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Ultra’s m998 is a sad combination of two phrases: “Looks are deceiving.” and “A for effort.” Funny, because when we consider the case strictly on face value, it’s anything but a cliché. For starters, the m998 is wider than the standard cases we’ve tested, but the aluminum body keeps the enclosure rather light.
|The m998's interior is all contours and class.|
Opening up the windowed side panel of the m998 is like throwing open the doors to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. There aren’t any lake-drinking chubby kids or Oompa-Loompas, but a number of new delights await curious rig-builders. The first thing we noticed was the motherboard tray. We like the neat look of its reflective surface—too bad there aren’t any labels for the motherboard standoffs. That’s misstep number one for Ultra.
|Ultra's proprietary power bar limits cable clutter in the bottom half of your machine.|
The second thing we noticed was a fanciful panel studded with Molex connectors running vertical to the motherboard tray. We assumed this was a new power strip of some sort, as lord knows the manual told us absolutely nothing about the unfamiliar feature. Only after happening upon the information on Ultra’s website did we realize that the top portion of the so-called Ultra Power Bar is for inputs—your various power supply cables—while the bottom of the bar is populated with outputs—from which Ultra’s short, uniform cables extend to your peripherals. As for which input corresponds with which output… well, that’s an awesome game of trial and error.
That said, the power bar is pretty sweet if you can figure it out. While it’s not a one-stop shop for cable management, it does help relegate the unsightly snarl that typically occupies a case’s interior to just the top half of the enclosure, keeping the bottom half neat and tidy. Trouble is, you’ll have to negotiate that northern tangle of power supply cables to fit multiple devices into the 5.25-inch drive bays. Tread carefully, you water coolers.
|Front-panel connectors are hidden ninja-style beneath a push-spring covering.|
Less-adventurous builders will find that the m998 does little to ease their construction efforts. The chassis loves screws. It loves them so much that it doesn’t give you a single screwless way to interact with your case. Nada. For the lax computer builder, that’s a terribly weak move on Ultra’s part. Speaking of lazy, the m998 comes with front-panel eSATA. It’s just not plugged in. You have to pop a side panel and string your own SATA cable. That’s certainly the first time we’ve ever done that with a case.
This is Maximum PC, not Masochist PC. We aren’t happy when the build process is made needlessly tedious, be it through half-baked features or a dearth of instructions. The m998 would be a strong contender if a bit more attention were paid to the details.
Nifty power bar; front-panel eSATA; nice motherboard tray . . .
...but the power bar and motherboard tray aren't labelled and the eSATA connector isn't, well, connected. And screwless? Ultra's never heard the term.