VoodooPC Rage F-50 PC / Zalman TNN-500A Case

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PERFORMANCE

I wrote a review of the VoodooPC for the May 2004 issue of PCWorld; they did their own benchmark testing on this very sample and reported an aggregate PC WorldBench 4 testing score of 138 points. This score is right up there alongside the top performers equipped with the Athlon 64-3200+ processor (tested by PCWorld). It handily beats the 126~127 points scored by the top P4-3.2 systems tested by PCWorld.

This performance fits well with VoodooPC's gaming roots, but keep in mind that the price of the Rage F-50 is at least double that of similarly performing conventionally cooled PCs.

NOTE: The performance can be improved with the higher speed Athlon 64-3400+, which is available at time of posting for an additional US$150. In PCWorldBench 4 scores, Athlon 64-3400+ machines gained 8 to 10 points over the 3200s.

NOISE

The key noise issue has been been touched upon already: The Rage F-50 is silent except for the noise emitted by its drives.

Optical Drives: Software such as Nero DriveSpeed can limit the top speed (and noise) of the optical drives to the user's discretion. Most people don't find optical drive noise to be a serious issue because it is rarely constant. The Plextor drives employed in this PC are reasonably smooth, which is about the best you can hope for. A very positive thing is that the strong mechanical construction of the Zalman case eliminates the case rattling so typical of conventional cases when the optical drive is accessed at high speed. The big heavy aluminum door also helps to damp the optical drive noise a bit.

Still, quite a bit of noise gets out through the wire routing and ventilation holes. There is also a sharp resonant quality to the noise with the optical drives at high speed. This seems related to the air resonances in the case (every cavity or closed space has them) and the reflections off the hard parallel aluminum walls. A bit of judiciously placed damping material would probably help.

Hard Drives: The sample system's dual IBM/Hitachi 180GXP RAID drives help to achieve the high performance results. Unfortunately, they are also the source of three distinct types of noises in this system: Idle, Seek and Head Reset noise.

1) Idle noise is very modest, and the bit of whine the drives exhibit is effectively blocked by the big case.

2) Access noise is considerably louder, and it seems to be accentuated or amplified in the case, resounding with a thrumming against the otherwise silent background. As with the optical drive noise, this seems at least partly due to the case air resonances and reflections off the hard parallel aluminum walls. But because hard drive access noise has more of a staccato percussive aspect (clickety-click as opposed to an optical drive's whirr), there is more vibration, and that vibration is easily conducted into the case, which then amplifies it much like a sounding board.

3) Head Reset noise is something many of you already know about. The head reset function in the last couple generations of IBM/Hitachi drives (120, 180, and 250 GXP) is designed to avoid overheating during idle. The head reset causes an odd, brief, very audible noise on a fairly regular basis, perhaps every 10 minutes. This noise has been described in many ways ? a chirp, a cat's meow, etc. To me it sounds like a two-tone whirrrr-hooot. The two drives' head reset timing is not perfectly synchronized, so the noise from each drive occurs usually in quick succession within maybe a minute of each other. It is too brief a duration to be measured accurately on my sound level meter. Suffice it to say it is easily as audible as the access noise.

The measured noise from the Rage F-50 are presented below. Note that the CPU load has no effect whatsoever on the noise; it is simply a function of hard drive noise.

Rage F-50 Measured Noise (dBA)
Mic 1m from
HDD in idle
HDD Access
Front
22
35~36
Left
22
35~37
Right
22
35~36
Top
22
35~37
Rear
22
35~36

* * *

Rage F-50 Noise:
Operator Position as per ISO9296*
HDD in idle
HDD Access
23 dBA
36~38 dBA

* Measuring microphone ~0.6m from front top edge of case.

TEST CONDITIONS
Sound pressure levels were measured in a very quiet carpeted room (20'x10'x8') with a calibrated B&K sound level meter (model 2204) capable of reading down to below 0 dBA. The PC was set on a 20" tall stool near the middle of the room and the SLM positioned or held at the specified distances from the nearest surface of the PC. The ambient noise during the acoustic measurements was ~18 dBA, well below the level of the PC so that it did not affect the readings.

COOLING & POWER

When the system was stressed for half an hour using CPUBurn software, the CPU thermal diode stabilized at a temperature of 55°C in a room ambient of 22°C. This is a very modest temperature. In normal usage, the typical desktop PC rarely gets such a high level of stress for such a long time; CPUBurn pushes the CPU to a higher temperature than any real application (or game). During web content creation, e-mail and web browsing, the CPU temperature rarely went past 45°C.

Items
startup
idle
max
Power (AC)
152W
138W
163W
CPU temp
-
44°C
55°C
HDD temp*
-
36°C
40°C

* With external sensor on casing of top drive.

No misbehavior from the video card was noticed at any time, indicating good cooling of the hot 9800XT GPU core. This was during benchmark testing as well as in gaming and general use after the CPU stress test.

It is clear that the Zalman TNN-500A case is more than adequate to the task of cooling the components VoodooPC has packed in this system. There appears to be enough headroom for higher ambient temperatures as well as hotter components.



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