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Chenbro SR30169 Mini-ITX Server Chassis

The Chenbro SR30169 is a sturdy SOHO server case with four hot-swap 3.5 inch drive bays accessible behind a front mesh door, ATX power supply, and a convenient modular design.

November 26, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Chenbro
SR30169
Mini-ITX Server Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$150

Chenbro is not a household name but has been a veteran of the PC case industry
since the ’80s. The Taiwanese company is a large OEM manufacturer and produces
a variety of enclosures of all shapes and sizes for other companies as well
as the general public. They focus on rackmount, server, and workstation cases
and accessories. Recently they sent us the SR30169, a US$150 mini-ITX
SOHO (small office / small home) server case for evaluation.

Specifications: Chenbro SR30169
(from the
product web page
)
Order Code SR30169T2-250
Description Compact server chassis for SOHO & SMB office
M/B Form Factor Mini-ITX
Processor Intel / AMD UP Quad
Support Backplane 6Gb/s SATA
Security Padlock Loop
Intrusion Switch Support
Kensington Slot
Chassis Dimension
(D x W x H)
31 x 20 x 27 cm / 12.2
x 7.78 x 10.63″ (16.7 liters volume)
Power Supply Form: Factor PS2
Watt: 250W
Redundancy: N/A
Drive Bay Hot-Swap 3.5″: 4
Internal 2.5″: 2
Generality Metal Material: SGCC
Metal Thickness: 0.8mm
Plastic Material: Type Hi-PS
Expansion Slots LP: 1
System Cooling Middle: 1 x 120mm (T=25mm), PWM
Slide Rail N/A
Front Panel Front Control: Power On/Off, System Reset
Indicator: Power, HDD Activity, Fault LEDs
Ports: USB 2.0 x 2
Shipping Information* Net Weight: 5.2kg
Gross Weight: 7kg
Cubic Feet: 1.85
* Actual weight varies by configuration and manufacturing process.
* The specification and pictures are subject to change without notice.

The SR30169 provides a platform for users to build a custom server alternative
with more versatility and power than a typical mid-range NAS box. As it uses
standard PC components, it is significantly larger than a pre-built NAS with
similar capacity, though as far as mini-ITX cases go, it falls somewhere in
the middle. It’s equipped with four hot-swappable 3.5 inch drive caddies that
connect to a SATA 6 Gbps backplate, two internal 2.5 inch bays, and a full-sized
250W ATX power supply. It also has some security features including a lock for
the door covering the drive bays, an intrusion switch, a Kensington security
slot, and a padlock loop. The Chenbro SR30169 does not have many competitors;
among the many cases we’ve tested over the years, we can pick out only two of
similar size with as much or more HDD bays.


Packaging.


Accessories.

Chenbro’s cases typically lack the pizzazz of more consumer-oriented models and the SR30169 is no exception. It ships in a well-padded but plain cardboard box. Included with the chassis are some basic accessories: an AC power cord, keys, and screws to mount the motherboard and drives. Aesthetically, the case itself doesn’t really standout but that’s not really a key ingredient for a small server as they’re usually tucked away, out of sight.

EXTERIOR & INTERIOR

The Chenbro SR30169 measures 31.0 x 20.0 x 27.0 cm or 12.2 x 7.8 x 10.6 inches (D x W x H), giving it a total volume of 16.7 liters. It’s built in an e OEM style, with emphasis on functionality and longevity. It’s a well-crafted box with a solid steel frame and side panels and a thick plastic front bezel and door.


The door opens up from the left side and can be locked to restrict access to the hot-swap bays, power switch, and front USB 2.0 ports. While the case ships with a 120 mm fan, it strangely isn’t secured to the large vent below the drive trays. It’s actually placed on its side, directly underneath the drive cage.


The drive caddies themselves are nothing special, par for the course for this of enclosure. The latches are ventilated but they’re severely restrictive once they’re populated.


A section at the top/rear of the case acts as the exhaust port for the SR30169’s vertically-mounted power supply. It ships with a standard ATX unit that is of the non-switching variety, supporting 110V power only. The rest of the back is blocked off except for the I/O shield and a low profile expansion bracket.


The well-built side panels are reasonably thick and have very little flex. The fit is incredibly snug as the catches are spaced closely together. They’re also thicker than usual, so they’re less likely to bend out of alignment.


The interior layout is for lack of a better word, unusual. The one included fan is oriented horizontally, pulling air from drive cages and pushing it down over the motherboard via a plastic duct. Hot air rises but evidently Chenbro didn’t get that memo. The power supply sits above the motherboard with its intake fan facing the drives. On the left side, near the front of the case, is a brass chassis intrusion switch.


Chenbro lists the PSU as a 250W unit, though the label is labelled “300” and warns that the total combined power should not exceed 237W. Either way, it’ more than enough juice for most server configurations. More troubling is its lack of active PFC. This is obviously not a high quality unit.


The power supply is attached to a support frame that directs exhaust out the back. It also facilitates a short power cable extension so it can be plugged in from the rear.

INTERIOR (Con’t) & ASSEMBLY

The SR30169 has a modular design that makes assembly and service a snap. Every component attached to the chassis frame can be detached with ease, at most requiring the removal of a few screws.


The front bezel pops off without any tools, secured only with plastic latches on the interior of the case.


With the bezel removed, the drive cage can be taken out via four screws. Up to four SATA drives can be connected, powered by a pair of 4-pin molex connectors. The backplane is the case’s killer feature but it comes at a cost. The circuit board impedes airflow greatly, as it does in most other multi-bay NAS boxes and external enclosures.


The stock 120 mm system fan is an AVC PWM model with ball bearings. A blue plastic clip is used to attach it to the drive cage and duct is equipped with a clip as well to secure it to the fan. The arrangement is not entirely tight and we found during testing that bracing this assembly created a slight improvement in acoustics.


On each side of the drive cage is a metal tray for housing a single 2.5 inch drive.


A closer look on the inside of the drive caddy reveals a fairly open metal grid at the front. Care has been taken to maximize what little airflow can be pulled in from the front of the case, but it’s likely a futile effort.


Our test system fully assembled with the green arrows indicating the unusual intended path of system airflow. There was about 42 mm of space between our Noctua NH-L9i CPU cooler and the power supply, making the total heatsink clearance 79 mm.


The blue lightling accentuates the silver mesh front, though the power LED out front is a tad blinding.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures were recorded with RealTemp, SpeedFan, and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using Prime95 (small FFT setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. Power consumption and noise levels were also measured.

Power Supply Testing

We begin our noise analysis of the case with the stock power supply unit being subjected to a condensed version of our standard power supply testing procedures to get a broad idea of its efficiency and environmental characteristics.

Chenbro AcBel CE2 300 Condensed Test Results

DC Output (W)

AC Input
(W)
Heat loss
(W)

Efficiency %
Power Factor
Exhaust
SPL* (dBA@1m)
21.5
36
14.5
59.6
0.95
24°C
13.5
40.4
58
17.6
69.7
0.98
25°C
13.5
65.5
87
21.5
75.3
0.99
29°C
13.5
89.7
117
27.3
76.7
1.00
32°C
13.5
150.0
192
42.0
78.1
1.00
35°C
13.5
+12V Ripple: <20mV
+5V & +3.3V Ripple: <16mV
AC Power in Standby: 0.6W
AC Power with No Load, PSU power On: 8.6W / 0.42PF
Ambient: 11 dBA, 21°C

The retail units we typically review are 80 Plus certified, often Gold or Platinum,
so the relative inefficiency of the stock PSU is glaring, failing to reach 80%
efficiency at 150W DC load, which is more than a small mini-ITX server would
usually pull. It’s not all bad though as the AC ripple was low and at no point
did the fan ramp up during testing. The PSU produced a very low 13.5 dBA@1m,
easily drowned out by just about any kind of noise source you’d find in a modern
PC.

Baseline Noise

Stock Fan Noise Level
(SPCR Mini-ITX test configuration, Idle)
Fan Speed
SPL @1m
Off
18~19 dBA
500 RPM
19 dBA
800 RPM
20~21 dBA
1100 RPM
25 dBA
1400 RPM
31 dBA
CPU fan set to 1500 RPM.
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

Together, with the rest of the noise generating components from our test configuration, a Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB hard drive, and a Noctua 92 mm CPU fan running at a fairly low setting (1500 RPM or about 6V), the system emitted a noise level of 18~19 dBA@1m. The system fan, at its minimum PWM-controllable speed of 500 RPM wasn’t audible with this combination, barely contributing to the measured noise level. At full speed though, the fan is perfectly capable of drowning out everything, pushing the overall noise level to 31 dBA@1m.

The fan doesn’t have the best acoustic properties but its surroundings help hide its negative qualities. It’s buried inside the case, cordoned off from the front vent below it by a duct, and the area above it is blocked off by hard drive trays. At lower speeds it produces a gentle hum that slowly develops into a buzz above ~1000 RPM. At top speed, it generates a high-pitched drone. If the fan is kept below 1000 RPM, it’s difficult to detect these flaws unless the other system components are very quiet and/or the side panel is taken off.

TEST RESULTS

System Measurements
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
CPU Fan
1500 RPM
2400 RPM (max)
System Fan
500 RPM
800 RPM
1100 RPM
CPU Temp
34°C
78°C
75°C
78°C
PCH Temp
36°C
55°C
55°C
53°C
HD Temp
42°C
43°C
47°C
46°C
System Power (AC)
43W
114W
113W
119W
SPL@1m
19 dBA
28 dBA
28 dBA
29 dBA
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

Sitting idle with the CPU and system fan at 1500 and 500 RPM respectively, the system was comfortably cool with the CPU and PCH temperatures in the mid ’30s. The hard drive stabilized at a warm 42°C which is a little high for this system configuration. The overall noise produced by the machine was low, measuring 19 dBA@1m.

Despite only using a 65W processor, the load test overwhelmed the Noctua NH-L9i
cooler, forcing us to run it at full speed to keep the CPU temperature below
80°C and causing the overall noise level to jump by 9 dB. The PCH heated
up by almost 20°C due to a combination of the lack of airflow from the system
fan and the relatively inefficient power supply not ramping up its fan.

Pushing the system fan to 800 RPM provided 3°C of relief to the CPU with no measurable added noise, but this strangely made the hard drive heat up. Moving to 1100 RPM generated odd results as well, cooling down the board by a couple of degrees but reversing the previous improvement to CPU cooling. After a certain point the flow of the system fan starts to interfere with the CPU cooler.

At idle with low CPU and system fan speeds, the system’s acoustic character was relatively quiet and inoffensive. On load, the CPU fan became the main noise generator, drowning out all the other components. The 92 mm CPU fan running at top speed made the machine fairly noisy and the pitch was higher and somewhat grating.

Test Drive Noise Summary
Drive
Vibration
1-10 (10 = no vibration)

Idle Airborne Acoustics @1m
Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
7~8
17 dBA
Samsung F3 EcoGreen 2TB
7
15~16 dBA
WD Caviar SE16 320GB
6
18~19 dBA
WD Red 3TB
9
13~14 dBA

The main draw of the SR30169 is its ability to hot-swap up to four hard drives,
so we would be remiss not to test it with all the bays populated. For this purpose,
we selected a group of hard drives similar to those used in a test of the Lian
Li PC-Q18
, a slightly larger (21 vs. 16.7 litres) mini-ITX case reviewed
last year that has four side-mounted, internal hot-swap bays and room
for two more 3.5″ drives on a bottom tray. Though it was tested with a
much better power supply and a more powerful CPU and cooler, it’s the closest
analog among the cases we’ve tested. (The earlier Lian
Li PC-Q08
is quite similar to the PC-Q18, but lacks the newer model’s
multiple hot swap bays.)

System Measurements: Comparison (Idle)
Case
Chenbro SR30169*
Lian Li PC-Q18**
System Fan Speed(s)
500 RPM
5V
Drive Count
One
Four
One
Four
CPU Temp
34°C
39°C
24°C
SB Temp
36°C
37°C
29°C
HD #1 Temp
42°C
42°C
35°C
HD #2 Temp
N/A
35°C
35°C
HD #3 Temp
37°C
30°C
HD #4 Temp
33°C
36°C
System Power (AC)
43W
60W
54W
SPL@1m
19 dBA
23 dBA
19 dBA
21~22 dBA
Ambient temperature: 21°C.
*Relevant configuration differences: Core i5-3470S, Noctua NH-L9i at 2400
RPM, AcBel CE2 300.
**Relevant configuration differences: Core i5-2500K, Scythe Big Shuriken 2 at 1100 RPM, Cooler Master Silent Pro M700W

The PC-Q18 is equipped with two fans and has a better airflow scheme so it’s
no surprise it held a significant cooling advantage over the SR30169. Of course,
the fact that we used a superior CPU cooler makes it an unfair comparison. In
retrospect, we could have squeezed a Scythe Big Shuriken 2 heatsink into the
Chenbro (with perhaps 1cm to spare), which would have closed the cooling gap
between the two cases. Also, perhaps because the drives are buried further inside
the PC-Q18, rather than being near the mesh front door of the Chenbro, the latter
got slightly noiser with more drives.

That being said, the SR30169’s drive cage seems to be more secure, as evidenced
by an almost complete lack of vibration passed from the drives to the case.
Like most Lian Li cases, the PC-Q18’s drive bays are arranged somewhat loosely
and when its bays were filled, the machine produced some audible hum. With the
Chenbro case, we could not detect anything by ear, and only slight vibration
was noticed through touch.

The extra noise put out by the additional drives was mostly innocuous so they
didn’t effect the overall quality of the noise. The one exception was the WD
SE16 320GB, an older 7200 RPM drive which emitted a high pitch squeal at ~3.5
KHz.

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

The Chenbro SR30169 offers pretty much everything one would want in a small
server case including four hot-swappable bays, door lock, chassis intrusion
detector, and modular design that makes upkeep painless. It’s also very sturdy,
especially the drive cage and trays, which inhibit vibration better than most
retail cases. And while it’s not designed with aesthetics in mind, it’s far
from ugly. The silver mesh front is handsome against the black background, especially
in the dark when its illuminated by the blue hard drive LEDs.

On the down side, the awkward internal layout is strong evidence that cooling
was not a priority in the SR30169 design. The main intake is severely restricted,
especially when all the drive bays are in use, and the way airflow is directed
is convoluted and ineffective. On heavy load, it has difficulty dealing with
CPU heat, but then most small server CPUs aren’t subject to that much stress.
The power supply isn’t the best choice for the 24-7 operation of a server as
its efficiency is poor compared to most retail models. However, for a bundled
PSU, it’s hard to complain too much. It provides enough power and produces very
little noise.

One obvious way to improve both efficiency and cooling is to replace the stock
PSU with a picoPSU
and external power brick
of appropriate rating. This would allow, in one
fell swoop, the use of a much larger, more efficient CPU heatsink/fan, including
12cm fan towers, and far higher energy efficiency.

The closest match among all the other mini-ITX cases we’ve reviewed is the
Lian
Li PC-Q18
, which has four internal 3.5″ hot-swap bays and room
for two more drives elsewhere. It’s a bit of a tossup between the sturdy Chenbro
and the Lian Li, which is slicker, especially inside. The PC-Q18 sells for $130~150
without a PSU.

The Chenbro SR30169 is a prototypical OEM case, which is mostly a good thing
when it comes to small server enclosures. It does away with all the unnecessary
bells and whistles found on typical consumer mini-ITX cases, putting all the
emphasis on the important things. It’s well built, functional, and easy to assemble.
The power supply is rather basic but it gets the job done quietly. The SR30169
is selling for about US$150, a reasonable price for those who would rather
try their hand at a DIY small server rather than a splurge on a pre-built NAS
solution.

Our thanks to Chenbro
for the SR30169 case sample.

* * *

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SilverStone Grandia GD07 & GD08 Media Center Cases
Fractal Design Node 605 HTPC Style Case
SilverStone Sugo SG09: SFF microATX Case
Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX Case
Lian Li PC-Q18: The Perfect Mini Server Case?

* * *

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