Testing Methodology

For those that didn't catch our brief word on our updated testing methodology from our SilverStone FT03 review, I'll give you a quick primer. After our first two case reviews since 2009 went over with mixed reception, we went back to the drawing board and worked up a better, hopefully more streamlined approach to case testing. First, we've standardized the parts we're using for case testing. For Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX enclosures, we're using the testbed I described in the FT03 review. For full ATX enclosures (e.g. mid-towers like the BUC and larger full-tower cases), we've kicked things up a notch. Below is the kit we're testing with; you'll see some overlap in a few places from our Mini-ITX board where the same components could handle the same jobs:

Full ATX Test Configuration
CPU Intel Core i7-875K (95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 3.8GHz @ 1.38V)
Motherboard ASUS P7P55D-E Pro
Graphics Card Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 (244W TDP)
Memory 2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Drives Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps
CPU Cooler Zalman CNPS9900 MAX with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
Power Supply SilverStone Strider Gold 750W 80 Plus Gold

For full ATX cases, we need to know not only how well they muffle sound but also how well they handle overclocked hardware. The Intel Core i7-875K we're using can run at an overclock nearly 900MHz faster than stock (and with a healthy dollop of voltage under it to boot). While going for maximum thermals would probably involve using an X58-based platform, LGA1155/1156 tend to be more popular and using that standard gives us the flexibility to potentially test air- and water-coolers down the line. It also bears mentioning that when we test under stock settings, the DDR3 runs at 1333MHz; it only goes up to 1600MHz when we're testing with the overclock in place.

My primary concern involves the BIOS-based fan controls. ASUS offers a decent amount of granularity in controlling the CPU fan, but I'd like to know what you think the ideal settings are. I currently have it set conservatively, to try and keep the processor below 60C, which is how I'd likely set it for my own system. But how would you set it? Would you just use ASUS's default "Silent" setting? Would you set a higher temperature threshold? Let us know.

Our actual testing procedures are unchanged from the Mini-ITX/Micro-ATX testbed, so here they are again:

Acoustic testing is standardized on a foot from the front of the case, using the Extech SL10 with an ambient noise floor of ~32dB. For reference, that's a silent apartment with nothing running, testing acoustics in the dead of night (usually between 1am and 3am). A lot of us sit about a foot away from our computers, so this should be a fairly accurate representation of the kind of noise the case generates, and it's close enough to get noise levels that should register above ambient.

Thermal testing is run with the computer having idled at the desktop for fifteen minutes, and again with the computer running both Furmark (where applicable) and Prime95 (less one thread when a GPU is being used) for fifteen minutes. I've found that leaving one thread open in Prime95 allows the processor to heat up enough while making sure Furmark isn't CPU-limited. We're using the thermal diodes included with the hardware to keep everything standardized, and ambient testing temperature is always between 71F and 74F. Processor temperatures reported are the average of the CPU cores.

And last but not least, it's important we thank the vendors who made our testbeds possible.

Thank You!

We have some thanks in order before we press on:

  • Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory we used to add memory thermals to our testing.
  • Thank you to Zalman for providing us with the CNPS9900 MAX heatsink and fan unit we used.
  • Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
  • Thank you to CyberPower for providing us with the Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive, Intel Core i7-875K processor, ASUS P7P55D-E Pro motherboard, and Samsung BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW drive.
  • And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the optical drive and power supply.
Assembling the IN-WIN BUC Noise and Thermal Testing, Stock
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  • cjs150 - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    Please include case dimensions in metric as well as inches. Motherboards, fans, radiators are all in metric measurements and it makes it a lot easier for those, like me, who stuff cases with lots of kit to work out will fit.

    I am also as frustrated as reviewer with cable routing. It really is not that difficult to allow a bit more space behind the motherboard tray. It is worse for me because I like silence from my pc and therefore want to put noise reducing stuff on the side panels.

    Finally, I am not particularly bothered by the number of HD the case can hold (I am building a 6TB file server which will be enough for decades of films), all I need is space for 2 drives, an SSD + one HD. However, I do like to have an optical drive in the system. I have yet to see any case deal with providing real noise reduction/anti-vibration for an optical drive.
    Reply
  • bhima - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    The Antec 900 has become sort of the mainstream case standard. I think getting the data for that case will make it easier to judge what these numbers mean in the real world when testing other cases against it. That way, people can pick a case based on whether it cools better than the 900, or is quieter than the 900.

    Of course, once you have a bunch of cases reviewed, you won't need a reference case anymore, but while you build up a review archive it would be nice to get the info for such a popular case.
    Reply
  • e_sandrs - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    We've been using INWIN cases for a long time to build a few hundred computers per year and I have only good things to say about them! Very nice build quality for the price - I'm glad they're getting some love here on AT! Reply
  • xrror - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    I kinda miss the stop motion video of you fighting with a screwdriver and actually installing a build into a case in this review. I wholeheartedly recommend buying a cheap electric screwdriver and having every case review feature you doing assemblies with the time lapse footage.

    I mean, reading about how all the pieces and such fit together is good - but seeing one wrangle with the cables and such really brings out a more practical view of a case. For instance in this review one thing that might stand out is the decided lack of need for a screwdriver. Also it would help show off the "backplane wiring" as you hooked up all the power connectors and then slide (I guess somehow?) the motherboard into the case.
    Reply
  • jerem43 - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    I've been using in-win cases for years. A strong sturdy case with ease of access, no sharp edges, quality power supplies and good heavy gauge steel make for an excellent case. Even their ,ore consumer oriented cases are a joy to work with, simple to access and maintain. Reply
  • kenyee - Friday, May 13, 2011 - link

    That'd be a more useful noise test...use a standard drive and test how well you can hear the drive working... Reply
  • Michael Meio - Sunday, June 26, 2011 - link

    It would be nice if as regular rule of computer case testing / reviewing, some part was dedicated to dust filters and the way they compare to other brands and models.

    IMO there are two kind of filters that cover the majority of options out there: Sponge and plastic.

    I find that the presence of sponge or foam dust filters in a computer case shows some sort of lack of respect and a desperate corner cut attitude on the case manufacturer's part. A foam filter is in all aspects, the cheapest way to deal with it. It needs no special gap, no channel or punch holes to seat on, and obviously, minimum head scratching for the case's designer.

    A plastic / nylon dust filter is different. It requires thinking. It needs a specific place to be. Just as the front cover or the side panels.. it relies on a designed mechanical solution to be attached to the case and held in place. It simply shows the attention to detail on the manufacturer's part.

    The dust filters location, functionality, ease of use / remove / "washability" truly plays a big deal on my buying decision when it comes to chassis.

    I don't own a BUC case and currently, I'm shopping around. It surprises me how difficult it is to find out what are computer case filters made of in pretty much every single review out there. Needless to mention, their location, ease of use, etc. This review unfortunately, is not an exception to that.
    Reply

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