by Aleksey Meyev
03/02/2010 | 12:42 PM
Computer cases come in many varieties for every user’s needs. Someone wants a large tower that will easily accommodate top-end configurations. Others prefer to save some space by using compact system cases designed for micro-ATX or even mini-ITX mainboards. Yet it is the most universal midi-tower format that proves to be the choice of the majority of users. Most computers are assembled in them and such system cases stretch the entire price range. This format has become so popular that computer furniture is adjusted to its dimensions. So, let’s have a look at four representatives of this product class that come from the midrange market segment.
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We already had a chance to test AeroCool’s system cases and found them to be good midrange products with a nice-looking and memorable appearance. Will the Syclone leave us just as pleased?
This system case’s exterior may seem unserious to some people, but it is certainly not dull or trite. AeroCool suggests that the Syclone is styled like a space cruiser. I wouldn’t claim that this association popped up in my head readily the first time I saw this product, but I really had the impression of speed. The crest on the top panel, the four “engines” at the bottom, and the slanted side window all look neat and harmonious together.
I have to note that the protruding “engines” may play a bad joke with you. They may prevent you from squeezing the Syclone into the standard narrow compartment of some computer desks.
The front panel is a single large plastic door that covers standard external bays, a Reset button, and vents. The door cannot be hung to the other side, but offers a handy groove for your fingers to open it up easily. When closed, the door is fixed in place with two small magnets.
I/O connectors can all be found on the top panel: two USB ports (wide apart from each other), two audio connectors, and one eSATA port. The Power button can found here as well. It is neatly built into the ridge that goes along the center of the top panel.
The front part of the front panel, although abounding in openings, plays no part in ventilation. In fact, it is one large decorative piece.
The back panel is absolutely standard for modern system cases with a top position of the power supply. A 120-millimeter fan with a speed of 1100 RPM is preinstalled in its seat. There are no holes for the pipes of a liquid cooling solution.
The system case stands on small plastic cylinders with riffled surface.
There is a fan on the side panel, too. It is a 140-millimeter thing with a rated speed of 1000 RPM and a 4-pin Molex connector. Take note that the rear parts of the “engines” are simple plastic trims on the flat side panels of the case, but they do look very neat.
There is nothing particularly interesting inside: we can see a standard chassis made out of rather good 0.7mm steel with a transversely positioned rack for hard disk drives.
The expansion-slot brackets are reusable and fastened with screws, which is good news for users of dual-slot graphics cards.
There is one seat for a 120mm fan in front of the HDD rack but no fan is installed there.
Plastic screwless fasteners are used to fix 5.25 and 3.5-inch devices in the external bays. They have become standard for midrange system cases.
It is trivial with HDDs, too. They are installed into the rack using two small guides.
Assembling a computer in this system case shouldn’t be a problem but you have to mess with the cables, tucking them in somewhere between the PSU and the 5.25-inch bays. Unfortunately, the Syclone does not offer any means to hide the cables neatly.
Senior graphics cards from Nvidia, 267 millimeters long, fit into this chassis but you may have problems with the power connectors at the end of long graphics cards from AMD because of the HDD rack. The power cables just won’t fit in, and this cannot be avoided by simply removing one HDD.
The working Syclone looks quite impressive due to its highlighting.
The red-and-black version of this product has red highlighting. So if the black version looks too gloomy to you, you may prefer the livelier red.
Enermax power supplies have long earned our respect and we use one of them as part of our test configuration but we have not yet tested any system cases from this brand. It’s high time for us to do that.
The Phoenix Neo has a highly original appearance of the front panel which is bracketed within two protruding arcs made from 3mm aluminum. Coupled with the matching style of the 250mm side-panel fan, the arcs look good even though have no functional worth.
The buttons and I/O connectors are settled on a small excrescence in the front part of the top panel, indicating that the Phoenix Neo should be put under rather than on a desk. There are four USB ports placed wide apart from each other, two audio connectors, and an eSATA port. The buttons are responsive and have nice-looking shiny rims.
The back panel indicates that the PSU compartment is at the top. The fan seat is universal, supporting 80mm, 92mm and 120mm models. At the bottom of the panel, there are two rubberized openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system.
The cheap feet are made from rigid plastic.
A large part of the left panel is occupied by a 250mm fan powered from a 4-pin connector. There are three controls to it: a button to turn its highlighting on and off, a 2-way switch to change the direction of the airflow, and a small wheel for adjusting the fan’s speed.
Alas, the Phoenix Neo has nothing to surprise us with in its interior. It has a standard chassis with a transversely positioned HDD rack. Devices are secured in the external bays with screwless plastic fasteners. HDDs are installed into the rack using the same guides as in the above-discussed AeroCool Syclone.
The expansion-slot brackets are reusable. They are fastened with small plastic locks but you can also fasten your expansion cards with screws if you want to.
No fan is preinstalled on the back panel.
On the front panel, before the HDD rack, there is a preinstalled 120mm fan with 4-pin connector.
The assembly procedure is just the same as with many other system cases based on such or a similar chassis. There is a large heap of cables that have to be bunched up between the CPU cooler and the 5.25-inch bays. The graphics card may hit against the HDD rack, and L-shaped SATA cables are desirable to reduce the risk of damaging the HDDs’ connectors. I want to be more specific about graphics cards, though. The system case accommodates 270mm models but only if they don’t have power connectors at the butt end. You can fit in a graphics card of the latter kind, too, but only if the mainboard’s graphics slot is high enough to be opposite the external 3.5-inch bays.
The working system case looks nice. Its soft red highlighting doesn’t irritate the eye.
NZXT is a Los Angeles maker of computer cases.
The Beta EVO can hardly impress anybody’s eye. It is a rather standard black metallic box. The front-panel vent is styled like a radiator but the simple matte-black plastic can hardly attract anyone who’s looking for a cute computer case.
The top and side panels offer as many as four seats for 120mm fans, which is unusually many for a midi tower. You can even install 140mm fans on the front panel.
In the front part of the top panel there are I/O connectors: two USB ports, two audio connectors, and one e-SATA port. Unfortunately, there is no cap covering the connectors from above.
The triangular Reset and Power buttons are neatly fitted into the top of the front-panel grid.
The back panel shows one more seat for a 120mm fan and a bottom PSU compartment. The mounting holes suggest that the PSU’s fan can be directed either upwards or downwards. Two holes for the pipes of a liquid cooling system are in the vent grid next to the expansion-slot brackets.
The system case stands on small truncated cones of rubber glued to the bottom panel. Funnily enough, these feet are attached to spots which are obviously meant for larger feet.
The chassis of the NZXT Beta EVO has a standard component layout, being only different from other products of its class with the bottom position of the PSU compartment and the large number of fan seats. However, this inexpensive model offers the means to hide the cables, which is a feature typical of more expensive products.
The chassis is unfortunately not thick enough. Its metallic details are all 0.5-millimeter steel and the empty system case sounds like a large tin can, responding resonantly at each tap with a finger. Running a little ahead, I should acknowledge that it gets more rigid when assembled but still lacks stiffness ribs on its flat surfaces or, better yet, 0.7-millimeter steel. So, you shouldn’t be surprised if your hard disk drives begin to buzz loudly inside this system case. The HDDs are all right, it’s just the system case working as a resonator.
The space for hiding cables is not large but sufficient, considering the extra nook behind the HDD rack.
A PSU is put down on four small rubber poles that suppress vibrations and is fastened to the back panel only. The opportunity to install it with the fan facing downward doesn’t look appealing. The filter in the bottom panel will protect against dust, but where will the air come from if the case stands on such low feet?
The back panel of the empty case is all ventilation. The expansion-slot brackets are made from a fine metallic mesh. The brackets are reusable and fastened with ordinary screws.
One more seat for a 120mm fan (a sixth one in this system case!) is in front of the HDD rack. It is the only one that comes with a preinstalled fan, by the way. The latter is equipped with a 3-pin connector for a mainboard’s header and has a max speed of 1400 RPM.
The 5.25-inch brackets are meshed as well and have some porous material inside that serves as a dust filter.
Devices are installed into external bays using screwless plastic locks we are already familiar with.
Each HDD is installed using two guides.
The extra space to hide cables in helps this system case looks neater than its opponents, especially if you position your HDDs with their connectors facing the right panel. As with every system case with a bottom PSU position, you must check out the length of cables, especially of the 12V CPU cable, because they have to stretch for quite a long distance.
Every graphics card measuring up to 270 millimeters will fit in here. But if it has power connectors at its butt end, you may need a mainboard with a PCI Express slot which is high enough for the graphics card’s power cable not to press against the HDD rack but instead go into the external 3.5-inch bay. By the way, that bay is not actually external here because it is covered with the “radiator” on the front panel.
You may wonder if the dedicated space for cables does not limit your choice of CPU coolers. Don’t worry: you can use coolers up to 170 millimeters tall.
Scythe is a well-known maker of cooling solutions. And now it is making inroads into the system case market.
The Fenris Wolf is not exactly original but will surely attract users who don’t like fanciful exterior designs. It is a smooth aluminum box with a large vent grid in its front panel which resembles a knight’s shield, especially with the company’s logo above it. The silvery letter “b” on the side panel is a credit to a German modder Benjamin “benny” Franz who has taken part in developing this product.
The front panel is in fact a single large door that covers the mesh faceplates of the 5.25-inch bays and a vent in the bottom part behind which you can get a glimpse of a 120mm fan. There are both buttons and two LEDs here, too, although the purpose of the LEDs is unclear since the door is going to be closed most of the time.
The door closes with a rather loud bang and is held by two magnets. Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to hang the door so that it opened to another side.
The extra connectors can all be found on the top panel below a neat cover: two audio connectors, two USB ports, and one eSATA.
There is nothing particularly interesting at the back but you can see that the 120mm fan has a wire rather than punched-out grid, and there are two rubberized openings for a liquid cooling system at the bottom of the back panel.
The feet are massive and have vibration-absorbing soles.
Removing the side panel, you can notice small strips glued along it. Their purpose is to avoid the rattling of the side panels, which is a common problem with aluminum computer cases.
The interior of this system case is rather ascetic. The HDD rack resembles Hiper products but the chassis is different. Hiper used 2mm aluminum everywhere whereas in this system case the main carcass is 2 millimeters thick and the side panels are made from 1-millimeter aluminum sheets. So, the case does seem flimsy a little, yet its overall rigidity is acceptable. I heard no foreign sounds when I assembled my test configuration in it.
Like in Hiper’s system cases, most of the elements, including the reusable expansion-slot brackets are fastened with thumbscrews. The fans are a real treat for my eyes. These are two Scythe SlipStream at 800 RPM. I don’t think anyone would want to replace these quiet but effective fans with anything else.
The single-piece drives rack can be roughly divided into three sections each of which is three 5.25-inch bays large. Each bay has vibration-absorbing pads but the pads are flush with the panels, so their efficiency is questionable.
There is a guide in one of the bays for installing an external 3.5-inch device.
The bottom 3-bay section has a cover to which a fan is attached. Like in the rest of the case, there is no protection against dust, but nothing prevents you from providing it yourself.
HDDs are installed in a highly unusual manner in this system case. The disks are squeezed between and fastened with screws to two 2mm aluminum plates that have vibration-absorbing strips on the interior side. Before doing that, you should also attach three rubber cylinders with pressed-in threaded metallic nuts to those plates. It is by means of these vibration-absorbing cylinders that the whole arrangement is secured within the chassis.
This sandwich does not transfer any vibration from the HDDs to the case and is itself rigid and massive if you’ve got at least two HDDs. The downsides of this solution are obvious, too. It is not quite easy to attach the sandwich to the bottom block of 5.25-inch bays. It is also quite a bother to replace one HDD in it. So, this solution will only be really good for people who don’t often replace their HDDs.
Except for the HDD installation, there is nothing special in the assembly process. The case is large enough to accommodate graphics cards up to 290 millimeters long. The cables won’t take too much space, either. The case allows installing CPU coolers up to 170 millimeters tall.
An 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 computers, 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 CPU temperature is read with the ASUS PC Probe utility 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. The speed of the fans is measured with an optical tachometer Velleman DTO2234. 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 following table shows the temperatures of the components if the system is assembled without an enclosure (“open testbed”).
The noise level is evaluated subjectively.
First, let’s view the results for each system case and check out the cooling of HDDs depending on their position. The HDDs are numbered from top to bottom in each system case.
Even with its two fans, the AeroCool Syclone is not really good at cooling. The graphics card is very hot under load and the HDDs located right behind the fan do not feel comfortable. One of the HDDs is as hot as 50°C, which is dangerous. The topmost HDD, located in another bay, is obviously not cooled properly, too. It looks like the air flow from the front fan is not strong enough due to the resistance of the front-panel elements and the HDD rack on its way.
It is all right in terms of noise, though. The fans are almost silent and there are no foreign sounds at all. On the other hand, I would gladly improve cooling by increasing the speed of the fans at the expense of silence.
Enermax Phoenix Neo min in
I first tested the Enermax Phoenix Neo when its side fan was working at its minimum speed, sucking the air into the chassis. The result is good: the HDDs are cooled properly and the rest of the components feel all right, too.
Enermax Phoenix Neo max in
When the fan speed is increased to its maximum, the graphics card temperature lowers while the CPU and mainboard remain as hot as before. The HDDs are hotter in this mode as they don’t get any of the air flow, being located in a blank corner of the chassis.
Enermax Phoenix Neo max out
Enermax Phoenix Neo min out
Next, I lowered the fan speed to its minimum and changed the direction of the air flow of the big fan so that it was pumping the air out of the chassis. The picture changes to the opposite as the result: the HDDs are cooled perfectly while the graphics card temperature is considerably higher now.
Interestingly, increasing the fan speed to the maximum has but a very small effect on the temperatures in this mode.
Enermax Phoenix Neo off
And when the fan is turned off altogether, all the components get hotter than before.
As for the noise factor, the 120mm fan at the back panel is virtually silent. The side-panel 250mm fan is producing a soft hiss of the air at minimum speed but becomes audible at maximum speed.
It’s up to you to decide what variant is better but I’d prefer the side fan to pump the air out of the chassis at minimum speed.
NXZT Beta EVO min
The NXZT Beta EVO copes well with the HDDs even at the minimum speed of the fan because the fan is located before the HDD rack. However, the temperature of the other components is rather high. The mainboard is 40°C hot, which is quite a lot for our configuration. This is the price you pay for the lack of a back-panel fan even though this system case is heavily perforated. One more fan would be most welcome here.
NXZT Beta EVO max
Increasing the fan speed helps lower the temperature of the HDDs. Alas, the air flow is still not strong enough to affect the other components while the fan gets much noisier. The system case was almost silent at minimum speed but at 1400 RPM the front-panel fan was humming distinctly. It is better to add a low-speed fan rather than to use the available one at full speed.
Scythe Fenris Wolf min
At the minimum speed of the fans you cannot hear them at all in the Scythe Fenris Wolf. The cooling is sufficient for the HDDs to feel comfortable even under load. The rest of the components do not show any signs of overheat, either. This is an example of a quiet and fast computer.
Scythe Fenris Wolf max
Even working at their maximum 800 RPM, the fans are barely audible. For most users the computer will still be silent as if the fan speed has not changed at all. The cooling is much better now for both the HDDs and the mainboard.
So I think that this system case is the best choice for assembling a quiet computer without any troubles. You only have to buy necessary components and install them. You won’t have to bother about the fans as you can leave them for the mainboard to control.
Now, let’s compare the system cases with each other as well as with the open testbed.
The Enermax Phoenix Neo looks best in idle mode. Most of the components are cooled better in it than on the open testbed. The AeroCool Syclone is the worst model here: the HDDs have the highest temperature in that system case.
We see the same picture when the HDDs are under high load: it is only in the AeroCool Syclone that the HDDs are cooled worse than on the open testbed where the HDDs have no air flow whatsoever.
The system cases all produce similar results under high CPU load although the Enermax is again a little better than the others because the mainboard is cooler in it.
And finally, there are two best system cases under gaming load: the Enermax and the Scythe Fenris Wolf. There is only one model, the AeroCool Syclone, that may make you worry about your components.
The Scythe Fenris Wolf leaves the best impression after this test session. Scythe has debuted with a very good product on the market of system cases: a well-balanced and nice-looking model that will be a good choice for most users. It provides good cooling at little noise even in its basic configuration, being one of the quietest midrange products I have ever tested. The only shortcoming about it is that the fastening of HDDs, although vibration-absorbing, is not handy if you change your HDDs often.
The rest of the system cases have both highs and lows, which is typical of midrange products. The Enermax Phoenix Neo has a large side-panel fan for which you can not only change the speed but also the direction of airflow. Otherwise, it is a standard product with a standard chassis.
The NZXT Beta EVO offers two rather rare features for this product class: a space to hide cables into and six seats for 120mm fans. But these advantages are negated by the shortcomings such as the thin material of the chassis, scanty accessories and unassuming exterior design.
The AeroCool Syclone has an excellent exterior but also problems with cooling: its default fans could barely cope with my configuration.