Thermaltake Tai-Chi System Case Review

Today we are going to take a closer look at a very interesting system case from Thermaltake with pre-installed water-cooling system, which features extravagant and demanding image, boasts quiet operation, efficient internal cooling and the whole bunch of other attractive features.

by Vasily Melnik
01/17/2006 | 01:54 PM

“Tai-Chi is a concept evolved from the Taoist beliefs in ancient China. Tai-Chi is an internal art, a balance and harmony between the mind, body, and soul. In accordance with the Taoism philosophy, the form originates from a state of stillness. Soft and harmonic motions arises forming yin and yang – the two complimentary opposite forces that can combine to form a whole. Each part of the Tai-Chi is a complete circle, containing yin and yang.

 

Thermaltake's Tai-Chi chassis was named Tai-Chi mainly due to how versatile and harmonic the chassis is. It can hold all kinds of ATX form factors (ATX, micro-ATX, extended ATX), while being able to upgrade to BTX.

The balance of airflow inside the Thermaltake Tai-Chi is also part of the reason why it was named so. With equilibrium of intake and exhaust airflow in the Tai-Chi, the chassis is balanced just as the yin and yang. On the other hand, the heatsink-based design of the Tai-Chi chassis keeps the system hardware extremely cool while keeping the system silent. The analogy can be applied directly towards the Taoist concept of Tai-Chi as keeping an internal balance while being extremely peaceful.”

This is what Thermaltake’s official web-site claims. Pretty exciting already, eh? Let’s check it out and see if it is truly so!

Package and Accessories

The case is shipped in a pretty large box with the exterior design very similar to that of the case itself:

 

The reverse side of the box contains a detailed description of what is actually inside. However, to be honest, this description doesn’t give you any idea of the realistic features of this product, especially its actual size. Inside you find the following radiator with two massive handles:

Frankly speaking, you will need to really make a significant physical effort to remove this baby from its box: it weights almost 20kg! So far it is a new record of our lab: this is practically the heaviest system case that we have tested so far. Once removed from the box, we didn’t attempt to lift it again, especially since it is equipped with four rolling wheels and hence can be easily moved around. Even though this case is made of aluminum, it turned out so heavy because of 2mm panels used to build it. The first impression that you get when you look at this case is that it is some kind of a heater. And even though we got down to discussing its actual specs later on, most of the jokes and questions were firstly related to the heating potential of this construction and the cold weather that has recently set in. In fact, you can actually heat up your room a little bit with this case, but let’s not get too much ahead of our story.

As for the design of this case, it is very unique, and it is a matter of personal liking or disliking of course. However, there is one key thing worth mentioning: the shape and the color design of the front panel are none other but the Chinese yin-yang symbol.

All the accompanying components were packed into two carton boxes fastened inside the case:

One of them contains the common water cooling kit from Thermaltake:

 

The retention kit, water unit, pipes and a bottle with the liquid for the system – these are the items you should be pretty familiar with already if you have ever dealt with a water-cooling system from Thermaltake before.

The second box contains four wheels and a set of fastening screws for them:

Exterior Design

Keeping in mind how heavy the case actually is, the handles on top of it are a very useful thing to have, especially since they managed to fit them perfectly well into the entire case concept:

It has already become a tradition for top-end Thermaltake cases that all external interface connectors and ports are located in the middle of the top panel. In this case this is a very convenient location, because the case will evidently stand on the floor and will hardly fit into the desk niche, like those they usually design for system cases. The set of external connectors is quite standard:

There is a large ventilation hole at the bottom of the case:

Before you start working on the system inside the Thermaltake Tai-Chi case, I strongly recommend to fasten the wheels, because it will make your life a lot easier later on when you need to move the case around:

I wouldn’t say that the wheels are of best quality, but they certainly fulfill their major role and even have a stopper, which will prevent the case from moving around on its own. Also these wheels may consume some of the vibrations, which is a good thing. Each wheel is fastened to the case with four screws:

And when they are installed, the case gets 4-5cm taller.

It is actually more than enough for the air flow to get to the bottom vent hole. The exterior looks also quite differently with the wheels attached:

This case seems very similar to small server solutions and, as most of our colleagues and friends have pointed out, to home heating systems. :)

The idea of two opening wing-type side panels has first been introduced in the Armor case (read our roundup called for more details on the Armor case), now it acquired its logical evolutionary development in the Tai-Chi case:

Now you will have to open two panels to reach the drives and other 5.25” devices. The design of the front panel and some constructive ideas have certainly been inherited from the Armor case. At least the panel with buttons and the box for small things have definitely been copied from the predecessor:

What has become dramatically different is the default bay brackets: they have now been made from solid aluminum:

To make them easier to remove the designers provided these brackets with a special tail on the right-hand side.

The hard disk drive bay is hidden behind a solid wide three-slot bracket:

and it is very hard to remove. Since the front panel has become almost completely solid, the designers had to integrate a small ventilation grid into the front HDD bay bracket, although it is still too small to ensure proper airflow. Therefore, the slit in the lower front panel is still the major air source for the front case fan.

In order to prevent the front panels from opening accidentally, there is a magnetic lock attached to the case:

and a contact metal plate on each of the opening panels:

simple and effective: no external locks or clips that would spoil the exterior.

The rear panel is pretty standard. Take a look yourselves:

Just like in the Armor case, the rear panel can be removed and replaced with the corresponding panel for the BTX mainboards. There is also a number of ventilation holes at the rear end of the top panel, which purpose is a little bit confusing:

because they get almost completely blocked once the PSU is installed.

Closer Look Inside

Tai-Chi has no removable side panels. There are three opening doors: two on the right-hand side and one on the left-hand side. They are fastened with long chromium-plated screws:

You should be very careful when removing the screws on the right-hand side, because once you unscrew them, the panels would jump open due to a spring mechanism inside.

The main peculiarity of the Thermaltake Tai-Chi case is the built-in water-cooling system, almost all the components of which are located on the side panel of the case:

The massive heatsink is cooled down by two silent 120mm fans. The pump is small but pretty efficient, as we will see later on in this article, and it is located in the lower left corner of the panel:

The system is also equipped with a reservoir that is very convenient for pouring the liquid cooling agent in:

The entire system is already preassembled with two loose pipes: the In and Out pipes:

This way you can actually assemble a system with as many water units as you like without much hassle, especially since the pump and the radiator are powerful enough. However, let’s not get too far ahead of our story.

The radiator is designed in Thermaltake’s usual manner:

In fact, this is none other but a common condenser, similar to those you would use for CPU cooling. Only this guy is unusually big and is designed for a complete water-cooling system.

The mainboard is fastened with a few screws to a special plate inside the case, nothing new here:

In Tai-Chi the designers gave up the widely-spread screw-free retention: almost all the devices will be fastened with screws. A remarkable thing is that the right panel of the case where the motherboard is fastened cannot be removed, and there are three rows of holes with the threading right above the mainboard:

Those of you who like passive heatpipe cooling solutions will be very happy about these holes, because the panes of the Tai-Chi case are a ready radiator and all you have to do is to involve them into the heat dissipation process. Although, on the other hand, it doesn’t really make much sense to purchase an expensive system case with pre-installed water cooling system, and then to modify it in such a way that this particular water-cooling will not be necessary any more. 

On the right-hand side there is only one opening panel that allows you to reach for the fastening screws for the 5.25” devices:

As we have already mentioned before, these devices are fastened with screws topped with knurled heads:

 

As a result you don’t really need a screwdriver. As for the preinstalled 5.25” devices there are only a special drawer for small components and the HDD chassis, similar to the one used in Armor case, but designed from solid aluminum:

The fastening holes for the hard drives are oval-shaped:

And you can level-out the drives vertically and horizontally relative to the front panel:

The only type of components that can be fastened without any screws inside the tai-Chi case is the expansion cards:

Yes, your guess is absolutely right: the fastening mechanism here is also borrowed from the Armor case, with that only difference that all cards sit firmly in place:

The assembly process inside the Tai-Chi case is fairly simple and fast, and nothing stands in the way:

We should specifically dwell on the coolant loading procedure. Thanks to the relatively wide reservoir you don’t have to invent any special funnels or other helpful tools. All you need to do is fill the reservoir to the top, turn on the pump and pump the system through. Then you add more coolant and repeat this entire procedure as many times as necessary until the system is fully loaded. Our experiments showed that a little over half a bottle of coolant supplied with the case is enough for the complete system loading. When the system is on, the blue status LED of the water-unit goes very nicely with the light-blue highlighting of the pre-installed fans:

All in all, we have very mixed impressions from the Thermaltake Tai-Chi case. It is definitely a very thoroughly designed case, however, there are two pretty questionable things that aroused some doubts. First it is the massive ribs on both sides of the case that do not participate in the heat dissipation process, and second, it is the price. In fact, only the latter issue affects the purchase decision, because the former comment refers mostly to the design. Well, let’s get down to practical tests, maybe we will be able to justify for the high price of this solution.

Testing Methodology

The system was assembled “as is”. That is, we didn’t change the default speeds of the preinstalled fans and performed our tests in a closed and fully assembled case at a constant ambient temperature, maintained with the help of an air conditioner in our lab. During the system assembly, we made sure that all the cables inside the case are arranged in such a way as to avoid their hindering air circulation. AT the same time we didn’t strive for an absolutely perfect assembly: we just used a few buckles. For better airflow optimization we moved the front panel in-taking fan a little bit up.

We assembled the following system inside our Tai-Chi case:

This is a high-end platform in a high-end case. We are going to find out how well the built-in water-cooling system from Thermaltake will cope with the hot dual-core Intel CPU. For a more illustrative comparison we will also provide the results for the Armor case with the same primary components on the charts below (read our roundup called Roundup: Six System Cases from Thermaltake for more details on the Armor case). The system inside the Armor case was also equipped with the Thermaltake Big Typhoon CPU cooler. This will allow us to clearly estimate the improvements they made in the new Tai-Chi case and to conclude whether or not it is worth additional $300.

We performed our tests in the following modes:

We read the temperatures of the CPU and mainboard with the Intel Desktop Utilities version 2.1 shipped with the mainboard; the temperatures of the graphics card’s PCB and of the graphics processor were read with RivaTuner. The temperature of the hard disk drive was read with HDD Thermometer tool.

The room temperature was 21°C at the time of our tests and remained constant throughout the entire test session.

The temperatures of the system components are read only after they have fully stabilized.

Thermal Measurements

Here are the obtained results:

Nothing really astonishing here. It is quite logical that the water-cooling system on the CPU resulted into a slightly bigger temperature drop. However, the much higher temperature drop on the chipset and graphics card are definitely the result of better internal ventilation of the Tai-Chi case: two additional 120mm fans blowing the warm air outside the case did their job very well. The only parameter where Tai-Chi yielded to Armor is the HDD temperature, which was actually quite predictable, because the front panel of the Tai-Chi case is solid and the air cannot get easily to the in-taking front panel fan.

The situation remained almost the same, except for the CPU temperature that has grown a little bit bigger. But as for the opponent, the Thermaltake Typhoon, it was totally defeated by the new water-cooling solution. The facts are evident: Thermaltake did a terrific job on the new water-cooling. This is the logical outcome resulting from the massive radiator and a powerful pump they employed. I wonder if this water-cooling system is going to supply separately, without the case. Could be kind of nice.

Besides the CPU lower temperature, the VGA card has also got much cooler, which it again owes to better internal airflow and more efficient ventilation of the Tai-Chi case.

Well, there is nothing to really comment on here. For the reasons I have already listed above, Tai-Chi loses to Armor case when it comes to drives cooling. However, the difference is so small, that it can hardly become a serious argument in Armor’s favor.

I have to admit that Tai-Chi operates very quietly for a system case with such a cooling system. Of course, it is not completely noiseless, but the overall noise level is not that much higher than the noise generated by the Armor case. So, I don’t think you will hear much of the Tai-Chi case.

Conclusion

So, we came to the most important discussion of the day: is the high price of the new Thermaltake Tai-Chi case justified? Let’s do a few simple math1ematical calculations. A case of this kind made of similar materials will cost you at least $200-$250. A separate water-cooling system with comparable performance will cost another $150. This results into the average of $400. As of today the retail price of this case rests around this number and even less than that. I believe it is worth this money, as you get easy system assembly with the water-cooling system already preinstalled. As for you, I think we have provided you enough information to make your own decision.

Technical specs summary: