Silverstone LaScala LC-04 HTPC Case

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WHAT ABOUT THE NOISE?

Temperature and load testing aside, how does this case sound?

The PSU: Testing a case with a proprietary PSU always makes me nervous. Most manufacturers give little or no priority to using quiet PSUs in their cases, and even the ones that claim to be "quiet" or "silent" are usually not even close, at least by SPCR standards.

That said, I am extremely impressed with the included 240W Silverstone PSU. This thing is very quiet for a small PSU and even holds its own along with some of the quietest PSUs. It's easily as quiet as a rev A1 400W Seasonic Super Silencer or a Nexus NX-3000. Its 80mm x 15mm fan has only the slightest touch of bearing or clicking noise, no air noise and very, very little whine. Its a fixed speed PSU so the noise level never goes up, even under a heavy, sustained load.

What does go up is the temperature of exhaust air from the PSU. At idle it's pretty cool, but under load it gets pretty darn hot. I have no external temp monitoring hardware but I'd estimate that it gets even hotter than a typical Antec True Power PSU under load, and those Antecs get pretty toasty!

Aluminum Resonance? If you've read other SilentPCReview case reviews, you know that aluminum cases are not highly regarded for noise. Every aluminum case that we've tested has had panel resonance issues that just don't happen with good steel cases. Between the PSU and the all-aluminum construction of the LC-04, I was eating Xanax like candy while assembling this system.

It turns out that my worries were unfounded. This aluminum case has no significant resonance that I could detect. The panels are not thicker than those I've seen in other aluminum cases so that's not the difference here. The only thing I can attribute the lack of resonance to is the small size of the case panels. Even the top and bottom of the case have a smaller area than any panel on a typical aluminum tower case, and the sides of the LC-04 are very small at 4" x 16" and 4" x 12". Add the fact that the motherboard, PSU and HDD are bolted directly to the bottom of the case which probably keeps its resonant frequency much higher than usual and you have a surprisingly quiet aluminum case. It's the only aluminum case I've heard that I would be able to live with.

HDD Noise: One definite problem is the hard-mounted HDD. It probably helps keep the drive cool, as the top and bottom of the case around the hard drive get quite warm, but it sure doesn't do anything good for the noise. The 80GB Seagate Barracuda IV used in this system is very quiet and a "reference" quiet HDD at SPCR. In a typical system where the drive is mounted using some sort of decoupling method, these drives have very little idle or seek noise.

In the LC-04, the Seagate is quite a bit louder than usual. You can hear a bit of idle hum from a meter away, and the seek noise is noticeably louder than I'm used to. It became quite bothersome after using the system for a while. If I was planning on using this case for the long term, I'd definitely mod the mounting system to decouple the drive. The downside to decoupling the drive is that it may run warmer. I'd consider the hard-mounted temperatures to be fairly high already so I wouldn't be too comfortable if the temps were to go higher. A good alternate drive choice might be one of the cooler-running Samsung SP80 drives, or perhaps a quiet 2.5" notebook drive.

I'd estimate the overall noise level of this system at around 27-30 dBA. At one meter, you can hear the seeking sound of the Seagate HDD over any other noise from the case. At 2-3 meters you can just barely hear the HDD noise and cannot hear the fan noise at all. I suspect that if this case was placed in a typical Audio/Video rack with glass doors you would not be able to hear noise from any of its hardware. Of course, you'd have to keep an eye out to make sure the enclosed space doesn't lead to dangerous temperatures.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Considering the growing popularity of Home Theater/PVR's, it is still not easy to find a suitable size, quiet HTPC case. The quietest cases are generally rather bulky and don't blend well into a Home Theater system. Designing a small case that has good airflow and good hardware options is quite a challenge. The smallest, best looking cases generally run quite hot and only take m-ATX boards and/or half-height PCI cards, limiting their usefulness.

With the LC-04 Silverstone has hit one nearly out of the park. They've designed a beautiful case that takes full size components, has decent ventilation and will integrate nicely into a Home Audio/Video system. Yes, the HDD mounting needs a bit of modding to be truly quiet, and the temps are not super cool, even with a relatively modest 66W CPU, but that's part of the small case challenge. Judicious component choices are necessary to make a quiet and small HTPC.

The bottom line: The LC-04 Silverstone is a very nice case for a quiet HTPC. Recommended.

PROS

* It sure is beautiful!
* Perfect size to blend into existing A/V equipment
* Good ventilation
* Very quiet included PSU
* Takes full size hardware
* Nearly no aluminum resonance
* It sure is beautiful!

CONS

* Moderately expensive
* HDD mount transfers noise to case
* Funky Firewire cable
* No Reset button
* Limitations in AGP/PCI configuration

Many thanks to Sundialmicro.com for the opportunity to review the Silverstone LC-04 case.

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Discuss this this article in the SPCR Forums.



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