MoDT Mismatch: AOpen i945GTt-VFA & Silverstone LC-12

Cases|Damping | CPUs|Motherboards
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A FAN SWAP

The LC-12 is tight, and doesn't really lend itself to modification, but we felt we had to give it at least a chance to redeem itself. To this end, we decided to replace the stock fan with a much bigger, quieter fan (a 92mm Nexus) that would hopefully be powerful enough to put the air vents to good use. With no way of mounting the fan to the heatsink, the mod was a bit rough and ready, relying on gravity and friction to keep it in place above the heatsink, but it did give us some idea of how the system would perform with upgraded cooling.


A Nexus "Real Silent" 92mm fan was wedged on top of the heatsink.

AOpen i945GTt-VFA & Silverstone LC-12 with Fan Swap Test Results
Load Condition
CPU Temperature
(via SpeedFan)
CPU Core
Temperature
(via Intel TAT)
System
Temperature
Fan Speed
System
Power Draw
Noise Level
Idle
41°C
28°C
48°C
<1000 RPM
22W
21 dBA@1m
Load (Intel TAT)
95~100°C
89~94°C
60°C
1500 RPM
(Max)
59W
26 dBA@1m
(Max)

At idle, the new fan was a huge improvement. The CPU temperature dropped significantly, the system temperature was 10°C lower, and the power consumption dropped to a spectacularly low 22W. Best of all, the noise signature changed from a drone to a soft whoosh that was almost at the ambient noise level.

Things were less successful under load. The CPU did not throttle, but it did cycle between 95~100°C — just barely below the throttle point. It cycled because the fan controller cycled between maximum and minimum speed about once every two minutes. For whatever reason, the fan controller did not behave so well with the different fan, and the thermal threshold at which the fan speed increased was much higher during this test.

The changes in noise were also more noticeable with the Nexus fan, although they were not terrible. At full speed, most of the noise seemed to be the whoosh of air turbulence, and, although it was slightly louder than the stock fan, it was probably less noticeable because of its less tonal character.

All in all, the thermal performance was still pretty poor, and the slapdash nature of the mod makes it difficult to recommend as a viable solution to the thermal issues that we encountered. [Editor's Note: A quiet 60mm fan mounted atop the heatsink might have provided better cooling with its more focused airflow. Still, the heatsink itself is really not acceptable except for very light use.]

MP3 RECORDINGS

Sound Recordings of Comparative Systems

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system and are intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review. Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one meter, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not be audible — if we couldn't hear it from one meter, chances are we couldn't record it either!

The one foot recording is designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio Recording Methods Revised.

CONCLUSIONS

Individually, the i945GTt-VFA nor the LC-12 aren't bad if you understand their limitations. Together, their problems compounded, as both have the same weakness: Poor thermal design.

In a well ventilated case, the stock heatsink-fan of the i945GTt-VFA is probably good enough, especially if it is not used for intensive work, or with a slower processor than our midrange Core Duo. Its DC power circuitry is a mobile feature that we'd love to see on more desktop boards, and it did not appear to have any functional problems. It's only limitation is the number of peripherals it can support, and given the mini-ITX form factor, they will not be missed.

In spite of its small size, this board is not lacking for features, and the Intel 945GT chipset (Intel's MoDT-specific chipset) ensures that all of the usual integrated devices are included. We had no gripes with Intel's integrated graphics, especially given that the outputs were DVI and three different TV connections. However, some users will probably complain that there is no provision for upgrading it.

As seems to be the case with almost all of AOpen's MoDT boards, its Achilles heel is the small, proprietary CPU heatsink. This is less of a problem for a mini-ITX board where a proprietary heatsink is to be expected, and it really wasn't all that loud, but silence enthusiasts will be disappointed to learn that it cannot easily be made inaudible.

We are less enthusiastic about the LC-12. While it may be good enough for a 20W EPIA system, its airflow design seems inadequate. Good thermal design has taken the back seat to small dimensions and styling, and it shows. Cooling almost any system without a system fan demands a design that can take good advantage of convection or conduction, and the LC-12 doesn't cut it in this department.

Another disappointments was the lack of an expansion slot, despite the fact that the mini-ITX form factor provides space for one. Toss in the missing cover for the optical drive bay and the dismal performance of the DC power supply, and you'll understand why we weren't impressed with this case. We can only hope that Silverstone's updated power brick has improved things a little.

Both of these products are specialty items, and both can probably cater to their respective niches. However, as our thermal tests showed, they do not perform well together. If you happen to be looking for a mini-ITX board that supports Core (2) Duo, the i945GTt-VFA will probably suit your needs, and is one of the few boards that can do so. Just be aware that compromises may need to be made.

Many thanks to AOpen for supplying the i945GTt-VFA sample,
and to Silverstone for supplying the Lascala LC-12 sample.

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