I recently built my main gaming PC in the NCASE M1 and for those of you who are into small form factor (SFF) cases, you are most likely familiar with the NCASE M1 case but for those that are not, the NCASE M1 is a really popular SFF case and it is usually the go-to case for most SFF enthusiasts. I am really happy with how the build turned out but the cooling and noise performance leaves a lot to be desired. There is little airflow in the case at the moment so the components are quickly overheating. Our goal for today is to improve the cooling performance while keeping the noise levels as low as possible.
As popular as it is, the NCASE M1 is limited in how many fans you can mount and you can only use CPU coolers with a maximum height of 130mm. The NCASE M1 allows us to mount two 120mm fans at the bottom, two 120mm fans on the side and also a single rear 92mm fan. For my particular build, I have decided to go with air cooling but you can choose to go with an AIO or even custom water cooling.
Since space is limited in an SFF case, choosing the right fans and CPU cooler becomes very important so you have to plan out your build in advance. With my current build, the hot air is being trapped inside the case and there is little to no fresh air coming into the case so my components are throttling and overheating. Noctua has provided us with three of their NF-A12x25 PWM fans so I would like to thank Noctua for sending us some of their amazing fans for this build.
Before we make any changes to the build, let's take a quick look at the current test setup.
|Processor||AMD Ryzen 7 5800X Stock|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG STRIX X470-I|
|RAM||Ballistix Elite 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 3800 MHz|
|Graphics Card||Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 FE|
|Storage||Samsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB|
|Power Supply||Corsair SF600|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro 64-Bit (20H2)|
|Thermal Compound||Noctua NT-H1|
|Case||NCASE M1 (v6.1)|
|Ambient Temp||21°C / 70°F|
|Software||CPU-Z, HWiNFO64, Blender|
I am using the Noctua NH-U9S with one fan installed to cool my Ryzen 5800X at stock settings. The BIOS settings are all on auto so things like Global C-States and Cool'n'Quiet are all enabled. The testing is done with an ambient temperature of ~21°C / 70°F and the NH-U9S is run with its fan speed at default. I will be using the HWiNFO64 software to monitor the temperature of the CPU, GPU, RAM, and NVMe SSD and I will be using Blender for the benchmark. I will measure the noise levels in idle and load by using a dBA meter which I will point at the computer at a distance of ~50 cm / 20 inch.
|Noise Levels In dBA|
|Lawn Mower||90 dBA||Vacuum Cleaner||80 dBA|
|City Traffic||75 dBA|
|Air Conditioning||60 dBA|
|Floor Fan||50 dBA|
|Electric Hum||45 dBA|
|Refrigerator Hum||40 dBA|
|Rustling Leaves||30 dBA|
|Pin Falling||15 dBA|
I have included the table above for reference so you can get an idea of the noise levels.
This is what my current setup looks like before making any change. As you can see, we could definitely use some more fans to improve the airflow in the case. The NH-U9S comes with one NF-A9 PWM fan which is barely enough to handle the Ryzen 5800X.
|Temps / Noise|
|Components||Idle Temps||Load Temps||Idle Noise||Load Noise||CPU||45°C||88°C||32 dBA||40 dBA||GPU||43°C||85°C||0 dBA||39 dBA||RAM||40°C||52°C||N/A||N/A||NVMe||54°C||69°C||N/A||N/A|
Looking at the table above, we can see that the temperatures of all the components are quite high even in idle mode. You can see that the NH-U9S is struggling to keep the 5800X under 40°C in idle and the temperature skyrockets to 88°C under load. The single NF-A9 PWM fan is running at 100% in order to cool the Ryzen 5800X which results in a loud PC so I ended up installing a second NF-A9 PWM fan in push/pull configuration and you will see the results below.
The fans in the founders edition RTX 3070 cards do not spin in idle which is great but during load, they can get quite noisy. I recorded 39 dBA under load for the RTX 3070 FE which is unbearable for me because I have my PC sitting on the desk right next to me.
Something to keep in mind about the founders edition RTX 3000 series is that they feature a "flow through" cooler which basically dumps all of the hot air into your case and overheats the RAM, CPU, NVMe SDD, and motherboard chipset. This explains why the temperatures are so high.
I decided to install two NF-A12x25 PWM fans on the bottom as intake which will help bring in fresh air directly to the GPU. I have also installed an NF-A12x25 PWM fan on the side as exhaust which will help to remove the hot air that the RTX 3070 FE is dumping into the case. This exhaust fan on the side plays a crucial role in preventing the RAM and NVMe SSD temperatures from skyrocketing. Another thing that I did was to install a second NF-A9 PWM fan on the NH-U9S in a push/pull configuration and this should lower the CPU temperature by quite a bit.
|Temps / Noise|
|Components||Idle Temps||Load Temps||Idle Noise||Load Noise||CPU||42°C||82°C||32 dBA||38 dBA||GPU||41°C||81°C||0 dBA||37 dBA||RAM||38°C||50°C||N/A||N/A||NVMe||52°C||67°C||N/A||N/A|
We can see a big reduction in temperature after installing the Noctua NF-A12x25 PWM fans and a second NF-A9 PWM fan. In idle, the components are now running 2-3°C cooler and up to 3-6°C cooler during load which is amazing. The extra NF-A9 PWM fan is doing a great job in lowering the CPU temperature and allowing the CPU to boost to higher frequencies.
Having the NH-U9S exhaust the air out the rear offers the best cooling performance for me. I did try to reverse the direction of the fans but that led to higher temperatures so I went back to my original fan configuration.
If we look at the noise levels under load for the CPU, we can see that they decreased and that's because before the single NF-A9 PWM fan was running at 100% speed but now that we have two fans installed, they do not need to run at 100%. In the BIOS I have setup the fan profile for the NF-A9 PWM fans to stay under 70% speed if the CPU temp is under 85°C so now we get a quieter PC. We see similar results for the GPU and that's thanks to the bottom intake fans which are helping the GPU running cooler and quieter.
To further improve the cooling and noise performance, I decided to undervolt the CPU and GPU. For the CPU, I simply went into the BIOS and used the curve optimizer to apply a -20 undervolt on all the cores. I ran Blender and AIDA64 to make sure the undervolt was 100% stable and everything was stable.
I used MSI Afterburner to undervolt the GPU from stock which was running at 2010MHz/1.15V down to 1890MHz/0.875v. After I applied the GPU undervolt, I noticed significantly less hot air being dumped into the case and the noise levels also significantly decreased. I did lose 1-3 fps in some games which is not even noticeable so the undervolt was well worth it.
|Temps / Noise|
|Components||Idle Temps||Load Temps||Idle Noise||Load Noise||CPU||40°C||76°C||31 dBA||36 dBA||GPU||39°C||74°C||0 dBA||33 dBA||RAM||37°C||45°C||N/A||N/A||NVMe||51°C||64°C||N/A||N/A|
Looking at the table above, we can see a massive reduction in temperature across the board. We managed to lower the temperature in idle by another 1-2°C and up to 5-8°C during load which is awesome. In idle, the NH-U9S is about 1 dBA quieter after the undervolt and 3 dBA quieter when under load. On the GPU side, I recorded a 4 dBA decrease under load which is much better than what we were getting before. Noctua's NF-A12x25 PWM fans are doing an amazing job at moving the air out and bringing in fresh air into the case. Considering how little effort it took to undervolt the CPU and GPU, I think that everyone should be undervolting for huge improvements in temperature and noise levels.
After installing the NF-A12x25 PWM fans and undervolting, I'm now really happy with my mini-ITX build and I am able to game without any issues. Noctua's NF-A12x25 PWM fans are amazing and a must have for anybody who wants a silent PC. The NF-A12x25 PWM fans retail for $30 and are worth every penny considering the cooling and noise performance they offer.
In the last few years there has been an upward trend towards SFF computers and many people have realized that they do not need a massive tower with a bunch of RGB lights that takes up a huge chunk of space. In just two years the subreddit r/sffpc has gone from 20K members to over 159K+ and it keeps on increasing. There is just something so satisfying about squeezing as much power as possible out of a tiny case without having any wasted space. Building an ITX system brings a whole new experience and challenges that is much more enjoyable than building a traditional tower PC.
Most of the ATX builds that you see on the internet end up being mostly empty inside which looks awful in my opinion. Very few people out there need a 5+ slot motherboard. Why would you buy a full size motherboard when you are going to install only one GPU? What's the point of having a 50+ liters case when it's going to be 60% empty?