by Dmitry Vasiliev
04/14/2014 | 09:08 PM
What does it take to make a gaming computer? First of all, it must have a fast graphics card because nearly any mainboard today lets you install a top-performance CPU and a lot of high-speed system memory. So it is this inability to fit in a good enough graphics card (since it is large and has high power requirements) that makes most mini-ITX computer cases unsuitable for gaming configurations.
Still, there are exceptions, two of which are going to be covered in this review. Corsair's Obsidian 250D and SilverStone's Sugo SG05-450 both support advanced graphics subsystems but otherwise show two completely opposite approaches to design.
The Corsair can hardly be counted among the most compact products in its category, but it provides rich expansion capabilities and is totally compatible with regular PC components. Perhaps only the tallest of tower-design CPU coolers can't be accommodated in it.
The SilverStone is designed to be as small as possible, yet ensure the required minimum of expansion options. They even had to abandon the two largest components of a traditional PC: the power supply (our version of the SilverStone case comes bundled with a small 480W PSU of the SFX form-factor, but there is a version that comes without any PSU) and the optical drive (you can only install a slim notebook-oriented drive). The height of the CPU cooler is limited and very long expansion cards won't fit in. Well, this is the tradeoff for the 10.8-liter size.
The SilverStone being shipped with a bundled PSU, we will check out that PSU as well.
This computer case was introduced to the public in January, at CES 2014. Featuring the traditionally stern exterior of the Obsidian series, the 250D is the least expensive model in it at a recommended $89.99.
The front panel follows the style of all Obsidian series products we've tested recently. It is trimmed with rough aluminum and stands on feet that protrude out of its bezel.
We spotted a small unpainted area in the corner of the front panel. That’s a trifle, but not a pleasant one.
Like with the other Obsidian series models, the protruding feet have rubber soles.
At the rear we can see a PSU bay. Next to it, there is a drive rack covered with a vent grid which is secured with four thumbscrews. Above them, there’s an opening for a mainboard’s I/O ports, two expansion-slot brackets and two places for optional 80mm fans.
A fine dust filter in a plastic frame is provided for the PSU’s fan.
There are no other openings in the bottom panel of the chassis.
There are four bays in the drive rack: two for 3.5-inch drives (one of them contains the fasteners included with the computer case) and two for 2.5-inch devices.
Although the drives can be easily accessed from the outside, there is no talking about hot-swapping. You can’t just push a bay into the chassis to connect the drive. Instead, you have to manually connect cables to your drives after they are installed in their bays. That’s sad because installing drives, especially in the top 2.5-inch part of the rack, is perhaps the least convenient operation when building your PC configuration in the Obsidian 250D.
The drive bays are all designed in the same way. The 3.5-inch bays support 2.5-inch devices as well.
You receive a bare minimum of accessories with this computer case. There are no extras, not even a sticker with manufacturer’s logo. That would be odd for a top-end product but quite justifiable for this junior model.
The side and top panels of the case are fastened with thumbscrews.
The vent grids in the side panels are protected from dust with fine filters.
Rather unusually, there is a window in the top panel. Well, it seems to be appropriate because the window and the mainboard turn out to have the same relative positions here as in a traditional computer case with a side window.
The front-panel elements are placed on both sides of the optical drive bay.
To the left of the optical drive, there is a large rectangular Power button accompanied with Power and Disk Activity indicators. A small Reset button can be spotted beneath it.
On the right we see two USB 3.0 ports and audio sockets (headphones and microphone).
The detachable front panel covers a dust filter which protects the front fan.
This fine filter in plastic frame can be easily pulled out for cleaning.
Rather disappointingly, we see a 140mm fan behind the filter, although it is possible to install a 120mm, 140mm or 200mm fan in there. A 200mm fan would be quieter and more efficient. And if you purchase such a fan separately, you won’t be able to employ the preinstalled 140mm one elsewhere in this computer case since the other fan seats are designed for 80mm and 120mm models only.
We can also note that the drive rack doesn’t seem to be cooled efficiently. The front fan is at the opposite end of the chassis, and there’s going to be PSU cables in between to weaken the air flow. The second preinstalled 120x120x25mm fan (and optional fans you can install in this computer case) only services the top of the chassis where the mainboard is but doesn’t do much for the drives.
Assembling our configuration was easy enough. Even the mentioned difficulty of connecting drives isn’t really much of a trouble. Considering the high component density, the chassis is as easy to deal with as imaginably possible.
You can even assemble your configuration without removing the optical drive bay. You’d just have more difficulty connecting cables in that case.
If you don’t take the optical drive bay out, the device can be fastened in it with the quick fastening mechanism. You can also secure your optical drive with good old screws but that would require taking the bay out of the chassis.
The photo above shows the key advantage of the Obsidian 250D. It can accommodate graphics cards which are up to 290 mm long. This description fits nearly every model produced currently, excepting those with nonstandard alternative coolers. Our Radeon HD 3870 is 230 mm long, by the way.
The Obsidian 250D also lets you choose your CPU cooler freely enough. According to our measurements, it can accommodate coolers which are up to 150 mm tall (measured from the mainboard’s surface).
On the other side we can see a 120mm exhaust fan and an empty seat for another such fan. The photo makes it clear how inconvenient it is to connect 2.5-inch drives. You just can’t see what you’re doing in there.
The speed of the front 140mm fan (in the mainboard's Silent mode) is 1100 RPM, which is indicative of the mainboard's inability to regulate 3-pin fans (the AF140L fan has a specified speed of 1150 RPM). The 120mm exhaust fan had to be connected to a PATA power connector via an adapter because the mainboard had only one system fan connector on board. The speed of that fan was about 1500 RPM.
Of course, the fans can't be really quiet at such speeds. So when choosing a mainboard for your Obsidian 250D case, make sure it has at least two optional fan connectors and can regulate 3-pin fans.
The system we assembled in the Obsidian D250D looks restrained and respectable just like with other Obsidian series products.
The Sugo SG05-450 has a much longer history than Corsair's Obsidian 250D. It was announced back in late 2008 but has gone through a number of revisions since then. The latest modification we're discussing here has a larger drive rack (the original only supported one 3.5-inch or two 2.5-inch drives), can accommodate longer graphics cards (254 vs. 230 mm), comes with a higher-wattage and higher-efficiency PSU, and offers USB 3.0 front-panel connectors.
The Sugo SG05-450 differs in size from the Corsair Obsidian 250D as much as the latter from a typical ATX product. The exterior design isn’t as expressive as the Corsair’s, yet looks nice overall.
The metal grid in the front panel gives you a glimpse of the removable dust filter that covers a 120mm fan, but the vents in the side and top panels have no dust protection.
While this is not critical for a working computer (the single intake fan creates high pressure inside the chassis, keeping dust away), dust particles are going to come in freely through the vents as soon as the computer is turned off.
We can see the vent grid of the preinstalled PSU on the back panel. A sticker informs us that the PSU complies with the 80 PLUS Bronze efficiency standard. We’ll discuss the PSU shortly right after we’ve finished with our description of the computer case.
The back panel also has two expansion-slot brackets and an opening for the mainboard’s I/O panel. There is virtually no free space left.
The front panel carries two USB 3.0 ports, microphone and headphones connectors, Power and Reset buttons. The Power indicator is built into the corresponding button whereas the Disk Activity indicator is separate. Both are blue and seem to be too bright to us. They might be distracting at night.
Besides fasteners, a mains cord and a user manual, the bundled accessories include an adapter to connect the front-panel USB 3.0 ports to a mainboard’s USB 2.0 headers, a set of self-adhesive rubber feet, and an optional front-panel faceplate without manufacturer’s logo.
The computer case has no feet by default because it can be oriented in two positions: as in the photos above or turned around by 90 degrees so that the buttons and connectors are at the bottom of the front panel. The optional faceplate is necessary for the second orientation because the SilverStone logo doesn’t look good in that case.
The accessories don’t include an adapter that would help connect a slim optical drive. It is not expensive, but you may not find it in your local store. Such adapters are included with SilverStone’s optical drives, though. We can name the SOB02 BD-RW and SOD02 DVD-RW models as examples.
The interior seems cramped even before you install your drives, mainboard and graphics card. The top part is occupied by the PSU and optical/2.5-inch drive bay. It is only near the expansion-slot brackets that we can find some free space reserved for a graphics card
Below the optical drive bay there is a detachable 3.5-inch drive bay.
Here it is with a hard drive already installed.
This bay is first inserted into the optical drive bay and then is fixed in the chassis with a couple of screws.
The photo above shows the optical drive bay with an installed 2.5-inch SSD. You can see mounting holes for the 3.5-inch drive bay there.
The PSU is fixed with a plate which is fastened with two screws. You have to remove the PSU in order to install your mainboard.
You may have noticed that there’s a lot of things fastened with screws inside the Sugo SG05, so you’re really up to some hard screwdriving with this computer case. It has not a single thumbscrew, actually.
If you don’t mind working with your screwdriver, the assembly process is not going to be very difficult, though. Every connector and fastening point is easy to access if you follow the required sequence of assembly steps.
Particularly, you have to connect your drives either prior to installing your graphics card or with the 2.5/3.5-inch bays taken out. If you fix your drives in their bays, fasten the bays in the chassis and install your graphics card, you just won’t be able to reach the drives’ power connectors!
As a minor downside, the bundled PSU has too long cables (even if we take into account that other mainboards may vary in their component layout). Considering that the PSU is actually designed for the specific computer case, its cables might be better sized. It is no good to waste the limited interior space of the chassis for excess cables.
The photo above gives you a notion of how much space there is for a CPU cooler. Of course, tower-design coolers can’t fit in at all but there are quite a lot of coolers up to 82 mm tall (the manufacturer guarantees compatibility with such models but the free space is about 90 mm according to our own measurements). We guess you can easily find a cooler that will be optimal in terms of performance, quietness and price.
As we mentioned above, the manufacturer guarantees compatibility with graphics cards up to 10 inches (254 millimeters) long. Our measurements suggest that the Sugo SG05-450 can actually accommodate even longer cards. There is a photo on the web where it houses a reference Nvidia GeForce GTX 680, which is as long as 265 millimeters.
The Sugo SG05-450 is cooled by a single 120mm fan with a specified speed of 1200 RPM. It rotates at 1100 RPM according to our tools, which fits into the typical 10% tolerance. Thus, this computer case is quieter than its opponent by default.
We’ll see in our tests how efficiently the Sugo SG05-450 is ventilated, yet it seems to ensure better conditions for drives than the Corsair. Its HDD and SSD bays are much closer to the fan.
The assembled Sugo SG05 looks humble, yet cute overall.
Our modification of the SilverStone Sugo SG05 case comes with a bundled SilverStone SST-ST45SF PSU. It is easy to identify the actual maker as the UL code of E190414 on the PSU label refers to FSP.
A power supply from FSP was also used in the earlier versions of the Sugo SG05, but its wattage was 300 watts and it only complied with the basic 80 PLUS efficiency standard.
The exterior of this PSU is hardly remarkable. Its panels are thinner than those of most ATX power supplies and its design is not modular.
The PSU is cooled by a slim 80mm fan which is covered by a vent grid punched out in the case. You can see an “80 PLUS Bronze” sticker nearby. There’s an On/Off switch on the PSU’s back panel.
This PSU is far from advanced in its circuit design if compared to modern ATX products. It lacks dedicated voltage regulation while its Bronze efficiency and active PFC can hardly impress anyone today. We are still impressed, however, that FSP engineers manage to squeeze almost half a kilowatt of power from such a compact PSU.
The PCB is small, so some of the components have to be placed on its reverse side.
A popular PS229 supervisor chip is used for monitoring and protection.
We can also identify a BH0270A chip which is responsible for standby power.
CapXon and Teapo capacitors are installed at the PSU’s output. They are ranked average in terms of quality.
The PSU offers the following cables and connectors:
The selection of connectors covers any component configurations possible in this computer case but the cables are rather too long as we already said above.
The only thing we can complain about is that the specs are not represented in the traditional easy-to-read table format on the PSU label.
The numbers themselves are good enough. The PSU can deliver most of its power (432 out of 450 watts, to be exact) via the most demanded +12V rail. The load capacity of the +3.3V and +5V rails combined is up to 130 watts. The standby source is rated for up to 2.5 amperes.
The PSU is 80 PLUS Bronze certified and has a 1-year warranty when comes bundled with the computer case. When purchased separately, it has a 3-year warranty (at least on the American, European and Australian markets).
Working together with our APC SmartUPS SC 620, this PSU was stable at loads up to 365 watts when powered by the mains. It couldn’t switch to the UPS’s batteries even at 280 watts, though.
The +12V voltage is the most important one for modern computers. It is quite stable with this PSU, staying within 3% of the required level in the typical load range. It is even mostly within 2% except at highest loads.
The +5V voltage is even better. It is almost perfect at typical loads, only differing by more than 2% from the required level at unrealistic loads.
The +3.3V voltage may be more than 3% off the required level at low loads, but is overall stable enough.
Summing it up, this PSU delivers very stable voltages for a product without dedicated voltage regulation.
There’s high-frequency ripple on every power rail, especially on the +12V and +3.3V rails, but it is always within the permissible range.
The same goes for the low-frequency ripple.
The PSU is cooled by an MGA8012ZR-O15 fan from Protechnic Electric. It is an 80x80x15mm fan with a rated speed of 4000 RPM.
The fan starts out at 1500 RPM, being virtually silent at such speed. It doesn’t accelerate until a load of 270 watts. After that, it speeds up, reaching 2500 RPM at full load. That’s noisy but not very uncomfortable.
Overall, this PSU is going to be suitable for most users in terms of acoustic comfort. But people who want total silence might be somewhat disappointed.
At the reference loads of 20%, 50% and 100% this PSU was 84.6%, 87.7% and 84.1% efficient. It had its peak efficiency of 88.3% at a load of 246 watts.
These numbers comply by a good margin with the 80 PLUS Bronze standard the PSU is certified for.
The power factor is above 98% at high loads, which is typical of PSUs with active power factor correction.
The standby voltage complies with the industry standard requirements.
The PSU bundled with the SilverStone Sugo SG05-450 computer case features a good combination of wattage, efficiency and noisiness. It does not come cheap, however. The SG05-LITE model, which lacks a PSU and is available in white, costs substantially less.
Most PSUs of the SFX form-factor are inferior in wattage and efficiency to this model, so you can only save money on your PSU by losing the ability to assemble a top-performance configuration.
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 (connected via the mainboard’s 3-pin connectors) at Silent (the quietest mode in the mainboard’s BIOS). If a system case has its own speed controller, we switch it to its 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 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”).
The noise level is evaluated subjectively.
The computer cases we’re testing today offer little flexibility in terms of HDD and fan placement. We can only tell you that we installed the SSD into the topmost bay of the Corsair Obsidian 250D, leaving the bottom 2.5-inch bay empty (you can see this in our photos, though).
The Corsair does a good job cooling our components. Our apprehensions about the drive rack do not come true. It is only at continuous random-access load that one of the HDDs gets more than 40°C hot, which is considered the top comfortable level for HDDs. We have no doubt that modern energy-efficient HDDs will be comfortable at any loads in this computer case.
The high speed of the fans should be taken into account, though. The temperatures are going to rise if you slow the fans down.
The SilverStone cools our drives even better. Well, it just cannot accommodate a second HDD and its fan is located closer to the drive bays.
The other components have almost the same temperature as in the Corsair: the CPU is somewhat hotter but the mainboard and graphics card are colder at high load. That’s an excellent result considering that the Sugo SG05 is cooled by a single fan which works at a lower speed than either of the two fans in the Obsidian 250D.
The following diagrams help compare the results with those of the open testbed:
We must admit that both mini-ITX computer cases have turned out to be capable of accommodating top-performance configurations and cooling them properly.
The Corsair Obsidian 250D can take in more HDDs, has better protection against dust and is easier to assemble components in. However, its size seems to compromise the very idea of the mini-ITX form-factor. This computer case is broader than any full tower, yet you can’t put a monitor down on it as you can with low-profile desktop cases. In fact, the Obsidian 250D would take more desk space than a regular full-size product. Apart from this, it seems to have no downsides (except that we regret its not having a 200mm fan on its front panel by default).
The SilverStone Sugo SG05-450-USB3 is just amazing with its ability to accommodate top-end components in a very small chassis. If compactness is as important for you as high performance, this model will have few alternatives, and the Obsidian 250D is not among them. The tradeoff for this compactness is the minimum of expansion opportunities, poor protection from dust and difficult assembly process.