by Aleksey Meyev
08/07/2009 | 02:42 PM
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.
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.
Now let’s get back to the Hi-Tech 7 Pro and check out its back panel. It is perfectly standard. Like many other developers, AeroCool installed a 120mm exhaust fan here. You can replace it with an 80mm fan using the appropriate mounting holes, but there is hardly any point in such a replacement.
The Hi-Tech 7 Pro stands on four simple conic feet made from rubber. Be careful while you are moving the case around: these feet leave a characteristic black trail.
Finally we’ve reached the interior. It is absolutely standard and you may have already seen the same or similar chassis. The metal is not very thick (0.6 millimeters, according to the developer), but there are no problems with rigidity. Still, I wish the flat surfaces, especially the back panel, did not bend that much when pressed with a finger. Fortunately, the curved-out edges of the holes in the mainboard’s mounting plate act as stiffening ribs. The one-piece drive rack adds to the rigidity, too.
The mainboard and expansion cards are fastened with screws. The expansion-slot brackets are reusable. You don’t have to tear them off as with other simple chassis.
At the bottom of the front panel there is a seat for a 120mm fan. Above it, there is the aforementioned display and fan controller.
5-inch devices are installed using a widespread screwless fastening mechanism. A plastic bracket is inserted with its prongs into the device’s threaded holes and fixes the latter firmly when you turn the handle by 90 degrees. It is a simple and handy mechanism.
Using the same brackets a guide for an external 3.5-inch device, e.g. a card-reader, is fastened in the top bay. This position of the guide is going to be all right if the system case stands on the floor. But if you don’t need it, you can replace it with an optical drive.
The drive rack is a one-piece thing and consists of 5-inch bays only. To install HDDs into them, you should use two brackets that are inserted into the sides of a device. As a result, you have a 5 inches wide contraption that fits into the bay. Besides fastening, the brackets absorb vibrations because their cylindrical parts between the HDD and the rack are made from rubber.
Take note that there are two ways to fasten the brackets on the HDD. The way shown in the top of the photo seems to be more logical but the other way may be appropriate if you are going to install a fan in front of the HDDs. Otherwise the HDD will press against the fan and will not get in.
Assembling a computer in this system case is easy but I had some problems with laying out the cables. The additional wires from the fan controller and the thermocouples (I did not connect them after all) and the short length of the case resulted in a thick and untidy bunch of cables above the memory modules.
I also had some problems with HDDs. First, the case is not long enough for you to install a long graphics card and HDD in one line if the HDD sticks out of the rack due to a front-panel fan. The system case comes without such a fan, but anyway. Take note how far the bottom HDD sticks out into the case – I have installed it in such a way as if there were a fan at the front panel. And you can note how close the graphics card is to the HDD.
The second unpleasant thing is that the fourth HDD (counting from the bottom up) has to stick out into the case. It cannot be installed otherwise due to the protruding top part of the fan seat. That’s why I did not install that HDD at all. If installed, it prevented me from plugging the power cable into the graphics card.
And finally, I was disappointed to see only three pairs of fastening brackets for HDDs. I could not use four HDDs as is usual in our tests. I doubt that you can buy the brackets separately, so you will have to look for some other adapters that allow installing a 3.5-inch drive into a 5.25-inch bay if you want to pack four HDDs into this system case.
After the previous system case with its huge fan we can now proceed to the compact cube-shaped M40 in which a 400mm fan would be absolutely impossible.
The M40 resembles so-called barebone systems with its dimensions but it is fully compatible with microATX mainboards and thus offers wider opportunities in choosing your PC configuration and fewer problems if your mainboard fails. Some users prefer this type of system cases for being truly desktop products as opposed to traditional tower style enclosures. A system case of this kind is not tall and occupies little space on your desk.
This system case is beautiful, the black plastic of the front panel emphasizing its restrained design. The plastic is matte and almost soft to the touch, resembling the soft-touch material of computer mice. The M40 looks good in comparison with typical system cases with glossy front panels. It just seems to ask you to stroke it. The decorative panels and the surround of the small display are made from glossy plastic that contrasts with the matte one and prevents the system case from looking like an unexciting totally black thing.
The M40 reminds me of the Antec NSK1380, another microATX cube with multilayered noise-absorbing panels. If the AeroCool M40 had dual-layer panels (if its metallic skeleton was covered with the same plastic as covers its front panel), this would make it more expensive but would also improve noise insulation.
The AeroCool M40 is larger than the NSK1380 and can accommodate two optical drives, one 3.5-inch floppy drive or card-reader, a rather large CPU cooler and a standard PSU (the PSU must not be longer than 140 millimeters).
There is a huge Power button in the left center of the front panel. The Reset button is to the right of it, and then goes the Power indicator.
The I/O connectors are in the bottom center of the front panel (by the way, its bottom part is a fine metal mesh). There are no FireWire and eSATA connectors here, but the two audio connectors are complemented with as many as four USB ports. Unfortunately, the USB ports are placed too close to each other in each pair, so you can hardly use both ports in the pair simultaneously.
There is a small display in the top left of the front panel. As opposed to the previous model in which the display was accompanied with four buttons and a fan speed controller, this display is all alone. Its functionality is limited to reporting the temperature inside the case (using a remote thermocouple), the operation of one fan, and the activity of the hard disk.
The mainboard is oriented horizontally, so the mainboard’s connectors are positioned in the same way, too. The expansion cards are vertical here. There are as many as three seats for 80mm fans, so they occupy almost the entire free space of the back panel. The system case comes without back-panel fans, though. You have to purchase them separately.
This system case has an important advantage over barebone systems. It employs a standard PSU. It might seem a trifle, but if the M40’s power supply fails, you will be able to replace it much easier than the PSU of a barebone case. The M40 may also come without a bundled PSU, allowing you to choose the PSU model that suits you best. You only have to remember that the PSU must have the standard ATX dimensions and be no longer than 140 millimeters. Not only entry-level PSUs (like FSP Group’s products) but also high-wattage Corsair VX550W and Enermax’s PRO82+ and MODU82+ meet this requirement.
The M40 stands on massive feet with neat exterior metallization and rubber cores. They are fastened to the chassis with screws.
The chassis consists of two roughly equal parts. The top part can be flipped back on a rotating hinge. I’d like to acknowledge the skill of the designer here: it is only when you take the case apart that you notice that the front panel splits in two. The separation line is so neatly fitted into it as to be almost invisible.
Take note that there is a 120mm fan at the front panel (remember the mesh in its bottom part?), so you should not worry about the cooling of your mainboard. The graphics card should get some airflow, too, as it will reside right opposite the fan.
There is a small ledge nearby for an external 3.5-inch device. The device is fastened with screws to the two plates that stick out of the bottom of the top half of the case. The bay has a neat faceplate, so you can install a 3.5-inch hard disk there, for a total of three HDDs in the system.
The case is not separated into two individual compartments: there are large areas for air to flow freely from one compartment to another.
The panel below the PSU is perforated so that a PSU with a horizontally positioned 120mm fan would have enough fresh air.
The top (or, rather, leftmost) expansion-slot bracket is secured with a screw. The other brackets have to be torn off. It is not good because you won’t be able to put them back once you have removed them. The expansion cards are fastened with screws, just like the mainboard.
There is a lot of room in the bottom half of the case. Even with all the components inside, including a dual-slot graphics card, and with all the cables laid out, the interior was not exactly filled up.
Of course, the system case imposes a limitation on the height of the CPU cooler. My Zalman CNPS9500 AT did not fit into the AeroCool M40, so I used an Ice Hammer IH-3775 WV instead. I wouldn’t say that this limitation is too strict. Far from that, it is quite relaxed for such a compact enclosure. The cooler can be as tall as 110 millimeters (for comparison, the Antec NSK1380 does not accommodate CPU coolers taller than 65 millimeters). Thus, it is possible to use boxed coolers and you can easily find a quiet model.
When put together, the two halves of the chassis are fixed with two moving plastic levers located on the right of the top half.
When the top half is flipped back, it can rest on a special folding support. If you don’t use it, the top of the case, heavy with the hard and optical drives, can topple the whole case over.
The top half of the case is populated more densely than the bottom one. The back area is occupied by the power supply, leaving but a small channel towards the vent grid in the back panel.
A cage for two optical drives is located in the top left of the enclosure. The drives are fastened with screws on one side and with quick-fastening plastic brackets with prongs on the other side. This solution is easy to explain: the bracket’s turning handle does not fit in from one side. And on the other side of the drives, it is hard to use screws as you need a very short screwdriver to drive them in.
HDDs are installed into an individual cage. The protrusions on the side of the cage fit into a groove inside the system case. You can additionally secure the cage with two screws.
The cage is not positioned properly inside the enclosure. The HDD power connectors, when inserted, press against the back of the power supply so hard that I really worried they might crack. This can only be avoided by using L-shaped power connectors that are available with some PSUs or adapters. You can’t turn the HDDs around so that their connectors faced the opposite direction (the front panel) because there is even less room there. The manufacturer might have solved this problem completely by changing the point of fastening of the HDD cage, but it did not and the user has to face the problem himself.
The cooling of the HDDs raised my concerns immediately. They are located in the blank corner, right above the system fan. There is a seat for a 60mm fan opposite the HDD cage, but such fans are not freely available and often prove to be loud.
Assembling a computer in this case is unexpectedly easy. The proper component layout (save for the above-described problem with HDDs) saves you the trouble of doing acrobatics and showing the nimbleness of your fingers as you often have to while putting together a compact PC. The M40 looks nice when assembled. The cables can be laid very neatly. Take note of the free space behind the graphics card. You should not worry that a long graphics card may not fit into this enclosure. As a result, the AeroCool M40 can accommodate a rather advanced configuration notwithstanding its compact size and unusual form-factor.
After the compact cube we now return to traditional towers. Next goes the ExtremEngine 3T model which is not new, but highly popular. Some time ago we covered it in a review, but now I want to discuss it once again, especially as the exterior design of the ExtremEngine always attracts buyers.
The exterior of this system case reminds one of aviation. This is largely due to the fan located at the bottom of the front panel and designed like a plane’s turbine. The styling is perfect. The ExtremEngine 3T looks pretty and the front impeller of the turbine, even though a decorative feature, is rotating when the computer is turned on. The 250mm fan on the side panel fits into the overall exterior design organically. As opposed to the fan of the Hi-Tech 7 Pro, it does not look an unaesthetic excrescence but is sunken into the case and stylized a little like a plane turbine, too.
There are two metallic doors on the front panel. They have a very secure fastening and special protrusions with magnets and soft rubber pads on the inside. The doors close softly and do not open spontaneously. You have to open them up each time you turn the PC on because the Power button is behind them but most of today’s computers can be turned on by pressing keyboard buttons, so that’s not a big problem. The doors may be a nuisance if you access your optical drives often, so I guess the doors should have been made shorter to offer free access to at least one optical drive bay.
It is the bottom part of the front panel that is the most interesting. Near the center, above the turbine, there are Power and Reset buttons with two LED indicators in between. Centered in the very bottom of the front panel there are I/O connectors including two audio ports, two USB ports and one FireWire. The connectors are placed densely so that you could use them without opening the doors, but it is next to impossible to plug two USB flash drives into both USB ports at the same time.
Right above the connectors there are the control elements of the 3-channel fan controller. It is quite a simple thing. You only have to remember what fan you have connected to the particular channel.
The back panel is trivial and boring, betraying an old and cheap chassis. You can install two 80mm or a single 120mm fan there, but the system case comes without any back-panel fans.
Instead of being totally blank, the right panel has two rows of vent openings.
The fan on the left panel is rather small in comparison with the 400mm giant of the Hi-Tech 7 Pro. It is only 250 millimeters in diameter. You can connect this fan to one of the controller’s channels and thus adjust its speed.
The feet betray an inexpensive chassis, too. They are made from ordinary plastic.
The interior of the ExtremEngine 3T is minimalistic. There are no quick fastening mechanisms. Everything is fastened with screws (including the expansion-slot brackets). There is nothing that might catch your eye. The metal is not very thick, but it does not rattle and does not have sharp edges. However, there are a few places in there where you can cut your finger, so you should be careful during the assembly process.
The drive rack is old style, too. It is wider at the top where optical drives are located and narrower at the bottom for HDDs. There are no user-oriented conveniences here.
This photo shows it clearly that the front-panel turbine is a fake. There is a fan behind it that is sucking air in and making the decorative turbine turn around. People at AeroCool seem to prefer large fans: while most manufacturers install 120mm models at the front panel, there is a 140mm fan here.
At the bottom of the front panel you can see the protruding heatsinks of the transistors of the 3-channel fan speed controller.
The respectable age of the chassis is indicated once again by the system case connectors. The front-panel connectors can only be attached as AC’97. The modern HD-Audio is missing altogether, which means that the mainboard won’t be able to automatically recognize that you have plugged your headphones or microphone to the front panel and disable the back-panel outputs. Modern system cases all offer two connectors, and I don’t even mention this in the descriptions of the other products.
It is also unclear why the front-panel fan has an individual power cable. It would be logical if it were connected right to the fan speed controller, saving the user the trouble of messing with the cables.
I assembled the test configuration without any problems. The contents of the system case looks neat and tidy, but the convenience is far inferior to what you have with modern system cases that have a dedicated room for cables behind the mainboard’s mounting plate.
Next goes the AeroCool V-Touch. Like the Hi-Tech 7, it comes in three versions with different side panels. I’ve got a sample with a big transparent window.
It does not look more than a black square box at first sight until you notice that it has no buttons. It is only when you connect the V-Touch to the mains that the square block at the bottom of the front panel lights up and you realize that it is actually a display. To be exact, it is a touch-sensitive screen.
It is on this screen that the Power and Reset buttons can be found. Of course, the display’s functionality goes beyond that. It interacts with the same controller as in the above-discussed Hi-Tech 7 but the number of thermocouple/fan pairs is reduced from 4 to 3. That is, this screen can be used to keep track of temperature in three spots inside the system case and control the speed of three fans. The screen is protected against an accidental touch. Pressing the Lock button in the center of the screen blocks the other active zones of the panel. Parents with small children should appreciate this feature.
It proved to be handy to use the touch screen as a unified control center, especially as its viewing angles are very appropriate. The image remains almost the same when viewed from above, gets somewhat faded when viewed from a side at a large angle, and only loses its brightness and contrast greatly when viewed from below, which is unlikely in real usage.
The rear panel resembles the one of the Hi-Tech 7. It has the same elements and a 120mm fan residing in a seat that can accommodate either a 120mm or an 80mm fan.
The V-Touch stands on simple conic feet made from black rubber.
However, the system case is somewhat different inside: the drive rack consists of two sections here, and HDDs are now positioned across the case. Otherwise, it is a typical representative of the inexpensive chassis class.
There is a big insert into the 24-pin power connector which is necessary for the touch screen controller to be powered by the +5V standby source. Otherwise it wouldn’t be able to start the computer up.
The mainboard and expansion cards are all secured with ordinary screws. It is good that you don’t have to tear the expansion-slot brackets off.
There is a seat for a 120mm or 80mm fan in front of the HDD cage. It looks like the V-Touch should not be expected to deliver effective cooling as it comes with one fan only, located at the back panel.
In order to install a hard disk into the cage, you must attach a couple of guides to it. You don’t have to screw anything: the guides have smooth prongs. For additional fastening, you can secure the guide with a screw through the opening in the center.
External devices are installed into both 5-inch and 3-inch bays by means of standard plastic brackets with two prongs.
There is nothing extraordinary about the assembly process. I can only recommend you to use SATA and power cables with L- and T-shaped connectors. Ordinary connectors will press against the side panel and may get damaged.
Finally, I want to give you a brief description of three more products from AeroCool. They are not as interesting inside as to be discussed and tested at length, yet they feature quite an appealing exterior.
I wouldn’t vouch that the exterior design of the AeroCool AeroRacer case provokes strong associations with racing sports, yet it is undoubtedly beautiful. The matte cherry-colored front panel combined with the black glossy door looks nice and original after all those hackneyed gray and black colorings. The shapes and lines of the case are elegant and not at all spoiled by the 250mm fan in the side panel. I guess the designers have managed to find the compromise between the gaudy and the boring, and created a system case that attracts the eye despite being seemingly simple and plain.
There is one element I don’t like, though. The highlighting of the huge Power button is blue. Frankly, this popular color looks totally inappropriate on this front panel and does not match the charm of the black-and-cherry gamut.
The interior cannot provoke a strong emotion, so trivial it is. Its features can all be enumerated in a single sentence: screwless fastening of hard and optical drives, two seats for 120mm fans, and screwless fastening of expansion cards.
The AeroCool AeroRacer Pro is somewhat more interesting in terms of cooling, but far less attractive. The color is all right: both products come in all-black and black-and-cherry versions (I like the latter version more, though). It is the angular protrusion on the side panel that looks ugly to me. It accommodates a 400mm fan and spoils the charm of the otherwise attractive front panel.
Inside, the Pro version is no different from the ordinary one.
And finally, there is the AeroCool T-Gun Pro model. Although I cannot catch the promised Top Gun styling (unless the figured cutouts in the center of the front panel should count like it), the exterior design is eye-catching. The glossy rounded-off front panel with a bright edging along the sides looks beautiful. This system case should not be touched, however, because each touch leaves a greasy fingerprint. But even with this inconvenience, the T-Gun Pro looks good, especially when turned on, and the 400mm fan protrusion does not spoil it (by the way, there is a version of the T-Gun without the suffix Pro; it has a neat 250mm fan in the side panel).
This system case has a display that shows information from two thermocouples and the current speed of the fans. Fan speed control is only automatic with the T-Gun Pro.
When I saw the cover in the middle of the top panel that conceals two USB ports, two audio connectors and an eSATA port, I got a feeling that I had already seen this…
The interior design confirmed my suspicions. I do know this chassis. It is used in Ascot’s popular 6A series products (manufactured by HEC/Compucase) and I saw the same top-panel connectors (including a FireWire port which is covered with plastic in the T-Gun Pro) during the tests of the HEC 6XR8-PE. Thus, AeroCool only created the front panel and installed its own fastening mechanisms and exclusive 400mm fan.
The exterior design is top class and the HEC/Ascot chassis is popular due to high quality, so the resulting product is very good. After all, it does not really matter from whence a system case comes from if it is high quality.
The assembled system case is tested at a constant ambient temperature of 23°C maintained by an air conditioner. As we assume that most users prefer low-noise system cases, we set the speed of the CPU and system fans (those connected to the mainboard’s 3-pin connector) into Silent mode (the quietest mode on ASUS mainboards). We do not change the default configuration of airflows determined by system case design.
The following components are installed into the system case:
The AeroCool M40 is designed for microATX mainboards, so we used an ASUS P5G-MX mainboard to test it. That mainboard does not support a FSB frequency of 1333MHz, so the E6850 processor was clocked at 266x9=2400MHz rather than at its default 3GHz. Anyway, few people will install a top-of-the-line CPU into such a small system case whereas other CPUs are comparable to what we have in this test (the dual-core 45nm processors of the Core 2 Duo E8xx and E7xx series will even have a lower heat dissipation, though clocked at a somewhat higher frequency).
The CPU temperature is read with ASUS PC Probe included with the mainboard. The temperature of the HDDs is measured with HDD Thermometer. The graphics card’s temperature is reported by its control panel. There are the following test modes:
Every temperature is read after the system has worked for half an hour in the current test mode. The noise level is evaluated subjectively. The next table shows the brief specs of the tested system cases:
And this table shows the specs of the fans installed in the system cases:
Every system case is tested with the power supply it came to our test lab with. We do not tell you their name and model because the system cases will most likely come to retail with other PSUs or even without any PSUs.
First, let’s view the results for each system case and check out the cooling of HDDs depending on their position.
AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro
The HDDs are numbered from top to bottom.
As you can see, the 400mm fan is effective. All components are cooled well. The AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro does not have problems in any of the operation modes. The mainboard and graphics card feel especially comfortable. Their temperatures are usually 5°C higher in other system cases.
The HDDs are comfortable, too. The first HDD, located separately from the others, is not much cooler, which means that every HDD gets enough of fresh air.
But I must confess the Antec Nine Hundred, with a more modest fan but different airflow design, cooled hard disk drives more effectively. I do think the difference is due to the airflow design: in the Antec Nine Hundred, the HDDs are cooled by the air from the intake fan located nearby. In the AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro, they only get a portion of the air from the giant. The turbulence is unavoidable with this cooling design and has a negative effect on the overall cooling efficiency. Still, the AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro is very good at cooling all components anyway.
Alas, it works with quite a lot of noise produced by the 400mm fan even when the latter is rotating at only 400rpm. I could hear the air passing through the fan grid and the noise of the fan’s impeller which was not rigid enough. The impeller was producing a low humming sound which was only quieter than the clacking of the HDDs’ heads. Otherwise, it was the main source of noise, louder than the HDDs’ spindles and the rest of the fans. The 120mm fan at the back panel could not be heard when its speed was set at 700rpm.
The first HDD is closer to the center of the case. The second HDD is closer to the side panel. This mainboard doesn’t have integrated temperature monitoring, so I used a thermocouple of the system case.
Overall, the 120mm fan on the front panel does a good job cooling the components inside the AeroCool M40, excepting the HDDs. The HDDs seem to get only a tiny portion of fresh air that cannot cool two HDDs squeezed in the narrow space. This is especially conspicuous in the IOMeter test: the HDDs are as hot as 50°C, which is undesirably high.
I could not help carrying out a small experiment by installing an 80mm Scythe Kaze-White SY802512WH-VR to the back panel of the top half of the case and setting its speed to the minimum of 1300rpm. Frankly, I had not expected the fan would solve the problem of HDD cooling because it was situated at the opposite corner and there was little room for airflow due to the design of the interior and the cables. So, I prepared even more reinforcement: a slim 60mm fan I had taken from an old Socket 370 cooler fitted nicely to the front panel in front of the HDDs.
First, I did not connect the 60mm fan and limited myself to the 80mm one. As a result, the temperature of each component lowered by 2°C over the previous tests and the HDDs even got cooler by 5°C, so their temperature was quite normal again.
And when I then connected the 60mm fan, hoping to lower the temperature of the HDDs even more, I could hear its sound distinctly but observed no cooling effect. The HDDs had the same temperature irrespective of the 60mm fan.
So, the system case obviously does not draw, especially at the top. In the default configuration of the M40, there is a very weak airflow for the HDDs and the installation of an additional 80mm fan at the top of the back panel can help improve their cooling dramatically. If you still think this is not enough, but don’t want to lose your acoustic comfort, you should consider quiet and cold (i.e. economical) hard disks from Western Digital’s Green Power series. Installing a PSU with an 80mm fan may have an effect, too.
As for the noise factor, it was the CPU cooler’s fan that was the main source of noise in my configuration. The HDDs’ heads could not compete with it even. To check out the noise from the system case proper, I just unconnected the CPU cooler. The airflow was strong enough to cool the idle CPU. The result satisfied me completely: I could hear neither the 120mm fan at the front panel nor the 80mm fan I had added to the back panel. The fans were quieter than the hum of the HDDs’ platters rotating at 10,000rpm. I guess that’s an excellent result for a compact system case.
AeroCool ExtremEngine 3T
The HDDs are numbered from top to bottom.
Although the AeroCool ExtremEngine is equipped with only one 250mm on the side panel, it copes with cooling just fine. Every component feels good in every mode, and their temperature is lower than in ordinary system cases under the same load. The 250mm fan does it job well.
Take note that the temperature of the HDDs depends greatly on how close to the center of the fan the particular HDD is. The third and fourth HDDs, being exactly opposite, feel the most comfortable while the first HDD gets less fresh air.
The AeroCool ExtremEngine leaves an ambiguous impression in terms of noisiness. It is not quiet due to the exterior features, namely to the decorative turbine in the front panel. Passing through it and through the fan behind, the air produces some noise.
The 250mm side-panel fan was silent at 600rpm.
AeroCool V-Touch A
The HDDs are numbered from top to bottom.
The AeroCool V-Touch A is comparable to the M40 in terms of noisiness. That is, I could only hear the HDDs because the system case had only one 120mm fan working at 700rpm.
There is a price you have to pay for the silence, though. The single back-panel 120mm fan can only take the warm air off the CPU cooler and mainboard but cannot help the graphics card and does not cope at all with the densely packed HDDs when the latter work under load. The HDDs actually find themselves in an unventilated corner. The middle HDDs feel especially bad, being 50°C hot under IOMeter. This temperature is dangerous as it may shorten the service life of an HDD. The solution is obvious, of course. You should install an intake fan in front of the HDDs. Without it, even economical HDDs placed apart from each other will have an alarmingly high temperature.
It is also simple with graphics cards: you should use a model whose cooler can exhaust the hot air out of the system case. You can also install an additional fan to the side panel.
Finally, let’s compare the system cases. The results below refer to the basic configurations, without additional fans (as I have written above, adding an 80mm fan into the AeroCool M40 helps reduce the temperature of the HDDs by a few degrees).
The Hi-Tech 7 Pro comes out the winner in the idle mode, but the ExtremEngine 3T is not far inferior to it. In fact, this is a battle of a big fan with a very big fan. And I must confess the 250mm model is my favorite. Although somewhat worse at cooling, it is much quieter.
It is the M40 that loses with most of the components, yet its results are not bad overall. The proper relative position of the fan and the graphics card helps the M40 cool the graphics card better in comparison with the V-Touch A.
The models with big fans are much better at cooling highly loaded HDDs. They don’t differ from each other, however, notwithstanding the difference in the fan size. The V-Touch A proves to be the worst. In its basic configuration with one fan it can’t cope with cooling our four HDDs.
Under high CPU load the leaders are almost equal to each other. The Hi-Tech 7 Pro is better in the temperatures of the graphics card and the worst HDD. The M40 is no good. Its back-panel 80mm fan is not enough to cool the HDDs.
The 400mm fan makes the Hi-Tech 7 Pro the winner under maximum load. Take note of the good performance of the compact M40. You can accommodate a rather advanced gaming configuration in it despite its modest dimensions.
First I want to say a few general words about AeroCool’s products I have had a chance to check out. All the system cases are rather interesting and competitive in such a complex and densely populated market sector as the medium price range. Yes, these system cases are not perfect. Their interior is often too simple, but they have an eye-pleasing exterior and, mostly, good cooling. A nice addition to many of them is the integrated multi-channel controller of fan speeds complemented with thermocouples. Perhaps, these system cases are meant for people who, once the computer is assembled, prefer not to get into it too often, but do want the computer to boast unique looks.
I cannot pass by one of the key features of most of AeroCool’s system cases: the huge 250mm and 400mm fans installed in the side panels. Frankly, the 250mm model leaves a better impression. It is quieter and fits into the overall exterior of the case better. The 400mm fan is somewhat better at cooling (but not as much better as you might expect from such a huge fan) and has a very impressive look. You should not hide a system case with such a fan out of sight. It must stand in open view and surprise your guests.
And now I will make a brief summary on each model.
The AeroCool M40 is perhaps the most vivid impression. A compact system case with an excellent exterior and thought-through design, it is competitive to any opponent in its class. It is very short of being ideal. The only serious drawback is the position of the HDD cage. However, you can easily solve this problem by buying and installing an 80mm fan, and you will get a compact, quiet and advanced system as the result. So, I do recommend you the M40 if you are looking for a small system enclosure.
The AeroCool Hi-Tech 7 Pro is impressive with its 400mm fan. It features a highly effective cooling system, but it is rather noisy and cannot accommodate a large number of HDDs. Besides, it is the least remarkable of AeroCool products I have tested in terms of exterior design.
The AeroCool ExtremEngine, on the contrary, gets points just for its exterior. People who like everything related to aviation are going to be thrilled with it. It will surely be appreciated by modders as a good starting point for further work. ExtremEngine copes with cooling well but, unfortunately, its interior is too simple while the decorative turbine produces too much noise.
The AeroRacer and T-Gun are not far inferior to the ExtremEngine in their looks. The former features a nice, mild and memorable mix of colors while the latter has a beautiful highlighting that fits organically into the front panel. There is nothing unusual about their chassis but these cases can attract a lot of buyers with their appearance only. Take note that they come with either a 250mm or a 400mm fan (the latter version is referred to as “Pro”) and I guess that the former version is better in terms of exterior as well as noisiness. Besides, the T-Gun is based on the high-quality and popular chassis manufactured by HEC/Compucase.
The AeroCool V-Touch A follows a different style. Designed with more restraint than the above-mentioned models, it is no less remarkable. Instead of buttons it offers a touch-sensitive panel combined with a colorful LCD screen. Unfortunately, its chassis is too simple and its cooling system does not cope. You should add at least one more 120mm fan for normal ventilation.