Antec P180 Review, Part 2: The Whole Nine Yards

Cases|Damping
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HARD DRIVE MOUNTING / COOLING

One of the major design features of the P180 is mounting system for the hard drives, which are decoupled from the chassis with soft silicone grommets. In combination with the multi-ply construction of the case, this is intended to address on of the most difficult-to-eliminate sources of noise in a typical PC: Hard drive resonance. To test the effectiveness of the grommets, the resonant aluminum box that we usually use to test hard drives was pressed into service.


Drive vibration is assessed by ranking the resonance produced by the drive on a ten point scale when it is placed on this box.

A number of reference drives were installed in the lower drive cage, and the entire cage was placed on the vibration box. The resonance of the whole cage was then assessed on a ten point scale according to our usual standard for vibration. In most cases, a ranking of 7 or above indicates that vibration is unlikely to be a major source of noise. Most 3.5" drives fall in the range of 4-6, while most 2.5" notebook drives rank 8 or 9.

P180: Drive Mounting System
Drive
Vibration Rating (1-10, 10=No Vibration)
Bare Drive
in Drive Cage
Seagate Barracuda IV
6
9
Maxtor DiamondMax 10
(sample 1)
2
7
Maxtor DiamondMax 10
(sample 2)
3
6
2 x Maxtor DiamondMax 10
(mounted together)
1?
5
Western Digital Raptor
Seagate Barracuda IV
Hitachi Deskstar 7K250
Western Digital Caviar
1?
6

The reduction in vibration transfer when a drive is installed in the P180 drive cage is impressive across the board. The Barracuda IV — fairly good when it comes to vibration — is damped almost completely.

The two DiamondMax 10 samples are the most vibration-prone drives in our lab and represent a sizable challenge. Installed in the drive cage, vibration was reduced to good-to-excellent levels. For some reason, the worse of the two drives benefited considerably more from the soft mounting than its lower-vibration twin.

The two DiamondMax 10 drives were then installed together. The "5" rating that was measured is about average for a single drive and is better than either of the drives individually.

PSU/HDD Cooling With Four Hard Drives

Of course, the real test of the drive mounting system is to actually install some drives in the P180 and see how much vibration noise occurs. The results of the vibration testing suggested that a single drive wouldn't be a challenge to silence, and the system drive did not get unduly warm during the previous bout of testing. All this suggested that a more challenging system was needed to test the drive capabilities of the P180.

Three drives — a Seagate Barracuda IV, a Hitachi Deskstar 7K250 and a Western Digital Caviar — were added to the base system for a total of four drives. In all other respects, this build was the same as Configuration 4, the reference system that was used for testing the VGA duct. The cage with these drives was also tested on the vibration test box, as shown in the photo below. The resulting hum box resonating under the four drives cycled in volume, but was only about as loud as a single bare Seagate Barracuda IV at its peak.


The heavily loaded drive cage being tested for vibration.

This 4-drive package was used in the P180 to test different cooling options in the PSU / HDD chamber. It represents the most restrictive airflow impedance and the greatest amount of drive heat (short of multi-platter, >10k RPM SCSI drives) that can be added to the lower chamber. Hot Potato Configuration 4 was used, and the power supply was a stock Seasonic S12-430 (latest version with Adda ball bearing fan). The system was left to idle with each cooling setup until HDD temperatures stabilized, typically an hour and a half or more. For simplicity, only the data from the Deskstar has been listed in the table below, but all drives behaved similarly.

P180 PSU/ HDD Chamber Cooling
Setup
Deskstar Temp.
SPL
1
46°C
26 dBA/1m
2
43°C
26 dBA/1m
3
37°C
28 dBA/1m

PSU/HDD Setup 1

The S12 PSU's fan was the sole source of airflow in the PSU chamber. All of the drive temperatures stabilized in the mid-to-high 40's — a bit high, especially in a system with heavy drive usage. However, noise was impressively low, rising only a one decibel above the same configuration with a single drive. No vibration or resonance could be heard, meaning that no further drive vibration dampening is necessary.

PSU/HDD Setup 2

The rear panel exhaust vents that surround the power supply were taped up. This prevented the PSU fan from drawing any air in from the back, forcing air to be pulled from the front vent and through the spaces between the drives.

This configuration brought most of the drive temperatures into the low 40's. One even dipped to 38°C. These temperatures are perfectly acceptable in a quiet system, although someone running a home server might prefer a larger margin for error.

The decrease in HDD temperature was achieved without increasing the total system noise. This remained true even when the system was placed under load, the S12-430 had no problem exhausting the ~25W of heat produced by the drives, and its fan never ramped up audibly.


The air vents around the power supply were sealed with tape to ensure that the power supply drew its air through the front intake.

Note that sealing the exhaust vents will have even greater effect when a PSU with a faster fan is used. In fact, when the power supply was swapped out for a Seasonic Super Silencer 400W, hard drive temperatures decreased under heavy load with CPUBurn (power draw of ~240W AC). The Super Silencer 400W fan ramped up somewhat more than the S12 under the same load. As a result, airflow across the HDDs also increased, thus dropping their temps by 3~4°C.

PSU/HDD Setup 3

If the system used for data-critical applications, the lowest drive temperatures may be desired. Employing a 120mm fan is likely to provide the best cooling for both PSU and HDDs.

The supplied 120 x 38mm Antec TriCool fan was duly installed in the center position and set to low speed. The improvement in drive temperatures soon became apparent; they dropped into the mid-thirties, and noise rose only slightly, although the growl of the fan worsened the quality of the noise a little. Replacing the chamberfan with a Nexus 120 or one of the 120 x 25mm Antec TriCool fans set on low would probably drop HDD temperature similarly while minimizing the impact on system noise.

Sealing the rear vents had no effect on drive temperatures when the lower chamber fan was installed; the pressure of the thick TriCool fan was enough to force the extra airflow through the power supply when the rear vents were blocked. There was no apparent impact on PSU fan, which was not ramping up audibly anyway, but we can safely assume its internal operating temperature must also have dropped a bit.

Split HDD Setup

Perhaps the best method of keeping four hard drives (and the PSU) cool is to separate the drives. There is no shortage of drive bays in the P180, and it is easy to move a pair of drives to the upper drive cage to provide more breathing space in the lower drive cage. To test the effectiveness of the upper drive cage, the system drive (a Raptor) was tried in the upper drive cage.

P180: Upper Drive Cage
Drive Condition
Raptor Temp.
Lower Cage
(no fan, rear vents unblocked)
41°C
Upper Cage
41°C

With no additional cooling, there is very little difference between the two drive cages; the temperature stabilized at 41°C wherever the drive was installed. Noise levels were the same regardless of which drive cage was used. Neither CPU nor GPU temperature seemed to be affected by the additional airflow impedance produced by the hard drive in the upper cage. If the fan in the PSU chamber is not used, there appears to be very little difference, acoustic or thermal, between the two drive cages. Installing the lower chamber fan or taping up the vents around the PSU makes the lower drive cage a cooler place to install drives.



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