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SP USA SilentPC Pro S
Did you just buy a brand new PC and turn it on only to be greeted to the sound similar to that of a small jet aircraft. Well you're not alone. Most PCs nowadays are loud, especially if you care a lick about cooling and have two or more extra fans in there. Noise hasn't really been much of a consideration for most PC enthusiasts but it can quickly become a nuisance. My roommate has personally gone through a few sleepless nights because of my very loud system. Many people resort to turning their PCs off at night just to get some sleep. I know a lot of you are familiar with the difference when you turn your PC off. The noise can be very annoying and distract you if you're trying to do some work, such as writing this review for example. In a corporate environment where you have open cubicles, a noisy system can quickly make you very unpopular with your coworkers. Software developers especially don't like too many distractions when they're working on a project with tight deadlines. Sacrificing a little noise for better cooling is an acceptable trade-off for the overclocker or power user. However, your average Joe cares not about cooling the system a couple more degrees. He does cares about not having the neighbors complain every time he turns on the computer. Ok ok, maybe it's not that bad, but keeping the PC as quiet as possible has been getting more and more difficult with all the faster processors needing better (which mostly means faster/louder) cooling and the hard drives/CDROMs operating faster and making more noise. Although there are a few things you can do to modify your case to be quieter, why not just get a case that was built to be quiet? Well that's where this product comes in, the Silent-PC. In this review, I take a look at what this product has to offer and whether it delivers on its claims. Big PC manufacturers like Dell or Gateway haven't paid as much attention to this aspect of the PC as the folks over at SP North America have.
Before we get into the guts of the Silent-PC, let's take a look at the company that brings us this product. Although SP is new to North America, this German company has been around since 1979. They started off as a franchise selling C64s and Amigas to end-users, then eventually moved on to the PC market in the 80s. They started focusing their PC designs on ergonomical solutions in the early 90s. In the mid 90s, they started designing cases with EMI/CE/FCC Class B conformity. They joined forces with Siemens to provide motherboard solutions for their systems in the late 90s. Then in 1999, they extended their operations to North America in Ann Arbor, MI., and brought with them the Silent-PC concept. They are basically an engineering and wholesale operation committed to the OEM market. So, that means they aren't retailers anymore, but provide system integrators with a means to deliver quality computer solutions. That means that you don't actually buy from SP itself but from one of their resellers. Check out www.sp-usa.com for more information on their products.
What is the Silent-PC?
The Silent-PC is based on SP's Pro S mid-tower chassis that operate at, according to SP, noise levels of 21.5 dB(A) without and 24 dB(A) with harddrive access. These values have been confirmed by the ARD, one of Germany's public TV and radio stations. Just to give you an idea of how loud that is, 20 dB(A) is a whisper, 40 dB(A) is the average home, and 60 dB(A) is a conversation. Other modifications that have been made to the case are:
The Silent-PC is not just a case but an entire system. All the components in the Silent-PC are designed to lower the over all noise levels. The components that make up the Silent-PC include:
In this review my system came with, the Pro S mid-tower (Black), Fujitsu-Siemens D1219, Mitsumi Floppy and CD-ROM. An optional quiet keyboard is also available although not included in my package here. Now lets take a look at the 2 main components of the Silent-PC package, the case and motherboard.
Ok so what is this EMI stuff and why do we need EMI shielding? Well Electro-Magnetic Interference results from RF emissions from electronic devices. These emissions radiate outside the device where it disturbs the operation of other electronic equipment. With processors running at increasingly faster frequencies and over all systems running faster, there exists a greater chance of other devices interfering with your computer system. The result would be an unstable system. Many people blame the OS (Windows) or faulty software/hardware for unstable systems, but an unstable system might actually be caused by poor EMI shielding. Everyone and their mom has a cell phone these days. So you have all these signals traveling in the air that can potentially cause interference with your system. A good case with EMI shielding will pretty much protect the rest of your system for any undesirable effects. I mean don't get me wrong, it's not like your system is going to be crashing all the time without proper shielding but you're just increasing your chances of system instability.
SP has gone great lengths to ensure the Silent-PC is properly shielded. The side panels are lined with patented EMI-Liner spring contacts that guarantee shielding up to 5.2 GHz outgoing and 2 GHz incoming. These spring contacts are built to last and stay elastic for the life of the case. So you can open and close your case without losing any shielding quality. The EMI shielding continues from the external drive bay shield to the interface card slot shield. You can rest easy knowing the case is fairly safe from any outside interference.
In addition to the EMI shielding, the case also has a slew of features that make it more than just your average case. First let's talk about the case construction. It is very solid and well constructed. The case I have is black (really dark gray) and the paint quality is superb. They use prepainted sheet metal which offers more scratch and UV resistance. It definitely doesn't look like an amateur paint job that's for sure. The front bezel has an optional slider that covers the external drives and switches. This slider comes in several colors and can be locked with the front panel lock included with the case. So let's take a look inside this thing. The noise reducing features are quickly apparent when you open up the case. The side panels are lined with foam to reduce noise, and the hard drive rack has a ceramic enforced rubber lining to reduce noise from vibration. The foam padding is also anti-static and heat conducting. This keeps the system protected from static as well as not acting as an insulator. The power supply is a 250w Quiet Technology power supply that is built to be silent. The fan inside can barely be heard when the system is running while still working effectively. This power supply is new and has only recently been offered with the Silent-PC case. It is AMD certified so it should be enough to accommodate most single processor systems. However, if you have multiple drives, processors, and interface cards, you might run into a problem. For the average user 250W should be adequate but you never know. I personally just ran into some power supply problems with my 400w Antec PS which I laid to rest after only 9 months of use. Of course, you could always just put your own power supply in there. For quiet and high output, Enermax has their Whisper series of power supplies.
The case is also packed full of usability features. The side panels don't need screws but instead they have a sliding mechanism that holds them secure and not to mention the springs lining the edges. The panels can be a little hard to remove and install at first but the more you do it, the easier it gets. The foam makes it a tighter fit and little more difficult to install the side panels. The expansion card slots use a tool-less installation mechanism that makes it very easy to install any PCI/AGP cards. You don't need to bring out the screw driver for this. The CD-ROM and floppy drive racks are constructed so that you only need to screw in one side of the drives in. The other side has a spring like lining, similar to the side panels, that hold the drives in place. This supposedly reduces the stress on these drives while still keeping everything secure. Either way it makes for easier installation because you don't need to put screws on the other side. The case also comes with a slide out motherboard tray which makes it very easy to install your system. It also doesn't need screws to slide out but is locked in place by the hard drive rack. The position of the hard drive rack is notable because most hard drives are located in front of the case. This one is located in the back actually near the exhaust hole. The case also has an optional extra hard drive cage if you need more space and also an exhaust fan. The estimated price reflects the price that I found a reseller offering it for. It is rather pricey for a mid-tower case, but with all the features packed into this case, it's worth it. I'll cover how everything else falls into place later in the installation section.
This motherboard is pretty much a 815E motherboard with all the trimmings, onboard video, LAN, audio, ATA/100 and system monitoring/thermal management. The video only has 4 MB so playing any sort of graphic intensive games aren't really practical. It does have an AGP 4x slot if you want to upgrade. The onboard sound is nothing special and sufficient for the listening to music, playing some games, and watching the occasional movie. No theatre surround sound here. The integrated LAN is a nice addition though. It's a 10/100 Intel LAN controller which is good if you're on a network. No need to waste a PCI slot on a NIC. Ordinarily I'm not a big fan of integrated components, but for the average consumer the included video and audio are adequate for their needs. All the components can be disabled if you choose to do so. $169 isn't that bad for what you get with this motherboard. Let's take a closer look at what it has to offer.
Fujitsu-Siemens prides themselves on their motherboard production process. This is evident in the D1219A's construction. According to them, their production processes are designed to be environmentally friendly and their motherboards also contain less carcinogens and other toxic substances that might eventually contaminate the environment. The tougher regulations in Europe ensure that this product meets environmental standards. They don't trade-off for quality and stability either, which from my experience has been true so far. As you can see from the above specifications, the motherboard is pretty feature filled. Just like the case, this motherboard has features vital to the Silent-PC package. The motherboard also has good EMI shielding that increases its reliability. The motherboard has a BIOS feature that enables you to set the performance of the CPU fan. You can choose from high performance which means louder or silent which can significantly reduce the noise in your case. The motherboard basically monitors the CPU temp and adjusts the fan speed accordingly. This results in the fan sometimes speeding up and slowing down. We'll see later on how much effect this has on cooling.
In addition it also has a Recovery BIOS which allows you to recover your BIOS if an error occurs during the flash process. So you don't have to worry about errors when you flash your bios. It can be interrupted and still be restored to working order as many times as you want. With other motherboards, an interruption can mean a dead board. The mainboard also has a Boot Logo feature where you can add your own boot logo to the bios. System integrators can add their own logo to the system easily. In addition the motherboard has ACPI features and is IA-PC (Instantly Available PC) compliant. This means that the system state can be saved in different ways, to RAM or HD, and be restored quickly. So if you want to power down your system, you don't have to close all your programs or reboot. The motherboard also comes with various applications that can help in system management, which include DeskView and SystemGuard. DeskView allows the local or remote administration of any PC with a Fujitsu-Siemens mainboard. You can easily integrate this software on an enterprise level with other enterprise management software such as HP OpenView or CA Unicenter. So what can you do with DeskView? Well you can monitor certain components of a PC and set alarms etc. to warn of any problems that might occur. Not only can you monitor systems but also do remote booting to shutdown/restart a machine that has crashed or do a network OS installation. SystemGuard allows you to monitor the temperature, fan speed, and voltages on your mainboard. You can set the desired fan performance setting with this application also. It's pretty much like Motherboard Monitor where you can set alerts and check if your system is within specs etc.
Ok the system didn't really come with a paper manual because I received the system directly from SP. Being a wholesale manufacturer, they provide an online manual which the OEM reseller has the responsibility to include. The CD that came with the mainboard had the layout so I could connect everything correctly. SP's website also contains the manual for assembling the case. The best way to do this if you don't want to keep going online or only have one system is to print out the manuals yourself. The case is pretty much assembled when I got it. The only thing I needed to do was attach the sliding cover in the front bezel. I have heard reports of that being difficult but I found it to be rather simple. It was a little tough to slide at first but after sliding it up and down a couple times it was perfect.
Installation is a snap with the slide out motherboard tray. The tray uses built in stand-offs to hold the motherboard instead of the usual spacers you have to install for other motherboards. Other reviews have mentioned that it was difficult to screw in the motherboard using a regular hand-held screwdriver. I found it to be a little hard at first but you have to make sure they go in perfectly straight. It takes a little more force than your other cases but it's very secure. The case also comes with extra motherboard stand offs if your motherboard needs them. After the D1219A was securely in place I started installing my modem, sound card, and video. I decided not to disable the onboard components and see if any problems arouse. The PCI cards were easily installed thanks to the screw-less mechanism SP has employed here. After that I put in the processor and memory. I used a 1GHz PIII with Alpha Heatsink and the infamous Delta fan. This is one loud fan so let's see if the system can hold it down. By the way, SP recommends more silent fans for your processor but of course I wanted to be different.
Next was the case LEDs/switches. After referring to the printout I had from the CD, it was easy to get everything in the right place. On a site note, one of the LED connectors from the case was mislabeled as LAN LED. It was actually a message LED. It's not that critical I suppose since it's just another LED. Then I installed the hard drive. I used a 13 GB IBM 22GXP 7200 RPM drive as my test drive. The drive rack is positioned at the back of the case. This allows the hard drive to be cooled by the exhaust fan or the power supply fan. It's an innovative design and I'm surprised other cases don't use it. After that I moved on to the CDROMs and floppy drive. The case only has one floppy bay so if you have a zip drive, you'll only be able to use one drive at a time. The floppy and CDROM that came with my Silent-PC package was just your regular Mitsumi CDROM drive and floppy. The only difference is that they were colored to match the case color. So now that everything was installed let's see if it all works... So firing up the old machine I nearly freaked when I thought it didn't turn on. The reality is that the system was quiet enough to make me think it wasn't on at all. The motherboard detected my CPU correctly so I proceeded to install Windows 2000 Pro. The installation went without a hitch. The CD that came with the motherboard contained drivers for the video, audio, and LAN. I installed those first then moved on to the applications. I installed DeskView which came on the CD as well. I had to download SystemGuard from SP's website. Now that everything's up and running let's see how this system performs.
Well, the DeskView application is useful if you want to find out information about your system. However, since I only have one system and not a network of them, it's not as useful for me. It has a feature called DeskOff where I can actually schedule a reboot, standby, or shutdown of the system if I wanted to. This could be useful if you want to put your system on standby at night without having to worry about doing it yourself. The SystemGuard application is similar to that of Motherboard Monitor. It displays your system temps, fan speeds, and voltage settings. You can use the watchdog feature to monitor various system components and set alarms for them. The nice thing I like about SystemGuard is the graphical indicators that show if the CPU temp is nearing a dangerous level. Below is a shot of the temperature panel. The fans and voltage have a similar panel. SystemGuard stays in your taskbar and displays the status of your machine at all times.
Well what's a system review without your standard benchmarks? Here I use SiSoft Sandra to do the performance testing. The system is very stable at stock speed and I've been running it now for a week or so without rebooting with Prime95 running in the background.
As you can see the CPU benchmark scores are pretty much up to par with what they should be. However, the Memory score is another story. The performance isn't what I would have expected and there is nothing I can really do to tweak the memory settings. The BIOS has nothing in terms of changing memory timings etc. so I'm pretty much out of luck. This keeps from running your memory out of spec. I think the problem is because I am using CAS 3 memory so the system defaults to that if your system memory is not specifically CAS2. The results would probably be better if I used CAS2. After using the system for a few days I found it to be pretty responsive. The lower memory bench doesn't really translate much to the real world unless you're doing some really extensive memory access. For every day stuff like word processing, surfing the web, listening to music and stuff like that it doesn't make much difference. Having CAS2 memory in there wouldn't hurt though.
Is it really quiet?
Well once the system was connected and I was sure everything was in the right place, I fired it up. If it wasn't for the power LED I wouldn't have known if the system was on. I'm always used to the case sounding like a small jet engine. I was like, "Oh man, I must have messed up. I hope I connected everything..." But when the monitor came on I realized that the system was really quiet hehehe. Even with the delta fan in there, it's significantly less noisy than other systems with similar setups. I've been using the system for a few days now and it's been a good experience. I definitely sleep better and I don't have to yell when I'm on the phone anymore hehehe. At full load with Prime95 running and playing Q3 in the background, the system stays just as quiet. The only time the case gets a little louder is when you use the CDROM drives. Since those are right in the front, there's little you can do to reduce the noise. The hard drive doesn't make as much noise because it's in the back and the hard drive rack has vibration dampening lining. This is by far one of the most silent systems I've used. You really have to put your ear next to it to even hear the hum of the fans.
Does it cool?
The case is based on an open architecture which means that SP doesn't recommend adding an intake fan. They contend that an intake fan will increase the pressure inside the case which can increase the temperature a few degrees. In all cases there will be air currents, turbulence, and some stagnant air that can be trapped by poor fan placement. Also you'll probably notice that with more air flow you get more dust. The Silent-PC case is built so that there is low pressure which eliminates any stagnant air pockets and enables the hot air to dissipate naturally. Less dust is brought into the case as well. This keeps the case quiet while not totally giving up on cooling. What's the result of this? Well I find that the CPU and case temps are higher than normal. The CPU runs at 38 degrees C at idle and up to 45 degrees C at full load. The system temp runs similar but only gets up to 42 degrees C. Mind you, this is all with the Alpha heatsink and delta fan. Nothing dangerous or anything, but still higher than I normally had in my other cases. It's still well within the operating limits of the system. I guess there is always a price to pay for everything. In this case to make a quiet system, you have to sacrifice cooling. However, since you're not overclocking here, cooling isn't as vital. You don't get a performance increase if you cool down the system more. If you decide to add your own motherboard to overclock then this will be a concern. Right now though, the temps I'm running at are perfectly fine.
But I'm a hardcore gaming freak and still want some quiet, will the Silent-PC work for me?
The answer to this question is a resounding maybe... well maybe because it's really all subjective whether you want to trade off some cooling for quiet. I'm a gaming freak, although not as hardcore as I once was, and I find the Silent-PC ok for everything I need. You definitely have to install a new video card if you want to play any 3D games. The case and CPU temps might get a little too high for my tastes, but they are within the operating limits of the system. For those who are looking to reduce temperatures, maybe adding more powerful fans will do it but you're also sacrificing noise. You really have to find a middle ground if you're looking for both cooling performance and quiet. The overclocker might not be too happy about the motherboard since there are no overclocking options at all. This system is really suited more to the average individual working at home or the office where noise is not desirable. Of course, you can always replace the motherboard with your kickass system and get some of the noise reduction benefits of the case. I personally like the style of the case and all the usability features definitely draws me in. So this system is still good for the gamer. However, the price aspect might turn away the budget enthusiast.
Pros & Cons
Ok so let's go over the good stuff this system has:
With the good, there has to be some bad so let's see:
Noise has always been the bane of the PC enthusiasts. The Silent-PC eliminates a lot of the noise so you can sleep at night. It's very well constructed and SP has focused on areas where other manufacturers have only brushed upon. They've really took the time to develop a user friendly case design that really works. So what's the bottom line here? Well the Silent-PC definitely delivers on it's claims. The combination of the case and motherboard will run you $300+, but you get a lot of great features as well as a virtually silent system. If you want the optional features like matching CDROM and Floppy, you'll have to pay more. For budget guys this might seem like a lot but for what you're getting it's well worth it. If you are looking for a way to eliminate most of the noise from your system and don't mind paying for it, the Silent-PC is definitely the way to go. You really have to hear it for yourself. This product might not be for overclockers, but gamers can still have their systems in here running silent and maybe give your roommate some peace and quiet for once. You can also take the case and add your own components to it. You're not just limited to using the case as is, but of course that's beyond the scope of this review. I'd like to thank SP North America for providing us with a review sample. Thanks for taking the time to read this review and I hope you enjoyed it.
Rating: 9/10 SystemLogistics
Re-Printed From SLCentral