Introducing Our 2012 Case Testbeds and Revised Methodologyby Dustin Sklavos on March 29, 2012 3:00 PM EST
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
Intel Core i7-2700K
(95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 4.3GHz @ 1.38V)
ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP
(tested at stock speed and overclocked to 1GHz/overvolted to 1.13V)
|2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
|Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
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."