There's a lot to be said for a smaller PC. Although you're limited in what components you can use, they make up for it with a tiny, space-saving footprint. This little number from QuietPC also (as the name suggests) has the advantage of being almost silent in operation thanks to a lack of whirring fans.
It also uses an AMD Ryzen chip, a family which has impressed us in recent years with a very healthy price-performance ratio. The question is, does it have what it takes to in out over cheaper competitors?
QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless review: Design
A squat white box with little in the way of flourishes or adornments, the QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless isn't what you'd call flashy. Measuring 240 x 260 x 111mm, and weighing 4.5kg with its surprisingly bulky external PSU, the Sentinel is also surprisingly large for something that bills itself as a mini PC. That trade-off in size, though, grants you a number of advantages over its more compact competition.
Ignoring the optical drive - a DVD-writing slot loader as reviewed, though it can be left off the build list or replaced with a Blu-ray drive - the biggest feature of the Sentinel is the inclusion of a PCI Express x16 slot on the motherboard. This, sadly, isn't quite as useful as it first seems: as well as being limited to 8x operation when an APU is fitted, as in our review model, the case restricts add-in cards to half-height single-slot variants. (An APU, or accelerated processing unit, is AMD's term for a single die that contains both a CPU and GPU.)
APU users are faced with another restriction: although the motherboard includes two NVMe-compatible M.2 slots for storage, only the first of these is available with an APU fitted; the second is automatically disabled to provide PCIe lanes to the integrated graphics on the APU when fitted.
QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless review: Specs and performance
With the mid-tier AMD Ryzen 5 2400GE and its integrated Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics processor fitted, as reviewed, performance of the Sentinel was impressive for a wholly fanless design. With the APU connected to the finned Streacom FC8 Alpha case via copper heatpipes (which are the main reason for the case's extra bulk), the Sentinel kept the chip from overheating even during our demanding multitasking benchmark - in which the Sentinel handily racked up a very creditable overall score of 124. That's more than both the Dell Optiplex 7060 Micro and Lenovo's ThinkCentre M910x Tiny.
Graphics performance, however, isn't the Sentinel's strong suit. While it managed a reasonable 44.8fps average in the Unigine Superposition benchmark at the 720p Low preset, higher resolutions and detail settings saw it struggle to hit double figures - although that's to be expected from a machine with passive cooling.
The Sentinel's idle power draw, sadly, fails to impress. You would think that a machine with no moving parts would sip power, but we were unable to convince it to drop below 28.6W at the Windows 10 desktop - which is odd, given that its 101.6W peak power draw under load is reasonable for the performance it offers.
Nearly 102W is a lot to be sinking through a passive heatsink, though, even one the size of the entire case. It's no surprise to find that the Sentinel gets toasty under prolonged load conditions, but if you're pushing a system this hard then passive cooling probably isn't for you.
QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless review: Ports and features
These relatively minor issues aside, it's easy to be impressed with the Sentinel. The QuietPC build has clearly been put together with care, and the Streacom case is top quality. Better still, there's no bloat: QuietPC guarantees a clean installation, promising that it will never pre-install anything not absolutely necessary to the operation of the system, and even includes the original packaging for components like the motherboard should you want to swap it out.
QuietPC's warranty is also worthy of mention: as well as covering the machine for two years as standard on a collect-and-return basis, it's what the company calls "open box", meaning you're free to take the lid off your new PC and fiddle around, chopping and changing components as you see fit, and QuietPC will still cover whatever original parts are left.
There's room for expansion, too: aside from the already-covered PCIe slot and second M.2 slot, there are four on-board SATA connectors and room to mount two 3.5in or three 2.5in drives inside the chassis - though maxing the system out requires an upgraded power supply for an extra £31.
There's also a generous eight USB ports: two USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 ports at the front and another four at the rear alongside two high-speed USB-A 3.1 Gen 2 ports, the APU's HDMI output, analogue audio ports with neat colour-coded LED lighting, and a single Gigabit Ethernet port. Add in the front-mounted infrared receiver, and the Sentinel Fanless makes for a tempting media hub.
QuietPC AMD Sentinel Fanless review: Verdict
This is an attractive effort from QuietPC; It may not look like much, but it boasts solid performance, a generous array of ports, outstanding warranty support and near-silent operations. If you can look past a high idle power draw and a somewhat expensive price tag - it's £200 more than the ThinkCentre Tiny and almost £300 dearer than the Optiplex 7060 Micro - it's a great fit for general-purpose office computing.