Mainstream System Cases from Corsair: Carbide Family

We have already discussed the high-end Corsair system cases from the Graphite and Obsidian series. The products reviewed today belong to the third series, which is the newest and also the most affordable one at this time. Will they be as good in their class as their predecessors? Let’s find out.

by Dmitry Vasiliev
05/14/2012 | 05:59 AM

System cases selling under the Corsair brand used to have attractive specs but came at $150 and higher. The new Carbide series is meant to expand Corsair's product range downwards from the $140 Carbide 500R to the $90 Carbide 300R.

 

We’ve got all three models of the new series for us to test, the senior one in the optional black-and-white coloring. As opposed to the Graphite 600T, you don’t have to pay for the original color. The white version costs the same money as the dark one.

Generally speaking, there is rather strong competition among $100 system cases, nearly every maker, and Corsair too, claiming excellent ventilation for components. Can the Carbide series really offer something exceptional in its price category? Let’s check this out right now.

Testing Participants

Corsair Carbide 300R

Let’s first take a look at the junior model of the new series. Its model number is 300R.

  

The 300R is a modest-sized system case representing the popular design concept with a meshed front panel. Its rough black paint is quite a conventional feature of mainstream products, too.

The top of the front panel is made of plastic whose texture resembles brushed aluminum. We’ve seen this design solution in our review of the Fractal Design Arc.

The bottom part of the front panel has a fine-mesh dust filter below the decorative grid. The panel is fastened to the chassis by means of steel “petals” we’ve seen in other products, like the Ascot 6ZRX. We are rather apprehensive of this fastening although had no problems with it while testing our Carbide 300R.

The 300R has only three open 5.25-inch bays instead of four as usual. That’s enough for modern computer configurations but the lack of a 3.5-inch adapter is a downside. You won’t be able to install internal card-readers of the popular 3.5-inch form-factor, for example. 5.25-inch card-readers are not widely available and often have poor exterior design. As for external card-readers, they are not as handy as internal ones if you use them a lot.

The top of the case is perforated as well. Most of it is a metallic mesh like the one on the front panel. The mesh is not as rigid as the chassis proper and bends in easily even under slightest pressure. It is just much slimmer than the metallic chassis and is perforated, too.

There are two seats for 120 or 140mm fans on that mesh.

 

You may have problems installing fans onto the roof, though. The screw holes are made right in the mesh and have rugged rims. There are decorative metallic spacers above the holes which are not always aligned perfectly as you can see in the photographs above.

There is a dust filter in the bottom of the case below the PSU bay.

The filter is covered by a small-mesh grid and can be easily installed and removed.

Typically of Corsair products, the feet of the system case are not conventional circles. Here, they are rubber pads that prevent the computer from sliding on whatever surface you put it down on.

We can count up seven expansion slots at the back of the 300R. There are three openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system there, too. Unfortunately, the design betrays some cost-cutting measures: we see single-use metallic gags instead of conventional rubberized openings with “petal” protection against dust. We’d be worried about the pipes if we had to move this system case about with a liquid cooling system installed inside.

The side panels of the case are rather primitive in design. They are fastened to the chassis by means of three prongs at the top and bottom and five holders near the front panel. It may be problematic to put the panel in its place if you are opposed by a bulging heap of cables hidden behind the mainboard’s mounting plate. It’s just difficult to align every prong and holder then.

The side panels are not shaped in such a way as to expand the interior. One of them offers two places for 120/140mm fans, one above another.

The I/O block can be found at the top of the front panel and includes two USB 3.0 ports (to be connected to a mainboard’s header) and a couple of audio connectors. They are placed next to Power and Reset buttons and white indicators of power and disk access.

You don’t get a USB 2.0 adapter with the 300R without which you won’t be able to use the USB connectors at all if your mainboard has no USB 3.0 header.

The accessories aren’t exceptional but neatly packed. Fasteners of each type come in an individual pack. There are a lot of short screws for fans here: four for each of the two top and two side fans. A second front fan is fastened, like the first one, with long screws. You can find four such screws among the accessories. A few single-use cable straps are included, too.

You also get a not-very-detailed manual and a card which suggests that you directly contact Corsair’s tech support rather than return the system case to the seller in case of any problems.

The fasteners for the Carbide series products are shipped in a small cardboard box fastened in one of the disk bays.

 

The interior is painted black, just like the exterior. You don't often see that in a system case priced below $100.

The disk rack is not very tall and ends far below the 5.25-inch bays. It can accommodate four hard disks but the gaps between the bays are small, which may have a negative effect on ventilation.

The top part of the disk rack lacks a side panel to give more room for long expansion cards. There is a generous 41 centimeters of space for cards installed into the top slots. Corsair’s specs even mention 450 millimeters but this would require chopping the top of the disk rack off altogether and removing the front fan. Anyway, the available space allows installing a pair of any graphics cards in a SLI or CrossFireX tandem.

There’s quite a lot of space for expansion cards in the mainboard’s bottom two slots, too. It's about 29 centimeters, so you can install as many as three graphics cards of modest length (although we doubt that anyone would build an expensive triple-GPU graphics subsystem in such a cheap and small system case).

The expansion-slot brackets are fastened with thumbscrews. Well, you still cannot do without a screwdriver because the screws are very tight. The threading breaks in after a while, though.

The protrusions in the bottom panel for a PSU to be installed on lack any protection against vibration. The mainboard is installed on similar protrusions, too.

The cable compartment is rather deep but it’s anyway difficult to close the side panel.

 

The disk guides have a familiar design. We’ve seen them in the Graphite 600T. They feature vibration-absorbing spacers for 3.5-inch devices and are compatible with 2.5-inch ones (using the disk's bottom mounting holes).

  

The Carbide 300R is quite easy to assemble a computer in except for some minor inconveniences. The difficulty of installing the side panel over the cables hidden behind the mainboard’s mounting plate was the biggest problem we encountered.

Another problem is the HDD LED connector lacking polarity markings. The wires lack color coding and are all black. Thus, you only have a 50% chance of plugging the disk access indicator correctly at first attempt.

Besides the quick fastening mechanism (which is the same as in the Graphite 600T and the rest of the Carbide series), 5.25-inch devices can be additionally fixed with two screws on the quick fastener side and with one more screw on the opposite side of the bay.

The CPU cooler cutout is large, so you can easily install and uninstall your CPU cooler without taking the mainboard out of the system case.

As for ventilation, the 300R comes with two fans by default: a 140mm intake fan on the front panel and a 120mm exhaust fan on the back panel. Both have 3-pin connectors. In the mainboard’s Silent mode, the front fan had a speed of 755 RPM and the back fan, 860 RPM.

We have to note the improper position of the front fan. It is installed above rather than opposite the disk rack. This default position leads to problems with cooling: the HDDs in the middle bays were as hot as 65°C under load during our tests! But when the same fan is moved to the place of the optional front fan, the temperature improves dramatically. So, we strongly recommend you to change the position of that fan if you buy this system case.

The 300R has five seats for additional 120/140mm fans: two at the top, two on the side panel and one at the front.

We wouldn’t say that the Carbide 300R can impress anyone with its design when assembled. It’s just an ordinary enclosure for PC components and nothing more than that.

Highs:

Lows:

Corsair Carbide 400R

The midrange model Carbide 400R is somewhat larger than its junior cousin and sports a scratch-resistant dark-gray paint with metallic specks.

The 400R has four 5.25-inch bays and an eight expansion slot, so it is considerably taller than the compact 300R.

The protuberance in the front part of the top panel adds to the height of the 400R. It can be used as a handle for carrying the system case about as it has a recess in its back.

This model lacks the 300R’s metallic mesh on its top. The top fan grids are punched out in the roof of the chassis and are as solid as the rest of it.

Like its junior cousin, the 400R has no preinstalled fans on its top panel. It also lacks a dust filter there, so dust will go in unobstructed.

 

The front panel is fastened by means of metallic "petals", like in the junior model.

The 300R’s meshed filter is replaced by a sheet of perforated plastic which presents more resistance to the air flowing from the fans.

The faceplates for disk bays are more sophisticated than in the 300R. Instead of a solid piece of plastic, they are a composite thing made of a plastic carcass, metallic grid and foam-rubber padding.

The front panel block now includes a FireWire connector and a button for switching off the highlighting of the front fans, which were missing by the 300R model.

 

The plastic feet with rubber soles have the same design as in the Carbide 300R but the rubber parts are larger, especially the front ones.

The bottom dust filter has become larger (because it also protects the bottom fan which was missing in the 300R) but less easy to install than the junior model's.

The filter’s frame isn’t rigid enough and the grooves it goes into have spaces, so the filter may go out through a gap between the grooves.

The side panels are designed differently compared to the junior model. The individual holders have disappeared. The panel is shaped to be more rigid and provide more space for cables.

The side panel screws remain in the chassis when unfastened. You can’t lose them. Overall, the side panels of the 400R are definitely better than those of the 300R.

The accessories are neatly packed, like those of the 300R, and include four screws for a PSU.

An adapter from a USB 3.0 to a USB 2.0 header is included, too. You can now connect the system case’s USB 3.0 ports to a mainboard’s USB 2.0 header.

 

The internal differences from the junior model of the series are substantial, too.

The full-height disk rack accommodates up to six disks, leaving room for expansion cards that are as long as 316 millimeters, which is enough for any modern graphics card.

The position (vertical instead of horizontal) and number (four instead of two) of the openings for the pipes of a liquid cooling system can also be noted. They are protected with rubber coverings, just like the cable cutouts in the mainboard’s mounting plate.

The fasteners of 5.25-inch devices are overall the same as in the 300R.

However, the devices can now be fixed in two rather than only one point on the opposite side of the bay.

  

The disk guides are somewhat different from those in the Carbide 300R and Graphite 600T. The vibration-absorbing element is made of black rubber rather than translucent silicone. The prongs are plastic rather than metallic and are held in pairs with two separate bars on both sides.

The CPU cooler cutout is smaller compared to that of the Carbide 300R and has a perfect rectangular shape.

 

The cable compartment is not as deep as in the Carbide 300R but easier to use because the flared side panel offers more room and can be closed without any difficulties

 

The assembly process is overall easier. The problems of the Carbide 300R have been corrected without giving rise to new ones.

The ventilation system consists of three preinstalled fans of the 120mm form-factor. There's an exhaust one at the back and two highlighted intake fans behind the front panel, opposite the disk rack. Besides, there are places for five more 120/140mm fans: two at the top, two on the side panel (positioned one above another) and one on the bottom of the chassis, between the PSU bay and the disk rack.

There are vibration-absorbing spacers on the screw holes for the optional 120mm fans but the holes for 140mm fans lack them. You’ll have to spend some time moving the spacers if you want to reduce vibrations from your 140mm fans.

The back fan has a 3-pin connector that goes into the mainboard.

The front fans have nonstandard connectors that are plugged into the system case’s sockets and then get powered by a PATA power connector. As a result, this system case allows you to control the highlighting of the fans but doesn’t allow to regulate their speed.

The speed of the rear exhaust fan connected to the mainboard was about 850 RPM. Not limited by the Silent setting, the front fans were as fast as 1230 RPM, which was audible.

The 400R is compatible with the Hydro Series H80 and Hydro Series H100 radiators (and similar radiators of other liquid cooling systems). The radiator is installed inside the chassis instead of two top fans.

 

The bright highlighting is dimmed by the meshed front panel with the perforated dust filter.

Despite the dim highlighting, the 400R looks highly effective.

Highs:

Lows:

Corsair Carbide 500R

Corsair's slogan for this model is “Serious airflow never looked this good”. In fact, this is an optimized Carbide 400R. The 500R has the same chassis while the differences in their interior and exterior design are not dramatic at all.

The 500R looks like the 400R externally save for a few nuances.

Instead of the 400R’s punched-out fan grids, the flagship model has a prettier inset grid that allows installing either a pair of 120/140mm fans or a single 200mm monster. One fan of the latter form-factor and with highlighting is included with the 500R.

As opposed to the cheaper models of the series, the 500R has vibration-absorbing spacers on each screw hole for fans.

There’s a decorative metallic mesh above the top panel but the 500R lacks the 400R’s improvised carry handle and has a hollow for storing small things instead.

The I/O block is shaped differently with a clearly defined edge instead of the curvy profile of the Carbide 400R. It now includes a 3-way selector of fan speed.

There are no other external differences between the two models, except for the color. It is the white paint (which is similar in texture to the 400R's) that attracts the eye to our sample of the Carbide 500R. The cheaper models of the series are not available with this color scheme. The 500R is also available in a dark version which is hardly any more impressive than the 400R.

 

The “petal” fasteners of the front panel are a problem with this system case. When we took the panel off and put it back on, one of the fasteners didn’t lock in its socket normally. The difference can be easily seen in the photographs.

The interior design resembles the Carbide 400R again. The only difference is about the disk rack.

There are in fact two separate racks, each for three devices. The top rack can be removed to leave room for long expansion cards.

The bottom rack has the same design and can be removed as well after unfastening the four additional screws that attach it to the bottom of the chassis. Well, you have to leave at least one rack in place for your disks, anyway.

The disk guides are the same as the 400R’s.

  

The assembly process is exactly as with the Carbide 400R with but minor differences. For example, you can remove the top disk rack, connect the side fan to the speed regulator and use rubber vibration-absorbing pads for optional fans.

The included fans are the same as come with the Carbide 400R plus a 200mm fan for the side panel (of course, it blocks the mounting holes of the side 120/140mm fans when installed). There’s a speed controller, too.

The back fan, like the 400R’s, is connected to the mainboard which regulates its speed. Our mainboard set its speed at 850 RPM.

The speed of the other preinstalled fans is regulated by a 3-way switch. According to our monitoring tools, the speed of the front 120mm fans was 760/1050/1200 RPM at the low/medium/high setting of the controller. The 200mm 13-blade monster was rotating at 510/670/830 RPM then.

Like the Carbide 400R, the 500R claims compatibility with Corsair's liquid cooling systems H80 and H100. The place for the radiator is on the top panel below the decorative covering.

When assembled, this system case looks more impressive than the Carbide 400R thanks to the optional white coloring and the additional highlighted fan on the side panel.

Highs:

Lows:

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 Silent mode (the quietest mode 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. If not stated otherwise, the HDDs are listed in the order of their placement from the top main HDD bay downwards without any gaps.

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”).

Open Stand

The noise level is evaluated subjectively.

Performance

We tested the Carbide 300R twice: with the front fan in its default position and with that fan installed next to the disk rack. The summary table below will only list the latter result because the default position of the fan leads to downright unsatisfactory results.

Corsair Carbide 300R (default)

When the fan's position is improved, the HDDs are cooled much better. Even our very hot Raptors had a temperature of only 40°C in the middle of the disk rack. The tradeoff is that the temperature of the other components is somewhat higher now.

Corsair Carbide 300R

Lowering the temperature of the disks by 25°C and increasing the temperature of the CPU and graphics card by 1-2°C looks like a profitable exchange for us. It’s clear why the CPU and graphics cards get hotter: when installed above the disk rack, the front fan produces a stronger stream of air which is not heated up by the hard disks.

With the front fan repositioned, the system case is good in terms of HDD temperature, average in terms of CPU and mainboard temperature but surprisingly poor at cooling the graphics card.

The next product, 400R, was tested only once. It has no speed regulation for the front fans and is free from obvious ventilation-related flaws.

Corsair Carbide 400R

The HDDs are cooled perfectly in this system case. The chipset is good, too. The rest of the results are average for system cases of this class.

The flagship Carbide 500R model was tested at each of the three speed settings of its fan controller.

Corsair Carbide 500R (low)

This system case is superior to its cousins in nearly each parameter even at the bottom speed of the fans. The additional side fan is obviously useful. The 400R is better in terms of the HDD temperature just because it has faster front fans. Anyway, the HDDs in the 500R are no hotter than 37°C.

Corsair Carbide 500R (medium)

Switching to the medium speed of the controller lowers each temperature by 1 or 2°C (except for the graphics card whose cooling system is rather indifferent to the external conditions).

The 500R is rather quiet at such settings although not as silent as at the minimum speed of the fans.

Corsair Carbide 500R (high)

Switching the fans to their maximum speed provides fewer benefits than switching from the minimum to medium speed while the fans get as loud as the 400R’s. The noise isn’t uncomfortable but can be heard easily. Considering that the Carbide 500R cools the components efficiently even at the minimum speed of the fans, we see no reason to prefer the maximum speed.

Finally, the following diagrams will help you compare the tested system cases with the open testbed.

Conclusion

We must confess the junior Carbide series model, 300R, did not impress us much. Yes, it can accommodate longest expansion cards and is quite easy to handle, but every system case in this price category is handy whereas longest cards aren’t used by everyone. Its out-of-box ventilation isn't perfect. Even if the front fan is moved into the best position, the 300R is inferior to the other Carbide products in terms of cooling. And additional fans you may want to install to improve the situation will eliminate the small price difference between this model and the 400R which is better in many respects. The front-panel dust filter and the handier fastening of the bottom filter are the only solutions that are better in this model than in its series mates.

The 400R is the real deal. It is worth every cent of its $99.99 price tag. At a mere $10 more than the 300R, it provides a larger and better-ventilated disk rack, has an eye-catching appearance thanks to the highlighting of the side fans, and features a number of smaller design improvements (flared side panels, vibration-absorbing spacers for fans, scratch-resistant paint, etc). The problem of this model is that the nonstandard connection of the front fans prevents you from regulating them with your mainboard settings. It is only the flagship model of the Carbide series that has a controller for those fans. Thus, users who value silence are directed to the 500R (or even to the more expensive Obsidian 550D with the same chassis but extra soundproofing). The lack of the speed regulation looks like a marketing trick to us.

The Carbide 500R adds the following to the advantages of the 400R model: modular design of the disk rack, a huge side fan with highlighting, a 3-way speed controller, vibration-absorbing spacers for optional 140mm fans, and a more attractive exterior (especially in the white version which is not available with the 400R). The benefits of the 500R will cost you an extra $40 compared to the 400R, which may seem somewhat too much for a 200mm fan, a simple speed controller, etc. The white paint doesn’t cost more, as opposed to the Graphite 600T.

But if we put the internal competition within the Carbide series aside, the 500R at its current price looks quite a competitive offer. Free from downsides, it is easy to assemble, quiet and well-ventilated right out of its box!