Overall Design & Layout
There are a plethora of cases available on AVADirect's website, everything from slim form factor home theater enclosures to towering desktops cases, and everything in between. The one AVADirect chose for this sample system is a silver colored Silverstone Fortress FT02, which weighs about as much as a real fortress, or at least it did after AVADirect finished loading it up with hardware. Forget the P90X workout, you could lug this thing up and down a flight of stairs a couple of times and work up a bigger sweat than Richard Simmons trying to burn off a cupcake, minus the crying.
As is often the case, pictures don't do this system justice. The silver paint job isn't quite show car quality (if that's what you're after, AVADirect will happily oblige for an additional $375 for your choice between Corvette Yellow, Ferrari Red, Money Green, or Viper Blue) but it's well done nonetheless and exudes an air of quality you're not going to find on a budget chassis. For $9 extra, you can opt for a Fortress with a side window, and AVADirect should have gone that route to show off its superb wiring job (more on that later).
Rounded corners separate the Fortress from your run-of-the-mill rectangular chassis, though Silverstone stops well short of plastering its chassis with aggressive angles and other gamer-centric bling. The Fortress will appeal most to people with a more "refined" sense of style, for lack of a better term.
One thing to keep in mind with this case is that it assumes a mighty large footprint. It's a little over 2 feet long, so you'll want to take that into consideration when scanning your living quarters for a place to plop this thing, especially if you're working with tight confines, like a college dorm room or studio apartment.
Case manufacturers are increasingly seeing the benefit of vertical mounted hardware in which heat producing components like graphics cards face upwards and work with the natural flow of hot air rather than against it. Silverstone's Fortress is one of a growing number of cases that orient the motherboard in such a way that the rear input/output shield sits on top of the chassis instead of the back. It's an orientation that seems quirky after all these years of putting the rear I/O on the back of the case, but you can't argue with the science of hot air's natural tendency to rise (we're oversimplifying, but that's okay, because Bill Nye the Science Guy is nowhere in sight).
As such, the top of the Fortress sports a removable metal grill, which you'll need to pop off to plug in your cables, and also when you want to remove either side panel (screws holding the side panels in place are hidden underneath the top grill).
The top grill is completely tool-less, just give it a tug and it pops right off. Your cables, such as the power cord and USB peripherals, can be routed through cutouts in the back or front, which are then hidden out of sight by the top panel when you snap it back into place. It's a tidy and effective setup for maximizing cooling potential, but is it a perfect design?
Unfortunately, no. Just as we complained about with other systems that utilize a similar design, the downside to this blueprint is that it's inconvenient to take advantage of all those lonely USB ports and other inputs the motherboard provides. Most gadgets connect via USB these days, and if you find yourself plugging and unplugging cables on a frequent basis, you'll quickly get annoyed by having to rip off the top panel each time you want to use one of the 'rear' USB ports. Though one could argue that rear USB ports in traditional designs are equally or even more-so inaccessible.
We don't want to overstate the potential problem of constantly having the motherboard's rear ports blocked by the top panel, because in reality, after you connect your permanent devices -- keyboard and mouse, for example -- you might never have a need for the remaining ports. For the temporary devices, like your tablet, smartphone, or digital camera, Silverstone's Fortress packs a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports on the front panel, located on the top of the chassis. The ports, along with headphone and microphone inputs, sit stealthily behind a small sliding door. The power button, reset button, and activity LEDs sit to the left.