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.
It’s that time of year again where we decide which case manufacturers deserve our praise and a GN Teardown Crystal, and which deserve eternal shame and have to pay $19.99 for their own Teardown Crystal from store.gamersnexus.net. Last year, the Lian Li O11 Dynamic took the prize for Best All-Around, and the Silverstone PM02 and Fractal Define S2 took home the “Best Worst” Trend award for the unforgivable sin of being pointless refreshes. Also, the PM02 is just a bad case. This year’s award nominees pick up from where we left off, starting with the lackluster Thermaltake Level 20 MT in December of 2018. Spoilers: it didn’t win anything.
With over 220 rows of case data now -- or maybe more, we haven’t really checked too recently -- there’s a lot to consider in our round-up of the best cases for 2019. Fortunately, that list instantly gets whittled-down to, well, just 2019’s data, which is still populous. With the prevalence of several bad cases this year, we can narrow the list further to focus on only the most deserving of recognition. This article will continue after the embedded video.
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.
The NZXT H710 is a slight refresh of the H700 that we reviewed two years ago. To be precise, we reviewed the Smart Device-equipped H700i, but NZXT did us the favor of sending us the base version this time. The appearance and features of the case are almost identical to the original H700, so we’ll focus on cataloguing any minor changes and seeing how the H700 case design holds up in 2019.
We never reviewed the Corsair 460X, but now we are reviewing the Corsair iCUE 465X. It's good that we never reviewed the first case, because we’re thoroughly tired of trying to find new things to say about case revisions when we’ve just gotten through looking at the prior one. The 465X is a familiar design with a full-length PSU shroud and tempered glass side and front panels, but with open-air gaps on either side that so many case manufacturers seem afraid to commit to. Corsair's 465X is priced similarly to the NZXT H700 non-i, Cooler Master H500P Mesh, and Lian Li O11 Dynamic after fan purchases. Pricing is supposed to be in the $150-$160 range, with some impact assuredly from tariffs and the rest from the RGB LEDs, three fans, and cut-down Node internally.
The Phanteks P400A gave us tentative hope at Computex when we saw its move to a fine mesh front panel, similar to what Cooler Master did with the NR600. The P400A follows-up on the original Eclipse P400, but while keeping the base tooling, it massively overhauls the panel design to move away from a closed-off, suffocated front and toward a more open mesh. Phanteks also avoids the trap that many fall into by eliminating a dust filter, instead relying on the fine mesh as a filter and keeping airflow as open as possible. In today’s testing, we’ll look at the Phanteks P400A RGB for thermals and acoustics, but we’ll also test the white panel versus black panel to see if the paint thickness matters, then throw the original P400 panel on for comparison.
The original Phanteks Eclipse P400 released circa 2016. The P400 is a case that launched during the initial explosion of S340-esque cases with sealed front panels, full-length PSU shrouds, and no optical drive support. Phanteks has gotten an impressive amount of use out of that tooling over the years, most recently with the case we’re reviewing today: the mesh-fronted P400A that comes as a $70 base model with two fans and a fan controller or a $90 RGB model with three fans and an LED controller. We’ll be covering the $70 model in a separate piece, since this review is already full to the brim with testing of the P400A’s front panel.
The O11 Dynamic was a case we liked enough to keep around for housing one of our work PCs. The layout is nonstandard, from the side intake vents to the placement of the PSU and storage, but it works. It may be the only case we’ve ever tested with a completely sealed-off glass front panel that still managed to perform actually well in testing. The O11 Air variant impressed us somewhat less, but improved substantially when the dust filtration was removed. Now, in 2019, Lian Li is introducing the O11 XL, a larger version of the original case, still bearing the Der8auer badge for his initial work on the O11 Dynamic.
Like the Dynamic, this case is meant to be used for water cooling builds, but our standardized test bench is used for air testing. This is still useful to determine the performance capabilities of the case, as it’ll all scale when comparing one case to the next, but note that water cooling can obviously brute-force its way past a lot of thermal issues. Still, the O11 Dynamic made an actually good air-cooled case thanks to the bottom intake and side intake options, so even though it looks best as an aquarium, it didn’t have to be one.
The Coolman Threebody is a case we bought in the Shenzhen SEG E-Market in China and had sent back to us, along with a couple other items that might show up in future content. This is less of a review and more of a look at some cool features in a weird case, since most of our audience can’t wander down to Shenzhen and pick one up. Maybe Western-market case manufacturers can take some cues from the Threebody’s design. Asking price at the market was $66 US, and we paid $60 for it.
The most optimistic feature of the Threebody is the big yellow warning sticker that says TEMPERED GLASS: Please handle with care. Both translucent side panels are very definitely plastic and not glass, as curved glass panels are a luxury even for major manufacturers like Cooler Master. It’s not a lie since the small pane on top of the case is glass, but this is also the smallest and most hidden of the three clear panels, so maybe they should have gone for plastic there as well.
The NZXT H510 Elite is NZXT’s premium spin on the H500 -- no, not the Cooler Master H500, not the H500P, not the H500M, and definitely not the 500D or A500, but the NZXT H500. NZXT’s H500 is a case that wasn’t top-of-the-line in thermal performance but that we liked anyway for its good build quality at a very reasonable $70 price point and reasonable thermals. NZXT must be proud of the new H510 Elite, because they sent us two identical ones. The H510 Elite is being introduced alongside the H510, which is the same as the H500, but with a USB type-C port replacing one of the type-A ports on the front pane. It’s also similar to the H510i, which includes an NZXT “Smart Device.” The Elite has a tempered glass front panel, LEDs, and two RGB fans as front intake (3 fans total) as well as the USB-C port and Smart Device. We’ve expressed our opinion on these devices before, intended to automatically run fans at the optimal cool-and-quiet speed, but these new devices are version 2. We plan to do some more testing with them soon, but for the purposes of this review we bypassed the smart device completely and controlled fan speed via the motherboard as usual.
For the purposes of this review, we’re going to pretend no other cases named H500 exist. If we say H500, we mean the NZXT H500. Note also that we had written and filmed this about 3 weeks prior to publishing, but notified NZXT in between writing and now that we had found issues with thermals in the case. As such, NZXT has modified its listing and now offers an extra 120mm exhaust fan (free for those who already bought the case) with the enclosure. We didn’t rewrite our entire review around this change, but added in two charts to cover it where necessary.
Our viewers have long requested that we add standardized case fan placement testing in our PC case reviews. We’ve previously talked about why this is difficult – largely logistically, as it’s neither free in cost nor free in time – but we are finally in a good position to add the testing. The tests, we think, clearly must offer some value, because it is one of our most-requested test items over the past two years. We ultimately want to act on community interests and explore what the audience is curious about, and so we’ve added tests for standardized case fan benchmarking and for noise normalized thermal testing.
Normalizing for noise and running thermal tests has been our main, go-to benchmark for PC cooler testing for about 2-3 years now, and we’ve grown to really appreciate the approach to benchmarking. Coolers are simpler than cases, as there’s not really much in the way of “fan placement,” and normalizing for a 40dBA level has allowed us to determine which coolers have the most efficient means of cooling when under identical noise conditions. As we’ve shown in our cooler reviews, this bypasses the issue where a cooler with significantly higher RPM always chart-tops. It’s not exactly fair if a cooler at 60dBA “wins” the thermal charts versus a bunch of coolers at, say, 35-40dBA, and so normalizing the noise level allows us to see if any proper differences emerge when the user is subjected to the same “volume” from their PC cooling products. We have also long used these for GPU cooler reviews. It’s time to introduce it to case reviews, we think, and we’ll be doing that by sticking with the stock case fan configuration and reducing case fan RPMs equally to meet the target noise level (CPU and GPU cooler fans remain unchanged, as these most heavily dictate CPU and GPU coolers; they are fixed speeds constantly).
We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.