Well-oiled gaming machine

Fancy a PC filled with mineral oil?

Singapore-based PC maker Tech Armory does. It aims to sell at least 200 of these super-silent PCs to computer buffs this year.

Many PC enthusiasts may add big fans, blinking lights and water-cooling components when they modify their machines, but Tech Armory cools its PCs with mineral oil.

Tech Armory's new Gladius PC has its main components submerged in the fluid, which cools them down more efficiently than conventional fans and keeps the machine running quietly. The result: a very fast gaming PC that is practically silent.

While a hardcore PC enthusiast spends thousands of dollars to build such a machine, sometimes even using plastic aquarium parts, few companies have tried to mass produce mineral oil-based PCs.

The key problem, said its chief technical officer Albert Zhen, was keeping the oil from leaking and creating a mess.

His company uses a special polymer resin seal on joints to keep the oil within the confines of a custom-designed aluminium case, which is completely sealed. These innovations learnt through months of tests make the company's PCs special and not easily copied, he emphasised.

The four-man company, which was incorporated in 2011, first received a $15,000 grant from Spring Singapore to develop a prototype, then another $50,000 as a promising local start-up to get the business up and running. 

The grants enabled the team to carry out the necessary R&D - in the five-room HDB flat in Teck Whye where Mr Zhen lives with his parents - and come up with a PC design and prototype that was ready for the market.

He said: "We messed up the place quite a few times but, fortunately, my parents have been very supportive."

Last week, as the first Gladius PCs went on sale online, the company reached a major milestone by shipping an actual product. It was likely one of the first companies to sell such a PC in the mass market.

Starting at $3,587 for a Core i5 machine with 256GB solid-state drive and an Asus GTX 670 graphics card, the Gladius is clearly no toy.

A higher-end version with an Intel Core i7 chip and faster GTX Titan graphics card goes for $5,467.

This is pricier than a regular gaming PC, so it may sound surprising that its creators say they are being sold below cost.

"It's like taking a leap of faith," said its chief information officer Ng Hui Ching. It is to get people to believe in the technology, she said.

But who are their customers at a time when laptops seem to be ever slimmer and when CPUs are running cooler than ever before?

Mr Zhen said his PCs are targeted at "former enthusiasts" from Singapore and neighbouring countries who are still enthused but who now have no time to custom build their own machines.

The company hopes to turn a profit next year when it starts selling its PCs at retail prices. It also hopes to license its technology and know-how to other companies looking to sell similar PCs.

Other companies, said Mr Zhen, will have to spend a lot of time solving all the problems that Tech Armory discovered over the years after testing with different set-ups.

Starting at $3,587 for a Core i5 machine with 256GB solid-state drive and an Asus GTX 670 graphics card, the Gladius is clearly no toy.