Here at OC3D we often comment on the sonic footprint of a particular component. We will frequently refer to something as being "practically silent" or " nearly inaudible". The desk top PC sitting next to you in your Man Cave may well be very quiet indeed, and eminently acceptable to you in that environment, and if it is the likely hood is you've gone to great lengths and reasonable expense to make it so. Stick it in the lounge however and if you don't notice how intrusive the albeit gentle hum of the fans can be, then your good lady most likely will. While she's at it, she might also point out how ugly the big black case is.
Enter then the FC9 from Streacom. Utilising direct touch heat pipe technology to dissipate heat away from the CPU, the FC9 is able to boast silent operation. And we don't just mean really quiet, we mean totally silent. There are a couple of caveats with regards to max TDP but we'll come to those later. For now suffice to say you're not going to be using it as the base for a monster gaming PC, but then that's not the point of this case.
Available in either Black or the Silver we have for review you're not going to have too much of a problem matching the FC9 to your other Home entertainment components. And with the thick extruded Aluminium chassis you'll be left in no doubt as to the quality of the build.
|Chassis||All extruded Aluminium. Front 4mm, Sides 9mm|
|Colours||Sand Blast finish Black or Silver|
|Motherboard support||Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX|
|Storage||3x2.5" or 1x3.5" and 1.2.5"|
|Optical Drive support||1x slim slot loading, left or right eject button|
|Expansion slots||3x low profile|
|USB support||2xUSB2 (side facing)|
|Cooling||Direct touch Heat pipes x4|
|Power supply||Nano 150, nano 150XT, Nano 180XT or Streaflex 250 (none included)|
|Remote control||MCE Compatible IR receiver and remote (not included)|
TDP or Thermal Design Power is a metric that helps define the amount of heat a CPU generates and as such aids in determining the amount of heat any cooling system will need to dissipate. Streacom say that in well ventilated conditions with good airflow a CPU with a max of 95W can be used, however they strongly recommend that as prevailing conditions and the ambient room temperature can impact on the cooling performance of the Direct touch cooling system, that a CPU with a TDP no greater than 65W is used. In real terms what this means is that you're going to be looking at low TDP chips such as the i3 3225 or Core i5 and i7 offerings with the S or T suffix such as the i5 3475S, i7 3770S, 3770T. Alternatively there are quite a few low TDP CPUs with integrated Graphic from AMD such as the Trinity series (FM2) A10-5700, A8-5600, A8-5500 and A85400K to name but a few.
The FC9 we have for review today came with a Nano 150 fanless power supply/adapter unit. There are a number of PSU's available for the FC9 as detailed above and it should be noted that these are a retail option and are not included with the purchase of the case. The Nano 150 used in this review costs in the region of £80 so should you decide to treat yourself remember to factor in this additional cost. The Nano 150 as you might have already guessed is a 150W unit which is ample to power the sort of components the FC9 is designed to accept. Mobo and CPU naturally, along with 3x2.5" SSDs or 1x3.5"HDD and a single 2.5" SSD. An optical drive and a low profile TV/satalite card are also within it's capabilities but care should be taken not to over load the PSU much further.
Up Close: Packaging and Contents
The Streacom FC9 comes securely packaged in a sleek black box. Inside we find the case snugged into a fabric bag and gripped between two shapped high density expanded polystyrene slabs. Nestled into the top of the packaging lies the accessories box.
Although the Nano 150 (seen below left) supplied with the review sample won't be looked at in detail in this review, we shall be examining the functionality t provides with regards to the available internal connectivity of the FC9. The direct touch heat pipe assembly which is key to the silent operation of the case comes packed in it's own neat little foam compartmentalised box. It really is a thing of beauty with all of the Aluminium Billets and copper heat pipes being immaculately presented and positively oozing with sexy quality
The instructions themselves are also a cut above those usually we usually see. Full colour and full size there should be no excuse for shoddy installation or confusion. We have a feeling we may need to temporarily suspend our "Man card" status as at first glance the heat pipe assembly does look more than a smidge involved.
Up Close: Exterior
Resplendent in its deliberately slightly rough to the touch sand blast finish the FC9 is also a sod to photograph. At one point the Autofocus was having that much trouble locking on we were thinking Streacom had accidentally stumbled across a stealth technology. Imaging issues aside the first impression of the case is one of total quality. Although made of Aluminium the FC9 weights in at a tad under 5KG. No surprise then that the sides are 9mm thick and the front 4mm thick.
The sides of the case give us a hint as to the means by which the FC9 dissipates it's heat. These fins aren't just for show, they not only look cool, they help keep things cool. Parallel lines of small square holes in the roof also aid to ventilation.
The front fascia is plain and uncluttered, just as we like to to see in HTPC set ups. On the left a single power button illuminates a small blue LED when power is on (very helpful as there is no noise to indicate). Over to the right there's an aperture for a slot loading optical drive and a window for an IR receiver (not supplied). The optical drive has a centrally mounted eject button and by means of some clever jiggery pokery and the application of various thicknesses of rubber pads the button is able to activate drives with the hardware eject button on either the left or right hand side.
Each side of the case has 20 Aluminium cooling fins which are integral to the chassis and as such cannot be removed. the holes along the sides not only provide additional ventiallation, but as we shall see when we get to the build also act as mounting points for the heat pipe clamps. Two USB2 forts can be found hiding between two of the fins., keeping them from ruining the sleek lines of the case front.
Round the back there's the usual rear I/O cut out, but no fan mounts what-so-ever. We don't mean this as a criticism in the slightest, it's nice to see that having taken the time and effort to produce a silent system, Streacom aren't about to give you the option of ruining all their hard work by strapping a noisy fan to their beloved case. Over to the right there are 3 low profile PCI slots and aside from grooved ventilation holes the only other feature is the small hole by which means the power cable enters the case.
The underside of the case is almost as clean and simple as the rest of the exterior. A rubber shod foot sits at each corner of the case with additional ventilation holes further aiding heat dissipation. Strange that Streacom chose not to put any under the CPU area. Every little helps as they say.
Up Close: Interior
Normally we'd split the inter section up as there's usually quite a lot to get through what with various drive bay configurations, PSU mounts and fan location. As you can see from the images below though, there's not really a lot to talk about in here. The FC9 is able to accept both Mini-ITX and Micro-ATX motherboards with the size chosen having no impact on the choice of other internal components. As we'll see when we get to the build section though you will need to be careful with regards to the location of the 24pin power connection on your boards as there's a chance of interference with the direct touch heat pipes.
Either 3x2.5" drives or 1x3.5" and 1x2.5" drives can be mounted on the drive rack. The rack is dual sided and rotates via a hinge towards the front of the case. Brackets are also provided to secure a slim line slot loading optical drive in place.
Peering into the front of the case with the drive rack rotated upwards we can see the limited wires extending from the front I/O and the USB2 ports.
Well that's it for the interior, nothing to see here...Move along now... And no skipping to the conclusion. Yes You!
If the FC9 had a face book page, it's status would most assuredly be "It's Complicated"
When we looked at the interior we said there wasn't a lot to see, that doesn't mean there's not a lot going on. it's not until we come to the build that we begin to understand what this case is all about. The time we spent drooling over the various heat pipes and contact plates not only left us with a bit of a turgid, but also instilled a due sense of fear and apprehension with regards to how it all went together. Still, at lest we have the instructions. Ah yes, the instructions, which at first sight appear to be well laid out and instructive (as per their name) are at best not that much help, and at worst a bit misleading with regards to the easiest way to attach the heat pipes to the contact plate.
Choice of motherboard plays a critical role in the assembly of the FC9s cooling system. If you have a motherboard with the 24pin connection running along the left side when viewed from the rear then it's not going to be compatible with the standard contact plate assembly. More of this at the end of the build section. For now though lets push on with a motherboard that is compatible.
For the review we're using the MSI FM2-A55M-E33. The back plate having been removed leaves space for four small adhesive padded metal discs to be attached to the motherboard holes. This process would be the same regardless of the CPU you were using with the exception of 2011 which of curse has internally threaded motherboard holes. Without the back plate there is a considerable reduction in strength particularly noticeable on AMD boards as the mounting holes are widely spaced.
The instructions suggest that the heat pipes first be attached to the side of the case and then held in place by the contact plate and top clamp. In practice we found that a bit of a faff and after about 30 minutes of smearing TIM around the place found it much easier and cleaner to clamp the heat pipes very loosely in the contact plate assembly before attaching the assembly to the motherboard. On just very slight tightening of the motherboard sprung tensioned screws we noted a worrying amount of bend in the motherboard.
With the CPU contact plate in place the heat pipes can then be eased through to make direct contact with the side of the case. Be prepared to get through a fair amount of TIM as all contact between Aluminium and copper has a liberal coating applied. Once everything is in place the Aluminium side panel contact plates can be positioned and screwed into place from the outside.
In the image below left you can see the issue that arises as a result of the 24 pin connection being located along the side of the motherboard. Even without the heat pipes clamped in place it's easy to see that there's no way the two are compatible. All is not lost though as a contact plate riser is available (shown below right) that will give an additional 32mm of clearance. Bear in mind that this isn't included in the basic kit and will set you back £20 or so should you need it.
As we're going to be using the on board graphics of the AMD A8 5600 there's no real need to fit a Discrete GPU. Should you choose to, or need to, bear in mind it will need to be low profile and low power. We have however fitted a 3.5" drive to the underside of the drive rack leaving space up top for a 2.5" and an optical drive should we so desire. With the drive in place the rack is simply rotated round and secured in place with some of the smallest screws we've ever seen used in a case.
Power comes from the external Nano 150 and is ported in via a single black braded cable to the 24 pin connection. A small PCB is appended to the 24 pin connection which handles power distribution to a grand total of 4 connections. In total a 4pin CPU power plug and inline connection having 2xSATA and 1x4 pin Molex. Clearance between the 24 pin unit and the HDD is also pretty limited, the image below right actually shows the HDD resting very slightly on top of the unit.
With everything wired up and checked we can close the HDD rack door. As there's not a lot of wires, there's not a lot of tidying to do, but as always every care is taken to produce a tidy job.
The FC9 looks quite striking in it's natural habitat, and as it's available in both black and silver will blend in with the majority of existing kit. Although we've put the unit into a vertical stacking system here, it's of such a size as to easily fit a shelf in all but the smallest home AV units.
Performance and Testing
In order to examine the thermal characteristics of the FC9 we've designed a set of tests that will best demonstrate it's capabilities. In addition, and to act as a basis for comparison we've paired the same set up with the small Scythe Katana4 CPU cooler and placed the set up in our usual Storm Trooper test rig. As with all our tests we use OCCT to measure with a 30 minute test period between a 5 minute run in and a 10 minute cool down. Max temps are recorded along with the ambient temperature enabling us to determine the Delta temperature. As always anything exceeding a max temp of 80 degrees will stop the test and register as a fail.
Test 1: A measure of the temps with the system at idle. a few browser windows open but nothing really going on that will stress the system.
Test 2: Playback of a full screen HD Video using the On board graphics of the A8-5600. This is the sort of task the FC9 should expect as its bread and butter and as such it should be expected to be able to cope with the heat created.
Test 3: OCCT stress test. No overclock, just a straight stress test with everything at stock. A bit unfair on the FC9 perhaps as it's not really intended to be able to cope with the sort of temps that stress testing develops, but hey, we're OC3D, so we're going to do it anyways!
Test 1 As we might expect with the system essentially just free wheeling along there's very little difference in temperatures between the FC9 and the Katana4. Certainly the FC9s delta of 32.5 is quite acceptable.
Test 2 A bit more activity means a bit more heat, and with the AMD chip doing all the video processing it's caused things to hot up a little. The Katana4 as we would expect keeps things cool with the Delta only rising 2.5 degrees over the idle temp. The FC9 fares less well as is to be expected for a passive heat sink, but still makes a good fist of things with it's delta rising from 32.5 to 46.3, a rise of some 14 degrees, but again well within limits and more than acceptable.
Test 3 With OCCT in full swing the Katana was only just able to keep things under control with a Delta of 52.2 The max temp though crept dangerously close to the 80 degree fail point. We know we're being unfair in subjecting the FC9 to this test and didn't expect it to pass. We are OC3D though so stress test we must. As we expected the temps maxed out within seconds of the test commencing.
In addition to the above tests we thought it would also be useful to look at the way heat is dissipated from the CPU towards the case by measuring and comparing various temperature points along the way. A hand held IR Thermometer was used to record an average of 3 readings taken from several locations on the heat sink and surrounding case areas. The readings were taken at both idle and while undertaking HD video playback. As the roof of the case was removed to record these readings we're not so much interested in their absolute values, more their variances and distribution which will enable us to see how the heat is conducted.
The above graph shows us that in both sets of conditions heat is being uniformly dissipated away from the contact plate along the heat pipes towards the side panel contact plates. The fact that the side panel temps, both interior and exterior are within a degree or two of the heat pipe temps indicates that there is good overall thermal transfer between the two media. The high reading in the area of the Large side panel contact plate indicates that heat is building up here. We re applied the TIM in this area and repeated the tests however the results were much the same.
First impressions are important, and boy does the FC9 make a good one. Slipping it out of it's fabric sleeve from it's nest amongst the expanded foam packing you're immediately struck by the weight of the case. "Hang on" you think, "this things 100% aluminium, why does it weigh so much"? A glance at the specification explains all, informing you that the sides are 9mm thick and the front is 4mm thick. prizing out the slim box containing the accessories you find a collection of immaculately packed and intimately laid out copper heat pipes and Aluminium contact plates. It's these components that enable this cases main feature. You see, the FC9 is a silent case. Not just "quite quiet" or "practically inaudible", but totally utterly an unequivocally silent. You've most likely sussed already (because you have of course read the rest of the review) that the reason the case is made from thick Aluminium is because the case sides themselves are the heat sink for the CPU. Streacom call the technology direct touch and it is much the same as the technology used to move the heat up and away from the CPU in a conventional tower heat sink except with the FC9 the heat is directed towards the right hand side of the case where shaped Aluminium blocks clamp them to the sides with the aim of ensuring maximum thermal transfer.
That's all well and good, but does it work? Well yes, and quite well actually, but there are some caveats in there, the main one being that Streacom strongly advise that you select a CPU with a Max TDP of 65W. As you're most likely going to be putting a HTPC set up into the FC9 then thankfully these days there's a fair amount of choice of CPUs from both Intel and AMD. You're also going to have to be mindful of how much kit you put into the Streacom. However the 150W of power on tap from the silent fanless Streacom 150 Watt PSU will be plenty to enable you to feed an HDD, ODD, SSD, TV/Sat card along with the Mobo. CPU and RAM. What you're not going to be able to do is build a living room gaming rig as the power available and the TDP constraints just aren't compatible with those required.
If the assembly of the Streacom had a Facebook status it would most definitely be "It's complicated". Having opened up all the packets and realised this was no straight forward assembly job we surrendered our Man cards and got stuck in. Although the instructions are full colour and full size we didn't find them particularly helpful in the way they recommended the direct touch elements be assembled. Not actually wrong of course, but not clear. Of more use were the diagrams which when viewed enabled is to work out for ourselves the easiest way to put things together, and as such re-claim our Man cards.
As the FC9 is truly silent the only thing to alert you to the fact it is on is the gentle blue light from just above the power button. Our testing showed that Direct touch technology employed was more than able to dissipate the heat generated while playing an HD video, a test representative of the sort of activity the system can be expected to perform. OK so it might not be able to dissipate the heat from our standard torture test but then this was perhaps a trifle unfair of us. Comparative readings from temperatures along the direct touch system also show how good a job is done of conducting the heat away from the CPU.
The only real thing not to like about the Streacom FC9 is the price. At £204 it's not exactly cheap. Throw in the additional £80 that the Nano 150W PSU will set you back and perhaps the optional £20 heat sink riser to expand motherboard compatibility, an IR receiver and remote control and and you'll be nudging up against the £400 mark. And that's before you've even put a gram of Silicon inside it. The price pretty much makes it a niche product. something for the PC/home AV enthusiast, for whom money isn't so much of an object. If that's you and you're looking for a totally silent case then you won't be disappointed. For the rest of us, well we're just going to have to persuade our good ladies that once the film is on they won't hear the fans in our ugly black cases.
Thanks to Steacom for the case on review today, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.