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A WEEK OF PERCOLATION

It's nice to call it R & R, but in reality I was simply too busy to start writing this article till almost a week after all the system tweaking and testing.

After I'd written much of the above, something about the whole build was bugging me. Why didn't the system do better? Surely, with three 120mm case fans, top notch coolers on both the CPU and the GPU, and all those vents everywhere, the system in this Corsair Air 240 could do better!? Why were those fans so ineffective?

It was while discussing these questions that Larry Lee, longtime SPCR lab worker and reviewer, noticed the plastic mesh dust filter lying on my desk. I'd pulled it off the side panel of the Rosewill W1-S case, a move that increased the airflow to the ASUS Strix GTX 980 card in our first Mini-ITX Gaming Build and dropped the noise level to just 13/20 dBA idle/load. The sight of this filter naturally led to the question, if removing that filter was productive, how about the dust filters in the Corsair Air 240?

Aside from the magnetic perforated film dust filter on the PSU side, I had not considered the dust filters on the fan locations in this case, which are all on the panels covering the other compartment where the motherboard, CPU and VGA are housed. I'd noted that they were there but not thought much beyond that. They are not meant to be removed. How much airflow do they impede? Suddenly this seemed a very worthwhile question.

I stopped writing and went back to investigative mode. A couple of hours later, I had some interesting answers.

DUST FILTERS

Higher priced computer cases started to sport dust filters over intake vents about a decade ago. The idea was simple enough: Keep dust from accumulating on the fans and cooling fins to maintain good cooling. This was particularly important in systems where the fans run at high speed constantly; a description which applies to a lot of systems back in those days. The fast spinning fans naturally suck up a lot of dust and deposit them all over the case, especially on heatsinks fins and fan blades. Of course, the dust filters themselves get choked up and if they're not regularly cleaned, the end result is perhaps even worse than no filter: No airflow.

Today, almost every aftermarket case is fitted with dust filters, often regardless of whether the vent is meant for intake or exhaust. This is pertinent: You don't need a dust filter on an exhaust fan; that just impedes airflow for no good reason. Dust filters on the best cases now are easily accessible so they can be readily and frequently cleaned. It looks mostly like progress.

But dust filters, like protective fan grills, exact a price on airflow. Just how much depends on the exact design of the filter, and whether this matters depends on how important that lost airflow might be. In our Rosewill W1-S Gaming PC, removing that side vent dust filter stopped the GPU from reaching the 90°C point where its fans go berserk. (True of all GTX 970s and 980s, AFAIK.) So the airflow lost to the that filter was pretty important.

I took a close look at the Corsair Air 240 filters. First, the removeable magnetic sheet on the PSU side.


You might recall this photo from many pages back: I thought it was the cat's meow. Looking more closely...


...I'm not so sure. The perforations look pretty small compared to the amount of plastic around them.

The dust filters for the left compartment of the Corsair Carbide Air 240 are integrated into the plastic frames that are the front, top and bottom panels. A row of thick plastic columns are on the outside, followed by a perforated metal sheet with 3 mm hexagonal holes surrounded by 1mm of material. The final layer is the dust filter, and it is exactly the same material as the magnetic filter on the PSU vent.


The Air 240 vent grills, viewed from the inside. There are multiple perimeter tabs that keep the plastic dust filter material in place. (Click pic to see large version.)


From left: Air 240 top panel with filter removed; the removed Air 240 filter; the filter from Rosewill W1-S case; stock Air 240 bottom panel. (Click pic to see large version.)

The second photo above is instructive. The top and bottom panels of the Air 240 are identical. You can see the white (OK, off-white; it's old & beat up) of the vinyl tile floor through the top panel without the dust filter. You can't see the floor at all through the stock bottom panel on the far right. The difference between the Corsair and the Rosewill filters in the center is self-evident as well.

I would guess that the Corsair Air 240 dust filters block at least 50% of the light.

What about airflow? :) It so happens that SPCR Labs is equipped to test this scientifically.



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