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Silverstone Fortress FT03 mATX Tower: Redux

The SilverStone Fortress FT03 microATX tower is put through the wringer a second time to see how the case performs with a tower heatsink (Noctua NH-U12P) vs. a top-downer (Noctua NH-C12P).

Silverstone Fortress FT03 Tower: Redux

May 7, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
SilverStone Fortress FT03
microATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$160

When the SilverStone Fortress FT03 microATX tower first arrived at our door we were giddy with excitement. It was something different, a departure from the typical towers and cube-style cases we’ve seen over and over again. Not only did it have a unique look, its basic design seemed solid, building off the rotated motherboard orientation made famous by the Raven series and the Fortress FT02.


The Fortress FT03.

However, after hands on experience taking it apart, assembling a system inside, and testing it, we were met with disappointment. Though the idea behind the FT03 was sound, the end product had a variety of problems both minor and major with regard to fit and finish which were shocking to see in a SilverStone chassis. To make matters worse, the thermal and acoustic performance was nothing to write home about. Ultimately we concluded that the case’s main strengths were its shape and what could be fit inside. It had enough CPU heatsink and graphics card clearance to rival traditional microATX and full-sized ATX towers, but its small footprint made it more versatile.

Looking back, we felt that perhaps due diligence wasn’t quite done on our part, at least when it came to the actual testing of the case. For consistency, a Noctua NH-C12P top-down cooler was part of our original system configuration, the same heatsink we used previously in our Lian Li PC-V354 microATX case review (the NH-C12P was the best 12 cm fan cooler that would fit). Given that one of the FT03’s main selling points is its CPU cooler clearance, a tall tower heatsink would’ve been a better choice, particularly as the airflow in the case is designed to flow from the bottom to the top and a tower would’ve fit right in with that scheme. With that in mind, we decided to re-test the FT03 using the NH-C12P’s side-blowing, tower cousin, the NH-U12P, to see how much a difference this would make. For full details on the case including layout and assembly, please read our original FT03 review.


Our original test configuration with a Noctua NH-C12P heatsink and an Asus EAH6850 DirectCU graphics card.

With the Noctua NH-U12P, the center fan pressed right up against the heatsink so we had to place the CPU fan on the opposite side. This gave it a partial push-pull configuration.

Due to the angle of the frame holding it, the fan actually made contact with the cooler, forcing the corner of one of the fins upward. The NH-U12P measures 71 mm deep, so anything larger won’t fit without removing the center fan.

Test configuration with a Noctua NH-U12P heatsink and an Asus EAH6850 DirectCU graphics card.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using Prime95 (large FFTs setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility.

Baseline Noise


The top exhaust fan.

The Fortress FT03 ships with three identical 120 mm fans, one at the top as an exhaust, one at the center blowing at an angle over the motherboard and CPU, and one at the bottom acting as an intake. They are Globe fans with the model number S1202512ELN-3M which is rated for 1200 RPM and 0.18A.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan
SPL @1m
12V
9V
7V
5V
Top
26~27 dBA
22~23 dBA
17~18 dBA
14 dBA
Center
26~27 dBA
23 dBA
19 dBA
16 dBA
Bottom
25 dBA
19~20 dBA
15 dBA
12~13 dBA
Combined
31 dBA
26 dBA
21 dBA
16~17 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

Combined, the fans produce a fairly smooth noise character, but at 7V and below, the decreased airflow turbulence noise stops masking the low pitched hum caused primarily the center fan. This hum is clearly audible at one meter distance. The overall noise output can be considered SPCR quiet at 5V and below.

TEST RESULTS: Radeon HD 5450

Our first test configuration features a low power passively cooled graphics card, a Radeon HD 5450. Our test configuration only gives us temperature data on the CPU and hard drive(s), so the HD 5450 gives us an extra data point from a different location within the case.

Radeon HD 5450 Configuration:
System Measurements (Load)
CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-C12P
Noctua NH-U12P
System Fan Speeds
off
5V
off
5V
CPU Temp
74°C
61°C
67°C
56°C
HD Temp
36°C
36°C
36°C
36°C
GPU Temp
83°C
69°C
76°C
68°C
SPL@1m
18 dBA
20 dBA
18 dBA
20 dBA
System Power
154W
150W
152W
149W
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

In our Radeon HD 5450 test system, the NH-U12P delivered a sizable thermal improvement compared to the NH-C12P. This was particularly evident when the system fans were disabled and airflow limited, with the CPU and GPU temperatures both lowering by 7°C. With the system fans set to just 5V, the CPU received a 5°C reprieve while the GPU’s cooling advantage was barely existent.

Radeon HD 5450 Configuration: Comparison (Load)
Case
Silverstone Fortress FT03
Lian Li PC-V354
CPU Heatsink
NH-C12P
NH-U12P
NH-C12P
System Fan Speeds
5V
5V
6V
CPU Temp
61°C
56°C
56°C
HD Temp
36°C
36°C
28°C
GPU Temp
69°C
68°C
65°C
SPL@1m
20 dBA
20 dBA
18 dBA
System Power
150W
149W
157W
Ambient temperature: 22°C
(results adjusted accordingly)
PC-V354 equipped with a Cooler Master M700 power supply, FT03 with a Seasonic X-650.

Now the FT03 results are much closer to that of the Lian Li PC-V354, though the smaller cube-like case still has a thermal and acoustic edge as the FT03 lacks direct hard drive cooling, and its center fan bracket is secured poorly creating more noise.

TEST RESULTS: Asus EAH6850 DirectCU

To simulate a more demanding, gaming type of system, our second test configuration uses an HD 6850 graphics card from Asus. The 6850 uses about 100W more than the 5450, creating a hotter, more stressful environment.

Asus EAH6850 DirectCU Configuration:
System Measurements (Load)
CPU Heatsink
Noctua NH-C12P
Noctua NH-U12P
System Fan Speeds
5V
7V
5V
7V
GPU Fan Speed*
2430 RPM
1790 RPM
2430 RPM
1790 RPM
CPU Temp
68°C
62°C
62°C
58°C
HD Temp
36°C
35°C
35°C
35°C
GPU Temp
90°C
89°C
90°C
89°C
GPU VRM Temp
94°C
89°C
88°C
88°C
SPL@1m
26~27 dBA
25 dBA
26~27 dBA
25 dBA
System Power
265W
264W
263W
261W
*manually adjusted
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

In our Radeon HD 6850 test system, the NH-U12P performed better than the NH-C12P, but to a lesser degree than our HD 5450 configuration. CPU cooling was the main difference with the NH-U12P holding a 6°C advantage with the system fans at 5V, and a 4°C lead at 7V. The GPU core temperature wasn’t affected at all, while the GPU VRM saw an improvement, but only with the system fans at 5V. It seems that a moderately powerful graphics card with an active cooler doesn’t benefit much from the use of a tower CPU cooler in the FT03.

Asus EAH6850 DirectCU Configuration:
Comparison (Load)
Case
Silverstone Fortress FT03
Lian Li PC-V354
CPU Heatsink
NH-C12P
NH-U12P
NH-C12P
System Fan Speeds
7V
7V
9V (one front fan moved to rear)
GPU Fan Speed
1790 RPM
1790 RPM
1740 RPM
CPU Temp
62°C
58°C
60°C
HD Temp
35°C
35°C
26°C
GPU Temp
89°C
89°C
89°C
GPU VRM Temp
89°C
88°C
76°C
SPL@1m
25 dBA
25 dBA
26 dBA
System Power
264W
261W
274W
Ambient temperature: 22°C
(results adjusted accordingly)
PC-V354 equipped with a Cooler Master M700 power supply, FT03 with a Seasonic X-650.

The 4°C improvement in CPU temperature provided by the NH-U12P makes the FT03 a more legitimate challenger to the Lian Li PC-V354 using a NH-C12P. With both systems holding a GPU temperature of 89°C, the FT03 boasts a lower CPU temperature and noise level, while the PC-V354 has a big edge in hard drive and GPU VRM cooling. The Lian Li case seems to more well-rounded with enough airflow to go around for all its components.


FINAL THOUGHTS

In our initial review of the FT03 we mentioned that one really has to take advantage of everything it had to offer to get full value out of the case. This includes the use of a tall, tower heatsink to complement the included stock case fans, something we neglected to do the first time around. Swapping the Noctua NH-C12P with a NH-U12P resulted in moderately lower CPU temperatures, bringing its overall thermal performance closer to that of more traditional high-end microATX cases like the Lian Li PC-V354.

However this change didn’t provide any additional cooling to the rest of the system except when all the stock fans were turned off. Using a tower heatsink meant that the CPU fan blew in the same general direction as the included case fans, but it didn’t help cool down the other portions of the machine. In addition, there was slight interference between the center fan and the NH-U12P, so anything thicker would require the fan mount to be removed (it’s probably best to do so regardless and add a second fan to the heatsink proper, if possible).

Performance aside, our overall impression of the SilverStone Fortress FT03 remains mostly unchanged. We echo the criticisms we noted in our first review, which can be summed up as a lack of attention to detail. The side panels don’t quite fit right, there are vibration issues, the optical drive is in an odd place, the hot swap hard drive bay is awkward to use, and the center fan mount does more bad than good. We also give it credit for allowing users to assemble a powerful system while occupying a very small footprint, but note that it is essentially a novelty case if you outfit it with anything less.

Our thanks to SilverStone for the Fortress FT03 case sample.

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Lian Li PC-V354 MicroATX Mini Tower Case

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