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).
The Versa J24 TG RGB Edition is a budget case from Thermaltake. Our understanding is that the J22/J23/J24/J25 are basically the same chassis with the same number of fans and different front panels, but trying to remember Thermaltake case SKUs is a great way to go crazy. The sample sent to us for review is specifically the RGB edition and not the newer ARGB edition, which may or may not have been a mistake on Thermaltake’s part, but saving $10 over an extra vowel is a win in our book.
The case interior is just big enough to fit an ATX motherboard with little room to spare on any side, but there are adequate cutouts along the front edge to route all the cables. The case is about as small as it can be without entering Q500L territory, almost exactly the same dimensions as the Meshify C but slightly longer. Cable management room is understandably restricted. There is space under the PSU shroud, but users with one or more 3.5” drives will struggle to find a place for power cables. The HDD cage can be removed or shifted 2.5cm back towards the rear of the case, a welcome change from budget cases that usually rivet the HDD cage in place.
Fractal’s Define S2 Vision RGB takes the glass-and-LED approach to cases that most manufacturers discovered a few years ago. This particular approach, as we’ve discussed in years prior, is to take an existing chassis that’s reasonably good, then glue glass to metal panel carriers and stick some RGB LED fans in the case. It’s a few minutes of PM work, but allows a case to be refreshed and upsold for more.
The trouble is that Fractal has already used this particular body in minimally half a dozen SKUs, with the R6 serving as the baseline, the Define S2 following, the S2 Meshify after that, and then all the variants with windows, solid panels, or color variations. We reviewed the R6 a while ago, and all those build notes apply here. We also reviewed the S2, where we said to read the R6 review for build quality notes. None of that has really changed, or at least, very little of it has.
The refresh is absolutely on the lazy side, as it really just is a re-refresh of a case with glass and LEDs. It’s an old approach to glass and LEDs. Although the body is fine, we need to see a lot more action to justify a $240 price, or $190 for the glass version without RGB LED fans (sticking a $50 price tag on LEDs alone).
We saw the yet-unnamed ASUS ROG Strix Helios at Computex 2018, where it landed a spot on our Most Room For Improvement list alongside the other two cases ASUS showed. ASUS doesn’t make cases--the company’s been around for 30 years, so we won’t say it’s never happened, but it’s definitely a rare occurrence. They worked with In Win to create the concept shown off at Computex, but the ASUS x In Win branding has disappeared from the production version and it’s our understanding that In Win is not involved in manufacturing. The Helios has to stand up to extra scrutiny as part of ASUS’ first foray into the case market. The ROG line has a reputation for solid hardware despite the over-the-top gamer branding, so it has big shoes to fill.The case is packed with as many features as possible, necessary or otherwise. The most distinctive is the velcro strap laced over the top panel, ostensibly an “ergonomic and stylish” handle for carrying the system to LAN parties. It helps a little for hoisting the case up on to a table, but this is not the enclosure to bring to a LAN party, even for the rare person that attends more than one per decade. Most of the case’s surface is glass and it weighs 18kg empty. At least the straps and the rails that they’re looped through are massive overkill, tested up to 50kg according to ASUS, so the most likely point of failure is the person lugging it around. The strap is fastened with velcro and can easily be removed before it gets dusty and gross, and we’d recommend doing so, since the case looks perfectly normal without it.
When we first received our sample, the “multifunction cover” over the cutouts to the side of the motherboard was knocked sideways in a way that looked like serious damage, but it was just loose. There was also a mysterious loose screw wedged into it, which we later discovered was from the front panel. The cover slides backwards and forwards to allow room for E-ATX motherboards, and it contains a 2.5” drive mount and built-in GPU braces. The braces are of limited usefulness since they mostly support the edge of the GPU closest to the motherboard, which is already held up by the PCIe slot. The rails for the supports are unpainted to allow the supports to slide up and down and stand out harshly against the black interior. GPU sag is a problem, but one without an elegant solution. The cover functions normally otherwise but offers very little clearance for plugs on the edge of the motherboard, and connecting the SATA cable for our boot drive was difficult.
Cooler Master sent over its NR600 enclosure at the same time as the Q500L, but we judged it a little less time sensitive since there wasn’t any melting candy inside of it. The NR600 is a budget mesh-fronted mid tower moving in on the market segment that the RL06 used to occupy, back when it was around $70.
At first glance, the Cooler Master MasterBox NR600 bears a strong resemblance to the NZXT H500, mostly thanks to the partial glass panel that cuts off at the level of the PSU shroud, but also the flat, unadorned exterior. Cooler Master has gone increasingly minimalist with their branding, which is limited to a logo-shaped power button and an embossed hexagon on the side of the PSU shroud. We went so far as to put the NR600 side-by-side with the H500 for comparison, but their glass panels are in fact slightly different sizes.
The Cooler Master Q500L is an ATX retrofit of the micro-ATX Q300L, designed to fit full-sized ATX motherboards and components. All of this is done entirely within the footprint of the existing SFF case, which is the gimmick of Cooler Master’s Q series: multiple different cases, one (small) external size. That’s good, because Cooler Master decided to fill the entire thing with Reese’s Cups before they sent it to us, and if they’d done that with something from the Cosmos line we’d be in serious trouble. We have been well-fed, though, and we’ve learned that freezing them makes them much better. Seriously.
We’re definitely losing money on this review, and it’s not just because we had to hire an intern to eat the 18 pounds of Reese’s cups that Cooler Master included in the case. We tried hard to make the Q500L perform well in testing – we tried to force it, with Patrick spending a week longer working on this case testing than we typically spend. This is Cooler Master’s Q500L mini case for full ATX motherboards, re-using the Q300 tooling from a micro-ATX case design, but shifting the power supply around to accommodate ATX motherboards. It’s a unique approach to an enclosure and, at $60, we can overlook a lot of limitations in favor of affordability.
CaseLabs was a small manufacturer of high-end PC cases that went out of business in August of last year, bankrupted by a combination of new (American) tariffs and the loss of a major account, not to mention an ongoing legal battle with Thermaltake. We’d been in contact with CaseLabs in the months leading to the company’s demise and received one of the SMA8-A Magnum enclosures for review. With about a month to spare before the company shuttered, we knew no better that it’d soon be over for CaseLabs, and as we were in the middle of a move into our office, we shelved the review until the dust settled. By the time that dust settled, the company was done for. It stopped being a priority after that (since reviews of products that nobody can buy aren’t especially helpful), and it’s been sitting in storage ever since, unopened. Now that even more time has passed, it’s worth a revisit to see what everyone is missing out on with CaseLabs gone.
For this “review,” we’re really focusing more on build quality, some basic history, and looking at what we lost from CaseLabs’ unique approach to cases. We typically focus case reviews on thermals and acoustics, not on boutique, ultra-expensive cases, and so our review process is not well-suited for the CaseLabs SMA8. This case is meant for servers (we’re building one in the case now) or for dual-loop liquid setups, so our standard review test bench really doesn’t work here -- it fits, technically, and we did do some thermal tests for posterity, but that’s not at all the focus of what we’re doing.
The Corsair Crystal 680X is the newer, larger sibling to the 280X, a micro-ATX case that we reviewed back in June. The similarity in appearance is obvious, but Corsair has used the past year to make many changes, and the result is something more than just a scaled-up 280X and perhaps closer to a Lian Li O11 Dynamic.
First is the door, which is a step up from the old version. Instead of four thumbscrews, the panel is set on hinges and held shut with a magnet. This is a better-looking and better-functioning option. It’d be nice to have a way to lock the door in place even more securely during transportation, but that’s a minor issue and systems of this size rarely move.
Removing the front panel is a more elaborate process than usual, but it’s also unnecessary. The filter and fans are both mounted on a removable tray, and everything else is easily accessible through the side of the case. Fan trays (or radiator brackets, or whatever you want to call them) are always an improvement. If for some reason the panel does need to be removed, it involves removing three screws from inside the case, popping the plastic section off, and removing a further four screws from outside. The plastic half is held on by metal clips that function the same way as the plastic clips in the 280X, but are easier to release. Despite appearances, the glass pane is still not intended to be slid out, although it could be freed from its frame by removing many more screws.
This is a review of a revision of the Define S2, a case which we already dismissed as nearly identical to the Define R6 (a case we liked and found of high build quality), making this the third review we’ve published of the same(-ish) enclosure. That description may not sound promising, but the newest case’s name does: the Meshify S2 establishes a trend of Fractal “meshifying” cases by replacing solid front panels with better-ventilated ones, as they did previously with the Meshify C (another case we liked) and Meshify C Mini.
We recently reviewed (and weren’t impressed by) the Thermaltake Level 20 MT, but Thermaltake is nothing if not prolific, and there’s always a new enclosure to try. The A500 TG was released back in October under the full name “Thermaltake A500 Aluminum Tempered Glass Edition Mid-Tower Chassis,” and enters the lab today for a full thermal, acoustic, and build quality review.
Thermaltake’s A500 case primarily touts aluminum, glass, and trend-advancing features without necessarily introducing new ideas. It’s OK for a case to advance features rather than invent them, but it really must make advancements at the $250 price-point of the A500.
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