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Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case
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Date: Oct 10, 2005
Section:Misc
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction and Specifications

Thermaltake is a company that offers a wide variety of products for custom computer builders. Whether you are looking for specialized cooling solutions, such as an active hard drive cooler, a water cooling kit or a quality CPU cooler like the Golden Orb II we recently reviewed, Thermaltake has an answer.  Top that off with Multifunction displays, USB hard drive enclosures, and top of the line chassis, and you'll find that Thermaltake has a multitude of products available to help give your rig a personal touch.

The Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case is a new addition to Thermaltake's line of enclosures.  Built out of extruded aluminum, this tower has looks that kill, tons of room and it manages to stay light-weight in the process. And it's no mistake that Thermaltake named the case "Tai Chi".  The case echoes the philosophy of the ancient Chinese concept that believes in a balance of mind and body.  With balanced air flow, good looks and support for the ATX and BTX form factors, the Tai Chi is a well balanced case that is quiet, attractive and ready for today's and tomorrow's technology... 

Specifications of Thermaltake's Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case
Room to Spare
Model
Tai-Chi - VB5000SNA

Case Type
Super Tower

Net Weight
17.1Kg

Dimension
600 x 263 x 546 mm (H*W*D)

Cooling System
Front (intake)
120x120x25 mm, Blue LED Fan, 1300rpm, 17dBA
Rear (exhaust)
120 x 120 x25 mm blue LED fan, 1300rpm, 17dBA

Drive Bays
11
Front Accessible
10 x 5.25", 1 x 3.5"
Internal
3 x3.5"

Material
Aluminum Extrusion

Color
Silver & Black

Expansion Slots
7


Click for a Larger View

Motherboards
Micro ATX, ATX, Extend ATX, BTX , Micro BTX, Pico BTX, BTX Upgrade Kits SRM / Rear plate (optional)

Features
All aluminum extrusion built chassis
Compact and stylish chassis
BTX & ATX compatible
Better choice for upgrading liquid cooling system
Hydraulic side panel opening
Tool-free installation
Optimize internal space and airflow
Support to 11 5.25'' drive bays
Relocate-able front control panel (Power, Reset switch, HDD & PWR LEDs)
Removable aluminum motherboard tray
Easy Lifting Handles

Along with the Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case, Thermaltake included a complementary hardware kit.  There were four locking casters with 16 mounting screws, as well as an ample collection of screws, posts and thumbscrews to mount various hardware.  There were also four cable sleeves to be used on the rear of the case as well as a few zip ties to aid in cable management.  Overall, Thermaltake did a good job at providing everything needed to install drives, mount a motherboard, and keep cabling tidy.

      

Thermaltake ships the Tai Chi in extremely secure packaging with a protective bag over the shell and tape to secure the doors during shipping. All of these steps ensure the case will arrive undamaged and in good working order, as our model did.  However, the tape used to secure the doors of the case used glue that was virtually impossible to remove.  When you look at the first case image, note the edge of the silver door.  The smudge is what the packing tape left behind.  Glass cleaner, soap, nor rubbing alcohol was able to remove the glue from the door.  The only way to get it off was with acetone, which we thought was a bit extreme. While not a major issue, having to take the time to figure out what will get the glue off door will surely dampen the excitement for some. 

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Looking Good on the Outside

A Closer Look of the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case
Starting with the Outside

First, we're going to start things off with the outside of the Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case.  The design invokes a yin/yang feel with its butterfly access doors, with an inner black door contrasting to the aluminum colored outer door.  Behind the access doors were a total of 11 drive bays, 10-5.25" and 4-3.5", three of which are hard drive bays that lie behind the front intake fan.  In the top bay is a removable power console with a 3.5" bay as well as power and reset buttons and hard drive and power LEDs.  The console is removable and can be relocated to any 5.25" bay.  At the bottom of the bays was a single 120mm fan with blue LEDs with a handy tool tray beneath it.

      

On the very top of the unit were two cast aluminum handles molded into the design, making for easy handling of the case.  In the center of the Tai Chi's top, Thermaltake provided two USB ports, one IEEE1394 port along with a microphone and headphone jack.  The positioning for this was excellent.  All too often we find this type of port collection mounted at the bottom of a case, making it hard to access.  Since most large towers will likely end up on the floor, putting these ports at the top of the unit makes the most sense.  We also found it useful when we connected an external device such as an MP3 player that could be left on top of the unit rather than on a desk or the floor.

      

The rear of the Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion Case sported a standard ATX layout, however, Thermaltake does offer a BTX conversion kit if needed.  The rear of the case was also equipped with a 120mm exhaust fan with blue LEDs.  Just above the fan are four holes that allow cabling to pass through if needed.  Sometimes external drive panels require cabling to be run to the rear of the case to connect to the sound card, a USB port or other item.  These holes make it very simple to snake the wires as needed without having to open a blank PCI slot in the case.

      

One of the Tai Chi's best features is its two fold access door with hydraulic actuator.  To start, there is a smaller front door that can be opened to provide access to the drive mount screws, with a sister door on the opposite side of the unit.  The second door is a hydraulic mechanism that swings the door open as soon as the thumbscrew is removed.  The feel of this entire mechanism is of high quality.  While some may perceive this as gimmicky, make no mistake, there is nothing cheap about this design.  In fact, the door is very sturdy as another flavor of the Tai Chi comes with a water cooling kit mounted to this door, which explains the vented area on the door.  All doors are secured in place with thumbscrews, requiring no tools to remove.

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Closer Look on the Inside

Closer Look Part Two
Under the Covers

When we opened the access door and peer inside the Tai Chi Super Tower, we continued to be impressed with this case's design and features.  Built to be a tool-less case, the first thing we noted was the screw-less locking mechanism of the PCI slots.  Much like what you'd find on a mass produced PC, the add-on cards are all held in place with a simple tension mechanism that clicks into position, locking the cards securely in place.

       

The motherboard tray is fully removable, making it easy to install the motherboard outside if the case, although we found plenty of room to mount the board in the case without needing to remove the tray.  Above the PCI slots is one 120mm exhaust fan which works in conjunction with the matching front intake fan which is mounted neatly to an internal hard drive cage.  Both fans are rated at 17dB, meaning the Tai Chi should be one quiet case.  The hard drive cage can house three drives, secured with the included thumbscrews, and then easily slides into place.  The fan is mounted in the ideal position to help keep hard drive temperatures in check, while feeding air into the case.

      

As we mentioned earlier, the power switch console was removable so the user can position it into any one of the available bays.  If a floppy drive is required, the screen front can be removed and a 3.5 drive inserted if needed.  About the only thing that would make this better would be a top mount power switch much like the 3RSystem R900 case we reviewed over the summer.  This would take away the need to open the right access door every time we wanted to turn on the machine. 

      

Lastly, on the under side of the Tai Chi case we mounted the four casters included in the package.  Not only does this add to the case's mobility, it adds space between the floor and the bottom of the case, which is vented with a metal mesh panel, adding to the units fresh air intake.

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More Looks and Conclusion

Rounding out the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case's features were the cable connectors for the top mounted ports, as well as the power and reset switches and various LEDs.  We should note that the audio connectors from the top ports are designed to be fed from a header on the main board.  Those using a add-on sound card may be out of luck unless their card has the right headers.

    

Once the system has been built and the Tai Chi powered up, the blue glow from the case fans can be seen from the front and rear while bathing the inside in a gentle blue color.  It's always good to see a company get creative with color and it's even better when they don't over do it.  In this case the color balance with the Tai Chi was just right. 

    

One last point to touch on is the Tai Chi's overall acoustics.  To say the case is quiet is an understatement.  The Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion chassis is one of the quietest cases we've come across thus far.  In fact, we highly recommend using quiet CPU cooler to with the Tai Chi, otherwise your CPU's stock cooling is going to ruin a good thing.  Matched with the Golden Orb II we reviewed a week ago, this case was dead quiet with the only real detectable hum coming from our PSU and video card fans.

When building a custom PC, choosing the right case is essential.  Not only should you be concerned with proper functionality and features, but you should want your new creation to look good too.  With the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case, Thermaltake covered all of these bases and then some in our opinion. With oversized, low noise LED case fans, hydraulic access doors, 11 drive bays and a gorgeous appearance, Thermaltake hits this one out of the ball park.  The Tai Chi is an innovative, well-crafted case that is backed by excellent engineering and upgradeability to ensure that this case will perform for a long time to come. 

In the end, the Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case was impressive from the first moment we opened the packaging. If you are looking to build a custom PC, or simply want to upgrade that old drab case, the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case will not disappoint with its form and function. 

Weighing in at $290 retail, the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case definitely falls under that category of a "premium product".  However, with the features and looks that the Tai Chi case delivers, this will probably be the last case purchase you'll make for a very long time.  As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.  With the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case, you'll get what you pay for and then some.

We give the Thermaltake Tai Chi Aluminum Extrusion case a Hot Hardware Heat Meter rating of a...

Gorgeous
•Lightweight Extruded Aluminum
Ample, Quiet Cooling
•LED Fans
Hydraulic Door
Tool-less Design
Gobs of Room
No Air Filters
•Packing Glue Hard to Remove
•Pricey

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