Silverstone LC-11 media PC case

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TEST PLATFORM

Intel Pentium M 755 - 2.0GHz Dothan core - run at 1.100V for this test
Sapphire ATI Radeon 9250 passively cooled video card (AGP)
Mushkin PC3200 Level II - 2 x 512MB DDRAM @ 2-2-2-5, 333MHz
Samsung MP0402H 2.5" 5400rpm, 8MB cache notebook hard drive
Plextor PX-716A DVD±R/RW CD-R/RW internal E-IDE (ATAPI) drive
Arctic Silver Ceramique Thermal Compound

TEST TOOLS

CPUBurn processor stress software
Motherboard Monitor 5.3.7.0 software to track CPU temperature and fan speed
Seasonic Power Angel power monitor used to measure system power usage

Ambient temperature was measured at 21°C over the entire series of tests. No tests were run unless the ambient temperature was at that reference level.

  • All temperatures in degrees Celsius.
  • Diode: Reading from Pentium M 755 CPU diode via Motherboard Monitor 5. Diode was calibrated on each board using the standard SPCR CPU Diode Calibration method.
  • Temp Rise refers to the difference between ambient temperature and the diode reading.
  • °C/W refers to the °C of temperature rise per watt of heat dissipated by the CPU.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I was a bit apprehensive about the LC-11's cooling abilities. It's obviously designed to be utilized as an HTPC, which means that it should run pretty quiet, but, on the other hand, the cramped layout and alternative airflow design could cause problems with good ventilation. I tried to ameliorate this as much as possible by running hardware with a very low thermal output, but the results of my planning wouldn't be known until I could fire up the system for testing.


Finished system. Things are pretty cramped in there.

As already described in a previous article, the Nexus-modified Zalman 7000AlCu running at 5V works stunningly well with the AOpen 855GMe-LFS motherboard + 2GHz Pentium M CPU. Prior to building the system, I tested the stock fans at 12V, 7V and 5V, and found them too loud for my taste at both 12V and 7V, so I started off by setting the two included 80mm fans down to 5V. I also tested the PSU fan prior to assembling the system, and it was marginally quiet at its default speed.

After I finished assembling the LC-11, I fired it up, installed Windows XP SP2 and the basic drivers and OS updates, as well as Motherboard Monitor to monitor the system temperatures. Prime95 was run for 48 hours to check stability and for any potential thermal problems. The system ran great and temperatures were ridiculously low.

At this point, CPUBurn was run to check the maximum system temperatures and power draw. The data in the chart below was recorded after running CPUBurn for 30 minutes, after the temps were perfectly stable. The Seasonic Power Angel showed a maximum system AC power draw of 50W while using CPUBurn. Interestingly, the Power Angel reported a system power draw of 55W when burning DVDs using the Plextor burner.

LC-11 System Load Temps, using CPUBurn
Component
Load Temp.
°C rise
Board Sensor
33°C
12°C
CPU temp
34°C
13°C
HDD temp
32°C
11°C

NOISE ANALYSIS

Since it's designed to be used as an HTPC, the LC-11 should certainly be quiet, but perhaps it is not as critical as with a desktop system. My reasoning is twofold.

  • #1: As a HTPC, the system itself will probably be positioned at least 6-10 feet away from the user in a family room or living room whereas a typical desktop system might be running only a few feet away from the user.
  • #2: Since the HTPC is, by definition, designed to be used in a multimedia setting, there will usually be some noise generated by the media itself. In short, absolute silence isn't necessarily required from an HTPC. My guess is that 25-30 dBA @ 1 meter SPL should be more than sufficient to keep the noise of the computer itself quieter than the ambient room noise when a movie or a television show is being watched.

This Pentium M-based system could be run with the included case fans at 5V for extreme quiet and low system temperatures. At 5V, the stock case fans were pretty quiet, similar to an 80mm Panaflo L1A running at 7V. If I wanted to mod the case with this system, I am sure I could swap out the fans for a set of 5V L1A's, or something equally quiet, and still have excellent case cooling.

The PSU fan never ramped up in speed, no matter what load the system was under. The PSU fan has no tachometer output, so directly monitoring its speed was not possible. The noise of the PSU fan was slightly intrusive, certainly the noisiest fan in the entire system. With the case closed, it was fairly easy to hear from 5-6 feet away. The objectionable part of its noise consisted a a fairly high-pitched whine that seemed to be undamped by the case. The air exhausting from the rear of the PSU was moderately warm so I would be hesitant to open up the PSU and lower the fan speed.

Silverstone LC-11 PSU TEST RESULTS
DC Output (W)
65
90
150
240
AC Input (W)
88
118
197
314
Efficiency
74%
77%
76%
76%
Intake Temp (°C)
21
24
26
29
PSU Exhaust (°C)
27
32
35
39
Noise (dBA/1m)
22
23
34
36
Power Factor
0.66
0.66
0.67
0.68

NOTE: The ambient temperature during testing varies a few degrees from review to review. Please take this into account when comparing PSU test data.

The above table was compiled by Mike Chin and Devon Cooke in the Vancouver lab, using the well-documented PSU test rig. You can see why the PSU in this case never ramped up in my test system; the AC power could have doubled and the fan still would not have ramped up. The efficiency achieved at the low 65W and 90W DC output levels are pretty good, considering the unassuming look and role of this OEM PSU.

Mike and Devon also outfitted another LC-11 sample with all the same noise makers in it running at the same settings as my test system. This setup was used to measure and record the noise using the Vancouver lab audio equipment. The comparisons below are admittedly an unfair; the other cases don't have the benefit of a <60W AC power system. But as you can tell from the PSU results table above, this system would probably get comparably loud if the total heat in the system was raised to >100W AC.

MP3: Silverstone LC-11 test system at any load - 23 dBA @ 1 meter SPL

Comparables:

MP3: Arctic Cooling Silentium T2 with test system (3.5" HDD suspended) at idle - 23 dBA/1m

MP3: Arctic Cooling Silentium T2 (3.5" HDD suspended) at max load - 34 dBA/1m

MP3: Shuttle SN95G5 SFF system (notebook drive suspended) in idle - 27 dBA/1m

MP3: Shuttle SN95G5 SFF system (notyebook drive suspended) at max load - 30 dBA/1m

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone was 3" from the edge of the fan frame at a 45° angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings was 18 dBA or lower. It is best to download the sound files to your computer before listening.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing this Nexus 92mm case fan @ 5V (17 dBA/1m) recording and set the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don't reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, all tone controls and other effects should be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system playback level to get the most valid listening comparison, please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans on page four of the article SPCR's Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

CONCLUSIONS

Since the LC-11 is aimed at the HTPC market, certain design concessions have been made for the low profile and A/V-compatible styling. These concessions impair the airflow and usability of the case somewhat.

With a low-powered CPU and video card, this case works just great. The ventilation is fine for a low powered system, and the case fans could actually be replaced with even slower, quieter versions. The PSU fan, while not super quiet, is probably adequate for most and never ramped up in speed under load.

Although not tested in this mode, a higher powered CPU, vidcard and hotter-running optical drive may well be a bit too much for this case. The ventilation, while perfectly fine for a low-powered system, would probably be borderline adequate for a system using >3X times the power of this Pentium M setup. The stock case fans, while potent enough at 5V to cool a low powered system, are actually flowing little air and would quite likely need to be run at higher voltages to provide enough airflow to cool a hotter running system. At >7V, these fans aren't particularly quiet.

Overall, this is a good case and will work fine with a lower powered system. Its styling and size should help it blend right in to a typical A/V rack system and the low noise will also help keep it unobtrusive.

PROS

* Excellent, low key styling
* Good airflow design
* Large selection of front I/O ports
* Well designed riser card and support
* Stealthed optical drive cover and button
* Room for up to three 3.5" drives

CONS

* PSU fan a bit too loud especially when warm
* No room for passive vidcard heatsinks
* M-ATX form factor restricts choices
* No damping for 3.5" HDD mounting

Much thanks to Silverstone for the opportunity to review the LC-11.

* * *

Discuss this this article in the SPCR Forums.



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