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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  • Gigantopithecus - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Methodology looks very sound and I hope that Anandtech will be able to continue adding new cases to see how they stack up against each other (ha) while keeping the internal components constant. Reply
  • Silenus - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Nice to see case reviews from time to time.

    I'd love to see some Fractal Designs cases reviewed. Especially some of the new ones coming. I am chomping at the bit to get a better look at the Arc Midi Tower and the Arc Mini!
    Reply
  • XiZeL - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    mee too :) really want to know how the silent ones performe. might be changing my antec p183 for an FD define r3 or xl Reply
  • ymrtech - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - link

    I have a define R3. and holy shit i love it. replaced my cooler master HAF 922 with this. it's quiet as hell and also keeps my innards all nice and cool. i have a noctua noctua nh-d14 on my i7-960 and it idles around 38C and my 6870 twin frozr with fans at 40% idles around 34C. considering the noise it DOESN'T make, the price, the quality of the materials used, and the overall workmanship. i would reccomend it to EVERYONE.
    another good case to check out is the fractal design core 3000, it's like 90$ tax and shipping in (ncix) and it looks pretty top notch.
    Reply
  • Mumrik - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    I'd rather have had one and eight or nine internal 3½" bays...

    I have one optical drive that I never use and six harddrives and only more to come.
    Reply
  • SquattingDog - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Clearly you've never used hot-swap bays then or thought about the fact that you can mount 4+ 3.5" drives in the space of 3x 5.25" bays with a 120mm cooling fan to boot (Lian Li do such a product and are not the only ones). Personally I would rather have seen FOUR 5.25" bays for this very purpose. Otherwise you can always get single hot-swap bays to go 5.25" --> 3.5".

    It's about different horses for different courses really - perhaps you should be looking at an eATX full tower instead?

    Other food for thought, as I have been down this road before: if you have drives which are <2TB (hell, even if they are 2TB - you can now get 3TB drives), then secure erase and sell off your old drives and buy fewer larger drives. :)
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    You can't have enough 5.25" bays. SATA can be hot-swapped, take advantage of this great feature!

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    (shameless plug, not associated with iStar, just a very satisfied customer!)
    Reply
  • bji - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Just curious ... how much content do you have to steal to fill six harddrives?

    I personally have never filled more than 30 gb or so of a disk; I could see filling maybe 100 GB tops if I kept all of my home movies and photos on my local disk instead of in the cloud. I guess if you're a real 'power user' and buy lots of software and games maybe you'd fill another 200 GB? I just can't imagine filling more than 300 GB unless you're stealing content. Of course I know that there are the exceptional case where someone has, e.g. a photography business or something and they need to store terabytes of data legitimately but ... somehow I doubt that every person I see complaining about, e.g. the small size of SSDs, or the inability to put more than 6 hard drives in a case, has a legal use for all of that space.

    On the upside for me, I am perfectly happy with a single 80 GB Intel SSD in my desktop and will be for years to come. SSDs are now in the price range where for my usage, they are cheap enough and are only getting better as they get faster.
    Reply
  • Klinky1984 - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    Oh yes, they must be stealing content. No one ever backups their DVD or BR collection, no one ever edits HD video. No one ever has thousands of high resolution photographs or large photo editing project files to deal with. No one ever has hard drives to put in a RAID setup for performance or redundancy reasons. Yep, must be stealing content, because _you_ can't think of any legitimate use.

    Shall we just make it illegal to own multiple hard drives?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 09, 2011 - link

    For the record, just my AnandTech folder for the past four years checks in at a respectable 70GB. Add in my personal pictures and that's another 30GB. I just upgraded cameras and can now shoot 1080p24 video, which only chews up around 1.3GB for a 10 minute clip. Since the start of 2011, I've only sucked down 13GB with home videos of my family, and I don't even shoot video more than a few times per month!

    My desktop has a 1TB hard drive that is around 70% full, because I happen to play games on it. My Steam folder currently sits at nearly 200GB, and I haven't even installed most of my Steam games on this system (e.g. I don't have the original Half-Life, or the various HL2 episodes, installed). Honestly, I can't even get by with less than 256GB of storage on a system that I plan to use for "everything", which is why SSDs are tough to use on a single drive laptop.
    Reply

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