For a hardware tester, it is the most exciting to review expensive products as they are the most likely to have some kind of extraordinary features. However, an end-user is generally more interested in midrange products that represent a reasonable compromise between quality and price. Yes, there are people who love luxurious, sophisticated computer cases and there are people who buy the cheapest enclosure they can find, but the former are not really numerous while the latter won’t bother to read any reviews.
So, this review is meant to cater to the majority because AeroCool’s system cases I am going to tell you about come from the mainstream category. And I wouldn’t say that testing them was boring for me. AeroCool products differ notably from opponents. As if alluding to the developer’s name, many of its system cases employ an original cooling solution based around a huge 400mm fan. This is not the only special feature, though. You will see temperature controllers, touch-sensitive screens, fan speed management, and a very exciting small-size cube-shaped computer enclosure. So, let’s get started.
AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro
Like many other computer cases from AeroCool, the Hi-Tech 7 comes in a variety of modifications. Besides the ordinary version, which lacks any additions to its model name, there is a Pro version (the one I tested) which has a 400mm fan in the side panel. There is also a version (marked as “A”) with a large side window made from acryl.
Indeed, the huge side fan attracts the eye, making you forget about everything else. The fan is almost as large as the panel itself. It would be impossible to install a larger fan due to the sheer lack of space! It is a gigantic thing, even larger than fans they use for room ventilation. Some time ago I referred to the 200mm fan in Antec Nine Hundred as “huge”, but now I have to revise the meaning of that word with respect to computer fans once again.
According to the manufacturer, this monster can create airflow of about 7 cubic meters per minute, rotating at only 400rpm. So, there is a strong draft inside the system case, but we are yet to see how effective the Hi-Tech 7 Pro is in terms of components’ temperatures.
Now let’s take a look at the other design features. The system case might be called aggressive due to the angular shape of the front panel, but the developer did not fit the huge fan seamlessly into the side panel. It is accommodated in a square protrusion that looks like an alien element and adds nothing to the overall appearance of the case. The middle of the front panel is unexciting, too: you can see 5-inch bay faceplates covered with a metallic mesh above and below a small display (I will describe it shortly).
Buttons and I/O connectors can be found in the front part of the top panel. This is handy if the system case stands on the floor. I wonder if the Hi-Tech 7 A model – the one with a transparent side window – is supposed to stand on the floor, too. It won’t be easy to look into the window then. And if the case is placed on a desk, you will have to press the buttons without seeing them.
The two buttons are perfectly standard. There are also two USB ports, two audio connectors and an eSATA port (instead of the traditional FireWire). Owners of digital cameras are going to be disappointed but users of high-speed external drives with eSATA interface will be satisfied. I personally prefer eSATA, too.
The display and four buttons at the center of the front panel are responsible for temperature monitoring and fan speed adjustment.
If you want to control your fans, you must attach them to the front-panel controller and not to your mainboard. The controller supports up to four fans. The manufacturer suggests that these are CPU, graphics card, HDD and system fans. There is an individual thermocouple for each of them. As you can see, the thermocouples share a single cable that only splits into four lines at the very end. So, you have to split the cable more before you can place the thermocouples around your system case.
AeroCool is so sure that everyone will use its solution that the operation of the display and controls is optimized especially for it. By pressing the Mode button you choose one of the fan/thermocouple pairs (the selected pair is indicated on the display). Then you can control its behavior by means of the two left buttons whereas the display shows the temperature reported by the thermocouple and the speed of the corresponding fan. What can the controller do besides showing the temperature in degrees of Celsius or Fahrenheit? First, it allows to manually adjust the speed of the fan from maximum to 60% plus 100rpm (this is an approximate value that depends on the characteristics of the specific fan). Second, it permits to specify the maximum temperature and the bottom speed of each thermocouple/fan pair. Upon reaching these thresholds, a sound warning is produced. And finally, it offers an automatic fan management mode. The On/Off button enables/disables the highlighting of the LCD screen, but the controller works irrespective of it.
All this sounds useful enough but there are a few problems. First, if the fans are fully controlled by that controller, you cannot manage them by means of the mainboard BIOS or graphics card. And second, I encountered an odd problem with my Zalman CNPS9500 AT fan. It would work at its full speed irrespective of the controller’s instructions (by the way, the controller is compatible with both 3-pin and 4-pin fan connectors). I solved this problem by unplugging the connector attached to the mainboard from the controller. The speed became normal then. Of course, the mainboard would then ask me at reboot if I was going to work without a CPU cooler attached.
Then, the controller did not always get the fan speeds right. It reported and changed the speeds correctly in automatic mode but showed absolutely incorrect values when I adjusted them manually. Those values were what the controller supposed the speeds to be. The cause of the problem is that the controller adjusts speed by varying the voltage of the fan whereas different fans have different correlations between speed and voltage.
So, I decided to connect only the back-panel fan to this controller.
It should be noted that AeroCool does not recommend you to slow the 400mm fan down. I followed that advice, especially as that fan had a standard 4-pin Molex power plug whereas the controller had 3-pin fan connectors. This advice must have been meant for people who know about adapters.