Tranquil have just released a new media center PC, the T7-MP2. For those of you not familiar with Tranquil, they are a British company specializing in making low energy PCs. They have a fantastic line in Home Servers, and have turned their expertise to making a near silent media center PC.
The T7-MP2 is based on Tranquil’s popular T7 chassis, which is a fanless case, achieving it’s cooling by having a black aluminium case which is basically one big heatsink. An external power supply like on a laptop also helps them to get rid of the heat silently. The compact design does allow for 2 hard drives inside if you like, but doesn’t have space for an internal DVD driver or TV tuner. Both can of course be added using external USB devices, but Tranquil wanted to do better than that, and wanted to make it a proper media centre system out of the box. They therefore asked me if they could include TunerFreeMCE on the T7-MP2 so that people have access live and catchup TV straight away. I was already a big fan of Tranquil, not least because their PCs are all carbon neutral for 5 years use, so I was very happy to work with them – it’s a fantastic partnership of a great media center PC with excellent software.
I received a T7-MP2 as part of getting TunerFreeMCE pre-installed and branded, so I decided to write a review of this new entrant to the Media Centre market.
The first thing I noticed when starting the T7-MP2 is how much care Tranquil have taken to make a good out of the box build. Tthose of you used to buying boxes from the likes of Dell and HP will be familiar with spending half a day uninstalling the unwanted crapware, installing and configuring the right software, and getting everything up and running. My T7-MP2 came without the usual bloat, and booted really quickly straight in to media centre. It was all configured ready to go, and had useful software like Microsoft Security Essentials installed already instead of trying to sell you some high-profit, low value AV software. The whole experience was thoroughly refreshing, and made me appreciate the benefits of avoiding the big box brands.
My box came with the lowest spec – 2GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive. Of that 2GB RAM, 250MB is used by the graphics card, leaving just 1.75GB available. Given that it comes with 64bit Windows 7 Home Premium installed, I was concerned that the memory was just too low for the system to operate properly. I gave it a go though, and was surprised that it ran without problem. That’s really a tribute to Windows 7 – you’d never have got away with that on Vista. If you change your mind though, the case is pretty easy to open to add more memory yourself .
Other good features is the excellent number of connections at the back – it has 6 USB, eSata, Gigabit Ethernet, Wireless N, VGA, DVI and HDMI, SPDIF toslink and coax, audio in/out, and even an old school PS2 keyboard/mouse connector. Unfortunately there are no connections at the front though, so if you want to plug in a USB drive, you have to rummage round the back. That seems like a surprising omission to me – there’s space at the edges at the front where a couple of USB connectors could go, but instead there is just a power button and an IR receiver.
That brings me to my only real gripe with this box – the IR receiver. An IR receiver is essential on a media center PC, but unfortunately while this one works fine with a Media center remote, it is not compatible with the Microsoft Media centre keyboard. That means that if you want to use the IR keyboard, you need to plug in a regular IR receiver too, making the internal one a waste of time. In fact it’s worse than a waste of time. If you do plug in a proper IR receiver, the internal one and the external one interfere, registering double clicks. Needing to use the external IR receiver, I tried and failed to find a software way of disabling the internal IR receiver. In the end I put some black electricians tape over the front panel to block out the internal IR receiver. It solves the problem, but it annoyed me that what should have been a good feature was in fact a problem. My suggestion to Tranquil would be to ditch the internal IR, replace it with 2 front facing USB ports, and ship with a regular external IR receiver, which has the advantage of being positionable somewhere convenient for those folks who want to hide all of their kit.
Moving on from that complaint though, and back to the coolness. The greatest feature of this PC is that it is quiet. Really quiet. A claimed 17dB makes it hundreds of times quieter than your average PC. The only noise comes from the hard drive, and the 2.5″ Samsung laptop drives that they have used are nice and quiet. I previously had a Shuttle SFF PC, which claimed to be quiet, but in retrospect really wasn’t. Swapping that out for the T7-MP2 actually made me aware of other noise sources in the room that I hadn’t even heard before (and so now I have a new quieter fish tank pump, but that’s a different story).
So, 17dB is very quiet, but it’s not quite silent. However, if you want a truly silent experience (0dB), there is also a solid state drive option. Of course, SSHD’s aren’t massive for storing all of your recordings on, but when combined with Windows Home Server, that is becoming a realistic option for many people.
Finally, given that it has an Atom 330 processor, how does it perform as a media centre PC? The answer is flawlessly. It played everything I had on my local network (recorded TV, high def videos, DVDs) without a stutter. It handles streaming video from the internet with the same ease. Music and pictures are handled just as easily, and that’s everything you need. Clearly this isn’t a gaming rig in terms of power, but that’s kind of the point – Tranquil have done a great job of putting the right machine together for the job it is meant to do.
At £563, the T7-MP2 is a reasonably priced computer. Combined with it’s near silent operation, it makes a fantastic media center PC. The lack of front USB and the non-standard IR receiver are an annoyance for some people, but are overcome with little difficulty if it bothers you. With HDMI and SPDIF both built in, it’s ready to plug straight in to your TV and surround sound box if you like, and off you go.
|Size||387 (w) x 356 (d) x 66 (h) mm|
|CPU||64 bit ready Dual Core Intel Atom 330 (2 x 1.6GHz)|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce 9xxx (up to 1920 x 1440)|
|Memory||2x DDR2 667/800MHz (up to 4GB)|
|HDDs||1x or 2x 2.5″ SATA|
|Rear panel connections||12V DC power in / 6x USB2.0 / 10.100.1000 LAN / Audio In / Audio Out / Mic In / COAX SPDIF / TOSLINK SPDIF / PS2 / HDMI / DVI / VGA / eSATA / WiFi / Power in|
|Weight||Base unit (nett) 4Kg|
|Mounting options||Desk, Wall or Vesta bracket (optional)|
|Power consumption||from 21W|
|Acoustics||17dBA (incl 1x HDD) or 0dBA with SSHDD|
|OS||Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit|