Shuttle XPC ST61G4 SFF barebones PC

Complete|Mobile Systems
Viewing page 5 of 6 pages. Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next

SYSTEM SETUP & TESTING

The following components were chosen:

No AGP VGA card was used initially, because I did not have the right class of card for this case: Something like a fanless ATI 9600, SE, or XT card. Or maybe a Matrox 650. In any case, you'll see from the results below that noise limits are reached by the ST61G4 without the extra heat load of an outboard video card. (There! The cat's out of the bag!)

The P4-2.8 is really a bit hot for a SFF system, but it is about the slowest P4 Intel officially makes these days, so it's appropriate. The processor was perfectly stable at 1.4V (instead of the usual 1.5V) in this setup, so this setting was used throughout testing. Lower heat is a "free" benefit when you have a board with undervoltable Vcore. Both the memory and hard drive were chosen for speed and, in the case of the Hitachi drive, relatively low noise. It was such a simple assembly that there's nothing to say about. It took a little over half an hour, a testament to Shuttle's excellent human engineering. Installing Windows XP on the machine took much longer. (NOTE: Installation with a SATA drive is more complex because the controller is not native to the chipset and apparently demands the use of a floppy drive.)

Note that there are five discrete sources of noise in the ST61G4:

  • 1 - 80mm ICE cooling fan
  • 2 - 40mm fans in PSU, separated by the 190mm (7.5") length of the PSU, with one fan facing the outside and the other embedded on the inside end.
  • 1 - 40mm fan on the Northbridge chip heatsink, running at ~4600 RPM
  • 1 - Hard Drive (the Hitachi 180GXP in this case)


The black CD drive looks pretty good against the silver.
In the mirrored panel, you can see reflections of the cloth the Shuttle is sitting on.

There are no performance benchmarks presented for this machine. The rationale is simple: They will be identical to the results obtained with the Shuttle Zen, aside from effects of the different components used. Please check in the Zen review for details.

But what about performance with an AGP video card? Well, it will depend entirely on the video card, won't it? And whatever video card is used, you can be virtually guaranteed to see an increase in CPU temperatures and PSU fan noise reported below.

What's far more interesting for us are the noise and cooling performance. Although not available publicly, we managed to obtain a utility that enables the CPU temperature diode output to be monitored in Windows on the ST61G4. (A nondisclosure agreement binds us to secrecy.) This utility was used to obtain the CPU temperature readings below.

Other test tools used:

  • CPUBurn processor stress software utility, two instances run simultaneously to obtain 100% processor load.
  • Seasonic Power Angel AC Power Meter (a new product; will be covered soon.)
  • B&K model 1613 sound level meter. This 20+ years professional caliber SLM has a dynamic range that spans over 140 dB. and can measure accurately to below 10 dBA.

The measurements for the full load CPUBurn results were made after 30 minutes in that state.

TEST #1: ULTRA LOW FAN SPEED
Activity
CPU Temp
Noise @ 1m
AC Power
Front
Back
Idle
42°C
34 dBA
35 dBA
57W
CPUBurn
59°C
34 dBA
37 dBA
110W

Test Conditions:
Vcore set to 1.4V; Ambient noise at 18 dBA; Room at 23°C; CPU fan @ 2200RPM

AT POWER ON - With the BIOS fan setting are set for Ultra Low (my preferred setting) or Smart Fan, the noise at turn on was modest, but not really quiet by SPCR standards. 34 dBA/1m is 4 dBA above the level we generally consider quiet. Most of the noise emanated from the 80mm fan, which has a rather annoying acoustic signature combining both low noise humming as well as some high pitched whining. This was at a speed of 2200 RPM. Despite my initial qualms about the 40mm fans in the Shuttle SilentX PC40 Power Supply, the PSU was not a significant source of noise. Neither was the >4500 RPM 40mm fan on the NB chip heatsink.

IDLE / LOW LOAD - Because the fan was set at Ultra Low, the 80mm fan noise did not change at all. However, over time, the external PSU fan became more identifiable as a distinct source of noise even though the overall level did not really increase. As expected, it is a higher pitched sound, but under light load, not particularly intrusive. The 80mm fan is more annoying.

AT FULL LOAD - The noise of the PSU fans became more intrusive, but again the overall level was not that changed. The 80mm fan is still more annoying.

Because of the good headroom in the CPU temperatures, it seemed safe to make a small change that anyone could make to reduce the noise: A Zalman Fanmate1 fan speed controller was inserted between the 80mm fan and the output header on the motherboard. The Fanmate1 was simply reduced to minimum speed, at which point, the fan dropped to 1600 RPM. The tests were run again.

TEST #2: ULTRA LOW FAN SPEED + MIN FANMATE1
Activity
CPU Temp
Noise @ 1m
AC Power
Front
Back
Idle
42°C
31 dBA
31 dBA
57W
CPUBurn
61°C
32 dBA
33 dBA
110W

Test Conditions:
Vcore set to 1.4V; Ambient noise at 18 dBA; Room at 23°C; CPU fan @ 1600RPM

AT POWER ON - As the table above indicates, the overall noise dropped by 3 dBA, but subjectively, it sounded like a bigger drop than that. It was borderline quiet, but much more acceptable than before. The 80mm fan was still the biggest noise source. Again, the noise from the 40mm fans was there but not really identifiable above the noise of the 80mm fan.

IDLE / LOW LOAD - Because the fan was set at Ultra Low, the 80mm fan noise did not change at all. However, over time, the external PSU fan became more identifiable as a distinct source of noise even though the overall level did not really increase much.

AT FULL LOAD - The noise of the PSU fans became the most prominent part of the noise but the 80mm fan still could be heard. It was not that quiet.

TIME TO SWAP THE FAN

By now, it's obvious that the 80mm Sunon fan is a noisy, nasty fan. Why Shuttle could not have stayed with something like the much quieter Bi-Sonic fan in the Zen is a mystery. It was time to see if anything else could be done.

The ICE fan shroud was removed and examined. The Sunon fan is a standard 1" thick 80mm fan, which means any one of several quiet fans on had could be easily swapped in its place. A Nexus 80mm "Real Silent Fan" was installed in place, and the wire grill over the original fan remained off: Anything to improve the airflow. The Nexus fan is only rated for 20 CFM and 0.15A at 12V, and just 17.6 dBA/1m (which may be optimistic but...). It is one of the smoothest and quietest fans I've examined, though the price is pretty low airflow, especially compared to the 40 CFM rating of the Sunon. It does have RPM monitoring, which is useful here.


Nexus "Real Silent Fan" in place of the nasty Sunon.


The wire grill remained off, unlike the one over the BI-Sonic fan from the Zen.

A quick test with the Nexus fan in place showed that the 4500 RPM 40mm fan of the NB heatsink would be the next bottleneck. So the Zalman fanmate1 was pressed into service again, and the speed dial rotated until the noise of the NB heatsink fan dropped to the ambient level of the case set by the PSU fans and Hitachi hard drive idle noise. The end result was much better.

TEST #3: NEXUS FAN @ ULTRA LOW FAN SPEED
Activity
CPU Temp
Noise @ 1m
AC Power
Front
Back
Idle
43°C
28 dBA
29 dBA
57W
CPUBurn
58°C
31 dBA
32 dBA
110W

Test Conditions:
Vcore set to 1.4V; Ambient noise at 18 dBA; Room at 23°C; CPU fan (Nexus) @ 1500RPM; NB cooler fan reduced in speed to 3500RPM, down from 4500RPM.

AT POWER ON - The improvement in noise was dramatic. This was close to the level of the Zen, perhaps a little higher, like the AOpen XC Cube. The overall noise dropped by at least 3 dBA and sound like more because of the much smoother quality of the noise. In fact, the 80mm fan no longer was the predominant noise source, even though a small degree of turbulence could be heard through that restrictive fan grill. No single noise source was identifiable as the defining one. It could definitely be considered quiet. Note that the CPU temperature did not change despite the lower airflow fan.

IDLE / LOW LOAD - The external PSU fan became more identifiable as a distinct source of noise even though the overall level did not really increase much. The distinctive humminess of the aluminum case identified in previous aluminum SFF systems became evident. Previously this effect had been masked by fan noise.

AT FULL LOAD - The noise of the 40mm PSU fans became more prominent again. It is a higher pitched noise that's more intrusive than a good 80mm fan would be. The overall noise is probably still acceptable for many users, however.

Note that the CPU temperature actually stayed the same as with the double airflow capacity stock fan. This suggests that the effective airflow at the heatsink fins is set not by the speed of the fan but by the grill, which restricts airflow beyond a certain fairly low level. It would take a lot higher RPM (and noise) to force more air through that grill.



Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next

Complete|Mobile Systems - Article Index
Help support this site, buy from one of our affiliate retailers!
Search: