Date: August 22, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
In developing a chassis, companies like Cooler Master have to decide whether the focus will be on cooling or noise, because it’s extremely difficult to have a chassis excel in both. The Silencio 550 proves this, because while it becomes the quietest chassis we’ve ever tested, it comes at the expense of higher temperatures.
If it’s too loud, you’re too old! I remember using that line on my parents back in the day (15 years ago!) as the volume of my music reached ear-splitting levels. Those days are long gone, as are the days when I didn’t care how loud my computer was. Every open spot had a fan in it regardless of the noise rating and that’s the way I liked it, by gum!
Like my music listening habits, the amount of overall system noise that I feel is acceptable has also changed, so I’m excited to take a look at Cooler Master’s latest “silent” offering.
The Silencio 550 mid-tower case, as the name would suggest, is all about keeping things quiet. Capable of supporting micro-ATX and ATX motherboards, it has a black steel frame to match the panels and plastic accents. The user guide also mentions a 551 model with a grey interior and an extra 5.25″ drive bay in favour of the hot swap bay, though for some reason Cooler Master doesn’t list it on its website.
At the front of the Silencio is a door with a piano finish inlay and an all black Cooler Master logo towards the bottom. Swinging the door open from the right shows the foam lining on the inside to muffle sound. At the top are two 5.25″ drive bays and a 3.5″ X-dock hot swap bay below. Below the hot swap bay is a removable filter to help keep dust out of the system and a pre-installed 120mm fan behind it. If additional cooling is needed, another 120mm fan can be added, or a single 140mm fan instead.
The right and left side panels are both held in place with two black thumbscrews and are completely solid. There isn’t much to show, but in front of the panels are vents that run from about the mid way point to the bottom of the plastic accents for extra ventilation.
Moving around to the back shows the motherboard I/O opening at the top left and a 120mm fan to the right. Below them are seven PCI slot covers, two holes with rubber grommets for running water cooling hoses and the power supply opening at the very bottom.
The top panel is also solid, but along the front edge is the I/O area that starts with a USB 3.0 port on the far left that connects via a cable to an open port on the rear I/O of the motherboard and is backwards compatible with earlier USB interfaces. The rest of the top I/O area from left to right is made up of the 3.5mm headphone and microphone jacks, a USB 2.0 port and an SD card reader.
Finishing things off is the blue hard drive activity LED and reset and power buttons. Built into the power button is the power LED that shines blue when the system is powered on.
The underside of the case has four plastic, stereo-style feet with rubber bottoms to keep the case from slipping and to absorb vibration. The last feature to look at is the removable mesh air filter that slides out the back for cleaning.
So far, the exterior provides understated looks with a nice amount of expandability, but it’s time to see if the interior has what it takes to make prospective buyers sit up and take notice.
The side panels may not demand much attention from the outside, but on the inside we can see both lined with foam to prevent noises from escaping.
When removing the front cover, the leads for the top I/O connections come with it. In order to completely remove the cover, the leads will need to be pulled all of the way out of the system. Without doing so, there is still enough slack to move it out of the way to show the open drive bays, hot swap bay and the mounting area for the front intake fans.
Starting at the lower front like always is the hard drive cage that is broken up into two sections. The bottom section can accept three 3.5″ drives and the top can take another four, all of which mount on tool-less rails. Installed in the top bay of the bottom section is a tray that can hold two 2.5″ drives front to back and is the only place where drives of this size can be secured.
If extra room is required for longer GPUs or if optimal airflow is desired, the top section of the drive cage can slide out once four screws are removed from the right side. Another nice feature is the cable management areas at the back left of the bottom section of the drive cage to help keep data cables hidden.
Above the drive cage is the hot swap SATA bay that has the necessary power and data connections on the green PCB at the back. Just above are the two 5.25″ drive bays that feature a tool-less mounting system in the form of front to back sliding locks.
On the bottom of the case is a simple setup for the power supply. There’s no room for an extra fan here but there are vents for the power supply to draw air in from outside and a raised area in each corner for the unit to rest on. These have been capped with rubber to help absorb any vibration that the fan may create.
There are cable management openings in the motherboard tray in front of the power supply, along the right edge towards the top and along the top edge. They may not be lined with rubber grommets, but this should be more than enough for those who this case is marketed to.
The final opening in the motherboard tray is a large cutout around the CPU area to help with installation and removal of coolers with back plates. A quick look at the inside of the rear panel shows the thumbscrews that secure each of the PCI slot covers and the 120mm exhaust fan.
A small white box secured to the inside of the case holds all of the necessary hardware to build a system. It’s mostly standard fare with the user guide, brass motherboard standoffs, a socket to help install said standoffs, screws to secure all of the necessary components, enough drive rails to fill all of the bays, some cable ties and a case speaker.
Since this case is designed to be silent there are also two adhesive rubber pads that can be placed between the case and the power supply and rubber washers to use in conjunction with cooling fans to absorb even more vibration.
It’s time to see if silence really is golden when we toss our test system in the Silencio 550 and compare it to the recently reviewed competition.
There were no real snags that kept us from installing the components that make up our test system, but there are things to watch for. The first is that even standard-sized power supplies will block off part of the cable management area directly in front of it, possibly limiting the number of cables that can be routed through.
All cables were able to be routed as intended but space was tight, even using a light system like ours. It looks like this was intended for lower wattage power supplies with a smaller foot print. If an even larger power supply is to be used this area will be mostly if not entirely inaccessible.
Installing the motherboard was a snap once the standoffs were installed in the proper configuration. The included socket made short work of this and the motherboard and liquid cooler installed easily. Users running a 120mm all-in-one liquid cooler shouldn’t run into any problems and those using air coolers will be good as long as it doesn’t exceed 6.1″ (155mm) in height.
There is nothing to report with the hard drives either. With a rail on each side, the 3.5″ drives slid into the bay cleanly. A 2.5″ solid-state drive was installed onto the center tray and then the tray and rails slid into the bay as a complete unit.
The GPU also installed cleanly and was held in place securely thanks to the thumbscrews. Plastic retention mechanisms have been a love/hate feature for me lately and there has probably been more hate than love, so I was relieved to see thumbscrews here. Users with extra long video cards that are over 11″ including power connectors will end up with no choice but to remove the top section of the hard drive cage.
Once the optical drive was installed into the top 5.25″ drive bay and secured into place by sliding the tool-less lock back, I started working on something else and knocked the lock forward, disengaging the pegs that hold the drive in place. These locks moved a bit too freely so some extra resistance would be nice to ensure nothing gets jostled out of place.
Two of the top I/O leads ran into problems when it came time to connect them. The front panel audio lead wasn’t long enough to reach the header at the back of the motherboard when routed through any of the cable management areas, but this was remedied by running it through a hole at the bottom of the motherboard tray that is left when the metal is punched out and bent to form a tab used to help keep the power supply in place.
The USB 3.0 lead ran into a similar problem. It could not be routed through any of the cable management areas and still reach the back of the case, so it was run across the motherboard above the GPU and out a PCI slot that had the cover removed. As far as I can see there is no other way for this to be done due to the short length of the lead.
With the system built I wanted to check out the front fan filter that is on the backside of the plastic vents that are visible from the outside. It attaches to the raised areas on the vents with two screws on the top and bottom edges. As a bonus I was able to see how the door is kept shut when I found a metal piece hot glued to the bottom corner, and a magnet in the same corner of the door is hidden behind the foam lining. This creates enough resistance to keep the door from swinging open, but without creating too much pull making it hard to open or causing the door to slam shut.
Testing the X-dock hot swap bay was next. When a drive is slid in, the connection is nice and secure but allowed for the drive to be removed with less force than others I have tested. The drive slides far enough into the case that it sits flush and allows the door to be closed. When it came time to read the drive, nothing I did would make it show up until the system was reset with the drive still in the bay. This is the same Windows 7 install used in all of our case testing to date since I came on board, so I can vouch that AHCI is enabled and other hot swap bays have worked without issue. Well, at least the SD card reader worked like a champ.
Cable management has never been my strong suit, but I was able to come up with what you see here. The cable management options may not be overwhelming, but on a case like this, and without a window, it hardly matters unless you intend to show it off regularly. Nothing in this build should interfere with airflow meaning temperatures can stay as low as possible.
I decided to take the path of least resistance when it came to where the leads were tucked on the backside of the motherboard tray. At first I had used cable ties to hold them tight against the tray but could not get the panel to slide forward far enough to fasten the thumbscrews because of the foam lining. Instead there was just enough extra space in front of the rolled edge of the motherboard, so it was a trade off where a slightly messier build won in favour of a lot of frustration and a side panel that bows out.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
EVGA GeForce GTX 470
Western Digital 2TB Green
Antec TP-750 Blue
Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced
Cooler Master Silencio 550
Corsair Obsidian 650D
Corsair SE White 600T
Silverstone Raven RV03
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Corsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Well this is a first. During testing, our overclocked GPU locked up at 97°C while the fan was running at 98% after only 10 minutes. I would have thought that the GTX 470 had a few degrees left before it started to cause problems, but it gave up at that point and lead me to believe the card itself had failed after the desktop was displayed, as a scrambled mess of artifacts appeared when the system was reset. Luckily, after letting the system sit for a while, everything checked out. This temperature far exceeds that of the other cases, so airflow is very restricted.
Turning to the CPU, the same picture is painted with an increase of 4 degrees on top of any of the other cases. 67 degrees is still within the thermal limits, but it’s creeping close to the 72 degree cut-off specified by Intel.
An increase in component temperature is to be expected considering the Silencio is all about keeping noise contained inside. Less noise means less vents and less vents means less airflow. The foam padding on the inside does a lot to trap heat as well. This is not the only “silent case” in our data base though. The NZXT H2 turned in respectable numbers but it ships with an extra fan, all fans spin at higher RPMs, it features a front to back hard drive orientation and most of all, is roomier inside.
It would be silly not to mention sound levels considering why the Silencio was developed. Overall, it kept the system fairly quiet, even with the H60 and GPU fans running at full tilt. Having used the NZXT H2 in a backup system, I know what it’s capable of, and the Silencio takes it one step further by muffling system noise better.
What the Silencio 550 lacks in cooling prowess it makes up for in noise reduction so potential buyers will need to decide what’s more important.
So, what -is- more important when choosing a case? If the answer is eye candy and thermal performance, it’s best to look elsewhere. If it’s functionality, expandability and a quiet system that’s wrapped up into a sleek, unassuming enclosure, then this may be the one for you.
The Silencio would look perfect being a workstation in a home office by day thanks to the classic exterior while providing just enough of a glimpse that there is more going on under the hood than your average case. Over-the-top styling just doesn’t cut it for me and this case keeps things on the down low. Even the Cooler Master logo on the front door isn’t overly visible until it is viewed in the right light.
Thanks to the removable top section of the hard drive cage, it can also accept just about any component thrown at it without getting too exotic. Extra long video cards or a ton of hard drives won’t be a problem and there is a fair bit of room to work in even though space is limited compared to some cases. Top USB 3.0 connectivity and an SD card reader certainly doesn’t hurt either, especially for someone like me who takes a ton of pictures or is constantly moving data to an external drive.
When it comes to system noise, this is the case to beat so far. Both the front and rear fan are extremely quiet while spinning at only 800 RPM and with a low noise CPU cooler, there’s no doubt that the system could be nearly silent although I question whether the CPU would be cooled well enough, because cooling in general is where this case falls flat.
I can understand that this isn’t supposed to be the go to case for out of this world overclocking, so maybe using a hot running card with a high overclock and large voltage increase isn’t fair. Those who intend on running a quiet system with all components running at stock frequencies will absolutely love it, but I would warn against running a mildly overclocked system with the stock fan configuration. I would even go so far as to warn against running a GPU that doesn’t exhaust the warm air out the back as adding any heat to the inside of this case could spell trouble.
Then there is the cable length. There are more models of various components on the market than ever before, so extra care should be taken to ensure the cables can run to any location inside the case. The USB 3.0 cable should certainly have enough length to at least run through one of the water cooling holes, although I would like to see another system put in place. Even something as simple as a notch cut into one of the PCI slot covers that allows the cable to be run through while leaving the cover installed.
As for the hot swap bay, I can’t guess what is going on here. The OS was installed with AHCI enabled and again, it’s the same install that was used during previous testing. It was able to read drives in all of the other hot swap bays except this one, and when the system is powered off and on, the drive is picked up – so it’s not the drive itself or the connections that are at fault. Hopefully this is just a case of a bad sample.
At the time this review was written, none of the major retailers have it in stock, but Cooler Master expects the case to retail for $99.
With the lack of cooling, short cables and a hot swap bay that doesn’t work as intended, I’d like to see the Silencio 550 re-released with some fixes seeing how all of the problems should be able to be cleared up without too much trouble. Until this happens, I simply cannot recommend this case.
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