Mid-Tower Mini-Roundup

David Murphy

Two go in, one comes out

Two cases enter, one case leaves: That’s the gist of our mini-roundup this month. We’re still amazed sometimes at the disparity in production quality between cases. Sometimes, it’s as if manufacturers really don’t even bother giving the case a quick run-through before sending it off to retailers. Other times, it feels as if manufacturers go over their cases with a fine-toothed comb, checking every detail and nuance to eliminate even the smallest of possible annoyances.

We’ve done our own version of the latter. Up for battle this month are Rosewill’s Armor Evolution and NZXT’s Phantom 630. Which case will take the prize?

Rosewill Armor Evolution

We want to like Rosewill’s Armor Evolution chassis; we really do. It’s even a credit to the company that some of the case’s major flaws are elements that Rosewill actually recognizes as problems—or has received plenty of angry emails about—and is actively working to fix with a new revision of the case and/or a promise to send customers parts to patch up the first-generation chassis .

While the Armor Evolution is nicely adorned, we recommend waiting for the 2.0 version.

Nevertheless, there are still a few unfixable design choices about this mid-tower chassis that leave us a bit bewildered. We definitely recommend skipping this case in its first iteration; as to how Rosewill will let its customers know whether they are purchasing a fixed version of this jet-black steel case, that’s anyone’s guess.

The spacious case feels a bit stout when you pull it out of the box but, trust us, it’s just short. The case’s depth is hardly different than most mid-tower chassis you’re used to and, to Rosewill’s credit, the case’s shorter height does little to impact its overall capacity. You get three free, screwless optical drive bays to play with, alongside seven hard drive bays —which still force you to screw the drives into removable trays, but at least you can do that outside of the case itself.

To get to the bays, you have to confront Armor Evolution Problem Number One: The case’s side panels can be a pain in the butt to remove, thanks to fairly flimsy locking tabs that bend out of place, break, or otherwise force you to exert more oomph than you ever would expect to get the panel off. The panels themselves are flimsy too, easily bulging in and out at the center with the lightest of touches. We don’t like the hole motif of the left panel’s grill (we get it; they’re fan mounts. Lordy), nor do we like the very, very tight amount of space Rosewill puts between the rear of the motherboard tray and the case’s right side panel.

We would normally love the fact that Rosewill packs the Armor Evolution to the gills with fans—six in total, including a huge 23cm fan on the left side panel and two 12cm red LED fans on the case’s front. This chassis is as cooled as cooled can be with air, and it doesn’t explode your eardrums when you have all of the blades a-spinnin’.

We don’t particularly care for the tiny button that Rosewill puts on the underside of the case’s front panel—the one that lets you toggle the case fans’ lighting on and off. Unless you enjoy lifting your case each time you want to flip on the light show, this could not be any more annoying a setup. Until you hit the case’s insides, that is: For whatever mystifying reason, Rosewill decided to make it so that you screw into rubber grommets for the case’s two top fans. This makes both fans easy to jostle out of security with but a bump; we’d be absolutely terrified to attach a heavier radiator to the case’s top, which makes its support for liquid cooling fairly nonexistent.

Everything else about this chassis is fairly nondescript: two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports on the case’s top, plenty of rubberized cable-management holes on the tray, a decent amount of screw-free upgradability. In other words, the case runs average-to-good if you take all of its critical flaws and push them aside.

Assuming Rosewill does that by employing promised fixes, and cuts the $120 chassis’ price a bit, the Armor Evolution would be worth a spot under your desk. Otherwise, aim for a less-sloppy, sub-$100 case like the Corsair Carbide 200R , to name one.

Rosewill Armor Evolution
Beyonce

Spacious insides; semi-screwless case; lots of built-in cooling; good connectivity.

Rihanna

Side panels difficult to manipulate;worthless fan grommets;oddly located fan button.

$120, www.rosewill.com

NZXT Phantom 630

Someone’s been watching a little too much Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But in the case of NZXT’s Phantom 630 … er… case, that’s a good thing. And when you really look at the tale of the tape, this case isn’t all that much smaller than NZXT’s Phantom 820 —its bigger, louder cousin that comes with a few more eccentricities than the 630, but, to be honest, a few more headaches, as well.

NZXT’s really tightened the hatches to deliver a compelling experience with its “ultra tower” chassis—we’ll forgive the silly description there. Though it’s a wee bit pricey, this case definitely summons up a “wow” factor with its sleek, easily accessible design and captivating fan-control system. In fact, we don’t really have any outright complaints with this chassis; suggestions and dreams, perhaps, but nothing about this case stands out in a negative light.

NZXT’s Phantom 630 brings the wow factor

Where to begin? The case’s four 5.25-inch drive bays are completely screwless and don’t require you to painstakingly pop off a front panel on the chassis in order to gain access. Just open up the case’s magnetically attached front-panel cover, pop off one of the bay covers, and you’re good to go—assuming you’ve already unscrewed and removed the 630’s elegant-slash-lovely left side panel, of course. A note on that: We love the subtle, grilled treatment that NZXT gives to the side panel’s attached 20cm fan, hiding it just enough that it’s not a monster eyesore below the panel’s smaller window.

Slapping up to six hard drives in the case’s available bays is a bit mix-and-match, but that’s a good thing. The drives themselves use easily configurable trays that slide right into the three separate drive bay compartments, which are themselves removable and interchangeable, depending on your preferences, and need to accommodate longer video cards. You can even mount a 12cm fan directly on the side of one of the bays and pivot it to blast air across any part of your setup that needs it.

The case comes with a considerable amount of cooling preinstalled. In addition to the aforementioned side-panel fan, you get one 20cm fan in the front (your mechanical hard drives will love you), one 20cm fan up top, and a single 14cm exhaust fan on the case’s rear. They’re all wired up to the 630’s best feature—a built-in fan controller that you can operate from a switch and button setup directly on the front-top of the chassis. Pick from a low, medium, or high speed, and flick the case’s included white lighting on and off at the press of a button—it’s as easy as powering up your system.

While it is a mild letdown that the 630 doesn’t give you a switch for changing the internal lighting to any color you want, we love how the system’s entire fan setup is powered by a single Molex connector. We had a bit of trouble getting the fan controller to work in the Phantom 820, so it’s a joy and a relief to see a much easier setup in its “lesser” iteration.

We’re appreciative of the case’s six major routing holes for cables, in addition to a large, cutout area on the motherboard tray for simplified aftermarket CPU cooler installation. There’s plenty of room between the tray and the right side panel for your cables—even two 2.5-inch drives , if you’re ambitious—and the tray itself comes with the motherboard standoffs preinstalled for your convenience.

In other words, what’s not to like about the NZXT Phantom 630? Spoiler: Nothing. We’re always fans of more pizzazz but, as constructed, there’s really nothing to dislike about this one.

NZXT Phantom 630
Phantom of the Opera

Screwless installation; plenty of fans; excellent fan controller; room for cable management; decent lighting.

The Phantom

Liquid cooling will be a wee bit of a fuss; but nothing fans of tubes and radiators aren’t already familiar with;wee bit pricey.

$180, www.nzxt.com

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