issue was sadly the heat. The S920 could be mounted in to position „laying“ and „standing“. If the system was laying the GPU was mounted upside down and after longer play sessions – especially in the warmer month of the year the GPU was down clocking heavily. If the sytem was standing either the heated air of the GPU was heating the CPU or other way around.

I bought the system with hopes that AMD would release a entry card below RX450 with a actual RX400 gpu not a rebrand of an older generation or Nvidia a GT 930 – the OEM GT 945 I couldn‘t get my hands on – even if I doubt it would have been passive cooled. So at the end neither of the options materialized and I also doubt that either AMD or Nvidia would see a market for a sub 35W graphic card. The upper limit for both heat and electricity.
Thus I went back to drawing board after some month of ownership.

2nd Gen – Steacom FC5 vs. GT 1030

With the introduction of the AMD Ryzen and the very promising promotion of the APU series. I searched a while for a 2000U-based NUC-like system, but sadly nothing was on the horizon and so I scraped the idea and went for a custom build AM4 system. In parallel Nvidia did indeed released a successor for the GT 730 the GT 1030. So I bought this until I got my hand on an 2400GE which are and were only sold to OEMs. I selected the Steacom FC5 case which was big and looked very Hifi-style. I would have preferred to hide the box but this was better than all the other options I looked into. I also wanted to play Dirt Rally which the 1st Gen was struggeling heavily so I ordered both a upgrade for the Fujitsu and a AMD 200GE until the 2400GE was available. I also bought a A6-9500E to flash the X370 BIOS. I guess I wanted to play this game badly ;D

System              CPU              GPU                                     High Low   Power  Idle
Fujitsu Futro S920  AMD GX-424CC     Gigabyte GV-N1030SL-2GL 2GB 64Bit DDR5  647  1147  62,1   16
Steacom FC5 alpha   AMD A6-9500E     N/A                                     225  434   67,57  32,32
Steacom FC5 alpha   AMD Athlon 200GE N/A                                     259  610   55,44  32,48
Steacom FC5 alpha   AMD Ryzen 2400GE N/A                                     724  1455  86,21  34,95

First I got the 9500E & 200GE with an Biostar X370GTN. Updated the BIOS with the latest version but also did a small test run. I really liked the design of the case. The build quality was nice but sadly alot of empty unused space. Already the 9500E passed the GT730. I was a bit unhappy because the idle consumption was doubled compared to the previous Fujitsu but the performance of the 200GE was nice. So I had big hops for the 2400GE. Next was the GT1030 and disaster strikes. The Gigabyte card did not fit inside the case. The cooler was 2cm to long, but could have been trimmed down, but the heat generation of the card was even worst. On paper it should have been only 7 Watt in reality the complete system peek power crawled up by 20 W. With this high power draw I did not even try to fit it into the FC5. The NanoPower ATX was only capable of 120Watt at 12V. I was afraid of destroying the board, cpu or even gpu.

Later the year the 2400GE arrived. I liked what I have got, finally Dirt was playable good enough. But the increase in FPS had a big drawback 86Watt peek draw was not good. The complete case was heating up and I was wondering why the 2400GE was labeled as 35W. I‘m aware of the TDP is not Peek Power but 30Watt difference to a 200GE is a big gap. But I kept the system to 2020 until Corona thing.

It was time for an upgrade, maybe not because I needed a new system – more because I wanted to play with new stuff … Than ASUS announced PN50. The system I hoped for – not fanless, but I was willing to do something about that.

3rd Gen – ASUS PN50 - Return of the Mobile

So mid 2020 and I want this system badly. Looked on ebay, amazon an other pages nearly every day. Not available always announced in 2 to 3 weeks time. In November 2020 the first PN50 were available with the 4300U … not good enough and with the silicon crisis in full swing I didn‘t see any highend 4000U appear in any NUC-like system even if a Gigabyte, ASUS and Asrock announced devices. Found a 3400GE on ebay and could not resist. I was aware the difference to the 2400GE would be laughable – and so it was. At the end of January 2021 finally a PN50 4700U appeared on ebay, prebuild with less RAM, not a 4800U and a small SSD which I did not need. Screw it – 3 2 1 mine.

Additionally I prepared to pass the old components to my parents. Thus build an ‚normal‘ PC with the components I had laying around. And just for fun benchmarked the system too. I was not sure if I should put the GT1030 into the system or not. Even found a old HD5450 in the basement I had totally forgot.

System                CPU              GPU                                    High  Low  Peak   Idle
Steacom FC5 alpha     AMD Ryzen 3400GE N/A                                    780   1487 92,4   32,1
Enermax Midi-Tower*   AMD Athlon 200GE N/A                                    267   638  38,4   22,4
Enermax Midi-Tower*   AMD Athlon 200GE Saphire HD5450 512M DDR3 PCI-E         46    124  36     27,7
Enermax Midi-Tower*   AMD Athlon 200GE Zotac GT 730 Zone 2GB 64Bit DDR3       187   389  40,6   27,4
Enermax Midi-Tower*   AMD Athlon 200GE Gigabyte GV-N1030SL-2GL 2GB 64Bit DDR5 696   1708 50,23  28,7
Enermax Midi-Tower*   AMD Ryzen 2400GE N/A                                    777   1507 56,78  21,4

After testing the 200GE with the three GPUs I had laying around to decide which I wanted to pass to my parent is was confused why suddenly the peek performance droped to 36 from 50Watt with an 200GE. Also the idle was less than before. First I thourghed maybe the GPU-part of the APU was shut down and was not very efficiant. Than I removed the card and tested only the 200GE. 38,4W peak. Rushed to the FC5 and pulled the 2400GE. The 3400GE was already on its way. Also the 2400GE was using nearly 30Watt less power. I don‘t know if the power supply is faulty but the Steacom Nano Power takes 30Watt on its own even through it is rated at 87% efficiancy. On a side node the active cooled 2400GE was also on par with the passiv cooled 3400GE. With the ordinary 500W ATX power supply the FC5 had less temperature. Did not messaure the room temperature and everything, but the die temperature dropped by 10°C, 5°C are properply because the psu was outside the case and with was running with a open lit. But the remaining 5°C are caused by the NanoPSU.

I was not sure if I still needed the PN50 now, my major concerns could also be solved by another PSU but I sill kept the bloody thing I was looking after nearly a year.

System      CPU             GPU High   Low Peak Idle
ASUS PN50*  AMD Ryzen 4700U N/A 685    1500 41,5 13,8

I like the PN50, but the fan is from hell if the system is under heavy load. I even put 64GB RAM into it. More to prove to me the system upgrade was needed. The idle power consumtion is reduced compared to the FC5. 13,8W is nearly in the same ballpark the GX-424CC Thin Client was. The Peak power is also reduced. CPU wise the 4700U is a monster, GPU wise I hoped for a bit more. What do I do now? Unsure I will very likely order the AKASA Turing A50 to get rid of the fan even through this will sadly sacrifise the smaller form factor and replace the Steacom.

Summary & The Future?

In hindsight some decision were stupid, at most I hated the situation with the NanoPSU. I did run the system for years with 10-30Watt more than it should have been. Also If I would been a smart person I should have waited for a 4800U or even for a 5000U-based system. ASUS did announce the PN51 – but the question is when will it be available? As a summary if you wait for something specific it will not show up. Or at a time I have already changed my mind. The cheapest solution would properply been to use the Fujitsu mainboard an put it into a bigger case so overheating wasn‘t a issue. On the other hand the CPU was already in 2018 not up for the task anymore. Maybe I should have tried to get my hands on i7-8706G instead of buying the Steacom-case. But how knows what those systems would have for issues. All in all i was happy with all the systems. No noise, no moving parts and I didn‘t need to open and close the bloody laptop lid to boot the system.

Sadly somebody fixed me with the VR stuff… oh boy :(
tuubi 28 May
My Sofa PC is also my gaming box, which is pretty much why I gave up on the idea of having something small and fanless. My big Fractal Design tower case looks like a black monolith next to the TV stand, but at least it's well cooled and insulated and the system never gets too noisy, even under load.
I have 3 HTPCs. One of them (Living Room) is a Dell Optiplex 9020 running Ubuntu Mate 20.04 It has 4 Logitech F710s on it. Installed are all of my 2 to 4 player co-op games, fighters and other VS-like games from GOG, and Direct from Devs along with a quick link to Stadia. It's the most used machine of the house. It also functions for movies and music player. It's connected to a dumbTV Quasar 50 inch and wired internet.

The other one (Bedroom) is a System 76's Meerkat running Ubuntu Mate 20.04. I have a few SP games on it but it mostly copies the living room gaming library except for a few games my wife installed that she loves to revisit. This one has 2 Logitech F710s. It's connected to a dumbTV Quasar 32inch and wired internet.

The last machine use to be a basement HTPC but I recently moved and so it's designated for the yard and connected to a TV (Element 40 inch) or projector (LG 2014 model) depending on the weather. It's a Raspberry Pi 4 running Raspberry Pi OS latest and has mednafen (moslty Sega Genesis and PS1 stuff) installed for lite gaming. It's connected to 4 Logitech F710s. It has wired and Wifi access.

Each HTPC has a Logitech k400r as the "TV Remove"
dpanter 29 May
This is the correct amount of Logitech F710 gamepads.
True I have a steam controller and a Nacon PS4 clone and I have the feeling to have missed something now.

Last edited by doomwarriorx on 30 May 2021 at 9:49 am UTC
damarrin 30 May
Not such a little tail (sic) after all :-)

I just use a Steam Link over wired from my Pop_OS gaming desktop to a HDMI splitter that goes to TV and projector. I use it for gaming and watching media.

It’s not entirely problem free, however. If the PC locks the screen the Link loses audio and streaming has to be restarted. Also, after some time, it likes to start corrupting audio and streaming has to be restarted. Also sometimes, it’ll freeze the image and show the red bad network icon and either it’ll sort itself out after a bit or, you guessed it, streaming has to be restarted. That last one may be the fault of my crappy ethernet switches, however.
thanks for the inside. your setup was another option I had considered but was afraid of what you describe so discarded the option.
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