It's not only laptops that can benefit from cool-running processors. By using an efficient CPU that drops power consumption, less electricity is drawn from the mains, meaning lower electricity bills. And by reducing unwanted heat, extra cooling can be minimised, which means a more peaceful time since you won't get distracted by whirring fans the moment you click the On button.
For compact notebooks, the recent salvation has been the Intel Atom processor, explicitly designed to waste as little power as possible in order to keep netbooks cool and battery life long. We've already seen compact desktop systems that take advantage of the frugal chip; and now Intel has upped the ante by releasing a dual-core version.
RL Supplies fits the new processor to its Modula 330 Mini desktop PC. It's built into a simple but relatively robust folded steel case only 27cm deep and 10cm high. Or 10cm wide and 20cm high, since you can site the unit horizontally or vertically. The box feels strong enough but is not especially well finished or fashionable. A drop-down flap at the front gives access to two USB and one FireWire 400 port, along with two mini jacks for audio in/out .
A wired keyboard is included, an unusual type that includes a built-in touch-sensitive trackpad as you'd find on a laptop. The combination worked well and we could happily pilot the Modula without recourse to a mouse.
A Modula 330 Mini could sit under the TV and act as a media PC, and to this end RL Supplies has fitted the Modula 330 Mini with a combined digital and analogue TV tuner card. The Modula 330 Mini's living room credentials are undermined slightly by its noise levels though, as it includes two internal cooling fans that lift it just above ‘quiet' operation. While not as noisy as most tower PCs, it could be an annoyance if sited too closely on a desk top, as its size might warrant.
And with only analogue video outputs, many modern flatscreen TVs will be out of the question, as they require HDMI or DVI connections. We found picture quality on a computer monitor was softened by the VGA analogue display connection.
Windows Vista Home Premium is pre-installed, and unlike most regular netbooks, the RL Supplies Modular 330 Mini is quite capable of running this laggardly OS. In our WorldBench 6 tests, the system scored 42 points, making it over 20 percent faster than an Intel Atom CPU notebook, which typically scores around 35 points - and that's when running the leaner Windows XP OS. Many games will be a non-starter due to the Intel integrated graphics.
Its size, modest price and relatively low power consumption make the RL Supplies Modular 330 Mini a contender as a modest desk or lounge PC. It’s not the most attractive or well-finished PC around though, and can be bettered in performance, efficiency and quietness for less money.