//Puns for Miscellaneous captions, cross-head etc//
Case in point
Casing the joint
Open and shut case
Building your own computer is all fine and dandy, but what do you put it in?
Your computer is a fiery beast, that?s a fact. There?s more.
In PC Plus, we don?t normally test cases. Case technology normally advances at the tectonic rates associated with plumbing and book-binding; that is, not at all, so reviewing a new case Recently however, due perhaps to the proliferation of case-modding enthusiasts, the range of cases available has increased enormously. Most come from the same few factories in Taiwan or China, but by the time they hit our stores, have mutated into a thousand and one local brands, modded and renamed.
Still, despire the similarity of most cases, there are a few distinct types out there, and it?s worth knowing what the price you should be paying for some of the more modern features is, and what you can get for very little indeed.
Most cases available on online stores will be from the selection of manufactuers we?ve covered. There are cases available that are much cheaper – check www.dealtime.co.uk and www.kelkoo.co.uk for the best prices. If you?re looking to buy a dirt cheap case, and are happy with something seven times as ugly as the seven deadly sins, then check out www.ebuyer.co.uk and look at the latest deals under its case section ? there?s normally a sub ?15 featureless case including a 350W power supply, and many big name brands at low prices.
Dan Griliopoulos is a whiz with a dremel, thanks to years of modding experience on PCFormat.
1. Mitron Acrylic Prism
? ?90.48 (??77.00 Ex VAT)
www.overclock.co.uk 0870 1417161
There are definitive advantages and disadvantages to any case, but they?re much more extreme in the case of the Mitron. It?s Perspex build gives it the unique advantage of being totally clear, and there are components available. However, it also has the unique disadvantage of having not a jot of EM shielding, and a tendency to build up static. Hardly ideal for expensive electronic equipment.
Building it is irritating too, though not as irritating as the Lubic. The surface finish is highly fragile, necessitating handling it with kid gloves (included.) The screws aren?t the strongest either, which is unusual, especially considering the Perspex is fairly robust. Inside the case there are an average number of drive bays, all Perspex, . Obviously, there?s no motherboard tray, no particularly innovative retention or riser clips, and though it?s easy enough to get into. Finally, the fan holes left in the sides give it an unfinished feel, but oddly add to its cooling potential (it has excellent airflow anyway.)
That said, it is the Prism that has elicited the most attention of any the cases we?ve had on show in the labs. As a display model, it?s second to none, especially when packed with lights and gadgets; as a practical home PC, it?s somewhat less appealing. The Perspex is also available in coloured and UV-sensitive Perspex forms.
Upper Good airflow
Upper Excellent for display.
Downer No EM shielding
Downer Fragile design
Value 7 / 10
Performance 7/ 10
Features 8 / 10
4 x 5.25″ exposed bays
2 x 3.5″ exposed bays
5 x 3.5″ internal HDD bays
Dimensions: 475mm(D) x 220mm(W) x 445mm(H)
Weight – 5.5 KG
//Alec informs me that you?ll already have shots of this case from a group test two years ago?//
2. Lian-li 6070A Silent
? 135.13 (?115.00 ex VAT)
Along with Coolermaster and Antec, Lian-li are one of the premier producers of high-quality, good-looking, computer cases. The 6070 is their high-end silent case, and is packed with all the quality you?d associate with a top-end brand. It?s unique in that, despite an expensive aluminium build, it comes with an all-aluminium door supported by solid metal pins, extending down the whole front of the case and more silencing kit than a mob hit squad. Edging the door is what appears to be carbon weave, but on closer inspection turns out to be painted plastic.
The rubber sound insulation covers the inside of the inside of the case (Except where air has to flow through the back and front panels to allow cooling), and certainly silences it effectively. Just below the front door, there?s thumbscrew access to the fan filter ? very handy for cleaning or checking out the front two of the three low-noise case fans included. (These, incidentally, have no fan controller, so will always run at a slower quieter setting than normal fans.) Just below these, there?s the two front USB ports; welcome, but meagre.
Looking inside, there?s a good selection of drive bays, a couple of neat gadgets; the slide-out motherboard tray, and the slightly-effective sound-proofing foam (which isn?t as good as traditional egg-cup shaped sound-proofing methods.) Well-featured, good-looing, and quiet yet expensive, the 6070 is a good mid-range buy.
If you?re looking for a server case, Lian-li also do an excellent alternative called the PC-626 (also available from www.chillblast.com), for about the same price.
Upper Superb soundproofing.
Upper Expected features
Downer No extras
Downer Fake carbon fibre finish.
Value 7 / 10
Performance 9 / 10
Features 8 / 10
High Ventilation Aluminum-Mg Alloy Case
Front Black Faceplate
Clear Acrylic Glass Front Panel
3 Clear Acrylic Glass Windows
4 Front USB Port
1 Front Firewire Port
1 Front Microphone Jack
1 Front Earphone Jack
5 x Ball Bearing Case Fans
Slide Out Motherboard Plate
3. Super Flower SF-201T3
? Price (? Ex VAT)
www.ebuyer.com 0870 467 0753
This case is also known as the Tigi Terminator on these shores, presumably because of the T3 at the end of its name. The name might be a little over-the-top, but the Terminator is an excellent example of the pre-modded case. These tend to include elements like extra case fans, lights and Perspex display panels on the side. The SF-201T3 has five extra fans, three Perspex windows, and lights subtly scattered across its surface.
The Aluminium-magnesium alloy it?s made of give the Terminator has a solid yet light build, and fantastic brushed aluminium finish. The four front USB sockets, single FireWire and audio sockets, all have standard connectors with extra-long cabling for ease of use and, as it comes, all the extraneous cables are neatly tucked away, making it a joy to work inside. The removable motherboard tray and exterior thumbscrews only emphasise the feeling that this is a very well thought through case. It is missing thumbscrews inside, though the multiple removable drive cages more than compensate for this.
With all these features, there is nothing you can fault in the SF-201T3?s design, except perhaps the price and the hideous gold knobs on the front. Replace these and it?s nigh-on perfect, the BMW of computer cases; all the extras, and a price to match.
Upper Superb design
Upper Fantastically featured.
Downer Components push up price.
Downer Tacky thumbscrews
4. Aerocool Lubic Airplane
?99.99 (?85.098 Ex VAT)
Maplin 0870 439 6000
Lego and Meccano geeks restrain yourselves; the Lubic may look cooler than an iced Inuit but it?s more fun than functional. To start with, on opening the packaging you?re confronted with several hundred components; a daunting task compared to most cases. However, there?s room for several cases amidst these components, as well as the ability to build a case of just about any shape, from a testing rig to the recommended aeroplane design (pictured).
As with Perspex cases, there?s not much in the way of shielding here. Indeed, there?s not much in the way of anything beyond a frame and the Perspex sheets covering the body of the plane, so again it?ll need to be kept away from microwaves, TVs and the like.
Usual features don?t really apply to the Lubic, as it gives a resounding ?no? to any question. . It does have something approximating to a motherboard tray, and all the components end up nicely spread out throughout the superstructure so access and cooling are easy; its single fan is more to provide something to hang a rotor blade off.
Our major concern with the Lubic is the time it takes to build; this is a weekend project at least. It also notably lacks any forward ports, or support for riser cards and will require endless maintenance to make sure it doesn?t fall to pieces. That said, it?s light, it?s fun to look at, and it?ll keep the kids busy for the weekend.
Upper Fantastic modular design
Upper Light and airy
Downer No EM shielding
Value / 7
Performance / 8
Features / 6
5. Chieftec BX-03B-B-B
? 50.41 (?42.90 Ex VAT)
It might look like a toaster, but hell, that was Red Dwarf?s most intelligent character. The stutteringly-monikered BX-03B-B-B is a mild reworking of Chieftec?s Dragon series design, one of the most popular case series ever, with a new fascia and slightly more consistent feature-set.
In fact, despite appearances only minor items have changed. The front ports are hidden behind a little ashtray lid on the case front, conveniently, but they?re not particularly impressive, just the standard 2 USB,1 Firewire, and an audio port. Handily, the (vented) bezel covers are easily removed and there?s a range of mobile-phone style coloured covers to match your drives, as well as windowed side panels. Neat, but ultimately only an aesthetic difference.
Like its predecessors, the BX-03B-B-B?s innovation lies in the details. First, off it has a built in removable washable filter, much like a vacuum cleaner?s, to reduce dust intake via the front of the case. Then there?s a spring design in the drive bays to reduce vibration, to keep the drives quiet and improve their life. There?s a neat little twist on the screws on the 5.25 bay as well.
Beyond that, it?s the usual (excellent) selection of honeycombed build to add cooling, a removable fan filter, drive cages with built-in fan holders, and drive slides to aid in hot-swapping. Despite the unusual omission of a motherboard tray, this is one of the best valued and best-featured cases around, if not the most handsome.
Upper Good value
Upper Great feature set
Downer Not a looker
Downer no mobo tray.
Value / 10
Performance / 9
Features / 8
6.Yeong Yang -221B ATX Cube
? 136 (? Ex VAT)
The Yeong-Yang Cube has a perspective problem; it wants to be a mini-PC, but just can?t cut down on those fatty drive bays. So while the photo above might indicate that it is a mini-PC, you might be surprised to find that this is the biggest PC volume-wise, on test. It?s also got a simply humungous fifteen drive bays, and could double as a dog-kennel when it?s PC days are over.
That said, look past the scale of the beast, and there?s nothing else to it. For a server case, access is singularly difficult; first undo the lock, then the front bevel has to come off, then the side, and only then is access to the interior at all possible. Inside the cube is curiously split into two chambers; one for the motherboard and PCI cards, and one for the various drives.
Those with a weak back should beware this as well. Weighing in at a tremendous 13.4kg with nothing inside, the steel Cube is a threat to sciatica-sufferers everywhere. Beyond that, there are no more features. De nada, naught, nothing. It has LEDs, and power switches and sides and stuff, but nothing imaginative, nothing impressive. If you?re looking for a very expensive plain black box, with access problems, but that does a passable imitation of the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, then the Cube is your inspiration.
Upper More bays than a tropical island.
Upper Big. Really, really big.
Downer Heavy. Really, really heavy.
Downer Expensive. Really, really pricey.
Value / 5
Performance / 8
Features / 5
7. Suntek TH-657X
? 64.63 (55.00 ex VAT)
Chillblast 0208 892 7555
For those who are confused to see a Mac in a PC group test; don?t be. The Suntek might have the clear plastic smoothness of an Apple G4 but beneath that saccharine appearance it?s all PC. (Anyway, as any Mac user will tell you, Macs are all about design; if the G5 case were available for test, it would probably win our Performance award.)
The Suntek speaks convenience. It sports a handle on the top, for carrying. The top third of the front bezel pops off, for ease of access, and even the side pops off easily, though it can be secured with thumbscrews. Inside the case, the design?s equally magic. Everything on the interior is screwless, from the hard disks to the (good selecion of) CD/DVD drives to the PCI caps at the back, and all done out in clean bright colours, so it?s easy to spot without much light. Even though there?s no motherboard tray, there is
Then there?s the normal, flimsy, selection of front ports, and to round everything off, there?s a 330W PSU included. With this design, these features and this price, this is a worthy second-best.
Upper Mac-alicious design
Upper Ease of installation
Downer Hardly original
Downer low-powered PSU
Performance / 9
Features / 10
?115.15 (98.00 ex VAT)
Five years ago Coolermaster, it existed was just another OEM, churning out cases for all and sundry. Two years ago, it became /the/ case manufacturer, suddenly producing a range of cases that. Today, they might be accused of resting on their laurels. After producing some of the finest aluminium cases available over the last ten years, their drive for success has faltered somewhat, and recent releases have been, if not lackluster, unimaginative. Can the Wavemaster regain their former glory?
Well, yes. Looking at the outside of it, the wave design is superb; we?ve tried avoiding aesthetic judgements when reviewing cases, but the Wavemaster will surely attract universal accolade. The wave door is stunning, and hangs from a fairly strong hinge. Beneath it, two fan outputs are concealed behind a stand-out podium. The USB, FireWire and audio ports are hidden away in a demure lockable panel on top of the solid unanodised aluminum case (similar to the gaudier Thermaltake cases), which can be replaced with a fan and filter if you wish.
Looking inside, you?ll be pleased to find a slide-out motherboard tray, albeit one that sticks a little. Most of the case is thumbscrewed, apart from the CD drives, which have standard crosshatch screws. Drives will also have trouble fitting in here if they protrude at all, as they?ll clash with the tight-fitting front door, but otherwise built quality is perfect.
The Wavemaster certainly has style, like fish have chips, but there?s not that much original beneath the surface. Handsome, it is; well-built, it is; innovative, it isn?t.
Upper Great quality case
Downer Not much new
Downer Expensive this bare.
Value / 7
Performance / 9
Features / 7
Iwill XP4 Evo
? Price (? Ex VAT)
If the ST62K is where shuttle is moving in future, the XP4 Evo is where it?s coming from. It?s a straightforward barebones case, with no added bells or whistles, beyond a nice looking fascia, with a flip-down front cd plate, there?s really very little here.
The standard ports are concealed behind a plate on the left of the case, but they seem to be missing a FireWire port. Checking the back ports, we see that there?s no FireWire support at all, and very little else for that matter; it?s got surround sound at 5.1, but there doesn?t appear to be very much additional connectivity beyond the four USB ports.
Furtermore looking inside is like looking at a monk?s cell; sparse, devoid of interest and ultimately boring. There?s only a single DIMM slot, so a maximum of 1GB of RAM, running at 266/200 MHz; checking the side of the box, the chipset also only supports FSB speeds of 533 or 400MHz, not enough for the most modern chips. There?s also only one PCI slot and no AGP slots, and frankly none of this is good enough.
The only redeeming feature of the Iwill is its tendentiously low price. Perhaps because of the aged components, it?s less than half the cost of an average shuttle making it acually damn good value for a minimum system builder; motherboard, PSU and case all in for just over a hundred nicker might actually be worth buying.
Upper Cheap as chips
Upper Passable fascia
Downer old components
Downer lack of conectivity.
Value / 9
Performance / 6
Features / 4
Shuttle ST62K Zen XPC
?205.63 (?175.00 ex VAT)
MicroDirect 0870 44 44 456
Shuttle started the mini-PC market, as far as any company did, and this box marks a return to first principles for it, getting smaller in size at the expense of disposable functionality.
The first interesting thing is the power supply ? this meagre 180W box has been situated outside the body of the case, like a traditional transformer. This has allowed the case to shrink even more ? right down to 80% of its previous size. Diminuation does require other sacrifices though, notably the floppy drive plug, though the drive bay has been left in perversely. Perhaps this is to maintain the Mac-alike kitchen-surface finish on the fascia, perhaps just absentmindedness.
The motherboard has all sorts of functionality built in, from Radeon 9100 IGP graphics (ideal for TV and older games), 800MHz FSB support, onboard 5.1 surround sound, and plenty of ports; more than most professional PCs, and with plenty of legacy support. There?s also innumerable accessories, from bags to remote controls and wireless dongles ? all at a premium, no doubt.
Add to this Shuttle?s traditional silence from its ICE technology, and this is a genuinely good option in comparison to even the high-end cases, despite its power shortage and lack of any AGP graphics capability. However, the more powerful, slightly larger shuttles are only #20 up the food chain, so it might be worth buying them instead.
Upper No floppy drive capability.
Upper Silent and tiny
Downer No graphics capability
Downer redundant FDD slot
#51.70 (? Ex VAT)
MicroDirect 0870 44 44 456
An unfair representative for Antec this; their other cases (the Super Lanboy and P160 in particular) are as well designed as any Coolermaster or Lian-li case. Yet the minuet (and it?s larger sister, the Overture) are something of a disappointment. They take the horizontal stance beloved of older computer cases, and obviously are trying to imitate sitting room technology, yet the design just doesn?t quite cut the Chesterfield, despite all its high-faluting ?piano-black? description. Perhaps it?s the steel construction rather than aluminium, or the paint on top of that, but it?s relatively heavy for its size.
The case size necessitates mini-itx or micro-itx boards; not a disadvantage in itself, but the low profile means it can only take half-height PCI cards ? and there?s only a couple of these on the market. The power-supply is also idiosyncratic; a 220W Antec own-brand that stretches across the case front, and would be very hard to replace. Normality is regained with the standard selection of ports featured on the front bezel, which serve to break it up; whether the detraction from the design balances the utility, we?ll leave up to you.
We also have worries over heat build-up; there?s room for a mini-thin 40mm fan at the back of the case, but beyond that, there?s not much possibility of cooling the thing down if it gets hot, and with bigger faster hard drives, it will get hot.
Upper Quite cheap
Upper Power supply included
Downer Difficult to cool
Downer half-height PCI slots.
SmartPower 220Watt ATX12V power supply
Front mounted USB & IEEE 1394 (FireWire, i.Link) ports
Front Audio ports
3 Drive Bays in easy to install Flip-UP Drive Cage: – 1 x 5.25″ external drive bay – 1 x 3.5″ external drive bay – 1 x 3.5″ internal drive bay
Cooling: Up to 1 40mm Fan – 1 rear (optional)
Motherboards up to MicroATX
Accepts half height expansion cards
Net Weight: 12.6 lbs. / 5.7 kg
Gross Weight: 14.2 lbs. / 6.4 kg
Dimensions: 3.8? (H) x 12.75? (W) x 16.8? (D)
Soltek Qbic EQ3401 i865
? Price (? Ex VAT)
Value / 10
Performance / 10
Features / 10
// Value Award//
The final choice of case is very much a private one. Form reflects purpose entirely in cases and, depending on what you?re looking for, you?ll pick a different case. If you?re looking for a display case, a pre-modded or Perspex case is ideal, even if the . If you?re going to be building the rig with your kids about, something we wouldn?t recommend, or you?re a big kid yourself, then the Lubic is a fun case with endless flexibility.
A user looking to build a case that?ll last him a good few motherboards should look for several things; solid build quality is the most important factor, closely followed bby material. If you can afford it, go aluminium over steel as the weight difference is notable. If you don?t go for anodizd aluminium beware; this will make your steel components rust later on.
As regards the inside of the case, you?ll want easy standardised port connectors to the front USB, audio and FireWire ports, and thumbscrews everywhere, or equivalenty easy to use clips and toggles. The motherboard tray should, if possible, slide out of the back of the case, and drive cages should come out sideways, towards the removable side panel. Fans and power supplies are welcome extras, but always remember to factor in their cost when judging the case; fans only cost a few pounds, and a cheap 300W PSU can cost just over a tenner. Is the manufacturer ripping you off?
Finally, if you?re reading this a few more months down the line, it might be wise to hold fire for a moment. The new BTX standard motherboard should be arriving soon, which will alter the way motherboard and PC cases are laid out. Power supplies and most components should carry over, but case layouts might change; if you?re not prepared to commit to the ATX standard for another year, or want to upgrade to BTX to take advantage of PCI-Express and other forthcoming technologies, then our advice is to wait.
//How We Tested//300//
The first thing we did was to build all the cases, and establish what components each needed for testing. Those that didn?t come with a motherboard had one installed; other components were installed as need be, to test out particular features. For example, the Suntek TH-657X had pretty much unique PCI-slot clips and unusual hard drive clips, so we tested these by putting the appropriate components in. The Lubic on the other hand was tested to see if it was actually stable when built and whether its aeroplane fan blades would rotate under the power of an 80mm fan (they do, just.)