Like all the cases in Antec’s Sonata line, the Proto is a consumer case with an emphasis on quiet performance. In fact, it’s virtually identical to its predecessor, the Sonata III 500, except for a few small details. It’s not a gaming chassis—it lacks such essentials as cable management, toolless bays, multiple fans, or a removable right-side panel—but it doesn’t claim to be. It does claim to be silent, efficient, and affordable. So is it?
The Sonata Proto is on the small side for a mid-tower chassis, at eight inches wide, 16.5 inches high, and 18.5 inches deep. Its frame and side panels are steel, with a plastic front bezel and door. The side and top panels are painted a mid-quality matte black, with a glossy front panel and door. The door hides the front drive bays as well as the power and reset switches, and both it and the side panel have barrel locks on them. The rest of the case is unpainted metal. It supports microATX, Mini-ITX, and standard ATX motherboards, although a full ATX mobo will leave your rig feeling cramped. The motherboard tray is not removable and does not contain cutouts for CPU cooling backplates or cable management. In fact, the left side and top panel are one solid piece of rolled steel riveted to the frame, thus making the job of installing a system much harder than it needs to be.
If you’ve been paying attention at all to case reviews lately, Corsair’s 700D should look familiar. That’s because it’s a slightly stripped-down version of the 800D, Corsair’s debut chassis (reviewed March 2010). We awarded the 800D 9 out of 10 points and a Kick Ass award, lauding its roominess, features, and design. The 700D only differs from the 800D in two respects: Its side panel has no window, and the 800D’s hot-swap SATA bays have been replaced with four HDD trays.
Like its predecessor, the 700D is huge—24 inches high, 24 inches deep, and 9 inches wide—and painted in a matte powder-black inside and out, except for the brushed-aluminum faceplate. It has five toolless 5.25-inch bays and six hard drive bays with slide-out trays, which can accommodate 3.5-inch hard drives without the use of screws, or 2.5-inch drives with screws. Two of the hard drive bays are in the case’s lowest compartment. The 800D had two 3.5-inch bays there too, but they were less accessible and did not feature slide-out trays. The remaining four hard drive bays take the place of the 800D’s hot-swap bays.
NZXT’s Panzerbox is akin to a Mini Cooper. It might look diminutive, but it has a surprising amount of space and is feature-packed, to boot. The Panzerbox is smaller than a mid-tower yet it has a slide-out motherboard tray, is made entirely of aluminum, and includes support for 12.2-inch videocards and even water cooling. At $120, it’s even affordable. On paper, the NZXT Panzerbox seems like the perfect case to house your LAN gaming rig. But is there a catch?
At 9.6 inches wide by 17.9 inches deep and 17.9 inches high, the Panzerbox’s all-aluminum chassis is one of the most compact modern ATX cases we’ve seen in years. And as mentioned above, that tiny chassis holds a lot of stuff, and still manages to offer decent airflow.
Going on name alone, one would expect the Silverstone Fortress FT02 to be an updated version of our Best of the Best mid-tower case, last year’s Fortress FT01. And while it shares a few of the FT01’s traits (like a unibody aluminum frame, acoustic padding, and some stylistic cues like black metal mesh), the vast majority of its DNA comes from the Raven RV02. In fact, it’s the homo sapiens to the RV02’s chimpanzee.
There was some debate in Maximum PC’s offices as to whether the FT02 is a mid-tower at all. It’s certainly got mid-tower width and height—8.3 inches wide and 19.5 inches high are in line with the rest of the mid-tower market—but its depth, at 24 inches, makes it practically a full-tower on its side. In fact, it’s virtually identical inside and out to the RV02, and inherits many of its traits, from the three filtered 18cm fans that blow air from the bottom of the case up to the top, to the rotated motherboard configuration that brings the normal rear panel to the top of the case. The SSD mount that attaches to the left side of the optical bays has carried over from the Raven, as well.
Sing it with us: “If you like aluminum chassis / and a whole lot of fans / if you want premium airflow / and have plenty of clams…” then, well, you might find that Lian Li’s PC-B25F mid-tower is what you’re looking for. At 8.2 inches wide by 19.5 inches high by 19.3 inches wide, it’s a mid-size mid-tower, but its aluminum construction makes it the lightest of the bunch. The PC-B25F is completely toolless, if you so choose: The motherboard standoffs are preinstalled (for ATX, anyway) and the mobo screws are all thumbscrews.
The exterior of the B25F is completely black, except for a circle of blue light at the bottom of the front panel. It’s the only light on the case (except the power and drive activity lights) and we like it that way. The B25F’s interior is unpainted, but we’re willing to forgive that, because shiny unpainted aluminum looks a lot better than unpainted steel. The motherboard tray includes the now-requisite CPU backplate cutout, as well as cable-routing holes, tie downs, and even a few PSU cable–routing clips.
The Cooler Master 690 II Advanced is the ambitious sequel to the 690, the popular mid-tower chassis of a few years ago. If you’ve seen a Cooler Master mid-tower lately, much of the 690 II’s internals will be familiar to you. The exterior of the case is all black steel and plastic trim, with black mesh running from the bottom of the front panel to the back of the top panel. It’s classic Cooler Master, from the 14cm front LED fan (with top-panel LED on/off switch), 14cm top fan, and 12cm rear fan, to the drive bays and filtered intake fans.
Unlike the original CM 690, the 8.4x20.1x20.8-inch sequel has a fully painted interior, with a CPU cutout and cable-routing holes and tie-downs on the motherboard tray. The case has four toolless optical drive clamps, but of a simpler design than CM’s previous push-button mechanisms. The 690 II’s six hard drive trays are familiar from every CM case of the past two years, though a two-SSD bracket included in the topmost tray is a new feature. And in addition to a top-panel eSATA port, the CM 690 II has a unique and ingenious “X-Data” port—full SATA power and data connectors at the top of the chassis. The port’s cover won’t fit over even a 2.5-inch drive, though, so it’s more for quick data recovery than permanent storage. But it’s innovative and we love it.
Sartre said that hell is other people. We don’t know about that, but we know what Hades is—a steel mid-tower chassis that’s full of surprises, nearly all of them pleasant.
At 7.9 inches wide by 16.9 inches high by 19.7 inches deep, the Hades is skinnier than the Zalman Z7 Plus, though otherwise similar in size. It’s all black, inside and out, and the motherboard tray includes a CPU backplate cutout as well as rubber-rimmed cable-routing cutouts. The front and side fans are 20cm monsters, and the top of the chassis has mounting holes for two 14cm or 12cm fans, as well as for a dual-fan radiator, if your tastes swing to water-cooling.
The Hades’ nine 5.25-inch drive bays include five toolless optical-drive retention mechanisms, and in lieu of dedicated hard drive cages, the Hades comes with four sets of mounting brackets, so you can install one 3.5-inch hard drive per optical drive bay. The floppy drive bay at the bottom of the case also includes an adapter that can hold two 2.5-inch SSDs (or notebook hard drives, if you prefer). Because of the Hades’ flexibility with regards to hard drive installation, it can handle foot-long videocards like the ATI Radeon HD 5970.
Zalman, a company better known for its CPU coolers than chassis, hasn’t released a new case in a while, and its previous ATX-compatible entrants were not without flaws. But now Zalman’s back with a miniscule, low-cost mid-tower that sports some surprising features. So, what do 75 smackeroons get you these days? More than you might expect.
The Zalman Z7 Plus is one of the smallest and lightest steel mid-towers in our roundup, at 18.6 inches high by 19.5 inches deep by 8.8 inches wide, and a mere 17 pounds. And though it’s not as rock-solid as, say, the Fortress FT02 or as light as the Lian Li PC-B25F, it’s a perfectly acceptable middle ground, especially given the price. For $75, you get four case fans—one 14cm rear exhaust fan, one 12cm LED intake fan attached to the hard drive cage, and two 12cm intake fans for the left side panel, only one of which comes installed by default, but both of which can be controlled via a dial on the side panel. The case also features a cutout in the motherboard tray for CPU coolers that require backplanes, a genius feature that would not have appeared in a budget case a few years ago, but is thankfully becoming standard. Furthermore, the Z7 Plus comes with four toolless optical drive bays and toolless PCI expansion-slot retention clips, as well as a five-drive hard drive bay that you can raise and lower at will.
Go big or go home. That’s a lesson Corsair apparently took to heart for its first chassis, a 24x24x9-inch full-size enclosure that rivals Cooler Master’s ATCS 840 in size. Corsair’s Obsidian 800D is all black, from its matte steel frame and side panels to its brushed-aluminum front bezel, from motherboard tray to front-panel cables, from screws to standoffs. And the goodness is more than skin deep—the 800D has everything you’d expect from a premium case: quick-swap SATA bays, thermally isolated compartments, plenty of cable-routing cutouts, and more. In fact, it’s one of the best cases we’ve tested in years.
The 800D is divided into several “cooling zones”: the top compartment with the motherboard and optical bays; the bottom compartment, where the power supply sits; and a front compartment with four hot-swap 3.5-inch SATA bays. Each compartment is cooled by a separate 14cm fan, and the top compartment has room for three additional 12cm exhaust fans, as well as support for liquid-cooling radiators. Fresh air is drawn in through dust-filtered intakes at the bottom of the case, which is lifted one inch off the ground by three supporting feet.
Since we reviewed the Thermaltake Element S (August 2009), Thermaltake has unleashed a dizzying deluge of Elements, from mid-towers G and T to the small-formfactor Q. The first full-tower, the Element V, feels like a bizarre mix of budget case and deluxe enclosure.
The Element V chassis comes with support for MicroATX, ATX, EATX, and various server motherboards, and its motherboard tray includes a CPU backplate cutout. At 21x21x8.7 inches, it’s a full three inches shorter and three inches shallower than the Corsair 800D, which is one of the biggest cases we’ve tested. Still, the Element V is roomy enough inside to accommodate a Radeon HD 5970, the longest PCI-E graphics card on the market, with an inch or so to spare.
Because the Element V is made of steel, not aluminum, it’s quite cumbersome, weighing 31 pounds empty. The side panels are similarly beefy, although we like the integrated 14cm fan in the left-side panel and the small plastic window above it. It’s good that the window is so small, because the inside of the case is unpainted, unlike the Element S.