Ah, a case review. I like doing case reviews. Nothing too fiddly, just a big ol’ box to look around and poke at. No silly benchmarks or temperature readings to do, just a nice montage of pictures and a “this is great” or “this is suck” summary. Or so I hoped, until I was told this case had some clever new cooling system which needed investigation…
Back in the old days a case was just a box you plonked the computer in. Now it’s an integral part of your cooling system as well, and this one is trying something a bit new. Luckily, and importantly, it also looks rather natty.
Enermax are no stranger to the scene. They’ve been producing top flight power supplies for yonks and have tried there hand at case design on a few occasions too. This, the CS-718 released under the company’s “Coolergiant” alias, marks (in my eyes) their first proper entry into the high end case market.
The looks take a lot of ideas from other cases, but the mix is fairly unique… the mesh is clearly inspired by the recent Apple G5 cases and the millions of copies that followed, but it is used in a different way – only a small slither on the front panel, surrounded by shiny brushed metal. The top of the front panel houses a small LCD display and a number of connections (usb / sound / firewire) – reminiscent of the Antec P160 case but again done in a slightly different way.
Down at the bottom of the front panel is a great big knob (fnaar fnaar) used to control the internal cooling tunnel (which we’ll get into soon). The side panels are plain old boring steel, but you might be a little confused at first and take off the wrong one since the case follows a pseudo-BTX layout much like the recent Lian Li V-series cases.
So it looks as if the designers at Enermax had one of each manufacturers recent top cases and tried to take away all the best parts of each and meld them with their own chassis basics. Perhaps not the most noble method of design, but a fairly clever way to go.
Moving to the insides you can’t help but straight away notice the big blue plastic duct. This connects two 120mm fans, one front one back, and is designed to force a whole load of air across the CPU area (thus exhausting all the hot air from the CPU cooler). Whilst this seems like a fairly good idea, I do wonder whether the forced airflow hinders the performance of the CPU fan. With the volume of air, though, I would think performance will still be greater than the performance of the CPU cooler alone in the same position. We’ll test that later on.
The vent has two interchangable “hoods” for different board layouts. I’m using a standard ATX board and the CPU fits fairly nicely into the bottom right hand corner… some newer boards or dual boards might place a CPU in this “hooded” section and might need the extra clearance afforded by the extended version. The flat version is there in case the other fouls some components. I don’t have a big ol’ pile of boards to test with, but it’s nice to see a couple of options available.
The hoods clip onto the tunnel with plastic clips and the tunnels clip in to the case using a similar idea. It’s all nice and simple but seems pretty secure.
The use of 120mm fans here is a great thing – 120mm fans will give much a better performance:noise ratio than their 80mm counterparts. We also have a mount for an optional additional 80mm fan on the front panel, but no fan is shipped with the case. For purists wanting airflow balance, a fan here could partner the exhaust fan in the PSU.
Moving back to the exterior of the case, and up to the top, we can have a better look at the external ports and LCD display. 4 USB ports are provided, a welcome increase from the usual 2 ports on most cases, as well as a single firewire (good for any budding video editors) and a mic and headphone socket. I’ve never been a huge fan of front mounted ports like these but I have to admit I found the USB ports extremely useful for things like my joystick, recently rescued from the cupboard for a quick blast at the Battlefield 2 demo, and my camera’s card reader. The headphone and mic sockets seem the least useful but I guess someone must like them as they seem fairly ubiquitous on cases nowadays.
The LCD display shows the current speed of the 120 mm fans controlled by the speed dial at the front of the case as well as the temperature inside the case measured by it’s own sensors. I should note that the speed is only measured from the front 120mm fan… logic would dictate that at the same voltage the fans would run at the same speed but if the back one stops running the lcd won’t tell you.
There’s also a graphical display of the temperature in the shape of a thermometer, and the temperature can be switched from celcius/centegrade to farenheit using the buttons next to the screen. The buttons (including reset and power) all have a lovely tactile feel to them and appear to be either metal or very high quality painted plastic – they don’t look tacky like so many other manufacturers’ buttons do (even the buttons on my Lian Li PC60 are fairly cheap and nasty).
The fans can be adjusted from a near-silent 1500 rpm to a not-much-noisier (but definitely noticeable) 4000 rpm. Changing the fan speed did have a measurable effect on my cpu temperatures, although in this recent hot weather there’s not much you can do – blowing hot air over something slower or faster hardly makes a lot of difference to cooling it down. I saw differences of up to 3 or 4 degrees when running the fans at top speed which is nothing to sneer at. To be honest though I prefer the serenity provided by the lowest setting – the cooling setup within this case really is very quiet indeed (my CPU cooler is an Akasa 824 with an 80mm Noiseblocker UltraSilent fan attached).
The fans are not hard wired to the control knob, they are connected to a rather natty little pcb, so you could use your own fans or even connect more since there are two spare 3-pin plug spaces. A nice touch.
There is a major downside to the wind tunnel arrangement, and that’s DUST. Dust, dust and yet more dust gets sucked through the tube and most of it collects on the front panel, heatsink and anything else in it’s way. Obviously dust is always a problem for forced airflow systems, but it seemed particularly bad in this case. The small-hole mesh on the front panel doesn’t help matters – dust clings to it readily – and the square mesh on the inner front panel behaves similarly. Inside the tunnel dust sticks to the plastic which presumably gains some static properties from the constant rushing air and is also pushed through the heatsink.
A filter system at the intake, perhaps with wider mesh over the intake area (?), could have cut down this problem hugely, perhaps eliminated it, and is something Enermax should definitely consider introducing if they use this design in a future product. It worked wonders in the Lian Li PC60 case series, and the easy access to the inner front panel in this case would make getting at a filter to clean it very easy indeed.
Despite it’s dust-friendly properties the black mesh used on the front panel is fairly gorgeous. And actually it’s not too difficult to clean, especially some help from a friendly vacuum cleaner. It gives a very industrial feel, especially where you can see the chassis through it like you can at the 3.5″ bay area. The big fan control knob is also pretty swish, but isn’t held in as securely as it could be and thusly wobbles a bit when you turn it which feels a bit cheap. Nobody’s perfect, I suppose.
The drive bay covers are attached to the front door-panel by tiny screws on the reverse side, 2 holding each panel in place. The door will not close with drives installed due to the clips being aligned so that the drives fit flush with the door panel. It wouldn’t be very easy to modify unfortunately, since I think the drives would look nice hidden behind this black mesh.
There are bigger problems though. The hard disk rack looks at first glance to be an excellent provision. The hard disks slide in on their sides using some rather clever clips which don’t require *any* screws at all – they clip onto the disks using metal tabs, then slide smoothly but tightly into the rack. Excellent… and yet really not clever at all. The disks take up pretty much the whole width of the case, leaving only a small gap on the far side for cables and the like. Power cables are fine, but there is an issue with IDE cables. Given the profusion of round IDE cables in systems these days, including my own, you’d think case makers would realise that some space is required behind drives for the bend radii of the cables. Rounded cables, if connecting to more than one drive, simply do not fit in this case.
Majorly annoying – and the only flat cables I have wouldn’t reach the pretty long distance round to the ports on the motherboard. Quite a mishap there on Enermax’s part. A bit of butchering to a rounded cable (removing the boots and/or some sleeving) could get them to fit but it really shouldn’t be something a new case buyer needs to do.
Back to those drive bay clips/rails… a similar method is used for the 5.25″ drives, again needing no screws at all. The clips are really quite clever and something I haven’t seen before. 4 metal tabs fit into the standard screwholes present on *all* drives – 2 on the bottom 2 on the side on both the left and right of the drive. Once the bottom tabs are in, you “rock” the clip so that the remaining tabs find their way into the side holes.
Then the clip is secure, and you can slide it into the drive bay where it clicks securely into place. Great stuff. The only problem these things pose, which is the same for other cases using rails and clips, is that short items like fan controllers and things like that aren’t long enough to fit into the clips properly. Usually these items will be secure enough just using the front holes, since the sides of the bay will push against the clip and hold it firmly into whatever product it is. It’s a limitation to the system, but only usually a minor annoyance rather than a full on problem. As someone who usually favours the traditional 4-screws approach, I was fairly impressed by these clips and rails.
Continuing the tool-less theme, the expansion cards have their own peculiar system to oust the evil screws. Here black plastic clips fold down to clamp the cards in place. Now, these I really do not like. They’re simply not strong enough for heavy cards (my radeon with attached hugely-heavy Arctic Cooler didn’t feel very secure) – I would have much preferred to see some more traditional but still damned easy-to-use thumbscrews here.
A power supply was included with the case sent to me for review – Enermax makes some really top notch PSUs so it makes sense that they should include one in their cases as added value. The unit included is of decent specifications – 460W according to the label, and model number EG-465AX-VE(G)(24P). There’s plenty of connectors of all kinds as one would expect from an Enermax supply – it seems to be one of their pretty expensive models which definitely adds value to the product as a whole – buying one separately would cost around £50 or more. I’m told the case will ship like this.* (see ‘related’ section at the end of the article)
The unit has 2 80mm fans with a rheostat (for fan speed control) on the rear. In the slowest position the noise is almost undetectable. It has a 20/24 pin motherboard connector. In many respects it’s a lot like the Coolergiant model I tested recently, only without the blower fan arrangement.
There are a few other bits I’ve not mentioned that I’ll quickly cover before bringing this review to a close. The case features one of those “case open” switches that you’ve always seen in your BIOS but never used. It’s just a microswitch that gets depressed (awh) when the case panel is secured. A feature some might find useful, although I can’t see why.
A comprehensive set of screws was included with my sample case. I can only assume this is a standard inclusion with any retail case as well.
The case comes packaged in the traditional plastic bag, foam spacers, cardboard box method – decent and secure.
The front door has a lock on the side, with two keys supplied. This might be useful in stopping little tykes pulling your optical drive out.
The case is available on most websites in either all-over black or all-over silver. I haven’t seen this strange hybrid that I was sent on sale anywhere (answers on a postcard?). In my opinion the pure black version is the sexiest of the bunch.
So there we have the CS-718. How do we summarise things? It’s certainly a striking case… imposing even – at 54cm tall (~1’9″) you certainly won’t lose it. The attractive use of painted mesh contrasted with brushed metal gives it a rather dashing appearance which should make quite an impact, and the bright blue LCD panel and glowing fans give it an eerie, almost menacing, prescence in a darkened room. Internally things are fairly capable… plenty of room for drive expansion (albeit with a very poorly designed restriction on cables) and lots of space in the main area to work with when installing a system or upgrading.
And yet even with all this space, the cables and thin sensor wires, front panel connector wires, and power lines all conspire to make this a very messy case. squeezing cables through gaps to get round to the hard disks, cramming the rather lengthy spare power cables into a spare nook, and working around that large plastic cowl can make things a bit claustrophobic – and it’s never good to be stressed when tinkering with expensive yet delicate equipment.
The motherboard tray is fixed in place which isn’t unusual in such a large case as this but is still irritating with the strides that have been made in case design. The included power supply makes a welcome break from the norm and it’s high quality comes as even more of a shock. The internal cooling system is also well thought out, and the innovative duct system has benefits which outweigh it’s minor flaws (the main issue being dust build up).
Enermax have done a decent job, but have some little niggles to work on. All said and done this is a very capable case and something most geeks would be proud to display in all it’s menacingly large glory on their desks next to a big old widescreen TFT. For the more average user I think it might be a little bit ‘overkill’, and the difficulty in routing cabling around the slightly muddled interior – something which might seem a rewarding challenge to the more enthusiastic computer user – might put off Joe Public. Or Joe Modder’s dad.
A good push into the high-end market with some interesting ideas, the next one they make should be great.
This case is… ok
Good psu supplied
Good cooling system
Nice clip/rail system
Front ports and LCD display
Dusty (no filters)
Crap hard disk rack
Internals can get a bit messy with wires
OcUK online store, £116 inc vat at time of writing (NO PSU)
pixmania online store, £131 inc vat at time of writing (NO PSU)
* Seems it’s not so common for a PSU to be included afterall… there goes the “added value”
overclockercafe.com – Recommended
The case is big and heavy which is good or bad depending on your needs or uses for the case. I didn’t like the fact that it did not have a removable mainboard tray but the inverted mainboard design made up for this in usable work space. All things considered, the Enermax CS-718 is a fine server case that you will be hard pressed to dislike and should be at the top of anyone’s list who is looking for a server box with style and function.
AMDreview.com – 3/10
I believe the reason the case got so hot is because the only exhaust fans are the 120mm in the wind tunnel, and the power supply. All the hot air from the case rises up through the hard drives heating them up. I think this is a serious design flaw; they could probably get the case cooler by including an extra exhaust fan or two.
3dvelocity.com – Recommended
The understated design is accentuated with a bit of bling by using LED fans which are visible through the mesh bezel. Aside from the lack of easy access to the HSF (or removable motherboard tray), I have no gripes at all about this case. From a quality of build standpoint, and attention to detail, I can recommend this case to those of you planning your next speed demon. One minor drawback to the wind tunnel, however, is that many of the newer, larger heat pipe HSFs will not fit.