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Coolcases-modded Chenbro PC-610 Case

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Coolcases.com is a high performance PC case specialist well-known to many DIY system builders. They offer a wide variety of modifications to cases that are preselected for high quality and performance. Here’s a detailed look at Coolcases‘ modded, upgraded version of the Chenbro PC- 610 case for its suitability as a Silent PC platform.

May 11, 2004 by Ralf
Hutter

Product
Coolcase-modded Chenbro PC-610 Case
Sample Supplier
Coolcases.com
Price
US$135

Chenbro is best known as a large supplier to OEMs in the server/rack mount market. They do have a line of
cases targeted to the consumer market; the recently reviewed Chenbro
Gaming Bomb
is one that should be familiar to SPCR readers. The subject
of this review is the PC-610, an earlier, standard sized, conservatively styled, affordably priced, mid-tower
case — with a twist:
It has been modded by Coolcases.com.

Coolcases.com
is a high performance PC case specialist well-known to many DIY system builders. They offer a wide variety of modifications to cases that are preselected for high quality and performance. This modded, upgraded version of the Chenbro PC- 610 case includes the following changes:

  • Removal of the front 120mm grill
  • Addition of a side 120mm grill
  • Rubber
    molding strips around the resulting holes
  • aluminum mesh intake
    filters for both fan holes
  • Fan mounting grommets at each of the
    three fan mounting locations
  • Premounted three 120mm x 25mm Globe brand Low
    Noise fans
  • Fans are routed through a 4-pot Mitron rheobus
    in one of the two 3.5″ drive bays.

For more details, please visit the Chenbro PC-610 page at Coolcases. Note that Coolcases offers cases (and mods to cases) from Chenbro, Addtronics, Enlight, Lite-On, AMS and Compucase.

This was an eagerly awaited sample, as I have a soft
spot for the Chenbro server cases, especially the SR104
“Genie”
. They are well built, roomy and well ventilated, all features
that I look for in a case. I was really curious about how the desktop-oriented PC-610 compared to a”built like a tank” server case
like the Genie. Especially after Jim Hanson of Coolcases.com
had done his magic.


The simple, basic packing box gives a
clue about it’s contents….


……a simple, basic looking black mid-tower case

PC-610 FEATURES & SPECS FROM CHENBRO

Effective Thermal Dynamics

  • Optional 120mm front and rear cooling
    fans
  • Passes Intel 3.06GHz CPU thermal test

Excellent EMI Solution

  • Optional EMI liner for slot window
  • Optional EMI liner on the edges

Installation and Maintenance Time Saving

  • Easy bezel removal design
  • Detachable internal drive cage
  • Screwless slide rails for 5.25″ and 3.5″
    devices
  • Optional screwless holder for add-on card

Safe Assembly

  • Folded edge for each part
  • Membrane of side cover to avoid scratch

Configuration Flexibility

  • Screw-mounted or rail-mounted for 5.25″
    and 3.5″ devices
  • Optional extra 2-bay or 4-bay HDD cage
  • Rackmountable by tray

Maximum Security

  • Support Kensington lock, and optional
    intrusion switch and Keylock
  • Side cover latch

Optional USB2.0/Audio or USB2.0/Audio/IEEE1394
FP I/O board

Dimension (DxWxH): 18.31″x 7.80″x 16.73″

Drive Bays

  • Exposed 3 x 5.25″
  • Exposed 2 x 3.5″
  • Internal 2 x 3.5″

Switch: Power ON/OFF

LEDs: Power ON& HDD Activity

  • PCI/AGP Slot Opening : 7
  • Front Panel I/O (Option): 2xUSB2.0,2xAudio,
    1xIEEE1394
  • Security Lock: Keylock, intrusion
    switch and kensington lock supported
  • Construction : SECC
  • Net Weight: 8.2 Kg (18.02lbs)

EXTERIOR DETAILS

The front bezel is a fairly thick slab of matt black plastic, sturdier than many plastic bezels that I’ve seen, with plastic covers for the external drive bays. The bezel is well designed, with an easily
depressed power switch, a slightly recessed reset switch, and two green Power
and HDD Activity LEDs. The USB and audio ports are hidden behind
a latching door on the lower right. There is also a covered
socket designed to be used with an optional Firewire port, not included on our review sample.


Front USB 2.0 ports and audio I/O ports
are hidden behind a swinging door.


Intake grills on front bezel. They don’t
look particularly open, but they provide a good balance of airflow and low
noise.


The front bezel pops off very easily just
by lifting two plastic camming tabs located behind the bezel on the left side.


With the bezel removed you can see the
custom 120m fan grill punch, molding and filter. Also note the I/O panel and
4 pot rheobus.


Close up of Coolcases.com’s custom front
grill punch.. Note the nicely finished molding, added
air filter (case comes with no stock filter) and the added O-rings for fan
mounting.


Rear of case showing wide-open fan grills
with Coolcases custom O-ring fan mount. The left side door is fastened with
a tool less, sliding latch and backed up with a key lock.

The back panel fan
grill is very free flowing except for the corners, which seem a bit obtrusive for 120mm fans. It is pre-drilled to accept 80mm, 92mm or 120mm
fans. It was premounted with a 120mm Globe low speed, thermally
adjustable fan. It is fitted with vibration-damping rubber O-rings around the mounting screws. The same type of fans and mounting are also used on the front and side intakes. Also included is the usual generic ATX
I/O shield and 7 AGP/PCI slots with covers. No power supply was included. The right side panel is not removable,
which makes it harder to route/hide cabling, but probably makes the case stiffer
and less resonant.

The left side panel is opened by sliding a locking latch down,
then pushing the door about five-eights of an inch to the rear, and lifting
it up off the bottom track. It is the same type of mechanism as found on the Chenbro
Gaming Bomb
. It probably takes longer to
read this sentence than it does to actually remove the door. The door fits
very nicely into its track, and even though it’s not held in place by any
screws, it fits tightly enough that I heard no rattling from it while the
system was running, even with the side 120mm fan powered up.


The left side panel slides to the rear for removal. Note
the Coolcases 120mm fan punch. Also included is a fan grill and
filter along with a low speed Globe thermally adjustable fan.

The side cover fan position is directly over the AGP
slot, for extra cooling of a hot
video card, or perhaps to replace the stock, noisy videocard fan with
the quieter 120mm intake fan blowing directly onto both sides of the card.

THE INTERIOR


Case interior. Note the Coolcases-supplied
Globe fans and fan wiring job. Included accessories are laying in the bottom
of the case. Note the depth of this case as well. It’s not explicitly mentioned
but it looks like it may well fit an E-ATX board for all you dual-CPU fans!

A typical Chenbro interior similar to the Gaming Bomb includes the green plastic hardware and
the 10 square holes for installing the snap-in motherboard risers. This case has a fixed motherboard tray. The interior is quite roomy for a case
of this size, due, perhaps to the compact size of the drive bays. This makes it easy to install the motherboard. The
absence of a side reinforcing crossbar (found in many Antec cases) also helps.

The fixed right side panel, .030-.035″ thick
steel construction, rolled edges and simple interior design all come together
to make this a very sturdy case, especially for this price range.

The case looks like it is descended from Chenbro’s well-built server cases. The robust
construction of the PC-610 eliminates case resonance as a source of noise, unlike the aluminum cases that have
come through Hutter Labs recently. Steel may not be as sexy, but it’s certainly
an advantage if you’re trying to build a quiet system.

The interior features the three external 5.25″ bays and 2 external 3.5″
bays as well as the removable two bay cage for the internal 3.5″ drives.
The external drives are designed to mount with snap-in rails but the 5.25″
drives can also be secured by screwing them into the left side of the case
using screws that are supplied in the accessory pack.

Note all the room that’s
available behind the front intake fan. You can mount the hard drives in the
supplied cage by screwing them into the (grommetless) cage, or for best quieting, remove the drive cage entirely and suspension
mount
the drive(s) below the fixed drive cages, directly in front of the
cooling airflow provided by the 120mm intake fan. Another option would be
to mount the drive(s) inside a noise-reduction enclosure like the Smart
Drive
. Any of these
methods is easily applied due the large available space.

Directly below the
HDD bays is the green plastic card retention bracket. This rather
quaint feature is designed to support extremely long PCI cards,
rarely seen these days, at least in consumer-oriented cases. Another holdover
from their server cases, perhaps?

On the back panel there are seven card slots adjacent to the green plastic tool-less card retention bracket. This retention
bracket holds the cards in place with a small camming latch for each
individual card. It is also removable and the cards can be screwed to the case in the usual way. I’m old school; I chose
the screw-down method.


Card lock assembly. While it works just
fine, I opted to remove it and screw the cards in the old-fashion way.

Moving upwards we see the standard snap in I/O panel. A generic
version is supplied, but it’s easily removable for replacement with a board-specific version. Adjacent to the I/O
plate is the 120mm Globe fan.

The PSU mounts using the standard ATX pattern mounting holes and sits on
a shelf at the back wall. There’s about 3/4″ of airspace
above the PSU which is handy for hiding any extra PSU wiring. As someone
who takes care to neatly dress the case wiring, this case was a real challenge.
The fixed right side panel and interior design made it much more difficult
than usual. The case is supported by a set of four 1/2″ high hard plastic
snap-in feet.

To sum up, it’s
a sturdy, fairly roomy, small stature case with what appears to be good airflow
characteristics and a nice variety of HDD mounting options. It’s certainly
not a flashy case, but the basic black color and sort of bland appearance
should make it easy to fit into a wide variety of decor.

TEST SYSTEM ASSEMBLY

Setting up a system in the PC-610 was fairly easy thanks to
the roomy case. I wasn’t too thrilled about the folded sheetmetal type of
motherboard standoffs as I’m used to using the threaded brass studs, but they
worked OK so I guess I shouldn’t complain. I had
a difficult time routing the wires and cable.
The fixed right side really puts a crimp on my style and there’s not a lot
of good places to route or hide the wiring inside the case itself. Of course
this is completely trivial to the average builder, but it’s something that
I obsess about.

Both the front and rear case fans were pre-installed by Coolcases, even down to the nice cable routing job. The fans
are plugged into the pre-mounted Mitron rheobus that was included by Coolcases
as an optional extra. The side fan was not screwed into place (probably due
to the potential for shipping damage) but it took just a few seconds to install
it during the build. All fans were decoupled from the case by the O-ring mounting
system that was added by Coolcases.

The drive rail system for the external drives was easy to use
and install and the installation was made even easier because of the very
easy to remove front bezel. All you do is pivot those two cam levers up and
the front bezel pops right off. This is much easier, and more robust than
the typical split plugs or screws that hold most bezels in place. I mounted
a DVD rom drive in the top 5.25″ bay and, being the Luddite that I am,
a floppy drive in the top 3.5″ bay. The included rheobus was pre-installed
in the lower 3.5″ bay.

HDD Decoupling Experiments

As an experiment, I removed cage
from the case and experimented with suspension mounting the drive, hanging
it on 3/16″ bungee cords beneath the 3.5″ drive bays. This did wonders
for the seek noise. It reduced the overall volume of the seeks as well as
making it sound softer and more muffled than when it was solidly mounted.

The drive temp did go up a few degrees with the suspension mount though. However,
it wasn’t anything to worry about because the drive was suspended directly
in front of the 120mm intake fan which provided plenty of cooling airflow
to the drive, even though the fan was running at 6V for the majority of my
testing. HDD idle noise was too low to hear with the case closed, whether solid
or suspension mounted.

The hard drive was easy to install in the removable drive bay.
All you need to do is remove one thumbscrew from the bay and it slides right
out the side. There are no grommets on the drive bay itself to dampen the
noise from the hard drive. Grommet-mounted HDD’s have become standard for me now; I could easily notice the increased seek noise with the “solid mounted” Barracuda IV in this case.
The seeks were a bit louder and “sharper” than I’ve become used
to lately.

The PSU bolted right into place using the typical ATX hole patter
for the bolts. My board-specific I/O shield snapped right into place after
I removed the generic one that was included with the case.

The heatsink of choice, the big Zalman 7000AlCu,
just barely cleared the PSU by about 1/4″. This is not atypical of mid-tower cases, but slightly different positioning of the motherboard mounting holes would have provided a bit more room for big CPU heatsinks.

As mentioned before, I opted to screw mount the AGP and PCI cards, rather than relying on the quick-mount plastic levers.

The front I/O panel included the typical power and reset switches, along with a power LED and
HDD activity LED. All of these hooked up to the board easily and worked
fine. The front I/O also included a pair of
audio in/out jacks and two USB 2.0 ports. My motherboard has no internal audio
headers so I couldn’t hook up the audio I/O wiring but I did connect the two
USB 2.0 headers to my board. The installation was a snap and both channels
worked fine at full USB 2.0 speeds.


Finished. Note how roomy the case is,
even with a full-sized ATX board mounted.

TEST SYSTEM HARDWARE

* Intel 875PBZ motherboard, with BIOS P05.
* Intel P4 2.4C CPU, at stock speed and voltage (1.525v, 66.2 Watts max)
* Zalman 7000AlCu running at 6-7V,
* 2 x 256MB of Mushkin PC3200 Level II RAM running at 400MHz.
* ATI 7500 graphics card, passively cooled.
* 80GB Seagate Barracuda IV hard drive.
* Toshiba SDM116 DVD drive.
* 400W Seasonic Super Silencer, Rev A1 (original super quiet version)
* 2-3 low noise Globe #S1202512L-3M thermally controlled case fans (supplied with case).

Other:
* CPU temperatures read from the internal thermal diode with Motherboard Monitor
5


* Ambient temperature was 21°C
* Idle temps were determined by starting the machine from cold and allowing
the temps to come to a stable point.
* Load temperatures were generated by 30
minutes of two instances of CPUBurn.

TESTING

Now that we’ve got it together, let’s fire it up and listen to it. After all,
that’s what SPCR is all about.

The build process itself was relatively uneventful.
All the hardware fit just like it should into this well-built case.

Fans and Controls – While not as effective
as the softer elastomer-type of fan mounts, the rubber o-rings used to damp mount the fans are easier
to use and seem to do a pretty good job of decoupling the fan vibrations from
being transferred into the case. Of courese, it helps that the case panels
are sturdy.

According to Globe’s
specs
, the 120mm low speed Globe fans fans blow 67CFM at 2000 RPM at 12 volts with
an SPL of 34 dBA. Based on my calibrated ears, I’d say that was right in the
ballpark, but obviously 34 dBA is way too loud for SPCR. Judging by my previous experience with 120mm fans, 67CFM is also well beyond what’s needed to cool this system.

All three fans were set to the lowest voltage via the rheobus. I measured this at 5.8-6 volts with my multimeter.
All the fans started and ran fine at this voltage, but when I experimented
with bypassing the rheobus and hardwiring the fans to 5 volts I discovered
that none of them would start at 5V. I elected to keep them on the rheobus. At 6 volts I was getting around 640-650 RPM
for each fan.

With All Three Fans at 6V – The fan noise, while lower than I expected, was noticeable from a meter away. I
could definitely hear the front and side fans running, even though they were
pleasantly quiet. The noise consisted of a very low hum, a slight amount of
wind noise and a very quiet clicking sound.

Without the Side Fan – Not needing the side fan, I removed it and screwed
a piece of 1/8″ thick rubber on top of the fan filter to close off the
hole. I then tested the case with just the front intake and rear
exhaust fans, both running at 6V. There was a noticeable reduction in the
noise; it was now quiet enough that I could just barely hear it from a meter
away. Idle and load temps actually improved a degree or two. My thinking is that the side fan, while
blowing additional air into the case, was messing up the airflow so that
the cooling effect was less optimal.

Front Fan Off – Next I to shut off the front intake fan to see how much noise
was escaping through the front grill from the front fan. I’ve generally found
that a front fan is unnecessary for a well-ventilated case with good exhaust airflow,
and usually just adds extra noise. With the front fan stopped, the noise was reduced another step, but at the expense of a
few degrees of HDD cooling. Ideally, I’d fit a very quiet 80mm
or 92mm Panaflo L1A running at 5 volts to blow a little cooling air over the
HDD without adding as much noise as the larger 120mm fan. I was not able to
try that easily because the fan grill had been punched to 120mm and
I had no place to mount a smaller fan.

Positive Pressure – My last fan experiment was to increase
the voltage of the front fan to about 9-10 volts to give the case something
closer to positive pressure, sometimes recommended for keeping dust
out of the case. At that setting my idle and load temps
were the same but I didn’t really have positive pressure yet, according to
the calibrated toilet paper anemometer. I cranked the front fan voltage up
to 12 volts and tried again. Now I actually had air blowing out of the small
holes and cracks in the case, signifying positive pressure.
The case and CPU temps actually went up a few degrees. This
result is the same as I’ve found on other well ventilated cases. The positive
pressure may tend to reduce dust buildup, but at the expense of the best airflow
pattern inside the case.

FAN EXPERIMENTS SUMMARY

Temps
.
3 fans
2 fans, no AGP intake
rear exhaust fan only
positive pressure
Idle
Load
Idle
Load
Idle
Load
Idle
Load
Case
27°C
36°C
26°C
35°C
26°C
36°C
28°C
39°C
CPU
28°C
50°C
27°C
47°C
27°C
48°C
30°C
52°C
HDD
33°C
33°C
33°C
33°C
37°C
39°C
34°C
35°C

Overall, I’m pleased with the temperatures in the PC-610. The supplied
Globe fans running at 6 volts are almost as quiet as my reference “OEM”
120mm Panaflos
at 5 volts and seem to move as much air. The temps in the PC-610
using the most optimal fan configuration are basically the same as when this
system is in my reference Antec SLK3700BQE case.

As a final experiment, I replaced the rear Globe fan with my normal OEM Panaflo
to see how this affected the temps and the noise. Running the Panaflo at its
normal 5 volts gave me exactly the same temps and very slightly lower noise than with the Globe fan.
If I also replaced the front 120mm Globe fan with a very quiet
80mm fan I’d still have cool HDD temps and probably
the same noise as in the SLK3700BQE case.

Thermal Fan Speed Control – Sharp eyed readers will recall that the supplied Globe fans
are thermally controlled. So how well does that work?

The fans come with a thermal probe attached at the end of a
14″ long lead. I initially set up the rear
fan with the thermal probe suspended about 1″ above the CPU fan intake.
The speed at 6 volts was around 640 RPM. After running two instances
of CPUBurn, the speed of the thermally
controlled fan did not go up at all even though the case temp increased
about 10°C to around 35°C.

Figuring that this temperature was too far below its
thermal threshold, I moved the thermal probe to the bottom of the Northbridge heatsink. The speed of the fan then increased to a whopping 660 RPM under full load.

So for
plan “C” I wedged the thermal probe right down against
the base of the CPU heatsink itself, also touching the IHS of the CPU.
In this configuration I got an RPM increase of about 80 RPM, to around 720
RPM under full load. This is a little over 10%.
I tried the same thing with the other two fans and got basically the same
results.

I don’t know if the thermal ramping is constrained by the low voltage
because I didn’t try the same experiment with the fans at 12 volts. [Editor’s Note: Mostly likely, the thermal controller was made ineffective by the low voltage.] These
fans are too loud to consider using them at 12 volts in a quiet system so
I figured it didn’t much matter.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS


Finished system: I like it.

One of the stand-out features of the Coolcases Chenbro PC-610 is the noise signature of the
case itself. It’s probably the quietest steel case I’ve ever used. The left
side panel fits nicely and locks down tight so that it doesn’t add any noise
to the case and the thick plastic front bezel is well braced
on the inside. The combination of the fixed right side panel,
low-resonance side and front panels and the short stature of the case seems to reduce
the resonance of the case itself. Its “sound” is a bit quieter
and lower in tone than the SLK3700 series of cases from Antec. This characteristic,
while subtle, becomes more important when you’re trying to wring out that
last little bit of noise from your system.

The case has very good ventilation. The absence of extraneous openings on the front wall helps
channel the airflow from the lower front to the upper rear,
as intended by the ATX specification. The removal of the fan
grills by Coolcases improves the case airflow, too, especially the
front grill. The side cover fan hole would probably help those with a hotter
video card.

I wouldn’t
mind playing with a side cover that has a fan hole directly over the CPU.
That would give me the ability to duct and potentially passively cool the
CPU. This kind of customization is something you can actually request at Coolcases.

The fan controller made it easy to play with various combinations
of fan speeds. It does not appear to add any buzzing or cause the fans to emit extraneous noise; chances are, it is a straight voltage controller, not PWM.

The snap-in mounting rails, while not looking particularly robust, make it
easy to mount the drives and fit well enough to keep the drives from vibrating
much while they’re in use. The removable HDD bay makes it easy to mount
the drives but would probably benefit from grommets to reduce vibration induced noise. The unlatching
cams make it a snap to remove the front bezel without worry
about snapping off mounting tabs.

The fixed right side makes cablegami a pain,
and I’d rather have a smaller front fan mounted on the grill. The neat thing is, you can ask for this kind of custom mod from Coolcases!

Overall, I’m very impressed with the Coolcases / Chenbro PC-610. It lives
up to the Chenbro reputation for well built cases, and confirms the great value-added service provided by Coolcases. All this translates into a
good case with which to build a quiet PC.

PROS

* Solid, non-resonant construction
* Roomy, easy to work in interior
* Low-key, unassuming looks
* 120mm fans
* Excellent case ventilation
* Grommet mounted fans
* Grill punches with included filters
* No included PSU
* Easy to remove front bezel
* Front I/O with audio and USB 2.0 ports
* No front door
* Tool less case design

CONS:

* Fixed right side makes wiring a pain
* No grommets HDD cage adds noise
* No front door
* No manual

Much thanks to Coolcases for this custom Chenbro PC-610 sample.

* * *

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