Fractal Design’s Define R3—the first Fractal case that will be widely available in the States—marries cool Scandinavian design with a hefty dose of acoustic foam and lots of nice touches.
It’s easy to install a 12cm or 14cm fan on the side panel in place of that acoustic damping foam.
The Define R3 is available in four colors: black, grey, silver, and white. We chose the white one because, damn, something about an all-white case with a great paint job just gives us the warm-and-fuzzies. And it really is a great paint job—it’s all smooth and glossy on the outside and matte on the inside, like the gods intended. The case’s frame and panels are all steel, and the side panels are quite heavy—due in part to the dense sound-absorbing foam panels they include. The case includes a nicely weighted front-panel door (with the hinges on the left), with acoustic foam on the inside and side vents so the front fans can continue to pull air into the chassis.
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The HAF X is the third case in Cooler Master’s High Air Flow lineup: The full-tower HAF 932 won our Kick Ass award in November 2008, and we continue to admire the mid-tower HAF 922 we first saw in October 2009—the red version is in this month’s cover story. With the HAF X, Cooler Master updates the full tower for 2010.
At 21.7x23.2x9.1 inches, the HAF X is barely bigger than the mid-tower HAF 922 and a full inch shorter and shallower than the Corsair 800D, yet it’s still roomy enough to fit a 12.1-inch graphics card. The HAF X’s rolled-steel frame and plastic bezels hew closely to the HAF series’ lines, and the internals offer few surprises. As we’d expect, there are plenty of large fans: a front 23cm red LED fan, top and side 20cm fans (and room for another at the top), and a 14cm rear exhaust. In lieu of two 20cm fans, the top panel can accommodate a triple radiator and its 12cm fans.
Say this for the Pitstop PC-T1: It turns heads. Lian Li is known for its clean, all-aluminum chassis, which range from the budget to the exorbitant—mostly the latter. This time, it has spawned an all-aluminum Mini-ITX case that just happens to look like a spider. Practical? No. Ridiculous? Yes. Usable? Eh.
The Pitstop T1 comes flat-packed, like an Ikea desk. It has four two-piece legs, a main body piece, a motherboard tray, and two PSU brackets that hang from the rear and accommodate one standard ATX PSU. Given the three-segment body (spiders only have two) and four legs (spiders have eight), it’s not anatomically correct. Then again, most spiders aren’t Mini-ITX rigs, either.
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.
It seems obvious, right? The more stuff you have, the bigger the box you need to put it in. And in computer-land, you have options ranging from tiny micro-ATX cases the size of a hardback book to enormous full-tower cases into which you could cram every computer part you’ve ever owned. But not everybody needs or wants a full-tower case. Medium-size cases, or mid-towers, take up less space, weigh less, are more portable, and (hopefully) cost less than their full-tower brethren. What’s more, features that were once exclusive to full-tower cases, like dust filters, toolless construction, and CPU cutouts, are now finding their way into mid-size chassis—and not always accompanied by price increases. Indeed, just because you have two 5970 videocards and want to water-cool your CPU, it doesn’t mean you have to go with a full-tower anymore; some mid-towers have radiator mount points and room for your beefiest cards.
We have certain criteria for testing any computer chassis, and no case is exempt. Cases gain points for build quality, ease of installation, toolless mounting—but only if it’s sturdy!—stock-cooling ability, cable-routing options, and extra features like support for water-cooling installs, space for extra-long videocards, filtered intakes, and SSD brackets. Bonus points are earned for style and going above-and-beyond the expected. Points are deducted for thoughtless design flaws, poor build quality, bad cooling performance, lack of room for essential parts, and general suckitude. We don’t automatically add or subtract points for LEDs or other aesthetic flourishes, though tasteful use is appreciated.
This month, Maximum PC tests five of the newest and hottest mid-tower cases out there, from budget to luxe, steel to aluminum, tiny to nearly full-tower-size. These enclosures have their differences, but some of the similarities are surprising. All the cases in this roundup, for example, have CPU backplate cutouts in the motherboard tray (a first), and all have very similar front-panel connections. From the small and sub-$100 Zalman Z7 Plus to the big, beautiful, expensive Silverstone Fortress FT02, Maximum PC is, shall we say, on the case.
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.