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.

We’ve covered one of Thermaltake’s Level 20 cases before, specifically the small form factor VT, which sought to bring the ultra-expensive Level 20 line down to ‘normal’ consumers. The Level 20 MT is a mid-tower in the same style, pairing rounded silver edges with flat tempered glass panels to equate “class,” or something, while overlooking some basic design concepts. We’re specifically reviewing the Level 20 MT ARGB, which comes with three 120mm ARGB intake fans at the front.

The front panel is restrictive, with tiny 1cm strips of mesh on either side of the glass section. Deceptively, these strips aren’t in the path of airflow and don’t act as filters. There isn’t any filtration at all in front of the fans, which instead pull air through the narrow gaps behind the edges of the front glass panel. There’s also a wider gap hidden at the bottom of the front panel, typical for cases with sealed designs like this.

We already made known our feelings of Walmart’s complete system build quality, but now we’re beginning to delve into individual and isolated component quality. We’re starting with the case, with plans to move on to the PSU next.

The Walmart case isn’t presently available as a standalone product, but it is sourced from a common supplier (much akin to the Jonsbo relationship with Rosewill and others), and so could go mainstream should a manufacturer find it worthwhile. What we’re really doing is an academic exercise to evaluate the quality of this case, including thermal tests, ease-of-installation discussion, and noise testing. This can’t be purchased separately, primarily rendering this piece as a secondary look at the overall component quality and choice for Walmart’s Overpowered DTW gaming PCs (DTW1, DTW2, DTW3).

Respected manufacturers of silence-focused PC cases like be quiet! and Fractal Design use a number of tricks to keep noise levels down. These often include specially designed fans, thick pads of noise-damping foam, sealed front panels, and elaborately baffled vents. We tend to prefer high airflow to silence when given a choice, and it usually is presented that way: as a choice. The reality is that it doesn’t have to be a choice, and that an airflow-oriented case can, with minor work, achieve equivalent noise levels to a silence-focused case (while offering better thermals).

Our testing tends to reinforce that idea of a choice: our baseline results are measured with the case fans at maximum speed and therefore maximum noise, making cases like the SilverStone RL06 sound like jet engines. The baseline torture tests are good for consistency, showcasing maximum performance, and for highlighting the performance differences between cases, but they don’t represent how most users run their PCs for 24/7 usage. Instead, most users would likely turn down the fans to an acceptable noise level--maybe even the same level as intentionally quiet cases like the Silent Base 601.

Our thesis for this benchmark paper proposes that fans can be turned down sufficiently to equate noise levels of a silence-focused case, but while still achieving superior thermal performance. The candidates chosen as a case study were the Silverstone Redline 06 and the be quiet! Silent Base 601. The RL06 is one of the best-ventilated and noisiest cases we’ve tested in the past couple of years, while the SB601 is silence-focused with restricted airflow.

One variable that we aren’t equipped to measure is the type of noise. Volume is one thing, but the frequency and subjective annoying-ness matter too. For the most part, noise damping foam addresses concerns of high-frequency whines and shorter wavelengths, while thicker paneling addresses low-frequency hums and longer wavelengths. For today’s testing, we are entirely focusing on noise level at 20” and testing thermals at normalized volumes.

Be quiet!’s cases are divided into three groups: Dark Base cases are the high-end flagships, Pure Base are (relatively) budget, and Silent Base is the range of cases in between. We’ve most recently covered the Pure Base 600 and the Dark Base Pro 900 at either end of their price spectrum, and now we’re reviewing the Silent Base 601 in the middle.

The be quiet! Silent Base 601 is priced at around $130, depending on when you check retailers, and competes most directly in price with the NZXT H700, Cooler Master H500P Mesh, and Fractal Define R6.

The Cooler Master SL600M was one of the most promising cases we saw at Computex 2018, using CM’s now-familiar 200mm fans in a bottom-to-top airflow configuration. Although the “chimney effect” and “stack effect” are genuine insofar as their physical existence, the usefulness of natural convection processes fades when confronted with high CFM, directional fans. Hot air does rise, of course, but air blasted through a fan goes wherever you want it. In this regard, we are not firm believers in the “chimney effect” as a marketing characteristic for computer cases -- not unless those are passively cooled, anyway -- even still, the last case we tested with a similar configuration was the RV02, which remains one of the best cases we’ve tested thermally.

These improvements are for other reasons, not because the heat is rising. It’s because the air path is superior, and placing several large fans at the bottom of a case (given sufficient distance from the table) can cool parts faster. The path to the GPU is shorter, and so cooler air is hitting the video card fans faster.

Cooler Master’s SL600M ends up at around $200, and enters a market with more competitors at its price class than is typical: The NZXT H700i, Cooler Master’s own H500M (or H500P Mesh), and the Phanteks Evolv X are all relatively recent contenders in this arena.

Today, we’re reviewing the Cooler Master SL600M for thermals, acoustics, build quality, and value.

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