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.
Goes far, but not all the way
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.
Antec’s big on allowances: You could stick up to seven additional 12cm fans in the system (including two uglier mounts on the case’s side panel), in addition to six hard drives (using rails), two 2.5-inch SSDs, and three 5.25-inch devices. There’s ample space for stuffing an XL-ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX, or standard ATX motherboard into the chassis, and we especially love all of the cable-management tricks that Antec builds into the chassis: four rubber-bordered holes for cable management (or water-cooling tubes), a huge hole in the motherboard tray for easier installation of aftermarket CPU coolers, and a big inch-wide space between the tray and the case’s side panel for more cable management.
It’s a pain in the butt to hook up the “fan controller,” which does little more than turn the top fan’s LED light on and off.
We love how the case’s front panel pops off without a sea of wires dangling behind it, like those for the case’s two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports (real headers; not pass-through). All in all, installing a system into the Eleven Hundred is a breeze, although folks with bulkier water-cooling setups might want to steer clear. This case offers plenty of potential; not perfection, but not a headache, either.
Simple installation; good cable management; excellent temperatures
Misleading fan control; lacks preinstalled fan for drives; limits water-cooling radiator setups.
Keep it simple, stupid
Silverstone’s TJ04-E is a modern take on a classic ATX mid-tower. It doesn’t even have a weird motherboard orientation. That’s not to say it’s boring.
The TJ04-E is a steel case, matte black inside and out. Its brushed-aluminum front panel has beveled edges and contains four 5.25-inch drive bays. The case ships with three 12cm fans: an intake fan in the right panel, and top and rear exhaust fans, with room for an additional fan on top, on the side, and at the case’s bottom. The TJ04-E has lots of drive room: one small cage holds six 2.5-inch drives, a pull-out cage holds eight 3.5-inchers, and the area below can hold either a 2.5- or 3.5-inch drive. To help with cable management, Silverstone included two of its four-in-one SATA power cable extenders.
The drives screw directly into the bays (upside down!), and the case ships with two heatsinks that attach directly to the sides of the drives to keep them cool. The SSD cage can also mount directly into the HDD cage—necessary if you have a long PSU.
The motherboard tray supports ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX boards, and the tray has nine cable-routing cutouts and one large CPU backplane cutout. There’s plenty of room behind the tray for cable routing, and there’s even a compartment behind the PSU to hide extra PSU cables.
Every Silverstone case has one oddball feature. Here, it’s the drive heatsinks.
The build quality is solid, but the side panels pop off easily as soon as the thumbscrews are removed. The only front-panel connectors are two USB 3.0s (with internal header) and HD Audio, and the cables for both are quite long. At $160 for the version with the side window, it ain’t cheap, but if you want refined good looks, great cable management, and a minimal, classy aesthetic, the TJ04-E is for you.
Great cable management; plenty of room for drives.
Front-panel connectors are minimal; cables too long; expensive.
Get it in green
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.
The first thing you’ll notice about the C70 is its handles. Specifically, the two carrying handles at the top of the case that make the chassis a breeze to move around. Two military-style latches secure each of the side panels in place—a feature that’s as creative as it is useful, as you no longer have to bother with screwdrivers or thumbscrews just to get to your system’s guts. The C70’s front panel sports two USB 3.0 ports on an internal header and a fun flip-up switch for the reset button that makes you feel as if you’re about to “fire zee missiles.”
This system is military-grade: Minus a few small bumps and bruises here and there.
The C70 only supports ATX or microATX motherboards, as the standoffs for either come built directly into the chassis. A hole in the motherboard tray simplifies the process of adjusting (or installing) aftermarket CPU coolers, and four cable-management cutouts (three rubberized, one normal) along with a few snap-locking mechanisms on the rear of the motherboard tray, help keep your system’s insides from looking like Medusa.
Tight PCI thumbscrews and fan filters that kept falling out of the case’s bottom were two of our bigger frustrations with this otherwise svelte chassis. Like the military machine, this no-nonsense chassis gets the job done and then some.
Lots of bays; great military theming (latches and handles!); built-in standoffs.
PCI thumbscrews a pain; fan filters kept falling from case’s bottom; two USB ports on front.
Cheap, but not inexpensive
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.
The Ravager has six HDD trays (all with SSD mounting holes), three toolless optical drive slots, and seven PCIe expansion slots. The top hard drive cage is removable, though there’s plenty of room for extra-long graphics cards even with the cage in place. The mobo tray has four cable-routing cutouts, a CPU backplane cutout, and plenty of tiedowns.
The Ravager ships with one 12cm intake fan and one 12cm exhaust fan, and can take two more 12cm or 14cm fans on the side panel, two on the top, and one more 12cm fan on the front, although only the stock front fan is filtered. Strangely, the front fan uses a Molex connector rather than a standard fan connector—and the power LED uses Molex as well, instead of the normal front-panel connector pins. The case’s top panel contains two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 (internal) and audio jacks.
Radioactive blue: the color that goes with everything.
The build quality of the Ravager leaves much to be desired. The front panel is built of plastic so cheap that half of the mounting posts had snapped off before we opened the box. The hard drive trays are flimsy, and the PCI thumbscrews are just regular screws wrapped in blue plastic, which left shavings everywhere each time we used them.
The Ravager would be an OK, if ugly, case at $50. At $100, it’s insulting. For the same price you can get a much better-looking and better-constructed case from Fractal, Silverstone, Corsair, or NZXT. MSI should stick to the stuff that goes inside cases.
Decent build experience; interesting colors.
Mediocre build quality; overpriced.
The sound of silence (and the heat, too)
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.
Corsair continues this “touch” motif on the case’s inside, where there’s room for you to install four 5.25-inch devices (that automatically lock into place) and up to six 3.5-inch hard drives (using drive trays). PCI components require you to deal with thumbscrews. Not the best way to go about it, but one that’s better than normal screws at least.
This system covers the inside of each panel in acoustic foam, but you’ll pay a price for the lessened noise.
We have to call out the Obsidian’s excellent cable-management techniques. Four rubberized holes and two normal holes give you easy means for stringing and concealing cables —like the big one for the 550D’s two front-panel USB 3.0 ports. Since the actual space for an ATX or microATX motherboard is recessed on the tray, the flip-side delivers plenty of recessed space for aligning your cables. We love this bit, since mashing a ton of cables between the flat back of a motherboard tray and the case’s side panel is never a fun task.
While we like that this foam-filled case cuts down on noise, the 550D will get hotter than most cases on the inside, and it’s a bit heavier than you might expect. Perhaps Corsair could have alleviated its cooling issue by using larger fans.
Quiet; great concealment of adjustable areas; recessed motherboard tray.
Heavier and warmer than your average case.
One of the best-looking mid-towers on the market
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.
The Phantom 410 hides three 5.25-inch drive bays behind a front-panel door, and has six drive trays. The top four drive trays are in a removable cage with an adjustable fan mount on it.
The case ships with 12cm front and rear fans and a 14cm top fan, with room for another 12cm front fan, 12cm or 14cm top fan (or 240mm radiator), two fans on the side, and one on the bottom.
Half of the motherboard tray’s six cable cutouts are grommeted, though the grommets tend to fall out at a moment’s notice. The mobo tray, per today’s standards, includes a large CPU cooler cutout. There’s plenty of room for cable routing behind the mobo tray, which is good, because otherwise the welter of fan cables would be really annoying.
We like the fan controller, but don’t dig the tangle of cables it requires.
Our other gripe with the Phantom 410 is not unique to that case: It shares the Switch 810’s drive trays, which have the SSD mounting holes the wrong way around—annoying, but not fatal. At just $100 for a solid, great-looking case, this is a steal.
Great looking, great cooling, lots of fans.
trays; tangle of cables.
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.
While we love the concept behind the case’s four side-loading hotswap bays, pray that you never lose the security key that locks them into place, or you’ll never be able to remove them. Also, you still have to screw a 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drive into the case’s trays before inserting them, limiting the “hotswap” part of the deal.
One more drive bay and four 5.25-inch bays (with handy locking mechanisms) round out the front of the case. That’s a lot of potential storage for a system that feels a little bit cramped even with a standard ATX build inside of it. That can be alleviated somewhat if you make ample use of the case’s four rubber holes for cable management, but the width of the case makes it feel a bit tight.
The Level 10 GTS comes with one big, blue 12cm fan in the front to cover the drive bays and a single 12cm fan in the rear. The top supports the installation of one 20cm fan or two 12cm fans (or a radiator!), and the side panel has room for a huge 14- or 20cm monstrosity.
You only have to hook up a single SATA power cord: Thermaltake splits the power to each of the case’s hotswap bays.
Two USB 2.0 ports join two USB 3.0 ports on the case’s front (via internal headers), arranged vertically along the case’s side, and the rear of the motherboard tray comes with about an inch of clearance between it and the side panel for cable management.
We don’t like the lumpy aesthetic of the Level 10 GTS or the few extra steps it inserts into the building process, either due to “coolness” attempts, minor design frustrations, or cramped conditions.
Good lighting and cooling; four USB ports on front; ample room for fans of all kinds.
Lumpy hotswap bay design needs work; cramped conditions.
Nathan: The Antec, NZXT, Silverstone, and Thermaltake cases gave us the best CPU and GPU cooling, with the Ravager and the Corsair cases coming in a bit hotter.
David: I don’t like it when manufacturers lean too heavily to one side of the price/performance equation. I'm shooting eyes at the Thermaltake Level 10 GTS now.
Nathan: Well, that one's a takeoff on a takeoff. Something was lost in translation.
David: I liked the Corsair C70, but I'm a sucker for good, functional design. I wish it had more ports on the front.
Nathan: That was my gripe with the Silverstone. And at $160 it was pretty expensive. I'm surprised you liked the Antec as much as you did. It seems pretty minimal.
David: There's a lot of room to grow. It's a fine $100 chassis, especially if you need a good way to pack a ton of components into a mid-tower. For frills, look elsewhere.
Nathan: The Eleven Hundred would have been a great deal two years ago, but these days $100 gets you a hell of a lot more. The Phantom 410, for example, looks and feels better than the Antec and has a functioning fan controller.
David: The Eleven Hundred sure beats the MSI Ravager!
Nathan: I was disappointed in the Ravager. Even if its build quality had been better, it'd still be ugly. The real problem, though, is the price. At $40 it’s a maybe. At $100? No way.
David: Hey, at least it had interesting colors! It’s tough to find that perfect mix of looks and performance, but I think I have to give the nod to the Phantom 410.
Nathan: Yeah, it’s the all-around winner for me. The Silverstone case is great for people with a lot of drives who prefer a simpler look.
David: As for the Corsair 550D, I get nervous when I see acoustical foam in cases. It cuts down on noise, but at the cost of cooling.
Nathan: You can’t just smack hot, loud parts into it; you'll just have a hot, quieter PC. But for a quiet build, I could see the 550D being great.
|Antec Eleven Hundred||Silverstone TJ04-E||Corsair Vengeance C70||MSI Ravager||Corsair Obsidian 550D||NZXT Phantom 410||Thermaltake Level 10 GTS|
All temperatures measured in degrees Celsius. All systems tested with a stock-clocked AMD Phenom II X6 1055T on an Asus Sabertooth 990FX mobo with a Cooler Master Hyper 212+ cooler, a GTX 480 GPU, 4GB DDR3/1600, and an 800W PSU in a room with an ambient temperature of 22 C.
Note: This article was taken from the September issue of the magazine