Doom, gloom, and sheer optimism all aside, we're here today to video review, benchmark, and analyze Rosewill's new Armor Evolution mid-tower gaming case, which we originally posted about here. From the specs alone, the case seems like it should be an excellent deal: Six fans, dust filters, large enough for big coolers and cards, full cable management options, and even a red LED toggle switch for those of you who like to feel like you're enabling the afterburners, all for roughly $115. Rosewill noted to us that they suspect the case will be available through retailers for around $100 or less in due time, making it potentially even more accessible. Of course, all the fans in the world doesn't mean it has great cooling, and all the cable cut-outs in the world don't make for the best ease-of-installation -- proper engineering can make or break this type of case.
Let's analyze the engineering behind the Armor Evolution. Check the video review below, too.
Rosewill Armor Evolution Gaming Case Specs / Video Review
|Form Factor||Mid-Tower; Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX|
|Bay Support||3/2x5.25" External
Reset / Power
|Included Cooling||Front: 2x120mm red LED (intake)
Rear: 1x120mm (exhaust)
Side: 1x230mm (intake)
|Optional Cooling||3xLiquid passthroughs
Top: 120/140mm fan (2x120/140mm fan max)
Front: 2x120mm HDD rack fan
Bottom: 1x120/140mm fan
Side: 230mm can be replaced with 4x120mm
|Dimensions||8.74" x 19" x 22.84"
Support for 14.56" (369mm) VGA
|CPU Cooler Clearance||Up to 6.5" (165mm)|
|MSRP||$120; hinted at sub-$100 street price.|
Rosewill Armor Evolution Case Video Review
Rosewill Armor Evolution Special Features & Walkthrough
- A fairly customizable airflow system. Two additional case fans are included with the pre-installed four (total of six) that are just laying in the case when you receive it, ready for you to install them. You can install these fans in the top (2x slots), bottom (1x slot), or on the inward-facing side of the drive cages (2x slots).
- Dual front red LEDs, if you consider that noteworthy; there is a concealed toggle on the bottom of the front panel, so if you don't like them, just push the button.
- An elongated body; the body of the case is the length (front-to-back) of larger enthusiast cases, like the Phantom 820, but shorter in overall height and skinnier in depth (left-to-right). This makes for an odd sort of aesthetic -- one in which the case looks like a mid-tower, but is the length of a full tower.
- Because of the previous bullet, the case is also capable of accommodating longer video cards and mid-sized CPU coolers, like Thermaltake's Frio Advanced that we used (which is quite large).
- Lots of cable management pass-throughs, including an EPS cut-out that actually fits the cable, unlike the HAF X's cut-out. Most grommeted.
- USB 3.0 header included for front panel.
The features for this case scream "wannabe enthusiast," and I don't mean that negatively; the case wants to accommodate builders on a mid-range budget who'd love an enthusiast-sized (on the interior) case. It's not supersized externally, other than the length, is fairly light and mobile, and fits pretty much anything you'd like internally, with the exception of a select few CLCs (like the X60 or H110).
Build Quality, Construction, & Cable Management
As Newegg's in-store brand, you really don't expect Corsair-grade materials quality out of Rosewill. That said, there's still an expectation of durability when it comes to something that needs to be as rugged as an enclosure normally does; these things get moved around, dinged, and constantly pulled apart as new components are added and old ones are removed -- in the very least, they should have an easily removable side panel that doesn't take a minute of fudging to fully close.
The Armor Evolution doesn't. Part of the issue with having a disproportionately long body means that, without a three-screw panel design (like the larger Phantom 820 has, and old Lanboy Air had), the panel almost never fully closes and tends to warp/bend outward; the center of the panel bulges outward due to the strain placed on the top and bottom bolts, making it a bit odd looking if time isn't spent screwing around with alignment. And on the subject of alignment, the panels don't exactly line up properly to their clip-in locations. Perhaps it was just our review sample, but the panel gets stuck on the hinges and requires careful movements when removing it, else the clips may bend out-of-shape when removing too hastily.
And that's just the left side panel. The right panel is even worse -- despite the case's huge focus on ease-of-installation and cable management, particularly its multiple cable cut-outs, it just wasn't made for proper management of cables. The depth between the right panel and the motherboard mounting wall is too shallow for much more than a 24-pin cable, and barely even that. As we all know, you'll have at least a couple other cables (maybe 6-pin PCI-e or 8-pin 12VEPS) will be routed below or above the 24-pin cable, and while possible, the panel's existing inability to cleanly close doesn't make it easy to deal with.
I don't entirely blame this next bit on Rosewill -- mostly on the SATA standard, which is notoriously weak -- but when mounting our test HyperX SSD and closing the panel, I heard a disheartening snap. The SSD was lined up perfectly on the drive cage, screwed in securely, and mounted with the business-end of the drive facing the right panel; using a normal straight SATA connector (not the 90* bend version), we connected the SSD and routed the cable through a nearby passthrough. That's what caused the snap: The panel closes too close to the drive's cable attachment, and coupling such a tight squeeze with a weak standard meant that the cable, due to pressure from the panel, had snapped the plastic pin guides from the SSD. RIP, test HyperX. We express our gratitude towardKingston for their quick replacement, given that the device is used for all our testing and we were dead in the water without it, but I decided not to try using the cages again. My recommendation is to use a 90-degree bend SATA connector if you get this case, else you might face the same squeezing issue. The drive cages should be moved a few millimeters inward, toward the left panel, in order to safely mount drives.
And now we move to the fans. Remember those rubber grommets that riddle the side panel and top of the case? There are a few different ways to view all of these rubber mount points, in terms of pure mechanics (not aesthetically): The potential for vibration-based acoustics is decreased significantly by the rubber mount points, but at the same time, the fans are obnoxious to install (with the grommets falling inward when too much force or too little force is applied to the screw), grommets age and droop - which means they inevitably lose their retention ability, and, ah, did I mention they're obnoxious to work with?
I experienced fans falling out during installation, falling out when shifting the case from bench to floor and smacking my cooler/GPU, and generally leaving me very uncomfortable with their presence. The thought that an aged grommet (or generally poor craftsmanship) could result in a fan's screw jumping an IC and shorting a board is terrifying, and given how easily the fans fall out of their top-mount sockets, I can't imagine a larger cooler (like the H100/H100i) would actually stay in place all that reliably. I certainly wouldn't want a heavy radiator falling inward and crushing something.
The thing is, I'd take a normal screw hole any day of the week over one of these; fans install cleanly, reliably (they won't fall into the case with age, potentially causing a short if a screw bridges legs an IC), and can still be sound-dampened by rubberized tape over the mount holes, rather than a full grommet. This is the same way CPU coolers dampen their mounting brackets when dealing with high-RPM fans, and it's worked pretty well for them so far.
Rosewill Armor Evolution Best Case Fan Placement
After our discussion with SilverStone at CES, we're entirely convinced that picking cases with carefully thought-out and optimized airflow pathways is the way to go, when money permits; you only install your build once, for the most part, so ease-of-installation features should almost never supersede other case options and performance (unless you have a specific demand for them, like being a new builder). SilverStone's managed to produce some of the best-cooled cases out there and has done so with far fewer fans than some competing cases. This isn't necessarily an ode to SilverStone, just a fact that highlights the "more isn't better, better design is better" approach to things.
Still, with six fans included, the case sounds like a fantastic deal. At worst, you get a case and roughly $60 worth of fans (if you buy MSRP, anyway). The case ships with 2x120mm front intake (red LED) fans, 1x120mm rear exhaust fans, 1x230mm side intake fan, and 2x120mm unmounted fans. You are left to your own devices to decide whether you'd like to mount these two additional fans in the top (fits both), internal HDD cage (fits both), or bottom (fits one). Because I have an odd obsession with determining the optimal configuration for every case I work with, I tested every reasonable fan configuration within the case; of course, you'll find the normal cross-comparison benchmark further below (case vs. case), but this chart just helps you determine where the best place to put case fans is in the Armor Evolution.
Standard disclaimer: Your own configuration may vary based upon CPU cooler and GPU. For instance, longer video cards may benefit more directly from the dual-HDD cage mount than the mid-sized cards, like the 7850 we used.
Dual top exhaust, surprisingly, worked best for our large CPU cooler. In many situations we've found that top exhaust actually hinders CPU cooling performance. This is for a few reasons, primarily that ever since GPU cooling reversed its exhaust (used to exhaust into the case, c. 2008, but now exhausts externally), internals have had a higher demand for cool air than previously; additionally, we've found in smoke tests that top fans often fight the CPU cooler for air, occasionally suffocating the cooler if positioning is poor enough. My hypothesis going into this was that top intake + bottom intake would be most effective, and in general, it was best all around (better chipset temps, better VRM temps, better GPU temps - though only about 1C), but dual top exhaust works best for pure CPU temps with our cooler.
In Rosewill's presence at CES, I questioned the choice of dual HDD cage fans, hypothesizing that they may accelerate too much air straight into the GPU and potentially cutting off the CPU cooler. Well, turns out that was a fair hypothesis, seeing as dual HDD cage fans only increased GPU cooling by about .5C (within error), and hindered CPU cooling by around 2C. I noticed that removing the two additional fans altogether reduced noise noticeably and had little negative impact on cooling, so honestly, my suggestion to buyers is to remove those two fans and use them elsewhere or sell them. dB is a logarithmic scale, so you should have about a 2dB noise decrease by removing the two fans. Whether or not that matters to you is your call.
I haven't listed the GPU differences for the fans because they were too insignificant to chart out. On the whole, there was only a range of 1C between all the fan locations, which is close enough to our 5% error margin to ignore.
Rosewill Armor Evolution Benchmark & Performance
The following section will be entirely dedicated to objective performance data. You'll find our testing methodology immediately below, followed closely by a case vs. case benchmark / airflow analysis.
Case Testing Methodology
We have a brand new test bench that we assembled for the 2013-2014 period! Having moved away from our trusty i7-930 and GTX 580, the new bench includes the below components:
|GN Test Bench 2013||Name||Courtesy Of||Cost|
|Video Card||XFX Ghost 7850||GamersNexus||~$160|
|CPU||Intel i5-3570k CPU||GamersNexus||~$220|
|Memory||16GB Kingston HyperX Genesis 10th Anniv. @ 2400MHz||Kingston Tech.||~$117|
|Motherboard||MSI Z77A-GD65 OC Board||GamersNexus||~$160|
|Power Supply||NZXT HALE90 V2||NZXT||Pending|
|SSD||Kingston 240GB HyperX 3K SSD||Kingston Tech.||~$205|
|Optical Drive||ASUS Optical Drive||GamersNexus||~$20|
|Case||NZXT Phantom 820||NZXT||~$250|
|CPU Cooler||Thermaltake Frio Advanced Cooler||Thermaltake||~$60|
(Note: You may notice we did not have the HALE90 v2 during the build process of this case. The unit was still in transit at the time of the initial build.)
All of our testing is conducted in a temperature-controlled environment. Ambient is between 21C and 22C for all case airflow tests. The graphs measure temperature in Delta T over Ambient (C) - so the ambient temperature is subtracted from the component temperature.
Each test is initiated with a cold boot, where the system will sit idle for 15 minutes and collect thermal data. We use CPUID's HWMonitorPro for thermal logging and tracking. After this idle time, the system will launch a Prime95 instance running four torture threads on Large FFTs for maximum heat generation and power utilization. This is run for 15 minutes, throughout which the logging utility will collect the data we used in the below charts. Another 15 minute cool-down time (idle) is allowed after the Prime95 instance is completed, at which time an instance of FurMark launches and tortures the GPU with its 15-minute burn-in test (1080p). A final round of idle time is allowed to ensure data consistency.
All CPU thermal results are computed using Core 1 (not Core 0) due to its higher thermal reliability on our IB chip.
Armor Evolution vs. R5, KL-04, Phantom 820, HAF X Benchmark Performance
In our first CPU cooling test for Rosewill's Armor Evolution, we pitted the case against the HAF X, Rosewill's own R5, SilverStone's KL-04, and NZXT's Phantom 820. The range is from mid-range (R5) to enthusiast (Phantom 820), and the results might not be what you'd expect: The larger cases, while often outfitted with better features and higher quality materials, do not necessarily cool better than the cheaper enclosures that are performance-focused.
All data below for the Armor Evolution uses the dual top exhaust (best) configuration. All cases with fan controllers below were set to "max" for this test.
The Armor Evolution performs exceptionally well for CPU cooling with our air cooler. Despite all of its quality flaws, it is objectively the best case in terms of cooling performance that we've benched. 4C might not seem like a large delta, and for most builders it is spectacularly irrelevant, but for anyone doing serious overclocking or fighting particularly hot hardware, it's a big edge to have.
Rosewill's R5 threatens their own Armor Evolution in performance, so if you're debating between the Evo and R5 purely based upon cooling, just get the R5. Trust me. If you think the other features of the Armor Evolution might outweigh the quality issues, well, I guess it's bigger. The KL-04 from SilverStone has generally solid build quality (and hinging doors instead of the clip-in junk, thank Zeus), so if you can find it on sale somewhere, I'd say get the KL-04 over the Armor Evolution any day - the cooling differential is insubstantial.
The HAF X has traditionally been king of our GPU thermal benchmark, though its lead has decreased noticeably when we moved from our previous bench (with the hotter GTX 580) to the new bench (7850). Larger cases like the HAF X will have better performance with larger GPUs than their mid-range counterparts due to the nature of being large, so do keep that in mind when making purchasing decisions.
That doesn't change the fact that the Armor Evolution, which is about the same length as the HAF X, beat Cooler Master's famous case fair-and-square.
Rosewill Armor Evolution Value & Conclusion
Many words later, hopefully some of which will aid you in future system building endeavors, we reach the end of this article.
The Armor Evolution has the best cooling performance out of any case we've benched so far, at least, if you can tolerate the horrid fan mounts for long enough to install both additional fans in the top location. It fits just about anything we could care to install, looks to have good cable management options on the surface, and generally seems like a reasonable mid-range case. And it is, to some extent, but the cable management options rapidly lose their appeal once you, you know, try to use them, and the build quality of the panels is just too much of a pain to deal with if you're doing any sort of long-term building/unbuilding with the system.
If you're just going to build it once and be done with it, it's honestly an OK case, but you will be cursing the Nine Divine throughout the installation process. The cooling performance is undeniably good, too.
At the end of the day, the value is tough to judge. The features and promises are there, but the quality isn't. The Armor Evolution is surrounded by many other amazing choices on the market, and oddly enough, Rosewill encircled its new blood with its long-standing Thor V2, which we loved and is close in price, and R5 on the low-end. What would I buy? If I'm not after the best performance available but am more concerned with quality, assuming the same price-point of (currently) $115, I'd probably buy Antec's P280 or NZXT's Phantom 410. If the Armor Evolution truly falls below the $100 price as has been hinted at by the Rosewill reps, well, I'd still buy the P280 or Phantom 410. But the Armor Evolution would certainly be a little more justifiable.
- Steve "Lelldorianx" Burke.