Quiet Mini-ITX Gamer Build Guide

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ASSEMBLY CONTINUED

The filter and grill over the front fan looks rather restrictive, so a preemptive removal of the unnecessary grill was done. Just the filter remains.


Unnecessary grill over front fan.


With grill removed, the filter remains. Note that although the aluminum front panel has generous openings for airflow on the top and bottom, only the bottom is open when the top panel is in place.


After drive cage removal.


Oddly, the vent holes on the side panel are much smaller than those on the top panel. Side panel venting is much more important when cooling a video card, so this could turn out to be a problem.


Both top and side panels are lined with a dust filter more restrictive than that used over the front fan.

The heatsink, its fan, the RAM and the Kingston M.2 SSD were all installed on the motherboard before it was put in the case. With such an open frame, the procedure was easy as pie. Putting the VGA card into its slot was also easy, with enough room all around. Initially, the CPU cooler fan and the case fans were all plugged into the ASUS Z97I-PLUS fan headers.


Extra lengths of cables stuffed behind PSU compartment where they have no effect on cooling. Lots of room above the CPU cooler, but a taller heatsink with a bigger 140mm fan would have got very close the back of the video card. (The back case fan was removed for testing at this stage.) Note the rubber feet, much taller than usual: Of this we approve. Often the feet on cases are too short and leave too little room for airflow under the PSU. There is a vent with intake dust filter (unnecessary for our fanless PSU) underneath the PSU.

The front area is bare without HDD cage and extra cabling hidden. Perhaps 2cm separates CPU cooler and back of graphics card. There's no more than 1cm between side panel and VGA fans.


The LEDs on the case are soft and muted, appropos for a Silent PC.

TESTING

System Configuration:

  • Intel Core i5-4690K processor - 3.5 GHz (3.9 GHz with Turbo Boost), 22nm, 88W, integrated HD 4600 graphics
  • Silverstone Argon AR03 CPU cooler
  • ASUS Z97I-PLUS - Intel Z97 chipset, mini-ITX
  • ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 980 graphics card - 2048 CUDA cores, 1178 MHz clock (1279 MHz with GPU Boost), 7010 MHz memory
  • Kingston HyperX Genesis memory - 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, C10
  • Kingston SSDNow M.2 2280 240GB solid-state drive
  • Rosewill Legacy W1-S case - mini-ITX
  • Seasonic X-520 Platinum 80+ fanless power supply - ATX, modular, 520W
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate operating system, 64-bit

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Baseline Noise

Before any load testing, a quick look at the noise produced by each part was considered. The only noise sources at idle are the two case fans, the VGA cooler fans and the fan on the Silverstone AR03 CPU heatsink. The system was powered up and left in idle, and fans stopped/unplugged in turn. The ASUS Z97I-PLUS is a full featured board with an excellent BIOS that is worthy of a stand-alone review, but we discovered a major impediment: Its two non-CPU 4-pin fan headers run the fans in the Rosewill W1-S case only at full speed. We did not have time to check whether the ASUS fan headers had the same limitation with other 3-pin fans, but with the Rosewill fans, no adjustments in the BIOS or the FanExpert utility helped.


The 14cm case fan proved to be a tough nut. The FanExpert utilities in the Z97I-Plus board and our fan control reference ASUS P8Z77-V Pro board could not glean any useful information, not even maximum speed (unless you mistakenly accept the ~6000 or ~9000 RPM readings).


We resorted to our old tried-and-true method of RPM measurement on light colored fan blades: Blacken the ends of all but one blade with a felt pen so our optical tachometer can count the reflection off that one light colored blade. The back panel fan is shown here in the case, behind the similarly-treated fan of the Silverstone AR03.

By using a black felt pen and optical tachmeter as described in the caption above, we finally determined that the full speed of the case fan is ~1100 RPM, and its start voltage/speed is around 3.5V/330RPM. Both the front and the back fan have very nice sound quality: Smooth, mostly broadband, even at maximum speed, and very little in extraneous noises like ticking or buzzing as speed is lowered.

Since the W1-S case is equipped with a fan controller apparently designed to control the included fans, it was pressed into service. It is the way most buyers of the Rosewill case will connect and control these fans.

GTX 980 Mini-ITX Gamer PC
Rosewill Legacy W1-S case
Component Noise Levels
Noise Sources
RPM
SPL @1m
Baseline
N/A
11 dBA
GPU fan
740 (min)
16 dBA
CPU fan
700 (min)
11 dBA
1200 (~6V)
17 dBA
1400 (~7V)
22 dBA
1700 (~9V)
29 dBA
2140 (max)
35 dBA
Case fans
520 (low)
12 dBA
1100 (high)
24.5 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front of case.
Ambient noise level 10~11 [email protected]

The case fans at low are extremely quiet. They stand up well against any 140mm fans we've tested, at least for low noise. Together with the Silverstone AR03 fan at its minimum speed, the total SPL of the system is just 13 [email protected] But with both fans on high, the 24.5 [email protected] SPL is too loud at idle to be a SPCR-quiet PC.

It becomes very clear what our challenge will be here. Since the case fans on the high setting reach nearly 25 dBA, we must use them on low. (Of course, with an on-board or external fan controller that provides a wider range of fan speeds, we'd have more flexibility.) At the same time, the CPU fan must not be allowed to go over 1200~1300 RPM to keep its output to under 20 dBA. Finally, the fans on the ASUS Strix GTX 980 must be kept under 1000 RPM, yet its GPU temperature must not reach 90°C, beyond which its fail-safe 100% fan speed kicks in.

It is, as so often is the case, a matter of finely balancing cooling and noise: Keep the fans spinning slowly enough for them to remain very quiet, yet still pushing enough airflow to keep the components from getting too hot.



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