SilverStone FT03: Nothing Else Like Itby Dustin Sklavos on April 28, 2011 12:25 AM EST
Part of the reason we took so long in getting new case reviews up on the site is because we decided to go back and revise our case testing procedures. Moving forward we're standardizing our testing methodology in a way that will hopefully feel more concrete and useful than our previous reviews did. I'm going to take the opportunity to break down how things are going to work for this and future reviews, but note that these procedures aren't set in stone. Anand stressed to me in conversation that one of our greatest assets is essentially the mountain of free feedback we get from people who comment on our reviews, and I agree with him. We pride ourselves on being fairly agile and adaptable to the needs of our readership, so if you feel there's something we can change and it's feasible, rest assured that we do listen and will at the very least take it into consideration.
First, we've standardized on two testbeds: a Mini-ITX testbed that's low-powered and doesn't generate too much heat, but isn't too miserly either, and a full ATX testbed that's indicative of the high-end of what most of you are running. Since this review uses our Mini-ITX bed, I'll save discussing the full ATX one for that review. The essential thinking here is that a Mini-ITX board can be used for Micro-ATX builds like this one without sacrificing much (we're not testing multi-GPU scenarios for cases this small since they're seldom designed for it), but we still use a processor that produces enough heat to merit thermal testing. Before I go any further, it may be prudent to just lay out the hardware we're testing with:
|Mini-ITX/Micro-ATX Test Configuration|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-530 (73W TDP)|
Intel HD Graphics (IGP)
Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 (244W TDP)
|Memory||2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600|
Slimline DVD+/-RW Drive
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps
|CPU Cooler||Zalman CNPS8000A with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400|
|Power Supply||SilverStone Strider Gold 750W 80 Plus Gold|
The Zotac motherboard is included as one of the most fully-featured Mini-ITX boards available, and it works with the Core i3-530 we had on hand. That i3-530 is also fairly typical of what to expect in smaller builds. From there, the Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer memory has a unique feature particularly suited to our needs: it includes thermal diodes that can tell you how hot the memory is running. The SSD is used to gauge how easily a 2.5" drive is installed and to provide a stable baseline, while the Caviar Black gauges how easily a 3.5" drive can be installed and gives us a secondary reference point for drive temperatures. The Zalman cooler is quiet, low-profile, and effective, giving us an alternative to the Intel stock cooler. And finally, SilverStone's power supply is modular, small, and efficient, making it ideal for case testing.
Of course, the GeForce GTX 580 is going to raise some eyebrows. In this instance, we wanted a video card for case testing that would push thermals without overpowering acoustics. Not all cases we test with are going to support it, but enough are to warrant its inclusion. As a result, Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX systems are tested in two configurations: with and without dedicated graphics.
Moving on, 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.
Finally, 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.
We do have some thanks in order before we press on, though:
- 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 CNPS8000A 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.
- And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the optical drive and power supply.