Ah, spring: when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of upgrading. But, alas! Your fancy new videocard is too big for your tiny case, and you’re running out of hard drive bays for your RAID. Fear not! A classy full-tower chassis can be just the solution.
In this roundup we’ve collected five full-tower cases—big and tall enclosures with all the bells and whistles: new looks, toolless expansion slots, intake filters, drive bays aplenty, and more. Space-saving isn’t a priority here: The focus is on features, with room for as much hardware as you need to cram in. If you want a portable rig or something to nestle under your desk, these aren’t the cases for you. But if you’re looking to make the most of your computer, portability be damned, one of these beauts could be your huckleberry.
In evaluating these cases, we focused on a few key points: overall build quality, aesthetics, ease of installation, cooling options, convenience, and features like front-panel connectors. We kept price in mind, too, but only to a degree: After all, we’re Maximum PC. We don’t mind paying for excellence; we just object when gear is offensively overpriced.
The Thermaltake Spedo is big and bold, with gray plastic trim and black honeycomb mesh running up the front of the case and the top plate. It sounds awkward, but it mostly works, just like the mishmash of features inside.
The 21.1x24x9.1-inch Spedo starts strong with seven external 5.25-inch slots and two removable hard drive bays with three slots each, all completely screwless. Add in two low-rpm 23cm fans (one on top and one on the side), and six smaller, faster fans, including a red LED fan in front of one of the hard drive bays, and airflow is great.
The Spedo ships with an array of flimsy plastic panels billed as the “Advanced Thermal Chamber 3,” which separate the PSU area from the PCI cards from the CPU cooler. In our experience, removing and installing the panels is more trouble than it’s worth; after our initial install we just left them outside the case.
At first glance, the Thermaltake SpinQ looks like nothing so much as a stack of bike gears with a fan mounted in the center. And that’s basically what it is—50 circular aluminum fins mounted around an 80mm fan connected to a copper exchanger. The cooler measures 4.8” wide by 3.54” deep by 5.98” high—about the same height and width as the Zalman CNPS9700LED, but a bit deeper. The SpinQ is, essentially, the high-rise counterpart to the horizontal sprawl of its stablemate, the Thermaltake DuOrb.
Unlike the DuOrb, with its two fans and jarring red-and-blue LED color scheme, the SpinQ keeps to one color, a soothing blue, and a single fan. And instead of the DuOrb’s retention system, which is sturdy but requires you to remove your motherboard, the SpinQ uses the same plastic mounting system as Intel’s stock coolers, so provided you don’t already have a retention plate from your previous cooler installed, all you have to do is snap the SpinQ onto the motherboard, tighten it, and go. Thermaltake definitely wins points for the SpinQ’s ease of installation.
Goodbye, next-generation systems: Thermaltake’s M9 chassis is a step up from the bottom rung of simplicity, but it’s nowhere near a top-of-the-line design.
The case is structured as if Thermaltake took a plain-Jane chassis, improved a few features—like making the PCI and 5.25-inch bay holders screwless—stuck in a front-panel blue LED fan to appease gaming audiences, and called it a day. That might not sound so bad, but in actuality, the screwless PCI holders become this case’s Achilles’ heel. And the arrow?
Zalman’s CNPS9700 has been the Godzilla of coolers and a Best of the Best champion for more than a year. But it’s finally facing its Megalon in Thermaltake’s DuOrb cooler. The extra-wide cooler, shaped in a 20-centimeter-wide figure eight, comes with two 8cm blue and red LED fans tucked inside two rings of copper fins.
Like Bill’s Hanzo sword, Luke’s lightsaber, and Gordon Freeman’s crowbar, Thermaltake’s newest chassis appears unconvincingly plain—until you take it out for a spin. The SwordM dices through our typical chassis frustrations like a chain saw through a burrito. This is truly a next-generation case.
For a change of pace, we’ll start with our biggest critique
first—literally, the biggest. Thermaltake’s Xaser VI chassis (the
air-cooling-specific VG4000 model) is the Godzilla of cases. It’s heavy
enough to make carrying it an awkward, hernia-inducing experience, and
that’s before you slap a system inside. Heaven forbid you make full use
of the case’s eight (?!) hard drive bays and seven (?!?!) 5.25-inch
expansion slots. Add water cooling and you might want to invest in some
wheels and a dolly for transporting the beast.
It’s hard to look at Thermaltake’s Big Typhoon VX cooler and not think one of two things: the most horrific joke you can make about size mattering and the current market price of the Dremel you’ll need to cut a hole in your case to make room for this Godzilla of a cooler.
We’ve been operating under the assumption that Zalman’s CNPS9700 is the Highlander of CPU coolers—immortal and utterly immune to the benchmarking threats posed by other, lesser devices. That’s until we ran across Thermaltake’s newest V1 cooler. As far as we can tell, the blue-lit device is the guy who brings the chain saw to a swordfight. It looks great, fits great, and outcools our reigning champion ever so slightly.