|Intro and Antec Eleven Hundred|
|It’s been a while since our last case roundup--a long while, actually--so it’s high time we did another. We take a look at a slew of (mostly) mid tower cases on the following pages, each designed for a slightly different consumer. Every case in this roundup has strengths, weaknesses, and features that the others may not have, although each also has its own value proposition. If a case is flashy and feature-laden, in general, it will come with a higher price tag as well. If it’s more stripped-down, it'll generally costs less. If a case is targeted as an attention getter, it should do so with swagger, but if it’s trying to keep a low profile, in turn it should deliver that with stealthy class.
It could be said that each of the premium cases we're going to look at here, should appeal to someone. First we'll step through their features and specs and then take you through design, build quality, installation and performance.
Antec Eleven Hundred -
We start our roundup with a look at the Antec Eleven Hundred. Antec bills the Eleven Hundred as its new flagship for mainstream gaming and it’s easy to see why. In addition to good looks, the case has plenty of nice features that gamers (or anyone else) will appreciate when putting together a system.
There are, however, few extras that come with the case--just a brief owner’s manual, tool-less rails for mounting drives, requisite screws, and some zip ties.
As you can see from the above specs, the Eleven Hundred is accommodating and versatile, with 9 expansion slots, 11 drive bays, and the ability to house everything from mini-ATX up to XL-ATX motherboards, as well as grommets for a water cooling setup.
Those expansion slots allow for up to three-way or four-way SLI or CrossFireX, and the drive bays include a trio of 5.25-inch bays, a half-dozen 3.5-inch bays, and a pair of dedicated 2.5-inch bays for your dual-SSD setup. The case does not come with a 3.5-to-2.5-inch conversion kit, so two 2.5-inch drives are your limit with some rigging.
The Eleven Hundred is sufficiently deep, too, so you can slap on a CPU cooler that is up to 6.7 inches in height before you run into trouble with the side panels. Although there are a variety of options for fan configurations, including one on the side panel behind the motherboard tray, the case comes with but two--a 200mm top fan (equipped with blue LEDs that you can switch on or off) and a 120mm back panel fan. For what it’s worth, those two fans are impressively quiet, emitting a barely audible hum; our CPU cooler’s dual fans were far louder in fact.
The fan power hub allows you to connect up to four fans to a single Molex connector. The connector is located at the very top and back of the case, which is an excellent location for cable management but a rotten place for actually trying to connect something. If you have adult-sized fingers, you’re going to have to work at plugging your fans in.
The outside of the Eleven Hundred is a satiny black finish highlighted by a large, clear plastic pane that dominates roughly two-thirds of the side panel. The panel, combined with an overall grill design on the front and back and the fan grills, allows you to really see the system components well. (You can also mount a pair of 120mm fans on the clear portion of the panel.)
The front of the case is pretty much what you’d expect: a large grill with an I/O panel at the top, which includes two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and audio in/out ports. The back features the same grill design as well as spaces for the expansion slots, the motherboard I/O panel, and PSU. The fan switches are also located at the back of the case.
Although the Eleven Hundred’s construction is mostly very solid, the top and bottom leave something to be desired. The bottom has a removable PSU intake filter with a flimsy plastic frame that makes it a little hard to unwedge and remove. The top-mounted power and reset buttons are not very well built though. Every time you press them, the whole top bends--loudly--and the power button actually got stuck in the depressed position once or twice during testing.
Antec did some nice work on the interior of the Eleven Hundred. The black metal-finish interior has a subdued special OPS sort of look, there are ample rubber-rimmed grommets for all the cable routing you need, and the 36mm of room behind the motherboard tray feels spacious.
Not everything is perfect, though. Although it’s not a huge deal, the front grill covers are a pain to remove, and our optical drive wouldn’t fit properly without a good deal of jiggling. (Once it was slid into place, it was held there securely, however.) Additionally, the PSU mount is rather far from the motherboard, so cable length may be an issue, depending on what you’re trying to route where.
The Antec Eleven Hundred ($129.95) is a good all-around case with plenty of pros to outweigh the cons. We aren’t thrilled with some of the flimsy construction we spotted, but overall this case’s features are excellent.
|Corsair Carbide 400R|
|Corsair’s Carbide 400R and 500R cases are examples of how attention to detail adds up to make a superb case. The two are quite similar, although the 500R has some features the 400R doesn’t. We’ll start with the 400R.
The 400R is an all-black case with a smooth exterior finish and a metal interior finish, and it has four 5.25-inch bays and six 3.5-inch bays--fewer than some other cases, but not bad in terms of capacity. A nice plus is that the 3.5-inch bays support 2.5-inch drives with no need for adapters; you just screw the smaller drives into a different area of the rails.
There are also eight expansion slots and plenty of room for large graphics cards up to 316mm as well as support for 240mm radiators. Additionally, the 400R has three 120mm fans onboard--two in the front and one in the rear--but there are mounts for a total of six fans (six 120/140mm, four 120mm).
The front I/O panel sports a nice array of ports, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire port, mic and headphone jacks, and power and reset buttons. There’s also a switch to turn the sweet-looking white LEDs on the two front fans on and off.
For the accessories, all screws are neatly sorted into their own bags, along with a few zip ties, a USB 3.0 header extender, small clips with adhesive backs for cable routing, and of course, the owner’s manual. One small feature of the case that is one of our favorites, is that the tool-less screws remain in the screw holes of the side panels, so you’ll never lose track of them.
The 400R is by no means a flashy case, but it does boast those front panel white LEDs which give it a little pop. The front panel removes easily to give you access to the fans, as well.
The side panel has mounts for a pair of fans, as does the top of the case, in addition to the twin front-panel fans and single rear exhaust fan. There’s also a mount for a fan on the bottom of the case, which will actually offer venting as the 400R is lifted from the floor slightly with metal feet. In operation, the fans were a bit louder than most of the other cases in our roundup, but not by much.
The front panel features mostly a grill design, and while the back has one large grill for the exhaust fan and holes in the expansion slot covers (and a quarter of rubber grommets), it’s not quite as open. The bottom of the case features a large removable PSU fan dust filter, which is rather difficult to slide out unless you tilt the case on its side. Another small detail is the handle design of the top of the case, which facilitates easy lifting.
Inside, all those little things Corsair has done with the Carbide 400R really begin shine. First of all, the interior feels adequately spacious, and we didn’t have any trouble maneuvering around in there.
The motherboard tray appears recessed, but that’s actually because the area around it is indented to allow for cabling around the back; even better, the indentation creates a sort of trench back there, which gives the cables somewhere to lay. (Both side panels have a slight bump-out design that allows even more room for cabling.)
However, a curious downside to the motherboard resting in a trough is that because our motherboard’s SATA ports are aimed at a 90-degree angle from the board, the edge of the trough completely blocks the bottom row of ports. You can add a second layer of posts underneath the motherboard to fix that problem, but it’s not a particularly elegant solution.
For cable routing, the rubber grommets are sufficient in size and number to accommodate cabling, and they’re very secure, never budging let alone popping out while we were working inside the case.
The PSU mount has small feet that keep the unit off the bottom of the case just enough to allow some airflow, and there’s a large metal clip that the PSU slides underneath that keeps it remarkably secure. You can move the case around any way you want, but that PSU is going nowhere.
Corsair opted for thumbscrews on the expansion slots, which is always a welcome sight, but those suckers were on too tightly. No human thumbs could twist them loose, so we had to rely on a screwdriver.
The 5.25-inch bays are excellently designed, with a sliding mechanism that allows for quick and easy drive installation and removal. We’re a little concerned though that, over time and with heavier use, those sliding plastic clips may wear out or break. This really shouldn't be a problem for most usage models though, where 5.25 bays aren't often worked that much.
Our first impression of the 3.5-inch rails was a mixture of confusion and concern; those trays are as thin, flimsy, and bendable as any we’ve seen. In fact, when you pinch the tabs to remove one, the entire unit bends dramatically. However, when you install a drive in one, you realize that the rails themselves are designed to do little other than position the drive in the right place. The HDD itself creates the rigidity and stability, and the end result is surprisingly sturdy. We would question this design, however, for 2.5-inch drives, as they’ll just sort of float there. Granted, 2.5-inch drives are quite light, but we wouldn’t feel great about end result to be honest.
The bottom line is that there is very, very little to complain about with the Carbide 400R. Its looks are unremarkable but classic, it’s enjoyable to setup and its performance is solid (more on this later). At just $99.99, the cost is rather agreeable as well.
|Corsair Carbide 500R|
|Take everything good (and bad) we just told you about the Corsair Carbide 400R, including all the features, and carry it on over to the Carbide 500R. However, we'll note a few more features and extras that make this case an even better value.
Our 500R boasts a beautiful, white-and-black case design that just pops. It’s a refreshing departure from the dark finishes on most cases. This case is also available in an all-black design, but we’re convinced that white is definitely the way to go for head-turning appeal.
The impeccable paint job itself is worth the upgrade from the 400R. The quality of the finish is about what you’d expect from a good car paintjob. There isn’t a drop of overspray, and the painted sections are completely covered--no painted exterior/bare metal interior here.
Like the 400R, the 500R has white LEDs on the two front fans, but the white LEDs also light up a big 200mm side panel fan. The overall effect is downright sexy.
Features, Exterior, and Interior
In addition to the 200mm side panel fan, the 500R has a few features that the 400R does not. For one thing, you can put a pair of smaller fans on the side panel instead of the 200mm fan, for a total of eight possible fan mount.
The top panel of the 500R comes off in additional to the front, giving you access to the twin top fans, and there’s a multi-channel fan controller on the front panel along with the other amenities.
The 500R has the same number of drive bays and expansion slots as the 400R, but there’s more than meets the eye there. The 3.5-inch bays are split into two sections of three bays, and both bays are removable. That feature enables two primary things. You can remove a cage to accommodate graphics cards up to 452mm in length, and you can also take one out to facilitate better airflow.
The jump from the 400R to the 500R is forty bucks--from $99 to $139.99--and essentially what you’re paying for is the white chassis option, an extra 200mm side fan, a multi-channel fan controller, and significant flexibility with the 3.5-inch drive cages. Is it worth the extra dollars? Absolutely, although if you’re on a budget, none of those features is necessary per se.
|NZXT Source 220|
|If Hank Hill, Ron Swanson, and Johnny Cash collaborated on a computer case design, the NZXT Source 220 would be the result. This case is as unadorned as it gets--not that it's a bad thing. When you get down to it, most gamers don’t need anything more than what the Source 220 offers.
The Source 220 is simply an all-metal (steel, with an aluminum-like finish), all-black case (except for the white fans). Even the motherboard posts and screws are black. The only plastic pieces are the tool-less tabs on the drive bays and the fans. It’s also surprisingly light, which isn’t a bad trait to have either, especially if you haul your rig anywhere.
With three 5.25-inch and eight 3.5-inch drive bays, you should have plenty of spots for your storage and optical drives. The Source 220 can handle just about any type of motherboard up to ATX, and it has 7 expansion slots.
One glaring feature omission is the lack of support for 2.5-inch drives. We get that NZXT kept things pared down, but that’s not an area where you want to cut corners or costs these days. SSDs are becoming all too common and popular. Another omission that does make sense, however, is the complete lack of LEDs, which is fitting with the case’s overall aesthetic. In a pinch, the Source 220 wouldn’t make a bad HTPC case actually, if you had a bit more space.
NZXT was focused on cooling and airflow with the Source 220, and indeed those are probably its best features. The front and back are mostly grills, allowing for a huge amount of air to pass through; even the expansion port covers are grills. You can mount a total of seven fans, on the top (2), bottom, front (2), back, and one of the side panels. Two of those fans come with the case (a 140mm fan on top and a 120mm in the rear). None of the fan mounts are for a monster 200mm fan--they’re all 140mm or 120mm--but being able to mount at least one decently-sized fan on five of the case’s six surfaces will do just fine.
The front panel is as austere as the rest of the case, and it hides the power and reset buttons, one USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0 port, and the headphone and mic jacks quite well. However, it’s also attached to the front panel, which is just a little odd to see these days.
The interior of the Source 220 is, like the exterior, solid black...and very cool. For the most part, the Source 220 is a solid, well-built case with some simple yet intelligent designs. However, there are definitely some issues, and most of them are found on the interior.
For starters, the CPU cutout in the motherboard tray wasn’t wide enough to fit our CPU cooler backplate, which defeats the purpose of having one. Other motherboards may not have the same issue, but it’s a notable problem nonetheless. Also of note is that the fans were a bit loud--not overbearing by any means, but louder, certainly, that the other cases in our roundup.
The drive bays are a head-scratcher. On the one hand, the 3.5-inch cage isn’t very wide, which allows plenty of space for a mammoth graphics card (up to 330mm); it’s a smart little detail. On the other hand, why didn’t NZXT just rotate the drive cage 90 degrees to create the same space and also offer easier access and cable routing? Further, although the drive cage allows for a big graphics card, such a card blocks off a couple of the bays, limiting the user to a 230mm graphics card.
The tool-less locking tabs on the 3.5-inch drive bay are plastic, and they feel modestly secure; however, the type of tabs on the 5.25-inch bay are essentially worthless. They were clunky to use, and far worse, they kept popping loose when we were working with the case.
The Source 220 has, as they say in sports, “great upside”, but there are a few rough edges that detract from its value. Still, the upsides--great airflow, overall solid construction, purposefully subdued aesthetic-- are excellent, especially for the low $54.99 price tag.
|Thermaltake Chaser MK-I|
|By far the flashiest case in our roundup--and coincidentally also really a full tower case, not a mid tower--the Thermaltake Chaser MK-I is loaded with details and little extras that will appeal to gamers and enthusiasts. It’s also the priciest case in our roundup at $169.99.
Like several other Thermaltake cases, the Chaser-MK-I is covered with molding made to evoke space armor, which adds some pizzazz to a gaming rig. The color scheme is tasteful, with a black metal-looking finish and electric light blue highlights here and there. The fan lights can also be switched to blue to pick up the theme, which is a nice touch.
The tool-less Chaser MK-I sports 10 total drive bays (four 5.25-inch, six 3.5-inch) with an included tray to convert a 5.25-inch bay to 3.5-inch. There are no dedicated 2.5-inch bays, but all of the 3.5-inch bays easily support the smaller form factor, so it’s not an issue. The case also has 8 expansion slots.
Included with the case is a handful of accessories including the aforementioned drive conversion tray (with a faceplate to match), several zip ties, an 8-pin extension cable, a small buzzer for the alarm, and all the necessary screws. Although it’s a minor detail, the screws, which are all black, were pre-sorted into several small baggies, so you don’t have to go digging around for exactly the right screw.
Motherboard support is somewhat limited, with a range of micro ATX to ATX, but the case does provide plenty of room for even the most obscenely large graphics cards, up to 330mm. It’s also ready for a water cooling system, including accommodations for a 24mm radiator via the removable top panel.
Cooling is obviously important to Thermaltake, as the Chaser MK-I is built with feet to elevate the case 35mm off the ground to ensure airflow, and there were three sizable fans included in our particular model, as well--a pair of 200mm ColorShift fans, for the front and top, and a 140mm fan at the rear. There are several other fan configurations available as well, of course.
About one third of the side panel of the Chaser MK-I is occupied by a clear panel, with a large grill (begging for a fan) taking up additional space. There’s also a clip from which to conveniently hang your gaming headphones when they’re not strapped to your head. Around back, there is the 140mm fan, grommets for water cooling setups, and a couple of simple but effective locks for your mouse and keyboard. You can also easily slide out the large bottom-mounted PSU air filter from the back.
The front bezel of the case is easily removable, giving you access to the 5.25-inch bays and the front air filter. However, the top of this case is where the party’s at. Also removable for easy access to the topside fans (and/or 24mm radiator), it features an HDD docking station (with support for up to SAT 3Gbps, a pair each of USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, and headphone and mic ports. The power and reset buttons are located on top of the case alongside the fan controls.
Though the fan controls consist of “high” and “low” with no capabilities for fine tuning, you can adjust the fan lights from here, too, alternating between blue, red, or green in a variety of configurations. The LED design around the power button is very cool, as well.
The result of having so many excellent functions built in to the case is a bird’s nest of leads and connectors to organize, but it’s a small price to pay.
The inside of the Chaser MK-I is spacious enough, and it has lots of options for routing your cables, although there isn’t much clearance on the back side so you’ll have to be careful with cabling back there.
The tool-less clips for the 5.25-inch bays feel surprisingly solid and work smoothly for being plastic, and the grill covers can be removed and replaced with clips, so you can move your ODDs around without leaving gaps in the front of the case. By contrast, the plastic 3.5-inch trays feel flimsy.
The PSU mount is another example of a small detail that indicates the overall quality of the case. Instead of letting the PSU hang there by its screws, the Chaser MK-I has a small support bridge that you can adjust for your particular power supply and then secure with a thumbscrew.
Other than all the supposedly tool-less thumbscrews on this case, which were on so tightly that we had to wrestle them off with a screwdriver, the Chaser MK-I is perfect for tinkering. There’s ample room to work with both side panels off, and the top and front pop off and on easily as well. The fans on this case were remarkably quiet, barely making an audible hum even at full tilt.
The case has solid construction throughout, and the details add small touches that add up to an enjoyable user experience. Further, all other things being equal, the terrific array of ports and features on top of the case make the Chaser MK-I an attractive option.
|Although you aren’t elbow-deep in your case every day installing and replacing components, the ease of installation (or lack thereof) is a serious consideration when you’re laying down your hard-earned cash for a case. Here's what we found with the cases in our roundup.
Overall, installing components in the Antec Eleven Hundred is a breeze. There’s plenty of space to work inside, there is a plethora of cable tie mounts on the back for cable routing, and the grommets are sizable and numerous.
Antec Eleven Hundred Installation
There were a few details we weren’t thrilled with, though. The fan connector up in the corner of the case is hard to get to, and it’s right in the way of the 8-pin connector and a CPU fan header. Speaking of the 8-pin connector, there isn’t a way to rout it behind the motherboard tray without a cable extender, which was not included. The rubber rings lining the grommets had a tendency to pop out too easily, which is annoying.
Our two Corsair cases have identical interiors with the sole exceptions being that the 500R’s 3.5-inch hard drive bay is split into two 3-tray bays (both of which are removable), and that you can access the interior of the 500R through the fan openings at the top of the case. Unless, of course, you install fans there. Thus, a discussion about one case is a discussion about both.
Corsair 400R and 500R InstallationThere’s ample room in which to work inside these cases, they have sturdy rubber grommets and they accommodate large graphics cards. The 500R can also handle the largest cards with ease, as one can simply remove one of the two drive cages to make room. You can also pop one out and stash excess cable in its place.
Other cases in our roundup have more mounts for tying cables, and it seems as though the limited space around back could use more. However, due to the bump-out in the side panel, there’s actually plenty of room for cabling. You can be downright sloppy if you want and still easily fit the side panel on.
Another knock on these cases is, as we previously mentioned, the recessed motherboard tray. Sure, it allows for more clearance for CPU coolers and some slightly improved airflow, but it blocked off the bottom row of our motherboard’s SATA ports. On the whole though, the Corsair Carbide 400R and 500R are very easy to work with and provide installations that are neat as a pin.
Interior workspace is at a premium in the NZXT Source 220. The chassis is small compared to the other cases in our roundup, and no amount of clever engineering can make up for that lost space.
NZXT Source 220 InstallationThere are other, more specific criticisms we encountered while installing our components. One is the aforementioned issue with our CPU backplate not fitting into the motherboard tray cutout, forcing us to install the CPU cooler before mounting the motherboard in the case; along that same line, the motherboard halfway covered up the grommets (which, incidentally, were not rubber-lined). However, cable routing was sufficiently easy because you can run all sorts of cables around the motherboard tray, using the giant opening behind the drive bays.
There also isn’t much space for cabling behind the motherboard tray, and because of the layout of the fan connectors, you’ll most likely to be forced to use some zip ties whether you want to or not.
Other more minor details are that there are no thumbscrews for the expansion slot covers, there’s no way to route the 8-pin connector around the back without an extender (as is the case with the Eleven Hundred), and although the Source 220 can accommodate large graphics cards, any reasonably large one blocks some of the 3.5-inch drive slots.
The bottom line is that there just isn’t a lot of space to work with inside the Source 220, so you really have to think hard and plan ahead when installing your components and routing cables. You can get the job done, to be sure, but there aren’t many elegant solutions to be had for some of these problems.
Speaking of interior space, the Thermaltake Chaser MK-I has an abundance of it; you almost feel like you can set a beverage down in there while you’re installing components. Of course, with great space comes great responsibility, so Thermaltake mercifully included an 8-pin cable extender with the Chaser MK-I, allowing you to route that cable around the back of the motherboard tray.
Thermaltake Chaser MK-I InstallationFor as spacious as the interior is, the back space is somewhat limited; there are ample means of routing your cables and lots of horizontal area in which to do it, but just the chunky cable end on our 24-pin connector filled the available depth.
Other than the above, the Chaser MK-I is a joy to work with. Everything is tool-less, there’s tons of space to work in, and there are no tight little corners to deal with.
|Test System and Thermal Tests|
|Test System: Our test system consisted of a Gigabyte G1.Sniper2 motherboard with a Core i7-2600K (3.4GHz) processor, 2x4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 (@1333), ZOTAC GeForce GTX 260, WD 150GB Raptor HDD, and Windows Home Premium x64.
We used Gigabyte’s built-in system monitoring software, EasyTune6, to record CPU and system temperatures (in Celsius) at idle and then again at full load after running Prime 95 for a set amount of time. We averaged the temperatures of the motherboard sensors (there were four detected by the software) to achieve a single number in each category.
For the most part, our cases provided fairly stable, competitive results. At idle, the CPU temperatures were closely clustered; although the Antec Eleven Hundred and Thermaltake Chaser MK-I were both 24 degrees while every case was 26. When under load, the Antec case was still the coolest at 39 degrees, and the Corsair Carbide 400R, 500R, and NZXT Source 220 heated up the same amount--16 degrees (from 26 to 42 degrees). The Thermaltake case was still a degree cooler, but it’s worth noting that it did heat up the most (17 degrees) from idle to load.
The results of the motherboard temperature tests were striking, in that Antec was the clear winner. The case kept the motherboard at 28/30.25 degrees idle/load. In fact, under load, it kept the system as cool as the Source 220 did at idle. The Chaser MK-I came in second with temperatures of 28.5/31.5. The Corsair cases and the NZXT created a tight third-place cluster, all scoring within almost a degree of one another both at idle and under load.
It’s impressive that the Eleven Hundred posted all the best temperature readings given that it only has two fans onboard, although one of those fans is a beefy 200mm.
It’s worth noting that all of our cases performed well in our tests and also that they’re all just begging for more fans. We tested each as configured, but bear in mind that you can add plenty of additional fans and/or water cooling systems if you so desire.
|Performance Summary & Conclusion|
It’s always tough to rank products in roundups like these, especially when each one has merit, as is the case with each of the products we reviewed here. Truly, depending on your taste and needs, you could purchase any one of these cases and be satisfied in our opinion. Individual preferences aside, however, some pros of each similarly outweigh some cons.
The NZXT Source 220 is a flat-out steal at $54.99; its performance is certainly good enough (though slightly underwhelming compared to the rest of our field), its construction is solid, and the subdued, stealthy aesthetic is perfect if that’s what you’re looking for. Still, as components in your rig come and go, a case is one of those things that you tend to hang onto the longest. Unless you’re really on a tight budget, you might want to pass on the Source 220 and spend a few extra bucks on a chassis with some more features. That said, you also might want to carve out more of that budget on higher-end components and save on a chassis. Your call.
The Thermaltake Chaser MK-I is flashy, with that coat of space marine armor the company’s cases are sometimes known for. Though it’s the most expensive case in our roundup at $169.99, the Chaser MK-I delivered the second-best scores in our tests and boasts a terrific array of details and extra features--such as its plethora of USB and eSATA ports, fan and light controls, and a hard drive dock on the top panel--that make it almost irresistible.
However, it’s hard to argue with results, which is why the Antec Eleven Hundred is one of our favorites. The case clearly outperformed the rest of the field, despite having just two fans; with a full complement of fans it will offer even more impressive results. At $129.95, its cost is also right in the middle of the pack.
We have to knock the Corsair Carbide 400R down a peg for the sole reason that the Corsair 500R is also included in our roundup. The 400R is wonderfully designed, with plenty of features and a number of details that indicate the level of attention and care the manufacturer paid to its design and construction. The negatives on this case are minimal and few, although its thermal performance among the other cases in our roundup was merely average.