Roundup: Six System Cases from Thermaltake

We have managed to gather together almost all models from the company’s new series of system cases for our today’s tests. We’ve got six models in total and none of them is going to leave you indifferent. Read more about the system assembly tips, thermal conditions and more in our new detailed Thermaltake cases roundup!

by Vasily Melnik
09/12/2005 | 03:35 PM

It would be hard to find a person who takes an interest in computers but does not know the name of this company. At least, coolers and system cases with the orange Thermaltake logotype are probably known to everybody. Thermaltake’s PC cases differ from the typical putty-colored coffins offered for low-end systems – the company targets its products at home users who value aesthetics no less than functionality.

 

Of course, the design trends this company promotes may be arguable, but it is an indisputable fact that Thermaltake is a recognized leader on the market of exclusive system cases for home computers. It is the company’s policy to regularly update the model range, to constantly improve their products and to introduce various helpful features into them.

And even if you could find more famous manufacturers, Thermaltake’s produce would still remain attractive because of its highly appealing price/performance ratio.

We have managed to gather together almost all models from the company’s new series of system cases for our today’s tests. We’ve got six models in total and none of them is going to leave you indifferent. Six boxes with PC system cases take up quite a lot of room:

You certainly should not collect so many cases from Thermaltake at your home unless you have some other place to live in. These six products give a good idea of the model range the manufacturer currently offers. Thermaltake’s Eclipse, Mystic and Circle models are not included in this review, but the first two are actually analogs of the Tsunami Dream and the Tenor, respectively, differing only in the exterior design of the front panel and the color scheme. The Circle series is an independent solution, however, with an original interior design and we are going to discuss it separately as soon as we get a sample of that case.

Testbed and Methods

So, having this abundance of system cases varying both internally and externally, we couldn’t help checking how their features affect their performance from the end-user’s point of view.

We didn’t invent sophisticated testing methods for once, but chose a simple and reliable approach: we assembled a top-end computer configuration in each system case, powered the system on, and read the temperatures of the system’s main components. Since the system cases were all without preinstalled power supplies, we didn’t have to evaluate the latter (it is rather inexpedient to buy a system case with a preinstalled power supply today, considering the multitude of existing PC configurations).

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. We took care to lay all the cables inside the case in such a way as to avoid their hindering air circulation.

We put the following hardware parts in the tested system cases:

We took a Big Typhoon cooler for two reasons. First, although the Smithfield processor works at a rather low frequency (2.8GHz), it is a dual-core Extreme Edition all the same. Its heat dissipation is quite high even at the seemingly low clock rate. And second, the Big Typhoon is a typical top-end monster of an air cooler as they are today. So we were just curious to see how this really huge and heavy thing was going to fit into system cases from the same manufacturer.

This cooler was also very suitable for the testing purposes because of its low rotational speed, 1300rpm. The fans preinstalled in the reviewed cases have similar speeds, so the noise from the CPU cooler won’t interfere with our estimating the noise from the system fans proper.

We performed our tests in the following modes:

We read the temperatures of the CPU and mainboard through the Motherboard Monitor utility of the latest version; the temperatures of the graphics card’s PCB and of the graphics processor were read with RivaTuner. We didn’t measure the temperature of the memory modules as it didn’t depend on the case design. The modules we used were equipped with heat-spreaders and needed just some weak airflow to work normally. In our tests, however, they even got a strong stream of air from the CPU cooler and remained cold to the touch even in the hardest operational modes.

The temperature of the hard disk drive was read with HDD Thermometer.

The room temperature was 20°C at the time of our tests and remained constant throughout them.

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

So, that’s the end of the introductive section, and we can now get closer to the system cases proper.

Thermaltake SViking (VA4000BWS)

I wouldn’t say this model represents a typical Thermaltake design. On the contrary, it doesn’t look like it comes from this manufacturer at all.

It is the box that gives you the first impression about the product and it looks good enough at first sight:

Here’s every attribute of a top-end product like a nice picture and a handle. But as I tried to move the box to another corner of the room, the handle just came off while the box was still standing where it had been. To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect the renowned Thermaltake to play such a trick to me.

The accessories to the case are packed into a plastic box that you will find in the hard disk drive case.

The pack at the top is a set of feet the user has to put in place manually. The accessories include a user’s manual, two sets of keys, rails for 5.25” and 3.5” devices, a rear plate and fasteners.

I hope it won’t be like exposing a mystery to you if I say that Thermaltake is not the actual manufacturer of the chassis. The company orders chassis from other makers and processes them a little to give them the intended outward appearance and functionality. The SViking is not an exception, either. You may have even guessed the manufacturer of the chassis if you know the market of PC system cases well. The faзade of the VA4000BWS bears the most traces of Thermaltake’s own work.

The SViking looks good overall, but its rather rude appearance is quite untypical for a Thermaltake product.

There’s nothing very interesting behind the front door:

There’s no creative designing thought here, just a trivial front panel.

The rest of the elements look rather ordinary, too. The rectangular shape of the window can hardly appeal to today’s fastidious users, and the chromium-plated door lock looks an alien addition that does not match the overall design solution of the case.

 

The rear panel isn’t impressive, either. The quality of the chassis is evidently inferior to other system cases from that price category.

An informational display and two knobs that control the speed of the preinstalled 120mm fans can be seen on the originally-shaped front door. Above them, on a small ledge, there are two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, a headphones output and a microphone input. Power and Reset buttons, system and hard drive LED indicators are located to the right of those ports.

This is a rather arguable solution which will be convenient if the system case stands on the floor or inside your desk, but will not be such, if you put the case on the desk.

The wires from the display and the fan-controlling knobs might also have been covered with a faceplate or something.

This looks too utilitarian for a system case of that category.

The enclosed feet for the case are a piece of antiquity in a sense – I saw such feet under a server case from Yeon Yang a good dozen years ago. The design hasn’t changed at all since then:

They are easy to install and look quite nice:

But one problem with the feet of old Yeon Yang case has been inherited by this model from Thermaltake. I advise you to put thin adhesive tape between the case and the feet before attaching the latter. If you don’t do that, the case will creak a little at any small vibration. This creaking sound is quiet, but very annoying, and you could spend much time finding its cause.

An interesting fact is that there is no Thermaltake’s traditional engraving of the logotype on the Plexiglas window. There’s only a painted anchor with a logo instead:

I really got a feeling that Thermaltake was not willing to emphasize its authorship of that system case and was trying not to associate its name with it. For example, the company’s website doesn’t mention this model at all. Well, it’s quite natural they do so since this case is rather an average-quality product. To sell well in the $100 and higher price category without a power supply today it is not enough to offer a rectangular window, two preinstalled fans with speed control, a small informational display, and a rather second-rate chassis. All this stuff can be found for less money.

A visual survey is good, but we can only appreciate the capabilities of the system case after we have assembled a computer in it.

Despite this case obviously costing more than it looks, it is very easy to install everything. Even an inexperienced user shouldn’t meet any problems. Following the current fashion, all the devices are fastened without screws. You will only need your screwdriver to mount the mainboard. To install optical and hard disk drives you use slides of two kinds (included with the case):

The wider ones are for optical drives, and the narrower ones with the special screws are for mounting hard disk drives. The screws don’t have threading. You just insert them into the rubber pads and then press the pads to the hard drive’s side. Despite the lack of threading the slides hold well enough thanks to the stiffness of the shockproof rubber pads.

When the slides are attached to the drive, you just snap the device shut in the rack.

You can mount up to five hard disk drives this way, but don’t push it to the limit. If all the bays are occupied, there remains almost no space for ventilation even though there is a 120mm fan at the front panel to cool the rack with the drives. I think that putting more than three hard drives into the rack will have a very negative effect on the ventilation.

I would also want to mark the clever intake fan arrangement: the large openings in the front panel supply enough air to this fan and there’s a minimum of obstacles on the path of the air stream. But this is only until the front decorative door is not closed. When it is shut, the fan finds it much harder to get enough air.

It’s even simpler with the 5.25” rails. Without any rubber pads or screws you just put them on the drive. They hold fast enough – you have to pry the rail with a screwdriver to take it off the device. Well, if you still don’t trust this fastening, you can use the holes to screw the rails up to the drive.

To put an optical drive into the case, you have to take the front bezel off:

It is not a complicated operation – you just open three latches and the panel comes off. Then you fix the drive in its bay:

This done, you can put the front bezel back in place and enjoy the result:

The SViking is one of the smallest cases in this review, so I had had some apprehensions about its ability to accommodate all the components enumerated in the Testbed and Methods section, but I was wrong:

There’s more than enough space for every thing. None of the components should feel bad, while the sideways mounting of hard disk drives in their rack in system cases of this form-factor simplifies greatly the process of swapping a drive for a new one.

If the whole assembly process seems an engaging and exciting job to you, you should like this tangle of cables the system case is equipped with:

Besides ordinary wires for the USB 2.0 and FireWire interfaces, buttons and LEDs, there are power cables for the informational display, system fans and thermal sensor. People who want to constantly keep track of the temperature of their PC are going to appreciate the latter feature, I think. There are also two wires from the speed controllers of the preinstalled system fans. These wires are attached to special connectors on the fans:

 

The PC speaker is located in a rather unusual place:

Yes, this placement is not very common, but our sample was audible and even loud. I could hear it even when the case stood closed under my desk.

To make the whole assembly process a little easier the manufacturer put braces on the cables and provided screw-less fastening of the expansion cards (you can see it well in the snapshots above, near the connectors of the fan-speed controllers).

 

The fastening clip for the expansion cards isn’t quite perfect, however. It is removed for all the cards at once, so if you have brackets with peripheral ports, they are likely to fall out of their sockets as you do so. If you don’t like that, try removing this clip altogether and fasten your expansion cards in the traditional way, i.e. with screws.

A funny thing about this system case is that it seems to be specially designed for a bit paranoid people. Besides two locks on the side and front panels, the manufacturer also put a loop for a padlock on the rear panel to completely prevent unauthorized access to the computer’s internals! So, there are three locks in total and the process of installing or replacing a component becomes quite complicated, involving opening and closing all these locks.

The assembled system fitted well into the internal space of the case. I had no problems putting the excess cables somewhere:

But this is only true when you have no more than two 5.25” bays occupied. If there are three or more devices there, you won’t have anywhere to put the excess cables to.

After all the connectors are correctly attached, the user of an SViking can keep track of the temperatures and control the fans as well as set up temperature thresholds on reaching which a warning signal is emitted.

The overall impression from the assembled system case is somewhat better than it was empty. I’ll give you a detailed list of pros and cons of this product shortly. Right now, let’s test it.

Performance

Idle Mode

The results are highly satisfactory. Despite the average quality of the chassis, Thermaltake has done a good job: the two 120mm fans working at a 1300rpm speed keep the system case well ventilated. The temperatures of all the components are very low. The hard drives and the central processor feel especially well in there. As for the rather high GPU temperature, it is in fact typical for this series of graphics cards (an idle GPU temperature of 50°C is quite normal for them). By the way, the Idle mode in our tests can be equaled to working in office applications, watching a movie or listening to music, etc. This kind of load is very light, considering the overall performance of the system, and leads to a temperature increase of 1-2°C at most.

The only thing I couldn’t understand about the SViking was the meaning of the fan-speed controllers. When I tried to increase the fan speeds above the default 1300rpm, I only heard more noise, while the temperatures remained almost the same. But maybe this feature is going to help at maximum CPU loads?

CPU Burn Mode

Quite expectably the temperatures of the CPU and mainboard got higher the most. The GPU temperature went up, too, because of the hot air coming to it from the CPU cooler. Those 71 degrees centigrade on the CPU, at a low cooler speed, is a good result as you can’t load the CPU like that in real life.

The fan-speed controls didn’t bring anything again, except for more noise. The maximum I could get by setting a higher speed for the system fans was a reduction of the CPU temperature by 2°C which was a dubious achievement, considering the much higher level of noise.

The results for the gaming mode are somewhat different as you can see in the next diagram.

VGA Burn Mode

The temperatures of the CPU and mainboard are much lower than in the CPU Burn mode, but the temperatures of the GPU and the graphics card’s PCB have got higher. This is all quite natural since the graphics card carries the main burden here. The rather high GPU temperature is due to sheer lack of air for ventilation – by opening the front door I made the temperature of the graphics card go down by 10°C! I don’t think the problem with cooling the graphics card can be solved without totally remaking the air inlet in the front panel. And I don’t think someone who buys this system case is going to remove one of its main decorative elements. On the other hand, this problem is unlikely to arise with less powerful graphics cards.

The maximum I got in the HDD Burn Mode was 38°C. This is an acceptable and safe mode of operation for any modern hard disk drive.

All in all, this system case is a good product. It can ensure stable operation of a modern computer on a condition that the room temperature is not higher than 25°C. But if there’s no air-conditioner in your apartment, I wouldn’t recommend you to use such system cases for building top-end computers. The overall quality of manufacture falls short of the class of products this system case seems to belong to, considering its price.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake SViking

Highs: Good hard disk drive rack; great preinstalled system fans; informational display on the front panel

Lows: Fan-speed controllers proved to be useless in our tests; not very good quality of components and manufacture; questionable exterior design; cramped internal space; high price

Conclusion: A nice system case for a midrange computer, if you like its exterior. But still I think the price is unreasonably high

Thermaltake SViking VA4000BWS average retail price - $110, without a power supply

Thermaltake Soprano (VB1000SWS) and Thermaltake Tsunami Dream (VA3000BNA)

I am going to deal with these two products in one stroke since they are in fact identical inside. Besides, we have already reviewed Thermaltake Tsunami before, so if you are looking for in-depth coverage of this particular case model you are welcome to check our article called Thermaltake Tsunami Dream PC Case Review .

The two cases we are looking at today only differ in color, the shape of the front door, the material of the case and the configuration of the cages for 3.5” devices. As for the case material, the Soprano is made of traditional steel, while the Tsunami Dream is made of noble aluminum. The boxes containing these cases are the same size, differing in the pictures:

The boxes are both handy enough. Their handles don’t try to live apart from the rest of the box, so you shouldn’t have any problems transporting your purchase home. You receive the same accessories with either product: a user’s manual, a set of keys, a napkin to clean the lacquered panels, fasteners, and special locks and rails for your disk drives.

  

The front doors of these two models seem to be identical at first sight:

But the Tsunami Dream’s front door is made of a thick milled aluminum plate with blue LED highlighting, while the Soprano’s front is made of rather fragile plastic. They also differ in the shape of the wave and the texture: the Tsunami Dream has a matte coating that doesn’t quite match the other, lacquered panels. The Soprano’s nacreous front, on the contrary, is a good match to the side panels of the same color.

Both system cases are equipped with preinstalled feet which can be set in any position by the user.

To gain access to the external 5.25” and 3.5” devices you should open the front door:

As you can see, the front panels of both cases are absolutely identical, differing in color only. You can open them to install or replace devices in the external 5.25” and 3.5” bays.

    

There is a three-positional lock on the front of each case: 1) the decorative front door is open, 2) both the door and the front panel are open, and 3) both the door and the panel are closed.

The front panels of both system cases are almost the same, except for the metal brackets in unused bays. These brackets are fastened on screws in the Tsunami Dream whereas in the Soprano they are to be just broken off.

These two system cases also differ in the categories of users they are targeted at. The Tsunami Dream is a sober and elegant solution that would fit ideally into a formal office interior. The Soprano is a more traditional, home-oriented system case with a side window and an eye-catching appearance.

  

The shape of the side window of the Soprano model differs from the unassuming rectangle in the SViking. It is X-shaped and has Thermaltake’s traditional engraving of the corporative logotype and slogan. It is quite interesting to compare the Soprano with the Tsunami Dream since they represent two different, but equally clever approaches to decorating the side panel:

 

If you want a Tsunami Dream with a window or a Soprano without one, don’t worry – such modifications do exist, so your choice here in not limited at all.

The only thing I want to complain about is the lacquered panels of the Tsunami Dream. Your fingerprints are going to be only too visible on the black background, so you should handle this system case with great care or use the enclosed napkin often.

The rear panels are absolutely identical:

      

It seems that the same chassis are used to manufacture both these system cases. The placement of the external connectors is identical in them, too.

These connectors are located on the top panel of the case and are covered with a decorative panel. We’re going to meet this designing solution often in this review, but its ergonomics is rather questionable.

Well, the color and material of the case and the shape of the front door may please the eye of an observer, but do not affect the temperatures of the components or the assembly process much. But besides the material and color of the case, there are more and quite important differences between the Tsunami Dream and the Soprano.

 

The installation of 3.5” devices is much better implemented in the Tsunami Dream series than in the Soprano: instead of a single and firmly fixed rack, there are two removable cages which are ready to accommodate your hard drives. Without doubt, this solution allows for a much simpler installation of 3.5” devices.

You won’t need a screwdriver in either case – the included fasteners make it unnecessary:

             

The rails for the drives are the same with both cases, but 3.5” devices are fastened in different ways. With the Soprano, you use plastic rotational locks, and with the Tsunami Dream, traditional thumbscrews.

When it comes to the assembly procedure, these two system case models only differ in the way the drives are mounted. It’s simple to use the rails, which are even marked so that you didn’t confuse right and left ones.

 

But there’s one unpleasant thing as concerns putting optical drives into the case.

You can clearly see it in the enlarged snapshot that the plastic faceplates of the bays are fastened on screws and the top faceplate can’t be moved because of the hinge the front panel hangs on (this is rather strange, considering that users usually put their optical drive into the topmost bay). It’s possible to put the drive into one of the lower bays, but it would mean breaking off an appropriate metal bracket which cannot be put back again in the Soprano. I also didn’t want to unscrew the hinge, so I just bent the faceplate a little using the natural flexibility of plastic and then put the optical drive into its place:

I didn’t have this problem with the Tsunami Dream since its metal brackets are held with screws. I simply put the optical drive into a lower bay. After the optical drives are in, you can close the front panel as you won’t need it more.

   

It is quite easy to install hard disk drives into the Soprano: you just insert the drive into the rack and fix it with a plastic lock whose pegs fit into the screw-holes in the side of the device.

Other 3.5” devices are fastened in the same way. This is overall a convenient solution and the only trouble is that the rack cannot be removed and you’ll probably have to take out your expansion cards to extract a hard drive from the assembled system.

The Tsunami Dream’s cages for hard and floppy drives are removable and are secured with one screw:

After undoing this screw, you can take the cage out:

And load your drives into it:

Hard drives are fixed with special screws through shockproof pads, the user controlling the strength of the fastening. If you’ve fastened the screw fully, the drive is fixed just like in a metal rack, so you don’t have to worry about its safety. After the drive is installed, the case is to be put back into the case and fixed with its screw.

It’s even simpler with the floppy drives cage: no screws, just a latch.

When you pull at the lever, the latch is released and the cage can be taken out from its place.

I then prepared the test computer in the Tsunami Dream case. This model almost doesn’t differ from the Soprano in the internal design, so its results in the tests can be regarded as those of the Soprano. I also installed the additional side panel with a fan to check the effect of that fan on the airflows inside the case. As for the case’s standard ventilation, it is provided by two 120mm low-speed fans which should be quite sufficient for a system case of that size.

The only thing that surprised me was something like a dust filter in the front door:

There’s just no use from this filter at all. It is one centimeter and a half away from the fan and is shaped badly. Moreover, the air stream through this filter is minimal. Considering the width of the vent slits in the front panel, you can guess that almost all air from the outside will be taken in through the slit at the bottom of the door, bypassing the filter. So there’s only one positive point about this solution – you won’t have to clean this filter often.

This system case is larger than the SViking, so our test system was quartered in it quite comfortably.

I have absolutely no complaints about the internal design of the case. You have access to every component and have some place to tuck excess cables to even when two or three 5.25” devices are installed. There’s only one thing I have gripes about – the expansion cards locks:

It seems a good solution at first – each card has an independent lock – but the locks don’t open wide, making it difficult to install a dual-slot card. Moreover, this fastening isn’t too strong – the card is rather loose even when the lock is closed.

So, if you don’t often replace your expansion cards and you want them to be properly fastened in the system case, you may want to remove the plate with the locks and fasten the cards with screws.

The system assembled, we can proceed to our tests.

Performance

Idle Mode

The numbers differ somewhat from what we saw with the above-described SViking. Particularly, the temperatures of the graphics card and mainboard are lower, implying a better ventilation of the case. Well, it is just easier to organize proper airflows in a larger volume. Let’s see what happens if we load the central processor to the full.

CPU Burn Mode

The results of this test mode are much better than with the SViking model: the temperatures of the CPU and mainboard have decreased a little and the GPU temperature is much lower. It means the bottom part of the Soprano and the Tsunami Dream cases is ventilated better than that of the SViking.

The same can be observed when the graphics card is loaded as in the next test mode.

VGA Burn Mode

The GPU temperature is quite acceptable now, so it is a proven fact that system cases of the Soprano and Tsunami Dream series have better ventilation at their bottom than the SViking model.

As for the hard disk drive temperature, it was the same 38°C in the HDD Burn Mode as with the SViking. Again, this is a highly satisfactory result.

The side-window experiment brought curious results: as I had suspected, it was harmful rather than useful to blow at the CPU cooler. Thermaltake’s engineers cannot change the laws of aerodynamics yet. When there was a fan in the side panel, the temperature of the CPU went up by 7°C, while the temperatures of the other components remained roughly intact. This side-fan configuration may work if you assemble the system with a low-profile box CPU cooler. In this case, the air stream from the side fan may be more useful.

Summarizing the results of the tests I should say that system cases from the Tsunami Dream and Soprano series are certainly going to find their customer. They feature an excellent exterior and give you the opportunity to choose the configuration of the side panels. They have convenient internal design and good ventilation. These advantages by far outweigh their minor drawbacks. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend these cases for building a top-end computer since they are unlikely to maintain a normal thermal environment for top-end components in a room without an air-conditioner. On the other hand, such system cases are not bought for assembling top configurations, so the potential buyer is unlikely to meet this problem.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake Soprano

Average retail price - $100, without a power supply

Highs: Good design; cute side window; preinstalled fans

Lows: Non-removable hard drives rack; not very helpful fan on the side panel; rather flimsy front door

Conclusion: This is an excellent system case with nice design and functionality and for a reasonable price, but it is not suitable for a top-end computer.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake Tsunami Dream

Average retail price - $140, without a power supply

Highs: Superb and stylish design; aluminum chassis and decorative front door; removable hard disk drive cages; simple assembly

Lows: Dirt-sensitive panels; not suitable for top-end computer systems

Conclusion: A stylish system case that will fit well into any interior. It is functional and reasonably priced

Thermaltake Shark (VA7000SWA)

The Shark was the first Full Tower system case from Thermaltake’s new model range we had a chance to test in our test lab.

The box is pretty-looking, handy and very light. The aluminum chassis and the lack of a power supply made me suspect for a moment that the box was altogether empty. Contrary to my apprehensions, the box contained one of the most beautiful system cases I have recently seen.

Maybe it’s just my subjective opinion, but this system case look real cool and imposing, without being gaudy or tasteless. It is going to become an eye-catching thing in the living room of a PC enthusiast with its uniform color scheme, neat and functional mesh window in the side panel and smooth curves of the front door.

The front of this Shark is cleverly shaped:

None of the elements seems superfluous – they all match each other perfectly. This nice-looking face cover conceals a well-known front panel:

You can tell the actual maker of the chassis at first glance, also by such details as the feet or the brackets in the expansion card slits. Well, I think this kinship is rather a good thing after all.

The door opens up smoothly, without unwanted sounds. It is quite heavy, so when the case is empty, it simply falls forwards if you open the door at 90 degrees (of course, I don’t say that this is a problem; people don’t buy such system cases just to left them empty as part of the interior). The side window is not in fact a window but a cutely-shaped air inlet which is going to provide excellent thermal conditions for the CPU and the graphics card.

The handle on this window controls the lock that holds the panel closed.

The rear panel is quite traditional. At least I can see nothing extraordinary here:

The only thing I haven’t yet met in system cases from other manufacturers is prepared holes for the tubes of a liquid-cooling system:

You can see those holes in the bottom right corner of the panel. Special plastic grommets are enclosed with the case. You should put them in for the tubes not to get cut on the metal edge of the openings.

The external USB, FireWire and audio connectors are located on the right panel of the case:

Considering the direction into which the front door opens, the access to these connectors will be easy if you have this system case standing to the left of you. The manufacturer must have disregarded the fact that you can’t sometimes put the case where you’d want it to be. But you can disregard these connectors, too, if you don’t use them very often.

The case comes with a user’s manual and fasteners:

I was at first bewildered at the lack of rails for optical drives, but recollecting the family connections of this system case I soon found them:

They were at the back side of the faceplate of a 5.25” bay. They are fastened to the drive in the traditional way, i.e. with a screwdriver:

Then you just insert the optical drive into an empty bay:

Note that you don’t have to dismantle the front panel to perform the installation.

The same goes for the floppy drives cage – it already has rails, so you only have to remove an appropriate faceplate to put a floppy drive in.

Hard drives are installed sideways onto special trays assembled in a single rack:

You can put in as many as five hard drives in total, and none of them is going to gasp for air: the rack with the drives is cooled with the front-panel 120mm fan and the distance between the drives allows for free circulation of the air stream. A hard drive is fastened on a tray with special screws and through shockproof pads.

 

When assembled, the whole arrangement is moved into the rack and snapped in place.

The mainboard is supposed to be affixed to a special mounting plate:

This intricately-shaped plate is made of aluminum:

Like in an ordinary system case, the mainboard is fastened to the plate with screws:

This seemingly clever solution is not very convenient in practice because you cannot manipulate the mainboard on the plate freely inside the case. I think it is easier to go the traditional way and fasten the mainboard right inside the case.

There’s more than enough space for the components of our test system in the Shark:

I can’t have any complaints about the internal layout of the case – everything is convenient and properly designed.

There is one clip that locks all the expansion cards at once, like in the SViking case.

I already wrote about the disadvantages of this solution above, so I won’t repeat them again.

The exhaust fan is highlighted in blue, while the top curve on the front panel is highlighted with the mild blue light from the built-in LED. If you don’t like such illumination, you can disable it by unplugging the appropriate connector inside the case.

This system case seems to be well-prepared for our tests. Let’s see if it can reveal its full potential in practice.

Performance

Idle Mode

The numbers are rather astonishing. Of course, I had suspected the temperature would be lower than with the other, above-described Thermaltake cases, but not that much. In fact, these temperatures can only be achieved with an open testbed, and this system case proved to be one: the large window that serves as an air inlet allows the CPU cooler and the graphics card to freely take fresh outside air in for cooling. The only disturbing fact is the higher temperature of the hard disk drive. The additional tray worsens the cooling of the drive somewhat. On the other hand, that 33°C temperature is far from dangerous. As for the graphics card, it is equipped with a controllable fan which rotates at its minimum at such temperatures of the graphics core. It is only the temperature of the graphics card’s PCB that was a little lower on an open testbed than in the Shark. In theory, such a large air inlet should considerably help the graphics card in hard operational modes, but we will talk about that shortly below. Right now I will check the computer at high CPU loads.

CPU Burn Mode

Considering that we use an air-based cooling system with a low-speed fan the numbers are exceptional: an impressive 58°C under load for a dual-core Intel Pentium Extreme Edition! The slightly higher temperatures of the other components can be disregarded altogether: they are still very low. Now let’s see how this system performs in games.

VGA Burn Mode

As I expected, the graphics card feels most comfortably. As for the central processor, its temperature seems to suggest that it is absolutely idle most of the time.

The temperature of the hard disk drive in the HDD Burn Mode was a disturbing 46°C. This is not dangerous yet, but if the room temperature were 30°C (if you have hot summers), for example, instead of 20°C, you would have an undesirable 55°C and even higher. The problem has an easy solution, however. You can just open the front door and let the front fan breathe normally. By simply doing so you can reduce the temperature of the hard disk drive by 9-10°C! So, it is the front door that should bear the blame for this situation. Yes, it looks beautiful, but the manufacturer forgot about vitally important vent holes. It is the sadder since there are enough spots in the front door where vents could be made without spoiling its looks. By the way, this is a hint to you. If you are skilled enough, you can correct this deficiency with your own hands in a couple of hours and get a system case with close to perfect ventilation.

Thus, Thermaltake’s Shark will become a jewel of any computer system with its excellent exterior design, exceptional cooling of the system components and good size/weight characteristics. With all these advantages, the product is not free from drawbacks, however. Particularly, it is impossible to use noisy cooling systems because the side panel isn’t totally blank – you’ll hardly want to have a virtually open system case with fans rotating at 4000-5000rpm anywhere near you. A water-cooling system would be an ideal solution for the Shark, since the manufacturer has already done some preparatory work for its comfortable installation.

The front door is not designed well in terms of cooling, so you’ll have to open the front door a little in summer or in a non-air-conditioned room to keep the temperature of the drives low. Or you can redesign the front panel by yourself, if you’ve got appropriate skills.

Yet despite all these drawbacks it is possible to assemble a fast, quiet and beautiful computer in this system case with little effort if you just take the right approach to building it.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake Shark

Average retail price - $160, without a power supply

Highs: Superb exterior; aluminum chassis and decorative front door; big window (air inlet) in the side panel; clever internal design; removable trays for hard disk drives; easy assembly; high quality of manufacture

Lows: Incorrect design of the front air inlet; acoustically open design

Conclusion: This is a beautiful and highly functional system case. It suits ideally for top-end computer systems and comes at a relatively low price

Thermaltake Armor (VA8000BWS)

Judging by the box alone, the Thermaltake Armor is the weightiest product in the group. A considerable muscle effort is necessary just to lift the box up and its dimensions are really huge – this volume could have accommodated a couple of medium-sized system cases.

There is no handle as none would hold such a load: the system case proper weighs a little less than 16 kilograms, and the package as a whole weighs as many as 20 kilos! Well, this is certainly no lightweight armor. The accessories are numerous:

Besides a user’s guide, fasteners and keys, you get an additional 92mm fan which you can put on the top panel of the case, if you wish.

The Armor proper looks impressive:

The snapshot just cannot communicate the monstrosity of the thing. In reality, this system case just overwhelms you with its massiveness and creates an impression of a fundamental and solid product.

Not having much room to express their creativity because of the constructional features of this system case, the designers still managed to make it good-looking. The front panel was not in their power, however, so the maximum they could do was to polish off the design of the 5.25” faceplates.

For the panel not to look too plain, they added two aluminum “wings” which do make the case look better from the front, but are not very practical. They are opened independently and prevent access to the optical drives when closed. So, you’ll have to keep them open all the time if you are constantly swapping your DVD and CD discs.

The faceplates in the bays have mesh inserts with dust filters which can be taken out for cleaning. There’s also a funny gadget in the bottom bay:

You can use this box any way you wish.

On seeing this box some people say it’s an ashtray and others suggested various small things could be stored there. So you can really use it as you think proper and if you like it much, you can even purchase another such box separately. The Power and Reset buttons with two LED indicators are located in the top faceplate:

But the design of this system case allows putting this faceplate into any bay on the front panel. The side window is nicely shaped, too:

It looks quite original, yet without any unnecessary extravaganza. The rear panel represents a rather unusual solution:

You don’t often see a vertically placed power supply in modern system cases. Like the Shark, the Armor has four holes for outputting the tubes of a water-cooling system.

Of course, plastic grommets to be inserted into the holes to protect the tubes are enclosed with the case.

Thermaltake’s engineers seem to like to put the interface connectors on the front panel, and the Armor is an example of that:

This time it looks quite cool, especially in comparison with the Tsunami Dream and the Soprano series.

The case is very steady thanks to its no small weight, so the manufacturer didn’t bother much about the feet, using the ordinary rotational design.

 

Internally this system case is designed in such a way that it doesn’t have 3.5” bays at all. To install devices of that form-factor you should use two special cages which are put into the 5.25” bays and one more cage which is located at the top of the case, near the power supply. The first and smallest cage is for floppy drives, card-readers and such:

The 3.5” cages and all 5.25” devices are fastened with plastic locks that fit into the screw holes in the drive’s sides thus making the whole installation process as easy as two actions – insert the device and close the lock. I must confess this is one of the best solutions I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to screw anything to the drive and there’s no need for rails and fasteners.

The cage was not made properly. There is no external faceplate for this basket, so if you want to use a floppy drive, you will have a hole instead of one faceplate, with the floppy hanging in the air [Надеюсь, правильно перевел, хотя я не очень себе представил, что значит «для нее нет внешней заглушки» и что именно будет при установке флоппика]. On the other hand, it is rather an exceptional situation today for a modern system to have a floppy drive. As for card-readers, you can purchase an external one, so this is hardly a serious drawback.

The second cage in the 5.25 rack is going to accommodate your hard disk drives.

You should release three locks to extract this cage out of the case.

The basket occupies three 5.25” bays, accommodating three hard drives and a 120mm intake fan.

  

Hard drives are fastened with screws in this cage.

There are no shockproof pads here, but they are not in fact necessary. The 16 kilos of the case weight alone will suppress any vibration, even if you have put three such cages inside.

When the drive is fixed, you can put the cage back.

It is quite easy to manipulate the cage due to the increased depth of the case. You can install the cage even without unplugging the graphics card while the ability to position it freely in the 5.25” rack gives you an opportunity to direct its airflow to any place in the case – towards the CPU, graphics card or somewhere else.

The third and smallest cage is also intended for hard drives. It is located at the top of the case near the power supply and is fixed with a single large screw.

To take that cage out, undo the screw:

A hard disk is fastened in this cage like in the main one, i.e. with screws.

This cage is smaller than the main one, but it too can take in three HDDs that will be cooled with a single 92mm fan.

It is miraculously easy to install an optical drive: just remove the faceplate, open the lock and insert the drive:

Then you can close the lock…

…and enjoy the result:

As for mainboard installation, it is performed in the traditional way, with ordinary poles and screws. It also turns out that the Armor potentially supports mainboards of the BTX form-factor – to install such a mainboard you‘ll only have to buy a new rear panel with a different placement of the expansion card slits.

BTX mainboards are not widely available yet, so the appropriate panel is not enclosed with the system case.

I had no problems during the mainboard installation:

There’s more than enough space around the mainboard to mount even the largest CPU cooling system you can imagine. Expansion cards are fastened with a block of locks similar to the ones in the Tsunami Dream and Soprano and with the same drawback – the fastening is too flabby. That is why I just removed that block altogether and fastened the cards in the old way, with screws. Nothing can really compare with this traditional, time-tested method, I think.

The system case looks quite attractively with the side panel closed:

The middle section of the window is located right against the CPU cooler. Users that have highlighted CPU coolers should appreciate this fact, but you should take note that the preinstalled 120mm fans have blue highlighting. If you’ve got a piece of chrome-plated mesh , some glue and time, you can replace the middle section with a mesh insert, which should have a most positive effect on the thermal conditions of the hottest system components as we have seen with the above-described model.

Well, we’ll check right now if such modifications are at all necessary.

Performance

Idle Mode

There seems to be no need for any improvements. Everything is quite right as it is. The large volume of the case and the excellent ventilation ensure almost the same thermal conditions for the installed components as in the totally exposed design of the Shark. One note only: hard disk drives feel much better in the Thermaltake Armor. I even added another hard drive into the top cage to see how it would behave (it was a 160GB Barracuda 7200.7 from Seagate and is represented as HDD2 in the diagrams). There was almost no difference in the temperatures of the two drives. Generally speaking, hard drives don’t need intensive air cooling as much as they need free circulation of air around them which is provided for both drives in this system case.

Let’s see what happens if we load the central processor.

CPU Burn Mode

The temperatures can’t match the results of the Shark, but the difference is very small, so there is really no need to change or redesign anything in this system case. As for cooling hard drives, the Armor is beyond competition. The Shark had a 5°C lower temperature of the CPU, but the Armor has a 10°C lower temperature of the HDDs! This is a considerable advantage, so if you need a computer with many hard drives, the Armor may suit you well. Few other cases can offer the same functionality in maintenance of the disk subsystem and also keep both the temperature and noise of the drives as low as Thermaltake’s Armor can.

The results of the VGA Burn Mode are quite satisfactory, too:

VGA Burn Mode

The temperatures of all the components are acceptable, including the graphics card (74°C under load is quite typical for that graphics card model).

The results of the HDD Burn test are ideal, too, being 35°C and 38°C for the main and auxiliary cages, respectively. So, this system case can keep the hard drives cool even in hot weather.

The Thermaltake Armor is probably the best product in this review in the sum of its characteristics and test results. The only thing that may arouse your criticism is the design ideas of putting two aluminum wings on the sides of the front panel and the interface connectors on the top panel. Otherwise, it is an ideal system case for building a fast, yet quiet and practically cold computer.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake Armor

Highs: Good exterior design; massive chassis; originally shaped side window; excellent internal design with a lot of free space; the best cages for hard drives among the reviewed system cases; simple assembly; high quality of manufacture

Lows: Inconvenient “wings” on the front panel; interface connectors on the top panel

Conclusion: This is one of the best available system cases for top-end computers. It ensures excellent ventilation of each system component and features enhanced functionality and quiet operation. This is a good choice, if you agree with its rather high price

Average retail price - $190, without a power supply

Thermaltake Tenor (VB2000BWS)

The Thermaltake Tenor is an untypical case in this review, considering the form-factor of the other products included. This case is intended for a PC-based multimedia center or a HTPC (Home Theater PC) rather than for a regular computer.

This multimedia orientation can be seen even in the design of the package:

The box is small, but heavy – no aluminum here! Except for the front panel, everything is made of good old steel. A minimum of accessories included:

There are no rails for optical or hard drives – they are fastened in the old and most reliable way, i.e. with screws. Externally, this system cases look like hi-fi consumer electronics:

The feet alone betray which market segment this system case is targeted at:

A stylish black exterior, no allusions to the PC world, a milled aluminum front panel – so if you put the Tenor next to hi-fi devices, it will be hard to guess its affiliation with computers. People would rather take it for a final amplifier than for a computer system case.

The front view is most impressive:

There’s no point of similarity to ordinary PCs. The only clues as to what this thing actually is are the labels under the buttons: there yet are no amplifiers with a Reset button.

Everything that shouldn’t be shown is covered under the massive front panel made of aluminum:

You can lower it down to get access to the three 5.25” and two 3.5” bays. The front panel of our sample was opening up with a screeching sound from its plastic micro-lift and I don’t know if it was just the fault of our particular sample or lack of lubricant – the panel is rather heavy, so the micro-lift mechanism is under a considerable load. I couldn’t, however, imagine a user of that system case carefully oiling the gears of the micro-lift, so I left everything as it was.

The bottommost 5.25” bay has its own cover: the manufacturer suggests that an optional panel with an infrared receiver and an informational display is put there (Thermaltake refers to this thing as “VFD media kit”). But after all, it’s up to the user to decide what to put in each particular bay.

The rear panel looks like the back panel of an ordinary desktop computer positioned vertically and stripped of everything superfluous to achieve maximum compactness.

There are really no extra things here, but the opportunity to use a normal power supply is offered. You can get down to building an all-purpose multimedia/gaming machine right away.

I decided to begin the assembly with the optical drive. I thought I could install it into the bottommost bay with its individual cover by simply turning the front panel down and removing the faceplate, but I was wrong:

The open panel covers about one fifth of the bay’s height, but it’s enough for the drive not to pass through. To solve this problem I had to take more drastic measures and remove the front panel altogether:

This gave me access to all 5.25” and 3.5” bays this system case provides:

It turned out, however, that I took not the easiest way of finding that I shouldn’t have done so. The bottommost bay is just not intended for optical drives, because the drive would hit against an installed mainboard of the mATX form-factor.

Even optical drives with a “shortened” case, like those from Sony or Lite-ON, cannot help here.

You can’t put the drive even into the second bay: it will hang over the top left corner of the mainboard where most manufacturers usually put the mainboard’s power connector. The installed drive would make it impossible to attach the power cable to it.

As a result, I put the drive into the only available place, i.e. into the topmost bay:

There were no more surprises during the assembly. To install the mainboard you should remove the two stiffness ribs the manufacturer thoughtfully equipped the system case with. The first rib is located above the processor and even has a special hole for the fan’s fastening.

Well, I should confess I don’t know what this functionality is intended for.

The second rib is located at the bottom of the case.

It not only adds robustness to the case, but also serves as an additional cage for hard drives.

The main cage is located right behind the 5.25” bays:

It is held with three screws.

The system case can accommodate three hard drives, but I wouldn’t recommend you to use it at all. The main basket isn’t practically cooled at all, so you won’t probably want to put a drive there. The case in ventilated with three fans, one of which is placed on the front panel:

And two more are on the rear panel:

The fans are all low-speed and almost silent, but the airflow they create is quite sufficient for cooling the small volume of that system case. The front-panel fan also blows at the cage with hard drives in the bottom stiffness rib. That’s why I decided to put my drive there.

The drive is thus ventilated well and can be also accessed easily.

The manufacturer also made two vent openings in the case’s roof for better ventilation:

One vent is above the CPU and another is against the graphics card. We’ll check soon how this solution helps in practice.

The parts I used in the other system cases, with a full-size mainboard and a rather large cooler, just don’t fit in here, so considering the multimedia orientation of this case, I stuffed it with the following components:

I didn’t use the mainboard’s integrated graphics core, but performed the tests with an external graphics card to see if system cases of that type can accommodate an advanced gaming configuration. The components took their sits in an “intimate circle”:

I met some problems caused by the mainboard (not by the system case), which are in fact typical for mainboards of that form-factor:

If you are not careful enough, you can cut off some small details from the graphics card’s PCB with the latches of the memory slots. Beware of that as you’re assembling the system!

I also advise you to put the cables properly in system cases of that type. There’s not much space for air to move about freely, so you don’t want to impede the airflows more by leaving the cables hanging loosely.

So, the system is ready for the tests.

Performance

Idle Mode

The Idle Mode results are comprehensible: the temperature of all the components is normal, except the hard drive. It is only the drive’s PCB that receives some air and this is not enough to compete with normal desktop system cases. On the other hand, the Tenor doesn’t mean to compete with them, so let’s get to the second test.

CPU Burn Mode

The system got noticeably hot in the CPU Burn mode, but the temperatures are still within acceptable ranges. It’s nice that the hard drive temperature remains almost the same, thanks to the nearby fan.

Next, I’m going to see if this system can be a gaming computer.

VGA Burn Mode

Well, it can, but you should use a less advanced graphics card – 89°C is an undesirable temperature. The temperatures of the other components are normal.

I tried to cover the vent holes on the top panel as a kind of experiment and found that napkins or anything like that were strictly prohibited: the temperature of the graphics card remained almost the same, but the CPU temperature grew up by 6-7°C when the vent hole above its cooler was closed!

The HDD temperature was 42°C in the HDD Burn Mode . This is quite high, so I don’t recommend you to put a drive into the main basket which is not cooled at all.

I don’t mention what room conditions this system case can work under just because people who buy expensive hi-fi equipment should have already thought about proper air conditioning and other such factors. But if you want to buy this system case for an ordinary, not top-end system, you won’t have cooling-related problems even in an ordinary living room.

So, the Thermaltake Tenor is a unique solution. It would look well placed between home audio/video devices. It has good acoustic characteristics and allows assembling rather advanced gaming configurations. Moreover, it costs much cheaper than its alternatives from other manufacturers, as far as I know. The excellent characteristics and universality will surely make this model popular among people who are building a PC-based multimedia center or just a “different” home computer.

Our Verdict: Thermaltake Tenor

Highs: Restrained exterior design in the Hi-Fi style; good internal design; good quality of manufacture; permits to use ordinary power supplies

Lows: The thermal conditions for the hard drives are not quite good; only one optical drive can be normally installed

Conclusion: An excellent system case for building a home multimedia center or just an original home PC for reasonable money

Average retail price - $105 , without a power supply

Conclusion

So we’ve made our acquaintance with the new model range of system cases from Thermaltake. I won’t give you any recommendations as I think the descriptions of the models above are quite comprehensive for you to make a well-judged choice. My only advice to you is take a look at the case you like in shop since snapshots can’t always reproduce them right. And if you base your choice on technical characteristics rather than on outer looks, here are our summary diagrams (I don’t publish the results of the Tenor case because I used another set of hardware parts to build a computer in it and it would be incorrect to compare it with the other system cases).

And here are their specifications:


Click to enlarge
* The info about SViking model is available here on the manufacturer’s website.

I think I’ve given you enough information, so it’s now up to you to choose a system case that suits best your particular needs and requirements. And I, on my part, hope that Thermaltake will keep on turning out admirable system cases, no worse than the reviewed six.