Hardware

We’ve been hot and cold on Fractal over the past couple years. Their whole lineup has had consistently high build quality, but our opinions have ranged from the highly-rated Meshify cases that have excellent cooling potential (with some aftermarket fans added in) down to the highly-priced and unexciting Define S2 Vision RGB. Today we’re reviewing the Define 7, successor to the Define R6, a case that fell on the positive end of that scale in our review. We’re sure there’s some reason for Fractal dropping the “R,” but we neglected to ask.

As soon as the Define 7 was out of the box, we noticed how lightly tinted the glass was. The Define 7 TG comes in both dark tint and light tint versions, and the light tinted version with a white interior is a stark contrast to almost every other tinted glass case we’ve reviewed. For whatever reason, case manufacturers have tended towards extremely dark glass tints for years, which is a step back from the transparent plastic windows that were more common in the olden days (a decade ago). The choice is there for customers who want the dark tint, but we much prefer clear glass that lets the white interior shine.

In the proud tradition of the Phanteks P400A, the Lian Li PC-O11 Air, and the entire Cooler Master HAF family, the Corsair iCUE 220T RGB Airflow is another case that has the bravado to put “airflow” right in the name. As we’ve seen in the past, though, sometimes a name is just a name, and it’s our job to put that to the test. The original H500P was an example of this, and it tucked its tail between its legs and released a fix later. The 220T comes in black and white and in two variants, “airflow” and “tempered glass,” of which we’ve received the former for review. The tempered glass version is $10 more and has a glass front panel rather than a steel one. We’re more interested in this one, clearly, and so we’ll be reviewing the 220T Airflow today.

The last case we reviewed from Antec was the P8, so we started out with very low expectations for the P120. The P8 performed badly, but its greatest offense was being a boring version of the same chassis everyone was selling that year. It had the feel of a cheap rebrand from an old company (by PC hardware standards) that was unwilling or unable to keep producing the weird concepts that they did in The Old Days, like the Skeleton or the Razer Cube. The P120 Crystal we’re reviewing today is a mixture of solving and doubling down on that problem, by making a relatively exotic chassis that just so happens to look the same as an existing one.

The Antec P120 Crystal takes some obvious inspiration from the Lian Li O11. That’s the first thing we noticed when we saw this case, and that’s why we bought one to review. It doesn’t use the same tooling, it doesn’t even use exactly the same layout, but one glance is all it takes to reveal the inspiration. We regard the original O11 Dynamic and the O11 Dynamic XL highly--check our reviews for more in-depth analysis--which makes it hard to accept a design that borrows so freely from them. That doesn’t make the P120 a bad case, and we’ll do our best to give it a fair shake.

The DIYPC Zondda-O is a Newegg sort-by-lowest-price staple. It currently costs $34, falling in a price bracket that’s almost entirely occupied by other cases from DIYPC, but the price fluctuates constantly by $1-$2 in a way that suggests it exists on the razor’s edge of profitability. The most expensive enclosure they have for sale directly from Newegg is only $80, for an obviously HAF-inspired “full tower” called the Skyline 06. We’ve never mentioned DIYPC before this month, but over the years we’ve watched them quietly refining the art of selling cases that look twenty years out of date for alarmingly low prices.

We should note that we copied the below spec sheet directly from DIYPC’s website, so we can’t vouch for the “radiation protection design, safe and environmental.” Use with radioactive material at your own risk.

This isn’t a revisit of the old AMD Ryzen 5 1600 – it’s a review of the new variant, named the AMD Ryzen 5 1600 “AF” by the community, dubbed as such for its SKU change from AE to AF. The AMD R5 1600 AF is a brand new CPU with an old, old name from 2017. It’s mostly an R5 2600, in that it’s a slower variant of the Zen+ CPU from the 2000-series, but with a 1000-series name. AMD silently released the 1600 AF as an $85 option, but it’s on 12nm instead of 14nm and carries other 2nd-Gen Ryzen features. In today’s review of the new $85 processor, we’ll look at performance versus the original R5 1600, the R5 2600, and overclocking performance, since a 12nm 1600 AF should do about the same OC as a 12nm Ryzen 2000 part, which were typically 100-200MHz higher than the 1000-series.

The R5 1600 AF is a weird, weird refresh. It’s mostly odd that AMD didn’t just name it Ryzen 3 3300X or Ryzen 5 3550. They already have the 3000 family with Zen+ architecture and the 3000G with Zen1 architecture, so it wouldn’t dilute the naming and it’d be a much more successful, higher selling product with a lot of media fanfare. Instead, it just sounds like a two-year-old part, but it’s really not. We can’t fault AMD for its naming and it doesn’t particularly bother us, it’s just a bit odd from a marketing standpoint. Maybe AMD doesn’t want to sell a lot of these.

The Lian Li Lancool II is another budget case effort from Lian Li--budget relative to the rest of Lian Li’s past cases, at least. It’s the successor to the identically MSRP-ed $90 Lancool One, a case that we were mildly pleased with at the time but lacked the wow factor of Lian Li’s O11 line. The white version is $5 more, but Lian Li wisely sent the black one for review. The Lancool II has already gained a few points in our book just by being a “sequel” case that doesn’t look the same or worse than the original. In 2018, the year the Lancool One launched, our award for Best-Worst Case Trend went to pointless refreshes.

There were some fit and finish issues with our review sample, but let’s cover the features of the case first to provide some context. 

Other than the high heat felt by GDDR6 on MSI’s initial Evoke, our criticism over MSI’s poorly positioned and sized thermal pads also started some fires at the company. Shortly after our coverage, a few members of the MSI video card team flew out to us to discuss the issue, decisions that were made, and talk about the best way to fix it while remaining within the logistical confines of manufacturing. MSI had confirmed our testing, but also told us that it was working on solutions. Today, we’re revisiting the MSI Evoke to see if those promises have been met.

The original issue was that MSI used thermal pads which were only about 40% of the size of the top two memory modules, but also had poor mounting pressure and pads located far off-center. Further, the backplate was necessary to this test, as it acted like a thermal trap without any thermal interface between it and the PCB. The MSI Evoke ended up with the worst GDDR6 thermals out of all the partner 5700 XT cards we tested when noise-normalized and was among the worst even when auto. The 5700 XT reference was the only one worse.

The Threadripper line launched back in 2017, landing between the brand new and impressive Ryzen desktop chips and the extra high core count Epyc server CPUs. This launch lineup included the 8C/16T 1900X, the 12C/24T 1920X, and the 16C/32T 1950X. These were production-targeted CPUs (even more so than the main Ryzen line), best suited to individuals or small businesses doing rendering or heavily multithreaded tasks that didn’t merit a full Epyc server system. The 1920X launched at $800, but two years later it can be found on Amazon for 1/4th of that price. Today we’re going to figure out whether it’s worth even that.

We’ve picked several $200-ish CPUs to compare. The main competitor we’re considering is AMD’s own R5 3600, a chip with half the cores and half the threads. The newest Intel part we have that’s close to $200 is the 9600K, but it’s currently $240 on Amazon and therefore isn’t really a fair comparison. The i5-9400 is $200 new on Amazon and Newegg, but we don’t own one--we haven’t tested something that low on the Intel product stack since the slightly lower-spec i5-8400, so we’ll be using that as a stand-in, with the caveat that the 9400 would perform slightly better. Used and outdated PC hardware is almost always seriously overpriced and the 12C/24T Xeon E5-2697 v2 is no exception, but since it’s almost down to $200 on ebay and has the same core/thread count as the 1920X, we’ll also consider it.

The most common component review request from our viewers over the past few months has been the RX 5700 XT Red Devil. Powercolor was never able to get stock to send us one, but we finally sniped one when it popped-up on Amazon. This will likely be the last 5700 XT we review, unless something major comes out – or a THICC III – so we’ll finally have a fairly full picture of how the entire stack aligns compared to the much-praised RX 5700 XT Red Devil from PowerColor. The Red Devil has easily been the most universally recommended in comment threads and for review, and so we’ll be benchmarking it for thermals, noise, and build quality in today’s review.

We bought the Powercolor RX 5700 XT Red Devil for about $440 on Amazon, which puts it into the most direct engagement with Sapphire’s Nitro+ or MSI’s Gaming X variants of the RX 5700 XT GPU. We’ll be looking at the PowerColor card for thermals, acoustics, power budget, and fan/frequency response.

Our old coverage of the NZXT H700i included a lengthy section on what we deemed a bug-filled fusion of hardware and software that would be a waste of money even if it worked perfectly, with that device finding its way into a trashcan during the review. That was the “Smart Device” version 1, which was reclaimed from the trashcan for exactly this content piece. The intended function of this little black box was to automatically modulate fan speeds to find an optimal balance between noise and thermal performance, relying on internal microphones to gauge the noise-to-thermal response. In practice, its function is to raise the MSRP of the H700 and H710 by an average of $30. We didn’t actually get any performance numbers for the original smart device because we could never successfully coach it through the software calibration phase, something NZXT claims to have fixed in the two years since. Today, we’re testing to see if the smart device is still a net negative for the intelligence of the H-series cases.

It’s been a couple years now since we reviewed the H700i, and to NZXT’s credit, they do sell a cheaper version of the case without the device, so we’ll pause our diatribe there for now. Upon review of the H700i, we asked for an H700d -- or dumb, as dubbed by our Patreon community -- that would rid of the smart device and allow a lower price-point. This was eventually granted across the case family, and we’ve been happy to recommend the H700 as an option in the $130 to $150 category ever since.

As we alluded to in our NZXT H510 Elite review and H710 review, though, the Smart Device version 2 is here, and we’ve finally gotten around to testing it. The PCB inside the new Smart Device is visibly different, but the aim of this review is to see whether different is also better. Also, to actually review the Smart Device, since the software was too broken to test last time.

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