Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards

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MID-RANGE SYSTEM

This is the midrange system mentioned many pages ago. Here are the components:


A64-3500+ System in P180.


Close-up of Antec Phantom 350 PSU, Nexus 120 fan and Maxtor DiamondMax 10 drives in RAID.


Zalman bracket over AOpen 6600GT VGA card in main chamber.

As you can imagine, it's a pretty speedy system, not wanting for performance in any way. The Windows XP installation was faster than usual, perhaps because of the RAID drives — although it always seemed to me that the optical drive would have been the bottleneck. Photoshop, MS Office, and various other apps all worked very snappily, as did Windows XP in general.

Ambient temperature during testing was 22°C, and ambient noise level was 18 dBA/1m.

Configuration One

The starting configuration was as follows:

  1. Cool'n'Quiet was enabled. AC power draw with CnQ on was 92W; with it off, it was 106W. There was no difference in acoustic noise between the two settings.
  2. The noisy little Northbridge HSF on the DFI board was replaced with a fanless Zalman NB heatsink. This made the top PCIe video slot unusable, so the AOpen 6600 card was installed in the second, lower PCIe video slot.
  3. The built-in fan on the VGA card was unplugged & a Nexus 80 fan at 12V was mounted on a Zalman fan bracket over the VGA card. The P180 VGA duct was removed, based on findings from the experimentation described earlier.
  4. The fan in the PSU chamberwas swapped for a Nexus 120 running at 7V.
  5. The upper drive cage and front fan holder were removed entirely to minimize the airflow impedance near the intake.
  6. Airflow in the upper chamber was provided by the the rear Antec TriCool fan, set on Low.
  7. The top fan was removed and the top vent was covered with a thick piece of dense foam. It does not completely block airflow; some airflow can be felt from the outside.

This system proved to be very quiet in idle or at load. The only change in noise came from the thermally-controlled fan on the Arctic Cooling Silencer 64 Ultra TC heatsink/fan, which went from ~1000 RPM at idle to ~1600 RPM at the highest load. It was a minor, almost undetectable change. The CPU ran amazingly cool considering this modest HSF. Unfortunately, the GPU was not adequately cooled by the stock HS without its fan running, even with the 80mm Nexus fan running at 12V over it. Jaggies and other screen artifacts began appearing on the screen about half way through the demanding third combo-torture test as shown in the table below.

A64 / P180 System Configuration 1 Test Results
Load
CPU
GPU
AC Power
SPL
Idle
36°C
55°C
92W
24 dBA/1m
CPUBurn
48°C
58°C
145W
25 dBA/1m
CPUBurn + Prime95 + 3DMark05
49°C
*102°C
175W (peak)
25 dBA/1m
*VGA temperatures under load correspond to the peak level seen between separate 3DMark05 benchmarks, and are not easily repeatable. Temperatures are reported as estimates, and cannot be directly compared.

This led to the second configuration, a quick and dirty solution to the VGA cooling problem:

Configuration Two

Only one change was made from the first configuration above: The built-in fan on the VGA card was plugged into a Zalman Fanmate, and undervolted to 8.25V, the level at which the fan noise dropped to the level of the other fans. The Nexus 80 fan (at 12V) above the VGA card remained in place. Only one test was run; it's the only one that really matters.

A64 / P180 System Configuration 2 Test Result
Load
CPU
GPU
AC Power
SPL
CPUBurn + Prime95 + 3DMark05
49°C
*64°C
175W (peak)
26 dBA/1m
*VGA temperatures under load correspond to the peak level seen between separate 3DMark05 benchmarks, and are not easily repeatable. Temperatures are reported as estimates, and cannot be directly compared.

The GPU temperature dropped dramatically, while the other parameters remained the same. There was no evidence of any GPU misbehavior on the screen. The price was a small increase in noise, reflected in the 26 dBA/1m SPL reading. In reality, it was a bit more audible that this number would indicate. That small fan on the VGA card has a distinct signature which came through even at the undervolted level. Still, the overall noise was quite modest.

MP3: P180 "Midrange System", Configuration 1, Idle: 24 dBA/1m

In the end, I'd say that the sonic results of Configuration One can be obtained with the much better GPU temperature of Configuration Two if a capable aftermarket heatsink such as the Zalman ZM80 or similar was installed on the video card.



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