by Aleksey Meyev
08/10/2010 | 05:23 PM
Mainstream system cases are a truly inexhaustible topic for a hardware reviewer. During the time it takes to write a new report, the manufacturers release a few models more, and you find yourself not unlike Achilles who is always catching up with the tortoise but never overtakes it. On the other hand, even though this market sector is the most popular one, there is no need to discuss each particular model because the profusion we observe is mostly due to variations in trims applied to a rather limited number of chassis. You can see many products, even selling under different brands, share the same chassis and only differ in the design of the front panel.
Anyway, there are products that deserve a closer look and today we are going to review four of them.
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The USP 100 from Cooler Master goes first. Products from this brand are well known to computer enthusiasts due to their appealing price/functionality ratio. While Cooler Master is known for its rather expensive models such as Cosmos 1000 or 690 II Advanced in the first place, we will be talking about a simpler and cheaper product here.
This exterior design can hardly impress anybody. The USP 100 is a rather standard black box with a metallic mesh in the front panel and a minimum of decorative elements. There is a kind of frame enveloping the system case from the front. On the other hand, the USP 100 looks better than typical inexpensive boxes with perforation that claim to provide superior cooling.
Take note of the company logo at the bottom of the front panel which does double duty as a Power button. It is easy to press and looks good, so we like this design solution. There is another hidden element: the light strip at the top of the panel covers a LED that serves as an On/Off indicator.
I/O connectors and an HDD activity indicator can be seen in the front part of the top panel on the above-mentioned decorative frame that forms a shelf there. The shelf is odd, though. While its front is outlined clearly, it has no rear border at all, which makes it useless as a place for storing various trifles. That’s a shame because this system case is obviously meant to stand at its owner’s feet.
The back panel makes it clear that the power supply is to be installed on the bottom panel in this system case. By the way, the top panel is not perforated although the current trends suggest that there should be a fan at the top of a system case if the latter has a bottom PSU bay. The PSU can only be secured in one position; there is no second set of holes to mount it upside down.
The fan seat supports 80, 92 and 120mm models but there are no holes for the pipes of a liquid cooling system. Cooler Master follows a strict product segmentation policy and does not offer this feature in its junior models.
The front support is part of the USP 100’s plastic facade. A couple of vibration-absorbing pads are attached to its sides. The rear supports are two rather large pieces of soft rubber-like material. The feet are rather tall and the bottom panel is all perforated for ventilation, so there should be no problems with PSUs that have a horizontal fan.
There are two vent grids in the side panel but only the bottom one has mounting holes for an 80, 92 or 120mm fan.
There is a plastic handle for taking the side panel off. It may seem small and awkward but it is better than nothing.
The interior of the system case is a variation of the simple chassis design with a solid front rack. HDDs are installed perpendicularly into the bottom section of the rack. The quality of manufacture is normal overall (as a matter of fact, the quality of midrange models has grown up considerably and we don’t see unfinished sharp edges or something like that anymore) but the metal is only 0.5 millimeters thick. As opposed to low-end system cases, this is not the cheapest grade of metal, so the chassis is acceptably rigid. It doesn’t resemble an empty tin can. Yet we wish it had thicker panels.
Again, this system case has a bottom PSU bay. The power supply is fastened to the back panel with four ordinary screws, the four vibration-absorbing pads in the corners separating it from the bottom panel. Judging by the vent hole, the system case is meant for short PSUs. If you install a long one, it will block the bottom fan seat. Besides, long PSUs usually have a horizontal fan placed in the center of the case, and such a fan is going to be partially blocked by the non-perforated part of the bottom panel.
It is good that the manufacturer did not save on the back-panel brackets. They are reusable and fastened with thumbscrews rather than with dubious (in terms of reliability) and often inconvenient screw-less fastening mechanisms.
Unfortunately, the Cooler Master USP 100 comes without an exhaust fan in its default configuration.
The single system fan you get is located in front of the HDD rack. It is a 120mm model with a 3-pin connection to the mainboard. It has a max speed of 1200 RPM.
Take note of the four plastic holders. These are meant for cables going along the mainboard. Running a little ahead, we can say that they are rather handy unless your PSU has too many thick and stiff sleeved cables. You can remove these holders if you don’t like them.
The HDD rack being a single-piece thing, the fan is attached to a metallic platform from the side of the plastic front panel which can be taken off. The holes in the platform form a funny pattern although we guess it would be better to have just larger holes for the air to flow freely. Take note that the metallic mesh is covered from the inside with a second and finer mesh that is meant to protect the components of the system case against dust.
HDDs are installed using plastic holders. This is a typical solution that has replaced traditional screws.
A special faceplate is included for an open 3.5-inch bay.
Now let’s take a look at the case from its right side. Here we can see an opening for easier access to the back-plate of a CPU cooler. There also seems to be some room for hiding cables in. Unfortunately, it is a mere centimeter thick, so you can hardly place any cables here, especially if they have connectors. We found it very hard to hide some cables behind the mainboard and close the side panel after that. And it was also difficult to put all the cables into the small opening near the PSU.
Other than the above-mentioned difficulties with cables, we had no other problems assembling a computer in this system case. However, we only found three HDD holders included with our sample of the USP 100 and we had to secure a fourth HDD with screws. As for graphics cards, the Cooler Master USP 100 can accommodate models up to 290 millimeters long, i.e. any model save for the longest ones but owners of such longest graphics cards usually prefer more expensive and larger system cases.
The mild highlighting of the fan together with the blue strip at the top of the front panel looks attractive. The honeycomb pattern makes the highlighting even more interesting.
Foxconn system cases have been known for a long time as inexpensive solutions. It is no secret that this company used to focus on production volumes rather than quality, turning out a large range of office-oriented models. The G007 is different as it belongs to a gaming series and is positioned higher than the majority of Foxconn system cases.
The system case catches the eye with the unusual excrescence in its top front. The G007 might be called a unicorn, we guess. The red edging of the front panel looks daring, too.
The higher market positioning of this product is indicated by its side panel that has a window and a handle with lock.
On the top excrescence you can find a large Power button, two LED indicators and an integrated multi-format card-reader. Take note of the cover of the top 5-inch bay. This bay is meant for an optical drive and the related eject button can be seen nearby.
Behind the excrescence there is a small area covered with a rubber pad. You can store various small things there. Behind that pad, there is another protrusion with I/O connectors: two audio connectors, two groups of two USB ports, and one eSATA.
Running a little ahead, we can tell you that the last “hillock” on the top panel hides a 120mm fan under a vent grid.
The back panel is perfectly standard and even old-fashioned: a top PSU bay, a seat for a 120mm fan with a rather poor grid (too small holes with two much metal in between), and no openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system.
The G007 stands on a single-piece plastic frame with vibration-absorbing pads in the corners. This tall platform doesn’t perform any additional function because the bottom panel is blank.
There is a plastic funnel on the left panel of the case that is meant to supply cool air for the CPU cooler. As we know from our tests, this solution is only effective with small coolers, similar to the boxes ones, which take the air from above. If you’ve got a CPU cooler with a large or vertically placed fan, this funnel has to be removed or replaced with an 80mm fan. Or, if there is no space left (which may occur in a standard-width chassis if you have a tower-type CPU cooler), you have to leave just an empty vent grid.
The funnel of this system case surprised us a little with its simple removable dust filter.
The interior leaves an ambiguous impression. On one hand, it is a standard chassis and the metal looks cheap. But on the other hand, the metal is 0.8 millimeters thick and the case is rigid enough. The quality of finishing is just as you can expect from a midrange system case.
The back-panel brackets are fastened with screws. These are ordinary screws so you’ll need a screwdriver here.
Take note of the red plastic fan. Judging by its sticker, its speed is 1100 RPM. There is also another such fan on the top panel. The system case has only these two fans by default, which is rather odd because most manufacturers prefer to install one intake and one exhaust fan.
Hard and optical drives are secured in this system case by means of standard screw-less holders.
You can also notice a cable going along the entire chassis from a front-panel button to the box in one of the external 3.5-inch bays.
It is related to the additional highlighting implemented as a shining tube that lies along the left panel. This solution doesn’t look neat to us. On the other hand, you won’t see whether it’s neat or not through the plastic panel whereas the highlighting may please some users.
There is one more fan seat behind the front panel which has to be removed to install an optical drive using a special faceplate (by the way, it is not so easy to take the panel off because it’s difficult to get a good grip on it). Thus, HDDs have an opportunity to be cooled by a dedicated fan. This has to be a 92mm model; you can install it into a special holder when you have taken the front panel off.
The cables of the system case’s buttons and indicators are gathered together and end in a single connector. It would be handy if ASUS mainboards didn’t have a completely different layout of that connector, which may baffle inexperienced users.
There are two things we want to note about assembling a computer in this system case. Notwithstanding the length of the chassis (it can accommodate any graphics cards up to 290 millimeters long), it is a problem to lay the cables out in the G007 neatly even if you’ve got a modular PSU. The cables can only be gathered into a bunch and tucked in behind the power supply. It doesn’t look as pretty as we might wish.
The second problem is about the interface SATA cables for HDDs. We strongly recommend using SATA cables with L-shaped connectors. Cables with straight connectors just press against the side panel of the case and you may damage your HDDs trying to close it.
Our reward was this cute-looking system case with red highlighting. It is a shame our CPU cooler doesn’t have such highlighting.
Next goes the H-80 model from GMC whose system cases have already pleased us with original design solutions before.
You can tell a GMC system case right away by the generous amount of glossy plastic at the front, by numerous covers, and lots of vent grids (whether true or dummy, we don’t know). All of this makes this model similar to the GMC AVC-K2 as well as to the GMC R-4 Bulldozer. It has a very fanciful and memorable appearance indeed.
The most exciting things can be seen at the top of the front panel. Here, surrounded by Power and Reset buttons, a small display resides. It has replaced the two traditional LED indicators and also reports information from a thermal couple. Below it, there is a generous set of connectors: four USB ports, two audio connectors, and one eSATA. There is also a place for a FireWire connector, but the connector itself is missing.
The front panels of the optical drive bays have decorative covers, which are a popular solution. What is unusual, there is a similar cover for an external 3.5-inch bay.
There is another cover at the very bottom of the front panel. It covers the dust filter of the fan located in front of the HDD rack.
The excrescence at the back of the top panel seems to hide a 120mm fan under a metallic mesh filter.
The back panel has a standard design. There is a bottom PSU bay that allows installing the PSU in two positions, a 120mm fan in its usual place, and two rubberized openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system.
The system case stands on four rather tall feet made from some soft rubber-like material.
A large 250mm fan is attached to the inside of the side panel. It is covered by a dust filter and can be replaced with as many as four 120mm fans.
The interior design is classic. GMC seems to see no need for changes other than the bottom position of the power supply. As opposed to the above-discussed models, the bottom section of the drives rack can be removed although there is no reason for doing that in a system case where HDDs are installed perpendicularly. Perhaps this simplifies the fastening of the front-panel fan and makes it easier to access it?
The chassis is 0.7mm steel while the large flat elements like the side panels are made from 0.5mm steel, a high-rigidity grade. This helped lower the manufacturing cost and weight of the product while keeping its rigidity acceptable.
The bottom panel resembles the above-described Cooler Master as it has the same pads for the power supply to stand on, the same PSU bay, and even the same place for an additional fan (but like the rest of the fan seats in this system case, it supports 120mm models only). A nice difference is that there is a mesh on the PSU vent grid.
The back panel is ordinary: reusable brackets and screws for fastening expansion cards.
And here is the top-panel fan. While the back-panel fan is powered by the mainboard, the rest of the system fans are connected directly to the power supply. All of them have a max speed of 1200 RPM, except for the 250mm model which rotates at 500 RPM.
The front panel and the drives rack don’t show anything extraordinary, either. This case seems to have the same chassis as the GMC AVC-K2.
HDDs are installed by means of rails that should be familiar to anyone who has dealt with midrange system cases. Similar rails are used for optical drives, too.
We like that the accessories lie neatly in a box that can be placed into the system case as a small 5-inch device.
What we don’t like is that the space for hiding cables in is too narrow. You can only put any cables there if no cable goes above another. This is the price for the larger interior: the distance between the mainboard and the left panel is 18 centimeters instead of a standard 17. Well, we’d prefer to have the extra centimeter here, between the right panel and the mainboard’s mounting plate.
The biggest surprise about this system case is that HDDs go into their bays with the connectors facing the right panel. As a result, the whole assembly process is about struggling with the cables because you have to hide a whole heap of them near the HDD connectors. Fortunately, we have a rather short graphics card. If its length were close to 275 millimeters (the maximum length supported by this chassis), we’d have even more problems. Our recommendations about this system case is that you should prefer SATA cables with L-shaped connectors and power supplies with not very thick and, preferably, detachable cables.
The assembled system case has some highlighting of the front panel. The side panel is almost opaque due to the dust filter.
We have reviewed Zalman system cases before, but those were expensive products. Let’s see if Zalman is competitive in the lower market sector with its Z7 Plus model.
The exterior design seems to resemble something. For example, it resembles the Cooler Master USP 100 (discussed earlier in this review) due to the plastic frame enveloping the front panel. The excrescence with fan at the back of the side panel distinguishes this model from its opponents, yet its design is generally similar to that of other products with a meshed front panel. The Z7 Plus is a good representative of this new generation of system cases designed for gamers. It is a practical rather than a beautiful product.
You can see a large Power button with two LEDs on its sides. All of the system case connectors and the Reset button are hidden by a flip-down cover. We’ve got a standard set of connectors here: two audio ones, two USB ports, and one eSATA. The USB ports are too close to each other, making it impossible to plug two thick flash drives in simultaneously.
The Z7 Plus has a top PSU bay. There are two rubberized openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system and a seat for an 80, 92 or 120mm fan. A 120mm fan occupies that seat by default.
Sturdy feet seem to be a characteristic trait of every system case in this review. The Zalman Z7 Plus has four square feet in the corners of the bottom panel, each with a small vibration-absorbing pad.
The side panel has two universal (80 to 140 millimeters) fan seats next to which you can see a small controller for changing the speed of two connected fans. The control itself is in the side panel of the case. One fan was preinstalled while the other lay in the system case in a small cardboard box. This is rather perplexing because the rest of the seats are occupied by fans already, so this fan cannot go anywhere other than to the side panel.
We see a large front rack again. It is a single-piece thing from top to bottom. The metal is 0.6 millimeters thick, which is enough with so many stiffness ribs, but the side panels are wobbly and might be thicker.
The back-panel brackets are not reusable in this system case. Expansion cards are secured either with screws or with small plastic locks.
5-inch devices are fastened with plastic holders which we already saw in our Zalman MS1000-HS2 review.
There is a guide with a faceplate in the bottom 5-inch bay. You can install an external 3.5-inch device or an internal 2.5-inch device, e.g. a solid state drive, into it.
A detachable cage is offered for hard disk drives. HDDs are installed into it using small vibration-absorbing pads. The whole cage is cooled by one 120mm fan which is somewhat smaller, so the top and bottom HDDs are going to have less air flow than the others.
We had no problems assembling our configuration in this system case but had to do something about the heap of cables. We tucked it into the top right corner, in front of the PSU.
The distance from the back panel to the drives rack is 300 millimeters, so the Z7 Plus can accommodate any graphics card. You’ll have to uninstall one or two HDDs if the graphics card is indeed so long, though. Without uninstalling any HDDs you can only put in a graphics card of 260 millimeters or shorter.
This system case has blue highlighting of the front-panel fan and a blue word Zalman at the top. Your guests will hardly need to ask you what brand your system case is.
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 connectors) into Silent mode (the quietest mode in the mainboard’s BIOS). If the system case has its own speed controller, we switch it to minimum speed, too. 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 check out the performance of each system case and see how the cooling of hard disk drives depends on their position. We will also discuss the noise factor.
The HDDs are numbered from top to bottom.
Cooler Master USP 100 at min fan speed
The Cooler Master has some problems at the minimum speed of its single fan. It finds it hard to cool the HDDs installed close to each other. The graphics card has a rather high temperature, too. The system case is quiet in this mode, though.
Cooler Master USP 100 at max fan speed
When the speed is increased to maximum, the fan becomes noisy. The plastic honeycomb and the decorative metallic grid of the fan seem to contribute to that noise. On the other hand, we see the temperature of each problem component go down. They have obviously lacked air flow previously.
The Foxconn doesn’t set any records but performs well enough overall, even though we might expect better results considering how many fans it has. On the other hand, its noisiness is quite acceptable. Although not silent, the system case is quiet enough not to irritate most users. We did not like that the case would produce additional sounds at high HDD load. It obviously lacked rigidity.
The GMC is cool and quiet. We could hardly doubt its cooling performance beforehand considering how many fans it has but we are very pleased with its quietness (although users who prefer absolutely silent computers will find ways to improve it even more). 250mm fans are not always so calm.
Zalman Z7 Plus at min fan speed
The Zalman is good at the minimum speed of its fan. It cools the components well and doesn’t produce too much noise at that. The only problem is about the fourth HDD which obviously lacks fresh air.
Zalman Z7 Plus at max fan speed
Well, the increased speed of the fan lowers the temperature of the components somewhat but also makes this system case much noisier. The fans begin to produce a distinct hum. So, we guess you should use these fans in their low-speed mode as far as possible (unless you install some monstrous graphics card whose cooler is going to shout down a few such system cases put together).
Now let’s compare the system cases with each other as well as with an open testbed.
The GMC H-80 is better than the others at minimum load. The Zalman looks good, too, but is inferior to the leader, especially in terms of HDD temperatures. The Cooler Master is rather disappointing; its cooling performance is poor at the minimum speed of the fan.
The tested products fall into two groups at high disk load: the GMC and Zalman handle this load easily whereas the Cooler Master and Foxconn have problems, some HDDs getting as hot as 50°C and more in them.
We’ve got the same two leaders at high CPU load: the system cases from GMC and Zalman.
3DMark points at the same two products as leaders in terms of cooling. The difference is not as high as at peak load on particular components, yet easily observable. We guess the GMC can be called the overall winner as its 250mm fan cools the mainboard excellently and the HDDs have closer temperatures in it, as opposed to the Zalman.
The GMC H-80 leaves the best impression after our tests. If you don’t mind its original appearance, you can buy it and enjoy good cooling, reliable design and low noise. The only downside is that the small space behind the mainboard makes it hard to lay the cables out neatly.
The Zalman Z7 Plus is a good product, too. Zalman looks competitive on the market of inexpensive system cases, the Z7 Plus being free from serious defects.
The Foxconn G007 is a brave attempt to enter the market of gaming system cases. The G007 is more advanced than its predecessors in terms of design and functionality, and its appearance is original. However, this system case doesn’t look good against products from the more renowned brands from a technical point of view. It has some obvious drawbacks.
The Cooler Master USP 100 is going to be a good choice for building any computer, save for the most advanced configurations. Its downsides are the inconvenient system for hiding cables and rather weak cooling (in its basic configuration).