SilverStone SST-LC01 HTPC Case

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SilverStone’s SST-LC01 is a high quality, generous size, aluminum HTPC case with good overall design that’s actually pretty good for a quiet computing platform. It also happens to be an excellent prospect if you wish to modify a case for extreme silent performance. In essence, a clever adaptation of a small mid-tower into a HTPC case.

July 4, 2004 by Mike Chin

Product
SilverStone SST-LC01
Manufacturer
SilverStone Technology
Street Price
US$150~175

SilverStone Technology burst onto the high-end aluminum PC case scene in 2003 to take on the likes of Lian-Li and CoolerMaster, who have been leaders in that field for some years. In fact, the founders were involved in CoolerMaster before creating SilverStone. One of their stated missions was to deliver high quality aluminum cases at more affordable prices. SilverStone cases generally look as sexy as their competitors, and a quick search through pricing web sites suggests their prices are indeed modest.

The SST-LC01 is the first case from SilverStone designed specifically for Home Theater PC (HTPC) and looks something like a large stylish VCR or audio video amplifier. It’s probably been available for nearly a year, which makes it almost old in the PC marketplace and it is not the sexiest aluminum HTPC case available. The D.Vine5 case I reviewed last year, for example, is more appealing to my eyes. And SilverStone’s own range has expanded to include a number of very sleek and uniquely styled cases.

But beauty is as beauty does: The SST-LC01 has a range of strengths — missing in smaller sleeker cases — that makes it very interesting for use in a quiet PC:

1) Accommodates full ATX PSU. Many HTPC cases are made to take smaller and sometimes nonstandard PSUs which are rarely that quiet. The best and quietest PSUs are in the ATX form factor.

2) Room enough for a full-ATX motherboard with access to all the PCI slots. Many of the slimmer cases only allow access to perhaps two PCI slots and requires the use of a riser card.

3) 80mm exhaust fan. Many HTPC cases rely on smaller fans which cannot move as much air and must rotate at higher speed.

4) Good size air intake vents, one on either side. So many HTPC cases focus too much on looks and not enough on airflow and cooling efficiency, which are critical not only for silent computing but also high performance computing.

5) Room for up to four 3.5" internal drives, two 3.5" external drives and two 5.25" drives. This is more generous than most HTPC cases.


Available in black or silver. (All photos are color…)

SPECIFICATIONS

Motherboard type

Full ATX

Colors

Black
and Silver

Drive Bays

5.25" (2) Exposed
3.5" (2) Exposed
3.5" (4) Hidden

Cooling

80mm Fan (exhaust)

Expansion Slots

1xAGP
6xPCI

Front Panel

2xUSB
Firewire
Headphone output
Mic input

Dimension

450mm (D) x 425 (W) x 159mm (H)
17.71" (D) x 16.73" (W) x 6.25" (H)

VISUAL DETAILS

The sample case was delivered in a sturdy carton and packed well in Styrofoam ends. You’ve seen what the unit looks like from the right corner angle; here’s a view of it from the other side. The power button is visible on the left curved corner, along with the power on and HDD activity LEDs. The power button operates with a very positive click, but the one on the test sample sometimes caught on an edge and stuck, which caused the system to power down a few seconds after it started booting.


Both left and right sides have perforated air intake grills that measure 3" x 4.5". As the holes represent no more than ~50% of that area, the total intake area is ~13.5 sq. inches; perhaps a bit smaller than the the intake area of a single 120mm fan.

The front panel actually consists of two full width doors that hinge down when pressed near the top. A strong clasping mechanism is used. The hinges are damped so that the doors glide open smoothly.


Both doors closed.

Behind the bottom door, there are two 3.5" external drives with USB ports, Firewire, and two headphone jacks in between.


Bottom door open.

Behind the top door is access to two 5.25" external drives.


Both top and bottom door open.

The back panel is clean and simple, with a single 80mm fan already mounted for air exhaust. Rotate the picture 90 degrees to the right and you’d have a mid-tower case. Note that a wire fan grill is used on the outside as well as the inside. All that’s need for completely unobstructed fan ventilation is to remove both wire grills.


Note the nice feet on the bottom.

The fan on the back panel is an Everflow
F128025SL
rated at 12VDC and 0.09A. "SL" probably stands for Sleeve bearing and Low speed. The 0.09A rating certainly suggests a slow quiet fan. At 12V it is not as quiet as a good Panaflo 80L but not that much louder, and it ramps down in speed reasonably with slightly more bearing chatter than a good Panaflo 80L.

INTERNAL LAYOUT

Removing four standard screws at the back of the case loosens the cover, which is a standard U-shape. The interior layout is simple and uncluttered. Fit and finish is excellent, and the panels are thick enough not to feel flimsy the way some aluminum SFF cases do. There are few edges that would pose any unusual risk for scraps or cuts to the average system builder.

As you can see from the last photo on the previous page and the photo below, there are no ventilation holes on the bottom panel, which seems a shame. The only intake vents are the ones on the side of the cover, discussed on the previous page. There are no provisions for intake fans. The only exhaust is through the 80mm back panel fan and through the PSU.


Center bar connects front and back panels, providing good structural stability.


Each drive bay handles a 5.25" drive on top, and three 3.5" drives below it.
The middle 3.5" bay can be exposed at the front panel.

The left drive bay is not removable, being riveted to the bottom panel of the case. The right one is removable. Three screws need to be removed, and then the drive bay is slid backwards for removal.


Green arrows point to the drive bay mounting holes. The blue arrow shows direction to push for removal.


The removable drive bay.


Here’s the obvious way to suspend at least two 3.5" hard drives in one of the drive bays. The other drive bay needs to be left for at least one optical drive.


Nearly an inch of room on either side of the drive when suspending with elastic in this way.

As the photo above shows, there are external slot covers for the top 5.25" bay and the middle of the 3.5" bays that must be removed by undoing screws on either side. Suspending more than one standard desktop HDD is probably achievable on by using the method pictured above, which will limit you to one optical drive.

This would not be an issue with 2.5" notebook drives: Three could actually be suspended in the space for 3.5" drives. They generally make less noise and far less vibration than desktop drives, and many models come close to matching desktop HDD performance. (See Is the Silent PC Future 2.5 inches wide? and notebook drive reviews in the Storage Section.)

SYSTEM TEST

Setting up a system in the SST-LC01 was a relatively painless affair. The manual is clear and succinct for those who need it. The now venerable P4 HS test rig was simply dropped into place. This system has the advantage of having a clean Windows XP Pro installation, saving much time in doing yet another Windows OS install. It was a minimalist setup with a single HDD and a single DVD/CD-RW. Similar components have formed the basis of many a quiet systems I’ve assembled in a variety of cases.

  • Intel P4-2.8 (533 MHz bus) Northwood
  • Intel D845PEBT2 motherboard – 845PE Chipset; on-die thermal diode monitoring
  • Thermalright SLK900 HS w/Panaflo 80L fan
  • Generic nVidia GF4 MX440 (AGP)
  • 256 MB DDRAM – PC2700 generic
  • Seagate Barracuda IV 40GB 1-platter
  • NoVibes-III HDD suspension mount (quicker and more convenient than DIY)
  • Seasonic SS300FS-APFC PSU modded w/ Panaflo 80L
  • 2X Zalman Multi-Connector (ZM-MC1)

Admittedly, the fanless econo-VGA card will not be a natural choice for a HTPC. It’s what was available at the time. I’d suggest that a better VGA card equipped with a quiet cooling system that exhausts the heat of the card is ideal.

The following sequence of assembly was followed:

  1. Remove the removable drive tray.
  2. Install DVD/CD-RW into non-removable drive bay.
  3. Screw down required motherboard mount stand-offs and then tighten.
  4. Install motherboard with heatsink premounted.
  5. Install PSU.
  6. Connect up all the cables except HDD.
  7. Install HDD in removable cage.
  8. Install cage.
  9. Connect up HDD to power.
  10. Test.
  11. Turn off and install cover.


Everything in place except the HDD and removable drive cage.


Low angle view from the other side.



HDD and HDD tray in place.


HDD in NoVibes III just before being slid into place for tight friction fit.

A NoVibes-III HDD suspension mount was used to slip the HDD into the top optical drive bay. It was a tight enough fit to be very secure without any screws.

THERMAL / NOISE TESTING

A Zalman Fanmate1 fan voltage controller was installed for the Panaflo on the heatsink as well as the Evercool exhaust fan. These controllers were used to set the cooling / noise level. The CPU stress utility CPUBurn was used to maximize the load on the system. Measurements were taken only at least 15 minutes in each test state.

Conditions: Room temperature was 22°C and ambient noise was 17 dBA.

TEST 1: Preliminary testing was done with both fans getting the full output through the Fanmate1, which is approximate 10.4V on both of these samples.

Panaflo 80L on CPU cooler & Case fan at 10.4V
Activity
CPU
System
PSU Fan
Noise, front*
Noise, back*
Idle
47°C
37°C
6.8V
30
33
CPUBurn
59°C
45°C
6.8V
30
33
* In dBA/1m: Measured 1m from the front and back.

The overall noise level at these fan speeds can be characterized as modest, but not really quiet. There is some high pitched component as well as a lower frequency resonance to the character of the sound. The former is coming from the fans. The latter is not, as you might imagine, caused by the case panel resonating.

Because the large cover is supported all around the edges as well as by the center cross bar, it does not appear to rattle or resonate at all. Damping the cover by placing large heavy books on it had no effect whatsoever on the resonant sound, but removing the cover eliminated the resonance. Hence, the lower frequency noise appears to be the natural cavity resonance of the air in the case, exacerbated by the noise of the fans. It might be tamed by careful application of sound absorbing materials to break up standing waves inside the case.

TEST 2: All three of the fan grills were removed at the full speed test run again. There was no effect except for the thermal auto-speed PSU fan at idle: It dropped to 5.8V, suggesting that the improved airflow helped the PSU run a lit cooler at idle. This change in fan speed was not noticeable because of the noise from the other fans.

One interesting thing to note: The hole for the 80mm case fan is at 2~3mm smaller all around than the actual diameter of the fan blades. Making this hole a bit larger would probably help with airflow and turbulence noise.


Grills removed for better beathability.

TEST 3: The fan voltages were dropped to levels where, subjectively, the overall noise became very quiet, very close to my own low noise reference systems. It would be hard to beat this noise performance substantially without going fanless and using a suspended quiet notebook drive.

Panaflo 80L on CPU cooler at 7V & Case fan at 6V
Activity
CPU
System
PSU Fan
Noise, front*
Noise, back*
Idle
51°C
41°C
6.8V
23
25
CPUBurn
70°C
50°C
6.8V
23
25
* In dBA/1m: Measured 1m from the front and back.

The measured and subjective noise level was much lower than before, with even the lower frequency resonance much tamed. CPU temperature climbed too high for comfort, however.

TEST 4: The fan voltages were raised up from test 3 to bring temps down to a safer level.

Panaflo 80L on CPU cooler at 8.5V & Case fan at 8V
Activity
CPU
System
PSU Fan
Noise, front*
Noise, back*
Idle
49°C
39°C
6.8V
26
29
CPUBurn
64°C
48°C
6.8V
26
29
* In dBA/1m: Measured 1m from the front and back.

The measured and subjective noise level is still pretty quiet. It is at a level that would surprise owners of ordinary computers and please many who are seeking a quieter PC. CPU temperature has dropped considerably, and although considered high by some users, systems generally show no signs of instability at this CPU temperature.

Hard Drive Notes: The temperature of the Seagate Barracuda IV hard drive remained steady at 44~45°C (as read by the utility DTemp) throughout the testing, maybe going up by one degree during long sessions of CPUBurn. It appears that the drive position is far enough away that the heat of the CPU does not affect it much in this system. Granted, a hotter VGA card might change things. The noise of the suspended drive was never a factor; it remained below the level of the fans in all the various settings of the above tests.

ACTUAL USE

The system tried above is only one countless combinations that you might assemble in the SST-LC01. This particular combination was not necessarily ideal, it was simply a convenient combination of components already on hand. Some other components would probably have given better results:

1) A CPU cooler designed for upward airflow (rather than downward) like the Alpha or Scythe Kamakaze and Samurai in combination with a right angle deflector or duct to direct the hot air to the exhaust fan.

2) A PSU with a 120mm fan for increased case cooling.

3) A cooler CPU.

On the other hand most VGA cards today would probably be hotter than the MX440 pressed into service here.

Despite the high temperatures seen during the load testing, my preference was for the lowest noise mode of TEST 3. During normal use over several days, CPU temperatures rarely exceeded 60~64°C peaks with ambient room temperatures of 20~24°C. Activities included playback of some DVD movies, Photoshop image editing work, and lots of web browsing.

CONCLUSIONS

Few cases are truly optimized for low noise computing, and even the best mid-towers have some flaws and compromises in this regard. The keys for a silent computer are

  1. unobstructed, generous airflow potential,
  2. solid, non-resonant design and construction.
  3. no direct path between noise source and the operator’s ears, and
  4. hard drive decoupling — either built in or ease of employing it.

In most of these regards, the SST-LC01 is very suitable for a quiet HTPC. With a better combination of components than the ones used for the system test, you can achieve lower temperatures with the same low noise performance as my TEST 3 configuration. This aluminum case is more capable in its fundamentals than most of the HTPC oriented cases and a solid starting point for anyone who wants to experiment and mod for

STRENGTHS

* Good intake vents and airflow pathways. Even with the low speed PSU and back panel fans, airflow could be felt at the intake vents.
* Simple straightforward case layout. Except for the slight annoyance of the center bar, it’s easy to install a board.
* Sturdy construction and design minimizes panel vibration despite aluminum.
* ATX PSU compatible. What a relief! So many more choices.
* Plenty of room for HDD suspension. With notebook drives, you could really go to town.
* Room for ducting experiments around intake and exhaust.
* Doors make matching of optical drive front panels less of an issue for the stylistically fastidious.
* Many exposed drive bays. A multifan controller in one would be very useful.

CAUTIONS

* Sticky power button. Not a big deal but it’s a detail oversight.
* Only one 80mm exhaust fan.
Probably inadequate for many hot component combinations today. Case modders might look to cut out a hole for another 80mm next to the existing one. There seems enough room.
* Little airflow around HDD area. This could be improved with vent holes on the bottom panel beneath the drive bays. The taller than usual feet will help with intake airflow from the bottom.
* The case is a bit too tall and maybe too deep for some audio / video stands or cabinets. This is probably the price for ATX PSU and motherboard compatibility, and a full complement of drive bays.
* Side vents let out noise. But drop the internal noise enough and there’s not much noise to come out; this is the basic trick of silencing a PC anyway.

Our thanks to SilverStone Technology for this SST-LC01 sample.

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