We’ve been hot and cold on Fractal over the past couple years. Their whole lineup has had consistently high build quality, but our opinions have ranged from the highly-rated Meshify cases that have excellent cooling potential (with some aftermarket fans added in) down to the highly-priced and unexciting Define S2 Vision RGB. Today we’re reviewing the Define 7, successor to the Define R6, a case that fell on the positive end of that scale in our review. We’re sure there’s some reason for Fractal dropping the “R,” but we neglected to ask.
As soon as the Define 7 was out of the box, we noticed how lightly tinted the glass was. The Define 7 TG comes in both dark tint and light tint versions, and the light tinted version with a white interior is a stark contrast to almost every other tinted glass case we’ve reviewed. For whatever reason, case manufacturers have tended towards extremely dark glass tints for years, which is a step back from the transparent plastic windows that were more common in the olden days (a decade ago). The choice is there for customers who want the dark tint, but we much prefer clear glass that lets the white interior shine.
In the proud tradition of the Phanteks P400A, the Lian Li PC-O11 Air, and the entire Cooler Master HAF family, the Corsair iCUE 220T RGB Airflow is another case that has the bravado to put “airflow” right in the name. As we’ve seen in the past, though, sometimes a name is just a name, and it’s our job to put that to the test. The original H500P was an example of this, and it tucked its tail between its legs and released a fix later. The 220T comes in black and white and in two variants, “airflow” and “tempered glass,” of which we’ve received the former for review. The tempered glass version is $10 more and has a glass front panel rather than a steel one. We’re more interested in this one, clearly, and so we’ll be reviewing the 220T Airflow today.
The last case we reviewed from Antec was the P8, so we started out with very low expectations for the P120. The P8 performed badly, but its greatest offense was being a boring version of the same chassis everyone was selling that year. It had the feel of a cheap rebrand from an old company (by PC hardware standards) that was unwilling or unable to keep producing the weird concepts that they did in The Old Days, like the Skeleton or the Razer Cube. The P120 Crystal we’re reviewing today is a mixture of solving and doubling down on that problem, by making a relatively exotic chassis that just so happens to look the same as an existing one.
The Antec P120 Crystal takes some obvious inspiration from the Lian Li O11. That’s the first thing we noticed when we saw this case, and that’s why we bought one to review. It doesn’t use the same tooling, it doesn’t even use exactly the same layout, but one glance is all it takes to reveal the inspiration. We regard the original O11 Dynamic and the O11 Dynamic XL highly--check our reviews for more in-depth analysis--which makes it hard to accept a design that borrows so freely from them. That doesn’t make the P120 a bad case, and we’ll do our best to give it a fair shake.
The DIYPC Zondda-O is a Newegg sort-by-lowest-price staple. It currently costs $34, falling in a price bracket that’s almost entirely occupied by other cases from DIYPC, but the price fluctuates constantly by $1-$2 in a way that suggests it exists on the razor’s edge of profitability. The most expensive enclosure they have for sale directly from Newegg is only $80, for an obviously HAF-inspired “full tower” called the Skyline 06. We’ve never mentioned DIYPC before this month, but over the years we’ve watched them quietly refining the art of selling cases that look twenty years out of date for alarmingly low prices.
We should note that we copied the below spec sheet directly from DIYPC’s website, so we can’t vouch for the “radiation protection design, safe and environmental.” Use with radioactive material at your own risk.
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.
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