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 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.
The Phanteks Evolv X has gotten a lot of praise lately. We had to wait for one of our readers/viewers to spare a unit (thanks, Kris!) so that we could run the Evolv X through our full suite of tests. The Evolv X is primarily interesting for its dual-system expansion capabilities, wherein the Revolt X PSU can be used to power two systems jointly. Phanteks is selling its Evolv X for $200 base, $465 for the combo with the Revolt X and ITX mounting plate, and is also selling several accessories for added cost (like SSD sleds, for instance). Phanteks has been unable to accommodate a meeting with us the past four times that we've tried, so we figured we'd source the case separately and review it. We're not sure if it's a lack of confidence in its products, but we wanted to find out.
Today, we're reviewing the Phanteks Evolv X case for build quality, thermals, cable management, dual-system assembly, and more.
This review has been a long time coming, since testing coincided with the busiest part of our office move. We last mentioned the Ophion (and the larger Ophion Evo) in our June roundup of the best cases at Computex. The impression we got back then was that the tempered glass was for show and that Raijintek was considering better-ventilated side panels for the release version. There have been some changes made, but they’re not quite what we expected.
Today’s review looks at the Raijintek Ophion mini-ITX case for build quality, form factor / usable area, thermals, and cable management.
Fractal’s newest case officially released under the name of “Define S2,” but our review has been slightly delayed by the office turning into an overclocking war zone. Fractal has hit a comfortable stride with their cases. The S2 is a successor to the Define S, but to all appearances it’s almost exactly the same as the Define R6, which we reviewed about a year ago. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though: the R6 is a good case and received praise from us for its high build quality and stout form factor.
The Fractal Define S2 case is the R6, ultimately, just with a lot of parts removed. It’s a stripped-down version of the R6 with some optional reservoir mounts and a new front panel, with rough equivalence in MSRP and ~$10 to ~$50 differences in street price. The R6 and S2 are the most direct competitors for each other, so if choosing specifically between these two, Fractal can’t lose. There are, of course, many good cases in the $150 price range, but the R6 and S2 most immediately contend with one another.
We reviewed the behemoth Cooler Master Cosmos C700P almost exactly a year ago, and now CM is back with the even heavier 51.6lb C700M. Like the H500M versus the H500P, this is a higher-end and more expensive model being added to a family of cases rather than replacing them. The new flagship has a few upgrades over the original, but it retains the same basic look with pairs of big aluminum rails at the top and bottom and dual-curved side panels.
Cooler Master’s C700M is very much a halo product, but our review of the C700M will focus on build quality, thermals, acoustics, and cable management. Ultimately, this is a showpiece -- it’s something one might buy because they can afford it, and that’s good enough reason. We will still be reviewing the Cooler Master C700M on its practical merits as an enclosure, as always, but are also taking into consideration its status as a halo product -- that is, something from which features will be pulled to the low-end later.
We moderate comments on a ~24~48 hour cycle. There will be some delay after submitting a comment.