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SPCR Does CES 2007

January 18, 2007 by Russ
Kinder
and Charles Gilliatt

The 2007 CES show proved to be an especially difficult event to report on from
a “silent PC” perspective. Not because the show floor itself has a
noise level somewhere between that of a daycare center just before nap time
and a thrash-metal concert, although it does. And not because of a lack of interest
from the exhibitors with regards to computer acoustics. It is actually because
the exact opposite is true. Nearly everyone in the PC hardware
business wants to talk about acoustics now. SPCR is no longer an evangelical
voice in the wilderness. The concept of “quiet equals good” is now
widespread. In most respects this is a great thing: it is nice to have vendors
want to talk to you just because they read “Silent PC Review” on your
press badge (or actually chase you down a corridor to ask you to come to their
booth, as happened to us a couple of times this year), and to not have to begin
every conversation with a description of what SPCR is and why they should care
about noise. But with acceptance has come a maturity of the technology. There
are simply fewer “gee-whiz” quiet computing products on display. We've
seen this all before, the new products are mostly refinements on existing concepts.
While good for consumers, it's the “gee-whiz” moments that make for
exciting conventioneering.

So, if there was not a plethora of quiet PC innovations at CES, what was taking
up the 1.7 million square feet of convention space? Televisions. Well, televisions,
and iPod docks. The flat panel display arms race is very much alive and well.
Sharp and LG were both showing 108” LCDs, and Optoma was quite proud of
their 120” rear projection DLP display. Keeping up with the Jones' is going
to require building an addition on your living room... and perhaps selling a
kidney: The Optoma 120” will retail for $50K+. While the truly monster
displays are only being produced by a handful of companies, it appears that
nearly everyone in the consumer electronics business is producing some sort
of iPod docking gadget now. Sometime between last year's CES and this year's,
iPod speaker docking stations started reproducing like Tribbles.
They were everywhere. We did an informal survey of one aisle of booths in the
International Pavilion where small companies can get CES exposure for less money
than the big-guy displays in the main halls and we counted that nearly 25% of
the booths had some sort of iPod dock on display. The phenomenon was not limited
to the low-rent district of CES, even the rarefied halls of the High End Audio
suites housed at the Venetian Hotel were not immune, although to be fair, the
single iPod dock that we spotted there was the $2400 iLink system produced by
MSBTech.

But never fear, we were able to pick out a few new silent PC oriented items
that had enough of the elusive “gee-whiz” about them to get our attention.

ANTEC

In keeping with their usual mode of operations at CES, Antec eschewed the
hustle and bustle of a show floor booth and instead offered invitation-only
presentations of new products at their off-site hotel suite. It's very nice
to be able to talk to the company representatives without shouting over the
din, and to be able to actually hear a running product when it claims to be
quiet.

The Expanded Performance One Family

Featured at the presentation were two new cases derived from the original
P180 - an improved version with minor tweaks that will be sold as the P182,
and an extended, enhanced ventilation model, the P190. Antec bills the P190
as being designed to handle systems that contain multiples of essentially
every PC component, from CPU's, to GPU's, to stacks of HDD's.

The P182 we are very exited about - the modifications to the original P180
design seem very logical, and should help make an already quiet case even
better. The P190 we are not as sure about. It adds large amounts of open area
on the top and left side - the sides that frequently directly face the user
- allowing more noise to potentially escape. Few people seemed to complain
about systems overheating in the P180, so all the extra airflow may be overkill.

Shared improvements of both cases include:

  • A revised motherboard panel placement that adds about a centimeter of space
    between the tray and the side of the case for easier behind-the-board cablegami.
  • The addition of two watercooling grommets on the back panel.
  • External adjustment for the TriCool case fan speeds.
  • Improved cable pass-thru at the divider between the motherboard and PSU
    compartments to alleviate routing issues caused by having large PCI cards
    occupying slots at the end of the motherboard.



The motherboard trays have been raised to make behind-the-board cable
management easier.



The chamber divider has been revised to ease cable management.

P182 Front and back; note the fan speed switch
at the rear top.

The P182 featured a new color that is to replace the all black
P180B. It proved nearly impossible to photograph properly in the warm lighting
of the Bellagio, but in person it is a very striking titanium gunmetal gray.

In addition to the shared upgrades with the P182, the P190 adds:

  • Extra case depth to accommodate E-ATX motherboards and even the longest
    VGA cards.
  • A pair of 140mm exhausts on the top in place of the P180's single 120mm.
  • A huge 200mm fan on the side panel, with a slide out washable air filter.
    While big, the 200mm fan is also slow: maximum speed is only 800 RPM, and
    it features the same Tri-Cool three position speed adjustment of Antec's other
    fans. Its spec's are: 400/600/800 RPM, 83/108/134 CFM, and 24/27/30 dBA respectively,
    at the three speed settings.
  • Dual PSU's as the stock retail power configuration. Every P190 will ship
    with a pair of Neo PSU's; one at 550 watts and the other at 650, providing
    a total of 1200 watts of rated capacity spread across no fewer than six 12
    volt rails.



The P190 features E-ATX Support...



...Dual PSU's...



...and a massive 200mm TriCool fan.

P182 “Special Edition”

Unlike every other product Antec had on display, the P182 “Special Edition”
is not destined for immediate retail release. It is the PC equivalent of a
concept car: a one-off creation shown to test consumer reaction and interest.
Functionally it is identical to the stock P182. The differences are purely
cosmetic, but oh boy is it different. In place of the outer aluminum layer
of the typical P180 "sandwich panels" is a layer of mirror polished
stainless steel. The polish is protected by a layer of automotive quality
clearcoat finish for scratch and fingerprint resistance.

The appearance upgrades continue to the interior, where the inside of the
door and the entire steel chassis are powdercoated matte black. The aesthetic
difference between the matte black and the typical gray found in nearly every
other case is really quite shocking. While the mirror exterior is a bit of
a love-or-hate effect, the all-black interior is probably The Next Big Thing
for high-end cases. It is rather surprising that there are not more cases
out there with it, particularly for the window and cathode set.

As stated above, the Special Edition is not going to be produced for retail
sale, but given enough customer interest Antec will make it available on a
limited basis. So if you like it, let them know. If ever sold, expect it to
cost in the range of $50 more than a typical P182.



Bling bling.



Black is the new gray..

ANTEC (Continued)

Sonata III

At the other end of the rarity scale is the facelifted Sonata III. One the
highest selling enclosures of the Antec lineup, the Sonata gets a new bezel
and PSU for 2007. The Sonata III will be sold with the 500 watt version of
their Earth Watts line. We're pleased with the change in PSU; our
review of the 430 watt flavor
showed that the Earth Watts was quieter
(and probably more reliable) than the
SmartPower 2.0
that was provided in the Sonata II. We expect the 500 watt
version to be just as quiet.

Besides the less restricted air intakes, sharp eyed readers will spot the
other new feature provided by the new bezel: an eSATA port, which replaces
the old IEEE1394 (Firewire) port. Given the higher proportion of motherboards
that have SATA connectors compared to those with Firewire pinouts, and the
rapidly expanding selection of eSATA-equipped external enclosures, Antec has
decided that a front-mounted eSATA connection will be more useful to more
consumers — though several SPCR staffers disagree. All future new case
rollouts from Antec will feature an eSATA in place of the Firewire. Note that
this change does not affect the P182 or P190 cases.



The re-styled Sonata III.

Fusion Black

Continuing the theme of “evolutionary improvement” is the new member
of the NSK2400/Fusion family: the Fusion Black. The name succinctly describes
its primary difference; it has a black anodized aluminum faceplate and volume
knob in place of the regular Fusion's brushed aluminum. One improvement that
is harder to spot is the change made to the display. The VFD unit, which we
criticized in our review
of the Fusion
is gone, replaced by an all-new LCD unit that includes an
MCE compatible IR receiver. The LCD upgrade will appear on all future Fusion
cases, whether bare aluminum or black.



Looks like black is the new silver too.

Micro Fusion / NSK1400

Now for something completely new. The Micro Fusion was the only completely
new PC enclosure that Antec had on display. Similar in design layout to the
NSK2400/Fusion cases, but at roughly half their height, the Micro Fusion is
aimed at system integrators and consumers who want an unobtrusive HTPC that
blends closely with other components in an entertainment center. The front
panel features the same LCD/IR unit, stealth drive bay, and aluminum construction
as the Fusion. Unlike the Fusion, the Micro has Antec's new eSATA connector
in place of a Firewire port.

Internally, the Micro Fusion features a unique 300 watt PSU that pulls air
through the case side via its 80mm fan and exhausts directly out the rear
of the case, isolating it from the rest of the case airflow path. Other internal
features are a pair of horizontal HDD trays with silicon mounting and support
for both desktop and notebook drives, and a single full height optical bay.
As necessitated by the reduced height, the PCI slots are half-height, and
the three case fans — two exhausts in the same positions as the NSK2400/Fusion's
120mm's and one intake at the HDD bays — are all 80mm in size. While
it supports conventional Micro-ATX motherboards, the half-height PCI slots
will likely be the limiting factor in terms of what hardware can be installed.
The Micro Fusion is really aimed at the MoDT hardware market, with low total
wattages and slim HSF's.



Yep, they managed to make the Fusion even smaller.



The internal layout has shifted a bit, but the most of the same airflow principles
apply.

MX-1 Hard Drive Enclosure

The MX-1 is Antec's first external HDD enclosure. Noteworthy specifications
include silicon dampening mounts for the HDD, aluminum/plastic sandwich top
and bottom panels for noise and resonance absorption, USB and eSATA connectivity,
and a very interesting active cooling system. The cooling is built around
an 80mm centrifugal slot fan built into the bottom of the enclosure. The fan
is rated for 1200 RPM, 3.25 CFM, and 20 dBA. The silicon mounting pad
forces the airflow from the fan to be drawn in through a series of vents at
the rear of the top panel, over the top of the hard drive, around the front,
and then across the drive's PCB before being exhausted out of rear of the
enclosure just below the I/O ports. In Antec's fairly quiet hotel suite an
operating MX-1 had to be held within about a foot of your ear to be audible.
We are looking forward to getting a sample in the lab for a closer inspection.
Other external enclosures that we have tested have generally been disappointing
in the noise department, perhaps Antec will reverse the trend.



A fat drive enclosure...



...built with quiet computing in mind.

A/V Cooler

Certainly one of the more unexpected and unusual Antec product introductions
was the A/V Cooler. Looking more than a bit like an overgrown laptop cooler,
the A/V Cooler is intended to be placed on top of heat producing pieces of
equipment, such as an HTPC or amplifier, inside a stack of audio/video components.
A pair of slot fans on the underside push heated air out to the back of stack,
rather than allowing it to rise and heat the equipment above. The fans have
a low/high speed control and are rated for 5.5 CFM at 1200 RPM with 22 dBA,
or 8 CFM at 1600 RPM and 29 dBA respectively.


ARCTIC COOLING

SPCR's favorite Swiss cooling products company was on hand with new VGA coolers
and an expanded fan line. The new coolers, the Accelero S Series, are passive
heatpipe coolers. Very narrow, and very tall, with thin, widely spaced aluminum
fins, the S1 and S2 are designed to project far past the edge of the VGA card
into the free air space of the case to capture passing air currents. The documentation
provided by Arctic Cooling promises better than stock HSF cooling with zero
noise.



Accelero S1 & S2 VGA coolers.

Arctic Cooling is also expanding their line of fans with a new series that
features “Patented PST (PWM Sharing Technology)”. Taking
advantage of the 4-pin PWM fan control features built into new motherboards,
the PST system uses an integrated PWM amplifier to extend the signal from
controlling just the CPU fan to controlling up to 5 case fans. Could be quite
useful, depending upon the specifics of its implementation.

COOLERMASTER

CoolerMaster had a handful of interesting new coolers on display.



Watercooling isn't everyone's thing, but CoolerMaster is putting in a good
effort

with this self-contained system with universal CPU/GPU waterblocks.

The Aquagate Viva (upper unit) and Aquagate Duo Viva (lower unit) are CM's
new self-contained watercooling solutions. Perhaps the most unusual aspect
of the system is the interchangeability of the coolers for both GPU and CPU
use. This is the first time we know of that a single cooler has boasted a
mounting system and accessories that allows the same base unit to be used
for either application. Considering that new GPU's are likely to be producing
as much or more heat than the CPU in the system, this seems like a logical
development. The radiator/pump units can be mounted on a space PCI slot, or
in 5.25 or 3.5” drive bays. Onboard thermosistor controls automatically
adjust the radiator fan speeds from 100 to 4,800 RPM, depending upon system
temperature.



CoolerMaster's passive VGA cooler is featured front and center.

Also on view was CoolerMaster's brand-new passive GPU cooler. As yet unnamed,
the cooler, pictured here in front of their massive CoolViva Pro GPU cooler,
features a combination of conventional aluminum heatsink as well as a remote
heatpipe-cooled fin assembly for the rear of the card. More details as they
become available.

COOL-IT SYSTEMS

Specializing in thermoelectric-based CPU cooling systems for the cooling-at-all-costs
crowd, Cool-It is probably not a household name for those looking to build
quiet PCs. But they are looking to change that. For those not in the know,
thermoelectric cooling uses powered heat pumps to move heat through a heatsink
more quickly than ordinary conduction using the
Peltier effect
.

One of their newest cooling systems, the Freezone, is being marketed as
much for its quietness as for its ability to cool CPU's down to frosty temps.
The key to the quietness is an innovative software control system that uses
“Predictive Cooling Technology”.

Unlike typical automatically adjusting CPU cooling systems that wait for
either the CPU or the heatsink itself to increase in temperature before adjusting
the cooling system, the Cool-It software monitors the loading on the CPU and
adjusts the wattage of the TEC units to maintain a constant CPU temperature,
rather than merely reacting to changes afterwards. If it works as advertised,
the technology should help reduce the changes in noise from the fans ramping
up and down by using smaller, faster, and silent changes to the TEC power
levels to compensate for momentary changes in CPU heat output without changing
the fan speed at all.



Peltier-based watercooling: The ultimate in exotic technology.

SEAGATE

With the exception their newly announced terabyte 3.5” drive, most of
Seagate's CES display was devoted to a variety of consumer-oriented hard drive
enclosures and portable gadgetry. Both Seagate and Hitachi were competing
for the bragging rights of having the first terabyte drives. While only the
on-staff marketing guys will remember who was first, the Seagate version does
have a technical advantage over the Hitachi, at least on paper: Seagate's
1TB drive is a four platter drive, while Hitachi is using five platters to
reach the magical terabyte level. Conventional SPCR wisdom is that fewer platter
and fewer heads equals less noise. Time will tell whether this holds true
for this latest round of jumbo drives.

In the mass of external devices one did catch enough of our attention to
merit a closer look: a new-and-improved Mirra. Internally identical
to the previous model, the improvements are limited to a new case and a new
version of the software suite. The previous case, which was apparently nicknamed
“the pig” within the confines of the Seagate HQ, took a lot of abuse
in our review.
The new case is custom designed just for the Mirra appliance, and promises
to be both smaller and quieter. The whiny 40mm PSU fan is gone, replaced by
a fanless laptop-style AC/DC brick. According to Seagate the new software
fixes many of the issues we saw with the previous version, and has enhanced
features and stability.



The Mirra has been given a much needed facelift...



...and both cooling and noise have been improved at the same time.

SILVERSTONE

TJ-09

Two new aluminum cases from Silverstone, one large and one small, were noteworthy
on the show floor. On the large size is the new TJ-09. Sporting 4 external
optical bays and room for half a dozen hard drives, the TJ09 is designed for
the “ultimate performance and quietness”. 120mm fans abound:
A pair occupy top blowhole exhaust locations with another as a rear exhaust
and one in an unusual mid-case intake vent to force fresh air directly at
the VGA card area. The hard drives live in a pair of removable racks situated
cross ways in a separate chamber in front of the mid case intake. The HDD
chamber features mesh on both sides of the case as well as the bottom.
If this passive cooling is not enough for the hard drives a fifth 120mm fan
can be mounted on the left side of the HDD chamber, blowing across the drives
and out the far side.



Fancy, side-mounted air vent... and a window for good measure.



The internal layout reminds us of an Antec P180 — without the separate
chambers.



Hard drives are slightly damped and mounted vertically.



Watercooling grommets were the hot new gimmick for several manufacturers.

SG-03

At the opposite end of the case size spectrum is the tiny new SG-03.
The SG-03 is over an inch shorter and nearly three inches shallower than the
already small Silverstone TJ-08, and is both shorter and shallower than the
Antec NSK3300. But don't let the small size fool you, the SG03 features a
pair of 120mm fans for cooling: both mounted as intakes for an all-positive
airflow path. There is room for a pair of 3.5” HDD's in dampened mounting
sleds on the floor of the case along with one external optical bay. The PSU,
although full-size ATX compatible, occupies the space immediately above the
CPU socket, limiting the choices for CPU HSF. Silverstone was quick to suggest
that the PSU location does lend itself to the idea of passive CPU cooling
using one of their NT-06 heatsinks (or any non-tower heatsink, for that matter).



One of the smallest Micro-ATX cases we've ever seen.



Full size power supplies are supported thanks to its creative layout.

* * *

SPCR would like to thank all of the vendors and exhibitors at CES this year
who took the time to share their new products with us. Look for reviews of at
least some of these products to be forthcoming over the next year as they become
available.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest


SPCR's First WinHEC: Seattle,
May 2006


Paradigm Shift at Intel:
IDF Fall 2005


CES 2005: A Silencentric
Summation

Antec P180: Visual
Tour
, Part
One
, Part
Two


Antec NSK2400 / Fusion
Media PC Case


Seagate: Mirra Mirra in
the Closet


SilverStone
Temjin TJ-07

* * *

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