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Fractal Design Core 500 Mini-ITX Chassis

Fractal Design Core 500 Mini-ITX Chassis

October 18, 2015 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Fractal Design Core 500

Mini-ITX Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$60

Fractal Design gets most of its acclaim for its Define series of tower cases that emphasize silence and airflow wrapped in elegant minimalist designs. Their budget Core line uses most of the same foundations but strips out some of the finery, boiling down and distilling what makes their cases great into something simpler and less fashionable but more affordable.



The Fractal Design Core 500.

With the Core 500, Fractal brings this practical approach to the mini-ITX form factor. The chassis conforms more or less to the design popularized by Shuttle, the original maker of the breadbox shaped enclosure that first introduced many hobbyists to the concept and potential of the SFF PC. It's also somewhat larger than most cases of this type, slightly inflated to accommodate the modern trappings that even bigger enthusiasts cases are expected to offer.

A long graphics card? Check. A tall CPU heatsink? Of course. A radiator up to 280 mm in size? No problem. A 140 mm fan at the back? Fine. Magnetic dust filters? Of course. Storage? Have three 3.5 inch hard drives and three of the 2.5 inch variety as well. What about a 5.25 inch drive bay? A little dated but sure, why not? For a chassis occupying just 19 Liters, it seems to have an answer to everything. Like the bigger iterations of the Core family, the 500 offers something for everyone.



Unboxed.



Accessories.

The Core 500 is packaged simply in a fairly plain box with limited decoration. Fractal doesn't offer much in the way of accessories, just the necessary documentation, screws, and a handful of zip-ties.

Specifications: Fractal Design Core 500

(from the
product web page
)
Motherboard Mini ITX
Expansion Slots 2
Drive Positions 3 - 3.5" HDD positions
3 - 2.5" dedicated SSD/HDD unit positions
1 - 5.25" bay (removable)
Fan Positions Rear: 1 – 120/140 mm fan (included is 1 Fractal Design Silent Series R3 fan, 1000 RPM speed)
Top: 2 - 120/140 mm fan (not included)
Water Cooling Top – 280, 240, 140 and 120 mm radiators.

(Thickness limitation of 100 mm for both radiator + fan)
(240 and 280 mm radiators require removal of the ODD bay)
(280mm radiator can be maximum 325mm in length)
Rear – 120 mm radiator (not compatible with the rear 3.5" HDD position)
Dust Filters Magnetic filters on side and top panel, PSU filter
Component Compatibility CPU coolers up to 170mm in height
ATX PSUs up to 170mm in length (non modular PSUs); ATX PSUs up to 160mm in length (modular PSUs)
Graphics card up to 310 mm in length
Front Interface 2 USB 3.0
Audio in/out
Power button with LED (white)
HDD activity LED (white)
Reset button
Colours Available Black
Case Volume 19.5 liters
Case dimensions (WxHxD) 250 x 203 x 367 mm;

250 x 213 x 380 mm with feet/screws/protrusions
Package contents Core 500 computer case
User manual
Accessory box
Net weight 4.4 kg
Package dimensions 285 x 335 x 450 mm (WxHxD)
Package weight 5.3 kg

EXTERIOR

The Core 500 is a cube style case with a steel frame and cover and a plastic front panel. It measures 25.0 x 20.3 x 36.7 cm or 9.8 x 8.0 x 14.4 in (W x H x D) for a total volume of just 18.6 Liters.



The plastic front panel has a simple appearance with a faux brush aluminum finish, an exposed external 5.25 inch drive bay and the Fractal Design logo propped up on a lip at the bottom. Moderately sized ventilation holes are present on both sides of bezel running from top to bottom.



The top is home to dual 120/140 mm fan mounts capable of housing radiators up to 280 mm in size, though this would necessitate removal of the drive cage underneath. A control panel with the usual assortment of buttons, LEDs, and ports is located at the top of the front bezel.



A pre-installed 140 mm fan resides at the rear of the case which means taller CPU heatsinks will have no trouble fitting inside. The AC power connector is situated in the corner on the floor next to the I/O panel. An extension cable inside hooks it up to a front-mounted ATX power supply.



Short case feet keep the case's height in check but it also reduces the amount of clearance under the power supply. A sizable, porous intake grill is provided at the bottom, serviced by a removable fine mesh dust filter. A smaller vent on the right side of the enclosure acts as the PSU's exhaust port.



The case cover is made of 0.8 mm thick steel and slides out toward the rear once four thumbscrews are removed. The top fan placements and side intake vent for the video card are lined with large, flexible, magnetic dust filters on the inside.

INTERIOR

The chassis is reasonably well constructed though the few modular components are on the thin side. A steel frame running along the ceiling acts as the mounting point for fans/radiators while a drive cage located above the front-mounted power supply position can house both a 3.5 inch and standard 5.25 inch drive.



Inside.



A metal bracket built into the right side of the chassis frame can house additional storage. A pair of 2.5 inch drives can be secured here while two 3.5 inch drives can be mounted on the other side. All three of the case's 3.5 inch positions have grommets to help isolate drive vibration.



The view from the side.



The front panel pops off easily without any tools. A third 2.5 inch drive placement can be found within.



Underneath the side vents is a layer of light foam. I'm not a fan of using this material as it's more restrictive than mesh and in this case, it's difficult to remove, being held down by a series of metal tabs. Thankfully the chassis gets plenty of intake airflow elsewhere.



The fan bracket is secured with four screws along the top of the chassis while the drive cage is held on with four screws underneath the front bezel. The fan frame also grips the top of the cage, so the two pieces help reinforce one another.



The glue keeping the front panel connectors in place on our sample had hardened without making good contact. As a result, lightly tugging on the cables disconnected one of the USB plugs completely and prevented the power switch from working. Thankfully the panel can be removed via two screws so the problem can be fixed by the user with their adhesive of choice.

ASSEMBLY

The assembly process is not very difficult though like most mini-ITX cases, it is wise to plug in the various cables into the motherboard before the board is mounted. The only real issue encountered is the front panel connectors coming loose when tying up the cables. The provided cables are also too long.



Fully assembled, most of the cabling sits above the power supply in and under the unused front drive cage.



Our Asus Strix GTX 980 fits comfortably with plenty of room to spare. It measures 28.8 cm long, well short of the 31.0 cm length limit.



Right side.



There is about 2.2 cm of clearance above the 16.1 cm tall Scythe Kotetsu heatsink. If a standard thickness fan is installed above the CPU area, a shorter cooler must be utilized.



There is plenty of room for SATA power/data connectors and any front-mounted drives. The clearance between the fan and a 17 cm long optical drive aligned flush with the front panel is 5.0 cm while a 3.5 inch drive installed underneath will have 4.0 cm to spare.



The status LEDs appear blue on camera but are in fact white. The hard drive activity LED is uncomfortably bright.

TESTING

System Configuration:

  • Intel Core i5-4690K processor - 3.4 GHz (3.8 GHz with Turbo
    Boost), 22nm, 84W
  • Scythe Kotetsu CPU cooler
  • ASUS Z97I-PLUS motherboard - Intel Z97 chipset, mini-ITX
  • ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 980 graphics card - 2048 CUDA cores, 1178
    MHz clock (1279 MHz with GPU Boost), 7010 MHz memory
  • Kingston HyperX Genesis memory - 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, C10
  • Seagate Desktop SSHD hybrid drive - 2TB, 7200 RPM, 8GB NAND
    Flash, SATA 6 Gbps
  • Cooler Master Silent Pro M700 power supply - 700W, modular, ATX
  • Microsoft
    Windows 7 Ultimate
    operating system, 64-bit

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Prime95
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • Asus GPU Tweak to monitor GPU temperatures and adjust fan speeds.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor system temperatures and adjust system fan speeds.
  • Extech 380803 AC power analyzer / data logger for measuring AC system
    power.
  • PC-based spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic and M-Audio digital

    audio interfaces.

  • Anechoic chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower

Testing Procedures

The system is placed in two states: idle, and load using Prime95 (2/4 instances, large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL benchmarking and stability testing utility. This puts more demand on the CPU and GPU than any real life application. Throughout testing, system temperatures, noise levels, and power consumption are recorded. During the load test, the system and GPU fans speeds are adjusted to various levels in an attempt to find an optimal balance between cooling and noise while maintaining a GPU temperature of 85°C (at an ambient temperature of 22°C).

Baseline Noise

For our baseline noise tests, the system is left idle, the CPU fan is set to its minimum speed under PWM control (400 RPM), and the GPU fans are off by default. The system fan(s) are connected to controllable fan header(s) and are set to a variety of speeds using SpeedFan. This gives us a good idea of what the stock fan(s) sound like at different speeds with minimal interference from other sources.

Before fan testing, a comparison of the two different drive mounting systems is warranted. With all the fans turned off or set to minimum speed, the measurable difference between our SSHD mounted at the front and side is minor with the front position registering about half a decibel lower. However, the vibration-based noise produced with the drive at the front is more pronounced, as evidenced by the sharp 120 Hz tone corresponding to the drive's 7200 RPM motor. When secured on the side of the chassis, it's slightly louder but the sound generated is spread out more evenly along the spectrum. The side position makes drives sound less conspicuous and is preferable for component compatibility as well.

Baseline Noise Level

(Idle, CPU fan at 400 RPM, GPU fans off)
Fan Setting
Avg. Fan Speed
SPL @1m
0%
N/A
17 dBA
40%
400 RPM
17 dBA
50%
520 RPM
17~18 dBA
60%
620 RPM
18 dBA
80%
810 RPM
21 dBA
100%
960 RPM
25 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case in vertical orientation (top fan facing mic).

Ambient noise level: 10~11 [email protected]

As the Core 500's lone stock fan is a mere 1000 RPM model, it's not capable of making much noise. In fact, it doesn't start to make a measurable impact on our system until set to 50% speed. The machine remains relatively quiet up to 80%, and even at top speed produces a modest 25 [email protected]

Up close, the stock fan emits slight undesirable clickiness but as it's embedded inside the chassis and masked by the other components, the resulting sound is benign and unlikely to offend even the most golden-eared observers. The noise produced is smooth and gentle without a hint of tonality.

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements: Prime95x2 + FurMark,

85°C Target GPU Temp (at 22°C Ambient)
System

Fan Speed
520 RPM

(50%)
620 RPM

(60%)
Filters
On
Off
GPU Fan Speed*
1040 RPM (min, 40%)
CPU Temp
55°C
52°C
52°C
MB Temp
57°C
52°C
52°C
SSHD Temp
44°C
44°C
44°C
GPU Temp
81°C
81°C
77°C
System Power (AC)
293W
288W
287W
24 dBA (22 dBA from right side)
* set as low as possible to maintain target GPU temperature on load.

CPU fan at 45% (900 RPM).

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

The Core 500 handles our load test with aplomb, besting our 85°C GPU temperature target by 4°C with the GPU fans running at the minimum setting and the single case fan operating at modest speeds. As the GPU cooler is the greatest noise contributor, it's not possible to make the system any quieter than 24 [email protected], though this figure lowers by 2 dB when measured from the right side, with the GPU fan vent positioned away from the microphone.

Removing the dust filters results in a 3°C and 4°C cooling improvement for the CPU and GPU respectively, and these are modest changes compared to typical filters in other cases. The mesh material is quite fine so it doesn't restrict airflow much.

The noise quality is slightly inferior to our baseline tests as the smaller GPU fans give the machine a higher pitch and adds a rougher quality to the overall acoustics but overall, the system still sounds pleasant.

Comparison

Case Comparison: Prime95x2 + FurMark

(85°C Target GPU Temp at 22°C Ambient)
Case
BitFenix Prodigy Black
Fractal Design Core 500
SilverStone FTZ01
Phanteks Evolv ITX
Fractal Design Node 202
CPU Cooler
Mugen Max at 500 RPM
Kotetsu at 900 RPM
NH-L12 at 1000 RPM
Kotetsu at 900 RPM
NH-L9i at 2490 RPM
System Fan Speed
500 RPM

(2 x 60%)
620 RPM

(1 x 60%)
1040 RPM

(2 x 60%)
620 RPM

(1 x 80%)
N/A
GPU Fan Speed
880 RPM
1040 RPM
1260 RPM
1670 RPM
2930 RPM
CPU Temp
55°C
52°C
45°C
57°C
68°C
MB Temp
50°C
52°C
44°C
58°C
56°C
SSHD Temp
N/A
44°C
42°C
34°C
54°C
GPU Temp
85°C
81°C
85°C
85°C
90°C*
20~21 dBA
24 dBA
24~25 dBA
29 dBA
41~42 dBA
Apx. Case Volume
26.4 L
18.6 L
14.1 L
34.1 L
10.2 L
* cooling failure (thermal throttling observed).

Ambient temperature: 22°C.

Relatively speaking, the Core 500 is a solid performer offering low noise and unsurpassed GPU cooling. Since updating our mini-ITX case test configuration, only our Mini-ITX
Gaming Build
using the BitFenix Prodigy is superior, though it had an additional fan and was capable of a lower GPU fan speed possibly due to an older driver being used at the time. If we could match the GPU temperatures or speeds, the noise difference would likely halve.

AUDIO 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.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. 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 while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With its plain looks, the Core 500 is not imbued with a lot of style, but the underlying design is remarkably solid. Though the intake vents along the sides of the front panel are overly restricted by foam linings, it's well ventilated thanks to the large grills on the side and top of the case and fine magnetic filters. The result is a well-cooled machine that can be operated quietly with just the single included exhaust fan.

The chassis is a bit wider than other cases of this type, and the extra girth allows for an additional two 2.5 inch and 3.5 inch drive placements on the right side, complimenting the front drive cage that boasts both a 3.5 inch and a standard 5.25 inch drive mount. Enthusiasts can delight in 280 mm radiator support on the ceiling, provided the aforementioned drive cage is removed. The chassis is also tall enough for lanky tower heatsinks and deep enough to accommodate a 31 cm long graphics card.

My only complaint is that the front panel cables in our sample were only tenuously connected. Glue was applied at the factory to keep the headers connected but they simply wouldn't hold on, with the gentlest of tugs prying them loose. This can be remedied easily enough by the user but it's surprising to see such a defect in a product from a well respected manufacturer.

Overall, the Core 500 is an excellent all-around mini-ITX case and a superb value. It's a faithful translation of Fractal Design's larger Core series cases for the smaller form factor and a fine addition to the pantheon of Shuttle/cube style SFF enclosures.

Our thanks to Fractal Design
for the Core 500 case sample.



The Fractal Design Core 500 wins the SPCR's Editor's Choice Award

* * *

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Fractal Design Node 202 Compact Gaming Case

Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ITX Mini Tower

SilverStone RVZ01: A Mini Raven

Quiet Mini-ITX Gaming Build Guide #3: BitFenix Prodigy Edition

Quiet Mini-ITX Gaming Build Guide #2: NCASE M1 Edition

* * *

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