August 1st 2011 12:51 pm

final rating

reviewed on
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Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features At the top end of what I expected. The board has excellent connectivity overall, CPU and storage slightly exceeded expectations good
  • Design and form factor The Fractal Design case is not the last word in quality, but it does have a reasonably appealing minimalism about it. Size is regular ATX so-so
  • Expandability The Asus board has a decent selection of slots and a good sprinkling of ports. Certainly well above average good
  • Noise This was the main purpose of the build, and I can only really genuinely hear this system at the dead of night - and even then, very unobtrusively great!
  • Size and weight Standard for a machine of this class so-so
  • Power consumption Standard for a machine of this class so-so
Detailed review
Case: Fractal Design R3
CPU: i7-2600K
Cooler: Noctua NH-D14
Case fans: Noctua NF-P12 & NF-S12
Mobo: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: Corsair XMS3
Boot Storage: Intel 510 'Elmcrest' x2
Main Storage: OCZ Z-Drive R2 P88
GPU: Asus DirectCuII GTX580
PSU: Silverstone Strider Plus 1Kw

I wanted a system that would deliver reasonable power at home for all-purpose use. I wanted something that would be quiet above all, but provide an acceptable level of CPU and GPU punch when required. After some trial and error the above components were selected for the final build. Originally I had been intending to go for an eATX motherboard and case, but realised that there were various undesirable aspects to this so opted for a fairly standard-sized ATX case (which was capable of accommodating the gigantic NH-D14), as well as a board with an entirely Intel PCI-E layout.

The Fractal Design case is not as well put together than some higher-end cases I have previously used, but if you consider the price, I think it represents very good value. From a functional aspect I have zero concerns - it's exactly what I wanted to put together a silent but decent system that was fairly easy to build into.

Nothing other than an i7-2600K was in contention as well as CPU was concerned. I wasn’t interested in building a dual-CPU system for this particular use, and at the time this chip was a complete no-brainer in terms of choice.

The Asus P8P67 offers a reasonable range of capabilities for a first-gen (post-bugfix) Sandy Bridge motherboard. The BIOS-EFI settings are easy to manage and work generally well either in the simple or advanced modes. The three x16-physical slots offer x8 / x8 / x4 operation when all three are in use. I figured that this would not hold back everything I planned to fit – GPU, GPGPU, PCI-E storage – too much. A fairly strong overclock is very easy to achieve, although in the interests of stability I currently have it on the mildest of OC’s. The board also has a robust feature count, including plenty of USB 2/3 ports and plenty of SATA 6 & 3 ports (although you can’t run more than two SATA 6 ports in a RAID config).

The 'Direct Cu' versions of the Asus GPU's feature a non-reference cooler design, which is in theory intended to offer better cooling at lower noise levels. And I'm happy to say it works. Even in the full throes of gaming, it doesn't actually get all that 'roar-y' and performance has been pretty rock solid thus far.

The Silverstone Strider power supply was another important component in the silence aspect - it is very quiet in operation, while providing stable output to everything that I could reasonably need power for in a desktop of this calibre - and moreover being modular, I can only fit the cables I need and avoid spaghetti junction over, or behind, the motherboard.

I had briefly fitted a Tesla GPGPU as well to this setup – and that was the originally intended configuration – but plans changed and that was removed.

In terms of storage, I’ve been 100% hard-disk free for a while in terms of every system I actually sit in front of at home and work, and this system was going to be no different. A pair of Intel 510 SATA6 SSD’s was run on RAID0 as a ‘boot + programs’ drive, and an OCZ-Z-Drive was picked to act as the main data storage drive. I have a home network with additional storage, so while the bulk of everyday documents, etc would be outside of the PC I wanted fast storage for local caching in terms of stuff for work.

While the choice of the components was important, how it was all put together also obviously has a bearing on silence and stability. So in addition to monitoring the temperatures and mapping that out over a period of time post-build in stress tests, a small perspex enclosure to house the PC was made, a temporary perspex sheet was applied in place of the access panel and smoke run through the case to determine where air was backing up and to correct any airflow issues. The correction was performed mainly by adjusting fan configuration + fan speeds and very little in the way of physical airflow corrections was required.

Noise-wise, I have a 2010 (similarly all-SSD) Mac Pro with an HD5870 almost equidistant to this system where I normally sit in my home office and I can tell you that when I switch on the Apple, it’s comparatively speaking a veritable typhoon at idle. In fact, the Mac is noisier at idle than this build is at gaming loads. So I think I can state that I’ve achieved my goal of building a quiet system.

To be honest, while for many building PC’s is a hobby it’s a chore to me so it was not done for fun. And as you can probably tell by my Have list for starters, I’m not exactly one to be building PC’s to pinch the pennies. It was done to get exactly what I wanted in a home PC, while more or less keeping the stability of a midrange 'normal' ISV-certified workstation at lower noise levels. And it is pretty much what I have so I’m satisfied with the effort I put in to building it.

I would like to upgrade the motherboard at some time in the near future to remove the PCI-E bottleneck (x8+x8+x4 is a bit restricting as far as SLI + PCI-E solid-state storage or RAID controller goes), and I'm just about to SLI the system using another DirectCu GTX580, which means the perspex box has to come back out again for new smoke/temp tests.
review history
Updated detailed review
Updated detailed review
Updated detailed review