It’s been more than a year since our last big case roundup, which focused on full-tower enclosures. In that time, case manufacturers haven’t been idle. The USB 3.0 spec finally got an internal header, new competitors joined the mid-tower market, and the price of a great case has steadily decreased. We gathered seven of the newest and most exciting mid-tower cases, all priced between $100 and $160, and put our two most seasoned case reviewers to the task of separating the run-of-the-mill from the cream-of-the-crop. We’ll leave no stone unturned and no metaphor unmangled. Yes, we’re on the case.
Note: This article was taken from the September issue of the magazine
Our 2008 Dream Machine rises from the, well, not quite ashes
The Mission Our 2008 Dream Machine was a thing of beauty. We took the case from one of HP’s ambitious-but-doomed Blackbird 002s, slathered it in chrome (because we could), and built a water-cooled monster, with two Core 2 Quad QX9775 CPUs, two ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2 GPUs, and a whopping 8GB of DDR2. To power it all we had PC Power & Cooling whip us up a custom 1,200W PSU. It was quite a machine in its day.
Daring to be different, but falling a little short
The Level 10 GTS is a mid-tower based on a full-tower based on an overdesigned concept chassis, and the form factor has lost something in translation at each step, resulting in a chassis that’s a bit, well, weird.
The Phantom 410 inherits the good looks of its full-tower predecessor but adds some tweaks of its own. It’s a great-looking case in any color (we’ve used white and red for builds), but the gunmetal gray is spectacular. The paint is thick and luxurious to the touch, enough to give the Phantom 410 a much better feel than the MSI Ravager, which uses similar chassis tooling. Like the full-tower Phantom, the 410 has plastic shrouds on the top and front panels, which increase the size of the case (and make it impossible to rest anything on top). The top shroud contains two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, audio jacks, and a three-speed fan controller—as well as the seven fan-control cables that lead from it.
Corsair’s Obsidian 550D comes packed with sound-dampening acoustical foam (nearly half an inch on its side panel), but it’s not just Corsair’s dedication to quiet that has us wowed. It’s the 550D’s interactivity: Gaining access to most of the steel case’s fan mounts (two 12cm mounts on the top, two preinstalled 12cm fans on the front, and two 12cm fan mounts on the case’s side) only requires you to push on a panel. Out it pops and in you go. The case’s side panels receive a similar treatment: Just hit a button on the rear of the case and bam—you can take them right off.
The MSI Ravager looks like it was extruded from Monster Energy cans. Its exterior is black-painted SECC steel with bright blue claw-mark decals, and the inside is black with the mobo tray, drive trays, slot covers, and optical bay mechanisms picked out in bright blue.
Call us suckers for military theming, but Corsair’s Vengeance C70 is a beautiful steel case that’s every bit as functional as it is fun to look at. The system sports a hefty arsenal: no fewer than six screwless hard drive trays and three screwless 5.25-inch bays in addition to one 12cm fan in the case’s rear and two directly to the left of the system’s hard drive bays. You can add two additional 12cm fans to the system’s front and two on top— arranged perfectly for a 240mm water-cooling radiator, if that’s your calling.
In a weird twist, Antec has delivered a case that’s both full on features and lacking in some of the company’s staple design elements. Take, for example, the case’s built-in fan controller—or lack thereof. We’re used to being able to flick switches to independently control all of the fans within an Antec chassis, but after connecting a Molex to the provided circuit board in the Eleven Hundred—annoyance number one—we were displeased to find that the switch only turns the top 20cm fan’s blue LED on and off. You can’t physically adjust the speed of that or the case’s rear 12cm fan.
The sheer power of video is well-known; we all remember what it did to radio back in the ’80s, after all. But what would happen if video picked a fight with video? Curious, we tossed two of the top video chat options into a cage to determine the superior specimen. Skype may be the big man on campus, but Google's scrappy video calling plugin delivers the same features from within the Google ecosystem. There can be only one!
Note: This article was taken from the September issue of the magazine.