The Nextherm is one heck of an interesting case, as it’s the first PC enclosure we’ve ever tested that features “air conditioning.” What does that mean? Inside of the case is a Peltier cold plate. In action, air passing over the cold plate is chilled before moving onto all the internal components. Amazingly, it works exactly as advertised.
Couple this surprisingly effective cooling setup with a solid, well-made case and you’ve got a tantalizing enclosure that almost justifies its exorbitant price tag.
First, a bit more detail about the A/C unit: There’s an intake fan in the lower-front portion of the case, behind which sits a large copper heatsink mounted to the Peltier cold plate. If you don’t already know, a Peltier cooler is a thermoelectric device that uses electric current to produce opposing temperatures on either side of the plate. In this situation, the cold plate faces up, toward the heatsink, and the hot plate faces down, toward the floor. A plastic “ramp” connected to the heatsink/cold plate directs air up toward the hard drives and the GPU/CPU area.
The whole system is controlled via a panel located at the top of the front bezel. This slick contraption features a color LCD display, a button to turn the display on/off, a button to change the intensity of the cooling system, and temperature readouts. You can turn off all cooling (for quiet operation), have just the intake fan running, or turn on “snow” mode, which activates the Peltier cooler, which is very effective at blasting super-chilled air into the case. The only drawback is that the A/C unit is somewhat loud. It doesn’t sound like a Boeing 747, but it’s not going to win over any lovers of quiet computing.
“Great,” you’re thinking; “but does it actually make a difference?” Yes, it actually does. Although we couldn’t discern a difference in CPU temps, our 6800 GT videocard ran a full 6 C cooler with the A/C on. It also thoroughly cools the hard drives, and the capacitors around the CPU.
Cooling aside, the Nextherm is a structurally sturdy, steel enclosure. The expansive interior is mostly tool-less. Pop-on rails are used for the 5.25-inch bays, so you just snap them on and slide the drives into their respective bays. Little plastic holders affix your PCI-slot devices, and they’re relatively easy to use. Just lift up the bracket, slide the device into its slot, then push the bracket down and it’s secure.
The only parts that require tools are the two 3.25-inch drive bays. This is clearly a shortcoming of this case, but we don’t see it as a deal breaker, as not many people have more than two hard drives. There are FireWire, USB, and audio ports under a discrete flap on top of the case. The solid-black front bezel is understated yet sexy, and features a pop-open door that reveals the front drive bays. We were skeptical prior to reviewing the Nextherm, but we’re believers now. It’s a bit pricey and lacking in the storage department, but it’s otherwise an outstanding case.
Month Reviewed: March 2006
+ AIRY: Big, solid, chilly, sexy.
- HAIRY: Expensive; only two 3.5-inch bays; noisy with A/C on.