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 Post subject: Review: Fractal Define R2 (i5 build)
PostPosted: Sat May 22, 2010 1:34 am 
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Got my new desktop up and running yesterday, and thought I'd share some first impressions as this forum has been a crucial source of information and support for my two silent-PC builds so far.

The system is an i5-750 backed up by Asus Direct-CU HD5850 and 4GB of Corsair Dominator DDR3 on an Asus P7P55D-E PRO mobo. It's all neatly tucked in the Fractal Define R2 case, which is the primary subject of this short review. The whole shebang is powered by a Corsair TX650W psu.


Introduction

To clarify where I'm coming from, and equally what I'm going for, this is my second attempt at building a quiet (not necessarily silent) gaming and media center PC. The first one was an Antec P180 wrapped around two passively cooled 7600GTs and an Athlon X2 CPU, which modestly speaking has been the quietest gaming rig I've ever had - or seen anyone else have, for that matter.

While the primary uses of the system in everyday use are movies and music, it is also intended to serve as the primary gaming platform even for the latest titles whenever required. Thus, the aim is yet again to have a reasonably powerful gaming platform without too much audible idle noise.


The parts

Without going into too much detail, the components specified above were selected primarily not for their silent potential, but for their good performance-to-cost ratio. Most care regarding quietness was taken in the selection of the GPU, in that I avoided buying a card with the ATI reference cooler. This time around I was forced to ditch the idea of having a passively cooled GPU due to there simply not being any in the targeted performance category. However Asus' offering with its proprietary heatpipe-fan-design did reasonably well in reviews and user commentaries, and had a competitive price to top it all, so I leaped at the chance. I knew in advance that, forgoing the passive alternative, this would likely be the loudest single component in the system. Still, no after-market cooler at least yet.

Cooling for the processor is provided by the Noctua U12P with a single fan on the heatsink and the second placed as the case exhaust fan. Case cooling is provided by two supplied 120mm fans at the front, as well as one Scythe 120mm on the bottom intake.

Other components worthy of mention are the WD Caviar Green 1.5TB hard drive, selected in no small part due to recommendations received from SPCR. Quietness was favored over extreme performance here as well, but I didn't want to go to the other extreme by selecting a 5400rpm drive or a notebook drive. The OS and programs run on Kingston SSDNow! V+ drive, that won the bid over a Corsair drive only because the latter was not available.

The last item to be mentioned is the horrific, years old Samsung Writemaster DVD-drive that I threw in temporarily just for the installation process. The thing sounds like a gas-turbine Cessna - not when reading and writing during installation, but when spinning up on idle with a disk in the drive. I plan to replace it with a Plextor PX800A that has served me remarkably quietly in the old Antec build.


The case

The case itself was probably the toughest single selection I had to make. I knew the Antec P180 intimately, and had worked the P182 on another build as well, so the P183 was my first object of desire. I read on alternatives but the only one to match up was the Fractal Define R2. I knew that in many aspects it was like P180-lite, lacking some of the improvements of P183, but ultimately it was the price and my own curiosity that tipped the scales in its favor.

The R2 did not let me down. I could wrap this review up in short by saying that it far surpassed my expectations on the acoustic front, and is one superb case easily on par with the more expensive Antec cases. But let's go a little further.

The first thing to impress me was the build quality. Based on some early reviews and the price I expected something cheap and flimsy-ish. But the case is really sturdy and well-crafted, and oozes quality. No shame in leaving this in plain sight.

Once you get into the installation phase, however, some minor glitches do present themselves. First, while installing the mobo, the great idea of having a hole in the back panel to ease CPU cooler installation proved not so great in execution. The hole is too small and slightly misplaced for the P55 chipset and Intel socket. The back plate for the CPU cooler did not fit in the hole reserved for it, nor did it fit between the mobo and the case back panel. So the cooler had to be installed out of the case, and then the CPU socket back plates would push against the edges of the hole in the back panel of the case, and bend them slightly backwards when the mobo was tightened with screws. Somewhat higher stand-offs to give more room between the mobo and the back panel would be needed.

The second minor glitch was with the mobo IO panel. The hole reserved for it was again slightly misplaced (by a couple of mm or so), so that the IO panel did not quite match the ports on the motherboard. The result is a slightly bent IO panel and partly obstructed ports. No biggie though, as its purely a cosmetic issue.

The case surprised me positively with the ease of installation. For such a small case (compared to the P180) there's plenty of room to work with. The cable management is excellent (although the rubber around the holes could be stiffer) and there's good room for excess wiring. The only minor issue is the narrow space between the motherboard back panel and the case side panel. Still, with cable ties and some planning even the thick, round wires of the Corsair PSU fit in nice and tidy.

One thing the R2 lacks are the plentiful soft-mounting opportunities that the Antec cases offer. I thought this might be a defining deficit, as all of the case fans, not to mention the optical drive, are bolted directly onto the metal frames of the case. The only component to have softening rubber grommets is the HDD. However, given the tight fitting of the fans, I noticed no vibrations or resonance whatsoever. Sitting beside the P180 with it's all soft-mounted fans, I think the R2 actually has a quieter profile when it comes to fan noise. The rigid case and the thick bitumen pads inside really give a great acoustic environment. Still, it would have been nice to be able to fit some rubber between the optical drive and the case, especially when the drive doesn't sit as firmly in the cage as the fans and HDDs do.

My last gripe with the case is with the intake filters, great as they are in (hopefully) keeping the system dust-free in a positive air pressure setup (not so great in a conventional negative pressure setup, as the intake air would be sucked in from holes everywhere, bypassing the filters). The filters are removable, but they are fastened with screws and are mounted together with the fans. This makes cleaning arduous, having first to detach the fan and then unscrew the filter housing. I would have preferred quick-detachable filters separate from the fan mounting, like on the P180.


The verdict

Despite all it's small faults the Define R2 is a superb case. It's neat and sturdy and sports excellent acoustic dampening. The loudest part of the system proved to be the Radeon HD5850 with its stock Asus cooler, as was expected.

Still the case succeeded in keeping all the parts cool and quiet at the same time. With an aftermarket cooler on the GPU the system would be close to dead-silent, apart from a very soft swoosh from the air traveling through all the fans. That's quite a feat from a gaming rig, and it's in no small part due to the case. I should note that both of the top exhausts and the side panel intake were sealed with the provided bitumen mats, so the acoustic profile of the case might be drastically different if another cooling setup was used.

The case design is great for a positive air pressure build given the three filtered air intakes at the front and at the bottom, and the way the PSU is mounted for independent intake and exhaust. Still it's great that the case offers plenty of potential for alternative and more aggressive cooling solutions - up to 7 fan vents is not something that even Antec cases can better, and three filtered intakes into a single space is three times more than in the P180, where one of the two filtered intakes was only for the separate PSU/HDD compartment.

To summarize, the price and quality of the R2 are both excellent. There are small flaws that Fractal would do good to address in future revisions, but none of them are deal-breakers and the basic design is more than sound. I'd have a hard time to justify the purchase of the P183 given what the Define R2 has to offer at less than half the price.

8 / 10


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 Post subject: Cooling update
PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 2:13 am 
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Update: More efficient cooling

After a little experimenting with the case fan setup, I ended up changing the original fan positioning by removing the rear exhaust fan altogether and moving the more powerful 120mm Noctua fan to the bottom of the case, replacing the slightly quieter but lower-rpm 120mm Scythe fan.

The 900rpm Noctua fan moves considerably more air into the case than the 500rpm Scythe, while the only exhaust apart from the isolated PSU is now the CPU cooler blowing towards the back of the case. This should increase the overall pressure inside the case, preventing unwanted intake past the dust filters. That's the theory, anyways.

While it's obvious that the setup now provides more cool air into the system, and should eliminate any circulation of hot air into the system from the back of the case, I was slightly concerned that it might increase CPU temps as there is no direct exhaust from the top of the case. However, that was not the case.

As a result of the new setup, both the GPU and the CPU run cooler than before. The increased intake airflow provides more cool air especially to the GPU, and the CPU fan produces enough airflow to push the hot air out of the rear vent, even though there is no separate exhaust fan there. Apparently the lower-rpm exhaust fan was obstructing airflow more than helping it.

The system now runs cooler, with CPU idle temps typically between 24-33 °C and GPU idle temps around 45-49 °C. The load temps under 3D gaming top at 45 °C and 65 °C respectively.

The system is also slightly quieter with the removal of one case fan, and due to the fact that the Noctua case fan can now run at lower rpm without obstructing airflow. The CPU cooler did not ramp up from the removal of the exhaust fan and is steady at 1300 rpm even under load. The GPU cooler is still the loudest component apart from the optical drive, but its fan never exceeds 40 % of its maximum rpm, while becoming loud only at around 45 %.

So in conclusion, running three 120mm intake fans in the front and bottom vents without a dedicated exhaust fan seems to be more efficient than the conventional intake-exhaust fan setup, at least when the exhaust fan rpm is not close to or above the CPU cooler rpm.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2010 6:25 am 
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Interesting experience there with the positive pressure.
The case could use a few tweaks in another revision, but some things like the screwed down fan filters are perhaps staying for cost saving reasons. I hope more cases look to include bitumen pads and something similar to the modu vents since it's simply brilliant. I'm no stranger to taping up unnecessary vents but why should we have to?

A pic or two is always nice. ;)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jun 02, 2010 3:55 am 
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What's annoying is that there is a second revision of this case out but it appears that both myself and Exel got the old version - when did you buy yours Exel?

I was searching last night and found review pics taken late March of a design which has a much longer backplate opening which would be fine with our P55 motherboard.

I also heard that the second revision uses different bitumen so isn't as smelly.

I am currently concerned about the awful smell coming out from the case which is giving me a sore throat and cough. :|

Trying to air off the side panels and top vent covers outside at the moment. Really annoyed that I bought recently but got the old version.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 2:59 am 
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Bought mine in mid-April. There's definitely room for improvements in any eventual future revisions of the case, but most of those are minor issues by themselves. By far the biggest headache I had was with the P55-incompatible back plate opening and the slight I/O panel mismatch, but neither caused more than slight annoyance during the installation process.

The provided 120mm case fans are superbly quiet, but I have to agree with the SPCR review comments - it'd be nice to have the option to get more rpm out of them if needed, though it's not an issue for my current build.

About the bitumen smell, I haven't noticed any in my case, even when trying to sniff it inside the case.

I'll see about posting pictures, but no promises. :wink:


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 4:55 am 
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Exel wrote:
Bought mine in mid-April. There's definitely room for improvements in any eventual future revisions of the case, but most of those are minor issues by themselves. By far the biggest headache I had was with the P55-incompatible back plate opening and the slight I/O panel mismatch, but neither caused more than slight annoyance during the installation process.

The provided 120mm case fans are superbly quiet, but I have to agree with the SPCR review comments - it'd be nice to have the option to get more rpm out of them if needed, though it's not an issue for my current build.

About the bitumen smell, I haven't noticed any in my case, even when trying to sniff it inside the case.

I'll see about posting pictures, but no promises. :wink:


Ah I totally agree about the case. Everytime I look into mine I get a warm a fuzzy feeling. ;) The only problem is the smell but I'm hoping that will go.

BTW, I spoke to Fractal Design who tell me that it's not the bitumen that is smelling but the rubber cable holes. They are made with natural vulcanised rubber and give off a smell for a few days.

Only thing with that is that when I smell the bitumen it smells like tarmac - quite strongly so I'm still not 100%.

Here is the newer model of the case that I was talking about:

Image

Reviewed late March.

Annoyed that this isn't the one I got as I got mine a few weeks ago. Though if the smell does go it's ok. I can't remove my heatsink from the back annoyingly but have no plans on changing that for a long time so it's fine really.


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 Post subject: Update and pictures
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:38 am 
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Update: Dust-free with positive pressure

Since the removal of the case exhaust fan and the upping of the total CFM of the intake fans, the system has been effectively dust free. Normally, even during a relatively short observation period such as this, the case would have accumulated a noticeable (not significant) amount of dust on the interior surfaces. Not anymore, though there's plenty to cleaned out on the intake air filters.

The side effect is of course that now I'll have to clean up the air filters covering the intakes more often, lest the airflow suffers and the interior temperatures increase. But I'm more than happy to do that rather than having to try and clean it from the fan blades and heat sinks of the GPU and CPU coolers instead. :wink:


Update: Pictures of the case and the build


Image
Caption: Fractal Define R2 case exterior, with Antec P180 on the left for size comparison.


Image
Caption: The case with the front door open. The bezel door for the bottom intake fan is also open. Note that there is actually minimal airflow through the front bezels, as the actual intake vents are on the sides. The bezels could just as well be solid and dampened with bitumen pads without any effect on the intake of air. Antec P180 on the left for comparison.


Image
Caption: The case and its interior, with the side panel and its bitumen padding on the left next to the Antec P180. Note that both of the vents seen at the top of the case are sealed with bitumen padding by default. The black surface of the case door is slightly reflective and very stylish.


Image
Caption: Interior of the case with installed components. Most of the cabling is neatly tuck in out of the way of airflow. Two 120mm Fractal case fans push intake air past the two HDDs on the right. Two 120mm Noctua fans cool the CPU and provide additional intake from the vent at the bottom of the case. The PSU draws its air through a dedicated vent at the bottom of the case and exhausts it directly at the back. Note the lack of exhaust fans. Processor and GPU coolers provide indirect exhaust as they push air towards the openings at the back of the case.


Image
Caption: The hole at the back plate reserved for CPU cooler installation is incompatible with the P55 motherboard. Installation and removal of the heat sink attachment brackets is impossible while the motherboard is installed in the case. The motherboard in question is the Asus P7P55D-E PRO, Intel socket LGA 1156.

Revision note: It is apparent that the case in question is of the older revision. The new revision has an enlarged back plate opening that is compatible with the P55 motherboards.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 5:47 am 
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Very nice setup - and like how tidy the install is cable wise. I've tried to keep mine as tidy as possible but I think you've managed it even better.

So you have two intakes at the front (the fans that came with the R2) and a bottom intake but no exhaust?

I'm trying to decide what to do about mine.

I have the one intake at the front and rear exhaust with cpu cooler fan pointed towards the exhaust (opposite side to yours).

With sides on I was getting CPU idle temps up to 35c. At the moment with the sides off and fan vents off, the idle is 6c above ambient (around 28c). I assume that is the best my cooler will do with how it's been installed (Coolermaster Hyper 212)?

Want to overclock but need to get my airflow sorted first to ensure load temps are under 50c ideally.

What kind of temps are you getting now?

I'll post my pics once everything is back together.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:13 am 
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slingshotuk wrote:
Very nice setup - and like how tidy the install is cable wise. I've tried to keep mine as tidy as possible but I think you've managed it even better.

So you have two intakes at the front (the fans that came with the R2) and a bottom intake but no exhaust?


Thank you. That is correct.


Quote:
I'm trying to decide what to do about mine.

I have the one intake at the front and rear exhaust with cpu cooler fan pointed towards the exhaust (opposite side to yours).

With sides on I was getting CPU idle temps up to 35c. At the moment with the sides off and fan vents off, the idle is 6c above ambient (around 28c). I assume that is the best my cooler will do with how it's been installed (Coolermaster Hyper 212)?


I should note that my priority on the cooling configuration was on making the system dust free and silent, rather than on pushing for the lowest possible temperatures. That said, you may want to experiment with the exhaust fan and see how different setups affect the CPU temps. The Fractal case fans are very low rpm (~600) and may actually be obstructing exhaust of the hot air pushed by the much higher-rpm CPU fan (~1300 on mine).

You may get better cooling for the CPU by installing a higher-rpm exhaust fan or by removing the exhaust fan altogether. In either case you may want to use the Fractal fan to provide more intake either through the front or bottom vents (I'd say the bottom, since it provides a less obstructed path for airflow to reach the critical components).

Quote:
Want to overclock but need to get my airflow sorted first to ensure load temps are under 50c ideally.

What kind of temps are you getting now?


My CPU is overclocked but only slightly as the side effect of the Corsair X.M.P. memory profile in the BIOS. The GPU core and memory are overclocked by 15%. Both the CPU and GPU run at around 50% clock speeds when at idle.

My current idle temps are 36°C for the CPU and 26°C for the system, latter of which is only a few degrees over the ambient room temperature. The GPU idles between 46-50°C. This after running the computer at idle or close to idle for more than 8 hours straight. The load temps during 3D gaming have never gone over 47°C and 66°C for the CPU and GPU respectively, so there is plenty of room for overclocking as far as the temperatures are concerned.

The GPU fan is typically running between 33-40% rpm under load. The CPU fan has never increased its rpm from the lowest setting allowed by BIOS.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:23 am 
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And I must say I'm truly happy with the thermal performance of this case. 8)

Its suitability for high-performance components and even overclocking is not what I expected from a silent PC case. No need to get loud over OC. ;)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:28 am 
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That's truly excellent performance! I'd be more than happy with that.

My GPU is currently at 65c while idling with no sides on the case. :) Goes up to scary temps when gaming. Old skool 8000GTX furnace.

I was thinking of putting the Fractal exhaust in the front, my 1200 rpm quiet fan as rear exhaust and then another exhaust on the side for the CPU.

That sound like a good plan?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:42 am 
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slingshotuk wrote:
That's truly excellent performance! I'd be more than happy with that.

My GPU is currently at 65c while idling with no sides on the case. :) Goes up to scary temps when gaming. Old skool 8000GTX furnace.

I was thinking of putting the Fractal exhaust in the front, my 1200 rpm quiet fan as rear exhaust and then another exhaust on the side for the CPU.

That sound like a good plan?


Probably an improvement over what you currently have, but all I can really say is that you have to experiment different setups and see for yourself. Can't really go wrong with the additional intake and faster exhaust fans, but I'm not sure about the side panel exhaust. It may make the CPU surroundings cooler, or it may not. Most likely it has an adverse effect on the acoustic side of things, however, which may not be worth it if the cooling advantage turns out to be only marginal. You should test it with and without the side fan and see which gives the better results, both for cooling and for noise.

A possible alternative would be to use the side exhaust fan as a bottom intake fan instead. The problem with exhaust fans is that it's hard to figure out where the replacement air is drawn in. Using the side vent for exhaust may well result in majority of the replacement air being drawn in from the back of the case, meaning it will just recycle hot air pushed out by the PSU and CPU coolers.

But you should really experiment and not take my word for it, as I'm no expert in system building let alone in evaluating airflow dynamics.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 6:47 am 
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Exel wrote:
slingshotuk wrote:
That's truly excellent performance! I'd be more than happy with that.

My GPU is currently at 65c while idling with no sides on the case. :) Goes up to scary temps when gaming. Old skool 8000GTX furnace.

I was thinking of putting the Fractal exhaust in the front, my 1200 rpm quiet fan as rear exhaust and then another exhaust on the side for the CPU.

That sound like a good plan?


Probably an improvement over what you currently have, but all I can really say is that you have to experiment different setups and see for yourself. Can't really go wrong with the additional intake and faster exhaust fans, but I'm not sure about the side panel exhaust. It may make the CPU surroundings cooler, or it may not. Most likely it has an adverse effect on the acoustic side of things, however, which may not be worth it if the cooling advantage turns out to be only marginal. You should test it with and without the side fan and see which gives the better results, both for cooling and for noise.

A possible alternative would be to use the side exhaust fan as a bottom intake fan instead. The problem with exhaust fans is that it's hard to figure out where the replacement air is drawn in. Using the side vent for exhaust may well result in majority of the replacement air being drawn in from the back of the case, meaning it will just recycle hot air pushed out by the PSU and CPU coolers.

But you should really experiment and not take my word for it, as I'm no expert in system building let alone in evaluating airflow dynamics.


Ah thanks Exel - that's awesome advice! I've never really played with cooling before, having usually only had cases with 2 fans max. I've also never over clocked so can see this is something I'll really need to experiment with. The great thing about the R2 case is that it's nice and easy to access and change things around without lots of cables getting in the way etc.

Good call on the side exhaust.. One to play with although with the huge heat generated by the GPU it may be necessary to get it to a more acceptable temp. Although I may get a replacement heatsink and fan for my 8800GTX.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2010 7:01 am 
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A big factor with the temps you're seeing with my build is the HD5850, which has an exceptional thermal performance compared to past generations of GPUs.

I've never owned the 8800GTX, but from what I've read you should be fine if the load temps don't exceed 85ºC. Higher operating temps have been reported, and it's apparently generally advised to stay under 95-100ºC. They sound like insanely hot and even unsafe temps, but the card is designed to run hot I hear. Still, it definitely wont hurt if you can keep it running cooler than that. :wink:

One thing to consider if you're not worried about dust getting into your system is to use the side panel vent for air intake. That way it would blow cool air directly to the GPU and would not interfere with the basic rear-exhaust, front-intake airflow dynamic. It still has the same acoustic drawbacks however.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 3:06 am 
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Quick question:

SPCR's review mentions a fairly audible clicking from the stock fans, is it true? Worth replacing them? Or did they just get bad samples?

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 3:12 am 
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rpsgc wrote:
Quick question:

SPCR's review mentions a fairly audible clicking from the stock fans, is it true? Worth replacing them? Or did they just get bad samples?



It's audible if you stick your head closer than 10cm from the vents, but indistinguishable from any further than that. At least on my system, which is not dead-silent anyways due to the GPU cooler.

You can get more silent and higher rpm/CFM 120mm fans than the stock fans, no doubt, but I do find them quieter than for instance the Antec TriCool fans. Despite the clicking they are also quieter than the two Noctua fans I have, however those spin at considerably higher rpm.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 4:08 am 
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Exel wrote:
A big factor with the temps you're seeing with my build is the HD5850, which has an exceptional thermal performance compared to past generations of GPUs.

I've never owned the 8800GTX, but from what I've read you should be fine if the load temps don't exceed 85ºC. Higher operating temps have been reported, and it's apparently generally advised to stay under 95-100ºC. They sound like insanely hot and even unsafe temps, but the card is designed to run hot I hear. Still, it definitely wont hurt if you can keep it running cooler than that. :wink:

One thing to consider if you're not worried about dust getting into your system is to use the side panel vent for air intake. That way it would blow cool air directly to the GPU and would not interfere with the basic rear-exhaust, front-intake airflow dynamic. It still has the same acoustic drawbacks however.


Aha, another excellent tip - thanks Exel. I think your right about the 8800. I remember reading about it being a very hot card but able to handle the temps. Though I saw a good replacement heatsink / fan for it which is said to lower it down to 50c or so which sounds cool. It would also lower the overall case temps which can only benefit the cpu etc. Though the new heatsink would add height to the card and could make placement a little trickier.

I think I'll experiment with the side fan. When I put the sides back on this weekend I'm going to start with the two intakes at the front and then one faster rear exhaust. See how that goes.

The I5-750 is currently around 31c without the sides on so I expect that to go up when they are back on. Just hope I can overclock without too much messing around. I still feel that I could probably get a lower temp on my CPU if I try to reapply the AS 5 to the Hyper 212 Plus. I've never confident that I've done that the best I could...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 6:57 am 
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Let me know how that i5-750 overclocking goes, especially what the temps are before and after.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 04, 2010 7:03 am 
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Exel wrote:
Let me know how that i5-750 overclocking goes, especially what the temps are before and after.


Yeah no probs. Hoping to get up to 3.4 or 3.6ghz.


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 15, 2010 3:04 am 
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The Asus fan turned out to be defective, and I received a replacement Asus DirectCU 5850 today. With the high-pitched rattling of the defective fan gone, and the 120mm case fans easily drowning the new GPU cooler fan at idle, the system as a whole is now very quiet.

It's not totally silent and you can still hear a very mild sound from the fans in a silent environment, eg. at night. Normal daytime ambient noise however drowns that sound close to inaudible.

The biggest source of noise at idle is now the 120mm U12P Noctua fan.


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