Antec NSK-3480: 80-Plus Case

Cases|Damping
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THERMAL & ACOUSTIC TESTING

Given the similarity between the NSK-3480 and the previously tested NSK-3300, a full thermal test was unnecessary. We refer you to the results of our original NSK-3300 test for details. Overall, we were very pleased with how the NSK-3300 performed both thermally and acoustically. The NSK-3480 should be identical.

The top chamber, however, has seen more substantial changes. The different power supply undoubtedly has a different fan, and a different fan speed to power output curve, which may affect noise levels. Our test therefore focussed on how the top chamber had changed.

To this end, we used our power supply testing system to duplicate exactly the loads in the original test without rebuilding the system inside. We were concerned only with the thermal and acoustic properties of the PSU under various loads in its chamber. A Zalman 9500 heatsink running at 5V was hooked up in the main chamber to approximate the noise profile of the original test. The 21~22 dBA@1m hard drive from the NSK-3300 test was left out as insignificant.

As the power supply fan was the only variable source of noise in the original test, any audible changes in this test reflects the new EarthWatts power supply.

TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions were 22°C and 18 dBA. It was 2°C cooler than during the NSK-3300 test. The ambient noise was unchanged.

Antec NSK-3480 vs. NSK-3300
AC Input
NSK-3480
NSK-3300
No load
22 dBA@1m
42W
24 dBA@1m
24 dBA@1m
85W
24 dBA@1m
24 dBA@1m
135W
25 dBA@1m
24~26 dBA@1m
193W
25 dBA@1m
28 dBA@1m
216W
26 dBA@1m
30 dBA@1m

At idle, the noise profile was about the same as the older version of the case. The reason was quite simple: In both cases, the dominant source of noise was the TriCool 120mm system fan, which mostly produced the whoosh of turbulence noise. The default noise level was quiet and easy on the ears, but not quite silent. With only the power supply fan running, much of the turbulence noise disappeared, and the overall noise level dropped to 22 dBA@1m. Both the system and the power supply could probably be swapped for slower, quieter models, but most users will have no need to do this.

Although the noise measurements did rise slightly across the range of tests, the audible effect was nearly imperceptible. At no time did the PSU fan change in speed audibly; the increase happened slowly enough that it was inaudible. Subjectively, there was a sense of a slightly greater volume at full load, but this was noticeable only under close listening. For practical purposes, the power supply fan may as well have been running at a constant speed in our test.

This is a significant improvement over the original NSK-3300, in which the power supply fan started to ramp up at a much lower load, and became easily audible under the highest loads. The NSK-3480 fan will ramp up if you have high enough a load, but there's no question that it is possible to keep a wider range of systems quiet with the new power supply. (Exactly how much power the PSU will deliver before its fan starts to speed up significantly will depend on your system details and ambient temperature; we'd guess somewhere around 300W AC input at similar ambient temperature.)

MP3 RECORDINGS

  • Antec NSK-3480 — 42~85W 24 dBA@1m: One Meter
  • Antec NSK-3480 — 135~193W 25 dBA@1m: One Meter

Sound Recordings of Comparative Systems

  • Antec NSK-3300, Config 1 (System Fan @ L) — 24 dBA@1m: One Meter, One Foot
  • Antec NSK-3300, Config 2 (Rear Fan swapped to Nexus @ 5V) — 23 dBA@1m: One Meter, One Foot
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

The NSK-3480 is a worthwhile upgrade to an already excellent case. The new power supply is 80-Plus and has higher capacity, longer cables, and quieter performance than the original SFX12V unit shipped with the NSK-3300.

The remaining tweaks are minor but welcome for the most part. The relocated access port between the two chambers ease the cable management concerns that we had with the original version, and the longer cables should allow things to be kept neater. The expanded top vent help keep the power supply cooler, especially in situations where the front of the chamber is blocked by cables and/or drives. The side vent for the CPU certainly can't hurt cooling. If it's not wanted, or if it seems too much of a noise leak, it's easy to block off.

The only faults we can find are minor: The short main ATX and AUX12V cables are a bit awkward to work with, especially with a third of their length taken up running across the case to the access port. This is quite easily fixed by flipping the power supply, however. On the other hand, some of the other cables seem excessively long for such a small case, but the effort required to hide (or simply remove) the cables is not great.

Overall we came away with much the same feeling we had with the NSK-3300: An excellent, compact choice for a low-end or mainstream system that doesn't require the extra space or heavy cooling of a gaming rig. US$70 for a high quality case and power supply combo is pretty tough to beat.

Many thanks to Antec for supplying the NSK-3480 sample.

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Articles of Related Interest
Antec NSK-3300: Quiet Out-of-the-Box
QMicra from PC Design Lab: SFF Super-sized
Lian-Li PC-101: Aluminum *Can* Be Quiet
Antec EarthWatts 430: Green Computing Hits Mainstream
Cases: Basics and Recommendations

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