Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6705/azza-silentium-case-review-knowing-the-limits
AZZA Silentium Case Review: Knowing the Limitsby Dustin Sklavos on January 29, 2013 12:01 AM EST
Introducing the AZZA Silentium
The desktop enclosure market has broken down pretty simply into three categories with only the rarest of outliers. Cases under $100 will either have good acoustics or good thermals, but never really both. Cases between $100 and $150 will typically find a balance. And if you're paying more than $150 for a case, it needs to deliver on both, full stop. The problem that sub-$100 silent cases often run into is that the measures taken to keep noise down result in substantially reduced airflow, and when you start really pushing the hardware (and thus the limits of the case's cooling), those measures actually serve to increase system noise beyond a garden variety case.
With all of that information in mind, AZZA's $99 Silentium is entering a perilous market. The Silentium is meant to compete with cases like the BitFenix Ghost and the NZXT H2, offering quiet computing at a competitive price point. The problem is that when you're at the top of the sub-$100 market, you risk having to compete with monsters like the Fractal Design Define R4 and the soon-to-be-released-on-American-shores Nanoxia Deep Silence 1. Does the Silentium carve out its own niche, or is it fighting an uphill battle?
I admit I feel like we haven't seen enough of AZZA's offerings here. While a lot of their cases on NewEgg seem like garden variety "g4m3r" enclosures, designs like the Genesis and Fusion have some real ingenuity built into them. The Silentium at least superficially has some interesting ideas on hand, too; as a silence-oriented enclosure (if you couldn't tell by the name) it doesn't seem to be working off of quite the same plans that other silent cases do. It has the traditional ATX layout, but AZZA goes their own way in other places.
|AZZA Silentium Specifications|
|Motherboard Form Factor||Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX|
|Drive Bays||External||4x 5.25”, 1x 3.5"|
|Cooling||Front||1x 120mm intake fan|
|Rear||1x 120mm exhaust fan|
|Bottom||1x 120mm/140mm fan mount|
|I/O Port||1x USB 3.0, 1x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic|
|Power Supply Size||Standard ATX|
19.7" x 8.8" x 18.1"
500mm x 225mm x 460mm
USB 3.0 connectivity via internal header
Toolless 5.25" drive bays and 3.5" drive sleds
Acoustic foam on most interior surfaces
What I appreciate about AZZA's design here is that by and large they've elected to eschew even the idea that this is a high performance case. The Silentium is about quashing noise, pure and simple. With that said, whenever a manufacturer opts for an odd number of USB ports (of either variety), I get irritated. This is a cost cutting move, pure and simple. I've heard from reps that it's cheaper to use a single USB 3.0 port and a single USB 2.0 port by a couple of bucks, which is an absolutely pointless savings in the long term and wastes motherboard headers.
In and Around the AZZA Silentium
Grief over the odd-numbered USB ports notwithstanding, I found a lot to like about the Silentium's exterior design. It seems a little bulbous in places, but there's some thought in regards to function that went into it, and as a whole AZZA manages to keep the case away from being an ostentatious "g4m3r"-oriented product.
The front of the Silentium gets a little close to gaudy, but it's extremely smart and functional. AZZA is able to avoid the end user having to open the front door by actually including a fold-down front flap that hides the optical drive (assuming there's an optical drive in the top bay). This is good, because the plastic snaps that hold the door shut don't feel super sturdy (magnets would probably have been preferable here). The bulge beneath the door actually hides the 120mm intake fan, which pulls in air from the bottom. Above it are the indicator LEDs and the power button, and to the left are the front panel I/O. For the most part I like the look of the Silentium, but there are ways AZZA can improve this design further still: five front bays are unnecessary; AZZA could've gone down to two and added a second intake fan, and they'd be fine.
You'll notice that the sides and top of the case are closed off, but the sides themselves are extruded. This is a way to increase interior space so that the thick acoustic padding in the side panels doesn't actually cut into it. It also helps tremendously in providing space behind the motherboard tray: the padding is soft and pliable, and it's easy to squish cables into it without having to fight to put the panel back on. Finally, the rear of the case is business as usual, though I'm not sure what purpose the radiator tubing holes serve on a case like this (or really any modern case.)
The side panels are held into place with thumbscrews, and slide into notches. Maybe I'd been spoiled by so many cases that use hinged side panels before the current batch of cases, but the notched panels are always a royal pain to remove and replace. I really hope the savings in manufacturing is worth it, because this definitely passes real inconvenience down to the end user when they have to put the case on its side to put the panel back on.
Unfortunately, while the exterior design of the Silentium is for the most part fairly intelligent, the interior suffers from some poor design choices. AZZA does include toolless drive trays that support both 2.5" and 3.5" drives, as well as toolless snaps for 5.25" drives and even a dedicated external 3.5" bay. They also have parts of the motherboard tray extruded specifically so you don't have to install many (or any) motherboard standoffs.
Where AZZA loses points is in the mess of cable headers (needlessly cluttered as a result of the odd-numbered USB ports), and both surprisingly and damningly, there is no routing hole in the motherboard tray for the AUX 12V line. None! I'm genuinely confused as to why this isn't here, since it's been Motherboard Cabling 101 since routing holes were introduced.
As for cooling, there are just the two 120mm fans and no fan controller of any kind, so we have to hope that AZZA chose its fans well. It should be obvious that while other silent cases have tried to straddle the line between performance and silence, AZZA aimed squarely at silence. After building, when we get into testing, that's what we want to watch in our stock configuration.
Assembling the AZZA Silentium
The nice thing about assembling standard sized cases is that I don't scratch myself up or have to work my dainty hands into weird corners; they typically come together easily and they're usually not too heavy to move. AZZA did put some thought into making assembly fairly easy, so users looking for a simpler build will probably find a lot to like in the Silentium.
Ignoring my griping about removing and replacing the side panels, I appreciate that the motherboard tray essentially comes ready for an ATX board to be installed. Snapping in the I/O shield is easy enough, and even for our testbed's Micro-ATX board, there wasn't too much effort involved.
Installing 2.5", 3.5", and optical drives is varying degrees of fraught. The trays themselves are fairly sturdy and designed to bottom-mount SSDs as is typical of modern designs. That said, I'm not convinced the side-mount pegs are particularly secure. The twist-clamps used to lock the 5.25" drives into place are also only used on one side as is typical (but not wise.) These don't feel very secure either, but thankfully the button in the front door lines up pretty perfectly with the eject button on our test optical drive. The power supply and video card went in easily enough, though, nothing really to report there.
Where things get hairy is in the cabling. Barring the waste of headers, there are no places to route the exhaust fan lead (which is molex and not 3-pin) or the AUX 12V line. Both of these cables wind up having to stretch across the motherboard to the routing hole behind the 5.25" drive bays, and it's an absolutely silly omission. Space behind the motherboard tray is also a bit minimal, though the extruded side panel does help pick up a lot of slack. For what it's worth, outside of the issues inherent to notched side panels, the Silentium was surprisingly easy to close up.
AZZA makes some good decisions with the interior of the Silentium, but it's really obvious there's room for improvement here. There needs to be a way to route the exhaust fan and AUX 12V lines behind the motherboard tray, and as I mentioned on the previous page, AZZA could probably safely do away with most of the external 5.25" drive bays. This is the kind of bold step only Fractal Design and SilverStone have really been taking lately, but it needs to catch on. I have three bays in the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 I'm using for my desktop, and I use two, only one of which I even need. Realistically, USB enclosures and peripherals have largely nullified the need for 5.25" bays.
For testing Micro-ATX and full ATX cases, we use the following standardized testbed in stock and overclocked configurations to get a feel for how well the case handles heat and noise.
|ATX Test Configuration|
Intel Core i7-2700K
(95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 4.3GHz @ 1.38V)
ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP
(tested at stock speed and overclocked to 1GHz/overvolted to 1.13V)
|Memory||2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600|
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400|
|Power Supply||SilverStone Strider Plus 750W 80 Plus Silver|
Each case is tested in a stock configuration and an overclocked configuration that generates substantially more heat (and thus may produce more noise). The system is powered on and left idle for fifteen minutes, the thermal and acoustic results recorded, and then stressed by running seven threads in Prime95 (in-place large FFTs) on the CPU and OC Scanner (maximum load) on the GPU. At the end of fiteen minutes, thermal and acoustic results are recorded. This is done for the stock settings and for the overclock, and if the enclosure has a fan controller, these tests are repeated for each setting. Ambient temperature is also measured after the fifteen idle minutes but before the stress test and used to calculate the final reported results.
Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our testbed.
- Thank you to Puget Systems for providing us with the Intel Core i7-2700K.
- Thank you to Gigabyte for providing us with the GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 motherboard.
- Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory.
- Thank you to Cooler Master for providing us with the Hyper 212 Evo heatsink and fan unit.
- Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
- Thank you to CyberPower for providing us with the Samsung BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW drive.
- And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the power supply.
Noise and Thermal Testing, Stock
Given the way AZZA designed the Silentium, its performance under stock settings is really going to be what we're interested in. This is not an enthusiast-class case, and the bog standard ATX cooling system is clearly not intended to handle high-performance builds. Unlike many other cases designed for silent running, AZZA barely even makes allowances for performance.
What we're really going to want to see is just how the stock fans perform. There's no fan controller included and both fans use a standard molex connector. They're also both 120mm fans when the industry is beginning to graduate to 140mm, so they may not be able to move much air.
I've added another unfortunate wrinkle into the mix, though: I've added the test results from the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 and the Fractal Design Define R4. The R4 is about $10 more than the Silentium and a much more flexible enclosure, while the DS1 is expected to arrive on US shores at around $119. If it does, and that's a big "if," it's going to seriously jeopardize the value propositions of a lot of the cases here, including the Silentium.
Ambient temperature during testing was ~22C.
Thermals at stock aren't particularly impressive, and the Silentium is really competing with the BitFenix Ghost at its price point. The Define R4 was never a stellar performer, but it's flexible if you're willing to play with it. It's also much better built than the Silentium.
CPU and GPU fan speeds prove the Silentium, Ghost, and R4 are pretty much neck and neck with each other while Nanoxia's enclosure provides better value across the board.
AZZA is able to put a little bit of distance between itself and the competition in our acoustic testing, though. They use thicker dampening material and more of it than the competing cases do, and it shows. That said, the DS1 is still quieter while offering better thermals and airflow.
Noise and Thermal Testing, Overclocked
As I mentioned before, the overclocked testbed is expected to be a shade too much for the AZZA Silentium. It'll run, but thermals tend to overpower cases like this one and result in similar or higher noise levels under load than competing cases that are geared for performance rather than acoustics, and usually at noticeably higher temperatures.
Again I've included the test results of the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 and Fractal Design Define R4; note that both of these cases also offer decent radiator support (something the Silentium lacks.)
Uh oh. When we start seriously pushing the Silentium it loses measurable ground to the Ghost and the Define R4. The Define R4 is a more expensive case, but the Ghost is the same price.
The R4, Ghost, and Silentium are still basically on the same ground while Nanoxia's DS1 continues to operate in a class of its own.
Remember what I said about noise levels in silent cases? This is what happens. The Ghost is able to do the best job of keeping our overclocked testbed quiet, but again the DS1 is able to handle the increased thermal load more gracefully.
We have to keep in mind that the Silentium simply isn't designed for this usage scenario, and that's fine. But in the process, cases like the Ghost and R4 start to look like better deals. The R4 is more expensive, but the Ghost isn't.
Conclusion: Know What You're Using it For
AZZA's Silentium offers some of the best acoustic padding I've ever seen on a case. With our stock testbed, the Silentium proves to be one of the quietest cases I've ever tested while offering middling thermal performance. If you're going to run your hardware at stock and you just want to muffle the noise, the AZZA Silentium is definitely worth considering.
I like a lot of what AZZA has done with the exterior of the Silentium, specifically the flip-down door for the optical drive bay that allows you to leave the front door of the case closed. Venting is also well hidden by the extruded fan intake at the bottom of the face. The case also winds up being much more spacious than it looks due to the extruded side panels and soft acoustic foam.
Where the Silentium runs into trouble is both a messy interior design (due to the wasted motherboard headers and the lack of a routing hole for the exhaust fan header and AUX 12V line) and, more seriously, with competing case designs on the market. At the same price, I like the BitFenix Ghost better. It has a similarly attractive design (if a bit chintzy looking in places, just like the AZZA), but is more feature rich and has better expandability. Closed loop coolers are often a good choice for users who want quiet, efficient CPU cooling, and the Silentium only allows for a 120mm radiator while the Ghost, Fractal Design Define R4, and Nanoxia Deep Silence 1 offer much more in the way of options.
Unfortunately the last two make things even more complicated. If the DS1 never makes a successful landing on US shores, the Silentium and Ghost both still have to contend with the Fractal Design Define R4. At $10 more, the R4 is a better built and better looking case, and it offers an integrated fan controller which is useful for tuning fan performance to exactly where you need it. Of course, if the DS1 does make it to the States at $119, it will land like an atom bomb and wipe out the majority of competing cases within $40 of it in either direction.
There's a place in the world for the AZZA Silentium, but it pretty desperately needs a price cut. This case feels like it belongs at $79 (which is incidentally where it resides with rebate at the time of this writing), where its shortcomings are easier to forgive and it's out of striking distance of the competition. At $79, the Silentium is one the least expensive quiet cases you can buy, and has a strong value offering that makes it a stronger competitor to cases like the Ghost and R4. If you see it for that price and it suits your needs, it's certainly worth the recommendation, but at $99 I'd shell out the extra bread for an R4 or DS1.