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THE PHYSICAL MACHINE
Despite the absence of any colored trim to offset the expanses of black, the front panel has panache, perhaps lent mostly by the prominent technical-looking Sound Blaster Audigy-2 ZS Platinum control I/O front panel. This is the top model from SB with 24-bit/196kHz DAC and stereo playback, a host of functions and a huge package of software that would require a dedicated 20,000 word review to cover fully. Suffice it to say that it is one of a very small number of contenders for top-dog status among consumer audio cards. The Sony DVD and CDRW drives stacked below the SB front panel don't hurt the serious look of this PC, either.
Great Bezel Design
In case there's any doubt, aside from the absence of a grey colored trim around the top half of the front panel, this bezel identical to the in the previously reviewed Stealth XP2000+ PC. Many readers will already know that the case is an Evercase 4252 variant, which has the best noise-impeding, yet high airflow bezel of any case we've come across.
In case anyone missed them, here are the pictures of the front bezel and intake vent from the last review.
Wide open front intake vents provide excellent airflow yet prevent a direct escape path for noise .
The vertical grooves in the bezel are actually ventilation slots for the front air intake. The center shows the bezel removed. You can see just how open the intake vents are. There is also a large hidden opening at the front bottom of the bezel.
The back panel is fairly conventional, except for the square holes in the 120mm grill for the back fan, which presents very little impedance to the exhaust airflow. This 120mm exhaust fan capability is a relatively new variant of the Evercase 4252 mid-tower case. A black Zalman ZM400A-APF modified with a Panaflo 80mm low speed fan is visible.
THE INTERIOR & KEY COMPONENTS
The inside of the case is completely treated with AcoustiProduct damping, which is about the best marketed to the computer industry. The heavy damping material just about everywhere it can be applied except on the right cover behind the motherboard tray, which is a solid piece that extends across the entire right side. There no room between that inside wall and the right cover for any significant layer of damping foam to be installed; the AcoustiPack material is at least half an inch thick. All this acoustic damping helps to absorb internal noise.
RamAIR Duct for fresh cool air to the CPU and AcoustiPack damping for noise reduction
Gap between right side panel and right inner wall of case is extremely small; no room for damping material -- and probably no need either, given the double-steel wall.
Note that the side vent has a tubular flared duct, which ARM calls a RamAIR Duct. When the left cover is fitted back in place, the duct is positioned perfectly over the CPU cooling fan with no more than 1 cm gap. This ensures that the CPU/heatsink gets the benefit of cooler outside air. The system ships with thumbscrews that hold the cover in place, but once off, the 2 green tabs visible on the back (left) edge allow the cover to be removed. The fit is very tight, and some effort is required to slide the side panel backwards so it can be lifted off.
The vertical PCI retention bar is impossible to miss. It ensures that the heavy ATI Radeon 9800XT VGA card, equipped with a Zalman HP-80C VGA heapipe cooler (follow the link to our review of an earlier version of this HS) plus integrated 80mm fan, is held securely in place. The retention bar also adds rigidity to the case, which is probably helpful given the system's high 38 lb weight. I won't go into any real detail about the ~US$500 Radeon 9800XT. Suffice it to say that this latest top-of-the-line VGA card from ATI features an amazing 256 mb of RAM, has built-in dynamic overclocking (called Overdrive) and appears to be the darling of extreme gamers everywhere.
Above the big NB heatsink on the Intel motherboard is the Panaflo 92mm low speed fan mounted atop a Thermalright SP94 copper heatpipe heatsink (follow the link for our recent review). Note the Zalman Fanmate1 fan speed controllers mounted on the frame of the fan with Velcro and the blue heatspreaders of the high speed 256MB HyperX DDR400 CL2 SDRAM, two sticks for dual channel memory operation .
Here's another look at the ATI-9800XT VGA card cooled by the Zalman HP80C heatpipe cooler and its dedicated slim 80mm fan. (Photo taken with PCI card retention bar removed.)
The photo above shows the two Seagate Barracuda Serial ATA V hard drives, mounted with EAR elastomer vibration damping grommets in the slide-and-lock mechanism 3.5" removable drive bay. There is no metal-to-metal contact between the hard drive and the chassis. This is the same HDD noise reduction technique used in the first ARM System review sample. The SATA drives are in a RAID 0 configuration, using the built-in RAID controller on the Intel D875PBZ motherboard, arguably the best for the P4 with hyperthreading. The Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) came set for the minimum seek noise on these drives. Note how the bottom drive is mounted upside down. This was done, according to Steve Collins of ARM Systems, to maximize the distance between the two drives for better cooling.
The two 120mm fans used, one for intake in front and one for exhaust in back, are both connected to motherboard fan headers through Zalman Fanmate 1 voltage controllers at reduced setting. Neither fan is identifiable as they do not have any markings on them. They are quiet at idle, with a bit of bearing chatter that is audible from up close, and appear to be thermally controlled by the motherboard, as they ramp up in speed as the system heats up under load.
The Panaflo-fan modded Zalman ZM400A-APF is a heavy-duty 400W PSU that starts quiet and stays that way even at the maximum power draw of this review system. Its appearance and Zalman's specifications indicate that it is most likely a variant of the Fortron-Source 400 APFC PSU. However unlike previous F-S variants we've examined, this one is said to be extra efficient: 75% is the minimum AC/DC efficiency with 230VAC input. This is a significant improvement over the typical 70% PSU efficiency and should help in reducing the total heat in the system. With the Panaflo 80mm low speed fan swap, the Zalman PSU is very quiet, and does not ramp up much at high load. NOTE: ARM warranties all components directly, including this modded PSU, which would probably lose the Zalman warranty.
The Sony DVD and CD-RW optical drives are not really quiet when accessing data, but certainly not the worst I have heard. The maximum access speed can actually be limited with software (such as that incorporated in Nero) to keep the noise down. Suffice it to say they are silent when not being accessed (which is most of the time for most of us) and hardly add any noise at all when playing DVD movies or music CDs.
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