|Intro and Corsair Carbide 300R: Specs and Features|
|We’ve been impressed with what we’ve seen recently from Corsair, and we were glad that the company saw fit to send us a couple more mid-tower cases to pore over and test: the Corsair Carbide 300R compact gaming chassis and the Obsidian 550D quiet case. The two are dissimilar from one another in terms of design and purpose, but we’ve rolled them into a single review here for efficiency and your reading pleasure.
Now that we’ve had a chance to explore and test the Corsair Carbide 300R, we’ve become well acquainted with the whole Carbide family, and the little bro is just as impressive as the bigger siblings we reviewed not too long ago, the Carbide 400R and 500R.
The 300R is a compact case at just 17.7 x 19.1 x 8.3 inches (HxWxD); squeezing in everything a gamer would want was no doubt quite a design challenge (e.g. our big CPU cooler that barely fit), and although this chassis isn’t perfect, the gang over at Corsair deserves a tip of the hat for pulling it off as well as they did, given its intrinsic form factor restraints.
The all-black 300R is built out of steel, with pieces here and there made from black plastic. There are three 5.25-inch trays with toolless locking mechanisms, and the four 3.5-inch drive trays are flexible plastic that require nothing more than a little bending to pop a drive into place. The latter are equipped with well-placed screw holes to allow for mounting a 2.5-inch drive in any of them with no need for adapters.
This mid-tower case has seven expansions slots, although if you’re using an ATX case, it’s possible that you’ll only be able to use the lower six; the highest slot was occluded by our motherboard's components, which we'd wager may be an issue with other boards, as well.
Accessories included with the 300R are the bare essentials and include the quick start guide, a few bags of screws, and some zip ties. That's just basic run-down, though; let’s dig in and see what the 300R is really all about.
|Corsair Carbide 300R: Exterior, Interior, and Installation|
As we mentioned, the 300R is a steel case, and it certainly feels that way--it’s a solid piece of equipment. The overall theme of the exterior case is mesh, mesh, and more mesh, which adds a little bit of pop to its styling, while also facilitating robust cooling.
Indeed, there are no fewer than seven fan mounts (for 120mm or 140mm fans) on the 300R, each with a metal mesh covering. The top panel has two, as does the side panel, and the back has another. The rest of the back is comprised almost entirely of another mesh grill and perforated expansion slots, leaving the entire design open and breezy. The front panel has a pair of metal mesh fan mounts as well, along with two mesh slits on either side of the case that help the included front-mounted intake fan do its job. There’s also a bottom grill under the PSU, which has a removable dust filter, as well.
Technically, the front panel is removable, which is optimal for fan maintenance or grill cleaning, but it doesn’t come off or snap back on particularly easily; it’ll put up a bit of a fight. (Pro tip: You see those eight hex-head screws on the front panel? They serve no purpose whatsoever except to mar the look of the front panel. Don’t bother rooting around in your tool box for the right Allen wrench, because they can stay put when you’re pulling off the panel.)
The front I/O panel has power and reset buttons, headphone and mic jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports with a corresponding header. Given that Corsair clearly wanted to keep the front I/O panel simple, the two USB 3.0 ports were an excellent choice; there’s really nothing else you need in that space, although a media card reader would have been nice.
The 300R ships with just two fans (front and rear), which are a bit loud with a noticeable whine when under load, which causes one to wonder what sort of noise will come out of this thing when it’s got seven fans running full tilt. Granted, the case design isn't exactly built for noise reduction, but the fan noise is an issue to consider.
The exterior of the 300R is certainly designed well--it's definitely functional (if not a bit plain in the looks department) with the air cooling-friendly mesh design, but the interior is even better and evinces Corsair’s terrific design skills.
First off, instead of cramming the case full of drive bays that will never be used, Corsair put one 5.25-inch bay with three trays up at the top of the chassis and tucked a 3.5-inch bay with four trays down at the bottom, leaving a large, open space in the middle that can handle a graphics card up to 450mm in length. The stock front intake fan fits neatly into that space and delivers a stream of cool air over whatever size graphics card you slap in there.
There's also a huge open cutout behind the drive bays, making cabling a breeze. Further, the CPU cooler cutout on the motherboard tray is one of the largest we’ve seen, allowing us to fit our cooler backplate with plenty room to spare. (It’s unbelievable how many cases have cutouts that don’t actually allow adequate space for backplates.)
The motherboard tray is raised up quite a bit from the side panel, thus allowing generous room for cabling, and it also has four cutouts (alas, no rubber grommets) for routing cables around the edge of the motherboard. Our Gigabyte board actually spilled over a bit into the cutout areas, but it didn’t occlude the openings to the point of being inconvenient.
The 300R supports ATX and mATX motherboards, and our ATX board fit inside reasonably comfortably. However, there was little room left to maneuver, and connecting the 8-pin power connector and some of the fan headers was rather difficult. That said, the huge open midsection of the case made it surprisingly easy to access the memory, ODD power and data cables, 24-pin power connector, front panel headers, graphics card, and (most of the) SATA ports.
|Corsair Obsidian 550D: Specs and Features|
|When you first behold the Corsair Obsidian 550D, you quickly see that, in contrast to the decidedly mesh-tastic 300R, the 550D is built with solid panes of steel (and brushed aluminum, on the front) with little room for daylight to peek through to the case’s interior. That’s because the 550D is designed primarily for sweet silence, with plenty of noise-reducing material padding the sides and front of the case, with dampers keeping vibration noise to a minimum at most mounting points.
Corsair pitches this chassis as not only an option for a silent system, but also one that has plenty of expandability and can accommodate a liquid cooling system. Indeed, there are four 5.25-inch drive bays with tool-less locking mechanisms and a total of six 3.5-inch bays--two cages containing three bays each--for all the drives you could reasonably want in a single system. Like the 300R, the 550D’s HDD trays can handle 2.5-inch drives with a couple of screws and no adapters, so there are no issues with popping in an SSD or two.
There are eight expansions slots, as well as plenty of room up top for a 240mm Hydra radiator if you want to go the liquid cooling route. If instead you prefer to stick with air cooling, the 550D has mounts for a total of eight fans--six 120mm/140mm and two 120mm. Two intake fans on the front of the case and one exhaust fan in the rear are included with the chassis.
The front I/O panel sports power and reset buttons, mic and headphone jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. There’s nothing too fancy there, but it has all the essentials--in particular, the USB 3.0 ports over USB 2.0 are most welcome. The I/O panel is gray in color with a metallic finish, which is a striking look against the dark brushed-metal front panel.
In terms of accessories, there are no surprises--just several bags of screws, zip ties, a USB 3.0 adapter, and some cable mounts. Let's go inside for a look around...
|Corsair Obsidian 550D: Exterior, Interior, and Installation|
From the outside, the 550D looks like a solid brick. There are no big, clear side panels to let you see the guts of your system; instead, the only non-solid visible surface is the rear of the case, which includes the typical I/O panel cutout, fan mount, and expansion slot covers. This, as we mentioned, is because the chassis is built to swallow sound.
Corsair really wants you to use the 550D to build a quiet, sealed-up system, but it’s not forcing you into anything. There are fan mounts hidden behind panels on the top, side, and front of the case. The two intake fans are actually doubly hidden; the front panel swings open to reveal a sizable vent cover that can itself be removed entirely to uncover the fans. There are also vent covers on the side and top of the case that pop off to unveil two fan mounts each.
Each of the fan mounts is covered by dust filters, which are stuck on there magnetically. If and when you need to clean them, you can just pull them right off and slap them back on when you’re done.
The fan mounts themselves are all outfitted with rubber and silicone dampers to cut down on vibration noise, as are the feet underneath the case. There’s a PSU/fan dust filter underneath as well, although it sticks quite a bit when you’re trying to pull it out.
One other small detail of note is the easy one-button removal of the side panels. Case manufacturers are always coming up with new ways to make removing side panels an easier experience, and this is one we particularly like. There are two buttons located on the upper back portion of the 550D, one for each panel. You simply press a button to release a panel, and to put it back in place, you just snap it in. There are no screws required, so you’ll never have to keep track of anything (other than two large pieces of metal) when you need to access to the guts of your system.
Continuing on with the theme of noise-cutting construction, both of the side panels (including that vent cover we mentioned) are lined with sound dampening material, as are the vent covers on the top and front of the case. The bottom lip of the case, where the side panels meet the case edge, is lined with rubber, and like the fan mounts, the drive bays have rubber and silicone dampers to avoid vibration noise. Even the PSU has rubber feet and gaskets between it and the metal of the case.
The topmost of the 550D’s two 3.5-inch cages sits right in the middle of the case vertically and can be removed to make way for a large graphics card (up to 452mm in length) as well as facilitate better overall interior airflow. The cage won’t surrender easily, though; you’ll need to take out three screws (two in front, one in back) and use some elbow grease to jimmy the thing out.
Although Corsair did a good job designed the interior of the 550D, there’s one feature that we just don’t get: the recessed motherboard tray. Without gaining any substantial advantages, you lose precious space behind the motherboard for cable management, and it can block some of a motherboard’s SATA ports where the dipped tray meets the raised interior edge of the case interior.
Clearance is also a problem for the hard drive bays. The cages are rotated 90 degrees toward the side of the case so that you can connect your power and SATA cables easily, but there when you close the case, the side panel actually presses up against the cable connectors, inviting extra wear and tear.
Still, all that sound dampening construction is a saving grace despite any other inadequacies. When the system was running with all vents closed, the case fans were virtually inaudible; all we could hear was the muffled whine of our CPU cooler. When the system load kicked up a notch the exhaust fan did whine just a smidge, and that noise increased slightly after several minutes under load. Obviously, with all the vents open the noise level was greater, but the quiet case fans kept it to an impressive minimum.
For a relatively small case (19.5 x 20.9 x 8.7 inches [HxWxD]), the 550D’s interior offers a surprising amount of room in which to work. It’s not exactly cavernous, but we had little trouble running cables hither and yon and connecting our leads where we needed.
|Test System and Thermal Test|
|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.
The cases included in the below chart were all tested using the exact same components and software, save for the PSU. We replaced an older PSU with an 850W NZXT (HALE90-850-M) for the our tests on the Carbide 300R and Obsidian 550D, which we believe may have impacted scores somewhat.
On the CPU side, the Carbide 300R takes the cake by keeping the processor to a cool 20 degrees C, but the Obsidian 550D isn’t far behind in either configuration at 21 degrees. As we mentioned above, the new PSU likely affected these scores somewhat, and a cooler ambient temperature could certainly knock off a degree or two at idle. Under load, however, we see the field even out a bit, with every chassis hitting temps within three degrees of one another. The load test may be a more accurate measurement as to how effective these cases are at dissipating heat.
Our featured cases didn’t fare quite as well in keeping motherboard sensors cool, although their scores weren’t at all far off from the main pack. Aside from the NZXT Switch 810, Thermaltake Chaser MK-I, and Antec Eleven Hundred chassis, which form their own high-scoring grouping, the Carbide 300R and Obsidian 550D were within about one or two degrees of the other cases shown here. This is a rather small gap.
Even with all the panels closed, the Obsidian 550D posted respectable numbers and demonstrated that you don’t have to worry about cooking your components if you want to run a quiet system.
Another interesting note is that the Carbide 300R, for its part, actually fell perfectly in line with the 400R and 500R; each case was a little better than the last, with the 500R posting the best scores of the three.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: We’ve seen in the past that Corsair knows how to make quality chassis that perform, and the Carbide 300R and Obsidian 550D are further proof.
Like the Carbide 400R and 500R, it’s the design details that make the 300R work. On paper, it doesn’t sound like a particularly impressive case; it’s small (read: cramped and full of heat-producing components), there aren’t many drive bays, and there’s nothing particularly flashy about it. However, the extra room afforded by the lack of excess drive cages and the mostly-mesh design of the case, leaves the 300R relatively roomy with optimized for airflow.
Corsair Carbide 300R
We love a well-built chassis, and this one is a fine example; the thing is solid from top to bottom. Even the plastic pieces such as the 5.25-inch drive locks feel strong. The only criticisms we would level at the 300R concern looks and noise. Frankly, the front of the case to us, could use a bit of polish. We don’t know why the hex screws are prominent there, but they don’t serve a function and mar the chassis’ face.
Cosmetics is one thing, but noise is of course a more important issue. Even with just three fans, the 300R is relatively loud, yet the case has seven fan mounts. With seven fans running at full tilt, the noise level will most certainly be amplified to a dull roar.
At $89.99, the 300R isn’t exactly a bargain per se--there are other unadorned gaming cases out there that cost slightly less--but if you want a piece of the Carbide family, this is a terrifically low entry point.
Corsair Obsidian 550D
With the Obsidian 550D, Corsair delivers on its promise of a quiet case. We were impressed by how little noise emanated from the chassis when sealed up in its sound-killing cocoon, but even with the vents open, the case fans didn’t produce much noise.
If you’re interested in a quiet chassis but don’t want to be locked in with a small form factor, the Obsidian 550D is an ideal compromise. On the one hand, you can close it up and hear almost nothing, but on the other, you can open all the vents and let the fans fly if you’re looking for a performance edge.
For as much as we appreciate the flexibility, if a silent case isn’t what you’re after, you may want to look elsewhere. For the $159.99 price tag, you can do better for a straightforward gaming rig or liquid cooling setup. Most of the great design work for the 550D went into dampening sound and reducing vibrations, but we’re a little disappointed with other aspects of the 550D, such as the motherboard tray and the spatial problems it causes. That isn’t to say that there aren’t great aspects of the case, though; for example, we’re big fans of the push-button side panel removal.
We do quite like the simple but sleek and dignified looks of the case, particularly the front panel. The effect of a big, dark gray, brushed-metal panel punctuated by the brighter gray of the front I/O panel is a strong and pleasing to the eye.
Neither of the two cases we looked at here are perfect, but both offer good value for your dollar. They’re well-built and with lots of smart details built in, and they do what they’re designed to do; you’d do well to snag either one for yourself, if you're in the market for something smaller or something quieter than most.