by Vasily Melnik
03/13/2007 | 03:53 PM
Competition is becoming ever fiercer in the sector of top-end system cases. There are fewer enthusiasts nowadays, while serially made computer systems don’t usually have such expensive cases. Every argument is important now in this fight and the manufacturers have got prone to come up with extremely interesting products.
The aviation-styled design employed by AeroCool Advanced Technologies is nothing really new for users who are keeping in touch with this market. The company actually uses one aviation-like element, an air inlet of the front fan stylized to look like an airplane turbine. This design solution looks nice, although has its own drawbacks. But now that it’s not enough anymore for the extremely competitive market, the company goes the path which has been tested on the Dominator cooler and boils down to “let’s put a larger fan in!”
The problem with this approach is that external features are emphasized to the detriment of the main purpose of any innovation, which is to improve functionality. There is going to be an effect, surely, I mean the marketing effect, but it may not be enough, either. But without making hasty conclusions, let’s see what AeroCool has got in store for us.
The first product on my list is one of the simplest models the company offers. It is called AeroCool AeroEngine JR and is shipped in a rather trivial-looking box:
The packaging seems to be somewhat too plain for a system case that costs about $80 in retail without a power supply. On the other hand, it’s the contents that are important. Here it is:
A slightly modified classic combination with an original front panel and a side. The front view is good:
The silver ring of the intake fan looks cool. The open bays are covered by a front door that seems to be quite heavy:
But it only seems such. The door proved to be made of plastic. It is light and is not actually top-notch, especially its fastening mechanism. If you push this door heavily once, it will just break off, and the case won’t look any good without it. The Power and Reset buttons are placed on the sides of the 3.5” bays:
These are not designed well, either. They look exactly like chromium-plated plastic does and would be more appropriate on a system case for half the price at best. The Power and HDD indicators are placed above the air inlet:
No complaints about them just because every maker has mastered the art of making LED indicators already. I just glad they use ordinary LEDs rather than super-bright spotlights that can easily replace a night-lamp.
That’s all about the smaller things, let’s take a look at the main design element now:
It does look impressive. The blades are shaped to look like a real turbine. This is a fake, though. There is an ordinary fan behind those blades. The blades do rotate under the pressure of the incoming air, but the run-out of the central part of the fake eliminates any airplane associations at once. A normal turbine would take off in a random direction separately from the plane if it had such strong run-out. To protect the mechanism of the fake from accidental damage, the air inlet is covered with a protective mesh:
This mesh is good. It creates but small resistance to the air flow and does not intensify the noise. The front interface connectors are placed on the side panel:
The downside of this solution is obvious: you won’t be able to place the system case with this panel facing the wall. And it is better to keep the system case on your left. Above the interface ports on the side panel there is a small controller of the front fan speed.
It is handy, not doubt. The user can save on purchasing a separate controller. And the fan is not silent at its max speed, which won’t please anyone. It’s a normal desire to have a system case with elements that look like an airplane turbine, but I doubt anyone would want that stylization to be accompanied with the appropriate sound. The right panel has nothing exceptional to show us, save for two rows of vent holes:
The left one is a much more exciting view:
The window plastic is fastened in a common and not very attractive way, by means of metallic rivets:
The side fan grill is funny:
I wonder what this T3 grill has to do with the aviation-style design. Do they imply that the Terminator came from the future on a plane? But he didn’t use one as far as I remember. Well, I’ll leave this for the developer to explain. On my part I can say that the grill is not perfect in terms of ventilation and noise. It just has too few holes for a normal passing of air. As a matter of fact, it is odd for the fan to be placed there, especially considering that there is no fan on the back panel.
If they wanted so much to install a fan on the side panel, why not position it opposite the graphics card where it would do more good? Generally speaking, there is no need for an exhaust fan on the rear panel in a midrange computer system, if there is a good intake fan on the front panel and one fan on a side panel. There’s already excessive pressure in the system case which is more than enough for proper ventilation.
A funny thing, there is a kind of a tail going out of the bottom part of the system case…
It is then lost inside the case – quite an unusual accessory. The side panel is secured with thumbscrews:
So, you don’t want a screwdriver to access the system’s innards. There is also a handle you can pull at to take the panel off once you’ve removed the screws:
The fan on the side panel is quite a common device:
It is 80mm in diameter, with a translucent case and LED highlighting.
The window can be removed; it is fastened with screws on the inside.
It’s good to be offered the opportunity, but it is not actually called for here. The window could be made irremovable because no one is going to take it off. It’s just not the class of the system case to do such things with.
It is all very depressing inside:
I hadn’t expected anything like that considering the price of the product. First, the metal of the chassis is no different in quality or thickness from products of no-name Chinese firms. And second, even optical drives are to be fastened with screws here! The cage for HDDs is just a joke:
It is not removable and HDDs are fastened with screws in it. Moreover, it is oriented lengthwise! The company’s product range includes the AeroEngine C-class model that is externally designed alike to the AeroEngine JR, but has a much better metal, a better fastening mechanism for the drives, and a handier HDD cage. We haven’t yet got that model for our tests, though. The junior model is poor in the quality of manufacture and the ergonomics of the chassis (I hadn’t bruised and cut my fingers assembling a computer system for a couple of years before I had to deal with this system case; today even cheap no-name system cases have all the edges rolled neatly).
The front panel can be removed easily:
This is going to help when you are installing your optical drives because the bay brackets have to be torn off. The fan is installed in a somewhat odd way:
I don’t know the reason for that. There’s enough of space around to align it normally, even considering the not-very-compact connector the fan has:
Things you’ll need to assemble the system are all in a pack that is glued to the bottom panel:
This small pack contains everything. The mystery of the system case’s tail is now exposed, too:
This is just a frontal FireWire connector routed in such an odd manner. I can’t comment on this as I just can’t understand the developer’s logic.
A vivid example of economy, I had found that there were too few props in the pack with fasteners to mount the mainboard, but realized later that they just economized on them. Most props are just pressed out in the mainboard’s mounting plate.
There’s no sense in describing the assembly procedure for a system case like this one. It is very simple. You just take your screwdriver and then turn and turn and turn the screws in. There are no pitfalls except for the order of assembly: you should first install the PSU, and the HDD is to be mounted prior to the graphics card. That’s all. The assembled computer looks like this:
I had to remove the side system fan as it was getting in the way. One more hint for you, the HDD normally lies like this:
But there is a lot of space to the front panel yet:
So, you can exert some effort and push the HDD right against the panel to free some room in the system case for easier access to the mainboard’s connectors. The HDD will be fastened by two screws only, but you aren’t going to shake your PC on a vibration table, are you? The view through the window is quite ordinary:
There were problems with non-standard peripherals. The door wouldn’t close when a fan speed controller was installed:
It just pressed against the knobs. That’s not good, but at least the intake fan looks fine at work:
This is in fact the only thing that is implemented normally in the whole system case.
Highs: A stylish and cute-looking intake fan, a built-in fan speed controller
Lows: Everything else, plus the cost of plaster for the assembler’s fingers
Summary: Original exterior design combined with a cheap chassis and a number of ergonomic flaws. It is my personal opinion but AeroCool seems to be trying to sell you a pretty-looking fan which is built into a system case that is hardly worth half its price.
The AeroCool ExtremEngine 3T model follows the aviation theme too, but comes in a more attractive box than the previous model:
The pretty package contains a pretty system case:
This model has a more consistent exterior design as opposed to the junior model. The front panel looks especially good:
The metallic magnet-held half-doors over the drive bays are excellent, and you still have easy access to the front-panel interface connectors and to one control of the built-in rheobus. The only downside is that you have to manually open up each half, which becomes boring eventually. Well, you can just keep them open all the time if you need constant access to the optical drive or other 5.25”/3.5” devices and the front panel will look good then, too:
An interesting feature, the system case comes with a built-in three-channel fan speed controller:
That’s a useful thing especially as three channels should be more than enough for an ordinary PC configuration. The key design element is the 25cm fan on the side panel:
That’s splendid. No one has ever done anything like that. This solution may be functionally questionable, but it does look impressive. It’s not quite correct to call it a second turbine, as is written on the box, because the fan actually looks like a fan:
A turbine would have differently shaped and more densely placed blades. There is no chromium-plated handle on the door – the rheobus, metallic half-doors and huge fan must have consumed the entire product budget, so the user has to content himself with this plastic thing:
The internal layout of the ExtremEngine 3T is a copy of the AeroEngine JR…
…which doesn’t count as a plus. The design of the front panel is different, though:
The fan is fastened on the system case separately from the turbine fake and has a diameter of 140mm instead of 120mm:
And there is no grill in front of it to obstruct air flow. The speed controller is implemented in a simple, but reliable way:
They didn’t save on the heatsinks, so I’ve got no complaints at all. The side-panel fan looks impressive, too:
Its power rating of 4.5W is especially remarkable. Such numbers could only be seen in specifications of high-speed server coolers until now. The system is assembled just like in the AeroEngine JR, but I have to note one more negative thing in the design:
The rivets that hold parts of the chassis together stick out too much into the case and make it difficult to install some expansion cards. The AeroEngine JR has the same problem too, by the way, but I had thought it was just a defect of the particular sample. Now that I see it in the ExtremEngine 3T too, it is obviously a flaw in the overall model design.
Highs: Good exterior design of the front panel, a built-in fan speed controller, a 25cm fan on the side panel
Lows: Mediocre chassis
Summary: This model looks better than the AeroEngine JR, but it has the same drawbacks. Its original appearance is combined with a cheap chassis and a number of design flaws. And it doesn’t quite worth its retail price of $100. On the other hand, no other system case has such a large fan!
The last model to be discussed in this review is called AeroCool Zero. It is quite another level, being the company’s top-end product. The system case comes in appropriate packaging…
…and seems to look like a typical high-quality representative of the top product class:
The front panel is particularly good:
An almost blank aluminum plate serves as a decorative door here. It has only two cutouts in its bottom and top parts and a large air inlet in the center. The top cutout is needed for quick access to the Power and Reset buttons:
The bottom cutout was made for the sake of symmetry and additional ventilation. The central air inlet has an intake fan behind it:
The front panel is designed alike to system cases like Cooler Master Stacker and Thermaltake Armor. It is in fact a rack for 5.25” devices.
Two things surprised me a little: there was no bracket in the 3.5” bays…
…and there are slits in the brackets of the 5.25” bays:
This is insignificant, however, because the manufacturer completely forgot about dust filters. This is not the most unusual feature of this system case, though. You’ll see one when you turn it with its right panel to yourself:
Not quite what you expected, eh? The big window is held with “rivets” like in the junior model:
And we’ve got the familiar 25cm fan here, too.
It is different somehow. Its plastic is translucent and its blades are shaped differently. The back panel made me even more confused:
It’s like the case stands upside down. Something’s wrong here. It turns out, however, that this is going to help the user in the future. The case allows to replace the back panel with a BTX-ready one. That’s good, but what’s the purpose? There are almost no BTX mainboards selling as yet. Moreover, the BTX back panel is not included with the case. So, will you bother about searching for such a panel when you do buy a BTX mainboard in a couple of years? I guess it’ll be easier to buy a new system case, especially as you’ll have got fed up with this one more likely than not.
And you are going to get fed up with it much sooner if you often re-assemble your system because this case has a very strange layout:
It cannot be explained by its BTX orientation alone. The front-panel fan is fastened with screws in any of two seats:
Its position is normal, but its connector is an annoyance:
Few people will connect a fan in a top-end system case directly to the PSU. Most users are likely to use additional speed controllers, which all have standard 3-pin connectors instead of Molexes. So, you have to use adapters and extra lengths of cable that should be tucked away somewhere.
The PSU place, which is also a cage for two HDDs, is designed in an odd way, too:
It takes air from outside through the bottom of the case and there is no dust filter here:
In an ordinary apartment, which is not wet-cleaned each day, the PSU fan will have to be cleaned at least once a year. But to do the cleaning, you have to take it out of the case, which is a problem.
To install the PSU, you have to unfasten the mounting frame:
Then insert the PSU into the case, put the frame back in place and then fasten the PSU to the frame, holding it from inside.
That’s just like a chapter from a computer Kama-sutra. If you’ve gone through this operation once, you won’t ever want to do it again.
It’s good you don’t have to use a screwdriver to fasten the drives. Optical drives are secured with special brackets:
You insert the drive, apply a bracket and turn the lock.
HDDs which are mounted into the cages above the PSU use rails:
And if you want to put them behind the intake fan, you should use special guides that adapt a 3.5” HDD for a 5.25” bay.
The assembly procedure is the same as with an ordinary system case, making allowances for the “upside-down” design. The mainboard goes in without problems:
The HDD gets rails and is moved in its place:
And finally you’ve got to connect all the cables:
It’s the cables that are a problem: you can see those noodles even when the case is closed.
Behind the PSU there is a heap of loose cables that is perfectly visible through the side window:
The unusual layout of the case plays a bad trick here. It takes a very patient person and a lot of braces to lay all the cables neatly in it. And the result won’t quite match ordinary ATX solutions that take about half an hour to assemble, including the laying-out of cables.
The material and quality of the chassis are much better than those of the previous two models, and the door closes normally even with the speed controller installed:
Highs: Good exterior design, a side 25cm fan, a high-quality chassis
Lows: “Upside-down” layout, no BTX panel included, not easy to assemble
Summary: I have fewer complaints about this one than about the former two cases. It is more or less worthy of its price of $110, but it is not quite assembly-friendly. It will suit those people who want a big fan and who assemble their computer once and for a very long time.
The tests were performed on a closed and fully assembled case and at a constant ambient temperature maintained by an air conditioner. I also took care to lay out the cables and wires in such a way that they didn’t hinder free circulation of air. The fan speeds were set as to achieve the lowest noise level using an external speed controller. Unfortunately, the fans in the system cases didn’t have velocity sensors so I couldn’t see their resulting speeds.
The following configuration was assembled in the tested PC cases:
This is far ahead of any regular user configuration as well as of a lot of overclocked ones in terms of CPU heat dissipation. This should suffice for testing CPU coolers as well as system 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 the chipset were read with Scythe KamaMeter. 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. The noises of the PSU, CPU and graphics card didn’t interfere as I disabled their coolers when listening to the system fans.
You can learn more about the Scythe KamaMeter here. I’ll only tell you where I put the speed sensors. First, two of them were put on the South Bridge and on the PCI-X bus controller:
But the temperature of the PCI-X bus controller is hardly important for an ordinary user, so one sensor moved to the graphics card:
I couldn’t put the thermocouple right on the graphics core, so I measured the temperature of the spot where the heat pipes had contact with the base. This is sufficient for test purposes, but I plan to modify the graphics card’s heatsink to place the thermal sensor in an even better position.
The temperature of the North Bridge…
…and of the transistors of the CPU power circuit was measured in the same way:
I had problems with the thermal sensors that wouldn’t hold on the scorching-hot elements. So, I had to fasten the sensor with thermal glue and fix it in place with a tiny piece of polypropylene.
Here are the results:
Now let’s sort all this out.
In the Idle mode all the components feel all right and there are only three points to be emphasized. First, the MOSFETs are hot in the AeroCool Zero due to its upside-down layout. In the other cases they were cooled, although a little, by the air the PSU fan was sucking in. Second, the South Bridge is very hot on the open testbed because there’s almost no air flow around it in such a situation. Third, the CPU temperature is high in the AeroEngine JR. It is because the case had only one intake fan whereas the exhaust PSU fan doesn’t help much. The fan of the Seasonic SS-401HT is rather slow; it is quiet, but cannot replace a good exhaust fan.
One thing can be noted in the CPU Burn mode: the CPU temperature in the AeroCool AeroEngine JR and on the open testbed differs too much from the others. This has been explained above: hot air is not taken off from the CPU cooler normally, which is crucial for low-speed coolers like Thermaltake Big Typhoon. Such coolers perform much better when in a draft as is exemplified in the AeroCool Zero and ExtremEngine 3T whose big side fans ensure good ventilation of the case even at a low speed. The side fans also have a positive effect on the temperature of other components such as the graphics card and the chipset.
It is the graphics card temperature that is important in the Game mode and the AeroCool Zero and ExtremEngine 3T are beyond competition: their 25cm fans are a perfect match to the passive heatsink of the MSI RX1650XT card. On the other hand, these fans are going to be of little use if you’ve got a graphics card with its own fan.
There’s only one system case performing poorly in the HDD Burn mode. It is the AeroCool Zero. If you want your hard disk drive to be cool, you should install it behind the front-panel intake fan. It involves performing some manipulations with your screwdriver, but it’s worth the trouble.
The overall verdict is disappointing. The AeroCool Zero is in fact the only system case among the reviewed ones that can be really regarded as a top-class product, but its over-sophisticated design, which has no practical purpose today, may scare the potential customer away. When it comes to the ExtremEngine 3T and to the AeroEngine JR, there is nothing in them except for the exterior design. One needs to love this design to spend so much money for such an archaic and ascetic chassis.
The large 25cm fan increases noise, but only helps in cooling the South Bridge better. But you can cool that Bridge in a much quieter and simpler way. Such solutions may only be interesting for people who are assembling a system with passive heatsinks because Core Duo and Core 2 Duo processors allow doing that. But don’t forget that this large fan works quietly only at a rather low speed. This should be enough for the above-mentioned CPUs, but may not for a top-end graphics card with a passive heatsink.
So, it’s up to the user to make the shopping decision. Exterior design is often the decisive factor, after all. But if you are not specifically looking for the design like the one offered by AeroCool, you may want to consider other system cases. There is really a wide choice in the $100 category.