Four Versions of Compact: Mini-ITX System Cases Roundup

Today we will talk about four miniature system cases from such well-known makers as Antec, Foxconn and InWin. We will not only check out the features and functionality of the cases, but will also perform a detailed test of the default power supply units that come with them.

by Dmitry Vasiliev
12/05/2012 | 08:39 AM

Today we’re going to test four compact computer cases from different brands: one model from Antec, one from Foxconn and two different-series products from InWin.

 

All of them are very compact and feature a preinstalled 150-250W power supply (we’ll check out the PSUs as well, although not as carefully as in our specialized PSU-related reviews). Besides, every model is compatible with full-size optical drives (except the Antec which requires a slim drive) and supports one low-profile expansion card (the InWin IW-BM643 even supports two).

We’ll discuss the products in alphabetic order, especially as this order puts the Antec ISK 310-150 first. The Antec is in fact the main highlight of this review, being about twice as expensive as the models from InWin and Foxconn we will compare it with.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find competitors to the Antec ISK 310-150 that would be comparable to it in price and specs, so we had to take whatever mini-ITX cases we had at hand. The InWin IW-BM643 and Foxconn RS-338(L) are similar to the InWin IW-BM648 and Foxconn RS-224 we reviewed earlier but we include them into this review to have a bigger picture, especially as our testbed configuration has changed significantly.

So, let’s find out whether the Antec is worth the money asked or the more affordable products are no less attractive.

Antec ISK 310-150

The Antec ISK 310-150 is the most compact computer case in this review. It is smaller in height and slimmer than the others.

As you can see, its back panel is but hardly larger than the cutout for the mainboard’s I/O panel.

Notwithstanding this compactness, the Antec is comparable to the other models in weight due to its thickest (0.8 mm) metallic panels.

Included into the box is a stand with soft vibration-absorbing pads which lets you install this computer case upright.

The vertical orientation looks just as good as the horizontal one since there’re no icons or captions on the front panel that would imply certain positioning.

The unavoidable downside is that it’s not convenient to insert discs into the optical drive. However, this is not a big problem with this particular computer case because the Antec ISK 310-150 is designed for slim drives which, unlike their full-size counterparts, fix the disc in the tray.

Besides the traditional pairs of USB 2.0 connectors and headphone/microphone sockets, the Antec sports an eSATA connector on its front panel. The latest version of the ISK 310-150 comes with USB 3.0 instead of USB 2.0.

Besides the abovementioned stand, the accessories include fasteners, a mains cord, a brief user guide (the full version can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website), single-use cable straps, plastic self-adhesive cable holders, and a couple of paper pads for drives.

Before you get down to assembling your computer in this case, you have to take off the heavy metallic cover that is comprised of the top as well as side panels.

 

The interior is rather cramped. The chassis seems even smaller visually than it really is due to the frame which serves for fastening 2.5-inch disks and a slim optical drive.

The mounting frame is made of two parts. The top drive bay is secured with a thumbscrew above the optical drive.

The top bay can accommodate two 2.5-inch disks next to each other. Considering the small dimensions of this computer case, we could hardly expect it to be compatible with 3.5-inch HDDs, yet we still regret this fact because 2.5-inch HDDs have lower capacities and cost more for a gigabyte of storage.

With the frame removed, we can have a closer look at the interior design of our Antec ISK 310-150. The PSU is shaped originally. It is compact in its main part but expands to accommodate a larger fan. A special feature of this computer case is that it allows installing a second exhaust fan.

There’s a piece of plastic instead of the missing 80mm fan to protect the interior against dust.

There are places for two fan speed controllers on the back panel, but only one controller is actually installed.

This controller is part of the preinstalled TriCool series fan. So, if you want to improve ventilation by installing a second fan and want to regulate both fans manually, you should look for appropriate models in Antec’s line-up.

  

The assembled Antec ISK 310-150 is very cramped. With the components placed so densely, some cables may get stuck between the blades of the CPU cooler. So it is important that you use cable straps to remove them as far away from the cooler as possible.

When this problem occurred during our tests and the CPU cooler’s fan stopped, the CPU eventually got as hot as the permissible maximum of 85°C and dropped its clock rate and, consequently, performance.

There is one more shortcoming that must be noted. The HDMI port of our discrete graphics card was partially blocked by the back panel of the chassis.

The photo above shows you the reason for that problem. It is due to the expansion card’s pivoted fastener. The mounting holes coincide but the card’s PCB is slightly bent.

Save for the mentioned downsides, we had no problems assembling our testbed configuration in this computer case.

The preinstalled 80mm fan works at 1075 RPM in the low mode, 1750 RPM in the medium mode, and 2740 RPM in the high mode. The fan is silent at the low speed, barely audible at the medium speed (it is no louder than the PSU’s fan then), and only becomes uncomfortable at the high speed.

 

The assembled Antec ISK 310-150 looks elegant and imposing, notwithstanding its tiny size.

Highs:

Lows:

Antec FP-150-8 Power Supply

The Antec ISK 310-150 computer case comes together with an Antec FP-150-8 power supply whose extraordinary shape we’ve mentioned above when describing the case itself.

Placed in the front part of the chassis, the PSU connects to the back-panel mains connector with an extension cable.

The broader end of the PSU contains an 80mm fan. Inside the chassis, this end is pressed against the side-panel vent hole.

The specifications are typical of compact PSUs. The total output power is 150 watts. 120 watts can be delivered via the +12V rail, which equals 80%. That’s not much by the standards of full-size desktop PSUs, but justifiable for low-wattage ones. Small computers need about as much power via the +3.3V and +5V rails as their full-size counterparts whereas the +12V load differs much more.

The Antec FP-150-8 PSU is equipped with the following cables and connectors:

The selection of connectors is almost ideal when it comes to expansion opportunities: the SATA connectors are for disk drives, the mSATA is for a slim optical drive (without any adapters), and the single PATA is for the Power button’s LED indicator (the case lacks a regular POWER_LED connector). And there are also standard mainboard and CPU power cables. The cables are just long enough for the Antec ISK 310-150 chassis.

Working together with our APC SmartUPS SC 620, the PSU could switch to the UPS’s batteries at its full specified load notwithstanding its active power factor correction.

The output voltages are very stable, none of them being more than 3% off the required level in the typical load range.

The +12V voltage can go outside the permissible range but only under an unrealistic combination of loads (near-maximum load on the +12V rail and minimum load on the other rails).

The output voltage ripple at the double mains frequency is low.

The high-frequency ripple is stronger, yet always within the norm.

The efficiency graph is indicative of active power factor correction. Running a little ahead, we can tell you that two PSUs covered in this review do not have this feature.

The efficiency isn’t high, though. It is only 78.3% at the maximum and varies from 77% to 78% in the typical load range. That’s the worst result among the four bundled PSUs (the others are more than 80% efficient).

The PSU isn’t quiet, either. Its 80mm fan rotates at 1800 RPM even at a load of 50 watts and accelerates linearly, reaching 2460 RPM at full load. Well, if your computer configuration needs considerably less power than the PSU’s maximum, the fan won’t be uncomfortable.

The standby source has a low load capacity of 1.5 amperes, but yields the required voltage without any problems.

Overall, the Antec FP-150-8 is good in terms of voltage stability and its cables are ideally suited to the computer case it is bundled with. However, its efficiency is downright low while its noise level is rather too high.

Foxconn RS-338(L)

Based on the same platform as the Foxconn RS-224, this model only differs in some minor nuances.

 

Most of them are about the exterior design. The Foxconn RS-338(L) looks better than the RS-224 but there is no functional difference between them.

The front-panel connectors include headphone and microphone sockets and a pair of USB ports. This computer case offers two external bays (for one 3.5-inch and one 5.25-inch device).

The Power and Reset buttons are both on the shorter side of the case. There is a disk activity indicator with red LED in between them.

Like the earlier-tested RS-224, the RS-338(L) is meant to stand upright. However, the included supports (which are the same as you get together with an RS-224) do not hold tight. They can easily slip off if you lift the case up or unclasp if you accidentally push on its side.

The back view allows us to see the difference in size from the above-discussed Antec. The Foxconn is taller (when standing upright) by the width of the PSU which is located in its conventional place near the back panel. The Foxconn is also considerably broader.

As opposed to the Foxconn RS-224, the RS-338(L) model supports only one low-profile expansion card. The back-panel expansion-slot bracket is not reusable, unfortunately.

The accessories have got scantier since our tests of the RS-224. The RS-338(L) is only shipped with supports for vertical installation, a mains cord, and some fasteners. There is no corner adapter for optical drive connectors, like the one we saw with RS-224, and no user manual among the accessories.

The steel cover of this computer case is as thin (0.5 mm) as the rest of its panels. It is the thinnest metal among the four products in this review.

  

The interior is roomier compared to the Antec ISK 310-150, and the assembly process is the same as with the Foxconn RS-224 with all its highs and lows.

The mounting frame allows installing a desktop optical drive into a 5.25-inch bay and a card-reader into an open 3.5-inch bay. Like with the RS-224, the open 3.5-inch bay can take in a 3.5-inch HDD but it is impossible plug the cables in due to the lack of space between the bay and the PSU.

There’s another PSU-related limitation here. It concerns the height of the expansion card’s components. The small heatsink on our passively cooled Radeon HD 6450 is the maximum as it is pressed against the PSU next to the latter’s fan.

On one hand, it is good since the passive cooling system of our graphics card is in fact transformed into active, but expansion cards with tall components just won’t fit into the limited space.

  

The mainboard’s component layout is different compared to our previous test, so the ventilation is overall better. The CPU cooler is right in the center of the interior, between the expansion card, back panel, optical drive and side fan, and with a large gap from each of these components. This allows installing a cooling system which is much larger than our boxed Intel cooler both in breadth and height. And you won’t have problems connecting the front-panel I/O ports because the cables are long enough to be routed around the CPU cooler’s heatsink.

There were, however, limitations due to the mainboard’s component layout. The tall heatsinks on the memory modules prevented us from installing an optical drive. Well, we don’t think that overclocker-friendly modules with such heatsink are appropriate for compact mini-ITX systems anyway.

The buttons and indicators of this computer case are connected via a cable with a single header. It was compatible with our mainboard, so every indicator and button functioned as it was supposed to, but you may have problems with mainboards that have nonstandard wiring.

The optical drive bay has a front cover, so the discrepancy between the matte surface of the drive’s front and the glossy panels of the computer case won’t show up. There is no decorative cover for the open 3.5-inch bay, though.

The Foxconn RS-338(L) is cooled by a single exhaust 80x80x25mm fan. Its low power requirements (0.1 amperes) suggest a low level of noise. Indeed, its speed is not higher than 1500 RPM. Fans of this form-factor don’t produce any acoustic discomfort ay such speeds.

 

The working Foxconn RS-338(L) is quite a view. Its black front is enlivened by the blue line of the Power indicator. The Power and Reset buttons are blue, too. We can only complain about the glossy plastic collecting fingerprints just too easily, but that’s the unavoidable downside of the beautiful exterior.

Highs:

Lows:

Foxconn FX-250T Power Supply

The bundled power supply is yet another difference between the RS-224 and RS-338(L). Although the form-factor (TFX), installation method and rated wattage are the same, the PSU is considerably different, both externally and in its specs.

The protrusion on the PSU’s case helps accommodate a fan with a standard thickness of 25 mm instead of the other model’s 15mm fan. The downside is that the PSU limits the dimensions of the cooling system on the expansion card.

It’s good that the Foxconn FX-250T has a wire fan grid instead of punched-out vents like in the other PSUs (except the InWin IP-AD160-2 with its exposed 40mm fan).

The outward part of the PSU has a standard honeycomb mesh and a 230/115V switch.

Having the same rated wattage as the Channel Well DSI250P (which was employed in the RS-224 computer case), the Foxconn FX-250T (its actual maker FSP is mentioned on the label, by the way) has a considerably lower load capacity of the +12V rail (168 compared to 216 watts) and a slightly lower load capacity of the +3.3V and +5V rails.

In fact, the real-life output power of this PSU is no higher than 200 watts since you can hardly load the +3.3V and +5V rails by more than 30 watts whatever components you may install.

The PSU is equipped with the following cables and connectors:

We’ve got too many connectors here. We doubt that anyone would need two PATA power connectors in a modern compact PC. And if you’ve got an antique floppy drive, you will hardly be able to connect it due to the lack of space for a power connector between the floppy drive bay and the PSU.

Working together with our APC SmartUPS SC 620, the PSU could switch to the UPS’s batteries at loads up to 225 watts. You’ll see shortly why this load is so low despite the lack of active PFC.

The voltages are stable enough. +12V leaves the 5% range when there’s a low load on the +12V rail and a high load on the +3.3V and +5V rails whereas the +3.3V voltage does the same in the opposite situation. However, the voltages are not going to deflect by more than 3% from the required levels in the typical load range.

The high-frequency voltage ripple at full load is within the permissible range but the +5V and +12V voltages seem to fluctuate at a lower frequency as is indicated by the shape of their graphs.

The output voltage ripple at the double mains frequency is just awful. It is many times as strong as permitted by the industry standard. This must be the reason why the PSU was unable to switch to the UPS’s batteries at full load.

The ripple quickly weakens, however, as the load decreases, meeting the industry requirements at 215-220 watts. It is already very weak at a load of 200 watts (and we want to remind you that you can hardly get anything more from this PSU due to the low load capacity of its +12 rail).

The Foxconn FX-250T is quite efficient for a compact PSU: 84.2% at the maximum and above 80% at typical loads. It is only at loads above 200 watts (which are hardly possible in reality) and below 60 watts (like with most other PSUs) that the efficiency is lower.

The Foxconn FX-250T is rather ambiguous when it comes to noisiness. On one hand, it is only at a load of 100 watts that its fan reaches the start speed of the Antec FP-150-8’s fan. But its fan accelerates faster, reaching the Antec’s top speed at 130 watts and going higher up to 2950 RPM at 175 watts. And this speed is then maintained until full load.

Thus, the Foxconn RS-338(L) computer case is going to be quiet enough if stuffed with low-consumption components. But if the components need as much power as the bundled PSU can provide, the noise level will be uncomfortably high.

The standby source can provide its specified 2 amperes but without any reserve.

Overall, the Foxconn FX-250T PSU is efficient, quiet at moderate loads and stable. We can only criticize it for its overstated output power (we’d have no complaints about its electrical parameters if the real 200 watts were specified on its label instead of 250 watts), some outdated connectors (whose cables occupy valuable space), and high level of noise at high loads.

InWin IW-BM643

While the above-discussed Foxconn RS-338(L) differs from the earlier-tested RS-224 in both design and functionality (the lack of a second expansion slot, a different PSU), the InWin IW-BM643 is almost an exact replica of the well-known InWin IW-BM648. That’s why this description is going to be brief and focused on the nuances which were not duly highlighted in our earlier review of this model’s twin.

 

The exterior design has changed since the model we tested but the plump outline is unmistakable. The front panel has got rid of a decorative faceplate above the I/O connectors, but the latter are left intact. Unfortunately, the USB connectors are still too close to each other, so you may have problems using them concurrently.

The buttons are not as convenient as in the earlier model. Both the Power and the Reset are cut out in the plastic of the front panel. The Power button was the only one designed like that in the IW-BM648 model and it could be pressed easier thanks to the larger cutout. The IW-BM643 can easily slip back under your pressure because the buttons are very stiff.

The Power and Disk indicators are too large to be not distracting in darkness.

The InWin sticker and the icons pressed out on the buttons indicate that this computer case is meant to stand upright although the overall design suggests horizontal positioning as well.

Looking at the back panel, we can measure up the dimensions. This computer case, when standing upright, is somewhat broader and taller than the Foxconn. Its depth is somewhat smaller, though.

The IW-BM643 comes with a minimum of accessories: screws, four self-adhesive rubber feet, a mains cord, and a user guide.

 

The mounting frame for an optical drive makes this InWin similar to the above-discussed Antec ISK 310-150 but hard disks are installed elsewhere.

 

The HDD rack supports two devices (one 2.5-inch and one 3.5-inch drive). It is located next to the mainboard from the side of expansion cards.

The IW-BM643 offers the most optimal combination of drive bays as it allows installing a fast SSD as a system disk and a conventional 3.5-inch HDD as file storage. It could only be better if each bay were compatible with both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch drives.

There is an integrated PC speaker on the front panel of the chassis, near the I/O connectors.

The optical drive’s mounting plate is monumental but provokes a number of inconveniences.

  

In fact, the assembly process went well until we got down to installing our optical drive. We had only had some problems with our graphics card. Although a compact Radeon HD 6450, it was nearly pressed against the PSU located in the front of the chassis.

Of course, a full-size optical drive was going to make the interior even more cramped, but we didn’t foresee the full extent of that problem.

The maximum cooler height is limited to the dimensions of a standard Intel boxed cooler. The gap between it and the optical drive is no larger than a couple of millimeters. That’s what we might expect, though.

The optical drive’s mounting plate, the optical drive itself, the installed expansion card and the PSU are positioned in such a way that they block most paths for cables. We had to squeeze and tamp them with much force in the available holes. This looks like a design shortcoming to us.

The cable from the front-panel USB connectors could reach to the mainboard’s USB header before we installed the optical drive but now it lacks a couple of centimeters because it has to go round the drive’s case. This downside may not show up with mainboards that have a different component layout, though.

Well, if you don’t use an optical drive and remove its mounting plate, the IW-BM643 will offer enough room for a serious CPU cooler while every cable is connected and laid out without any problem. So, we’d recommend choosing another computer case if you can’t do without an optical drive.

The IW-BM643 is cooled by a slim 80x80x15mm fan Y.S.TECH FD128015LL that works at 2270 RPM according to our monitoring data. The fan isn’t loud (it is small and its slim form-factor lowers its noise).

The matte optical drive doesn’t match the glossy front panel of the case while it would be difficult to find a drive with glossy front. Well, the IW-BM643 is hardly a design masterpiece anyway.

Highs:

Lows:

InWin IP-AD160-2 Power Supply

We already know this PSU from our IW-BM-648 system case review, so we’ll only discuss its operating parameters today.

The specifications have not changed since our last test. The cables and connectors are the same, too:

As opposed to the above-discussed models, this PSU lacks SATA power connectors. You won’t be able to power two HDDs (2.5- and 3.5-inch ones) and an optical drive without adapters. However, the spacing of the SATA power connectors on the cable indicates that they are not meant for an optical drive. The cable is just too short to be plugged into the optical drive and to one of the HDDs. It implies that the developers of this computer case do not really think it necessary to install an optical drive into it.

The PSU could switch to our UPS’s batteries at any load.

The output voltages are even more stable than those of the earlier-tested sample taken from an InWin BM-648. The PSU can work normally at near-zero loads and its voltages are never off the required ranges.

The high-frequency voltage ripple is strong but within the permissible range.

The same goes for the voltage ripple at double the mains frequency.

This PSU is the most efficient of the four: almost as high as 80% even at 50 watts (compared to the others’ 70%) and above 84% at higher loads, except full load.

The power factor graph is indicative of active PFC.

The fan is the only difference of this PSU from the sample we tested earlier. It is a 7-blade 40x40x10mm ADDA AD0412MS-G70 with a rated speed of 4800 RPM instead of an AXR fan.

The rated speed was reached at full load, but the fan was hardly audible even at 5000 RPM. At a load of 50 watts the fan rotated at 1600 RPM only, which was a very low speed for such a small form-factor.

The speed of the fan is higher by a third at any load compared to the PSU sample we tested earlier, but without any worsening in terms of acoustic comfort. The 80mm fan is the main source of noise in this computer case, anyway.

The temperature data about the incoming and outgoing air do not agree with reality. The PSU case gets very hot at high loads (and is going to be even hotter in a real-life system since there is no way for the hot air to leave the chassis). The temperature delta is small because the air flow from the 40mm fan is halted inside the PSU. The outgoing air stream is too weak to affect the thermal sensor located a few centimeters away.

The standby source is stable at any loads.

The InWin IP-AD160-2 is good overall, offering enough output power for a compact computer. It is highly efficient and quiet. The only downside we can see about it is that its cable system may not be optimal for some configurations.

InWin IW-BP659

Unlike the two previous products, we’ve never tested anything like the IW-BP659 before.

 

The IW-BP659 is very similar to the above-discussed Foxconn in dimensions.

The optical drive is not going to look like a matte smudge on the glossy front panel. There’s a decorative cover above the entire façade, including the front-panel connectors.

This model lacks a Reset button. The USB ports are too close to each other to be used simultaneously.

The cover is opened by pulling its edge. After you overcome the resistance of the magnet, it will smoothly open up by itself.

The top of this computer case is a single piece with one of the side panels. The metal is somewhat thicker than that of the Foxconn but not as thick as in the Antec.

There is a large vent decorated from the outside with a plastic grid. We can expect the CPU cooler to get enough fresh air from that vent irrespective of the position of the CPU socket on the mainboard.

The accessories are identical to those of the above-discussed InWin IW-BM643: power cord, mounting screws, self-adhesive rubber feet, and a leaflet with installation instructions.

 

With the cover removed, we can see a picture that resembles the above-discussed Foxconn. The PSU is traditionally located at the back panel, exhausting the hot air to the outside. The mounting plate of the optical drive can be detached. Of course, there are certain peculiarities. For example, the PSU is placed on the other side of the mainboard and thus does not interfere with expansion cards. The optical drive’s mounting plate is combined with a 3.5-inch bay and secured with screws, which is more reliable but less convenient than in the Foxconn case.

The inappropriate position of the exhaust fan must be noted. There’s a whole serpentarium of cables from the PSU and front-panel I/O connectors right behind it. Obviously, those cables are going to interfere with air flows.

Like the Foxconn, the InWin IW-BP659 doesn’t normally support 2.5-inch HDDs, so we had to secure our drive with a single screw only. We just wanted to use the same HDD for every computer case to put them under identical test conditions.

The HDD bay can take in two 3.5-inch drives but one of them must be a slim model with a thickness of 0.8 inches or less (like single-platter drives from Seagate).

 

The assembly process is as convenient as possible considering the modest size of the chassis. The cables are sufficiently long and every location is easily accessible.

Like in the Foxconn, the optical drive prevents you from using memory modules with tall heatsinks.

 

The exhaust 80x80x25mm fan is protected with a plastic grid so that the numerous cables didn’t get stuck in its blades.

The fan turned out to have a rather high speed of 2350 RPM. Having a standard thickness, it produces more noise than the slim fan of the IW-BM643 which works at a comparable speed. You may want to replace the default fan with something else if you want a quiet computer.

 

The assembled InWin IW-BP659 looks cute irrespective of its orientation. However, the InWin stickers and the words “Pull” on the door suggest the vertical one as preferable.

Highs:

Lows:

InWin IP-S200DF1-0 Power Supply

The InWin IW-BP659 computer case comes together with InWin’s IP-S200DF1-0 power supply.

The PSU is similar to the Foxconn FX-250T except that it has no expanding part for the fan. The fan is consequently a low-profile thing of the 80x80x15mm form-factor.

The dimensions and fastening are the same as those of the Foxconn (and correspond to the TFX form-factor), making these two PSUs interchangeable.

The specifications are identical to those of the Foxconn except for the total output power but we’ve found the FX-250T to have an overstated rating (it can only deliver the same 200 watts in practice).

The InWin IP-S200DF1-0 PSU is equipped with the following cables and connectors:

The selection of connectors and the length of cables are ideally suited to the expansion options provided by the computer case.

Like the rest of the PSUs in this review, the InWin IP-S200DF1-0 delivers stable voltages which remain within 3% of the required levels in the typical load range. It is only at highly misbalanced and unrealistic loads that they may go out of the 5% range.

When connected to our APC SmartUPS SC 620, this PSU could switch to the UPS’s batteries at full load.

The high-frequency output voltage ripple is not strong and meets the requirements of the industry standard.

The same goes for the voltage ripple at the double frequency of the mains.

The PSU is noisier at 50 watts than the 160-watt InWin IP-AD160-2 at full load. The speed of the fan increases slowly, so the exhaust system fan is noisier at any load (the system fan rotates at a similar speed but has a thicker impeller).

Despite the large temperature delta shown in the diagram, the PSU wasn’t hot at work, as opposed to the InWin IP-AD160-2.

The PSU is over 80% efficient at loads above 70 watts. The efficiency is not high at low loads typical of compact computers, though.

Besides the form-factor and specifications, this PSU shares one more feature with the Foxconn FX-250T. It lacks active power factor correction.

The standby source copes with its job without problems.

Thus, the InWin IP-S200DF1-0 PSU has good electrical parameters but its fan is audible even at low loads.

Testbed and Testing Methodology

We test assembled system cases 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 connectors) into the quietest mode available in the mainboard’s BIOS. If a system case has its own speed controller, we switch it to minimum speed, too. We do not change the default configuration of air flows determined by system case design.

The following components are installed into each system case:

We test system cases with their bundled PSUs if they have one. The temperature of the CPU is measured with Core Temp 0.99.8. HDD, GPU and mainboard temperatures are measured with CPUID Hardware Monitor. 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 noisiness of the systems is evaluated subjectively.

Open testbed

Our configuration now includes an ASUS EAH6450 Silent/DI/1GD3(LP) graphics card whose passive cooling agrees with the quiet & compact PC concept and lets us see if the computer case can cool the GPU without any interference from smart active cooling systems.

Since we’ve got a new CPU cooler and a discrete graphics card, the open testbed data were recorded anew.

As for the disk subsystem, it may be logical to install HDDs the particular computer case is designed for. However, if we did so, we wouldn’t be able to compare test results of different products. If one case is only compatible with 2.5-inch disks and another, with 3.5-inch ones, how can they be compared?

Therefore we decided to use the same 2.5-inch drive even in those computer cases that are not intended for such HDDs. After all, a 2.5-inch HDD can be secured at least with one screw in a 3.5-inch bay while the opposite is impossible. Although this testing approach is hardly practical, we can find no better way of comparing different computer cases in terms of HDD cooling.

Performance

Now let’s see how good our computer cases are in terms of cooling. We’ll analyze their results in alphabetic order.

The Antec ISK 310-150 can run its fan in three speed modes, so we checked out each of them.

Antec ISK 310-150 (low)

At the low speed of the fan the HDD is cooled poorly, reaching 40°C even when idle. This temperature isn’t critical but makes one think about improving something.

The temperature of the other components is normal and the fans are not audible at all.

Antec ISK 310-150 (medium)

At the medium speed of the fan the HDD feels much better, reaching 40°C only during a long high-load test. The CPU and GPU are cooler by a few degrees, too.

The chipset is, on the contrary, hotter because it is cooled by the CPU cooler’s fan. So, when the CPU gets colder, its cooler slows down, provoking an increase in the chipset’s temperature. And Intel’s 6 series chipsets are known to be very hot things.

In this mode the fan can only be heard from a short distance. The computer is almost as quiet as at the minimum speed of the system fan.

Antec ISK 310-150 (high)

At the maximum speed of the fan the components get colder by a few degrees more, excepting the mainboard’s chipset (which is hotter due to the weaker air flow from the CPU cooler) but the exhaust system fan becomes audible. That’s why this mode cannot be recommended for continuous use.

Thus, the medium speed seems to be optimal in terms of noisiness and cooling. And if you want to improve ventilation further in this mode, you can install a second fan.

Foxconn RS-338(L)

The Foxconn RS-338(L) cools the components very well (except the expectedly hot mainboard’s chipset) at a rather low level of noise. Although noisier than the ISK 310-150 at the medium fan speed, the Foxconn RS-338(L) is quieter than Antec’s maximum speed mode.

The GPU is cooled especially well thanks to the graphics card’s position right next to the PSU fan.

The downsides of this model are its thin metallic panels and the availability of only one HDD bay.

InWin IW-BM643

The InWin IW-BM643 isn’t good in terms of ventilation. Its results are close to those of the smaller Antec whereas the GPU temperature is the worst among the four products.

In terms of acoustic comfort, this model is somewhat worse than the Foxconn due to its high-speed exhaust fan.

InWin IW-BP659

The InWin IW-BP659 is similar to the Foxconn RS-338(L) with its component layout and dimensions as well as with its ventilation. However, it is somewhat inferior to the Foxconn: better in CPU temperature but worse in the temperature of the other components.

The InWin IW-BP659 is the noisiest computer case in this review, mostly due to the high-speed exhaust fan. But you won’t be able to make it really quiet even by replacing that fan because the high speed of the slim 80mm PSU fan can only make the InWin IW-BP659 comparable to the Foxconn RS-338(L).

Finally, let’s compare the results of each computer case with the open testbed:

 

Conclusion

The Antec ISK 310-150 does stand out among the other computer cases. It is meant for users who prefer high-quality and compact devices as it features robust metal, restrained exterior design, quietness, very compact dimensions and excellent expansion opportunities (two HDDs, a second fan). It is not without flaws, though. The expansion card fastener makes the card bend and the PSU has very low efficiency. So, the price looks too high to us.

The other three products are competitors, but the InWin IW-BM643 is obviously the least attractive of them. It is the least convenient when it comes to installing components (you cannot connect the front-panel connectors to the mainboard’s header if you’ve got an optical drive installed), has poor ventilation (especially for the graphics card) and a rather high level of noise, and its exterior design is questionable. However, most of our criticism disappears if you don’t install an optical drive whereas the opportunity to install both 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch HDDs simultaneously is unique among the tested products.

The Foxconn RS-338(L) and InWin IW-BP659 are very similar to each other in dimensions and ventilation (both are actually the best among the four computer cases in this review in terms of ventilation) but differ in expansion opportunities and noisiness. The Foxconn allows installing an internal card-reader but its HDD options are limited to one 3.5-inch drive whereas the PSU limits the height of the expansion card’s components. The InWin, on its part, can accommodate a second 3.5-inch HDD (only a slim one – such models are only available in capacities up to 1 terabyte) and has no limitations concerning the expansion card’s width but doesn’t allow to install an external 3.5-inch device and has no Reset button. The difference in acoustic comfort is substantial: the Foxconn is better in the noisiness of both the exhaust fan and the PSU fan. That’s why we’d prefer the Foxconn despite its thinner metal and not very well designed supports for positioning it upright.