Coolermaster's Fanless TC-100 mini-ITX case

Cases|Damping
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TESTING

The Intel D945GCLF has been fully tested by SPCR in the past, so thermal testing under various loads was deemed to be the only real point of interest here. That, and the degree of noise damping provided by the viscoelastic mounting of the 2.5" hard drive. Our usual video playback and CPU stress test procedures were used. For a point of comparison, the board was run without a case with all the components open on the test bench.

System Components:

Comparison reference:

The above components on an open bench without any case, powered by a Seasonic SS-300SFD SFX power supply

Measurement and Analysis Tools

Video Playback Test Suite


720p | 25fps | ~6mbps
Dark Knight: Dark Knight Trailer 3 is a 720p clip encoded in H.264 inside an Apple Quicktime container.


1080p | 24fps | ~10mbps
Rush Hour: Rush Hour 3 Trailer 1 is a 1080p clip encoded in H.264 inside an Apple Quicktime container.

The TC-100 did a fine job of cooling the components on the Intel motherboard. The exterior heatsinks measured 33°C on the left (chipset) and 28°C on the right (CPU) sides. Heatpipes inside the case measured between 30°C and 35°C during load. As noted previously, the first tests with the heatpipe condensor ends of the left horizonal, the CPU temperature reached 70°C. Tilting the heatpipe ends up improved cooling quite a bit. It is possible that cooling will improve over time as the system is used, as the TIM turns more fluid under heat then resets as it cools, more effectively filling the uneven contact surfaces. On the microscopic level at which heat transfer occurs, all surfaces are uneven.

The heat blocks and the way they are affixed in the TC-100 are not the best or most robust we've seen. The same type of components (blocks, clamps, attachments, etc) in the Zalman TNN cases, Hush and Niveus computers, and most recently, the mCubed HFX systems, all appear not only better machined, but also fit more tightly, and they are sometimes made of copper, which has superior thermal conductivity. We believe that the cooling performance of the TC-100 could be improved with better joint parts that fit more tightly.

Thermal Performance (Load)
Sensor
Open Bench*
TC-100
Ambient
40°C
47°C
Remote 1
81°C
75°C
Remote 2
55°C
58°C
Hard Drive
30°C
50°C
CPU
65°C
54°C
*with original heatsinks, and chipset fan set to 5V. Ambient room temperature during testing was 21°C.

The HDD predictably ran much hotter in the case, but still below the maximum 60°C recommended by most 2.5" HDD makers. Removing the soft grommets and allowing the HDD to make direct metal-to-metal contact with the chassis could drop the temperature a bit by providing a cooling conduction path for the heat in the HDD to follow. However, this will impact the overall perceived noise, which comes only from the hard drive.

The grommets did have a positive noise reduction effect. Although the measured noise was hardly changed, subjectively, it sounded smoother, less tonal and more muted with the grommets than just sitting atop the test bench. This was a bit of a surprise, because we've tried them before, with 3.5" drives, and they were not very effective. The much lower vibration level of the 2.5" drive probably helps. The overall noise level was more or less equal to the mCubed HFX Micro system, and additional noise during HDD seek was negligible.

Of course, with a fanless case like the TC-100, one of the new 2.5" solid state drives would be perfect. Price is a factor, of course, but good performance, lower capacity (under 100GB) SSDs that don't suffer from stutter start at around just $200 these days. Combine it with additional storage on a network or an external high capacity 2.5" HDD, and the TC-100 case could be the foundation for a practical, affordable and truly silent computer for many users.

MP3 SOUND RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, 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. All the recordings listed below were made with the mic at 1m distance.

Comparatives:

POWER CONSUMPTION

The efficiency of the provided AC/DC adapter and DC/DC circuit board proved to be a bit higher than the Seasonc SS-300SFD at these low power loads. Our guess is 75~80% AC/DC conversion efficiency. The power supply did not make any squealing noises that we could hear.

Power Consumption
Test State
Open Bench / Seasonic SS-300SFD
TC-100
Idle
25W
23W
Dark Knight
29W
28W
Rush Hour
31W
30W
Coral Reef
31W
29W
Prime95
29W
28W
Prime95 + ATITool
36W
32W
Grey boxes indicate test failure.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Coolermaster TC-100 is an interesting, successful heatsink case for typical mini-ITX motherboards that employ an embedded CPU. The overall system thermal limit of 35W is low, but it is conservatively rated with the maximum ambient temperature given as 50°C, so there's probably some headroom for those who want to push the power envelope. While it is targeted to system integrators rather than to consumers, the custom cooling options could be used by experienced DIY end users to devise effective cooling for motherboards and CPUs not explicitly supported by Coolermaster accessories.

The cooling kit was simple enough to assemble, and it did not take very long. A screw driver or two, a small pair of pliers, some pure alcohol and paper towel for TIM cleanup, and perhaps an ordinary hair dryer are all the tools you really need.

The size, weight, shape, and notebook drive options combine for a consumer-firiendly look, although the absence of front panel ports is a negative. Still, it's small enough that desktop placement is emininently suitable, and the rear ports are easily reached.

The TC-100 components are not the best looking or highest performance that we've come across. Coolermaster has not aimed for high end look or performance here, but cost-effective practicality. This product is a good addition to the world of mini-ITX, one that really deserves more attention than it has received, from both end-users as well as system integrators.

The suggested price of US$250 is steep, and probably set high to protect the system integrators who are using the case in systems today. Hopefully, competition in the retail channel will bring the price down. Even at the suggested price, using the TC-100, it is possible to assemble a reasonably capable m-ITX system with a 60~80GB 2.5" SSD for utterly silent computing for a little over $500.

The online reseller e-itx is offering utilitarian VIA and Intel Atom systems based around the TC-100 starting as low as $349. SuperLogics is also offering similar "Industrial Microbox PCs" start from $315. (The cited prices are for Intel Atom embedded boards with minimum RAM and a compact flash card in place of a hard drive.)

FLASH: While this review was being written, several new products appeared on Coolermaster's Fanless Thermal Chassis page. Two of the newly posted products are for mini-ITX: TC-100A and the Cube. They offer higher cooling capability (55W and 85W, respectively), and Core 2 Duo Intel processor support is mentioned on both product pages. Both look of interest to SPCR audiences.

Our thanks to Coolermaster for the TC-100 sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest:
mCubed HFX Micro S13 system: Atom 330, Silenced
Asus Eee Box B202: An Atom-based mini PC
Hiper Media Center Barebones PC
Mappit A4F: A Truly Silent PC
Hush Mini-ITX PC
Zalman TNN-300 Fanless PC Enclosure System
Scythe's e-Otonashi fanless EPIA-M cooling case

* * *

Discuss this article in the SPCR forums.



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