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Heat, Noise and Heat Vs. Noise

Best Of The Best, Part 2: Who Makes The Most Elite PC Case?

We test cases in stock configurations for a few reasons. Chief among these is that we don’t want to take responsibility for ventilation or noise problems, where temperature and noise have an inverse relationship that depends primarily on fan speed. We would need to experiment with dozens of fan model and placement options to find the ideal cooling-to-noise ratio, and chassis manufacturers are in the best position to do that. They do, after all, have the strongest motivation to improve case performance.

And then there’s the problem of price. Aside from specials and temporary discounts, cases like the fan-packed Antec Three Hundred Illusion cost more than single-fan enclosures like the Antec Three Hundred. Value might not be a big part of our search for the most premium case, but we aren't about to throw away the price/performance chart entirely.

CaseLabs presented a unique testing challenge in that its Merlin doesn’t include fans, though that might not have been a problem if fans were among the options on its configuration sheet. They aren't, though. Still, anyone prepared to drop $500 on a high-end enclosure has the money for their own fans. Testing the Merlin without any just to reflect a shipping configuration wouldn't be fair or realistic.

I don’t have more than two of any particular fan model in my lab, so I picked a pair with a fairly good cooling to noise ratio. I placed one behind the CPU cooler to pull heat away from it, and another at the bottom of the case to feed the graphics card. We can see the positive effect on thermal performance, and would confidently predict that a third fan would have likely yielded even lower CPU temperatures if it was added to the second front-panel mount.

Fans also add noise, but in a peculiar way. Two fans with opposite noise patterns could cancel each other out acoustically, though that never really happens in practice (they don’t stay synchronized). And then there’s the nearly unpredictable problem of beat tones, where overall SPL measurements aren’t detailed enough to do those calculations.

We do see that the Merlin SM08 has the highest operational noise levels, even without any added fans. That makes sense from a design standpoint because nothing stands between the graphics card and the vented front panel that might otherwise have reflected fan noise back into the case.

CaseLabs' submission approached ideal thermal conditions with a couple of quiet fans added, however, making it an average overall performer in the comparison of cooling-to-noise. Corsair’s Graphite 760T leads this chart.

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  • -3 Hide
    blackmagnum , July 22, 2014 12:12 AM
    Answer (YMMV): Thermaltake Level 10 GT.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , July 22, 2014 12:32 AM
    Answer (YMMV): Thermaltake Level 10 GT.

    You know the original Level 10 was probably "more elite",2594-5.html
  • 3 Hide
    vertexx , July 22, 2014 4:16 AM
    Hope the Phanteks Enthoo Primo is part of the final - will we have to wait another 2 months for that?
  • 0 Hide
    ykki , July 22, 2014 4:48 AM
    I wish that they would use the new powercolor devil 13 290x (their version of the 295X2) for their tests
  • 1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , July 22, 2014 5:48 AM
    Who makes the most elite cases? Corsair and NZXT, no need for investigation :)  Still, a nice roundup.
  • 0 Hide
    Drejeck , July 22, 2014 6:12 AM
    There are some cases CNC made, you should talk about this indipendent manufacturers. On SweClockers I saw the best mini ITX computer ever made, with 2 ssds, 2 fans, a picopsu and a discrete graphic card with riser card.
  • 0 Hide
    Drejeck , July 22, 2014 6:24 AM
    Anyway my guess was Lian-Li and Silverstone
  • 3 Hide
    eklipz330 , July 22, 2014 6:42 AM
    isn't this a purely subjective article? how can this be quantified?
  • 0 Hide
    Neve12ende12 , July 22, 2014 7:28 AM
    I don't know much about cases, but I have an Azza Hurrican 2000 and I think it is pretty badass
  • 0 Hide
    firefoxx04 , July 22, 2014 8:19 AM
    Phanteks Primo plz
  • 2 Hide
    firefoxx04 , July 22, 2014 8:22 AM
    ID like to see these cases fitted with large radiators.. that is what the case labs is geared for after all.
  • 1 Hide
    xenol , July 22, 2014 8:26 AM
    CaseLabs is just one of those companies I don't get. Sure they give you a ton of customization options but I don't know, for $300 on a case like that?

    At least the $210 I spent on a Silverstone FT02 was worth it.
  • 0 Hide
    beoza , July 22, 2014 9:34 AM
    For the price of that CaseLabs case I'd rather get the CM Cosmos II, and save about $60. Sure it's an older design but it just looks so much better to me. The only downside with the Cosmos II is it's big and bulky weighing at just over 47lbs empty.
  • 0 Hide
    whiteodian , July 22, 2014 10:00 AM
    There are some cases CNC made, you should talk about this indipendent manufacturers. On SweClockers I saw the best mini ITX computer ever made, with 2 ssds, 2 fans, a picopsu and a discrete graphic card with riser card.
    Links please : D

    Here is a link to something similar I won at a LAN party. Comes in a badass briefcase.
  • 1 Hide
    Electromikey , July 22, 2014 10:18 AM
    Without having used any of the other cases, I can say that I had the pleasure of building a system in the 760T recently (a friend had me build him a monster rig), and it was one of my favorite builds I've ever done. The case looks freakin' gorgeous under his desk, too.
  • -1 Hide
    TheMentalist , July 22, 2014 10:58 AM
    Every time i see articles like this one, it kinda bugs me that the Vengeance C70 is so underrated, damn love that case, even though it's old. Not saying that these cases aren't good.
  • 0 Hide
    redgarl , July 22, 2014 2:20 PM
    Fractal Design R2 XL... best Full Tower case for 100$. Nothing came close.
  • 0 Hide
    redgarl , July 22, 2014 2:21 PM
    Phantek Enthoo Luxe, Pro and Primo should be part of your next article.
  • 0 Hide
    Karsten75 , July 22, 2014 2:41 PM
    the TL;DR - we have an unrealistic benchmark, got some sub-par cases and non should be worthy of an award? Next time do't specify a price as cut-off.
  • 0 Hide
    Phillip Wager , July 23, 2014 3:51 AM
    out of these the thermaltake would take my money but i think phanteks has the best "elite" case on the market right now.
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