Quiet ATX Gamer, R5 Version

The new Fractal Design Define R5 arrived in our lab while we were finishing our original Quiet ATX Gaming Build Guide article. Lacking time to do a full case review, we swapped the R5 in place of the R4 to get a practical assessment of the improvements the new case brings. In the process, we managed to drop the full load noise of our Quiet ATX Gamer to under 17 dBA@1m.

Quiet ATX Gamer, R5 Version

The Quiet ATX
Gaming Build Guide
we posted last week was an obvious hit, judging by
the traffic and discussion it provoked. Nice that our work is appreciated, but
no resting on laurels this week.

In the middle of our work on that system, we took delivery of a sample of the
new Fractal Design Define R5, the next generation of the R4 which will
be in the stores in December. A 10-minute examination was enough to convince
us: It is a better case than the R4.

How much better? Usually we answer this kind of question in a series of exacting
tests with a reference system so acoustic and thermal performance can be compared
easily with other competitors. In this case, knowing there wasn’t enough time
to do a complete case review, we decided to do the next best thing. Just swap
it in place of the R4 used in our Quiet ATX Gaming Build and examine the differences.
Quicker, and about as good, killing two birds with one stone: A pretty thorough
silent-slanted review of the R5, and an upgrade to the ATX Gaming PC with a
single component swap.

So here is SPCR’s Quiet ATX Gaming Build, R5 Version. We’ll be referring to
our article on the first version, so hopefully you have read it already, or
have it open in another browser tab.

COMPONENT SELECTION

No other components have been changed, just the case. Here’s the component
list.

SPCR’s Silent Mid-ATX Gaming PC Component List
SPCR Build Components
Street Price
Alternatives
ASUS
STRIX GTX980
$580
MSI GTX 970 Gaming – US$350
Intel
Core i5-4670K
$220
Intel
I5-4440
– US$180
Intel
Core i5-4460

– US$190
Scythe
Kotetsu
$45
Noctua NH-U12S – US$62
Coolermaster
Hyper 212 Plus Universal
– US$33
Scythe Mugen 4

US$50
Be
Quiet! Shadow Rock Slim

– US$50
Silverstone Argon 3

– US$50
Asus
Z97-PRO
$200
ASUS
Z97-P

– US$115
ASUS
Z97-A

– US$140
Kingston
HyperX Genesis 2x4GB 1866MHz DDR3
$100
Kingston
HyperX Savage 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3
– US$80
Samsung
850 Pro 256GB
$170
Crucial
MX100 256GB
– US$110
Kingston
HyperX 3K 240GB
– US$120
Crucial
MX100 512GB
– US$210
Samsung 840 EVO 1TB

– US$400
Seagate
Barracuda 2 TB
$80
Seagate
Barracuda 3 TB

– US$100 (for performance)
Seagate
Desktop 2 TB Solid State Hybrid Drive
(for performance)
Western
Digital Caviar Green 3 TB

– US$105 (for low noise)
WD
Red 3 TB NAS Drive

– US$125 (for low noise, warranty)
Fractal Design Define R5
$120?
Fractal
Design Define R4

– $120
Antec
P280

– $90
Silverstone
Raven RV05

– US$115
Corsair
Obsidian 550D

– US$130
Silverstone
Fortress FT05S

– US$180
be
quiet! Straight Power 10 600W
$120
Corsair
CS 650

– US$95
Corsair
RM 650

– US$110
Seasonic
X-650
– US$120
TOTAL
$1625
Optional
Antec
TrueQuiet 140
$12
Fractal Fan from R5
Retail prices are subject to constant fluctuations.
Please use the shopping links to check on current pricing; don’t rely
on the prices cited in non-linked text.

FRACTAL DESIGN DEFINE R5: A QUICK LOOK

Since this case is the only reason for our update, it deserves at least a quick
run through the key features. You can also check out the official Fractal
Design R5 page
.


Fractal Design Define R5: The most obvious difference from the
R4 is the smooth look of the top panel.
Obviously sectional
parts that can be removed to expose the full length and with of grill
with up to 3 fan mounting points beneath. It looks much nicer than the
exposed fan grills on the top of the R4. But the intake grill along
the front sides of the bezel are also different, more open.


Behind the door, the grill fan intake features much more open slots
than in the R4. This is our biggest quibble about the R4, so the R5
is already batting a thousand.


Even better, the grill and dust filter have been combined into one!



When the door is closed, the space between the dust filter and the
side slots is over a centimeter, which means the R5 will draw in air a
lot more easily, with lower RPM, than the R4.


At first glance, the interior of the R5 is little changed from the
R4.


The biggest difference, internally, is that all the drive cages are
easily removeable, mostly with thumbscrews. This is mainly to support
a wide array of radiators in many configurations for water cooling.


The flip side is slightly roomier and even better organized for wire
management than the R4, with velco straps replacing disposable plastic
zip ties. There are also lock-on trays for two 2.5" SSDs, which
is a nice use of space that might otherwise be wasted.


The fans in the R5 are also different. The new fan has 7 blades instead
of 11, and is rated for 0.25A instead of 0.3A. The geometry of the blades
vs. struts is good, similar to the older fan. Fractal says the new fan
uses a "hydraulic bearing"; it’s not clear whether that’s
a Fluid Dynamic Bearing or yet another variant. Speeds are unspecified,
but generally, a 7-blade fan tends to provide more static pressure than
an 11-blade fan, so this might allow for lower speed.

SYSTEM ASSEMBLY

Assembling the system was very straightforward. The Define R5 is spacious enough,
the cable routing is great, and we already had the CPU cooler mounted on the
motherboard from the first Quiet ATX Gaming rig. Here are photos of the finished
build. As in the original build, the 2TB Seagate HDD was suspension-mounted
in the optical drive bay using the same elastic cord.


Hard to tell it’s any different from the R4 in this pic.


The SSD was mounted behind the motherboard.


One minor change was a piece of closed cell foam to block the intake
vent below the single front fan so that the fan would only draw air
in from outside the case. The filter/grill was put back on afterwards.

TESTING

System Configuration:

  • Intel Core i7-4770K processor – 3.5 GHz (3.9 GHz with Turbo
    Boost), 22nm, 84W, integrated HD 4600 graphics
  • Scythe Kotetsu CPU cooler
  • ASUS Z97-PRO motherboard – Intel Z97 chipset, ATX
  • ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 980 graphics card – 2048 CUDA cores, 1178
    MHz clock (1279 MHz with GPU Boost), 7010 MHz memory
  • Kingston HyperX Genesis memory – 2x4GB, DDR3-1600, C10
  • Kingston HyperX 3K SSD – 240GB, SATA 6 Gbps, 2.5-inch
  • Seagate Desktop SSHD hybrid drive – 2TB, 7200 RPM, 8GB NAND
    Flash, SATA 6 Gbps, 3.5-inch
  • Fractal Design Define R5 case – ATX
  • be quiet! Straight Power 10 power supply – ATX, modular, 600W
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate operating system, 64-bit

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • Media Player
    Classic – Home Cinema
    to play H.264/VC-1 video.
  • TMPGEnc
    Xpress
    video encoder for stress testing.
  • Resident
    Evil 6
    standalone benchmark for stress testing.
  • Prime95 processor
    stress software.
  • FurMark
    openGL GPU stress software.
  • CPU-Z
    to monitor CPU frequency and voltage.
  • GPU-Z to
    monitor GPU temperature, load level, and fan speed.
  • AIDA64 to monitor
    system temperatures and fan speeds.
  • ASUS Fan Xpert 3 to monitor system temperatures and monitor/change
    fan speeds.
  • Extech AC Power Analyzer 380803 AC power meter, used to measure system
    power consumption.
  • PC-based
    spectrum analyzer:
    SpectraPlus with ACO Pacific mic
    and M-Audio digital audio interfaces.
  • Anechoic
    chamber
    with ambient level of 11 dBA or lower

Baseline Noise

Before any stress testing, we examined the noise of each part by leaving the
system on idle, and stopping/unplugging all the other fans (and the hard drive)
to isolate individual components.

GTX 980 + Define ATX System
Component Noise Levels (PSU on idle)
Components
Fan Speed
R4
SPL
R5
SPL
PSU (Baseline)
N/A
11 dBA
11 dBA
HDD
hard-mounted
N/A
14 dBA
14 dBA
GPU fan
740 RPM (min)
16 dBA
16 dBA
CPU fan
340 RPM (min)
11~12 dBA
11~12 dBA
650 RPM (~5V)
12 dBA
12 dBA
900 RPM (~7V)
14~15 dBA
14~15 dBA
1120 RPM (~9V)
19~20 dBA
19~20 dBA
1400 RPM (max)
25 dBA
25 dBA
Case fans
500 RPM (min)
14 dBA
<14 dBA
620 RPM (~7V)
17~18 dBA
15~16 dBA
740 RPM (~9V)
21 dBA
20 dBA
920 RPM (max)
25~26 dBA
24~25 dBA
Mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front of
case. Ambient noise level 10~11 dBA@1m.

A simple fact: The new fans in the R5 are a bit quieter. Holding them up close,
at full speed, the new ones feel like they might have slightly less airflow,
they spin a touch slower, and they have much less buzzing noise. As speed is
reduced, the 1~2 dBA noise advantage holds till the ambient floor of the anechoic
chamber is approached. There’s still an audible difference at 400 RPM, the new
fan sounds smoother, but it can’t be measured any more, the ambient noise begins
to intrude. This is promising.

Stress Testing: CPU-centric

We dispensed with lower power states and conducted only the higher power tests.

System Measurements
System State
Define R4
Define R5
Video Encoding
Prime95x8
Video Encoding
Prime95x8
CPU Fan
340 RPM
650 RPM
340 RPM
650 RPM
CPU
53°C
64°C
53°C
63°C
MB
33°C
33°C
33°C
32°C
SSD
27°C
24°C
32°C
35°C
HDD
33°C
33°C
33°C
32°C
GPU
38°C
38°C
38°C
38°C
SPL@1m
15 dBA
14 dBA
System Power (AC)
106W
131W
106W
131W
System fans at 500 RPM (minimum), GPU fans off (auto).
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

This was an underwhelming result. The main points to note are:

1. The SSD mounted behind the motherboard in the R5 ran hotter: 5°C during
video encoding, and 11°C hotter during maximum CPU load. It’s easy to
see why. The SSD received airflow mounted in the front of the R4, and ran
cooler under the higher load because the CPU cooler fan provided a bit more
peripheral airflow. In contrast, when mounted behind the motherboard, the
SSD is isolated from airflow and affected somewhat only by the temperature
of the CPU. The highest temperature was just 35°C, way below the 70°C
maximum operational limit specified by Kingston.

2. There was a measured 1 dBA difference in noise level but it may be too
small to be clearly audible to everyone.

Stress Testing: GPU-centric

Again, because we’ve already presented data on all the various power states
in the original article with the R4, we go straight to Prime95x2 + FurMark
results. As before, a custom fan profile was used in GPU Tweak to start the
GPU cooler fan at 35% when the GPU reaches 60°C, then 38% fan speed at 85°C,
and finally, 60% at 99°C

System Measurements
Prime95x2 + FurMark
System State
Define R4
Define R5
GPU Fan Speed
990 RPM*
1630 RPM (auto)
950 RPM
1600 RPM (auto)
CPU Temp
63°C
61°C
64°C
61°C
MB Temp
46°C
44°C
47°C
45°C
SSD Temp
26°C
26°C
36°C
36°C
HDD Temp
36°C
36°C
36°C
35°C
GPU Temp
85°C
72°C
87°C
73°C
SPL@1m
18~19 dBA
25 dBA
17 dBA
25 dBA
Power (AC)
291W
290W
291W
290W
*Speed adjusted to keep GPU temperature under 85°C.
CPU fan at 650 RPM, system fans at 500 RPM (minimum).
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

There was a difference in the GPU fan speed according to the monitoring utilities,
but it is probably too small to make any acoustic difference. The GPU ran 2°C
hotter in the R5, and that system also measured upwards of 2 dBA quieter. This
is definitely audible.

When we reverted the GPU fans to default automatic control, the fan speed kicked
up by more than 600 RPM, with almost identical results in both cases: Extra
cooling for the CPU and MB, while the GPU core itself received 13°C of relief.
The noise level increased to 25 dBA, in both cases; any differences in the case
fan levels were swamped by the noise of the GPU fans.

Fan Swap?

We noted that the stock Fractal R4 case fans could be upgraded with quieter
fans. Is it worthwhile to try that with the quieter R5 fans? Let’s compare the
R4 and R5 fans to the Antec TrueQuiet 140 we suggested as an upgrade candidate
before. These are new measurements with each fan soft-mounted by itself outside
the case, with the mic 1m away from the intake side of the fan. (The Antec fan’s
top speed is just under 800 RPM, which is why its 870 RPM box is blank.)

FANS COMPARED
RPM
R4
R5
Antec TQ140
SPL: dBA@1m
870
19.4
17
750
15.6
14
15
500
13.5
12.5
12*
*We measured 11 dBA in our last
140mm fan roundup
, but readings at such low levels are easily affected
by outside noise, which could be higher this time around, and there could
be a sample variance.

This is a revelation. The stock R5 fan is at least as quiet as the Antec TrueQuiet
140, which is one of the quietest we’ve measured. So there’s no benefit at all
to swapping out the R5 fans. They are as quiet any 140mm fans we’ve heard.

An Extra Fan

Since the case fans are actually at a level lower than the dominant sound source
at load, would adding another fan help cooling and perhaps reduce GPU
fan speed/noise without increasing the overall noise of the system? It was worth
trying.


140mm fan from R4 on floor vent to blow air up to the Strix GTX
980.

The first trial was with one of the fans from the R4 mounted on the floor vent
directly below the VGA card, to blow fresh air up to it. The fan speed was kept
at the same 500 RPM as the other two fans. The result was puzzling: There was
perhaps a half dBA rise in noise at idle and no change at maximum load, and
only a tiny reduction in GPU and PCH temperature, just a couple degrees, not
enough even to be out of the margin of measurement error. Is the bottom intake
too impeded by the close proximity of the floor beneath? We didn’t investigate
further.

Moving on to trial 2: This time, the bottom HDD cage was removed, and an Antec TQ140 mounted in the front under the stock intake fan.


Antec TQ140 fan added to front, with HDD cage removed.

Here, we saw a positive result. Temperatures of all the components dropped
by several degrees while overall noise was unchanged. Heartened by this, the
GPU fan profile was changed ever so slightly, down to 37% speed (a drop of 1%)
at 80°C. Only the GPU temperature rose, by just 3°C, but the slight
change in GPU fan speed was enough to drop the overall SPL down a bit as well,
to 16.3 dBA@1m. Now this is a gaming system we can definitely live with!

Define R5 System Measurements
Prime95x2 + FurMark
System State
2 case fans
3 case fans
GPU Fan Speed
950 RPM
950 RPM
900 RPM
CPU Temp
64°C
61°C
61°C
MB Temp
47°C
43°C
43°C
SSD Temp
36°C
36°C
36°C
HDD Temp
36°C
36°C
36°C
GPU Temp
87°C
81°C
84°C
SPL@1m
17 dBA
17 dBA
16.3 dBA
Power (AC)
291W
291W
291W
CPU fan at 650 RPM, case fans at 500 RPM (minimum).
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

CONCLUSIONS

The main change here from last week’s Quiet ATX Gaming Rig is the Fractal Design
Define R5. The new case is a success, better than the R4 in many ways, but from
a purely functional point of the view, the main improvements are improved intake
vents and quieter fans. The ~2 dBA improvement at full load of the R5 setup
over the R4 has to be attributed mostly to the new fans, though undoubtedly,
the improved front venting probably comes into play as well. The final system
SPL of <14 dBA@1m at low load and just 16.3 dBA at maximum load was achieved
by adding a single quiet front fan, and removing all the HDD drive cages so
the airflow from the front fans is completely unimpeded. The end result was
a slight reduction in GPU fan speed, which helped reduce the overall noise,
and slightly cooler temperatures at all the sensor points.

SPCR’s Silent Mid-ATX Gaming PC Component List
SPCR Build Components
Street Price
Alternatives
ASUS
STRIX GTX980
$580
MSI GTX 970 Gaming – US$350
Intel
Core i5-4670K
$220
Intel
I5-4440
– US$180
Intel
Core i5-4460

– US$190
Scythe
Kotetsu
$45
Noctua NH-U12S – US$62
Coolermaster
Hyper 212 Plus Universal
– US$33
Scythe Mugen 4

US$50
Be
Quiet! Shadow Rock Slim

– US$50
Silverstone Argon 3

– US$50
Asus
Z97-PRO
$200
ASUS
Z97-P

– US$115
ASUS
Z97-A

– US$140
Kingston
HyperX Genesis 2x4GB 1866MHz DDR3
$100
Kingston
HyperX Savage 8GB Kit (2x4GB) 1600MHz DDR3
– US$80
Samsung
850 Pro 256GB
$170
Crucial
MX100 256GB
– US$110
Kingston
HyperX 3K 240GB
– US$120
Crucial
MX100 512GB
– US$210
Samsung 840 EVO 1TB

– US$400
Seagate
Barracuda 2 TB
$80
Seagate
Barracuda 3 TB

– US$100 (for performance)
Seagate
Desktop 2 TB Solid State Hybrid Drive
(for performance)
Western
Digital Caviar Green 3 TB

– US$105 (for low noise)
WD
Red 3 TB NAS Drive

– US$125 (for low noise, warranty)
Fractal Design Define R5
$120?
Fractal
Design Define R4

– $120
Antec
P280

– $90
Silverstone
Raven RV05

– US$115
Corsair
Obsidian 550D

– US$130
Silverstone
Fortress FT05S

– US$180
be
quiet! Straight Power 10 600W
$120
Corsair
CS 650

– US$95
Corsair
RM 650

– US$110
Seasonic
X-650
– US$120
TOTAL
$1625
Optional
Antec
TrueQuiet 140
$12
Fractal Fan from R5
Retail prices are subject to constant fluctuations.
Please use the shopping links to check on current pricing; don’t rely
on the prices cited in non-linked text.

Again, we have to laud nVIDIA for its improvements in GPU power efficiency
which makes the semi-passive cooling in the ASUS Strix GTX 980 possible. This
build would be a lot more complex and expensive without the GTX 980 and the
ASUS Strix cooler.

The total cost of our build should be unchanged, because the R5 case is apparently
going to be selling for about the same price as the R4, though we have not received
official word from Fractal. The gaming system we present here is hard to beat
for performance or noise, however, unless you throw a lot more money
at the build. Choose some of the more value-conscious alternatives suggested,
like the GTX 970, and you can reduce the cost by about US$400 while still maintaining
a high quality gaming experience.

Many thanks to Intel,
ASUS, Kingston,
Seagate
, Scythe,
Fractal Design,
and be quiet! for
sponsoring the components in this build guide.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Quiet ATX Gaming
Build Guide

ASUS Z97-PRO LGA1150 Motherboard
Crucial MX100 512GB
& Samsung 850 Pro 256GB SSDs

Silent Mid Gaming PC Build Guide

Recommended Power Supplies
Recommended
Hard Drives

Case
Basics & Recommendations

Recommended Heatsinks

* * *

Discuss
this article in the SPCR Forums.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *