Vendor Battles are our newest form of lighthearted, fun, but informational content. We conducted our first Vendor Battle at PAX East 2016, starring EVGA, MSI, and PNY. Now, at Computex, we turned to the case manufacturers: “You have one minute. Tell me why I should buy your case and not the next manufacturer's.”
It was a fun battle, particularly because all the case teams seem to know each other. George Makris of Corsair opened, followed by Shannon Robb of Thermaltake, and then Christoph Katzer of Be Quiet! All three well-known companies in the space.
Here's the showdown video – direct quotes below.
We had to invent a word for this one. The new Be Quiet! Dark Base 900 is an “invert-able” case on display at Computex, offering modularity for users to completely disassemble the insides. The drive cages, optical drives (removable), and even the motherboard tray can be removed and shuffled around, offering an inverted motherboard layout (similar to what we reviewed here), standard layout, or removal of unwanted drive cages / optical drive bays.
The modularity of the case is almost entirely for personal preference, and will offer minimal performance difference (if any at all). We did see that the 600C performed well in its configuration, but that was less a result of the tray inversion and more a result of the fan and PSU fan positioning, which we talk about in that review. The entire center of the chassis & frame can be removed and re-oriented with the help of 9 screws, and the side-agnostic paneling allows for the window to be positioned on either side of the pro model. The non-pro model can still do all this motherboard inversion, but includes a normal steel side panel with sound damping materials, as opposed to the tempered glass.
NZXT's manufacturing birthplace is in Shenzhen, China, but the company moved to a new, high-end facility in 2000. The company now works with Godspeed Casing, a factory that NZXT is largely responsible for 'raising' from the ground-up. Over 1200 employees work at the factory, working with tens of millions of dollars of equipment on a daily basis. One of the largest, most impressive machines in the factory is the SAG-600, which can apply upwards of 600 metric tonnes of downward force to create case paneling. That machine alone costs $2 million (USD) and towers a few times over its operator.
This NZXT factory tour is part of our Asia trip, and marks the second stop in our extended “How Cases are Made” coverage. In-Win was the first factory we visited, based in Taoyuen, Taiwan, and we've now spent a day in China for NZXT's facilities. We'll soon be back in Taipei for further Computex and local factory coverage.
Let's look at NZXT's setup:
Just as we made it into Taiwan, we're already packing to fly to Shenzhen, China for more factory and HQ tours. During the first leg of our three-part Asia trip, the GN team traveled to Taoyuen, Taiwan – about an hour outside of Taipei – to visit the In-Win case & paint factories. In-Win is best-known for fronting insane projects at tradeshows, like the Transformer-inspired H-Tower and 805 Infinity, and all of those cases get made in the factories we visited.
Touring the In-Win case-making factory gave a look into how PC cases are made; we saw injection-molding machines, automated powder coat booths, giant sanding and CNC machines, 3D coordinate projection validators, and more.
A show floor crawling with tens of thousands of people is an interesting environment for a PC tear-down – certainly more chaotic than in our labs. Still, whenever we've got an opportunity to take something apart during an unveil, we take it. MSI's recently unveiled Aegis (video below) fancies itself a barebones machine that borders on a display unit, mounted atop a power-supply enshrining pedestal that resembles Hermes' winged shoes.
While at PAX East, we weaponized our camera toolkit to disassemble MSI's Aegis barebones gaming PC, which includes a custom case, motherboard, and unique CPU cooler. Side panels came off, the video card was removed, and we more closely examined the custom cooler that MSI's packed into its compact enclosure.
SilverStone acts like somewhat of a boutique manufacturer within the US market. The products are often unique or risk-taking, sometimes bench-topping or just plain competitive – but the brand also has lower visibility when compared against US juggernauts Corsair or global market contenders Cooler Master.
One of the newest SilverStone cases competes in the ~$70 price-point, directly matched against recently reviewed cases (Phanteks P400, Rosewill Gungnir, Corsair 400C). The SilverStone Kublai KL05-BW is on bench for review today, including case walkthrough, thermal / temperature benchmarking, cable management, and build quality analysis. The enclosure diverges from recent trends by opting-out of a PSU shroud, it's kept the optical drive bays, and has taken a minimalistic-but-effective approach to cooling. More on that below.
The mid-tower ATX market seems like it's burgeoning with options right now. Everyone's got some kind of mid-tower-with-shroud available, and those who don't already have one on the way. Of late, we've looked at the NZXT S340 (arguably the start to all this), the Corsair 400C – a good progression, Phanteks' disappointing P400, and we'll soon look at SilverStone's RL05B.
All of these cases seem to fall within the $60 to $100 range, too: The NZXT S340 is $60-$70, the Corsair 400C is $90-$100, the Phanteks P400 is $60-$90, and the Gungnir is a flat $65. SilverStone's forthcoming RL05B will land at about $60.
For today, we're reviewing and benchmarking Rosewill's own mid-tower gaming case, the “Gungnir.”
Thermal testing for cases, coolers, CPUs, and GPUs requires very careful attention to methodology and test execution. Without proper controls for ambient or other variables within a lab/room environment, it's exceedingly easy for tests to vary to a degree that effectively invalidates the results. Cases and coolers are often fighting over one degree (Celsius) or less of separation, so having strict tolerances for ambient and active measurements of diodes and air at intake/exhaust helps ensure accurate data.
We recently put our methodology to the test by borrowing time on a local thermal chamber – a controlled environment – and checking our delta measurements against it. GN's thermal testing is conducted in a lab on an open-loop HVAC system; we measure ambient constantly (second-to-second) with thermocouples, then subtract those readings from diode readings to create a delta value. For the thermal chamber, we performed identical methodology within a more tightly controlled environment. The goal was to determine if the delta value (within the chamber) paralleled the delta value achieved in our own (open air) labs, within reasonable margin of error; if so, we'd know our testing is fully accurate and properly accounts for ambient and other variables.
The chamber used has climate control functions that include temperature settings. We set the chamber to match our normal lab temps (20C), then checked carefully for where the intake and exhaust are setup within the chamber. This particular unit has slow, steady intake from the top that helps circulate air by pushing it down to an exhaust vent at the bottom. It'd just turn into an oven, otherwise, as the system's rising temps would increase ambient. This still happens to some degree, but a control module on the thermal chamber helps adjust and regulate the 20C target as the internal temperature demands. It's the control module which is the most expensive, too; our chaperone told us that the units cost upwards of $10,000 – and that's for a 'budget-friendly' approach.
Phanteks' Eclipse P400 is immediately reminiscent of the NZXT S340 enclosure, which we've pinpointed as the origin of the industry's obsession with PSU shrouds and limited drive support. That's not to say there can't be multiple products in the category – it's good to see continual innovation atop well-founded concepts, and new competition drives development further.
The Phanteks Eclipse P400 ($70 to $90) first entered our lives at CES 2016, where we got hands-on with its significantly larger convention sibling, the Project 916. The Phanteks Eclipse P400 review benchmarks cooling performance, looks at thermal walls, ease-of-installation, cable management, and overall value of the case.
System Integrators (SIs) generally don't make much – they're builders, not manufacturers, and source parts at oft-discounted prices to build machines per customer spec. Every now and then, an SI will come out with some exclusive case (Origin and CyberPower have both done this) that's often only exclusive for a couple-month window; for the Revolt 2, iBUYPOWER actually designed and manufactured their own SFF enclosure, opting-out of the usual OEM route taken by the industry.
The iBUYPOWER Revolt 2 gaming PC uses a small form factor enclosure with jutting edges, a showroom-styled top and front panel, and allocates its resources most heavily toward showmanship. For a brand which has historically supported eSports venues with portable rigs for tournaments, it's no wonder that design initiatives drove this aesthetics focus.
Our review of the iBUYPOWER Revolt 2 gaming PC benchmarks temperatures (GPU & CPU thermals), FPS in games (Black Ops III, GTA V, and more), and compares the cost against an equivalent DIY solution.
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