Impactics C3LH passive HTPC enclosure
I would like to thank CaseKing.de for supplying the review sample.
CaseKing is one of the few companies out there, which will not just sell anything. They only offer hardware that performs well and is of high quality. The shop offers quite a few exclusive parts and devices from all around the world and it is also the official distributor for a long list of well known manufacturers. Their assortment has grown greatly in recent years, while great service and support is still a very important part of the shop philosophy. The website may be in German, but due to great demand, an English version is in the works. We received continous support from CaseKing and they were kind enough to offer the entire Impactics K.I.S.S.S. (Keep it simple, smart and silent) system for review.
The chassis - simply called C3LH-B for black and C3LH-S for silver is actually an OEM case which they have improved upon. Impactics has taken the bare enclosure and created its own passive cooling solution along with a different - higher quality power supply. Thus we are taking a look at the entire system instead of just the chassis. Since Impactics and Caseking have supplied us with a pre-assembled system, we have taken it apart completely, to give you the proper perspective as a potential buyer.
K.I.S.S.S Coolset ZO-2
PSU 84-130 & DC-DC Converter
As you can see above, to have an entire K.I.S.S.S system, you require the above kits at most. The only more efficient variant is using a mainboard which already features an onboard DC-DC converter and thus do not require the separate PSU84-130 kit.
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Impactics ships the chassis in a sturdy cardboard box with huge foam spacers. So even with the system filled to the rim, you can rest assured that nothing could happen to the unit, even when dropped during transportation. A large company logo has been printed on the box itself.
A Closer Look - Outside
As we have received a fully assembled unit, let us take at the outside in its finished state first. The chassis has been sourced from Cooler Master, who offers it as an OEM solution, but Impactics has improved the internal layout to hold the new converter PCB and added feet to the chassis, so that it may be used in a home setting. Instead of using the cooling solution and power converter usually found within the OEM variant, Impactics has developed their own cooling system and has taken a quality converter from FSP. From a quality standpoint, the C3LH chassis makes a very good impression. It utilizes solid aluminum fins along with a thick aluminum front and a metal frame. You may also mount it unto a flat surface with traditional wall screws by using four little metal clips.
The front has no connectivity for USB a card reader. While this is excellent for industrial environments, as those would be considered weak spots, it would have been nice for home use. Turning the chassis around we have clear access to everything the mainboard has to offer. A separate power connector has been placed on the left side. It is a special connector which allows you to screw down the power plug, so that it cannot come loose during operation. This is another little feature aimed at industrial users.
All sides of the unit are completely solid with no air vents. While this encapsulates any noise from the hard drive for example, it is not sufficient for every industrial use, as there are plenty of cracks in which dust, dirt and the likes could enter the chassis. In other words, the case is not sealed tight everywhere.
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Since we received the unit pre-assembled, but there is currently no one offering it in such a manner, we have ripped it apart completely to give you an idea about what awaits you if you were to buy it yourself. As you can see, the interior of the bare case is grey. Turns out there is a whole bunch of parts which you will have to assemble to create a fully passive system. We counted 15 parts to the cooling assembly, not counting screws and small parts like springs. According to Impactics the cooling blocks are produced in Germany, not in Taiwan, which is a reason for the somewhat high price tag - which results in precision and higher quality. The PSU DC-DC converter is very compact and features a single 24-pin Mainboard connector, a P4 4-pin plug, one Molex, one SATA and one FDD connector. The cables are soldered to the PCB so you cannot simply unplug the ones you do not need.
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First, you have to prepare the mainboard. A solid metal plate and a foam spacer are the backbone of the entire cooling system. Four long screws with washers under and above the mainboard are used to secure this plate and act as mounts to screw the cooling block down on. A separate all Aluminum cooling block is screwed down with two normal screws unto the H55 chipset. It features three grooves to run heatpipes from, but you will only end up using a single one. The last step to prepare the mainboard for assembly is done by screwing in the solid copper block with the butterfly shaped metal parts. Four springs exert the pressure unto this contraption to generate good, solid contact with the CPU. This block also has three grooves for heatpipes, all of which will be used, as the i3 530 certainly requires more heat dissipation than an Atom based system for example. Just make sure the block, which is square has been placed on the CPU correctly, so that the grooves face in the right direction.
Before installing the mainboard, you need to screw the DC-DC converter PCB into place. Then you can insert the mini-ITX board and screw it down at the four corners.
The next step is probably the messiest one, as you need to make sure that all heatpipes are covered in thermal paste in the right locations. On top of that all the Copper and Aluminum spacers have to make good contact with the sides of the chassis, which act as giant heatsinks, meaning that you will also need to cover these with thermal paste. That said, be prepared to use a lot of it and to make a fair mess in the process - I did.
The heatpipes are pushed down unto the CPU block and chipset block with the use of the stainless steel plates. They make excellent contact with them due to the pressure and the applied thermal grease.
These heatpipes in turn are then connected to the exterior of the chassis with more thermal paste and the help of the metal clips which screw right into the side panel fins and exert great pressure. For the CPU three heat pipes are used, attached to Copper on both ends, while a single heatpipe takes care of cooling for the H55 chipset, attached to Aluminum blocks on both ends. These heatpipes also cover some of the SATA ports for example, but due to the compact nature of this system we only require two, which are free of any obstructions.
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Once the cooling is installed, I suggest you turn on the system and watch the temperatures in the BIOS first, just to make sure it all works well. Any wrong installation should show with high temperatures at this point. This saves you the trouble of having to take off the drives if something did not work out. These units are placed onto the top frame, with the ODD being secured by four tiny screws and the hard drive sitting on rubber feet, eliminating any vibrations.
Once the top frame is placed unto the rest of the system, you can no longer reach things like the LED connectors or memory slots - another reason for a trial run before closing things up.
Before we dive into the performance benchmarks, I had to come up with a reasonable set of tests to highlight the main selling points of such a system. Due to the growing variation of ITX systems, it is interesting to see how each of them performs in regards to power consumption, CPU utilization, gaming and noise level. Since this is an Impactics case & cooling review, these numbers just illustrate that you can really use the entire system just like any other. In addition, since we have yet to take a real look at the Zotac H55 ITX board, this presents an interesting possibility to dive into those numbers a bit as well. Before you read on, I should note that while all the Atom based passive solution can be pushed as hard as you want for as long as you choose to, but the i3 530 system is not intended to run at 100% load for prolonged periods of time - nonetheless, even after doing so for this review, the system worked flawlessly.
Since this is the first H55 based ITX system we are taking a look at, we wanted to check how much power it draws. This is also due to the fact, that you are pretty much forced to use the power brick and DC-DC converter combo which Impactics offers. In standby the unit draws 1.8W, which is perfectly fine, while sitting idle in Windows only requires 27.5W. This means that it can keep up as a DIY ION mini-ITX system at this state.
The picture quickly changes at load, as the i3-530 draws much more power than any ION or Atom based system. That said, even when pushing the CPU at 100% for some time, the unit stayed stable, even though the fins became quite hot. This is certainly positive, as that simply means that the heat is being transferred to the case fins nicely. Also, when watching a movie, the entire unit requires a bit more power than an ION unit.
CPU Utilizaton & Temperatures
Due to the fact that this entire system uses a Core i3, the CPU utilization is much lower when watching a 1080P clip. The processor barely breaks a sweat with 13% being used to display the movie on the display.
Now this is the interesting part. Even when pushing the system to 100% and letting it sit like that for some time, the temperatures level out at 68°C for the CPU and 60° for the IGP. Sure this is rather high for the CPU, but still completely viable and you would never push the CPU at full throttle for an extended period of time anyways. It is great to see that the entire K.I.S.S.S. system can handle this very potent setup.
Another benefit is the better 3D performance of the entire system. This is mainly due to the desktop CPU being used, but translates into a 20% boost when compared to Atom CPUs in combination with ION.
You may wonder why we would even mention this aspect when the entire system is passively cooled. There are other components which have moving parts or tend to emit other types of noise. As you would expect the entire K.I.S.S.S based system from Impactics is eerily silent. Anyone who has never used such a system before could be somewhat irritated by the lack of noise for the first few seconds, but I am sure you will love every second after that. That said our PSU brick emitted weird noises reminiscent of electrical buzzing. We will chalk this off to a faulty PSU, even though it worked flawlessly the entire time and managed to power the entire system easily without getting hot.
Value and Conclusion
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The Impactics has taken an OEM case and stripped it of its shortcomings, by modifying it and supplying their own cooling solution and power delivery system. The biggest aspect of these K.I.S.S.S Coolsets is performance. It works and works well, even managing to cool an Intel Core i3-530 desktop CPU and H55 without the need for any active cooling. That said, this attribute comes with a hefty price tag. Those who want to have a completely passive system have to spend around 250 , depending on the cooling solution required and have to bring along a lot of patience and good assembly skills. So if you have trouble putting together IKEA furniture, then I suggest finding a professional to assemble the system for you. While there is a definite price premium over a traditional air cooling solution, it is still noticeably cheaper than the pre-assembled systems from other companies that offer passive systems like HPX. <br />
So, while it may not look as "cool" still having that distinct OEM look to it, as there is no Impactics logo on the chassis for example, the entire K.I.S.S.S system delivers the same attributes and possibilities as other much more expensive pre-built options if you are willing to invest some time and effort into assembling the entire PC yourself. Just keep certain warranty issues in mind and make sure you do not break anything while putting everything together. But the savings of almost 50% compared to existing pre-assembled systems make the Impactics system more than just an alternative, but a very appealing choice.</td></tr>
Interesting... I see a lot of AMDs new APU running one of these
Thats not an Impactics, that is a Cooler Master chassis that was released 2008. Its cool looking.
I really like the size and exterior design, although I'd rather get it pre-assembled.
I like this case!
I would see more ITX case review with high mo-bo compatibility rate :)
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