Computer/Embedded Technology

Compact fanless PC for harsh environments

25 March 2020 Computer/Embedded Technology

Compulab’s Airtop3 is a ruggedised, small-form-factor fanless IoT edge server with optimised performance, features and cooling.

The ruggedised aluminium case is specially designed to generate natural airflow by the waste heat of the CPU and GPU which allows Airtop3 to dissipate up to 300 W without using a fan and operate at a wide temperature range. Airtop3 has high RAM and storage capacity and plentiful networking and I/O ports. It is also modular and easy to service.

Airtop3 supports octa-core 9th generation Intel Xeon E processors and Intel Core i9 processors, including the highest-power 95 W Xeon E 2288G/Core i9-9900K. The maximum RAM capacity is 128 GB DDR4-2666.

Storage is comprised of six devices: two NVMe SSDs (up to 2 TB each) and four 2,5” SATA 3 HDD/SSD with RAID support. For networking, Airtop3 includes two GbE ports and support for Wi-Fi 802.11ac and 4G modem. I/O includes three 4K displays, six USB 3.1 ports, three RS-232 and audio.

This feature set may be satisfactory in some cases, but IoT has many specialised applications – deep learning may require a discrete GPU, automotive applications often require a high capacity of high-speed storage, machine vision usually utilises integrated PoE ports. For these use cases and others, Airtop3 offers functional enhancements:

Enhanced graphics

Airtop3 has a PCIe x16 (PEG) slot with natural airflow passive cooling that supports up to 160 W Quadro RTX 4000 graphics card. This powerful CPU + GPU setup is effective for low-latency edge analytics workloads involving image recognition, machine learning or inferencing.

The four displays of the graphics card can work in tandem with the integrated graphics for a total of seven 4K displays.

Enhanced storage

The standard two NVMe cards and four 2,5” SATA SSD/HDD support up to 20 GB with RST or software RAID and are passively cooled in a dedicated thermal zone.

Storage can be enhanced using Airtop3’s NVM3 card installed in the PEG slot. NVM3 supports an additional three NVMe cards up to NF1 30110 form factor.

NVM3 enables a data rate of over 9500 MBps and increases maximum storage capacity to over 60 TB. It allows installing SSDs with power loss protection (PLP).

Enhanced Networking

Dual gigabit Ethernet (Intel i210 + Intel i219) and optional Wi-Fi 802.11ac + 4G/LTE modem are available as a standard. For higher bandwidth, a dual 10 GbE card can be installed in the PEG slot. Extra networking capabilities can be added using a FACE (Function And Connectivity Extension) modules.

• FM-LAN adds four independent GbE ports – useful for routing applications.

• FM-PoE adds 4 GbE ports, each with 802.3af PoE source which simplifies setups involving IP cameras.

• FM-OPLN adds 2 GbE SFP+ optical LAN ports which enables longer range, better immunity and higher security.

Natural airflow technology</b>

Natural Airflow (NAF) technology generates airflow without a fan. The airflow is generated by the waste heat of the CPU and the GPU and cools them down in the process. Below is an explanation of the NAF elements:

• The CPU and GPU are each thermally coupled to a specially-designed massive copper plate using best-in-class TIM. Each copper plate is CNC-machined and mirror-polished.

• Airtop3 uses high-performance flat heatpipes – with 25 channels each. Three such heatpipes are arranged in a criss-cross array and pressed together against the copperplate with direct large area thermal coupling between them. This structure distributes heat evenly on the face of the air-tubes panel. The thermal performance of the heatpipe-structure is comparable to a vapour chamber, but on a much larger scale.

• The air-tubes panel doubles the cooling efficiency of a conventional heatsink. It achieves that by utilising 14 air-tubes, each of which stimulates airflow by the stack effect. The air-tubes panel is made of a single block of aluminium that undergoes multiple processing steps, including state-of-the-art extrusion with 14 cavities, machining and multi-layer coating for an optimal balance between heat dissipation and touch temperature.

The result is a compact, near-flat passive heat-exchange element that can dissipate up to 160 W.


The 7,5 litre housing is all-aluminium, made of die-cast and extruded parts with precision machining for seamless fit, shock and vibration resistance.

There are no moving parts in Airtop3 and no filters, so Airtop3 is maintenance free. Since no mechanical wearing is involved, reliability is not reduced over time, therefore Airtop3 ships with a 5-year warranty.

Natural Airflow cooling is effective across a wide temperature range. Airtop3 can be ordered at a temperature range of up to -40ºC to 70ºC.

Modularity and monitoring

Airtop3 supports Compulab FACE modules (Function And Connectivity Extension modules) which enable various application specific networking and I/O capabilities. A new FACE module designed specifically for Airtop3 – FM-AT3 – adds 2x USB 3.1 gen 2 (one USB type-C) + 1x USB 3.1 gen 1, front audio jacks, mini-PCIe socket with SIM card, micro-SD and diagnostics LEDs for troubleshooting RAM, BIOS and display issues.

It is very easy to install RAM and storage devices in Airtop3 thanks to the clamshell tool-free opening. Airtop3 includes the I3M OLED display for displaying vital runtime information including clock rate, temperature and power consumption.


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