by Sergei Ozerov
07/25/2005 | 02:03 PM
Have you ever dealt with any solutions from Foxconn company? I am pretty much sure that you have. It would be enough to say that most LGA775 socket connectors installed onto the majority of mainboards are manufactured by Foxconn fabs. This company boasts truly gigantic production volumes. In some places its fabs give birth to new towns (I mean, the population of the entire town works on a Foxconn fab), and the product range they offer is overwhelming.
In one of our previous articles called Foxconn System Cases Roundup we have already introduced to you quite a few system cases from Foxconn available in the today’s market. However, during the past few months the situation has changed so greatly that it looks like another big test session would be necessary.
Anyway, today we will look at only one newcomer from Foxconn: TP-230 system case.
If you take a closer look at the Foxconn TP-230 photo below, you will definitely remember that in our previous system case testing we have already discussed exactly the same case, TH-230, which in its turn looked very much like TH-061. However, this is not a mistake. It is exactly the case when similar looks and almost the same product names belong to two totally different products. So, if you decide to go for one of the Foxconn cases and you do care about what is actually inside them, make sure that you do not confuse the model names :)
The case is made of steel and is of black color with a silver segment of the front panel. The plastic front panel is designed in such a way that both: black as well as silver devices will good on it.
The front panel can accommodate four 5-inch devices and two 3-inch devices. Moreover, the two top 5-inch bays are hidden behind decorative plastic covers designed in the color of the case. It is not just a slit with a button like in TLA-570A solution, but a fully-fledged cover that would drop down open when the tray is ejected (you can come across similar solutions in the optical drives, too). So, you can install any optical drive into this case, even the 7-year old CD-ROM drives, which have already grown yellow: they will not spoil the exterior of your system. Also note that you will not be able to remove these covers completely. The two top 5-inch devices are fastened inside the bays in such a way that they are kind of pushed inside by a few centimeters, so without the covers they will not look in place.
The case sits on very convenient flexible stands that can be mode sideways for better stability of the system. These stands are tall, wide and allow the air to flow freely under the case for better cooling. The stands can be unfolded and rotated, and when they are turned all the way to the sides, they stand out by about 5cm on both sides of the case. Unfortunately, they can only be rotated synchronously, because the left and right stand of each pair are connected with one another with a plastic gearing. Therefore, you will not be able to put the case close to the way, for instance, by unfolding the stands on one side of the case and putting them at a certain smaller angle on another. The stands can be unscrewed and completely removed if necessary.
Right under the floppy drive bays there is a plastic cover that can be opened up. Behind this cover there is the whole bunch of different connectors: four USB ports, one FireWire port (large), and two audio ports. This block is located at a very convenient height unlike some other cases where all these connectors are situated too close to the floor. However, the plastic door covering these connectors cannot be called convenient or reliable. The door locks with a very strong spring lock and hence you need to apply some tangible effort to open or close it, banging it loudly against the case. So, it can break down pretty quickly if you open or close it too often.
Just below the connectors there is the Power On/Off button, Reset button, and HDD status indicator. The Power On button is a pretty small oval pressed slightly into the case. When the system is on, the transparent plastic circle around it lights up white. The Reset button located right beneath the Power On is unbelievably small (it can be pressed only with a pencil tip or something similar), so I wouldn’t call it very convenient. The HDD LED is also white and is designed as a long transparent plastic band right under the Reset button.
The steel case is very nicely cut: all the panels are thick enough, all the retentions are robust and firm and all the edges are carefully rolled. The left panel is fastened with two thumb-screws and a plastic “Chieftec-type” lock, so you won’t need a screwdriver to open it. The right side panel cannot be removed.
Unfortunately, the plastic lock of the TP-230 we have just mentioned is not very convenient. Firstly, it simply doesn’t lock the side panel: if the screws aren’t tightened up, the panel will be banging against the frame of the case and will not sit firmly in place. Secondly, when you are trying to remove the panel, the lock keeps catching up to everything in its way causing a lot of inconvenience. There was a moment when I wished Foxconn had designed its case in a standard way when the panel simply pressed tightly against the frame, as in many other products. However, I have to admit that there might be some users who may still need to lock their system case, then the presence of this lock will be justified.
inside the case there is enough room to accommodate a full-size ATX mainboard, the already mentioned 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch bays that can be accessed from upfront, and another four internal 3.5-inch bays turned at 90o. The retention mechanism for the devices installed into these bays is very tricky: when you move the plastic clip sideways, the metal plates that are located right where the standard fastening holes should be, move forward. Each clip is locked with a standard metal spring and requires some physical effort to be opened. You can see how it actually works by clicking the image below:
At first this mechanism doesn’t seem to be very firm and secure, however, once the system is assembled all you doubts will vanish in no time. First of all, the distance between the side panels of the 3.5-inch devices bays is very precise: the HDD installed there cannot move sideways, it will only move forward and back, because there is not a single tiny slit between the HDD and the bay panels. The sides of this section work as a kind of a spring: they embrace the hard drive from both sides and are at the same time very think and firm. The fixing locks used instead of the regular screws fit very precisely into the fastening holes of the hard drives, and they are of absolutely ideal size, so that the HDD will not be “wobbling” when installed, not by a single millimeter. Also, note that these fixing locks are very reliable and do now wobble themselves, so the entire construction appears not only reliable, but also works as a perfect vibration damper.
The tope 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch bays cannot boast a fastening mechanism as efficient and reliable as the one we have just discussed (the devices slide freely into the bays, the fixing locks are located only on one side of the case. However, there is no reason to worry about anything, because those devices are not as sensitive to vibration as HDDs. Therefore, I would definitely consider the Foxconn solution highly reliable. With the few exceptions when a CD-ROM drive or a DVD-ROM drive are vibrating too much. :)
The mainboard is installed into the case on a special tray, just like the hard disk drives: not a single screw, only extremely precisely laid out strong metal pins. There are nine pins total and they fit for full-size ATX as well as for mini-ATX mainboards. Six pins out of nine feature “mushroom”-shaped heads, while the remaining three are regular pins. First the mainboard catches to the front row of pin heads with its front edge. The heads slide through the holes in the PCB and the thinner pin allows moving the board sideways a little bit. After that the mainboard catches to the second row of the pin heads, just the same way. This time however it sits more firmly in place and can move just slightly. At last, you have to set it onto the remaining three pins, so that it locks in a steady position. After that it cannot move sideways at all. You can move it up and down a little bit if you apply certain effort to the back edge, however, when the entire system is assembled, this will also be impossible, as the expansion cards and the mainboard connectors panel will hold it in place.
All in all, this is a very easy to use and reliable construction: once you have figured out the way it should be assembled, it will take you five seconds to install and remove the mainboard. This construction is actually as efficient as the traditional screws.
It is very simple to install the tray into the case: you place it onto size rails and slide towards the back panel of the case where it is locked with a large plastic handle. All parts are of very high quality, so this lock hold the mainboard reliably and prevents it from getting out of place.
The front panel is fastened with six metal clips.
If you need to remove it, all you need to do is to pull it with a little effort to yourself. Note, however, that all 3.5-inch devices and almost all 5.25-inch devices can be installed and removed without removing the front panel at all in a traditional “classical” manner.
The two bottom bays for 5.25-inch devices are initially covered with removable metal brackets, which cam be moved to the upper two slots if necessary. As for the 3.5-inch devices, there is only one plastic bracket on the front panel of the case.
The expansion cards are locked with big clips made of transparent plastic. These clips are very convenient and pretty firm. However, if you feel better with the traditional screws holding your expansion cards, you can also go for it.
All in all, I was very impressed with the smart, reliable and easy to use design of the Foxconn TP-230. This system case is ideal for system assemblers. The only disappointment was the already mentioned plastic cover for the front panel connectors section and an enormous amount of cables to connect the front panel ports, LEDs and buttons to the mainboard.
Four front panel USB ports (2 cables each – the standard four pins, plus the earth conductor), FireWire port on the front panel (fully disassembled), speaker (fully disassembled), Reset and Power buttons, HDD LED and power LED indicator, audio connectors – all in all, it makes about two dozens of cables and connectors. Each of these cables should be plugged carefully into the proper connector on the mainboard, according to the user’s guide. So, if you get down to it seriously, it will take even more time that the rest of the system assembly process.
The PSU is located horizontally. In fact, the cases may come equipped with different types of power supply units. In our case there was a mysterious ISO-450PP power supply unit. It claimed to support 450W of power, 20A current along the 3.3V line, 32A current along the 5V line and 16A current along the 12V line. The PSU suits for +230V AC/DC. It features a switch at the back and a connector for the standard power cables: the 20-pin and the 4-pin ones. To tell the truth, this PSU didn’t make a very good impression on me at first glance: it featured only one single fan (at the back of the PSU), provided very weak current along the 12V line and offered very few power connectors: only five HDD power connectors and one floppy power connector. Two HDDs, two optical devices and a powerful graphics card will inevitably eat up the entire power reserve of the PSU, although it is actually just a half of all devices that can fit into this system case. Moreover, the pins in the hard disk drive connectors move freely, so that it turns out quite complicated to plug the twisted cables into the proper connectors.
However, as far as the cooling of the system case is concerned, everything is in order here. Being Intel’s long-term partner, Foxconn makes sure that they meet all Intel’s requirements in terms of CPU cooling standards. At the top of the left side panel there is a standard plastic vent tube, typical of most Pentium 4 cases. The tube can be removed or readjusted as needed. Besides, it is covered with a large grid metal filter that doesn’t really protect against dust but at the same time doesn’t hinder the air flow towards the CPU. In fact, you can replace it with something more efficient if you wish to any time.
There is a large and quiet 120-mm fan with a standard three-pin connector at the rear panel of the case. The power cable of this fan is long enough so you can connect it to any fan plug that is free on your board.
There is another spot for an additional 92-mm fan right under the front panel ports block and status LEDs. It sucks the air in through six small holes in the front panel and a wide slit in the front part of the case bottom.
To check if our suppositions about the cooling conditions inside this system case are correct, we assembled the following testbed inside the Foxconn TP-230 case (note that this is not the “hottest” configuration possible):
All cables were placed in the most optimal way, so that they couldn’t hinder the airflow, all default fans were connected and the case was put inside the Sanyo MIR-253 incubator where we maintained a stable temperature of 25oC. The tests were run in two work modes: Idle mode (OS is loaded, system is idling) and Burn mode (FarCry, 1024x768, maximum image quality settings, the pre-recorded demo looping constantly). The warm-up time before the temperatures were measured was 40 minutes.
We measured the following temperatures:
We used the following software:
Here are the results obtained. First come the results without the additional 92-mm fan:
I was surprised to see that the results were about 1-3oC worse than those of the TH-230 system case we have already reviewed in our previous articles. First, the HDD heats up much more, as in the default configuration it doesn’t have any active cooling options 9although I have to admit that 38oC is still a pretty acceptable temperature). Besides, the graphics card heats up much more, too. Although the latter result can be explained by the fact that this time I used a different demo program that loaded the graphics processor much more.
Now let’s see what happened when we install an additional 92-mm fan:
With another fan onboard the HDD temperature drops down dramatically (by 7-9oC), while the other results seem to remain the same.
Well, what can we say about the Foxconn TP-230? The brightest feature of this case is its extreme accuracy and thorough manufacturing quality. It is certainly not for nothing that Intel appointed Foxconn their primary OEM partner for the mainboard business. Quality cooling of all system components, quite acceptable power supply unit, very convenient system retentions and appealing exterior design – these are the definite advantages of the Foxconn case. I wish they paid a little bit more attention to the side panel lock, front panel and PSU power capacity. Let’s hope they would hear us on this one :)
We decided to introduce a 10-point evaluation scale for our reviews, I hope you find it useful, as it should help sum up the editor’s opinion about the product. So here you go:
In conclusion I would only like to add that according to our experience, most of the today’s conclusions will be true for all Foxconn TP cases, as they will be pretty similar to one another and will only have different front panel design at most.