Antec Fusion Remote Max HTPC case

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NOISE / THERMAL ANALYSIS

Since the loudest default sound in our test system was the stock 140mm fan, it's worth posting Antec's specs about the fans:

14cm TriCool
12cm TriCool
Speed
(RPM)
Airflow
(CFM)
SPL
(dBA)
Speed
(RPM)
Airflow
(CFM)
SPL
(dBA)
high / 1500
95
32
high / 2000
79
30
med / 1100
67
21
med / 1600
56
28
low / 700
47
20
low / 1200
39
25

It's interesting to note that the 12cm TriCool is noisier by far at minimum, while the 14cm TriCool is a bit noisier at maximum. The speeds of the two fans are selected to roughly match airflow at each setting. However, the 20 dBA noise spec for the 14cm TriCool is a far cry from the 25 dBA@1m measured for the system in its quietest mode. What gives? Well, there's the additive effect of the VGA cooler fan and the (admittedly very quiet) fan in the PSU. The vibrations of each fan adds subtly to the overall sound, and then finally, there's the cavity resonance effects.

What happens when both the fans are mounted and spinning at low? This was done by replacing the Orochi with a more conventional but still fanless heatsink, and reinstalling the 120mm fan. Remember, the cooler fan on the GPU is still in the mix, along with the idling PSU fan. Here are the various combinations.

14cm TriCool
12cm TriCool
SPL
(dBA@1m)
high
high
46
high
med
45
med
high
39
med
med
38
med
low
37
low
med
30
low
low
27
low
off
25
off
low
20

It's clear now that the wrong fan choice was made, at least if minimal noise was the goal. The 12cm fan is quieter than the 14cm all across the board. This is partly because it faces the back, and the microphone is positioned in front and about 30 degrees to the right, which means the 14cm fan's noise reaches it more directly. Still, the 12cm fan is clearly quieter. There's little question the 14cm fan moves more air, and especially for the second configuration, the cooling of the 12cm fan at low would not have sufficed.

Going back to the results that were obtained, let's ask a few obvious questions:

1) Is 25~27 dBA@1m too loud while playing a movie? Probably not for most users. The soundtrack would completely drown out the noise especially from the typical big screen viewing distance of 6~12'.

2) Is 27 dBA@1m too loud for a powerful gaming rig? This is the first configuration at full load. The answer is probably not for most users. They would be too absorbed in the game to notice, especially as the noise level does not really change.

3) Is 31-33 dBA@1m too loud for a high end gaming rig? It's too loud for me, but for a gamer in the throes of battle ecstasy, I can only guess.

4) What about the impact of a hard disk drive on the noise and thermals of the system? The noise of a good hard drive mounted as intended in either of the two bays available would make virtually no difference to the overall noise; it would be many decibels lower than the noise of the fans. This is especially true of quiet champs like the bare WD VelociRaptor, the WD 320/640 or the F1 Samsungs. Seek would be somewhat audible, but this is hard to eliminate in any system. The biggest challenge with a drive in this system is that if you want best system cooling, then you want to leave the center bay open. This requires the hard drive to be mounted in the PSU chamber, which will receive minimal airflow with a 120mm fan PSU, especially if you have to do any cable management in that space. But that is still the best compromise.

The thermal impact on the system (and its noise) of a drive or two is not significant, as they represent a very small percentage of the total heat in the system. And, clearly, the FRM is capable of handling it. My personal choice would be one VelociRaptor elastic suspension mounted in the left / PSU chamber. All storage of media files would be done off the computer, on a NAS or media server.

5) What other choices could have been made to reduce the overall noise of either configuration?

a. An Enermax Modu82+ 625 power supply would drop the PSU's noise contribution at high loads by around 2-3 dBA. Because its 120mm fan would not face any airflow impedance from the side vent (as opposed to the output cables that have to be dealt with to keep the front bottom intake vent clear for an 80mm fan PSU), and therefore it would ramp up in speed at a higher load. If that change was combined with a slight downward tweak of the 14cm fan speed, the system could probably easily reach 24 dBA@1m or better, which is close to ambient in many rooms.

b. The 14cm fan could be removed altogether, the 120mm back fan run at low, and the massive Orochi heatsink replaced with a more conventional high performance heatsink and a quiet 120mm fan mounted directly on it. The combination of the 12cm stock fan at low and this new HS and quiet fan would likely drop the overall noise even lower, perhaps as low as 22 dBA@1m. Cooling would probably not suffer.

c. Both of the above combined with a change to a motherboard with greater spacing between the two video cards in the Crossfire configuration would result in lower noise from the GPU coolers. That would probably drop the maximum noise level of the Crossfire system to perhaps 28~29 dBA.

d. For the extreme gamer, a single ATI HD 4870x2 might be a better option than two 4870s in Crossfire Why? Because the case can handle the longer card, and there would be more airflow room. The power profile of a 4870x2 is identical to two 4780s. This depends greatly on the acoustics of the 4870x2 card in question. It might be worth looking into.

Other Points: There are too many to list, but here are a couple of important ones:

1) The feet on the FRM provide only half an inch of space between the bottom intake vents and the floor. Increasing this gap could help reduce intake airflow impedance and improve cooling around the drive chambers.

2) Any system in this case — in fact, almost any performance oriented PC in any case — should not be stuffed into a typical TV/entertainment stand. Computers have high thermal density and need breathing room around them to be well cooled. Take away that room, and it will run hotter and make more noise as fans speed up in response. Unless the case intake and exhaust vents remain clear and well vented, don't put a powerful PC in a cabinet.

FUSION REMOTE MAX NOISE RECORDING

These recordings were made as 24-bit / 88 kHz WAV files with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own anechoic chamber (11 dBA ambient), then converted to LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

These recordings are intended to give you an idea of how the product sounds in actual use — one meter is a reasonable approximation of the 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. 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 Fusion Remote Max recording starts with 7 seconds of room ambient, followed by 10 seconds of the noise of the Crossfire configuration at idle. That's followed by 10 seconds of the same configuration but this time with the cover removed. There is only about 1 dBA of SPL difference at 1 meter, but it should be readily audible. For the most realistic results, set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then don't change the volume setting again.

  • Antec Remote Max case Crossfire configuration at idle, 1m distance, with case cover closed, and case cover open.

Unfortunately, we have no comparable sound files of any systems conducted under the same conditions with the same equipment. The anechoic chamber and the test equipment were both recently upgraded, rendering several years of archived recordings useless for comparison purposes.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Antec Fusion Remote Max was designed to be a full-size thermally and acoustically advanced case for home theater PCs. There are many promising elements: Sturdy construction, good choice of materials, comprehensive airflow cooling design, and many small thoughtful touches that speak to Antec's long history of case design. In short, it is a larger implementation of the Antec's successful Fusion / NSK2400 case mentioned so often in this review.

The FRM did a good job of keeping components cool in our hot and powerful gaming test system. The noise levels heard and measured at full GPU/CPU load were higher than we normally like, but keep in mind the nature of the test: If it can do a decent job with an extreme gaming PC, then it should coast easily with cooler components in an optimized home theater PC. For the HTPC enthusiast, the ability to install a full ATX motherboard is interesting not because it can handle two graphics cards but because it can handle multiple tuner cards, audio cards and other add-ons that can enhance the HTPC experience. For gamers, it can dissipate nearly 400W of computing heat at just 32-33 dBA@1m with minimal tweaking. By gaming system standards, that's a very modest level of noise.

The acoustics of the two stock fans are interesting. They are fairly good, but they can probably be bettered with carefully selected replacements. Both were smooth enough to encourage experimentation with further reduction in speed, especially the 14cm fan which could improve substantially below the standard LOW setting.

The most serious drawback of the system is probably the extra impedance caused by the air filter mechanisms under the HDD bays. In many case these will not impact performance or noise, but in extreme systems like the one assembled here for testing, they may have to be carefully dealt with. Other nitpicks include the lack of an extra bay for a card reader, and the minimal airflow available to the drives in the PSU chamber when a 120mm PSU is installed.

Case appearance is always subject to personal taste. In our view, the fascia is sleek and beautiful in its lack of clutter. The hinged plexiglas door is a bit prone to picking up dust and fingerprints, but it's a minor quibble. The stealthy optical drive door is effective (it worked without any adjustments of the ODD positioning), and works very smoothly, without any metal clanging despite its metallic exterior.

In summary, the Fusion Remote Max is a good, logical addition to Antec's media case line. It is indeed possible to imagine watching a high definition movie via a HTPC built in this case, then turn to some intense 3D gaming fun on the big screen with low noise and very high performance.

PROS

* Good airflow / thermal design
* Thick, sturdy steel construction
* Built-in HDD silicone rubber grommets
* Great front bezel design
* Highly competitive price

CONS

* TriCool fans could have slower, quieter "slow" position
* Filtered intake design might pose too much airflow impedance
* Tight to work in despite large dimensions
* A bit too tall to be elegant?

Much thanks to Antec for the review sample.

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Articles of Related Interest
Cases: Basics & Recommendations
Moneual MonCaso: Touchscreen Gadgetry and Solid Cooling in One?
Antec P180: The Whole Nine Yards
Antec NSK2400 / Fusion Media PC Case
Zalman's HD135 HTPC case
Silverstone GD01 and LC17 HTPC Cases

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