Hardware

Cougar Conquer Case Review: Open-Air Eccentricity

By Published December 21, 2017 at 8:54 pm

The Cougar Conquer is an open-air case with a unique design that’s already attracted a lot of attention. We’ve reported on Cougar products in the past and reviewed their budget 200K keyboard back in 2015, but this is the first hands-on experience we’ve had with one of their enclosures. Cougar gets some points by default for managing to ship a glass-panelled case from Asia without anything shattering, unlike another case we received (review coming soon).

The Conquer is a huge case. It’s easy to underestimate its size in pictures because of its unusual shape, but it’s large enough to easily fit a full ATX board at a diagonal, making it both taller and wider than standard cases. The vast majority of the chassis is constructed from 5mm thick aluminum and both sides are tempered glass, making it much heavier than the skeletal frame implies. It’s technically an open air chassis, but with a case-like frame, providing mounting points for several fans.

We never bothered to review Fractal’s popular Define R5--by the time we got a chance, it was already old news. Since the R5’s release, we’ve reviewed both the Define C (and Meshify C) and given them very high marks. Now, the R5’s successor is here, ready for 2017 with a full PSU shroud and a tempered glass side panel. There are no LEDs, though, so we must all mourn.

OK, mourning over. This Fractal Define R6 review looks at build quality, thermal and acoustic performance, and cable management features. This enclosure is one of the few to impress us in the last few months, given the prevalence of cases like the Bitfenix Enso, and we found the R6’s build quality to be even better than the already-liked Define/Meshify C.

Recapping our previous X299 VRM thermal coverage, we found the ASUS X299 Rampage Extreme motherboard to operate against its throttle point when pushing higher overclocks (>4GHz) on the i9-7980XE CPU. The conclusion of that content was, ultimately, that ASUS wasn’t necessarily at fault, but that we must ask whether it is reasonable to assume such a board can take the 500-600W throughput of an overclocked 7980XE CPU. EVGA has now arrived on the scene with its X299 DARK motherboard, which is seemingly the first motherboard of this year to use a fully finned VRM heatsink in a non-WS board. Our EVGA X299 DARK review will initially look at temperatures and VRM throttling on the board, and ultimately look into how much the heatsink design impacts performance.

EVGA went crazy with its X299 DARK motherboard. The craziest thing they did, evidently, was add a real heatsink to it: The heatsink has actual fins, through which a heatpipe routes toward the IO and into another large aluminum block, which is decidedly less finned. The tiny fans on top of the board look a little silly, but we also found them to be unnecessary in most use cases: Just having a real heatsink gets the board far enough, it turns out, and the brilliance of the PCH fan is that it pushes air through M.2 slots and the heatsink near the IO.

EVGA’s X299 DARK motherboard uses some brilliant designs, but also stuff that’s pretty basic. A heatsink with fins, for one, is about as obvious as it gets: More surface area means more spread of heat, and also means fans can more readily dissipate that heat. The extra four phases on the motherboard further support EVGA in dissipating heat over a wider area. EVGA individually places thermal pads on each MOSFET rather than use a large strip, which is mostly just good attention to detail; theoretically, this does improve the cooling performance, but it is not necessarily measurable. Two fans sit atop the heatsink and run upwards of 10,000RPM, with a third, larger fan located over the PCH. The PCH only consumes a few watts and has no need for active cooling, but the fan is located in such a way that (A) it’s larger, and therefore quieter and more effective, and (B) it can push air down the M.2 chamber for active cooling, then force that air into the IO shroud. A second half of the VRM heatsink (connected via heatpipe to the finned sink) is hidden under the shroud, through which the airflow from the PCH fan may flow. That’s exhausted out of the IO shield. Making a 90-degree turn does mean losing about 30% pressure, and the heatsink is far away from the PCH, but it’s enough to get heat out of the hotbox that the shroud creates.

Here's an example of what clock throttling looks like when encountering VRM temperature limits, as demonstrated in our Rampage VI Extreme content:

The revolution of 200mm fans was a short-live one. Large fans are still around, but the brief, bombastic era of sticking a 200mm fan in every slot didn’t last long: The CM HAF X, NZXT Phantom 820, SilverStone Raven 02 (180mm), Throne & Thor, and 500R all have designs that have largely been replaced in the market. That replacement comes in the form of an obsession with the word “sleek” in marketing materials, which generally means flat, unvented paneling that would conflict with the poorer static pressure performance of large fans. That’s not to say 200mm fans are inherently good or bad, just that the industry has trended away from them.

That is, until the Cooler Master H500P, which runs 2x MasterFan MF200R units dead-center, fully garnished with RGB LEDs. We didn’t necessarily like the H500P in its stock configuration (but did fix it), but we know the case is popular, and it’s the best test bench for 200mm fans. There’s a good chance that purchasers of the NF-A20 are buying them for the H500P.

And that’s what we’re reviewing today. In this benchmark, we’re reviewing the Noctua NF-A20 200mm fans versus the Cooler Master MasterFan MF200Rs, which come stock with the H500P. The MF200R fans will almost certainly become available separately, at some point, but presently only ship with the H500P.

Intel’s 8600K CPU changes the story significantly for the company’s i5 lineup. When AMD’s R5 CPUs launched, we noted that the i5-7600K 4C/4T CPU had a “fading grasp,” highlighting that the R5 1600(X) achieved close enough gaming performance while offering greater versatility. The gap between an R7 and i7 remained much more significant – enough that we could, and do, still recommend an i7 for some workloads – but the R5 and i5 distance grew closer, and so the R5s became easy to recommend. Now, with the i5-8600K, Intel moves its mid-range lineup to 6C/6T designs, maintains high clocks (higher, even), and potentially makes up for losses on the 4C units.

We just bought Intel’s i5-8600K CPU for $300, following high demand for a review, and ran it through the benchmark ringer. We’ve previously reviewed other Intel 8th Gen units, including the i7-8700K (review here), the i5-8400 (review here), and the i3-8350K (review here). This review looks at the Intel i5-8600K benchmark performance, including overclocking (to 5GHz), Blender, gaming, thermals, and power consumption.

Bitfenix Enso Case Review

By Published November 15, 2017 at 4:55 pm

We made it through the C700P, H500P, Dark Base Pro 900, and Core G21, but cases we saw at Computex 2017 are still rolling in for review. This week, we’re examining the Bitfenix Enso, a budget case that hits both the tempered glass and RGB trends. It’s a pleasant change from the streak of ultra-heavy cases we’ve been reviewing, but as anyone who watched Steve’s recent address to case manufacturers will know, the Enso is far from perfect.

Our Bitfenix Enso review takes the case to task for thermals, alongside the usual acoustics and build quality testing. Our first look at the Enso (back at Computex) highlighted the case in a “needs work” category, calling out its extremely competitive price target and feature set, but also calling attention to concerns of ventilation. We’re back to see if Bitfenix has improved the case in the six months since.

Be Quiet! Dark Base 700 Case Review

By Published November 14, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Be Quiet!’s Dark Base cases are their highest-end silence focused models, and the newest of these is the Dark Base 700. We recently reviewed Dark Base Pro 900, but the 900 and 700 are much different cases. Naming conventions imply that the 700 is simply a scaled-down mid tower version of the full tower 900, but there are significant differences in tooling and features despite their external similarity.

The Dark Base 900 (including the Dark Base Pro) has an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the Pro), while the new Dark Base 700 has an MSRP of $180. The Dark Base 700 is loosely related to the 900, primarily in its invertible motherboard layout and material and panel quality, both of which are high for this case.

We’re reviewing the 360mm Enermax TR4 Liqtech cooler today, matched-up against the 240mm variant and with a special appearance from the Noctua NH-U14S TR4 unit. We previously benchmarked the Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 closed-loop liquid cooler versus the Noctua NH-U14S, resulting in somewhat interesting findings. The larger version of the Liqtech, the 360mm cooler, is now on the bench for comparison with an extra fan and a wider radiator. The NH-U14S returns, as does the X62 (mostly to demonstrate smaller coldplate performance).

We’re still using our 1950X CPU on the Zenith platform, overclocked to 4.0GHz at 1.35Vcore. The point of the OC isn’t to drive the highest possible clock, but to generate a larger power load out of the CPU (thus stressing to a point of better demonstrating performance deltas).

At time of publication, the Enermax Liqtech 240 TR4 is priced at ~$130, with the 360 at ~$150, and with the NH-U14S at ~$80.

Everyone’s been asking why the GTX 1070 Ti exists, noting that the flanking GTX 1080 and GTX 1070 cards largely invalidated its narrow price positioning. In a span of $100-$150, nVidia manages to segment three products, thus spurring the questions. We think the opposite: The 1070 Ti has plenty of reason to exist, but the 1080 is the now less-desirable of the options. Regardless of which (largely irrelevant) viewpoint you take, there is now a 1070, a 1070 Ti, and a 1080, and they’re all close enough that one doesn’t need to live. One should die – it’s just a matter of which. The 1070 doesn’t make sense to be killed – it’s too far from the GTX 1080, at 1920 vs. 2560 cores, and fills a lower-end market. The 1070 Ti is brand new, so that’s not dying today. The 1080, though, has been encroached upon by the 1070 Ti, just one SM and some Micron memory shy of being a full ten digits higher in numerical nomenclature.

For the basics, the GTX 1070 Ti is functionally a GTX 1080, just with one SM neutered. NVidia has removed a single simultaneous multiprocessor, which contains 128 CUDA cores and 12 texture map units, and has therefore dropped us down to 2432 CUDA cores total. This is in opposition to 2560 cores on the 1080 and 1920 cores on the 1070. The GTX 1070 Ti is much closer in relation to a 1080 than a 1070, and its $450-$480 average list price reinforces that, as GTX 1080s were available in that range before the mining explosion (when on sale, granted).

The NZXT H700i mid-tower is the largest of NZXT’s new H-series lineup, which also includes the H400i micro-ATX and H200i Mini-ITX enclosures. Visually, the H700i is a successor to the popular S340 and S340 Elite--sharp edges, smooth surfaces, and a prominent cable management bar are familiar features, but various updates and the new NZXT “smart device” set it apart.

There’s one strip of LEDs mounted on PCB at the top of the case and an additional 12” flexible magnetic strip in the accessory kit. The original plan was apparently to have two strips preinstalled, but this way the user can decide where to place the second one. Lighting is controlled by the smart device, which also attempts to control fan RPM-to-noise/thermals response curves. These curves are better set manually by the user, as we’ll discuss later.

In this review of the NZXT H700i case, we look at thermal performance, acoustics, build quality, and the “smart” device.

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