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Silverstone Fortress FT03 microATX Tower

The SilverStone Fortress FT03 attempts to duplicate the success of the rotated motherboard layout of the Fortress FT02 and Raven series, this time in an unusual square cross-section microATX tower.

April 6, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

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

SilverStone gave us the well-received Raven RV01/02 and Fortress FT02 cases featuring a rotated motherboard design to take advantage of natural convection and the blower exhaust coolers on many graphics cards. Part of their success was due to sheer size, deep enough to hold multiple 18 cm intake fans blowing outside air over the system components. Ironically, the smaller Fortress FT03 is a more ambitious offering, as it tries to duplicate SilverStone’s previous success with the rotated motherboard design, but this time in a more cramped microATX format.


The box.

The FT03 footprint is impressively small for a microATX case, just 0.72 square feet, but it stands 19.2″ tall, like many ATX towers. Despite the height, it is not a server case that can hold a plethora of hard drives. With room enough for large tower CPU coolers and the longest modern graphics cards, this is an enthusiast offering.


The Fortress FT03.

Like many of SilverStone’s cases, the FT03 is available in both black and silver and boasts all-aluminum construction giving it a sturdy but snazzy futuristic look. This facade is somewhat spoiled by the white plastic covers on the top and left side. They did to keep the sides of the FT03 as uniform as possible with no holes for cables, ports, etc. (all cables being routed either through the top or bottom of the case). There is no eject button for the optical drive bay, just a slit to allow the use of a slot loading drive. Overall, it looks a bit Apple-istic.


Accessories.

Included with the FT03 are a paper manual, a triple headed 3-pin to molex fan adapter (the case ships with three 3-pin fans pre-installed), screws, plastic ties, and a 2.5″ drive adapter.

Specifications: Fortress FT03
(from the
product web page
)
Model No. SST-FT03B (black)
SST-FT03S (silver)
Material Aluminum outer shell, steel body
Motherboard Micro ATX, Mini-DTX, Mini-ITX
Drive Bay External Slot loading slim optical drive x 1
Internal 3.5″ x 3 * , 2.5″ x1
Cooling System Top 1 x 120mm exhaust fan, 1200rpm, 22dBA
1 x 92/80mm optional fan
Bottom 2 x 120mm intake fans, 1200rpm 22dBA
2 x 80mm optional fan slots
Hard Drive Top Aluminum side panel heat conduction
Expansion Slot 4
Front I/O Port USB 3.0 x 2 (backwards compatible with USB 2.0)
audio x 1
MIC x 1
Power Supply Standard PS2 (ATX)
Expansion Card Compatible up to 13.77” long
Limitation of CPU cooler 167mm
Limitation of PSU up to 180mm deep
Net Weight 6.7kg
Dimension 235mm(W)x487mm(H)x284mm(D)

EXTERIOR

The FT03 weighs 6.7 kg or 14.7 lb and measures 23.5 x 48.7 x 28.4 cm or 9.3 x 19.2 x 11.2″ (W x H x D) making the total case volume approximately 32.5 L. It has a very small footprint but is taller than any mATX tower.


As the motherboard is rotated by 90 degrees, the exhaust fan, I/O shield and most of the cables are located at the top of the case, which is covered with a white plastic grate. This is the most unflattering angle as it could easily be mistaken for a milk crate.

 


Front audio and USB 3.0 ports are offered, but like most cases, it uses external USB cables rather than internal headers. There’s a lever on the right side that for a hotswappable a 3.5″ SATA hard drive, but it is difficult to open as there is nothing jutting out to grab on to.

 

All All cabling is routed through the top, except for the AC power cord which plugs in from underneath. An internal power cable connects it to the power supply with a plastic grill on the side providing access.

 


The power supply is situated on the case floor next to an angled 120 mm intake fan. Two more 80 mm fans can be used if the 120 mm fan has to be removed to accommodate a long graphics card. A plastic filter covers the bottom, but is easily dislodged due to the weak magnets used to secure it. Brushing your hand up against it when picking up the case is enough to knock it off completely.

 


The aluminum side panels are removed by simply lifting and pulling them away from the rest of the chassis. A large block of aluminum on the right side makes contact with the hard drive in hotswap bay. It seems overkill to provide extra cooling for a temporary storage device.

 


The fit of the side panels is far from perfect, with noticeable gaps.

 


The front panel is attached with rubber tabs. It pulls apart with little effort.

INTERIOR

The FT03’s layout places the power supply at the bottom under a slim slot-loading optical drive bay. There are 120 mm intake fans beside the PSU and at the edge of the motherboard tray blowing upward. A third 120 mm fan on the top panel next to the I/O shield acts as an exhaust.


Because the case is narrow, the 120 mm intake fans are placed at angles in order to fit. There is an option for a 80 or 92 mm fan over the expansion cards as well. The optical drive bay is located underneath the center fan, an odd location as the FT03’s small footprint and height make it better suited for the floor than atop a desk.

 


The center fan lacks structural support, just dangling off on one side of its metal frame.

 


The interior with the case on its side and intake fans removed.

 


While the tower is very tall, it doesn’t hold many hard drives, just three underneath the motherboard tray if you include the hotswap bay at the top. On the bright side, as 3.5″ hard drives are rather thick, so there is plenty of space for cabling.

 


The cover for the hotswap swings outward to accept a 3.5″ SATA drive.

 


One has to steady a drive’s descent or risk damaging the internal connector at the bottom when the case is standing upright. It’s also difficult to pull the drive out as the lever requires a fair bit of force to free the drive and it isn’t particularly sturdy. Slim drives (e.g. single platter models) are not recommended for obvious reasons.

ASSEMBLY

Assembling a system in the Fortress FT03 requires the removal of the center fan bracket, but other than that it is a straight forward affair despite the odd layout. Our test configuration features an Intel Core i5-750 processor cooled by a Noctua NH-C12P heatsink, a Samsung EcoGreen F3 2TB hard drive, and two different graphics cards, a Radeon HD 5450 and HD 6850.


Our Coolermaster Silent Pro M700 power supply wasn’t compatible with the FT03 due to the orientation of the AC plug and the on/off switch. The internal power cable pressed against the switch forcing it into the off position making it impossible to power up. We ended up using a Seasonic X-650 instead.

 


Hard drives install using plastic rails with soft yellow grommets.

 


The rails are then screwed into the chassis.

 


The case could use a few more hooks for routing cables, but with two inches of clearance it’s not too bad.

 


Fully assembled. CPU cooler and graphics card clearance is listed as 167 mm and 13.77 inches, but by our measurements, it’s approximately 170 mm and 14.4 inches respectively (with the bottom intake fan removed).

 


The power and reset buttons stick out past the top cover a great deal, making them easy to depress accidentally. The hard drive and power LEDs shine bright blue.

 


To lessen vibration from the hard drive, we wedged some paper between the chassis and side panels. This made a noticeable difference.

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.



The FT03’s center fan is much louder the bottom fan.

Given the layout of the case, we were expecting the top fan to be louder than the other two, being fairly exposed at the top, but the center fan turned out to be the biggest villain. The metal frame for the fan is secured to the case on only one side, causing the fan to rattle a bit. Compared to the bottom fan, at 7V, it measured a substantial 4 dB higher and produced multiple tones in the 250~500 Hz range.

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.


The case measures 16~17 dBA@1m with all fans at 5V.

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.


Our test system with a Radeon HD 5450.

 

System Measurements (Radeon HD 5450)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
off
5V
CPU Temp
26°C
74°C
61°C
HD Temp
31°C
36°C
36°C
GPU Temp
45°C
83°C
69°C
SPL@1m
17 dBA
18 dBA
20 dBA
System Power
48W
154W
150W
CPU fan set to 9V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

With no forced airflow other than the CPU cooler fan, the system struggled thermally. On load, the processor and graphics card heated up by almost 50°C and 40°C, respectively, compared to idle. Running the system fans at even 5V helped considerably with a 13~14°C improvement for the CPU and GPU. This added 2 dB to the overall noise level, but it was still fairly quiet.


Our HD 5450 test system on load measured 20 dBA@1m with the CPU fan set to 9V and the system fans running at 5V.

The system sounded fairly smooth with almost no air turbulence and just a slight hum caused mainly by the vibrations of the hard drive.

HD 5450 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Silverstone Fortress FT03
Lian Li PC-V354
System Fan Speeds
5V
6V
CPU Temp
61°C
56°C
HD Temp
36°C
28°C
GPU Temp
69°C
65°C
SPL@1m
20 dBA
18 dBA
System Power
150W
157W
CPU fan set to 9V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C
(results adjusted accordingly)
PC-V354 equipped with a Cooler Master M700 power supply, FT03 with a Seasonic X-650.

In this configuration the FT03 doesn’t compare favorably to the last microATX case we reviewed, the Lian Li PC-V354. The PC-V354 with its fans at 6V gave us better temperatures and a lower noise level. It should be noted that the FT03 had the advantage of a quieter, more efficient power supply, the 80 Plus Gold rated Seasonic X-650 rather than the Cooler Master Silent Pro M700 we usually use for mATX/ATX case testing.

Though a much larger case by volume, the FT03 isn’t as well ventilated as the PC-V354, nor does it have direct airflow for hard drive cooling. The noise difference was likely caused by vibrations generated by the hard drive, which doesn’t have a hard drive cage to steady it. Vibration was an issue with the Lian Li case as well, but the problem was less audible.

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.


Our test system with an Asus EAH6850 DirectCU.

 

System Measurements (Asus EAH6850 DirectCU)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
5V
7V
7V, case horizontal
GPU Fan
Speed*
1700 RPM
2430 RPM
1790 RPM
CPU Temp
22°C
68°C
62°C
60°C
HD Temp
30°C
36°C
35°C
34°C
GPU Temp
41°C
90°C
89°C
85°C
GPU VRM Temp
47°C
94°C
89°C
84°C
SPL@1m
21 dBA
26~27 dBA
25 dBA
24 dBA
System Power
88W
265W
264W
261W
*set as low as possible to maintain a GPU temperature of ~90°C.
CPU fan set to 9V.
Ambient temperature: 22°C.

When idle, the addition of the EAH6850 had only a small acoustic impact, increasing the noise level by a single dB and imbuing the system with a slightly harsher sound. With the system fans at 5V, the GPU fan had to be set to 2430 RPM to keep the core temperature at a maximum of 90°C. The resulting noise level was high at 26~27 dBA@1m. Speeding up system fans to 7V proved to be advantageous, dropping the graphics card fan speed to just under 1800 RPM. The CPU temperature lowered by 6°C and the graphics card VRM dropped by 5°C. System noise improved by 1~2 dB as well.

One of the FT03’s most highly touted features is its rotated motherboard orientation. However, with our test system, laying the case down lengthwise actually gave us better results. The GPU temperature dropped 4~5°C with its fan at the same speed. The EAH6850 DirectCU doesn’t have an exhausting cooling system like those found on most high performance reference coolers so the vertical orientation ended up being detrimental to its performance.


Our EAH6850 test system on load measured 25 dBA@1m with the CPU fan set to 9V and the system fans running at 7V.

On load with the system fans at 7V, our EAH6850 test system sounded pretty good. The rush of air from the GPU cooler spinning at ~1800 RPM did a decent job of masking the hum from the center fan and hard drive. The acoustic profile of the system was mostly broadband with the exception of a spike center at 300 Hz; it wasn’t super quiet but certainly tolerable.

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

The FT03 performed much better with the hotter graphics card. After being decisively defeated by the PC-V354 using a Radeon HD 5450, the FT03 delivered much closer results with the EAH6850. FT03 managed to keep the GPU at 90°C with 1 dB less noise, but with a significantly higher GPU VRM and hard drive temperature.

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 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 SilverStone Fortress FT03 is one of the most interesting cases we’ve seen in quite some time, but it isn’t particularly quiet nor cool. The angled fans don’t give it any advantage; they appear to be oriented that way simply to make use of the space available. The fans are fairly good acoustically, but the center fan is not properly supported, causing vibration and additional noise. The case lacks direct airflow over the hard drives as they mount behind the motherboard tray. The rotated motherboard layout could be advantageous if you have a graphics card with a heatsink blowing air out the back but otherwise a case that supports two exhaust fans is better equipped to deal with the heat.

Like many aluminum cases, the FT03 has problems with hard drive vibration. Hard drives are mounted using plastic rails with rubber grommets, but they are positioned vertically and secured with four screws, lacking a proper hard drive cage for structural support. In addition, the side panels don’t fit well enough, forming significant gaps at the corners of the case, making them vulnerable to vibration. The hum of the Samsung F3 hard drive we used during testing was significantly dampened after we slipped some material between the chassis and panels to brace them, but this didn’t eliminate the problem entirely.

The hotswap hard drive bay is a useful bonus, but wasn’t very well thought out. The latch feels weak, is difficult to open, and having a drive slide vertically down toward the internal connectors is dangerous. The need to exercise extreme caution diminishes the hotswap drive bay’s convenience. The position of the optical drive bay is poor. We’re also not fans of the white plastic cover and filter, nor the power and reset buttons that jut out and beg to be pressed accidentally.

With so many problems, it would be easy for us to dismiss the FT03. The biggest selling point is that it will fit in some areas that cannot accommodate a traditional tower. The FT03 has a footprint of less than one square foot, yet can house a very powerful system given its CPU heatsink and graphics card clearance. However, with a street price of US$160, it is not exactly a compelling bargain.

Still, we predict some people will pay willingly for the unique shape, size and look of the SilverStone FT03. We applaud SilverStone’s continued exploration of unique and innovative forms for computer cases. The FT03 is not quite all that we had hoped for, given the performance of its predecessors. A second version just around the corner could correct the problems and transform it. Time will tell.

Our thanks to SilverStone for the Fortress FT03 case sample.

UPDATE: After some time and consideration, we decided to retest the FT03 using a tower CPU heatsink, the Noctua NH-U12P, to take full advantage of the case’s capabilities. The results can be found here: Silverstone Fortress FT03 mATX Tower: Redux.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
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Antec ISK 100 Mini-ITX Case
Zalman Z9 Plus ATX Tower Case
HDPLEX H10.ODD Fanless microATX Case
Lian Li PC-V354 MicroATX Mini Tower Case
Lian Li PC-B25S Mid-tower Aluminum Case

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