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Vertical vs. Horizontal Case Cooling

Written on August 9, 2011 by Matt Bach
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Introduction

Exceptional airflow is something that is essential for a cool-running computer. Traditionally, computer cases are oriented with the air intake in the front of the case and the exhaust in the rear. However, some manufactures have lately been orienting their cases 90 degrees from the norm with the air intake at the bottom of the case and the exhaust at the top. The theory behind this design is that since hot air rises, having the airflow in a up/down orientation allows the case to work with, rather than against, the forces of convection.

Procedure

Our main question is: does a vertical airflow in a chassis improve cooling? To answer this question, we will separately test two chassis in both vertical and horizontal orientations. Although we will be testing multiple chassis, it needs to be clear that we will not be directly comparing the chassis against each other. What we want to find out is if having an up/down airflow alone really makes a difference, not whether one case or the other has better overall cooling. Vertical cooling cases have a vastly different internal layout than traditional cases, so we will be using both a traditional cooling case as well as a vertical cooling case for all of our testing. The two cases we will be using are the Antec P183 V3 (traditional cooling) and the Silverstone FT02B-W (vertical cooling).

The Antec P183 V3 has a more restricted airflow and caters more towards quiet operation. The Silverstone FT02B-W has very low restriction on airflow, which is great where noise is not as much of a concern.


All of the components we will be using for testing are high-wattage parts with very high thermal outputs. This means that some of our testing may give us temperatures that are much higher than what we would normally deem safe, but temperature variances should become more pronounced by using these very hot components. It needs to be noted that realistically we would never have these components in the Antec P183 V3 with the fans on low. We would normally either turn the fans up or mod a side fan into the side panel so that the case would provide adequately for all the components. For this testing, we actually want the case to be running very hot with low airflow to ensure that any forces of convection are not overrun by high-flow fans. We are trying to represent both ends of the cooling spectrum and these two cases are almost the embodiment of high airflow, and quiet cases.

Setup

Both cases will be setup with the stock case fans running at their lowest settings. All testing will be done with both a traditional air-cooling CPU heatsink (Gelid Tranquillo Rev2) and a closed-loop CPU liquid cooler (Coolit ECO II). Normally we would configure the Coolit ECO II as an intake in the Antec P183 V3, but in an effort to "work with convection" when case is turned on its front, we will be leaving it in the default exhaust configuration. This will raise the CPU temperatures on this cooler, but is more appropriate for this comparison.

Temperatures will be examined at both idle and load, with a combination of Prime95 and Furmark used to put both the CPU and GPUs under full load for 10 minutes. Temperature recording will be performed with Coretemp and GPU-Z, as well as with a thermal imaging camera. A controlled environment with an ambient temperature of 24 Celsius will be used for all testing. The margin of error for our temperature readings is 1 degree Celsius. There is a margin of error for the thermal imaging as well, but as we are looking at images and not hard numbers it is very difficult to define. We will be relying on our years of experience working with thermal images to determine which variances are worth pointing out and which can be attributed to normal testing fluctuations.

Testing Hardware:

 


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