by Yury Vayukin
06/29/2005 | 11:45 AM
The hi-tech industry is incessantly moving forward, breeding ever faster processors and graphics cards, and the power consumption and heat generation of these devices is growing up ever higher alongside. When people buy a high-end computer they sometimes care little about the system case. Some even regard the case is just a container for the components – put them in and it will work. Well, sometimes it won’t, and you’ll see all manner of “blue screens of death”, spontaneous reboots and hang-ups. A majority of such problems come as a result of insufficient cooling or lack of power from the power supply.
So, it makes sense to buy a normal system case right from the start than to solve the mystery of the glitch later. You shouldn’t try to save on the case – it’s a kind of situation when paying more today saves you more tomorrow.
It is also a widespread opinion today that true upgrade (piecemeal replacement of computer components with more advanced ones) is impossible. But the system case I am going to discuss refutes such opinions.
So, this review is dedicated to the Stacker system case from Cooler Master. The first impression you get when you see it is that this is a very serious product. And then you get your second impression as you try to lift it up…
The silvery color of the case is the color of unpainted aluminum the external paneling is made of. The chassis is made of true steel, though. The face panel of the case is black, with aluminum insertions on the sides. Accessory things come enclosed. These are four lockable wheels, a pack of screws, plastic rails for fastening devices in the 5.25” bays, a cable for joint operation of two power supplies, two plates for fastening the PSUs. The screws are numerous, so you are unlikely to run short of them during the assembly process.
There’s also an assembly manual that is going to be of much help if you try to transform this case for the BTX format. Yes, this system case is originally designed for mainboards of ATX as well as BTX form-factors!
Note that the face panel has faceplates for 5.25” bays almost from top to bottom: you can put as many as eleven 5.25” devices into the CM Stacker in total. There is a slot for a 3.5” device, too, in the topmost faceplate. The faceplates are curiously designed: a metal grid attached to a plastic base. You can remove the grid to clean the air filter inserted into the faceplate and then put the grid back.
Six USB connectors, one FireWire connector, audio connectors, Power and Reset buttons, HDD and Power indicators are all located at the very top of the face panel of the system case. This is a sensible solution since the most likely place for such a large system case is the floor.
The wires extending from the USB and FireWire connectors into the case end in four double-row connectors. It’s just impossible to plug them wrong. The cable from the external audio connectors ends in separate single-row plugs. The connectors are all labeled, so you shouldn’t find it hard to connect them right, either.
The left side of the case is, again, aluminum (the right side panel is made of this material, too) and is fastened to the case with two thumbscrews. There’s a 300mm hole in the side panel: it is covered with a decorative grid and there’s a dust-collecting filter under the grid. This looks most originally, but having removed the side panel I couldn’t find a 300mm fan on the reverse side. To my disappointment, there was just a place for an 80mm fan in the center of this large air inlet. This seems very disappointing to me.
There are vent holes in the right panel of the system case, too. They are located right against the place for mounting a cross-flow fan which I will discuss shortly. For an easier removal of the side panel, handles were pressed out in them. The right side panel is fastened with two thumbscrews, just like the left one.
The top panel of the case is made of iron and cannot be removed. There’s a rectangular meshed vent in the center of this panel. On the reverse side, there’s an 80mm exhaust fan installed against this vent.
The system case stands on small feet that are fastened to the bottom panel. You also receive wheels you can replace the feet with. I recommend you to do that because it’s going to be rather difficult to move the computer you’ll assemble in this case about (the weight of the case alone is a little over 16kg, and add also the weight of the components). It’s easier to roll than to carry it.
Now that we’ve examined each of the case’s panels, let us get inside. What designing solutions does Cooler Master have in store for us? I took off the left side panel and saw the infinite spaces inside the CM Stacker:
The stack of 5.25” bays is eye-catching, so let’s start with it.
I will install an ordinary CD-ROM to show you how 5.25” devices are to be put into those bays. Before the installation proper, you must use the plastic rails you receive with the case:
The juts on the rails fit into the screw-holes – that’s the way the rails hold on the case of the drive. You should keep them pressed to the drive with your hands as you’re inserting the drive into the bay lest the rails fall off. The drive goes into the case through the face panel and is held in place with the plastic locks in the bay. To make the fastening stiffer, the drive is also fastened with two screws on each side.
It’s all clear with 5.25” devices, but what about 3.5” drives? It’s simple. There’s a special removable basket you receive as an accessory to the system case. This basket is equipped with a low-noise 120mm intake fan and it can accommodate as many as four hard disk drives.
A hard drive is put inside this basket and fastened with screws on two sides. Then this whole basket goes through the face panel into the 5.25” bays and is fastened with plastic locks and screws, like a 5.25” optical drive. This HDD basket occupies three 5.25” bays in the case.
To place a floppy drive into the system case, you need special rails that are screwed to the floppy’s sides, and then the whole arrangement is installed in the case and is fixed with screws.
After installing all the devices, you can put back the faceplates and enjoy this beauty:
There’s a vent in the bottom side of the case, covered with a metal grid.
A 120mm exhaust fan is located at the rear panel. The seven slits for the expansion cards are positioned rather higher than usual. It is because this system case allows installation of two power supplies, and the second PSU is to be put at the very bottom. The expansion slits are covered with reusable brackets on thumbscrews.
The system case comes without a power supply, so I installed a Thermaltake HPC-420-302 DF with a declared wattage of 420 watts to run my tests.
If you’ve got just a single power supply, you can use the space reserved for a second one to install two additional 80mm fans. This can be done easily: extract the bracket that covers the PSU bay, attach the cooler to it, and put the bracket back.
The mainboard is fastened to the mounting plate in the classic way, with screws, via metal pegs. There’s a hole at the right part of the plate for a cross-flow fan. Unfortunately, the fan is not included with the case, so I just publish its snapshot taken from the manufacturer’s website:
As I said above, this system case permits installation of ATX as well as BTX mainboards.
I assembled the following computer in the reviewed system case:
The cables inside the case were neatly tied together and fastened to the side panels where possible. This way they didn’t become an obstacle on the way of the airflows. The case was tested at a constant ambient air temperature of 23°C. We controlled this temperature using an electronic thermometer FLUKE 54II. There were two test modes: Idle (the OS is booted up; the computer’s in the idle mode) and Burn (a Far Cry demo is running in a loop in 1024x768 resolution and at the maximum graphics quality settings).
We have learned experimentally that the temperatures of all the system components stabilize after 40 minutes of being in a particular test mode, so after these 40 minutes are over we read the temperature data from the following sensors:
Having tested the system case with its standard ventilation, we install additional fans at the spots intended for them and rerun our tests. Unfortunately, we couldn’t install a cross-flow fan on the mainboard’s plate since such a cooler was not included with our sample of the system case and we couldn’t find a similar one because of the original design.
We used the following software during our tests:
This is the summary table of the temperatures of all the main subsystems of the computer assembled in a CM Stacker system case.
* - "+2 Coolers" - additional fans installed onto the rear and left case panels.
The diagram above states that the CM Stacker successfully passed through our temperature tests. Its regular 120mm fans working at 1200rpm do their job very well. My installing additional 80mm 2400rpm fans on the rear (to exhaust) and left (for air intake) panels of the case led to a noticeable reduction of the CPU temperature by 6°C.
I really enjoyed assembling a computer in this system case and had no troubles at all in doing so. Thanks to the large dimensions of this case, you have an easy access to every subsystem of your PC. The metal chassis of the case is 1mm thick. This adds robustness, but of course makes it heavier.
As for downsides, I did find one fault with the case’s acoustic characteristics. No, I have no complaints about the fans, it’s more intricate than that. As you remember, the faceplates on the front panel have a plastic base and a decorative metal grid attached to it. In other words, the faceplate is a kind of sieve. It means you don’t have any soundproofing at all. So if you’ve got a noisy hard drive, get prepared to listen to its songs because you will hear them quite clearly. It’s all right if there’s a single drive in the system. It is worse when you have three and singing in chorus.
Another minor defect is that the side panels are made of unpolished and unpainted aluminum. If they get dirty, you won’t find it easy to scrape the dirt away.
I think that Cooler Master’s Stacker would be an interesting product for wealthy PC enthusiasts (the problem is how large this target group is). The design and built quality make it a good choice for a file server on a local network or an advanced workstation. By the way, you can put a water-cooling system instead of a second power supply or try to experiment with Freon-based coolers… The case will also keep even advanced gaming configurations cool.
But the retail price of the Cooler Master Stacker – without a power supply! – is about $200. You may think this price a bit steep, but think again! This system case will easily last through several upgrades of your computer, so why will you spend money for a new case each time you upgrade if you can buy this system case once and for all? But of course, it’s your personal choice, as ever.