Just How Quiet Is A Define R5? Fractal Design Put It To The Test

👤by Tim Harmer Comments 📅01.09.2015 16:38:00

For Fractal Design, it's a matter of pride that their chassis are amongst the quietest available in the consumer market, but it's always been difficult to ascertain just how quiet their cases are. Objective measures in reviews tend to rely on a relative scale, comparing a chassis with competitors to see how they differ from ambient levels; an absolute measure of noise level is nigh-on impossible to gauge.

The pressing issue is the level of ambient noise. With the greatest will in the world most media outlets won't be able to totally soundproof their testing environment. That's okay when a device is expected to be sufficiently higher than the ambient level, such as a high-performance graphics card's cooling solution at load, but problematic when you're typically operating near to or below this level. For certain classes of chassis you tend to have a lot of clustering around the ambient rather than clear differentiation, so sometimes subjective analysis must be used deepen the analysis and contrast different cases.

With this in mind Fractal Design set out to find an objective and absolute measure of how loud their premier silent enclosure actually is, with a little help from the Guinness World Record-holding Quietest Room in the World: the Anachoic Chamber at Orfield Labs, Minneapolis, USA. In testing to ISO standards Fractal gleaned some pretty interesting results.

Noise, or more precisely the Sound Pressure Level, is formally defined as the pressure level change caused by a soundwave in an ambient atmospheric pressure environment. The SPL scale is logarithmic and as a rule of thumb an increase of 10dBA means the noise is perceived to be twice as loud, decrease by 10dBA and you halve the noise. A baseline lower limit of 0dBA is defined as the lower limit of human hearing. A figure of 30 to 40dBA is often quoted as typical for a residential building or office, hitting 90dBA regularly probably means that you need routine hearing protection.

Fractal Design and their US retail systems partner Pudget Systems teamed up with Orfield Labs to put three systems* through the ISO 7779:2010 testing procedure. One system was assembled on a standard test bench, the others into Windowed and Solid Side Panel Define R5 variant chassis; components were otherwise identical. Microphones were placed 1m away from the test system when within the chamber in a hemisphere, resulting in 10 discrete sound pickup points to be processed, as well as a single 'system operator' position. Sound levels were then measured at idle, 50% load and 100% load in tern for each system, and results processed formulate an overall value.

The results are eye (or perhaps ear) opening. The starkest difference can be seen at idle and 50% load, where both configurations of Define R5 have sound levels in the single figures; the test bench however started at 16dBA. In fact 16dBA is in of itself pretty quiet, so the system as a whole clearly wasn't a weighted die in Fractal's favour. Even at 100% load levels, where Prime 95 and Unigine Heaven were stressing the system to its fullest, sound levels peaked at 21.9 dBA in the Windowed Define R5. Compare that with a figure of 28.7 dBA for the test system at 100% load and you have a perceptible sound level at load which is almost half as loud, purely due to being in a Define R5 case.

So, what does this mean for the Define R5? Well, for one it does a terrific job of dampening down the noise from your system - an almost 7dBA difference compared to an open system at 100% load means that nearly half the noise is cut out by the chassis. Just as impressive less than 50% load you can literally hear a pin drop over the noise the system makes. That's critical in a chassis billed as near silent. And for another, the Windowed variant almost matched the Solid Side variant in effectiveness.

Finally, it underscores the difficulty in testing for absolute noise levels which can be easily transplanted from one publication to the next. It's difficult to give credence to seemingly outlandish sound values seen in marketing when we consider that a typical study may have an ambient level many times higher, and so it's important to recognise the rigour with which those figures is derived. All credit to Fractal, going the extra mile.

For more more information on the tests performed at Orfield Labs, including the Test Reports, visit http://www.fractal-design.com/home/justsilence.

*Test System Specifications

- Fractal Design Define R5 Solid Side Panel variant /
- Windowed Panel Variant /
- Puget Systems Test Bench EATX V1 DIY Kit

Processor: Intel Core i7 4790K 4.0GHz Quad Core 8MB 88W
Motherboard: Asus Sabertooth Z97 Mark 2
Graphics Card: Asus GeForce GTX 980 4GB STRIX DirectCU II OC
Memory: Kingston 16GB DDR3-1600 (2x8GB)
Processor Heatsink: Gelid Tranquillo Rev3
Processor Heatsink Fan: Scythe Slipstream 120mm (Model Number: SY1225SL12SL)
Power Supply: Seasonic X-1050 1050W Power Supply
Solid State Drive: Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SATA 6Gb/s 2.5inch SSD
Intake Fan: Scythe Slipstream 120mm (Model Number: SY1225SL12SL )
Exhaust Fan: Fractal Design GP14 Dynamic 140mm Fan (Model Number: FD-FAN-DYN-GP14-WT)
Operating System: Windows 8.1 64-bit OEM

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