Good looks, solid installation, a few eyebrow-raising quirks
If you’re big on case lighting—you Cylon fan, you—you’re going to absolutely love NZXT’s latest Phantom chassis. It’s rare to see such attention to detail paid to simple illumination, as with the three separate strands of lighting found on the exterior, interior, and rear of NZXT’s Phantom 820. Cooler still, you can manually cycle through a variety of colors for the lights, so as to find the one that matches whatever mood you’re in at any given moment.
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.
Size doesn’t matter. At least that’s what Falcon Northwest is saying with its latest entry into the micro-tower war, the Tiki, which offers full-size tower performance in a teeny, tiny case.
In case you don’t know, the micro-tower war is the place to be right now. Traditionally, slim micro-towers (as opposed to the typical Shuttle-style shoe-box form factors) have been bereft of performance. That all changed earlier this year when Alienware hit the market with its X51 (reviewed in May). Just bigger than a typical first-generation console, the X51’s innovation was a desktop-class GPU and CPU for a decent price. While groundbreaking, the X51 made some compromises, such as forcing you to choose between a hard drive or SSD, and offering only midrange GPU options (currently) and no ability to overclock.
Given its superb performance, the Tiki deserves to be placed on a pedestal—luckily, it comes with one.
Lian Li has been churning out brushed aluminum computer cases for nearly three decades now, occasionally coming out with funky designs like the PC-777 Memorial Edition. The case maker's latest enclosures don't take any major aesthetic risks like that one did, and instead Lian Li's new PC-A75X and PC-A76X stick to what made the company famous in the first place, which is a simply stated, full tower, brushed aluminum design.