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THERMAL & ACOUSTIC TESTING
Thermal and noise testing comprise the core of most SPCR equipment reviews.
Please keep in mind that the range of component options and installation variants
is large, and there is no way for any review to cover all such permutations.
Our system is one example of what can be done. You should be able to draw broader
generalizations from our detailed analysis of this particular system.
An AMD Phenom 9600 in a 790G chipset board with an ATI HD4870 graphics card was installed and several variant setups tested in the Fusion Remote Max.
"Whoa," some of you will say, "Why such powerful components
for a HTPC? Aren't you seeking to minimize the power and thermal profile of
the system, especially for a HTPC which requires only modest computing power?"
These are valid questions. The answer is that we're trying to push this case to its thermal limits. The Fusion Remote Max is promoted as a HTPC case that gamers can get behind. You can picture the scene Antec intends: Rabid gamers clicking away on game controls in the light of a huge flat screen TV bursting with color and action... and a PC housed in the FRM somewhere nearby. Well, let's test that image. If the FRM can stay quiet with an extreme gaming system running within, then surely any self-respecting DIY computer builder can make a virtually silent "normal" HTPC in this box.
The hardware assembly took several hours, including fiddling time (to examine
parts carefully) and the time needed to stop, plan out photos, shoot and edit
them, and so on. If photos were not being taken, hardware assembly would probably
take a bit more than an hour. It's reasonably straightforward, except when you
have to decide how to route the wires. There are many options, and the choices
are mostly personal.
Despite the large size, the FRM is not easy to work in, because of the compartmentalization. Avoid installing at components into the slots until all the other wiring is done, get HDDs with wiring already in place. A modular cable PSU is just about mandatory, as spacing in the left chamber is very tight.
As with the Fusion/NSK2400, the front panel features are powered via a USB
connector and a 4-pin connector that splits off of a breakout adapter for the
ATX connector. The latter adds complication and bulk to the wiring; it's a real
pain. Unfortunately, the reality is that any HTPC that is meant to function
with a remote control must tap the PWR-ON pin to the power supply if it is to
provide "power button" functionality. And, the only way to do this
is to tap the main ATX connector. Needless to say, the inconvenience of an ATX
pass-through connector is fairly standard.
The PITA 24-pin breakout adapter for powering the front panel LCD.
The installation of the Scythe
CPU heatsink is worth a close look. The Orochi is a ridiculously big and
overly heavy heatsink that we have chosen not to review because its 1.3 kilogram
mass is probably dangerous to your motherboard when hanging sideways in a tower
case. It is so big that it will not even fit in most tower cases. We don't recommend
it, especially on socket 775 boards; the Orochi's mounting hardware is simply
inadequate, in our opinion.
However, the FRM is not a tower case; the heatsink sits atop the board, so
it doesn't hang sideways and apply cantilever force as it would in a conventional
tower configuration. It also just squeezes in, and on the motherboard of choice,
fills the entire corner nearest the exhaust fans with cooling fins. The big
fan that it comes with does not fit, but with the Antec case fans so close,
it did not seem necessary.
Asus M3A78-T motherboard next to Orochi, with AM2 clip attached.
Hmmm... will it really fit in the Fusion Max??
Just barely, but the 120mm fan on the back panel had to be removed.
In this configuration, the rear 120mm exhaust fan had to be removed,
so that vent became an intake for the system. The initial configuration was
designed for minimal noise, with just one ATI HD 4870 video card and no data
drive; the operating system was installed on the Intel SSD. Yes, the SSD is
overkill, but it's a bonus for the system not to handle the 4~8W additional
hard drive heat and the noise that goes with it. The center HDD chamber was
dismantled so that its bottom intake would be more open for airflow. We'll take
all of this into account in our analysis.
Windows Vista Ultimate was installed and fully updated, and our usual gamut of software tools installed:
4.37 for CPU and other hardware monitoring.
- CPUBurn for processor stress testing.
provides a steady high load to the GPU.
- 3DMark06 gaming benchmark
- GPU-Z to monitor video card temperature
ACOUSTICS AROUND A MEDIA PC
Just a quick digression about the acoustic environment and desired functionality of the media PC. The way a media PC is used is different than the average desktop PC. The most important differences are noted below.
On equipment rack, near TV / stereo
On desktop next to monitor on on floor under / beside desk
Play & record music and video, play games; usual PC functions
Office, creative, engineering, scientific and communication
work; gaming and other entertainment functions usually secondary
Typically at least 2 meters away.
Typically not more than 1 meter
Background, the PC noise, noise from other A/V equipment, conversation, and the music/soundtrack playing from TV/stereo speakers
Background + typing noise + noise generated by PC, perhaps background music
In a nutshell, the media PC is usually situated near the TV, which is usually at least six feet away from the seated viewers. The noise in the room includes whatever is being played through the speakers of the A/V system, plus any noise made by other audio/video gear. From first hand experience, we know that...
Many digital TV boxes and PVRs contain a noisy hard drive and fan(s).
The HDD is often on all the time, whenever the unit is plugged
in. This means the noise is there all the time, whether you're using the gear
or not. There is no real care in ensuring low acoustics; we've measured nothing
lower than 25 dBA@1m; it's more typically closer to 30 dBA@1m or higher because
the HDD is hard mounted to the chassis, and the chassis then makes whatever
it's sitting on resonate.
Many high end (and not so high end) A/V receivers contain a fan that runs almost all the time. This is usually not as intrusive as the HDD noise in the digital TV boxes and PVRs, but still measures at least 20 dBA@1m.
Almost all rear projection TVs require at least one cooling fan to be on constantly. The speed of this fan does usually vary with internal temperature, which naturally goes up the longer the TV is left on. The typical noise of these TVs (with the speakers muted) is around 30 dBA@1m.
30 dBA@1m is about the absolute minimum level needed for intelligibility of speech, given typical dynamics when the TV, movie or game sound is turned on. Typical levels are much higher, with peaks reaching ~60 dBA@1m, and averaging at least 40~45 dBA@1m. This depends a great deal on viewer / listener habits, hearing sensitivity, housing setup, etc.
In general, sound levels for movies are much higher, likely 10~20 dBA higher
for both average and peaks. This is also true of music listening: Most people
prefer higher levels for better detail and realism. Typical peaks from an
A/V system playing music probably reach 80 dBA@1m, with the average being
perhaps 10~15 dBA lower (depending on the type of music, of course.)
These are broad generalizations. Suffice it to say that we believe the acoustic environment for a media PC will almost always be much louder than for other types of home PCs. Its noise will be masked by the sound from the speakers at least until you hit the mute button, at which point the PC and other A/V equipment noise may become very much audible.
At the same time, if the HTPC is in a multifunction room, but
you still want quick and instant access to its media functions, then it will
have to stay on. Then the idle HTPC noise will be there for you to hear whenever
you are in the room, whether you're using the equipment or not. S3 standby
mode is a good solution to have near-instant turn-on while still eliminating
idle noise when the system is not being used.
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