by Yury Vayukin
01/14/2005 | 04:27 PM
This roundup is a detailed study of six system cases that can be used to assemble a workstation rather than a home computer. Unlike a home PC, a workstation must be able to cope with various kinds of tasks, including some narrowly specialized ones, which put one particular subsystem of the computer under stress. This means the internal design of the case, its dimensions and ventilation should be different.
I first give you a description of each case with controls and indicators. After that I stuff the case with the following hardware:
I will mention all the positive and negative issues I encountered when assembling the system.
To ensure a stable ambient temperature, I placed the assembled system case into the chamber of a Sanyo MIR-253 incubator that maintained a constant temperature of 25 degrees centigrade inside.
Our tests proper are carried out in several cycles and several steps.
On the first step we measure the temperatures of the key components of the computer when it is idle (the OS is booted up, the power-saving functions are disabled). This step lasts for 40 minutes – this time is enough for the temperatures of the system components to stabilize.
On the second step we are trying to heat up all the system components equally using a prerecorded demo from Far Cry. The duration of this step is 40 minutes, too.
Next, we made two steps instead of one, since our experiments proved it wasn’t appropriate to test the CPU and the hard disk drives under the maximum load independently. So, the S&M utility running at the minimal priority created the load for the CPU, while the HDDs were being heated up by IOMeter (random reading across all four drives). This step lasted for 20 minutes since that was enough for the temperature to stabilize after the previous test step.
I run the first cycle of tests in a system case as it is supplied, i.e. without additional fans. Before running the second cycle I install more fans at the front panel for taking air in. For the third cycle of tests I install exhaust fans at the rear panel of the system case. And during the fourth test step additional fans are installed at both front and rear panels of the case.
I read the temperatures from these sensors:
I used the following software in my tests:
The results are presented as tables or diagrams that show the temperature of the computer’s primary subsystems (CPU, GPU, HDD) in the Idle mode as well as their maximum temperatures with the maximum number of additional fans installed.
As for the maximum acceptable temperature for each particular computer subsystem, it is 68°C with the CPU, according to the manufacturer. The max acceptable temperature of the GPU is not specified, but this core can work at 80°C, according to our information. As for the maximum temperature of the hard disk drives, you can refer to our HDD cooling review to view a graph that reflects the growth of the mean-time-to-failure coefficient depending on the temperature. According to this graph, the possibility of a crash of your HDD doubles at 40°C and quadruples at 55°C! That’s why we think that a temperature of 55°C is not acceptable for a hard disk drive, and the lower the temperature, the better. There’s a slippery moment in our tests and we accept it: we publish the temperature values taken from HDD’s S.M.A.R.T, but the manufacturers each has its own opinion as to where the thermo-sensor should be put. So, each drive reports the current temperature in some unknown spot, and even 70°C may be no cause for panic, for example if the thermal diode is placed on the electronics board and measures the temperature of a chip. A temperature of 70°C is quite acceptable when we’re talking about electronic chips.
In my tests I will compare the temperature of hard disk drives in different system cases, and though the absolute values may be misleading, the comparison of the temperatures will be an indication of how well your HDDs would feel in this or that system case.
Chieftec Industrial Co. Ltd. was founded in 1990 and is engaged in development and production of computer cases that come to market under Chieftec’s own brand as well as under OEM contracts with third parties. Today the company has two production facilities in China; the company’s headquarters is located in Taiwan. In 1995, Arena Electronic Co. Ltd., the European office of Chieftec, was established in Dьsseldorf, Germany. The company is represented by 40 distributors in 28 countries throughout the world.
System cases from this manufacturer enjoy a reputation of high-quality and reliable products, which quite naturally come at a rather high price. There is a market niche where Chieftec is practically competitor-less, though: the market of system cases for workstations. Such cases will be discussed in this review.
This system case is visually appealing – it won’t spoil the interior of your workplace or living room. The manufacturer’s website swears there are three color schemes available: black with a white insertion on the front panel, blue with a black insertion, and black with a silver insertion.
On the front panel, under the plastic door with a fine metal grid and an air filter, there are four 5.25” bays and two 3.5” bays. The power and reset buttons as well as the power and HDD indicators are found there, too. The brackets for the external bays have a non-standard shape – each has two grooves for your fingers for an easy extraction, and there are vent holes in the grooves. The front door is equipped with a lock.
At the bottom of the front panel, under a lid, there are two audio connectors, two USB and one FireWire port. They are all attached to the mainboard’s appropriate onboard connectors.
The left panel of the case is fastened with thumbscrews as well as with a plastic latch and a lock. The right panel is fastened with three screws at its back.
We have a very curious solution inside: hard disk drives (up to six items) are installed perpendicularly to the case rather than lengthwise. The drives are fastened with the help of plastic rails as you will see shortly. I don’t see any problems with this engineering solution with respect to Serial ATA drives, but when it comes to IDE HDDs, you may find it difficult to lay their interface and power cables properly – so that they didn’t thwart the airflows inside the case.
Now, each of the plastic rails has two metal poles with dents that fit into the threaded holes in the sides of the hard disk drive like a hammered-in screw. Thanks to those dents, the rails have a firm grasp on the device, but unfortunately they do so at the expense of the threading in the holes.
Before mounting external 5.25” and 3.5” devices into the case, you must remove the plastic as well as the metal bracket that you find under the plastic one. The metal brackets hold very firmly and yield to a screwdriver only, although they have holes that look like holes for your fingers. If this is really so, you must be real strong to tear them off – at least, the author of this review couldn’t perform this feat.
Floppy drives are fastened with screws you receive with the case. It’s different with optical drives, though. You first put in four screws with specially shaped heads and then slide the device into its bay along the guides. After the device sinks fully into its place, it is fixed there with a metal clip.
The bays of the devices – both internal and external – have spring-loaded metal plates for a stiff fixing of the installed device.
There are seven slits for the expansion cards in the real panel. The slits are covered with reusable brackets fixed without screws. The expansion cards are supposed to be locked in their slots with the help of the original lock which may be not very convenient, but does hold the brackets of the expansion cards very fast. There are spring-loaded plates between the slits for a better fixing of the brackets.
I’d like to acknowledge the original solution the manufacturer came up with to avoid an accidental loss of screws which are used to mount optical drives, for example. These screws are simply screwed into the cross bar that serves as a stiffness rib. So if you need a screw, you can just put one out of the bar; an unnecessary screw can be returned into the bar. So the user cannot run out of screws by losing them. Similarly, there are two case screws in a side of the 3.5” bay.
The CX-01B-SL-B-TC model is equipped with a 420W Chieftec HPC-420-302 DF power supply which has one power connector and one power button at its rear. Rather long cables come out of the PSU into the case: nine Molex connectors, two SATA HDD power connectors and two power connectors for floppy drives. Besides that, there’s a signal connector that can be attached to the mainboard’s fan connector to monitor the rotational speed of the PSU fan.
The system case is regularly cooled by the PSU fan alone, but you can add in up to five system fans: one 120mm at the rear panel, two 90mm fans at the right panel opposite to the HDD basket, and two fans up to 90mm in diameter at the left panel opposite to the CPU. Besides that, the rear and front panels have vent holes. The holes in the front panel are covered with a filter placed under the metal grid. As you can guess, air will be coming in through this filter only if all five fans are installed and if they all work to exhaust air. Well, even in this ideal case, dust may creep in through the vent holes in the real panel.
The additional fans are fastened on screws; there are no plastic cells here. You can install fans on the right panel only if hard disk drives are not already installed as the fans are attached to the mainboard’s mounting plate than to the side panel proper.
On the opposite side of the case, screws should go right through the left panel to fasten the fans, so you will see their heads.
During the tests I installed two 90mm fans with a rotation speed of 2,500rpm on the right panel to take air in, and one 120mm fan (1500rpm) was taking air out.
The results of the tests follow:
My tests show that you must not use this case without additional fans since the temperature of the hard disk drives is too high even in the Idle mode. This situation changes for the better after the installation of a fan at the rear panel of the case, but the Burn temperature of the drives is still alarming. It is only with fans attached opposite to the HDD basket that their temperature remains below 50°C. The installation of fans on both side and rear panels didn’t lead to a reduction of the temperature of the computer’s primary subsystems, rather otherwise – hot air from the hard disk drives was being drawn up to the CPU by the 120mm fan instead of being exhausted. As the result, the CPU temperature grew by 2 degrees centigrade.
The second case from Chieftec reviewed here has a different design as well as internals. This model comes in eight colors: white, red, yellow, violet, black, green, blue and silver.
There are four bays for optical drives and two bays for floppy drives, and power and reset buttons hidden under the lockable door on the front panel. Like with the previous model, the power and HDD indicators are visible through the plastic light pipes even when the door is shut. Beneath the door, there is a closable window with two USB ports and one 6-pin FireWire connector. Unfortunately, the manufacturer didn’t bother about making this section nobler visually – when you open the window, you can see a PCB with the connectors soldered up. Moreover, this contraption is attached to the plastic grid and this whole unit bends when you plug in a connector (for example, a flash drive).
The brackets of the 5.25” bays have an ordinary shape, but the front panel itself has grooves for your fingers – for an easier extraction of the brackets as well as for an easier access to the clips of the rails that are used to mount optical drives. Under the plastic brackets of external bays there are metal brackets that you should remove with a screwdriver.
The side panels are taken off in a similar way as with the CX-01 model: the left is locked with a key and equipped with a plastic handle. The right panel is held by screws.
The DX-01WD-U differs from the above-described model inside: all 3.5” devices are fastened with screws to the two baskets that are fixed on their places with metal clips.
The manufacturer seems to have intended to provide a screw-based fixing of the baskets: there are two holes in the side panels of the baskets and their slides, but the holes are not threaded. Both baskets have seats for plastic cells of fans, but the cell itself is in the bottom basket only since a fan cell in the top basket would make it impossible to install external devices. Among special features of this design is the impossibility to remove or install the bottom basket when it’s filled with hard disk drives if the graphics card is already plugged into the mainboard.
The 5.25” devices are mounted with the help of plastic rails that are originally fastened on the bottom panel of the case for convenience.
The rails are attached to the device with screws, and locked in place by a spring-loaded bar.
The seven slits for the expansion cards in the rear panel of the case are covered with reusable metal brackets on screws. There are plastic slides on the front panel of the case for full-size cards.
The DX-01WD-U comes with a 360W ATX-1136H PSU from Chieftec, with one power connector and a power-on button as well as with six power cables for optical drives, two power cables for SATA HDDs and two power cables for floppy drives.
You can install additional 80mm fans into the two plastic cells at the rear panel of the case, into the cell at the front panel (beneath the HDD basket), and into the cell in the bottom HDD basket. Besides that, the case is passively ventilated through two holes in the left panel where you can also install fans with a diameter of up to 90 millimeters.
During the tests I first installed two 80mm fans (3000rpm) at the front panel (for air intake), then at the real panel (for air outtake), and then I put four such fans both at the rear and front panels.
Here’re the results of my tests:
Like with the previous case, I didn’t test this model under a stress load without installing additional fans since the temperature of the hard disk drives was alarmingly high even in the Idle mode. The drives in the top basket (HDD1 and HDD2) don’t practically get any air, so their temperature is near overheat. The temperature of the drives in the bottom basket (HDD3, HDD4, HDD5) seems to be acceptable for everyday work when an additional fan is placed into the same basket, yet this temperature is too high for applications that require a constant access to the disk subsystem.
This model took some features from both CX-01 and DX-01, as you will see shortly. The manufacturer’s website promises this model in eight colors, too: white, red, yellow, violet, black, green, blue and silver.
Besides this abundance of color, you are also permitted to change the plastic grid on the front panel to give an individual look to your system case.
The brackets of the 5.25” and 3.5” bays are hidden under the door and they are the same as with the CX-01 model: they have vent holes and grooves for an easier removal. Removable metallic brackets are found under them. The door can be locked with a key. Besides the bays, there are also power & reset buttons and power & HDD indicators behind the door.
At the very bottom of the front panel there’s a connections unit. You open its lid to find two USB connectors, two audio jacks (microphone and headphones), and one 6-pin FireWire port. These are all supposed to connect to the mainboard onboard connectors.
To install an optical drive, you first put four screws into it – the screws have heads of a special shape – and then insert the device along the guides in the chassis until it is fixed by a spring-loaded metal bar. This is the same installation procedure as with the CX-01 case, and the screws are too placed in the cross bar to avoid their getting lost.
The 3.5” devices are fastened with screws into two baskets which resemble the ones of the DX-01 model except they have sides made up almost entirely of vent holes. On the bottom panel of the case there’s fastening for yet another basket and you can move one of the standard baskets there, but 1) you have to remove the fan cell to do that and 2) it’s not very handy to insert this basket as there are no side guides at the bottom.
There are seven slits for the expansion cards in the rear panel, and they are covered with brackets. These brackets as well as the brackets of the expansion cards you install instead are fastened with an L-shaped lock similar to the one employed in the CX-01 model.
This system case comes with a 360W Chieftec HPC-360-202 power supply. The PSU rear panel carries a power connector and a power-on button. Six power cables for hard disk drives or optical drives and two power connectors for floppy drives are available here. There’s also a signal cable for monitoring the rotational speed of the PSU fan. The lack of power cables for SATA drives is compensated with a Molex – SATA power adapter enclosed with the case. By the way, I couldn’t assemble the testbed with the available connectors and had to use power splitters.
The case has seats for 80mm fans: two at the rear panel, one at the front panel, and one in the bottom HDD basket. Besides that, there’s a seat for a 90mm fan on the right panel opposite to the top 3.5” basket. There’s a vent hole in the left panel, below the level of the installed graphics card – you can put one more 90mm fan there if necessary. There’re vent holes in the rear panel, too. There are plastic cells for the fans at the rear and front panels; the fan on the right panel is screwed up to the mainboard mounting plate, so you’ll have to remove the right panel to do that. There are no special holes for a fan in the left panel, so you can only fasten one through a hole in the grid.
First I performed my tests with the case’s default ventilation system, i.e. with its PSU fan alone. After that I added two 80mm fans (3000rpm speed) on the front panel and one 90mm fan (2500rpm) on the right panel and repeated the tests. Then, I tested the case with two 80mm fans on its rear panel. And at last I repeated the tests with two fans on the rear panels, two fans on the front panel and one fan on the right panel.
As the table shows, without additional fans the temperature of the hard disk drives is terribly high in this case even in the Idle mode. The fans bring the temperature down somewhat, yet it remains high. I should acknowledge that thanks to the vent holes in the HDD baskets and the fan on the side panel of the case, the temperature of the drives in the top basket was considerably lower than with the DX-01 case of the same design. On the other hand, the temperature of the drives in the bottom basket was much higher than with the DX-01, probable due to a different layout of airflows due to the same added fan on the side panel and the vent holes in the baskets.
If additional fans are installed at the front and rear panels of the case, the temperature of the hard disk drives is acceptable for everyday work, but not for applications that actively use the disk subsystem of the computer.
Antec was founded in 1986, in Fremont, California. Today the company has offices in the United States and the Netherlands, and its distributors are active in 27 countries of this world. The company specializes in PC cases, PSUs and cooling systems, paying much attention to noise reduction. Besides that, they make modding accessories like highlight lamps or shining fans.
Antec system cases are popular, but among a small category of users – due to their not-very-low price.
The manufacturer positions this model as a SOHO File Server, and it is actually a redesigned Chieftec DX-01. The main difference is noticeable on the front panel where there are two new indicators that are supposed to be used as SCSI LED or Message LED.
Antec logo is found on the cover of the connections unit at the front. One more difference is the air filter on the front panel. You can extract it through the hole at the bottom of the plastic front panel.
Inside, the case is perfectly identical to the Chieftec DX-01 model, so there’s no sense in repeating the description.
An Antec True430P PSU is mounted in this system case. Besides the power connector and the power-on button, the rear panel of this PSU carries a 4-pin Molex connector. There’s an extensive selection of internal power plugs: five Molex connectors, two power connectors for floppy drives, two power connectors for SATA drives, two connectors for +12v system fans, and a signal connector for monitoring the rotational speed of the PSU fan. The plugs themselves are all colored black, which is unusual since connectors of one type usually differ from other types in color. The plugs are also hard to see against the background of the black cables.
Besides a pack of screws, a power cable and rails for 5.25” devices, you receive a user manual.
As for ventilation, this case is equipped with three 80mm system fans that have a rotation speed of 2800rpm and exhaust air to the outside: two are located at the rear panel and one fan is on the left panel. The fans all have a pair of 4-pin power connectors (female/male) like the connectors of CD-ROM drives and are all attached to the appropriate connectors of the PSU.
I first performed my tests with the standard fans, and then I added two 80mm fans (3000rpm speed) to take air in: one on the front panel of the case and another into the bottom basket of hard disk drives.
The results of my tests are presented below:
Although having one fan more, this system case performs worse than the Chieftec DX-01. This is probably because the speed of the fans the case comes with is lower than the speeds of the additional fans I install in my tests. Thus, if you’re using this system case I recommend you to comply with the following conditions: hard disk drives in the bottom basket only (HDD3, HDD4, HDD5); an extra fan is in the same bottom basket; your applications don’t use the disk subsystem intensively.
Founded in 1986, In-Win is among the leading manufacturers of PC cases, PSUs and data storage systems. In the past two decades products with the company’s logo have firmly established the brand in the world market. Today In-Win has offices in North America, Great Britain and the Netherlands, production facilities in China and Taiwan. Its interests are represented by 19 distributors in several countries of the world.
Unlike with the companies whose products we’ve discussed above, PC cases and PSUs of the In-Win brand are well recognized by the users due to such factors as reliability, high production quality, design excellence. Well, these factors might have come unnoticed if they were not accompanied with another one – acceptable price.
The sample I tested was black, but the manufacturer’s website says a white color scheme is available, too. Don’t touch the black version of this case with bare hands lest you should leave visible fingerprints on its surface.
This model also has a lockable door on the front panel which covers all the external bays as well as the power and reset buttons.
There’s an oval window below the door. When the computer is running, this window displays various information like the current time (in two formats: 12 and 24 hours), temperatures of two thermal diodes (in degrees of Celsius as well as of Fahrenheit), the fan rotation speed, and the alarm time.
That’s not all! I found that it is possible to attach up to four fans and up to four thermal diodes to the board that’s responsible for the display, and set up as many as four alarm clocks! Unfortunately, the alarm clock can only be set to squeak with the onboard speaker, but not to do anything else like turning the computer on or off, but I guess In-Win will add such features soon. The display reports the temperatures without any pomp, just the necessary numbers. Besides the user manual on the system case you also get a manual on how to use this display unit.
On both sides of the display there are four buttons to adjust its settings and change the display mode. Below the display there’s a depression with two USB ports and two gags instead of audio connectors. I really wonder why they didn’t solder those connectors back at the factory. Such trifles spoil all the fun from the case, regrettably.
Both side panels are held by exclusively designed plastic clips. The problem of unauthorized access is solved in a different way here than in Chieftec cases (where the side panels are simply locked with a key). This case comes with a loop for a padlock and it also has a side-panel-open sensor.
You can pack as many as four external 5.25” devices and two floppy drives into this case. They are fastened from one side only, with the enclosed screws.
You can have up to five hard disk drives in this case. They are all installed into the rack perpendicularly to the case and are mounted in metal rails. The rails themselves are screwed up to the drive with special low-head screws. There’s a minor inconvenience – you have to put the drive on its side to screw a rail up, and you may find it difficult to screw the second rail.
There are traditional seven slits for the expansion cards in the rear panel. The case comes with the slits open – you can close some of them with the enclosed brackets. Here’s another trifle, this time a pleasant one – there are depressions in the side rear stiffening rib opposite to each slit that make it easy to screw the brackets up. Plastic guides for full-size cards are positioned against the top four slits.
To install the mainboard, you first have to remove the metal beam that serves as a stiffness rib as well as a guide for the plastic clips of the expansion cards. Then you put in the threaded pegs and mount the mainboard on them.
I should confess this system case took me the longest time to assemble the testbed. Besides the problems with the rails and the mainboard installation, there’s a problem with the power cables. The power cables of the employed PowerMan IW-ISP300A2-0 PSU are just too short: a 25cm cable, a 40cm cable (with the first Molex plug found at 25cm), and 50cm (35cm to the first plug). And the distance to the topmost drive in the basket is 45cm, to the lowest drive – 55cm! So I could only use the standard cable to attach the CD-ROM, the floppy drive and the top hard disk drive. Other devices were powered through splitter cables.
A 120mm fan at the rear panel of the case is ventilating this case. Its rotation speed is 2500rpm; its blades are protected with a metal grid. I found no other seats for system fans, although the manufacturer’s website claims an opportunity of installing two additional 80mm fans on the front panel.
Numerous vent holes in the front panel of the case and one big round hole in the left panel ensure passive ventilation of the computer.
Here are the results of my tests:
This case can hardly serve as a file server. This situation may change if a new modification of this case comes with a fan on the front or side panel – especially to cool the hard disk drives.
This company began to make PC cases in 1991 as Wei Shun Enterprise Company. Until that they had been making vehicle components. In 2000 the company changed its name to Compucase.
Today Compucase is busy producing and selling PC cases, PSUs and other components under its own brands as well as under OEM contracts. The company’s central office is located on Taiwan; they have production facilities in China and representative offices in Germany, Grate Britain, the USA, Spain and Japan. We will examine a model that ships under the Ascot brand.
This model already participated in our review of cases for home computers, but it can also be regarded as a workstation case. It comes in two color schemes: white and black.
Two insertions for the front panel come enclosed: one insertion with two 3.5” brackets that match the color of the case; the other insertion for the floppy drive is blue if the case is white and silver if the case is black.
At the bottom of the front panel, under a lid, there are two audio sockets, two USB ports and one FireWire connector. The FireWire connector is attached to the external connector of the controller, while the rest of the connectors attach to the mainboard headers.
The left panel is fastened with two clips, one of which is locked with a key. This case, like the In-Win X710, has a case-opened sensor.
You can put as many as four external 5.25” devices into this case. To do that, you should remove the plastic front panel that is held at its sides with two clips.
5.25” devices are mounted on metal rails which are screwed to their side panels. The metal brackets that cover the external bays are held by screws, so you can return them back if necessary.
Floppy drives are screwed to spring-loaded seats on the basket which is fixed in the case with a metallic lock. The top bay of the basket can accommodate a floppy drive only; the bottom bay can take in a floppy drive or a HDD, as the labels says.
If necessary, the basket can be screwed up to the case through the threaded hole.
Hard disk drives fill the basket that moves in along the guides on the left side. The drives are fastened with special screws via rubber spacers (to suppress vibration). The basket can take in as many as five devices. It is fixed with a metallic clip in the case and held by a screw in the bottom.
The seven slits for the expansion cards are covered with reusable brackets. These brackets as well as the brackets of the expansion cards are fixed with reliable plastic locks. You can remove them and fasten the cards with screws instead, if you wish.
You cannot install full-size cards into this system case. They won’t fit physically – they’ll be stopped by the HDD basket.
The case has copper pegs for the mainboard, and a threaded rod in the center – for an initial installation of the mainboard.
The reviewed sample of the case had a Micropower MP-300AR power supply unit with one power connector and a power-on button at its rear panel. To power up the internal devices, the PSU offers eight Molex connectors and two mini-plugs for floppy drives.
The case is ventilated with two 120mm fans with a rotation speed of 1500rpm. One fan is positioned on the front panel, opposite to the basket with the hard disk drives, and takes air in. The other is fastened on the real panel and exhausts air. An air filter is installed in the plastic cell of the front fan – you can take it off easily along with the grid.
Here are the testing results for this case:
The results speak of an improper ventilation of the HDD area. The hard disk drive installed right against the fan’s axis had the highest temperature.
Here are the summed up results for all our today's testing participants:
Temperatures of Main Subsystems:
One of the facts this test session reveals is that all Chieftec system cases demand additional fans if you have many hard disk drives since the temperature of HDDs is too high even in the Idle mode.
But even with the additional fans, some system cases reviewed here cannot provide the necessary cooling of the hard disk drives if your applications are intensively working with the disk subsystem. The Chieftec CX-01 and BX-02 models with added fans and the In-Win X710 with its regular ventilation system were the best in the tests, yet the Chieftec CX-01 was the only case that could keep the temperature of the HDDs below 50°C.
I also admit that the three hard disk drives in the bottom basket of the Chieftec DX-01 case had a normal temperature, too, due to the fan installed in the same basket.
Apart from the disk subsystem, the reviewed system cases all ensure the necessary thermal conditions for the computer’s primary subsystems.