Life is about perks, whether it's getting free HBO as a DirecTV installer, or taking the summer off because you went into teaching for your profession. I don't get either of these, but I do get to play with the latest computer gadgets and hardware. Most recently, I logged some hands-on time with Antec's P182 enclosure, the newest mid-tower in their Performance One series, and it got me wondering about the future of PC case design.
PC enclosures have a knack for avoiding major innovation, partly because the ATX specification continues to dominate the landscape, and has been doing so for the past decade. Intel's BTX form factor tried to shake things up, but was ultimately rejected by the DIY community from a presumed lack of necessity. And for the most part I agree, but how much longer will that stay true?
Using the above mentioned P182, I officially retired my AMD 4400+ X2 based system this past weekend, and in its place, I built a rig around Intel's newly released Core 2 Extreme QX6800 processor. This quad-core beast packs 2.93GHz in each of its four cores, sports a total of 8MB L2 cache, and comes topped off with an unlocked multiplier to feed my overclocking jones. In other words, it brings the heat...both literally, and figuratively. And adding to the thermals are a pair of 8800GTS videocards for some SLIick gaming performance. I had no expectations of a cool running rig, but will admit to being surprised at just how toasty things were getting under the hood.
On stock voltage and clockspeed, my temperature monitoring programs registered right around 50c idle, and just a tick under 70C during load (4 instances of CPU Burn-In). And that was after performing my cooling kung-fu. Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste? Check. Aftermarket heatsink/fan? Check (Thermaltake V1). Open the bedroom window to keep an influx of cool breeze flowing in, record temps in the evening, and remount the heatsink? Check, check, and checkmate. The underlying problem here is a hot running four-core chip combined with a chassis that lacks the cooling pizzaz needed for an enthusiast level rig. The P182 (whose forte is noise management) isn't alone in this category, and it even brings some handy cable routing options to help with airflow, but it's just not enough for where systems are headed. We saw dual-core chips become a standard option this past year, and widespread quad-core adoptance is approaching. Word on the street is that by mid summer, budget shoppers will be able to pick up a Q6600 for as low as $266. And Barcelona's knocking on the door.
Unlike with videocards, both Intel and AMD should be commended for putting thermal management at the forefront of chip design (lower wattage requirements, clockspeed throttling), and in preparation for the upcoming four core madness, I'd like to see more case manufacturers step up to the plate with effective cooling innovations too. I've seen a small handful of enclosures sporting giant 25cm side fans, which I'm more keen on than the ones that implement side ducts, and of course there's cases like the Cooler Master Stacker 830 with more fans than an Atlanta Hawks game. But let's see what else the case designing gurus can come up with. Otherwise, it's strictly up to consumers to figure out adequate cooling for high end setups, and our ideas tend to revolve around the outlandish (check out what you can do with 8 gallons of cooking oil). It's no easy task turning a hot rig into a cool running PC, something enthusiasts have known for years, and the mainstream may soon find out.