Testing Methodology

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)
Motherboard Zotac H55ITX-WiFi
Graphics Card Intel HD Graphics (IGP)
Zotac NVIDIA GeForce GTX 580 (244W TDP)
Memory 2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Drives 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.

Thank You!

We do have some thanks in order before we press on, though:

Assembling the FT03 Noise and Thermal Testing, IGP


View All Comments

  • IlllI - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    why in the world would they decide to stick that ugly, plastic thing on the side?

    other than that it looks decent. i'd be willing to forgive the ugly plastic lid, but the thing on the side completely ruins the aesthetics
  • softdrinkviking - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    what're you talking about? the silverstone snowflake? Reply
  • Spoelie - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    no, check the gallery, third picture Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    oh man. i didn't see that.

    that is really strange; not my cup of coffee.
  • heffeque - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    He means the top grill.

    The tittle is "Nothing else like it", but seriously, the idea is extremely similar to this other casing:


  • headbox - Friday, April 29, 2011 - link

    I thought I was going to get RickRolled for a second there...

    Yes, even the best PC cases have NOTHING on Apple designs from more than a decade ago. The PowerMac G3 and G4 cases are still miles ahead of the "high-end" from Lian Li or others. And the PowerMac G5 and Mac Pro cases are just amazing. Hate on Apple all you want, but no one designs enclosures like they do.

    Oh, unless you like alien eyes on the front.
  • bman212121 - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    The G3 was interesting but I don't know if I would use that setup for a full sized build. It would probably work well for this scenario though using a mini ITX. (The mainboard is mounted to the side panel and when you open up the case you lay the board down and out of the case) With a smaller size having the board basically come out of the case to mount and work on makes it so much easier to add memory, an expansion card, or work on something else in the case. The outside of the G3 is all plastic and does still look good with it.

    The G5 is definitely one of the nicest looking cases, but I find it hard to work inside of. (it's a fairly large case too) The thermals are covered nicely in the PowerMac but it's a real pain to insert drives. The Intel Mac Pro has a better layout but I'd still change the inside around some. If anything the solid aluminum side panel is a blessing compared to most other cases.
  • tbutler - Wednesday, May 04, 2011 - link

    Yeah, from a easy-to-work-on standpoint, the G3/G4 design is probably the best I've ever seen. Unfortunately, towards the end of its run it started having cooling issues (remember the "Windtunnel" nickname?)

    The G5/MacPro case does much better on cooling; it's not as easy to work on as the G3/G4 case, but it's not bad. One thing that makes it gadget porn for me is the complete lack of cabling in the interior work area, and the near total lack of cabling at all; the only time I've ever had to mess with cabling at all was when I installed a second optical drive, and had to run a SATA cable down to the motherboard. That cable was a bit tricky to run and required disassembling more of the case than I'd like, but after that it wasn't bad. (I also had to hook up the second power lead to the optical bay, but that was pretty trivial.)
  • softdrinkviking - Monday, May 02, 2011 - link

    no he doesn't. check the third pic, like spoelie says Reply
  • Rasterman - Thursday, April 28, 2011 - link

    I agree, for $170 bucks, plastic is not allowed, it should be aluminum, or glass would be very cool. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now