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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  • Gnarr - Sunday, April 1, 2012 - link

    This is not a revised methodology, but a revised method. Methodology is the study of a method.
  • shin0bi272 - Monday, April 2, 2012 - link

    I would still keep furmark since its designed for stressing the cards...

    "What is FurMark?

    FurMark is a very intensive OpenGL benchmark that uses fur rendering algorithms to measure the performance of the graphics card. Fur rendering is especially adapted to overheat the GPU and that's why FurMark is also a perfect stability and stress test tool (also called GPU burner) for the graphics card."
  • sticks435 - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    Furmark doesn't come anywhere close to reality as far as temps are concerned. It's like the Linpack of GPU's. Plus like Dustin Mentioned, Nvidia and AMD have specially coded the drivers/power circuitry to step down when Furmark is detected, so it doesn't give accurate results. I actually think some of the newer work units from F@H are the best test of heat and noise as far as GPU's are concerned.
  • shin0bi272 - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    true. I was just posting whats on their site. Their stated mission is to test who can get the highest fps at the lowest temp which makes it a good candidate for a benchmark. If you go over to lanoc and read their test of the 7970 and 680 in furmark you'll see how whacked out the program's scoring is. the 680 scores higher in fps and lower in temp so you'd think it should score higher in the burn-in score point system. It doesnt. Ive never seen a benchmark of f@h come near the stress levels that furmark puts on the cards but I guess if your only looking for real world programs to test its a good one.
  • shin0bi272 - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    oh and according to legit reviews running f@h is getting harder and hard to do on the gpu.

  • sticks435 - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    Fair enough. I don't think that it's getting harder, it's that Standford is probably swamped and hasn't had time to write new cores for the new arch. Either that or the current drivers are so terrible it causes f@h not to work. My 570 with the current work units sits at 94c with the fan speed at 75% with an ambient of 24c @850mhz. That's more stressful than any game as far as work/temp is concerned.
  • sticks435 - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    that should have been 26c ambient.
  • Knifeshade - Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - link

    I think there needs to be a 'with stock heatsink' result, and one with the Hyper 212 in your testing methodology.

    You're ultimately testing a case's capability. Having a custom cooler is misleading. "Oh those CPU temperatures look pretty good". "Wrong, it's mostly because of the custom cooler".

    Not everybody uses aftermarket cooling in their build, you know.

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