Testing Hardware, Revised

We're working on the Corsair Obsidian 550D review, which should post alongside this article, but we're also putting both a new testbed and new methods of testing into play. Over the past year I've found that while our testing was comparable in a fairly global sense, there were definitely shortcomings to it that I felt warranted revision. When you're dealing with things like thermal performance and acoustics, getting consistent results is never as easy as you'd like it to be. In a perfect world we could produce a temperature-controlled anechoic chamber, but that just isn't feasible for me right now.

Before I get into the specifics of how we're revising our testing, let me introduce you to our new testbed for ATX and Micro-ATX enclosures.

uATX/ATX Test Configuration
CPU Intel Core i7-2700K
(95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 4.3GHz @ 1.38V)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3
Graphics Card ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP
(tested at stock speed and overclocked to 1GHz/overvolted to 1.13V)
Memory 2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Drives Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
Accessories Corsair Link
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
Power Supply SilverStone Strider Plus 750W 80 Plus Silver

Why did we make these changes? The CPU is actually incidental; we just need something that produces a substantial amount of heat. On the other hand, we've been needing a motherboard with a built-in USB 3.0 header for a few months now, as routing a USB 3.0 connection out the back of the enclosure has become passe at this point. The GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 is also Micro-ATX as opposed to ATX; instead of stratifying between ATX and Micro-ATX/Mini-ITX, it makes more sense now to stratify ITX as a separate platform. The Micro-ATX form factor just isn't the limiting factor it once was, and I've tested enough desktops to know you can very easily build a high performance machine on a Micro-ATX platform.

The graphics card was a source of a bit more debate. I didn't like how our old platform only overclocked the CPU, while the GTX 580 felt like too much card for the kind of everyday system that we wanted our stock settings to represent. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 560 Ti winds up being an excellent compromise; cards in this thermal envelope and at this power level tend to hit the sweet spot in the market, while the 560 Ti can also have its clocks and voltage pumped up to the point where it starts producing thermals on par with an enthusiast-class card. The ASUS model we chose to use features the kind of aftermarket cooling that's becoming increasingly common, but also has a substantial amount of both thermal headroom and latitude in fan speeds.

Speaking of thermal headroom, I found that the Zalman CNPS9900 cooler used for the CPU on our previous testbed wound up more often than not causing acoustic and thermal results to skew. It was entirely too easy to hit the limits of that cooler in terms of just pulling heat off of the CPU. The Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo we've opted to use instead is both inexpensive and efficient; I've personally been using a Hyper 212 Plus in my desktop to cool an overclocked i7-990X and I have no complaints. This cooler is capable of running quietly under ideal conditions but also has headroom (both thermally and acoustically) for less than ideal ones.

Finally, the remainder of our testbed consists of a couple of new parts. Corsair's new Corsair Link kit is useful for monitoring and logging temperatures and fits in a 3.5" drive bay, making it ideal for assembly and for thermal testing. The SilverStone Strider Plus 750W power supply is 20mm shorter than our previous testbed power supply, coming in at 160mm and allowing for both easier assembly in testing and more latitude. Instead of having to jump to another PSU for cases that don't have a lot of room for the PSU, it's easier to just say "this case tops out at 160mm."

Testing Hardware (Mini-ITX), Revised
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  • irow - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Why not forget about motherboard/cpu/gpu etc and just put a sound source (speaker) and a heat source (eg light bulbs) inside the middle of a case and measure outside volume and internal/external fan vent temperatures ?? Although you may have to change a few bulbs, you could use that system for years while different components come and go.
  • dac7nco - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Article: "I've actually moved since I started doing case reviews, and my new apartment is much quieter than the old one, resulting in an ambient noise floor well below 30dB."

    Isn't Anandtech in North Carolina, in an office complex? I have always thought you guys had your own (professional) facilities. I wouldn't bench hardware that could potentially cost a company millions (in lost sales) in a spare bedroom. Enthusiast hardware I understand; overclocking GPUs and CPUs is meant to be at home... but sound testing?

  • LeftSide - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Lightbulbs are a bad idea because they transfer heat via radiation. It would heat the metal on the side of the case and not be an accurate representation of computer hardware. Cases are very different placing components and fans in different locations. The only accurate way to test is to use actual hardware. That way you can test and measure hard drive temperature, video card temperature, and cpu temperature separately.
    I'm afraid the speaker idea would not work as well. Having 4 fans in one case and 2 in another would have different sound properties than a speaker in the center of the case.
  • mariush - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    It might be a better idea to use a 500-600w gold power supply for the mini-itx systems, perhaps even one semi-passive one (as in one that turns off fan at lower power consumption).

    Gold efficiency power supplies at that wattage are cheap enough these days and lots of people build such small systems to watch tv so they don't want lots of noise.

    At the same time, the reduced air circulation inside (if the power supply won't spin its fan) would introduce some interesting effects and provide some good data about how well the air circulates inside the case and how well the case will work in time (people don't clean their cases often so they can get dusted, blocking vents)
  • Death666Angel - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    "instead of stratifying between ATX and Micro-ATX/Mini-ITX, it makes more sense now to stratify ITX as a separate platform"
    Been waiting for that for a while! My last 2 enclosures were mATX (one cube and the TJ08-E) and both are pretty powerful. There is no difference between mATX and ATX as long as 2 graphics cards or 1 graphics card and 2 other pci(e) cards are used and not more.
  • hpzSZo95 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Almost all builds will include a physical hard drive, not just an SSD. I think it is important to include a 3.5" 7200 RPM hard drive in the test bed as a physical drive: 1) generates heat (small amount), 2) can block airflow (many cases mount these in front of the front intake fans), 3) generate noise, especially vibrations if mounting is insufficient.

    Also, when reviewing a case the ease of assembling the system should be considered. I recently added an SSD to an existing system, which should be fairly simple from an assembly point of view. Unfortunately my 3 year old case has only 3 internal 3.5 bays in a single drive cage, which are occupied by a 3 disk RAID, and no 2.5" drive. It also has 2 3.5 external bays. I had to use an adapter to mount the 2.5 drive in the external bay behind a face plate. This required removing the GPU and memory as the tall heat spreaders blocked the installation.

    My point is that while I doubt adding a single 3.5" drive to any modern case will cause issue, each additional component does increase the risk of complicating the assembly, so typical components should be included.
  • shin0bi272 - Monday, April 2, 2012 - link

    I agree. My friend just built a system and he planned on using his old 7200rpm drive but his other friend that he had put it together said the drive was bad... he didnt splurge on an ssd he went out and bought another hard drive. Plus with gaming you wont see any FPS increase with an ssd so the only benefit you'll get is load times.
  • Shinobisan - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I notice you're using a Corsair Link in the new test bed... Where exactly did you get one?
    I can't find them anywhere for sale (at least online... I'm in the middle of no-where).
    I've asked Corsair themselves a gob of times, and only received abject silence.

    I was really starting to think they were vapor-wear. !

    What is the source? ? ?
  • Shinobisan - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Ah... page 2 says you got it directly from Corsair... so... still vapor wear. :( :(
    (shinobisan = pouting)
  • Luay - Sunday, April 1, 2012 - link

    Sticking with the small CM 212 Hyper Evo for all case reviews will mislead you and the readers whne it comes to CPU thermals.

    The cooler is great for narrow cases such as the Antec 300, Rosewill Blackhawk and such, but for the wide full towers it is less effective and a much larger cooler is required to suck in cool air from the top, so that might be unfair to the larger cases when you review their CPU thermals.

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