As long as you can forgive its lack of USB 3.0 (not a limitation we’re keen on, but it will depend on your intended usage), connectivity is yet another strong point of the mini-ITX ixL. At its front we have two USB 2.0 ports and a card reader, next to which is a small IR receiver.
Around the back are a further six USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, DVI and HDMI video outputs, and both analogue and optical digital audio. What makes the small ixL unique, however, is its provision of no less than three external SATA ports. Considering this is (for now) still a more common storage interface than USB 3.0 and just as fast in real life, Tranquil PC’s creation may hold high appeal for those with large amounts of data kept on external-storage.
Though you can spec up an ixL with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and two hard drives (one 2.5in and one 3.5in), we have one of the lower-spec Core i3 systems, which is available for a more affordable £689.73. For this you get a dual-core Intel Core i3 530 running at 2.93GHz, which should be more than powerful enough to handle all your processing needs. The Core i5 option gives you a 3.2GHz 560 but, as this is still a dual-core CPU, we would be inclined to stick with the cheaper of the two.
Our review machine has only 2GB of DDR3 RAM, which is a bit low by today’s standards so we would recommend doubling it to 4GB, even though the £48 Tranquil charges for this upgrade is a little over the odds. That said, 2GB should be enough for most basic tasks and multimedia, and Tranquil uses a single stick leaving you a free memory slot to add more at a later date.
Hard drive choices are quite extensive, with the option to go for a 64GB SSD as your system drive (which will set you back a not unreasonable £109) and a regular 3.5in hard drive of up to 2TB for data. However, our spec came with a single 2.5in 500GB ‘laptop’ drive, which might not perform as well as a same-capacity desktop drive and costs £10 more but is also quieter and uses less electricity, contributing to the ixL’s impressive frugality.
At idle, Tranquil PC’s ixL consumed around 20W, while under load power usage generally stayed well below 50W. This is excellent considering the amount of power on offer and will be even lower if it’s configured with an SSD only. Meanwhile, heat dissipation by the chassis (the finned side of which is linked directly to the CPU cooling block through lengthy heatpipes) was excellent: the Core i3 530 stayed below 50 degrees yet the case never became more than pleasantly warm to the touch. What’s more, it was completely silent when not accessing the hard or optical drives. If we have any complaint, it’s that due to the absence of a power LED (the case appears to have an LED indicator but it wasn’t working) it was difficult to tell whether the ixL was turned on without turning on our monitor.