by Vasily Melnik
08/07/2007 | 06:45 PM
The PC industry has been steadily changing its orientation towards the consumer so that the ordinary user would completely lose interest in separate components. Why bother if you can buy an assembled PC with a 3-year or longer warranty? Such a PC is sure to be free from any problems, from compatibility to thermal mode, because the manufacturer has to use quality components to avoid being returned the product. Buying separate components is mostly for enthusiasts nowadays.
But unlike the rest of components, system cases are not as much affected by this trend. Even major firms offer to assemble you a PC in a system case you choose from the available range. This approach makes sense because ready-made PCs offered for the mass user come in midrange system cases priced at $80 or less (with the PSU).
Of course, you can’t expect an original design or extended functionality from such products while the user has the right to choose the appearance of his/her PC, just to match the room interior for example. It is in this situation that the best representatives of the mid-format sector with a price of $100 and more (without a PSU) come to the fore. This is already quite expensive and the buyer can expect to have something more from such a product than from a trivial PC case.
Notwithstanding the relatively low demand for such solutions, the manufacturers pay much attention to them because these system cases also perform a marketing function, promoting other, less conspicuous and exciting, products on the market. In this review we’ll examine four system cases from the leading brands to see if they perform all of their functions well.
The second edition of ASUS’ system case for a gaming PC comes in a very large box:
Pretty-looking and neatly designed, this box is up to the product that is considered the top of the company’s system case range.
The case itself looks good, too:
The designers must have taken their inspiration from the Alien as represented in the namesake movie. There are a lot of details here that resemble the head of that fantastic creature. The main advantage of the new design is that the case has got rid of the useless thickening in the bottom part that did not perform any function save for aesthetical (which is arguable because that was the thing many people didn’t like in the original Vento) but made the case very wide. The second edition is also much better than the original as concerns the fitting together of the panels and the quality of manufacture. The lovers of the brand should appreciate this.
The idea of the blocking mechanism of the external bay cover has remained the same, but the design of the lock is different. Now you don’t have to press on the lacquered panel leaving your fingerprints on it. You just put your finger gently on the ledge in the bottom part of the cover.
Released from the lock, the panel will rise up smoothly:
The smooth movement of the cover is indeed a breakthrough compared with the Vento 3600 model as it used to jump up and hit the top of the case. Don’t play with this thing too much, though. The group of hinges and levers for moving the cover is made from ordinary plastic and its service life will prove too short under heavy use.
The ordinary user shouldn’t worry, though. The cover is going to live through two or three system upgrades unless you jerk it a dozen times each day. Interestingly, the cover has an intermediary, half-open position.
We don’t think the cover was meant to have it. It is just due to the design of the opening mechanism. With no practical use, this can even be harmful: the cover sticks out much further than the front panel in this position and you can shove and break it off by accident. When fully open, the cover hovers above the case.
There is no risk of your damaging it now, but the case may prove too tall to fit into a low niche of a computer desk. The Power button is designed in an original way:
It is located under the cover lock and is combined with a Power indicator. The indicator of your drives’ activity is placed to the left. The button and LED are concealed by the decorative panel so that the light from the indicators didn’t disturb you in darkness.
There is a large air inlet below the external bays.
Lower yet is a group of interface connectors whose configuration is typical for system cases from this brand:
We guess only people from ASUS know why there are four USB ports here which are all so close together. An ordinary user doesn’t need so many USB ports on the front panel. Two USB connectors suffice for quickly plugging in small peripherals whereas permanently attached devices are better connected to the rear panel to avoid having a tangle of cables in front of the system case.
The front air inlet is impressively big:
Unfortunately, these are pure decorations. There is an ordinary 80mm fan inside, without any dust filter.
There is a small plastic wave on the side door to the right of the air inlet.
It makes it easier for the user to take the side panel off and put it back again. It is a sort of a handle (but you should not hold on to it when you are carrying your assembled PC; it is not meant for such a heavy load). The side panel is quite an ordinary thing except for its shape:
There is a large air inlet opposite the CPU cooler:
This should ensure good CPU cooling, but the inlet lacks a dust filter, too.
There is an interesting text in the top part of the silvery edging:
The words “ultimate gaming experience” are somewhat misleading. After all, this is just a system case that can’t affect your gameplay in any way. A group of marks to help you install the side panel can be found farther behind that marketing slogan.
These marks are indeed very helpful. The owner of a Vento 3600 may feel envious looking at them. Despite the barely discernable Aliens theme, the car roots of the Vento series aren’t forgotten. There is a kind of a spoiler in the rear part:
The rear panel is designed in a classic way:
There is a bare minimum of innovations the modern system case must have: screw-less fastening of expansion cards and special thumbscrews to secure the side panel.
The feet are made wider than usual for more stability.
The internal design is just as bad as that of the Vento 3600:
This is the simplest low-end chassis you can expect to find in a system case costing some $40 (together with a PSU) rather than in a renowned brand’s top-end case positioned as the ultimate solution for a gaming PC. Like with the first Vento, the pretty wrapping is pleasing to the eye at the shop but when you bring it to your home, you find yourself having to deal with a cheap chassis and mediocre ergonomics. The drive locks call for a special mention:
First, they do not fix the drive firmly in its place. Second, it is just inconvenient to use the HDD locks when the mainboard and expansion cards are already installed. It’s not clear why the developers had to invent anything like this while there are handy plastic rails available. Perhaps they just wanted to economize on the plastic they had spent so much of for the exterior.
The two 80mm fans on the rear panel look like an anachronism to us.
The front fan is perhaps meant to save some room, but this explanation doesn’t work for the rear panel. This solution is typical of low-end system cases rather than of a $150 product! They do economize here. This chassis is cheap and the exterior plastic isn’t expensive, either. We can only guess what revenue the manufacturer rakes in from each unit sold, but it’s rather irritating to realize that you are just being made money from. You are just sold a low-end chassis in a pretty-looking wrapping.
The design of the expansion card locks is rather poor as well:
The metal of the chassis isn’t very robust and the locks themselves do not keep the cards firm.
You can’t install a fan on the air inlet in the side panel.
This means you can forget about using passive heatsinks. The good news is that the system case is easy to assemble and doesn’t require you to refer to the manual often. The faceplates of 5.25” bays are removable:
This makes it easier to install your optical drive.
We were somewhat surprised to find different sorts of fan connectors. Some are standard 3-pin plugs and others are Molexes.
There are pressed-out protrusions instead of poles for the mainboard.
We told you how to fasten your expansion cards above. When assembling the system we found that this fastening mechanism allowed to easily fasten two-storied cards.
Alas, this doesn’t make the locks any more reliable. That’s why you may prefer to fasten your heavy top-end graphics card in the good old way, with screws.
It takes mere seconds to install an optical drive. Just put it into the bay and close the lock.
The only trouble is that the optical drive wobbles in its seat, giving you the impression of unreliable fastening. Moreover, these locks do not work with short panels (rheobuses, displays, etc). The devices do not fit well together:
There is a large gap between them, which is unacceptable in a system case of this class. HDDs are installed in the same way. You insert your HDD into the bay and fix it with a wire clip.
The assembled system looks good enough…
…if you put up with the unreliable fastening of the drives and expansion cards and with some problems related to the rigidity of the chassis.
So, the cute and original exterior is combined with a very cheap chassis in this system case. It won’t do to shell out $150 for a thing like this. We don’t think ASUS wants its system case to get the name of a “mediocre product in a pretty wrapping”, but it will be surely producing it while it is being bought for its appearance only. If you want a system case that is good externally and internally, you should consider the other products reviewed in this article or other system cases in this class that may have a less brilliant exterior, but deliver much higher quality.
The ITower 930 is not the only medium-sized model in the company’s product range, yet it is distinguishable amongst the other models due to much broader capabilities than those of a classic medium system case.
It comes in Cooler Master’s traditional package with a familiar design:
It’s neat and simple, like the other products of the company.
The system case can be characterized as having a calm exterior design.
The only place the designer has had a hand in is the aluminum front panel.
The familiar wave of Cooler Master cases has been complemented with an air-inlet piece. Near this inlet there are front interfaces, Power and Reset buttons, and system indicators.
That’s good, but as we wrote above, four USB ports are somewhat too many, especially placed like that. They are too close to each other, making it impossible to attach more than 2 large devices at once. Moreover, a large USB flash drive, when plugged into a USB port, won’t allow you to close the decorative door. As for ordinary USB connectors, it is the problem of aesthetics. When the USB ports are placed like they are in this system case, the garland of hanging cables won’t look pretty at all. And there’ll be problems with your access to the 5.25” bays.
The biggest surprise is waiting for you behind the door:
What you see in the center is nothing else but a four-HDD cage with a quick replacement capability.
Unfortunately, it is not the hot-swap capability as in server systems, but people who often attach HDDs are going to appreciate this. You don’t have to get into the case for that and you can easily take a HDD with important information out of the PC. The rails with a lock differ from what you can see in servers.
This looks like a cut-down version of the server rails. The only thing they have in common is the front lock. The cage is meant for ordinary SATA drives.
It means the user has the opportunity to hot-swap a non-system disk: it is quite an ordinary thing to attach a SATA drive on the go. For easier access to the HDD cage there is a smaller door in the large decorative one.
That’s right. Why open the whole panel when you only need to access the HDDs? Otherwise, this system case is an example of a modern mid-format model. It’s got a large air inlet in the side panel:
And it has a traditional design of the rear panel with a 120mm exhaust fan:
The side panels are fastened with thumbscrews, as usual:
They were tightened so hard at the factory that we had to use a screwdriver anyway. If you are frequently accessing your system’s internals, you may want to give the screws up altogether because the panel is also secured with a small slider:
The interior layout is somewhat unusual for a consumer system case:
At least, such system cases do not normally come with a separate container for a power supply and a strut for expansion cards. The strut is a kind of a bonus accessory here as you can easily do without it. The implementation of the diffuser for the CPU cooler is somewhat unusual:
Despite its large dimensions, it doesn’t allow to install a fan while its design is only compatible with boxed coolers that will hardly be used in a home PC of this class. Fortunately, it can be easily removed by pressing on the plate in its top part.
Then you can move the whole thing sideways and take it out of the case:
You shouldn’t have any regrets about it much since this strut is virtually useless unless you stick to the stock cooling solutions in which case you can observe a certain improvement in CPU cooling. The accessories surpassed all our expectations. Having spent about a minute to extract this rather big box…
…which had been tucked into the top 5.25” bay, we found the following:
They overdid it with the package. This plastic pack could have been attached somewhere inside the case with a piece of scotch.
Note the simplified fastening mechanism of 5.25” devices. It is similar to the ASUS Vento implementation:
The drive is fixed on one side only and moves about a little in the bay. The HDD cage has an exhaust fan that does double duty as a front intake fan.
It’s easy to remove it. Just release the screw and push the cage with the fan into the case. The rear part of the PCB with the HDD connectors is somewhat empty:
That’s normal, though. This system case is not meant for a server, after all. As for the ventilation factor, the air goes through the three square holes which seems to be insufficient. We guess it is due to the abundance of free room that there are four standard 3-pin fan connectors on that PCB.
They are redundant. You can’t install more fans into this system case than it has already. And even if you do, any modern mainboard will provide you with at least a couple of fan connectors.
There is a 120mm fan with rather good specs on the rear panel:
It has a normal connector rather than an adapter for a Molex plug, which makes it simpler to connect it and to wire the cables in the case.
You should begin to assemble your system in this case from the power supply. As we mentioned above, the PSU is to be mounted into the container located at the top of the case.
It is fastened to a special plate on the rear panel that is supposed to make the whole procedure easier. The plate is secured with one screw:
You can release and remove the plate by pulling at the handle:
Then this plate is attached to the PSU:
And the whole arrangement goes into the case:
The purpose of this all is a mystery, however. The developers designed the PSU container in such a way that it can only be installed from the outside and had to invent the adapter plate for that purpose, but they might have made a normal fastening mechanism that would allow to install the PSU from the inside. This looks as if the developers took some solutions from server cases without thinking much whether they would do for a consumer case at all.
We’ve got no complaints about the installation of the mainboard and expansion cards. Just don’t forget to connect power and interface cables to the HDD cage:
These connectors become blocked afterwards by the installed fan:
The screw-less locks for expansion cards do their job quite well:
No problems with them, and the locking pressure is normal. The problems arose with the HDD cage, or rather with the box for its fan. Our graphics card nearly was nearly touching it:
The graphics card had to be bent so that we could attach the additional power:
The graphics card won’t last long with such a bend, and any shock suffered by the assembled system during transportation may prove fatal to it. Cooler Master made one mistake. System cases with such cages are usually made deeper by 3-5 centimeters to avoid this kind of collisions. The fact that they didn’t do so is indicative of a gross engineering error, which is not typical of the company. Anyway, this system case won’t suit for some hardware configurations. You have to look for a mainboard with a graphics card slot placed lower than on our mainboard or avoid top-end graphics cards with full-size PCBs.
There were no problems with the rest of the assembly procedure. It took mere seconds to install the optical drive:
There are no gaps between the panels. The only trouble is that there are no locks on one side and the drive wobbles a little when you press on the eject button. We installed our fan controller into the bottom bay:
It’s because we had some problems with laying out the thermal sensors’ signal cables due to the protruding HDD cage.
As for hard drives, you can install them after everything else is already in place. To do this, you should take the guide out of the cage…
…and remove the bar in its rear part:
Then you put your HDD into it and guide the HDD into the bay:
Like in servers, there are two LEDs on the cage:
One LED indicates the HDD’s activity and the other is a Power indicator. The indicators are in fact soldered on the PCB with the interface connectors and there are two light pipes in the right panel of the HDD guide.
The overall impression from this case is somewhat ambiguous. Its quality of manufacture is high. It’s got a handy HDD cage and a nice and calm exterior design. But there are design flaws in the chassis that may become a trouble for the user. You can put up with them if you want to assemble a PC in this system case and use it without constantly upgrading. You just have to be careful when selecting your mainboard and graphics card so that they fitted both together into this system case. The HDD cage is unique for this product class. Some people are going to be enticed into buying this product just for that cage alone.
We wrote about the first edition of the 3DAurora system case and noted the questionable design of its front part (for details see our article called Gigabyte 3D Aurora System Case Review). Users’ opinions differ on this point. Some don’t like it but others seem to be fond of the certain brutality in the look of the bottom part of the front panel. A year on the market is a long term and Gigabyte has recently restyled its flagship product. The new system case has got a numeric index and a considerably revised exterior that is sure to please a true technocrat.
Like its predecessor, this system case comes in a colorful package:
The case has a completely different appearance thanks to its new front panel:
The rounded-off and curvy shapes have been replaced with sharp angles and straight lines. We guess the change is for the better. With this design the user’s opinion will choose between “neutral” or “good” rather than between “good” or “bad” as before. We’ve got some gripes about the front view, though.
Begging the designer’s pardon, the case looks like a modern refrigerator in this view, especially with this shape of the door that covers the external bays. That’s not the best association possible, yet this is in fact the only serious drawback of this model. The group of front interfaces has moved from the side panel into the center of the front one:
The composition of the group hasn’t changed. The storage indicator is now more readable.
There number of bays hasn’t changed, either. There are five 5.25” and two 3.5” bays here.
The Power and Reset buttons are still hidden under a cover:
Not a convenient solution as you have to open the cover up every time or keep it open always. This seems to be related to the door lock, like with the previous version of the case.
It is meant to prevent unauthorized access to your PC but will only stop a small child who likes to press on large and shiny buttons. If you’ve got a young one, you are sure to appreciate this. The bottom part of the front panel accommodates a large air inlet with a small metallic grid:
There is another one in the side panel:
Now the user’s got the choice between an air inlet for better cooling and a transparent window in the side panel. The plastic insert for the latter is included with the case.
It is simple and won’t take much time to replace the grid with the plastic. The rear panel has been left unchanged:
There are the two 120mm fans and outputs for the pipes of a water cooling system that the previous version of the case had.
The 570 model is in fact the product of external restyling. They have just left the chassis as it was.
And that was a wise solution. This is one excellent chassis that calls for no additions. They only changed the shape of the brackets for fixing devices in the external bays:
The accessories can still be found in a box fastened in the HDD cage:
Besides fasteners, rails and power adapters for your drives, the box now contains a small napkin.
It seems to be meant for people who choose to use the transparent window in the side panel instead of the air inlet.
The wires are kept to the side panel of the case with a handy clip:
The exhaust fans on the rear panel haven’t changed since the original version of the case:
The fastening mechanism of the intake fan has been slightly modified:
Now it can be easily taken out together with the dust filter in order to be cleaned.
The only thing we don’t quite understand is the grid behind the fan. No cables can get between it and the HDD cage, so the grid is redundant. It just offers more resistance to the airflow.
There are single-use brackets in the external bays:
We wrote about the drawbacks of this solution before. It’s hard to tear them off and you can’t put them back again.
Like with the previous model, it is easy to assemble a PC in this system case. The case has become taller, providing easier access to all the components. It’s a real pleasure to assemble your PC in a 3DAurora 570. Its classic chassis and an internal design like that of a full-tower case are considerable advantages over the rest of the products reviewed in this article. The plastic lock of the expansion cards has been left intact, too:
It is the same ingenious contrivance that prevents the expansions cards from sliding off when you open the lock with the system case standing upright. Hard disk drives are installed in a matter of a few seconds. Attach the rails…
…and insert the whole thing into the bay:
5.25” are installed without rails even. On the downside is the poor fitting of the panels:
There is a noticeable horizontal slit under the drive. Short devices like my informational panel are installed normally, though:
The assembled system looks somewhat empty:
It means that this system case will suit people who like to change their components often. The shining logotype is still here:
This time there is no blank panel in the kit, but you can easily solve this problem with a piece of opaque scotch tape.
Providing easy access to every system component and featuring an aluminum chassis, a superb ventilation system and a simple assembly procedure, this system case is surely the best one in this review. With all its advantages it costs about as much as the ASUS Vento that has a much worse chassis. The only thing you should remember is that the 3DAurora 570 is somewhat taller than an ordinary middle-tower case and may not fit into some computer desks. In fact, its size is different from the other test participants but it is as expensive as the cases from ASUS and Cooler Master, which makes the comparison correct. So, if its dimensions and appearance suit you fine, you should certainly consider it as a possible buy. Its excellent chassis is worth your attention.
As for the exterior, there exist Mars and Mercury models based on the same chassis. The former has a different front panel design (particularly, it lacks the decorative door and has a different design of the bottom part) while the latter is additionally equipped with an integrated water-cooling system.
As we wrote in the review of the first system case from Gigabyte two years ago (see the link above), that was just the beginning. Today, the company’s model range includes as many as 8 models. Quite a lot for a manufacturer who rolled out his first case not so long ago. From a point of view of a typical all-purpose system the Gigabyte Poseidon seems to be a most optimal solution. A black-and-blue packaging with a photo of a part of the system case seems to be shared by all the cases from this brand:
The box is good and the packaging of the system case is good, too. A plastic window for the side panel and a manual are laid neatly in the foam-plastic piece at the top.
The case has a very cute, low-key exterior design:
This is good as the Poseidon will fit into any environment with ease. Power and Reset buttons, system indicators, and front interface connectors are placed in the center of the panel:
With all the abundance of elements, the panel doesn’t look crowded. Everything is stylish, especially the 3.5” bay. In the bottom part there is only a model logotype and a small groove for projecting the Poseidon logo on the surface in front of the system case.
The air inlet occupies the entire width of the panel and is covered with a decorative piece along the center.
Placed at a small distance away from the air inlet grid, this piece doesn’t hinder the intake of air. The vent grid in the side panel is somewhat smaller than in the Aurora.
You can replace it with a transparent plastic insert included into the box. The rear panel has a typical design for a modern case of this form-factor:
There’s everything necessary here plus holes for the pipes of a water cooling system:
A case named Poseidon must have something like that because one of the earliest serially made water cooling systems was called this very name and was manufactured by Gigabyte, too.
The internal layout is a classic of the genre:
The only surprising thing here is the two-bay top box for 3.5” devices. One external bay should be enough and the HDD cage might be made larger by one bay. Anyway, the case allows to install three HDDs – quite enough for its class. The drives are fastened in the lengthwise bays by means of sliding locks.
The single difference is that the 3.5” bays are not equipped with stoppers, but the locking effort is so strong that the devices are unlikely to get out of their places anyway. The HDD cage is supposed to be removable:
You can unfasten the two screws on the left and take it out of the case, but you don’t have to do so to install your HDDs. The front panel has to be detached before you begin to assemble the system.
There is a foam plastic plate on its reverse side that prevents the bay brackets from being forced back. You must remove it before you install your drives. There is a small dust filter in the bottom part of the panel:
Its mesh cell is too large, unfortunately, yet it keeps dust away mostly. The fan is fastened on the case with screws and you’ll need a screwdriver to take it off.
This is not a drawback since the fan won’t need frequent cleaning due to the dust filter. There are two LEDs above the fan:
These are the light sources for the projection system that creates the logo on the surface in front of the system case. An interesting thing, the internal brackets of the bays are reusable as opposed to the more expensive Aurora.
So, you can put them back if necessary. The external faceplates are made from aluminum.
There is a minimum of accessories here. Only what you really need.
There are no power adapters here, but you get a small napkin to clean the side panel. The rear panel carries a single 120mm fan for exhaust:
This is quite enough even for a high-performance system. The case of this form-factor can be ventilated with two 120mm fans successfully. Although there is only one fan on the rear panel, its cable is laid very neatly:
The system is to be assembled in the usual order: PSU, mainboard, expansion cards, etc. There are no problems with anything of this.
We only want to note the screw-less fasteners of the expansion cards. There is a separate fastener for each slot and their design is rather poor:
You have to apply a strong effort to unlock the fastener – it may seem better to fix the card with screws instead. To install your HDD, you should attach the rails to it first.
And then insert it into the cage:
It’s simpler with 5.25” devices. You just insert one into the bay to the level of the front panel and close the lock.
The panels fit together perfectly – we found no gaps between the devices. The assembled system looks quite neatly:
Note that there is a lot of space between the mainboard and the cages in the front part of the system case. This prevents any problems with connecting the cables. It is a nice trifle because many manufacturers forget about that and reduce the depth of the case, which leads to various inconveniences during the assembly process. And the last touch is the logotype that is being projected onto the surface in front of the case at work.
So, this is a very pleasing compact case that will suit for a high-performance system even. We can find no fault with it. As for its pros, there is an abundance of good models with similar internal design in this class, so you choice should be guided by your exterior design preferences. The chassis is high-quality and ergonomic with the only drawback in the way of the unlucky design of the expansion card locks.
Below is a summary table that lists the basic specs of each reviewed system case:
And now we can proceed to the tests.
The tests were performed on closed and fully assembled system cases and at a constant ambient temperature maintained by an air conditioner. The fan speeds were left at their defaults and we didn’t change the configurations of airflows (with the exception of the Cooler Master case for which we removed the strut for expansion cards). The Gigabyte cases were tested with the vent grids in the side panels; we didn’t install the plastic windows.
The following configuration was assembled in the tested PC cases:
There were four test modes:
The temperatures of the CPU and mainboard were read with ASUS PC Probe which was supplied with the mainboard. The temperatures of the GPU, VRM transistors and chipset were read with the Scythe KamaMeter device. The HDD temperature was reported by HDD Thermometer. The temperatures were read only after they had fully stabilized. The ambient temperature remained constant at 25°C throughout the tests.
The noisiness of the preinstalled system fans is discussed below. We disabled the PSU and the coolers of the CPU and graphics card when evaluating the noise of the system fans.
The cases are roughly equal to each other, yet both Gigabyte cases are somewhat better. They keep the temperatures lower than the cases from ASUS and Cooler Master by 5-6°C in some modes. It is quite a noticeable difference.
In fact, you should make your choice from among the tested cases basing not only on the temperature diagrams but on their design, chassis and price. For example, the Gigabyte Poseidon is considerably cheaper than the others. The noise factor should be taken into account, too, and the Gigabyte is the leader again: its quiet 120mm fans cool the case well and do that very quietly. You can set them at a lower speed in the 3DAurora which you cannot do in the ASUS Vento 7700 and the Cooler Master ITower 930. The former has 80mm fans that can’t be slowed down much as their performance will drop down dramatically. The latter’s fan in the HDD cage is noisy due to an improper configuration of the cage itself. Noise is a common thing for a server system, but the borrowing of ideas proves not very successful for a home PC.
So, the two leaders of our tests are the system cases from Gigabyte. If you want to put together a PC in a high-quality case quickly and easily, these two will suit you perfectly. The mediocre chassis lets down the ASUS Vento while the Cooler Master ITower 930 has flaws in the interior design. These two can be recommended for special occasions when you are 100% sure these system cases will suit you fine.