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Zalman TNN-300 Fanless PC Enclosure System

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It’s raining TNNs at SPCR!? Our second Zalman TNN review in a week, this one tackles the TNN-300 as a case, cooling system, PSU and remote control for the home system builder. The concept is simple: A smaller, more user-friendly, more affordable version of their Totally No Noise system for broader tech consumer appeal. Mostly, it works. Our massive review tells you how.

February 27, 2006 by Mike Chin with Devon Cooke

Product
Zalman TNN-300
Compact Fanless Computer Enclosure System
Manufacturer
Zalman
Street Price
US$700~800

Zalman introduced the first Totally No Noise system, the TNN-500, in 2003 to a great deal of excitement in the silent computing community. There were other fanless, passively cooled systems such as the Hush, Niveus Media, Mappit, Tranquil PC and others, but these were complete computers with little or no user-adjustable hardware, often difficult to upgrade seriously. The TNN-500 was the first DIY-oriented offering of its kind, meant for use with any standard desktop components. The completely fanless case, power supply and heatpipe-based cooling system was massive, heavy, and very expensive, well over US$1,000 initially.

Regardless of the original TNN-500’s commercial success, its introduction had a galvanizing effect for Zalman. Their innovative and quirky heatsinks had already made some inroads in the industry; the TNN-500 catapulted the Zalman name to center stage. It’s difficult to estimate the volume of sales Zalman has achieved with the TNN series; as a show piece, it seems to have been a success.

The TNN cases are used by a few commercial system integrators in extremely quiet complete systems. We recently reviewed the EndPCNoise Fanless Ultra Powerhouse System based on the TNN-500AF. Our assessment of the case, its integrated power supply and its cooling system was that it keeps the components amazingly cool despite being completely fanless. Voodoo PC offers the Eden series which are TNN-500A based systems, and a smaller Epic system based on the TNN-300. We reviewed a TNN-500A case used in the VoodooPC Rage F-50 system a couple years ago. Our main issue was the noisy hard drives chosen for the system, and the absence of any hard drive noise or vibration damping system.

The smaller TNN-300 only takes a micro-ATX motherboard, and is much smaller and lighter than the TNN-500. It was first shown in March 2005 at the CeBIT expo. The basic concept is simple: Reduce the size of the case to gain broader consumer acceptance, and accept the compromise of compatibility with only micro-ATX or smaller motherboards. The case integrates cooling heatpipe systems for the CPU and the graphics card, an iMon remote control system, and a fanless high efficiency 350W power supply. There is even an optional dual-channel 25W/ch digital audio amplifier to enhance its home theater functionality. All in all, it’s a pretty complete package. Combined with the substantial drop in price from around $1,200 for the TNN-500AF to ~$700 or less, the TNN-300 should find much wider consumer acceptance. It has been available for a few months through Zalman resellers.


TNN-300: The entire case is essentially a heatsink; consider it an exoskeleton.
Note IR receptor port in the middle of the front panel, and USB / memory card ports on the right side near the top. The raised portion of the front panel is the outermost heatsink for the graphics card cooling system.

SPECIFICATIONS

Zalman TNN-300 Features & Specifications
(extracted from the Zalman web site)
General
Case with fanless CPU / GPU cooling system and fanless power supply for micro-ATX motherboard. Bays for one optical drive and two internal 3.5″ hard drive.

Dimensions

330(L) x 230(W) x 470(H) mm
Weight
14.74 kg
CPU Cooling
Utilizes massive copper blocks and six 6mm diameter copper heatpipes to transfer up to 150W of heat. Sockets K8, 775 and 478 are supported. Recommended for use with P4-478 up to 2.8C (Northwood), all Pentium M (479) models, A64-939 up to 3500+ (Winchester/Venice), and Sempron 754 up to 3300+ (Palermo).
GPU Cooling
Utilizes copper blocks and three 6mm diameter heatpipes to transfer up to 75W of heat. ATI models up to Radeon X700Pro and nVidia models up GF6600 are recommended.
Heatsinks
Large aluminum heatsink plates silently cool heat generating components, such as the CPU, VGA Chipset, and PSU through natural convection. Free of the need for mechanical maintenance, and 100% recyclable.
VRM Cooling
Thermal Blocks rear-mounted behind the motherboard, can lower the Voltage Regulators’ temperature by 10 to 30°C and the Northbridge chipset by 5 to 10°C (41 to 50°F).
Rotating Base

Circular rotating base prevents case slipping due to vibration

Multifunction multimedia remote control system
Power on/off feature on the remote control makes using your computer even more convenient. The multimedia center lets you enjoy the music / movies / photos on your hard disk, DVD / audio CD / MP3 / video CD in your optical drive, internet radio, analog TV card, digital camera, and digital camcorder all in one place.
Fanless, high efficiency 350W power supply
Heat from the power supply is transferred directly to the high-capacity heatsink plates, where it is dissipated by natural convection, making the power supply free of noise and vibration. High-efficiency FET components and Heat Source Contact (HSC) technology eliminate the need for a fan, achieves 80% power conversion efficiency.
Card reader
USB2.0 port and flash memory reader supporting 21 types of cards.
Antitheft Lock
Side-door design with latch.
Digital AMP (Optional)
1. Pop-noise removal circuit
2. Zero white / power noise
3. Auto power conservation mode (activates after 3 minutes of idle input)
4. Output level adjustable with jumpers (0db / 3dB level)
5. High quality connectors (ALPS) & high-brightness LEDs (REDx1, Bluex2)

Zalman TNN350APF-V1 Power Supply Specifications

AC Input

100~240 VAC °10% / 50~60 Hz

AC Input Current

8A @ 115VAC / 4A @ 230VAC
Efficiency

75% Min. @ 230VAC (Full Load)
Protection Features

Over Temperature, Over Voltage, Over Current, Under Voltage, Short Circuit
EMC (EMI & EMS)

FCC Part 15 Class ‘B’, CISPR22
UL, CE, CB, MIC

DC Output

+3.3V

+5V

+12V1

+12V2

-12V

+5VSB

Voltage Regulation

°5%

°5%

°5%

°5%

°10%

°5%

DC Output Ripple & Noise

50mV

80mV

120mV

120mV

120mV

80mV

Minimum Output Current

0.5A

0.5A

0.1A

0A

0.8A

2.0A

Maximum Output Current

20A

20A

10A

15A

0.3A

2.0A

Maximum Combined

94.6W
240W
3.6W
10W

336.4W

13.6W

350W

NOTES

1. Complete features and specifications on all the components are available at Zalman’s TNN-300 web pages.
2. Listings of compatible and incompatible motherboards and VGA cards are provided on this page.

DETAILS

Our review sample from Zalman USA in California made it to Vancouver safely in a sturdy corrugated cardboard package weighing 25 kg. It was double-boxed; the case and its parts were contained in another box inside that features full-color graphics.


Well packed to survive the rigors of shipping.


Lots of custom-fitted styrofoam to protect the contents.


Lots of goodies in the boxes…


… laid out in their full glory.


You saw the front view on the first page photo; here’s the view from the back.
Note the additional heatsink on the back panel.
The holes at the top of the back panel are found along the top of the sides; they are intended to allow rising hot air to escape.



The base on the bottom acts like a turntable or “Lazy Susan“.
The holes on the botton allow convection of cooler outside air into the case.

There’s no question that Zalman has worked to make this TNN model a lot more user-friendly than the earlier TNN-500A model. Not only is it smaller, lighter and less visually obtrusive, there are small details such as the rounded contours of all the heatsink edges, the conveniently placed external ports, the base that allows easy rotation, the integrated remote control and embedded sensor ° all of which show a high level of care about ergonomics and usability.

INSIDE THE TNN-300

Access to the interior is gained by removing two thumbscrews on the left side and pushing on the spring-loaded latch, which is not lockable despite the web site’s mention of “Antitheft lock”. The left panel then hinges out like a door.


Conveniently hinged left access door.

The first thing that’s catches the eye is the flat power supply integrated on the inside of the hinged door. It’s clear that the heatsink on the outside of the hinged door dissipates heat from the power supply. The two white sockets obviously go to output leads. Zalman did not specify, but our measurements verified that the 350W power supply is equipped with Active PFC for higher energy efficiency (not to be confused with high AC/DC conversion efficiency.)


The PSU label has a lot of information, including cautions and warnings.



The interior: Heatpipes galore.
Note offset front heatsink and grill for optional 120mm fan at “normal” PSU position.

The three aluminum ledges in the top right of the above photo are for the drives: The top one for an optical drive and the two lower ones for 3.5″ hard drives. Rubber bushings ° like those in Zalman’s heatpipe HDD coolers ° are used for the hard drives to reduce the vibration transfer into the case.

The blue metal parts in the photo above are actually parts of the right side (external) heatsink. They are made accessible via a rectangular hole on the wall that the motherboard bolts on to. There are six heatpipes that clamp into grooved slots on the heatsink; the other end of the “step” profile heatpipes clamp on to the CPU. This system has been very cleverly designed with 10 grooves so that the heatpipes can be positioned in different grooves as need to accommodate varying locations for the CPU on different motherboards. You’ll see this more clearly in the installation photos.

There are three additional horizontal heatpipes that connect the large right heatsink to the smaller heatsink on the back. This means that the CPU heat is dissipated by the right and back outside mounted heatsinks. These remain in place always; they are not touched during installation.

The three longer heatpipes in the lower portion of the case run to the plate that is offset from the front panel. These are for VGA card cooling. Both the plate and the front panel are heatsinks for the VGA card. The photo below shows the VGA cooling heatpipes going out to the front panel where they are clamped.


Note the cables for the front panel, the side ports, and the iMon remote receptor.
The copper slotted cylinders are nuts that secure the external front heatsink.

INSTALLING A SYSTEM

An integrated case, cooling and power supply package like this can only be assessed by actually installing a system within it. Which components to use? Our decisions were made on the basis of compatibility and maximum CPU / VGA power dissipation recommendations.

CPU: Despite the claim that the TNN-300 CPU cooling system can transfer up to 150W, Zalman only recommends P4-478 up to 2.8C (Northwood), all Pentium M (479) models, A64-939 up to 3500+ (Winchester/Venice), and Sempron 754 up to 3300+ (Palermo). The highest Thermal Design Power (TDP) of any of these processors is 69W for the P4-2.8 Northwood core, which is probably just about impossible to find on the retail market today, as almost all Intel P4s are in socket 775 and use the hotter Prescott core. The A64-939 3500+ Winchester/Venice is rated for a TDP of 67W. Because of AMD’s more conservative way of defining TDP, it is a considerably cooler CPU than the P4 Northwood.

VGA: As with the CPU, Zalman’s recommendations are much more modest than the 75W transfer capacity claim for CPU cooling: They recommend no hotter models that the ATI Radeon X700 Pro or the nVidia GF6600, both of which are far shy of 75W power consumption.

Here, then, are components used for the TNN-300 test:


Zalman TNN-300 Test System Components
CPUAMD Athlon 64-3000+ (Venice core), courtesy of NCIX.com44.1W TDP is well within Zalman’s thermal guidelines
MotherboardAsus A8N-VM CSM Micro-ATX, courtesy of NCIX.comOn Zalman’s compatible MB list. nVidia GF6150 + NF430 chipset provides good integrated performance, including both VGA and DVI outputs.
MemoryOCZ 2x512mb PC4000Dual channel memory
Hard Drive1) Seagate Momentus 7200.1
2) Samsung Spinpoint 80GB SATA
Quiet 100GB 7,200 RPM Notebook drive;
The “reference” Samsung 80GB 7,200 RPM 3.5″ SATA drive was also tried.
Video Card1) Onboard nVidia 6150;
2) AOpen Aeolus 6800GT DVD256MV VGA card
The 6150 GPU is capable of high-definition (1080p/1080i) MPEG-2 playback.
The 6800GT is a much hotter card than recommended, but it was the only one available at this time.
Optical DriveSamsung SM-352B Combo Drive (CD-RW + DVD-ROM)Pretty quiet.

The ASUS A8N-VM CSM is a socket 939 micro-ATX motherboard based on the nVidia 6150 + NF430 chipset that offers integrated graphics with both VGA and DVI monitor outputs. It offers many features including dual channel memory support and a PCIe 16X video card option. Importantly, it’s on Zalman’s TNN-300 compatible MB list.


ASUS A8N-VM CSM and A64-3000+, courtesy of NCIX.com, are well-suited to the TNN-300.

The Athlon 64-3000+ thermal specification is a bit lower than the maximum recommended limit, but it was conveniently on hand.


A fairly cool CPU, according to AMD64 TCaseMax.

Zalman provides a well-illustrated manual whose English-language portion is over 30 pages long. Reading through the assembly details before starting the job is strongly recommended. This is not a job for first time PC builders. It is not difficult, but familiarity and previous experience with system assembly is probably necessary unless you are a gifted handy person. An animated Flash installation “movie” is promised at Zalman’s pages on the TNN-300, but at time of writing, it wasn’t ready.

Assembly began with removal of the six heatpipes and clamps for the CPU from the case. Then the motherboard had to be prepared.


The two HS retention bracket bolts are replaced.


Each bolt head can now accept another threaded bolt.


The back plate also gets replaced.


These aluminum thermal blocks must be positioned on the trace side under hot motherboard components.
Such components include power transistors and north/south bridge chips.
These thermal blocks conduct heat from
hot MB components to the outside casing in lieu of forced airflow.

#@!%&<*!?/!#!!!

The task of installing the thermal blocks under the motherboard is incredibly annoying, frustrating and tedious. The thermal interface material on either side of each little block is a film, not an adhesive. This means when you set the motherboard down on the mounting tray, the thermal blocks have a tendency to fall off. It took a great deal of patience, many expletives and in the end, plain dumb luck to get the motherboard on with the thermal blocks between the back of the board and the “tray”. This is a big hiccup for Zalman here. They’ve become quite ergonomic and DIY user-friendly over the years, but this feature needs better thinking through.

If I was to do it again, I would use thermal adhesive to glue the blocks to the underside of the motherboard, and make sure the glue was set before installing the motherboard. This is what I’d recommend to Zalman: Thermal interface adhesive on one side of each block. Having the non-adhesive TIM on the other side of the blocks would be useful because some sliding and fine adjustment is needed to set the motherboard in exactly the right position to bolt it in.

INSTALLING A SYSTEM (continued)


With the motherboard in place, place the heavy copper CPU block.
Now, check the six S-shaped heatpipes for best placement. This is very clever:
There are 10 grooves in the blue block so that the placement of the six heatpipes can be adjusted for different motherboards.


Next, apply the supplied TIM all around where the heatpipes meet the heatblocks.


Place the cover grooved blocks, and install four screws in each, tightening all the way.
On the CPU, the four screws only join the top and bottom sections, clamping the heatpipes between them.


This clip has to be installed with two big bolts for pressure to be applied between the CPU and the block.
The procedure is simple: Just turn the bolt until you can’t turn any more.

This completes the motherboard and CPU cooling installation. The drives were installed next. The optical drive is straightforward, the aluminum bracket having to be removed, the drive screwed on to it, then the ledge reattached.

Zalman supplies little rubber shock absorbers to be used between the drive and the aluminum bracket. From previous experience with these rubber plugs, I know how effective they are. Quite simply, the rubber is too hard to provide more than a modicum of damping. At the same time, cooling is adversely affected as there’s no heat conduction from the drive to the chassis. It’s not a great compromise; at least if the HDD has to run hot, the damping should be effective.


These hard rubber plugs do not make HDDs any quieter. Not really.

Instead of the supplied mounting, four small blocks of Sorbothane were used. Sorbothane. It is sticky and tacky, so that just pressing the HDD down on top of them keeps the drive secure enough for a desktop PC that’s rarely moved. Sorbothane…

  • is a proprietary, visco-elastic polymer.
  • is a thermoset, polyether-based, polyurethane material.
  • has a very high damping coefficient.
  • combines shock absorption, good memory, vibration isolation and vibration damping characteristics.
  • While many materials exhibit one of these characteristics, Sorbothane combines all of them in a stable material with a long fatigue

We’ve recommended it as a drive dampener in the SPCR forums. The most often mentioned source for Sorbothane is McMaster.com, but according to Ralf Hutter, “they don’t call it that any more. It’s listed under some innocuous name like ‘ultra soft polyurethane.'”


Quiet SATA notebook drive on Sorbothane blocks.

The cables between the PSU and all the components went in. This procedure was straightforward. But, better cable management would have been nice, with multiple output sockets on the PSU and multiple individual cables rather than just two big cable sets.

At this point, Windows was installed, along with the usual range of utilities and tools to test, monitor and measure the system. This would be the minimalist configuration, using the onboard graphics for the coolest and simplest system. The system was used and tested in this mode for about two weeks.

EXTERNAL GRAPHICS CARD INSTALLATION

At the end of the testing and use with the minimalist configuration, the AOpen Aeolus 6800GT DVD256MV PCIe graphics card was installed. The only glitch here was that the graphics card would not seat properly in the slot. There was not enough room under the motherboard for the bottom lip of the graphics card I/O plate. This is a detail oversight by Zalman, as several PCI cards had the same issue. Fortunately, the SPCR lab is equipped to deal with such hurdles. Our trusty Wiss tin snips were brought into play; a few millimeters snipped off the bottom solved the problem neatly.


A pair of Wiss tin snips to overcome a detail oversight by Zalman.

Note that the 6800GT card runs considerably hotter than the hottest recommended by Zalman, the 6600. Please refer to X-bit Labs‘ recent article, The Grand Clash for Watts: Power Consumption of Modern Graphics Cards. We cannot take their results to be absolutely precise, but they measured 27.6W for the 6600, and 54.6W for a 6800GS. The latter is similar to the 6800GT, which X-bit labs measured in an earlier test to have a similar power draw. Suffice it to say the AOpen Aeolus 6800GT DVD256MV runs about twice as hot as the maximum recommended 6600.

The entire VGA cooling system installation process is described below.

First, the external front panel had to be removed. This entailed removing five large “nuts” on the inside of the front panel. Once this was removed, the block which fits the far end of the heatpipes for the GPU are revealed. It is sandwiched between the external front panel and the internal one, with the heatpipe ends between them. The photo below shows the front, with the case on its right side.


Five threaded rods secure the external front panel.
The white colored portion is thermal interface material for the heatpipe clamp block.


AOpen Aeolus 6800GT DVD256MV stripped of any heatsinks, shown with Zalman TNN-300 video card cooling parts.


The GPU heat block is secured against the GPU with four spring-loaded thumbscrews that have a positive stop and are simple to install.


The heatpipes were removed from the case and attached to the graphics card.


The eight memory heatsinks were attached.


The heatpipes had to be carefully maneuvered through the front panel hole.


Zalman’s instructions call for a slight upward tilt of the heatpipes as they extend out to the front panel.
This tilt was achieved.

The external front bezel plate was reinstalled, with all five internal nuts tightened securely to ensure good contact between all the heat conducting parts °
the heatpipes, the heat block, the inside front panel.


This is the interior after the final assembly including the AOpen graphics card.

CASE / SYSTEM TESTING

Test Tools

1. MIMALIST CONFIGURATION

As mentioned earlier, this configuration consisted of the following:

Each of the load tests were run for 45 minutes. The ambient temperature in the room was 20~21°C, and the noise was 19~20 dBA.

RESULTS #1: MIMALIST CONFIGURATION – <20 dBA SPL@1m

LOAD


AC POWER


CPU



MB



HDD


Idle / CnQ

57W

38°C

38°C

38°C

Idle

62W

40°C

39°C

39°C

CPUBurn

91W

51°C

50°C

40°C

VCST


95W

51°C

50°C

39°C

3DMark05

95W

50°C

48°C

40°C
Idle / CnQ: Idle with Cool ‘n’ Quiet enabled.
LOAD: The load on the system.
AC Power: The amount of power drawn from the wall outlet is equal to the heat inside the system.
CPU: Temperature of the processor.
MB: Readout from motherboard sensor; it may next to the Northbridge chip.
HDD: Hard drive temperature.

The results data table speaks volumes. The TNN-300 coasts, thermally speaking, with this system. It’s a very efficient system, drawing only 95W from the wall at full load. This suggests that at full CPU load, the components are only drawing perhaps 70W in DC voltage, given the claimed 75% minimum efficiency of the power supply. The case remained barely warm to the touch under all conditions. It’s safe to say that this system would probably be cooled safely even in tropical conditions.

If we take the 44.1W TDP for this particular A64-3000+ processor (as extracted by A64 TCaseMax v1.18) to be accurate, then we can make some predictions about how well the TNN-300 will cool hotter processors.

°C rise over ambient = 30 >>> TDP = 44.1W >>> Therefore, °C/W = 0.68

For a completely passive cooling system, it is impressive. If we wish to limit the maximum temperature of the CPU to 65°C (at the same ambient room temperature), then the TDP should not exceed 67W. This prediction jibes perfectly well with Zalman’s recommendations, which call for CPUs with TDP no greater than ~70W.

Performance-wise, this system was perfectly suitable and plenty fast enough for all the usual applications ° web browsing, playback of audio / video files, email, and office applications.

While 3DMark05 is an interesting test, it is not very useful for precise GPU loading and temperature measurements. The problem is that the load it imposes, while reaching high peaks, varies up and down. More importantly, it is not possible to view the GPU temperature monitoring screen while 3DMark05 is running. Only after it is stopped can the GPU temperature be seen. Even if the delay is only a few seconds, by the time we can see the GPU temperature, it has already dropped from the highest points reached during the test.

Video Card Stability Test (VCST) is quite different. The load on the system remains steady, much like CPUBurn for the CPU. As a result, we can establish a simple time-based test (45 minutes, in this case) and run easily repeatable tests while having a constant view of the GPU temperature monitoring screen. The temperature generally stabilizes in half of that time, and it reaches higher levels than viewable with 3DMark05

The combination of sorbothane damping and the extremely quiet 2.5″ drive made noise a non-issue in this configuration, even in the ultra-quiet post-midnight environment of the test room. It was possible to have the TNN-300 right next to the monitor, at head level just a couple feet away, and hardly notice the noise. Occasionally, some HDD seek noise could be heard, but it was too soft and muted to be obtrusive. There was no apparent noise of any kind from the power supply.

For the record, a Samsung Spinpoint 80GB SATA 3.5″ desktop hard drive was mounted using the Zalman rubber dampers. A quick listen revealed a higher subjective level of noise. In this configuration, I would personally not want to have the PC atop the desk. The measured noise went up to 23 dBA@1m in idle and 25~26 dBA@1m during seek. Both numbers were a bit higher than measured for this drive on its own. The increase in noise is directly attributable to the conduction of vibration between the drive and the case, and to the cavity air resonance / amplification effects of the drive being in an enclosed box. The overall noise level was still quite low, but not in the champion class as with the notebook drive.


Samsung 3.5″ HDD mounted as per Zalman’s instructions.
With the tight spacing between the drives, two 3.5″ drives might not be ideal due to heat.

2. WITH NF6800GT-256 PCIe GRAPHICS CARD

This configuration added one additional component to the above setup:

This graphics card had been modified with an Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5 (Rev. 3) heatsink/fan, and this was the way it was first installed in the system. The Arctic Cooling heatsink/fan actually exhausts the heat of the GPU out the back via the PCI slot opening directly below the main video card slot, and in doing so, helps with the cooling of the whole case by a small degree as well. The Arctic Cooling HSF was manually limited with a rheostat to 6~7V for a very slow speed to minimize noise. In order to establish baseline performance before using the TNN-300’s GPU cooling system, the AOpen card was used with the AC NV Silencer 5 heatsink/fan for about 24 hours.

The same range of tests was performed as before. Each of the load tests were run for 45 minutes. The ambient temperature in the room was 21°C, and the noise was 19~20 dBA.

RESULTS #2A: TNN-300 w/6800GT + AC NV Silencer 5 — 27 dBA SPL@1m

LOAD


AC POWER


CPU



MB


GPU


GPU Ambient


Idle / CnQ

95W

38°C

38°C

51°C

48°C

Idle

101W

40°C

39°C

51°C

48°C

CPUBurn

133W

52°C

46°C

53°C

50°C

3DMark05

163W

47°C

46°C

63°C

62°C

VCST


146W

47°C

46°C

68°C

64°C

The hard drive temperature was left off to keep the table simple; it hovered at 41-42°C throughout testing with the NF6800GT. Note that two more items were added to the table: GPU or graphics processing unit, and GPU ambient, both from the 6800GT graphics card. The latter is from a sensor somewhere on the card that is a measure of its immediate operating temperature.

Power (and total heat in the system) nearly doubled compared to the first configuration. The CPU load temperature hardly changed, which is not surprising as the cooling systems in the case were not asked to do any more work. The GPU was cooled by its own HSF. The temperatures of the graphics card were quite low, relatively speaking. There is rarely any on-screen misbehavior until the GPU temperature approaches 80°C or higher.

The main price of the added graphics card with the AC heatsink/fan was an increase in the overall noise. Even with the fan undervolted, a chugging kind of hum prevailed. It wasn’t really loud, but it was always clearly audible.

The AC NV Silencer 5 was then removed, and the TNN-300 GPU cooling system brought into play. The tests were run once again.

RESULTS #2B: TNN-300 w/6800GT — <20 dBA SPL@1m

LOAD


AC POWER


CPU



MB


GPU


GPU Ambient


Idle / CnQ

94W

38°C

38°C

51°C

48°C

Idle

99W

40°C

39°C

51°C

48°C

CPUBurn

132W

52°C

46°C

53°C

50°C

3DMark05

163W

47°C

46°C

63°C

62°C

VCST


145W

51°C

50°C

71°C

74°C

A few changes in results can be seen. The most salient ones showed up in the VCST testing, which are highlighted below.


COMPARISON #2C: Video Card Stability Test, 144W AC load


CPU


MB


AC NV Silencer 5


CPU


MB


TNN-300


GPU



GPU Ambient


SPL@1m


GPU



GPU Ambient


SPL@1m


47°C


46°C


68°C


64°C


27 dBA


51°C


50°C


71°C


74°C


<20 dBA

First, the CPU and MB temperatures rose to about the same level as during CPUBurn. This may have been the result of GPU heat no longer being evacuated by the AC NV Siliencer 5 heatsink/fan.

Secondly, the GPU rose by a couple of degrees, which is of little consequence. GPU ambient temperature rose substantially, however, by 10°C. This increase is not trivial, and suggests that heat is being trapped beneath the video card. Still, there was no misbehavior of any kind visible during the test. Also, keep in mind that the heat dissipation of the NF6800GT is about twice Zalman’s official recommended level.

FAN MOD

A final impromptu mod involved jamming a Scythe 80mm fan under the NF6800GT card, as close to the PCI slot covers as possible. This was with all the PCU slot covers removed, and with the fan blowing out. The very quiet fan (subject of a review soon to come) was undervolted to ~6V. A piece of double sided sticky tape held it to the floor of the case. Here’s the only photo taken of this “mod”, taken after the system was being dismantled:


Impromptu exhaust fan for the VGA card area.

What was the effect of this fan?

  • Noise went up slightly to 20~21 dBA @1m. It was less audible from the front than from the back or side, for obvious reason. Subjectively, it was much nicer than the Arctic Cooling NV Silencer 5; it measured considerably lower, too.
  • Temperatures dropped substantially. See the comparison table below.
COMPARISON #2C: Video Card Stability Test, 144W AC load

CPU

MB

TNN-300 + 80mm fan
CPU

MB

TNN-300

GPU


GPU Ambient

SPL@1m

GPU


GPU Ambient

SPL@1m

48°C


47°C


68°C

66°C

20-21 dBA

51°C


50°C


71°C

74°C

<20 dBA

NOISE RECORDINGS

These may be a bit superfluous, as the noise of this system is basically determined by the HDD you install in it. However, they were made, and sometimes they do provide more insight than our narrative descriptions and SPL measurements.

MP3:
TNN-300 w/Seagate Momentus 7200.1 on Sorbothane: <20 dBA@1m

MP3:
TNN-300 w/Samsung P80 HDD on Zalman rubber cyliners: 23 dBA@1m

MP3:
TNN-300 w/Seagate Momentus 7200.1 & NF6800GT w/ Arctic Cooling NV5 HSF: 27 dBA@1m

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution studio quality digital recording system. The microphone
was 3″ from the center of the front panel. The ambient noise during all
recordings was <20 dBA. It is best to download the sound files to your computer before listening.

To set the volume to a realistic level (similar to the
original), try playing this Nexus
92mm case fan @ 5V (17 dBA@1m)
recording and set the volume so
that it is barely audible. Then don’t reset the volume and play the other
sound files. All tone controls and other effects should be
turned off or set to neutral.
For full details on how to calibrate your
sound system playback level to get the most valid listening comparison,
please see the yellow text box entitled Listen to the Fans
on page four of the article
SPCR’s Test / Sound Lab: A Short Tour.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Zalman TNN-300 is successful in meeting its own specifications regarding cooling and noise performance. When used as recommended, this integrated case, cooling system, power supply and remote control work as advertised by the manufacturer. This accomplishment in itself is something to celebrate in the hyperbole-amok world of PC component marketing.

The micro-ATX board limitation will be a sticking point for some, but for most potential buyers and users, it’s a non-issue, as there is much integration of both features and performance on many m-ATX motherboards these days. The resulting small size, lower weight, and “cute” look (compared especially to the TNN-500AF) will be considered huge benefits by most. The design and required assembly are not without hiccups, but in the big scale of things, they are relatively minor, and hopefully will be resolved with continuously development by Zalman.

This iteration of the TNN system has appeal in today’s home entertainment PC market. Virtually no noise, good cooling performance and good user ergonomics translate into a piece of equipment many people could picture in their den, next to a big HD television, perhaps as a HTPC. It could certainly work well as a music / video file server, even if you wish to tuck it away out of sight. It could also serve well as a silent network server in a small office where there’s no room for large server machines.

The Zalman TNN-300 is a nice piece of engineering. We like it.

PROS

* HDD is the only source of noise.
* Cooling is generally excellent.
* Ergonomics and visual appeal are good.
* Conveniently located memory card reader.
* Lots of spare parts included.
* Passive PSU is efficient.
* Remote control included.
* Assembly is not difficult considering the complexity.

CONS

* Price is not low.
* VGA card installation flaw is nasty.
* So are the motherboard thermal blocks.

* No audio I/O in front.
* Not good w/ common Intel processors.
* WAF may still not be great.

>>> Sidebar on the iMon Remote Control System <<<

* * *

Much thanks to Zalman USA
for the opportunity
to review this product.

* * *

SPCR Articles of Related Interest

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Discuss
this article in the SPCR Forums
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REMOTE CONTROL SYSTEM

The interface for controlling the TNN-300 remotely consists OF…

  • A remote control
  • iMON software that lets Windows interpret the commands entered
    on the remote
  • MultiMedian software that provides a remote and TV-friendly way of finding
    and playing media


Is one remote enough to control a whole PC?

The remote control is divided into three main sections:

  • A numerical keypad that also facilitates text entry. They are also used
    to select the media source in MultiMedian.
  • System buttons, that control common tasks in Windows and emulate the functionality
    of a mouse.
  • Playback buttons that control media playback.


Good at text messaging? Then you’ll be right at home entering text on
this remote.

Not surprisingly, entering text on the remote control is a painful process.
Obviously a full keyboard won’t fit on the remote, so another way of entering
text needed to be found. The method chosen should be familiar to anyone
who has ever used a cell phone: Letters are entered by pressing a number one
or more times until the desired letter is found, then moving onto the next letter.
This method is nowhere near as convenient as a conventional keyboard, but it
is probably still the best interface for entering text via remote control. It’s
easier than navigating an on-screen keyboard with arrows.

The keyboard software comes with a number of different “character sets”
that can be selected to expand the amount of characters that can be entered
on the number pad:

  • Lower case
  • Upper case
  • Numbers
  • Special characters
  • Words for Web surfing (e.g. “www”, “.com”, etc.)

This method of text entry is probably good enough for rare uses that only require
short strings of text to be entered (like searching for a file name), but anything
longer than a couple of words probably requires a keyboard. (Most users serious about using remote control with a computer will resort to a wireless keyboard.)


The middle section of the remote contains a “mouse” and buttons
for common system functions.

So much for the keyboard. What about the mouse? Mouse functionality is provided
by a joystick mounted in the very center of the remote. Anyone who has ever
used this style of joystick on an old laptop or a game console knows that this
style of navigation can be a bit imprecise, and this remote is no exception.
In addition, the motion can get interrupted if the remote is moved while the
joystick is in use and the IR connection between the remote and the receiver
is disturbed.

As with the keyboard functionality, the mouse emulation on the remote is fine
for occasional use but not good enough as a full replacement. Fortunately, the
remote still has lots of functionality beyond simple emulation of a mouse and
keyboard. Much of this functionality is unleashed through proper configuration
of the iMon and MultiMedian software, but even without configuring them there
are still a number of common tasks that can be performed by using the remote
as a remote, not as a keyboard or mouse.

Thankfully, the joystick does not always have to be used as a mouse; it also
doubles as a directional keypad similar to the navigation buttons on a DVD remote.
And, iMon comes preconfigured with several programs that use this style of interface
to do common tasks in Windows, such as launching applications or switching between
tasks. Because these two tasks are so common and need to be easy to execute,
they both get their own button. There is also a button to launch MultiMedian
and a number of buttons that cover common system tasks, such as opening the
start menu or the context menu or adjusting the volume.


Playback buttons are user-configurable

At the bottom of the remote are nine buttons that control media playback. They
are preconfigured to work with Windows Media Player and MultiMedian, and can
be configured to work with any media player that uses keyboard shortcuts.

In addition to the usual “play”, “pause”, etc., there is
also a “full screen” button the sets playback to full screen mode.
This is an essential HTPC function that is missing from many so-called “Media”
keyboards, so we are happy to see it included here.

iMON

iMON, the software for setting up and using the remote control, is maintained
by SoundGraph, a company that, like Zalman, hails from Korea. The software is
not unique to the TNN-300, and we have encountered it before included with other
DIY-style HTPCs that we’ve seen.

At the heart of iMON is a configuration applet that creates mappings between
keyboard combinations and buttons on the remote control. Several supporting
programs designed to work with the remote interface are also included and can
be configured via the control applet. The supporting programs include the application
launcher and task switcher mentioned above. Also:

  • iMON Virtual Keyboard, for text input via remote control
  • iMON All-Time Control, to select a default program that is always controlled
    via remote, even when it is not the foreground window
  • iMON Monitor Resolution Changer

The applet itself is not remote friendly and needs to be set up with a conventional
keyboard, mouse and monitor. However, once everything is up and running, the
keyboard and mouse can be unplugged and the system should be able to stand alone
using only the remote for input.

By default, iMON is configured for use with Internet Explorer, Windows Messenger,
and Windows Media Player. Additional profiles for about forty common media-related
programs are also included, and custom profiles can be made for programs (like
Foobar2000 or Media Player Classic) that do not have pre-made profiles. There
are also a host of Windows-related tasks that can be set up to use the remote
control, though the number of tasks that can be controlled is limited by the
number of buttons on the remote control.


All these programs come with pre-made profiles.

More complex keystroke patterns can be programmed via a Macro function that
assigns a sequence of keystrokes to a single button on the remote.
This could be useful for things like logging into an e-mail account at the touch
of a button, or navigating to a specific file in a media player.

The last function of iMON is to control the list of applications that appears
when the “Application Launcher” button is pressed. This allows the
list to be kept to a manageable size that includes only the most commonly used
programs. Just imagine trying to navigate the application launcher if every
installed application was included!

MULTIMEDIAN

MultiMedian is a companion to iMON that is more or less a direct competitor
to Windows Media Center Edition. It includes the same basic functionality:

  • Remote-controlled interface
  • Media playback for a wide range of media types
  • Limited database management
  • Large, TV-friendly, icons

It also inherits some of the fundamental flaws of Windows MCE:

  • Navigating a large media database eight large icons at a time with a remote
    control is not a pleasant or user-friendly experience
  • Getting media into the database in the first place can be difficult, and
    not all file containers are supported.

In addition, at the time of writing, there is no TV recording (or CD ripping)
functionality included, although support is promised in a future version. Could
MultiMedian be running into copyright issues here?

The basic idea behind MultiMedian seems to be to emulate the functionality
of a multimedia AV receiver. When MultiMeidan is running, the numerical keypad
at the top of the remote control functions as a source selector to switch between
various sources. Depending on what you have hooked up to your system, you can
select any of the following sources:

  • Music
  • Video
  • Photos
  • Optical Drive based-media (CDs/DVDs)
  • TV
  • Internet Radio
  • Digital Camcorder

The first three sources are all hard drive based, and must be added to the
media database before they become accessible. Media is added to the database
by selecting a “Scan Folder” where all media of that type resides.
Multiple folders for a single media type cannot be selected, but once the Scan
Folder is set the first time, adding media to the database is a simple matter
of rescanning the folder for updated files.

Unfortunately, the reliance on scanning means that certain media containers
cannot be played back in MultiMedian. Different formats of audio and video can
be played by updating the codecs on the system, but only if these codecs are
contained in one of the containers that MultiMedian understands.

Supported Media Containers
Media Type
Supported Containers
Video
WMV, AVI, ASF, MPG, MPEG, M1V, MP2, and DAT
Audio
MP3, WMA, OGG, and WAV
Image
BMP, GIF, JPG, TIFF, and PNG

Most of the notable omissions are audio formats, although there are missing
containers for every media type:

  • M4A/M4P audio, the default container for iTunes
  • FLAC lossless audio (no lossless formats of any sort are supported, although
    some can be embedded in the WAV container)
  • Matroska (MKV) video, used to support chapters, menus, and subtitles in
    a single container
  • Ogg (OGM), an unofficial extension of Ogg Vorbis Audio
  • RAW image format, common in professional calibre digital cameras

Once the media is listed in the database, playing it back is a simple matter
of selecting the appropriate file. The structure of the database appears to
follow the directory structure in the scan directory, so it shouldn’t be too
hard to keep things organized.


Albums are organized alphabetically, and are navigated DVD-style with
the remote.

As mentioned, navigating the database is a bit of a pain. An iPod-style selection
wheel and the ability to sort songs by more than just Album would be helpful
here. For large databases, the search function may come in handy, but even this
is less than ideal, as it uses the tedious number pad to enter text. A wireless
keyboard might come in handy here, but not many people want to deal with such
a cumbersome device in the livingroom.


The search function requires text entry-by-numbers.

Perhaps the best way to use MultiMedian is to set up the share folder as a
network folder (it will need to be mounted as a network drive before MultiMedian
will see it). Once this is done, all media collection and preparation can be
done on a different system without having to keep a keyboard and mouse at hand
for the TNN-300 system. Updating the media is as simple as re-scanning the share
folder, and there is no need to switch back and forth between input systems.

CONCLUSIONS

If you need or want a remote control for your computer, the iMon setup seems OK. It provides aspects of Windows Media Center Edition functionality without requiring the investment in another OS. (Of course, it is not compatible with WME, but that’s another matter altogether.)

* * *

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