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Our testing methods
Here are the specifications of my test system:

Processor AMD A10-7850K
Motherboard MSI A88XI AC
Memory 8GB AMD Entertainment Edition DDR3-1600
Graphics card Zotac Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti AMP! Edition
Storage Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD
Samsung Spinpoint F1 750GB HDD
Power supply Cooler Master V550
CPU cooler Cooler Master Nepton 240M
OS Windows 8.1 Pro

Our thanks to Fractal Design for the Core 500, and to MSI, AMD, Kingston, Zotac, and Cooler Master for their hardware contributions, as well.

I've chosen the Corsair Graphite Series 380T as a foil for the Core 500, and it should be a good basis for comparison, since it's a similar-sized case. Please note, though, that the 380T costs more than twice as much as the Core 500, so they are not exactly direct competitors. Even so, the 380T isn't perfect. While I could rest the Nepton in the proper position on the 380T's radiator rails, the plastic pins for that case's outer shell prevented me from lining up the radiator with its corresponding screw holes. Once again, caveat emptor.

To the greatest extent possible, I used similar cooler locations and fan configurations in both cases. The radiator fans on my Cooler Master Nepton 240M were set up as exhausts, and all stock fans were left in their factory orientations.

Because of the limited number of fan headers on my Mini-ITX motherboard, I used a fan splitter and Zalman's Fan Mate 2 manual controller to power the Core 500's included 140-mm fan. For low-speed testing, I used the Fan Mate 2 at its minimum speed before turning it all the way up for our high-speed tests.

I managed the Graphite Series 380T's fans with that case's built-in fan controller. As with the Core 500, I performed low-speed tests with that case's controller on its lowest setting, while high-speed tests were carried out with the controller at its highest setting.

I used the following applications in my tests:

Our case test cycle consists of the following phases:

  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows desktop
  • 10 minutes running the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
  • 10 minutes running Prime95 and the Unigine Heaven GPU benchmark
  • 10 minutes of cooldown time at the Windows desktop

Cooling performance
Here are the results of my cooling tests, plotted over time:

And here are minimum and maximum numbers from each testing phase:

As one would expect from a case with a single quiet-oriented fan, the Core 500 tends to get hotter inside than the larger, more open, and more aggressively cooled Graphite Series 380T. That reality is are reflected by the Fractal case's somewhat higher numbers more or less across the board (some outliers aside—my SSD results look a bit odd, for example). Turning up the included fan helps, but it still can't make up for the fact that we're only working with a single spinner.

Even so, none of the temperature numbers the Core 500 delivers are frightening, and a higher-flow aftermarket fan than the 1,000-RPM Silent Series R3 unit that Fractal bundles could reduce temperatures further for a beefy system.

Noise levels
Let's look now at the Core 500's noise levels versus the Graphite Series 380T:

At idle, the Core 500 is slightly quieter than the Graphite Series 380T. At low fan speeds, the cases are trading a decibel or two here and there—probably not something the average person will notice unless their PC shares a desk with them. The Fractal case gets only a bit louder with its fan turned to full blast, though, while the Graphite Series 380T becomes pretty loud with its fan controller on high. Because of their vented sides, the Nepton 240M's pump noise is audible from both cases at idle, and I'd say it's the most prominent noise from both cases with the fans set to low, for perspective.

Under load, the Core 500 set for low fan speeds gets noisy—the left side, especially. That's due in part to the graphics card cooler on my GeForce GTX 660 Ti, which is by far the noisiest thing in the system. The closed top of the Corsair case dampens sound levels from that angle, but its open left side is no better at dampening the whine from the graphics card.

Turn the fans up to high, and the Core 500 actually gets a bit quieter. That's because the graphics card stays a bit cooler under load and doesn't have to spin its fans as fast. The Graphite Series 380T delivers similar temperature reductions, but its extra fan seems to wipe out any noise advantages gained by cooling the graphics card better.

Subjectively, the Core 500 is pleasant to share a room with. The included Fractal Design Silent Series 140-mm fan is practically inaudible at low speeds, and its sound at high speed is an unobjectionable broad-spectrum whoosh that fades into the background after a few minutes. That's a good thing, since the graphics card's harsh-sounding cooler didn't have to work as hard with the fan at full blast. Builders will want to set their fan controllers or software fan curves accordingly.

The Graphite Series 380T is less polite to my ear, but that's due in part to the fact that it has an extra fan inside. Even so, Corsair's included fans aren't as pleasant-sounding as Fractal Design's Silent Series fan, and they make more pronounced noise under load.

The Core 500 also does a wonderful job of dampening hard-drive vibration and motor noise. My ears only got the barest hint that the noisy Samsung 750GB drive in the Casewarmer was powered on, and the case never buzzed or hummed while the drive was running. The rubber feet also prevented much of the drive's vibration from making its way into my desk. With a quieter graphics card inside, I'm confident the Core 500 would be a welcome guest in a living room or other shared spaces.