Mainstream system cases are a truly inexhaustible topic for a hardware reviewer. During the time it takes to write a new report, the manufacturers release a few models more, and you find yourself not unlike Achilles who is always catching up with the tortoise but never overtakes it. On the other hand, even though this market sector is the most popular one, there is no need to discuss each particular model because the profusion we observe is mostly due to variations in trims applied to a rather limited number of chassis. You can see many products, even selling under different brands, share the same chassis and only differ in the design of the front panel.
Anyway, there are products that deserve a closer look and today we are going to review four of them.
Cooler Master USP 100 (RC-P100)
The USP 100 from Cooler Master goes first. Products from this brand are well known to computer enthusiasts due to their appealing price/functionality ratio. While Cooler Master is known for its rather expensive models such as Cosmos 1000 or 690 II Advanced in the first place, we will be talking about a simpler and cheaper product here.
This exterior design can hardly impress anybody. The USP 100 is a rather standard black box with a metallic mesh in the front panel and a minimum of decorative elements. There is a kind of frame enveloping the system case from the front. On the other hand, the USP 100 looks better than typical inexpensive boxes with perforation that claim to provide superior cooling.
Take note of the company logo at the bottom of the front panel which does double duty as a Power button. It is easy to press and looks good, so we like this design solution. There is another hidden element: the light strip at the top of the panel covers a LED that serves as an On/Off indicator.
I/O connectors and an HDD activity indicator can be seen in the front part of the top panel on the above-mentioned decorative frame that forms a shelf there. The shelf is odd, though. While its front is outlined clearly, it has no rear border at all, which makes it useless as a place for storing various trifles. That’s a shame because this system case is obviously meant to stand at its owner’s feet.
The back panel makes it clear that the power supply is to be installed on the bottom panel in this system case. By the way, the top panel is not perforated although the current trends suggest that there should be a fan at the top of a system case if the latter has a bottom PSU bay. The PSU can only be secured in one position; there is no second set of holes to mount it upside down.
The fan seat supports 80, 92 and 120mm models but there are no holes for the pipes of a liquid cooling system. Cooler Master follows a strict product segmentation policy and does not offer this feature in its junior models.
The front support is part of the USP 100’s plastic facade. A couple of vibration-absorbing pads are attached to its sides. The rear supports are two rather large pieces of soft rubber-like material. The feet are rather tall and the bottom panel is all perforated for ventilation, so there should be no problems with PSUs that have a horizontal fan.
There are two vent grids in the side panel but only the bottom one has mounting holes for an 80, 92 or 120mm fan.
There is a plastic handle for taking the side panel off. It may seem small and awkward but it is better than nothing.
The interior of the system case is a variation of the simple chassis design with a solid front rack. HDDs are installed perpendicularly into the bottom section of the rack. The quality of manufacture is normal overall (as a matter of fact, the quality of midrange models has grown up considerably and we don’t see unfinished sharp edges or something like that anymore) but the metal is only 0.5 millimeters thick. As opposed to low-end system cases, this is not the cheapest grade of metal, so the chassis is acceptably rigid. It doesn’t resemble an empty tin can. Yet we wish it had thicker panels.
Again, this system case has a bottom PSU bay. The power supply is fastened to the back panel with four ordinary screws, the four vibration-absorbing pads in the corners separating it from the bottom panel. Judging by the vent hole, the system case is meant for short PSUs. If you install a long one, it will block the bottom fan seat. Besides, long PSUs usually have a horizontal fan placed in the center of the case, and such a fan is going to be partially blocked by the non-perforated part of the bottom panel.
It is good that the manufacturer did not save on the back-panel brackets. They are reusable and fastened with thumbscrews rather than with dubious (in terms of reliability) and often inconvenient screw-less fastening mechanisms.
Unfortunately, the Cooler Master USP 100 comes without an exhaust fan in its default configuration.
The single system fan you get is located in front of the HDD rack. It is a 120mm model with a 3-pin connection to the mainboard. It has a max speed of 1200 RPM.
Take note of the four plastic holders. These are meant for cables going along the mainboard. Running a little ahead, we can say that they are rather handy unless your PSU has too many thick and stiff sleeved cables. You can remove these holders if you don’t like them.
The HDD rack being a single-piece thing, the fan is attached to a metallic platform from the side of the plastic front panel which can be taken off. The holes in the platform form a funny pattern although we guess it would be better to have just larger holes for the air to flow freely. Take note that the metallic mesh is covered from the inside with a second and finer mesh that is meant to protect the components of the system case against dust.
HDDs are installed using plastic holders. This is a typical solution that has replaced traditional screws.
A special faceplate is included for an open 3.5-inch bay.
Now let’s take a look at the case from its right side. Here we can see an opening for easier access to the back-plate of a CPU cooler. There also seems to be some room for hiding cables in. Unfortunately, it is a mere centimeter thick, so you can hardly place any cables here, especially if they have connectors. We found it very hard to hide some cables behind the mainboard and close the side panel after that. And it was also difficult to put all the cables into the small opening near the PSU.
Other than the above-mentioned difficulties with cables, we had no other problems assembling a computer in this system case. However, we only found three HDD holders included with our sample of the USP 100 and we had to secure a fourth HDD with screws. As for graphics cards, the Cooler Master USP 100 can accommodate models up to 290 millimeters long, i.e. any model save for the longest ones but owners of such longest graphics cards usually prefer more expensive and larger system cases.
The mild highlighting of the fan together with the blue strip at the top of the front panel looks attractive. The honeycomb pattern makes the highlighting even more interesting.