The Thermaltake Level 20 RS ARGB is part of a small resurgence of Cooler Master HAF-esque cases that have come out in the wake of the H500P, with the two big 200mm RGB front intake fans that were distinctive of that case. We’re not going to try to pick apart Thermaltake’s naming conventions this time, so we’ll just say that although the chassis clearly reuses tooling from some earlier case, it’s not the Level 20 MT that we reviewed in 2018. This Level 20 uses mesh.
The Phanteks P400A Digital was one of the most impressive cases we reviewed last year, providing good airflow and a full set of four fans for a reasonable price, but you’d be hard pressed to find it in stock for that price anywhere currently. The P300A is a newer and even less expensive option with the same style of mesh front panel that we covered at CES in January.
The original be quiet! Pure Base 500 completely failed to pique our interests. It was another mid-tower we knew would have subpar airflow in the $80-$90 range (depending on the configuration), not cheap enough to excuse faults or expensive enough to make it offensively bad. We’re much more interested in the new variant, the 500DX. We were informed back at CES that the DX stands for Deluxe, which may or may not have been made up by be quiet! on the spot, but the gist is a slightly higher-end airflow focused model that’s still part of the Pure Base line, traditionally the least expensive of their three case families. The DX is priced at $99.90, a little more than the original, but comes with an additional fan, RGB lighting, and a mesh front panel. Today we’ll be reviewing the 500DX and pulling our Pure Base 500 from storage to do some tests and comparisons with the original.
Cases below $70 with breathable, mesh front panels have become rarer in the past few years, but the trend is starting to pick back up: At CES, we saw a deluge of $60-$70 mesh cases, like the Phanteks P300A, which takes the principles of the P400A and down-costs them, and the SilverStone Fara R1, which is meant to be a successor to our long-praised Silverstone RL06. The RL06 was a long-time budget masterpiece. It managed chart-topping performance at around $70-$80, accomplished with four 120mm fans, a short chassis length that brought fans closer to components, and a mesh front. Now, we’re reviewing the spiritual successor to the Silverstone RL06, and that’s the Fara R1 mesh variant that we saw at CES.
The Fara R1 is one of several cases in the Fara line that share the same basic chassis tooling, like the V1, but the feature that sets the R1 apart and the reason we requested it for review is its mesh front panel--we haven’t seen many well-ventilated cases for budget builders lately, and our impending economic doom is the perfect time for budget builds. There’s always a bright side. Silverstone does, in fact, refer to this case as the Fara R1, but GN Sr. Camera Operator Andrew thought that the box said “FARAR1.” Maybe that’d be how DIYPC would name its Zondda follow-up, but not Silverstone.
Either way, enough people have complained about Silverstone’s letter-letter-number-number case names (especially us), or they were in danger of a repeat. If the full name is too much to handle, the official abbreviation is FAR1.
Silverstone shaved every penny it could off the production of this case, for better or worse, creating a utilitarian enclosure that reminds us strongly of the Cooler Master NR600, another budget mesh case that launched in early 2019 and has remained a strong competitor at the $70-ish price point since. The R1 is also positioned to be a successor to our perennial budget-tier favorite, the Silverstone RL06, which is almost impossible to find at a decent price these days. Today we’ll see how the Fara R1 stacks up against these and other cases in build quality, noise, and thermals.
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.
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