We spent the whole of 2017 complaining about airflow in cases, and it seems that some manufacturers have heard our complaints for 2018. Cooler Master has revamped its H500P to now feature a mesh face, and has also resolved significant build quality concerns with the front and top panels. Enermax rebuilt its Saberay to use mesh front and top panel inserts (optionally), a major step forward. Lian Li put out the best case at this year’s show, focusing on both looks and airflow (with two different models).
This is our review of the best cases of 2018, CES edition, following on a now six-year (!) tradition of “Best Case” coverage from CES. We started CES case round-ups in 2012, and have advanced them significantly since. Our demands have also changed significantly, as we look more toward function-focused designs that can artfully integrate ease-of-installation features.
This year’s CES saw content expansion for us, adding a second video producer to the road crew. This allowed us to better split article/video load, and balance sleep marginally better with work – up to 5 hours average for everyone, rather than the usual sub-5.
Anyway, there were plenty of products we covered in video format that didn’t make it into articles, and that was entirely due to physical limitations of the time-space continuum. We wanted to bring reader attention to some of the must-watch videos from the show, including our coverage of the Lian Li O11 chassis (the best case we saw at the event), the SilverStone Micro-STX form factor case, and Enermax’s updated Saberay.
Here they are:
We have a long, known history with the Cooler Master H500P. Our review set the stage, with our mesh mod “fixing” the product (as we said), and the disappointment build closing-out the year. Although Cooler Master didn’t particularly like what we had to say (and challenged us on the mesh mod), it seems that the company took the criticism to heart. Nearly every issue we complained about has been fixed. The company never told us about these changes, of course – we had to hear about it from you all, via Twitter – but we found out, and we visited the suite to look at the H500P Mesh and H500M.
The H500P Mesh enclosure fixes these primary concerns from our review: (1) The case falling apart, (2) the limited intake, (3) the power supply shroud installation procedure, and (4) the left panel no longer ‘wiggles’ or ‘wobbles’ side-to-side.
Enermax demonstrated to us that case manufacturers are, in fact, capable of creating cases that permit greater airflow through the front panel. It won’t look that way at first glance – the panel on the Saberay defaults to acrylic – but there’s hope yet. As we began to bring up our concerns for airflow on a closed-off panel, our Enermax representative removed the acrylic front, then demonstrated that the front and top panels are interchangeable. Enermax will ship the Saberay with two mesh panels and the acrylic panel, so you’d be able to run all mesh or one mesh and one acrylic, depending. Frankly, this has been the most exciting thing we’ve seen at the show thus far – we’ve been ragging on cases about airflow for a year now. Enermax stepped-up and offered two solutions: One for people like those of us at GN, and one for the showroom displays.
The Saberay was shown at the last CES, technically, but never shipped. This is its final iteration, and the Saberay should be shipping at around $160 in Q1. The case will include three TB RGB fans for the front, one non-RGB fan for the rear, and all included fans will be 120mm in size. Fan placement includes the usual: 3x 120mm front, 1x 120mm rear, and up to 3x 120mm top. The inside of the case also has a fan mounting panel where hard drives typically sit where, upon first glance, it appears that it’d make no sense to place the fans. Air exhausting into a glass panel isn’t particularly efficient airflow. Enermax plans to resolve this by offering a steel panel with honeycomb for the right-side of the case, which would offer some exhaust ports for any internally mounted radiators.
Lian Li is known more for unusual cases -- enclosures shaped like yachts, trains, or desks -- rather than more practical everyday midtowers, but the new Alpha 550 ($190-$220) and Alpha 330 ($100) cases may change that. This is our second attempt at reviewing the Alpha: the first review sample came with no side panel and a box of free diamonds, courtesy of the shipping service. We’re reviewing the second one today, a shiny new Alpha 550X, and will be looking at thermals, noise, and build quality, with comparisons to the Alpha 330.
The Cougar Conquer is an open-air case with a unique design that’s already attracted a lot of attention. We’ve reported on Cougar products in the past and reviewed their budget 200K keyboard back in 2015, but this is the first hands-on experience we’ve had with one of their enclosures. Cougar gets some points by default for managing to ship a glass-panelled case from Asia without anything shattering, unlike another case we received (review coming soon).
The Conquer is a huge case. It’s easy to underestimate its size in pictures because of its unusual shape, but it’s large enough to easily fit a full ATX board at a diagonal, making it both taller and wider than standard cases. The vast majority of the chassis is constructed from 5mm thick aluminum and both sides are tempered glass, making it much heavier than the skeletal frame implies. It’s technically an open air chassis, but with a case-like frame, providing mounting points for several fans.
We never bothered to review Fractal’s popular Define R5--by the time we got a chance, it was already old news. Since the R5’s release, we’ve reviewed both the Define C (and Meshify C) and given them very high marks. Now, the R5’s successor is here, ready for 2017 with a full PSU shroud and a tempered glass side panel. There are no LEDs, though, so we must all mourn.
OK, mourning over. This Fractal Define R6 review looks at build quality, thermal and acoustic performance, and cable management features. This enclosure is one of the few to impress us in the last few months, given the prevalence of cases like the Bitfenix Enso, and we found the R6’s build quality to be even better than the already-liked Define/Meshify C.
The revolution of 200mm fans was a short-live one. Large fans are still around, but the brief, bombastic era of sticking a 200mm fan in every slot didn’t last long: The CM HAF X, NZXT Phantom 820, SilverStone Raven 02 (180mm), Throne & Thor, and 500R all have designs that have largely been replaced in the market. That replacement comes in the form of an obsession with the word “sleek” in marketing materials, which generally means flat, unvented paneling that would conflict with the poorer static pressure performance of large fans. That’s not to say 200mm fans are inherently good or bad, just that the industry has trended away from them.
That is, until the Cooler Master H500P, which runs 2x MasterFan MF200R units dead-center, fully garnished with RGB LEDs. We didn’t necessarily like the H500P in its stock configuration (but did fix it), but we know the case is popular, and it’s the best test bench for 200mm fans. There’s a good chance that purchasers of the NF-A20 are buying them for the H500P.
And that’s what we’re reviewing today. In this benchmark, we’re reviewing the Noctua NF-A20 200mm fans versus the Cooler Master MasterFan MF200Rs, which come stock with the H500P. The MF200R fans will almost certainly become available separately, at some point, but presently only ship with the H500P.
“Chassis” is pretty loose, here. The Thermaltake Core P90 follows the Core P3 and Core P5 lines, but only insofar as being an open air, semi-exposed bench-style “case.” It’s more of a mounting board for parts, really, and presents them in a triangular layout, the board and VGA on flanking sides.
The case includes 2x 5mm tempered glass side panels (though we think it might be a decent bench platform without the glass), mounts the power supply within the central frame, and is dotted with cable routing holes on both component-hosting panels. This case remains wall-mountable, just like its P3 and P5 successors, though may be a bit unwieldy to get onto the stud mounts, if for no other reason than radiator support up to 480mm. That’s a lot of liquid to hang on the wall.
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