by Vasily Melnik
10/01/2005 | 09:28 AM
Gigabyte Technology is a respectable hardware manufacturer with an extensive model range of various PC parts. Not long ago the company’s product list was supplemented with a very interesting water-cooling system called 3D Galaxy which we reviewed on our site (for details see our article called "Out of This World" Liquid-Cooling System: Gigabyte 3D Galaxy Review). This very nice system had one big problem, however. Its thick pipes made it difficult to install a 3D Galaxy in an ordinary system case. We couldn’t also put the pipes out to connect to the radiator without deforming them somewhat.
The problem called for an immediate solution and Gigabyte reacted quickly and in a most unexpected manner. Instead of redesigning its 3D Galaxy, the company opened another market for itself. “If our system doesn’t fit well into ordinary cases, we must make a case that would accept it without problems!” (I think the person at Gigabyte who came up with that idea must have got a promotion). Thus, solving the only serious problem of its water-cooling system, the company made an announcement of itself on the PC system case market.
The 3D Aurora model combines the best ideas in chassis design and ventilation and also features the most original design solution which may become a business card of all top-end system cases from this product family.
I want to stress the fact that Gigabyte starts out with a top-end product, although not all companies could boast a successful debut in this sector. Top-end products fall under the strictest requirements and few companies ever managed to create a system case that would combine nice exterior and wide functionality with a reasonable price.
The 3D Aurora is probably a trial product, to be followed with a whole series of system cases targeted at various market sectors. We’ll see in due time if Gigabyte’s marketing policy implies this scenario, but now let’s get closer to one of the most brilliant debutants of the current year among PC system cases.
The package with the 3D Aurora system case looks pretty enough:
The box design is up to the product’s top-end targeting. The only thing missing is a carry handle – the box with the case isn’t too heavy, so an ordinary plastic handle would be enough.
We got a black-colored sample of the case:
It looks truly impressive. The massive bottom part of the front panel invokes involuntary associations with a bulldog. Tastes differ, of course, and many people will surely like this design. If you are not among them and if you don’t like dark colors in the interior of your room, you can consider the silver version of the same system case. I should tell you that the case looks differently depending on the lighting and your line of sight:
The case has a much milder appearance in this perspective, for example. The initial impression as of a somewhat brutal design gives way to a neutral feeling – the case is quite cute and unimposing if viewed this way. The massive aluminum door conceals external 5.25” and 3.5” bays and Power-On with Reset buttons.
The door is fixed by means of magnets, but you can lock it with a key, if necessary.
One of the most interesting engineering solutions this product embodies is to be found on the rear panel:
You don’t often see two 120mm fans on one rear panel! The top fan is intended to drive air to the radiator of a water-cooling system, but it is going to be helpful even if you use traditional air-based cooling. The doubling of the number of system fans allows to reduce the total noise, at the same time strengthening the airflows. This placement of the fans has one more advantage. A two-section water-cooling radiator – for example, the Black Ice Pro dual 120mm – mounts on them perfectly.
And this is one of the best radiators for water-cooling systems as confirmed by many PC enthusiasts.
Special holes were made for the pipes:
Recalling my experience with the Gigabyte 3D Galaxy water-cooling system, I have no doubts that its pipes are long enough for a proper deployment using these holes. The manufacturer must have tried to install a 3D Galaxy with the enclosed pipes in this system case and verified that there were enough room for all its components.
The interface connectors – USB, FireWire and FP Audio – are placed on the right panel of the case along with the system indicators:
As in many other system cases, this solution is arguable here. You can’t freely choose the position of the system case if you are going to use these connectors actively.
A big air inlet was made in the left panel of the case:
The Thermaltake Shark did very well in our recent comparative review mostly due to a similar air inlet in its side panel. So, we can expect the CPU and the graphics card to be properly cooled in the 3D Aurora, too.
The case is equipped with traditional folding feet:
When unfolded, they look neat and unobtrusive and keep the system case very steady.
Steadiness must be taken care of since a computer assembled in a 3D Aurora may weigh as much as an analogous empty case made of steel.
There’s enough space inside to accommodate a full-size ATX mainboard. The two large fans seem to be in the right place, too.
The accessories to the system case are all parceled into a black plastic box which you will find in the 3.5” rack.
The contents are less numerous than the appearance of the box seems to promise.
So, you get a set of hard drive rails, SATA power adapters, fasteners, keys, cable holders that you can stick anywhere in the case, and a special bracket for the front panel (I’ll tell you its purpose shortly).
All the cables are neatly gathered in a single braid:
The wires from the exhaust fans are placed properly, too:
The fans share a single power cable and are attached to a standard connector on the mainboard. Thus, you can use the mainboard’s speed-control functions, if necessary.
The sideways mounted rack for hard disk drives cannot be removed.
You must use special rails to install a hard disk drive:
The rails fit into the screw-holes in the sides of the drive with their juts and hold firmly enough due to the stiffness of the plastic.
With the rails on, the drive is simply inserted into the rack until it snaps in place:
The whole operation takes less than a minute.
Optical drives are going to trouble you a little longer. You should remove the faceplate and tear off the metal bracket:
The bracket doesn’t yield easily, so you have to turn it around with the tips of your fingers. This done, you just push the drive in to the level of the front panel:
And then you fix it by shifting an appropriate plastic plate forward:
The plate has a special lock which prevents it from going backward, but this is just an extra safety measure. The plate moves to and fro with some difficulty, so it is unlikely to return back without your assistance.
Scrutinizing the front panel of the case I found a few locks which can be pressed down to take the panel off altogether.
You may want to do that in only one case – to clean the intake fan dust filter.
Unlike in many other system cases I tested, this dust filter really works. Almost all air the intake fan sucks into the case comes through this filter, so you may want to avoid putting your 3D Aurora in a dusty place. You have to remove both side panels to take off the front panel. The filter itself doesn’t pull out easily – its top right corner is set against the card with the front-panel interface connectors.
The Gigabyte engineers used a classic common-latch design for fastening the expansion cards.
The latch works well:
It locks the expansion cards firmly while the design of the rear panel allows you to open it when the case is positioned horizontally – the blank brackets against empty slots or with peripheral ports won’t fall out.
The assembled system will be a pleasing sight for your eyes:
There are no extra, unnecessary cables, wires and other stuff. And the most important thing is that I spent less than half an hour to assemble the computer – and without much effort, I should say.
One curious designer solution was discovered after I turned the system on:
A bracket with the mirrored text “3D Aurora” resides in a special niche.
The bracket projects these words in blue light on the surface in front of the system case:
I personally like this idea – it’s pretty and stylish. The Gigabyte designers have come up with a solution which may become a kind of exclusive feature of all Gigabyte system cases to appear. If you don’t like the text, try to replace the bracket with an ordinary transparent one that you can find among the accessories. You’ll have just mild diffused blue highlighting then. And if you don’t like even that, you will just have to seal it up with some dark dense material :).
But now it’s time to verify theory with practice. I’m going to test the 3D Aurora to see how it performs as a regular PC system case.
Our testbed included the following hardware parts:
I want to apologize for a mistake I made in my previous tests on the same testbed. The real frequency of the processor is 3.2GHz rather than 2.8GHz as I wrote earlier. Probably because this processor is a rare product, the mainboard and various informational utilities reported its frequency incorrectly. The correct frequency became known to me only after I updated the mainboard’s BIOS with a new version.
The Thermaltake Big Typhoon cooler and the identical testbed configuration will allow me to compare the 3D Aurora with a similar product from Thermaltake – the Shark model.
I tested the system cases in the following modes:
The temperatures of the CPU and mainboard were read through Motherboard Monitor 220.127.116.11; the temperatures of the graphics processor and the graphics card’s PCB were read with RivaTuner.
I didn’t measure the temperature of the memory modules as it didn’t depend on the case design (I explained this in my review of Thermaltake system cases).
The temperature of the hard disk drive was read with HDD Thermometer.
The room temperature was 20°C at the time of the tests and remained constant throughout them.
The temperatures of the system components were read only after they had fully stabilized.
I took a Shark as an opponent to the 3D Aurora because it was the leader in my previous tests in such parameters as CPU and graphics card temperatures. The Shark has a similar configuration, although it doesn’t have a second rear fan. And anyway, bare numbers hold little information without a comparison.
The Shark’s side window works better as a means of ventilation, as you can see. The meshed window of the 3D Aurora creates some additional resistance to the stream of air thus negatively affecting the graphics card temperature. The CPU and mainboard are luckier, though. Having two 120mm fans on the rear panel, the 3D Aurora ensures better thermal conditions for these components that the Shark does. As for the hard drives, there are no obstacles in front of the intake fan in the Gigabyte case and this ensures a certain advantage as concerns the HDD temperature.
The additional resistance on the way of air makes the 3D Aurora to perform worse than the Shark in this test, excepting the HDD temperature. You can’t even say that the fans of the 3D Aurora are too slow: its two 1000rpm fans are still more powerful than the Shark’s single 1300rpm fan.
The results of the two system cases are almost identical when a real gaming application is running. So, there’s no big difference between them as concerns typical operational modes.
The 3D Aurora wins the HDD test, however, due to the above-mentioned reasons.
As for the noise factor, I could only hear the noise of the hard drive during my tests. There were no sounds other than that. Of course, the system is not absolutely noiseless, but you can only hear it in perfect silence, sometime deep in the night.
Gigabyte Technology has made a good top-end system case suitable for building any kind of computer and having unique and exceptional characteristics. Considering its recommended price, we get a potential leader on the top-end system case market from the price/performance point of view. We hope the rest of the company’s products in this area are going to be at least as good as the 3D Aurora. You will surely appreciate it, too, as soon as it reaches the shops (sometime at the beginning of November, as far as I know).
Gigabyte 3D Aurora system case (recommended price - $140).
Highs: Good exterior design; excellent ventilation; high quality of manufacture; good functionality; two 120mm fans on the rear panel; clever internal design; quiet operation.
Lows: It is difficult to take off the dust filter from the intake fan.
Conclusion: With a number of exceptional characteristics, this product is a potential bestseller on the market of top-end system cases.