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Smart fans, not-so-bright control
I'll start with the good about the iDEQ's temp-controlled fans, then move on to the bad. First, the 200P supports AMD's Cool'n'Quiet technology, which is just another dreadful name for AMD's PowerNow! technology, which is just another dreadful name for activity-based clock throttling. With Cool'n'Quiet enabled, the Athlon 64 adjusts its clock speed 30 times per second in response to CPU load. If you're just checking e-mail and surfing the web, a 2GHz Athlon 64 is likely to hover around 800MHz or so, since there's effectively almost no load on the CPU. Kick off a 3D game, though, and it cranks up to full speed almost immediately and stays there. Here's a shot of Biostar's System Control utility with Cool'n'Quiet in action.

This feature has the potential to keep the iDEQ 200P, err, cool and quiet.

To measure the iDEQ 200P's noise levels, I used an Extech (model 407727) sound level meter situated approximately one inch from the front and rear of the case, outside the path of any airflow generated by fans. I took two sets of measurements, one with the iDEQ's fans running at their minimum speeds, and another with them running full tilt.

The Biostar box shows up as surprisingly loud in these tests, a fair bit noisier than a Shuttle XPC, especially from the rear, and especially under load. Subjectively, the iDEQ 200P doesn't seem much different, in my experience, from most systems. Still, it is a bit on the noisy side for an SFF rig.

Now for the bad news. In order for the 200P's fan control to be effective, Biostar's System Control utility must be running at all times. That's bad news for Linux users and other folks looking to use the 200P in a non-Windows environment. Even in Windows, you've gotta keep the utility running, or you're greeted with this dire warning:

Scarier still, a good portion of the time, the utility doesn't seem to initialize properly on booting into windows, so the fans never drop to a lower speed setting. In order to make it kick it, you've got to maximize the utility window from its place in the system tray, at which point it will slow the fans down.

The Biostar utility offers three cooling modes: Normal, Quiet, and Fuzzy. The documentation for the system utility doesn't describe the difference between these modes very well, but Normal seems to be the proper choice in all situations, because it allows the fans to auto-adjust to temperature changes.

However, the Biostar utility is a total CPU hog. It constantly uses between about five and ten percent of CPU time. Task Manager shows it like so:

That's quite a bit of CPU utilization out of a utility that always has to be running. What's more, the utility polls hardware at regular intervals every four or five seconds. When it does so, other tasks are interrupted. This effect seriously disrupts the computing experience, especially in something like gaming, where intermittent pauses become extremely annoying very quickly. To give you some idea about how the iDEQ utility affects the user experience, I plotted frame rates over time from our Splinter Cell benchmark, both with and without the utility. Without the utility, the frame rate graph looks about like it does for any system.

With the Biostar System Control utility running, the iDEQ 200P's frame rates dip at regular intervals, as you can see below.

This problem essentially destroys playability on the 200P, and it would likely hamper the system's ability to deliver a smooth computing experience in HTPC applications, as well. I tried updating to the latest revision of the System Control utility on Biostar's website, but the new version only exacerbated the problem.

Now I understand why MSI has Core Cell and Abit has uGuru to handle onboard monitoring tasks independent of the CPU. The System Control utility is just about a deal killer for the iDEQ 200P. Essentially, to have a usable system, you have to turn off the utility and accept that the box is going to be loud.