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Test System And Acoustic/Thermal Performance

Four Full Tower Cases From $150 To $600

Test System

Test Hardware
CPU Intel Core i7 920 @ 2.66 GHz
Motherboard Asus Rampage II Extreme
Graphics Cards 2 x AMD Radeon HD 4870 512 MB
Hard Drives 1 x Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 500 GB, 1 x Samsung SpinPoint F1 1TB
Memory Corsair Dominator Triple-Channel 6 GB ( 3 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333) Kit

Thermal Performance

For each chassis, we took three thermal readings. Two came from Extech’s TM200 dual type-K thermometer and the third was read through AMD’s Catalyst Control Center software. One of the readings from our digital probe measured ambient temperature at a position in the chassis horizontal to the LGA775 processor socket, not taped to any surface in the case, therefore measuring air temperature. The other lead was kept between two fins in Intel’s reference Core i7 heatsink measuring its surface temperature. The third reading, of course, reflects GPU core temps of the first Radeon HD 4870 in a CrossFire configuration.

At idle, the Antec Twelve Hundred maintains the lowest ambient temperature, but Cooler Master’s HAF delivers a slightly lower CPU heatsink temperature. The Cooler Master-based system also registered a GPU temperature lower than any of the other cases.

At load, a condition we established by running a Prime95 torture test and 3DMark Vantage looped three times, the Twelve Hundred again boasted the best ambient case temperature. But the Cooler Master HAF 932 shows the best CPU heatsink temp one more time. That number is backed by a GPU temp of 80 degrees C—the lowest of any of the four configurations.

Acoustic Performance

In order to measure the acoustic performance of our quartet, we used an Extech Model 407768 sound level meter set to A-weighting with a range set between 30 and 80 dB, and the slow preset for more averaged results. The meter was placed 1 m away from the front of each chassis at the same height from the floor (fans at the top of taller chassis could potentially alter results).

At idle, it’s little surprise that ABS’ Canyon 695 is the quietest case in the roundup. Its triple-chamber design and acoustic insulation effectively keep the pricey case whisper quiet, even if ABS can’t help the Radeons inside from buzzing away. Under load, the ABS retains its monopoly on quiet running with a score lower than any of the other three cases at idle.

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  • 6 Hide
    Proximon , December 15, 2008 8:27 AM
    Thank you Chris, another very useful article. Not enough case comparisons around, as I'm sure you realized.
    I'll be sure to add the HAF to my recommendation list. I hadn't before because I thought all the extra holes would hinder cooling more than help. The hole in the MB tray sounds especially useful.
    I would have liked to see on of the Cosmos cases included, although I suspect they are simply quieter but hotter.
  • 5 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 12:30 PM
    Nice article.

    Though, I'm curious. 40db+ isn't whisper quiet. That's freak'n loud. What's up with calling it whisper quiet?
  • -1 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 15, 2008 12:39 PM
    The three cheaper cases are powerhouses but too big and overkill for most people including gamers. I think the Antec's Three Hundred ($60 a few weeks ago on Newegg) suits the need for most people. 750w PSU are usually enough for SLI/Crossfire so 1000w+ aren't needed.
  • 0 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 1:11 PM
    I'm curious when they will start releaseing more cases that have more depth, so that they have more room for today's much larger videocard solutions.
  • 2 Hide
    kubes , December 15, 2008 1:29 PM
    Ya I agree that case designers should consider making them have more depth. With this in mind though i'm sure vidoe card manufactors will only make their card even longer however.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 15, 2008 1:35 PM
    Lian Li has plenty of depth, and otherwise just huge (PC-A70).
  • 1 Hide
    antiacid , December 15, 2008 1:38 PM
    Good article. Now it gives a procedure and template to test other cases as well. It'd be great to have a review of cases which could be "best of" a certain category (cooling, noise, ease of use, weight, etc). It would be even nicer if the results were put in bullet point form and were setup in a table like the ones used in hdd/video card tables. That would make it a lot easier to compare everything.
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 1:40 PM
    I do believe that all the cases available in the market these days are poorly designed especially when it comes to air flow. You may notice that front fans, rear fans, buttom, side and top panel fans -when combined- cause turbulence in air flow that reduces the overall air flow. That's why I buy a cheap $25 case and modded myself!!!
    I have so many innovations regarding case designs that I hope someone buys them and excutes them in reality!!
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 2:11 PM
    Here is one of my ideas...
    To put it plainly: air needs to be moved in one direction, preferably from down-upwards, since hot air tends to go upward by nature and the hottest part of any system (that's the GFX cards) is located at the lower part..Hence a PSU mounted at the upper part of the case (with its 120-140mm fan), with another 120mm top-panel exhaust fan and two 120mm buttom intake fans will be by far more efficient than all the available cases. To achieve this efficincy I close any other holes (even the ones the manufacturer meant for ventilation) so the air enters the case only from the buttom fans where I put dust filters to minimize dust inside my case. Furthermore I use a case with long "legs" to minimize inhalation of the dust at my desk's surface.
    To minimize noise: I use
    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.
    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!
    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 2:27 PM
    Fortunately many aftermarket CPU and GPU coolers helped me. They can be installed in a way that the fan moves the air upwards. There is evidence that the setup I suggested above reduces -though marginally- the power consumed by the CPU and GPU fans to reach thier designated rpm and increases the lifetime of these fans, since instead of meeting resistance, the one directional air flow helps them.
  • -1 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 2:48 PM

    I'm curious about putting sinulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not.Heya,

    I'm curious about putting insulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not, and other solutions. Personally, I don't like lights and other stuff in the case, I don't look at my case, I look at my display. Reducing the case's obvious footprint and pressence is a nice thing. Less noise would be wonderful (especially since I use mine as a HTPC too). I've always been a fan of the blow hole (top fan to draw hot air out). Sealing up a case to reduce all holes to just air flow from bottom to top, with insulation of some kind to reduce noise would be a great project to try.

    Again, I'd love to see some noise and temp measurements! To the forum? Got some ways to measure it?

  • -2 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 3:23 PM
    Believe it or not the setup I mentioned keeps my E6750 (overclocked from 2.66ghz 1.23v to 3.8ghz 1.44v) under 55 c under full load (hours of dual prime 95) in a very hot room that lacks a cooling system(temps:40 to 50 c !!). (Don't be smart with me, we lack electrical power in my country and private small-groups generators are the only reason I can be online!!)

    I don't have the means to measure the noise level but I can tell you -though subjectively- it is very quiet when using all the mentioned steps. In the end I wish someone with enough resources (like the guys at Tom's) tests my project and give the whole world accurate objective measures and compare them to the available cases..Even the high end ones.
  • -2 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 3:35 PM
    In my last post I forgot to add that I use vertically-oriented Zalman CNPS 9500 LED as a CPU cooler.
  • 1 Hide
    kamkal , December 15, 2008 4:00 PM

    600$ for a case? hahahahaha

    almost spit out my drink when i saw the price tag

  • -1 Hide
    kelfen , December 15, 2008 7:16 PM
    They should make an article on water cooling for the i7!
  • -1 Hide
    cangelini , December 15, 2008 7:35 PM
    Getting there. Gotta remember that i7 is still new, so there aren't a ton of options available yet.
  • 2 Hide
    Shadow703793 , December 15, 2008 8:31 PM
    Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.
  • -1 Hide
    cangelini , December 15, 2008 8:51 PM
    Shadow703793Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.

    Kept the number lower so I could spend more time with the cases involved--takes a deceptively long time to build each system up, test it, etc. The ABS case is actually the one that set the whole roundup off--it was a struggle finding enclosures that could compete. I think we'd all love to have that thing, but the price is just prohibitive. Even still, very nice to look at.
  • 1 Hide
    ccintron , December 15, 2008 8:56 PM
    Wow, those are four hideously UGLY cases... I'll stick with the Cooler Master Cosmos series.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 15, 2008 10:37 PM
    Okay I'll bite:

    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.

    Okay, these 2 ideas are pretty well established. Although personally i have doubts about #2 really making a difference.

    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!

    Right, but it can also be as simple as extreme fire and inhalation hazard. Make sure what you are using doesn't burn easily.

    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.

    This may seem like a good idea on the surface, but by restricting the air flow (you build additional pressure in the outlet) you might actually be increasing fan noise and heat buildup.

    High legs are a good idea to prevent dust (i have this problem as well) but can be dangerous for someone who has the case on a carpet or other uneven surface, since it increases the chances of the case tipping over.
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