We made it through the C700P, H500P, Dark Base Pro 900, and Core G21, but cases we saw at Computex 2017 are still rolling in for review. This week, we’re examining the Bitfenix Enso, a budget case that hits both the tempered glass and RGB trends. It’s a pleasant change from the streak of ultra-heavy cases we’ve been reviewing, but as anyone who watched Steve’s recent address to case manufacturers will know, the Enso is far from perfect.
Our Bitfenix Enso review takes the case to task for thermals, alongside the usual acoustics and build quality testing. Our first look at the Enso (back at Computex) highlighted the case in a “needs work” category, calling out its extremely competitive price target and feature set, but also calling attention to concerns of ventilation. We’re back to see if Bitfenix has improved the case in the six months since.
Be Quiet!’s Dark Base cases are their highest-end silence focused models, and the newest of these is the Dark Base 700. We recently reviewed Dark Base Pro 900, but the 900 and 700 are much different cases. Naming conventions imply that the 700 is simply a scaled-down mid tower version of the full tower 900, but there are significant differences in tooling and features despite their external similarity.
The Dark Base 900 (including the Dark Base Pro) has an MSRP of $200 ($250 for the Pro), while the new Dark Base 700 has an MSRP of $180. The Dark Base 700 is loosely related to the 900, primarily in its invertible motherboard layout and material and panel quality, both of which are high for this case.
We’ve reviewed a lot of cases this year and have tested more than 100 configurations across our benchmark suite. We’ve seen some brilliant cases that have been marred by needless grasps at buzzwords, excellently designed enclosures that few talk about, and poorly designed cases that everyone talks about. Cases as a whole have gone through a lot of transformations this year, which should seem somewhat surprising, given that you’d think there are only so many ways to make a box. Today, we’re giving out awards for the best cases in categories of thermals, silence, design, overall quality, and more.
This awards show will primarily focus on the best cases that we’ve actually reviewed in the past year. If some case you like isn’t featured, it’s either because (A) we didn’t review it, or (B) we thought something else was better. It is impossible to review every single enclosure that is released annually; at least, it is impossible to do so without focusing all of our efforts on cases.
Here’s the shortlist:
The NZXT H700i mid-tower is the largest of NZXT’s new H-series lineup, which also includes the H400i micro-ATX and H200i Mini-ITX enclosures. Visually, the H700i is a successor to the popular S340 and S340 Elite--sharp edges, smooth surfaces, and a prominent cable management bar are familiar features, but various updates and the new NZXT “smart device” set it apart.
There’s one strip of LEDs mounted on PCB at the top of the case and an additional 12” flexible magnetic strip in the accessory kit. The original plan was apparently to have two strips preinstalled, but this way the user can decide where to place the second one. Lighting is controlled by the smart device, which also attempts to control fan RPM-to-noise/thermals response curves. These curves are better set manually by the user, as we’ll discuss later.
In this review of the NZXT H700i case, we look at thermal performance, acoustics, build quality, and the “smart” device.
The AM5 Silent is a new case from manufacturer Sharkoon, with noise-damping material in place of the original AM5’s acrylic side window -- but it’s far from a new chassis.
After our Antec P8 review back in September, readers were quick to point-out that the chassis (meaning the steel core of the case) was curiously similar to the Silverstone Redline 05; in fact, it appears that they’re completely identical outside of the P8’s tempered glass and the RL05’s generously ventilated front panel.
Our newest video leverages years of data to make a point about the case industry: Thermal testing isn't just to find a potential item of nitpicking or discussion -- it has actual ramifications in frequency response, power consumption/leakage, and even gaming performance. The current trend of case design has frighteningly spiraled into design trends that are actively worsening performance of systems. This is a regular cycle, to some extent, where the industry experiments with new design elements and trends -- like tempered glass and RGB lights -- and then culls the worst of the implementations. It's time for the industry to make its scheduled, pendulous swing back toward performance, though, and better accommodate thermals that prevent frequency decay on modern GPUs (which are sensitive to temperature swings).
This is a video-only format, for today. Although the content starts with a joke, the video makes use of charts from the past year or two of case testing that we've done, highlighting the most egregious instances of a case impacting performance of the entire system. We hope that the case manufacturers consider thermals with greater importance moving forward. The video makes the point, but also highlights that resolving poor case design with faster fans will negate any "silent" advantage that a case claims to offer. Find all of that below:
Hardware news for the last week includes discussion on an inadvertent NZXT H700i case unveil (with “machine learning,” apparently), Ryzen/Vega APU, Vega partner card availability, and Coffee Lake availability.
Minor news items include the AMD AGESA 22.214.171.124 update to support Raven Ridge & Pinnacle Ridge, Noctua’s Chromax fans, and some VR news – like Oculus dropping its prices – and the Pimax 8K VR configuration.
Find the video and show notes below:
Our review of Cooler Master’s H500P primarily highlighted the distinct cooling limitation of a case which has been both implicitly and explicitly marketed as “High Airflow.” The case offered decidedly low airflow, a byproduct of covering the vast majority of the fan – the selling point of the case – with an easily removed piece of clear plastic. In initial testing, we removed the case’s front panel for a closer look at thermals without obstructions, finding a reduction in CPU temperature of ~12~13 degrees Celsius. That gave a better idea for where the H500P could have performed, had the case not been suffocated by design, and started giving us ideas for mesh mods.
The mod is shown start-to-finish in the below video, but it’s all fairly trivial: Time to build was less than 30 minutes, with the next few hours spent on testing. The acrylic top and front panels are held in by double-sided tape, but that tape’s not strong enough to resist a light, sheer force. The panel separates mostly instantly when pressed on, with the rest of the tape removed by opposing presses down the paneling.
Radiator placement testing should be done on a per-case basis, not applied globally as a universal “X position is always better.” There are general trends that emerge, like front-mounted radiators generally resulting in lower CPU thermals for mesh-covered cases, but those do not persist to every case (see: In Win 303). The H500P is the first case for which we’ve gone out of the way to specifically explore radiator placement “optimization,” and we’ve also added in some best fan placement positions for the case. Radiator placement benchmarks the top versus front orientations, with push vs. pull setups tested in conjunction with Cooler Master’s 200mm fans.
Being that the selling point of the case is its 200mm fans – or one of the major ones, anyway – most of our configurations for both air and liquid attempt to utilize the fans. Some remove them, for academic reasons, but most keep the units mounted.
Our standard test bench will be listed below, but note that we are using the EVGA CLC 240 liquid cooler for radiator placement tests, rather than the MSI air cooler. The tests maximize the pump and fan RPMs, as we care only about the peak-to-peak delta in performance, not the noise levels. Noise levels are about 50-55dBA, roughly speaking, with this setup – not really tenable.
For a recap of our previous Cooler Master H500P results, check our review article and thermal testing section.
The Cooler Master MasterCase H500P is the newest in the modular MasterCase series, but is inspired by the old high airflow (“HAF”) line of cases, mainly in the form of monster 200mm intake fans and a general “rugged and futuristic design.” We covered the H500P along with the Cosmos series refresh C700P at Computex back in June, and now the time for reviewing has finally come.
Cooler Master’s H500P exhibited significant and plentiful quality control concerns, questionable design decisions, and limited semblance to the meaning behind “High Airflow” in the “HAF” naming. The case has its ups, too, primarily in the looks and cable management deparatments -- but we’ll go through all of that in this review. For Steve’s (rather animated) take on this case, check the video.
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