Zalman HD160 Home Theater PC Enclosure

Cases|Damping
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TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions in the 20' x 10' room were 20 dBA and 22°C throughout testing. Idle measurements were taken 5~15 minutes after boot or reboot, whenever none of the temperatures had changed for >5 minutes. Load measurements were taken after >20 minutes of full load.

Configuration #1 represents a fairly high performance system with an AMD X2 4800+ at its heart, one of the fastest dual-core desktop processors money can buy. The Asus 1600XT is one of the highest performance fanless video cards available.

DFI RS482 Infinity MicroATX motherboard
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ processor
OCZ Technology Gold PC4000 2 x 512MB DDR matched dual channel memory
Asus Radeon EAX1600XT Silent/TVD/256M PCIe video card
Samsung SP2504C 250GB SATA 3.5" hard drive
Seasonic S12-330 PSU
Zalman 7700Cu heatsink modified w/ Nexus 120 fan, @12V

System Config #1
Load
AC
CPU
Board
Hard Drive
SPL
idle
75W
32°C
34°C
31°C
24 dBA@1m
CPUBurn x2
+ Rthdribl
187W
58°C
40°C
31°C

The overall noise of the system was quite modest, though far from inaudible. The stock 80mm exhaust fans on the back panel were surprisingly quiet, especially given our experience with previous Zalman fans, which were almost all judged too noisy with intrusive acoustic signatures.

The noise from the Samsung HDD was quite audible, especially in seek. The damping grommets and pads for the HDD did very little to lower the noise, which was both sharp and loud, somewhat amplified by the aluminum panels. In this aspect, the Zalman HD160 case was considerably more audible than the recently reviewed Antec NSK2400 case with virtually identical components (and a swap of the Antec stock fans for a quieter Scythe fan). The difference could be clearly attributed to the HDD noise, which was more subdued in the NSK2400.

The cooling was fine on all counts. The hard drive was very well cooled; it ran >10°C lower than on the desktop in free air. The temperature on the Seasonic S12-330 PSU was not monitored, but its exhaust never felt more than moderately warm, and its fan never ramped up from default.

Configuration #2 was a still higher performance system. Two components were swapped: The video card and the heatsink fan. The AOpen Aeolus PCX6800GT-DVD256, one of the workhorses around the SPCR lab, was outfitted with a Zalman VF900 VGA cooler run at 5V. The SPL of this HSF at 5V measures 20 dBA@1m. Zalman's own CNPS9500 heatsink/fan, with the fan run at 5V, took the place of the older 7700. It's slightly noisier than the modded 7700.

System Config #2
Load
AC
CPU
Board
Hard Drive
SPL
idle
89W
33°C
35°C
31°C
25 dBA@1m
CPUBurn x2
+ Rthdribl
208W
54°C
37°C
31°C

The measured noise hardly changed, but because the noise signatures of both the ZF900 GPU cooler fan and the 9500 CPU cooler fan are more obtrusive than that of the Nexus fan modified 7700 heatsink, our subjective reaction was that it seemed louder than the measurements indicated.

The change of video cards increased the overall power draw (and heat in the case) by about 20W at full load, but the CPU and board temperatures actually improved, due to the high cooling performance of the 9500 heatsink and its higher airflow.

Configuration #3 was a more serious attempt at minimizing noise, heat and power. We swapped out the CPU for an Athlon 64 3000+ and dispensed with the video card, opting to use the onboard ATI200 graphics, instead. We went back to the quieter modded Zalman 7700 heatsink/fan. We also swapped the Seasonic S12-330 for the recently reviewed picoPSU + 120W power brick.

  • AMD A64 3000+, Venice Rev. JH8-E3. TDP is 44.1W, and TCaseMax is 57°C
  • DFI RS482 motherboard
  • ATI 200 Onboard Video
  • OCZ PC4000 2 x 512MB DDR matched dual channel memory
  • Zalman 7700CU heatsink modded with a Nexus 120mm fan @ 12V
  • 2 x 80mm Zalman case fans @ 5V
  • Samsung Spinpoint P120 250GB hard drive
  • Samsung CD-RW drive
System Config #3
Load
AC
CPU
Board
Hard Drive
SPL
idle
39.5W
30°C
32°C
31°C
23 dBA@1m
CPUBurn x2
72.6W
45°C
36°C
31°C

Despite the dramatic reduction in power consumption, the only reduction in noise came from the elimination of the S12-330's 120mm fan, which is pretty quiet anyway, so the actual noise reduction was modest. The acoustic "bottlenecks" here was the hard drive, followed by the two 80mm exhaust fans.

The Adjustable Top Panel Vent gave mixed results. All the results above were with the vent fully closed. Opening it up did not really change temperatures much. The changes were just 1~2°C. With the exhaust fans at 5V, there was not much intake impedance even with the top vent closed. Opening the top vent simply meant that less air was pulled in through other, more distant vents. This might increase HDD and VGA temperature a bit, but the CPU cooling didn't really improve. Our assessment is that the top vent is worth playing around with, but unless you have a much hotter CPU than the one used in the test system, your results probably will not differ much from ours. Noise did not increase audibly with the vent open.

ANALYSIS

The cooling qualities of the HD160 case are good, roughly on par with that of the recently reviewed Antec NSK2400. The latter probably has a slight edge, especially at lower noise levels, given the much greater air-moving capacity of its dual 120mm fans compared to the Zalman's 80mm fans. Regardless, the cooling capacity of the HD160 is better than the remainder of the other HTPC cases we've tested thus far, which admittedly is not an extensive list:

The thermal solution for the power supply is simple and effective, even though it's really workable only with a 120mm fan PSU. As long as a decently efficient PSU with a quiet fan is used, there's little risk of the power supply fan ramping up to become a major noise source. You must ensure a certain amount breathing room for the intake fan of the PSU on the right side, however; probably at inch is the minimum, and two inches are much better. As with all HTPC cases, fully enclosed A/V equipment cabinets are not recommended because some access to outside air is necessary for adequate cooling.

The cooling for the single drive in the main HDD cage was quite good. However, putting three drives in that position is probably unwise. The spacing between the drives is so tight that only the bottom edges of the drives would get any airflow, and the temperatures would go much higher than with one or two drives. If using two drives, you should leave the middle space empty.

Acoustically, the HD160 is a bit of a mixed bag. The stock 80mm fans are quite good at 5V, around 20 dBA@1m; we didn't bother much with higher voltage settings, as there seemed to be plenty of airflow even at 5V. The fan measured 36 dBA@1m at 12V.

Like other aluminum chassis we've reviewed, there's a tendency to higher levels of audible humming from the hard drive, due to the much lower density of aluminum compared to steel. A 7200 RPM hard drive's primary harmonic is at 120Hz, and this is a frequency where many cases have internal cavity and panel resonances. The HD160 is no exception. The hard drive's seek noise comes through loud and clear as a thrumming with considerable low frequency content. It is considerably sharper and more noticeable than with the Antec NSK2400, which has the benefit of better HDD damping and a denser, heavier steel chassis.

If the HDD could be better damped, much of the aluminum's acoustic weakness could be overcome, but the HD160's hard drive cage doesn't allow much in the way of suspension options. It's simply too small and too tight for better damping materials or mechanical decoupling techniques to be applied easily.

The third recording below, of the system booting up, gives you a pretty good idea of what the HDD noise sounds like.

MP3 Sound Recordings of Zalmn HD160 Test System Configurations

Zalman HD160 Test System Config 1 (24 dBA@1m)
Stock 80mm fans at 5V, Seasonic S12-330, Samsung HDD, Zalman 7700 HSF on 12V

Zalman HD160 Test System Config 2 (25 dBA@1m)
Stock 80mm fans at 5V, Seasonic S12-330, Samsung HDD, Zalman 7700 HSF on 12V, ZF900 HSF at 5V on 6800GT vidcard

Zalman HD160 Test System Config 1 during startup (24~29 dBA@1m) (689kb file)
Stock 80mm fans at 5V, Seasonic S12-330, Samsung HDD, Zalman 7700 HSF on 12V

Sound Recordings of Other Comparative Cases

Unfortunately, we have few recordings of cases, and even fewer of HTPC cases. Here's a mix of cases in various configurations from past reviews.

Comparative: Antec NSK2400 HTPC Case - Config 6 (21-22 dBA@1m)
One Scythe 120 fan at 6V, Seasonic S12-330 PSU, Samsung HDD, Zalman 7700 + Nexus 120 fan on 5V

Shuttle SD11G5 Pentium M SFF system at full load w/ notebook drive, single fan: 23 dBA@1m

Zalman TNN-300 w/Samsung P80 3.5" HDD: 23 dBA@1m

Antec P180 "Hot Potato" Config 4: 25 dBA/1m
Intel P4-3.8, AOpen 6800GT vidcard, WD Raptor HDD, Seasonic S12-430 w/ one TriCool fan on low.

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¬į angle, facing the intake side of the fan to avoid direct wind noise. The ambient noise during all recordings was 18 dBA or lower.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the original), try playing the Nexus 92 fan reference recording and setting the volume so that it is barely audible. Then don't reset the volume and play the other sound files. Of course, tone controls or other effects should all be turned off or set to neutral. For full details on how to calibrate your sound system 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.



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