Our search for the most premium case puts the quality of materials and construction first, followed by features and performance. But should materials really trump features?
The reason we prioritize materials is because we’re using manufacturing cost to offset price. And CaseLabs certainly has the “quality of materials” situation wrapped up with its 2.3 mm-thick aluminum chassis with 1.6 mm-thick exterior panels. But the accuracy of construction is matched by Corsair and, for the most part, Thermaltake.
The Merlin SM08’s “Flex Bay” design is ideal for case modders or anyone who wants to run an extra-large dual-radiator liquid cooling configuration without any front-bay devices installed. That only leaves you with two 3.5” and two 2.5” drive bays behind the motherboard tray, though. And while those drive restrictions sound great to most of the enthusiasts running big liquid coolers, they might not appeal to the high-end market overall.
Corsair packs a killer feature too: those tool-free SSD trays are really great, and there are four of them. Then you have the six additional 3.5” drive trays that are 2.5”-capable (like Thermaltake’s). The Graphite 760T will even hold a double-fan radiator up front in addition to the triple-fan unit up top if you’re willing to sacrifice a few of its many drive bays.
The only factor really holding Corsair’s Graphite 760T out of award contention is its materials. You get the same medium-thickness steel and plastic as cases selling for half as much. And there’s not a lot of steel involved, either. The 760T weighs less than the all-aluminum Merlin SM08.
Not to be left out, Thermaltake steps in with even more cool functionality, including a set of drive cages that pull out to allow radiators with up to three 140 mm fans up front, and another of those on top. Such a configuration only leaves the Urban T81 with one 3.5” and one 2.5” drive mount, though. At least you can split the difference with dual-fan radiators, since the drive cages are modular.
The Urban T81 even looks the part of a premium case, with paint that rivals the Merlin surrounding anodized-aluminum inserts. A split side panel is also a little less cumbersome for us to work with compared to Corsair’s more aesthetically-oriented design. But the T81 is far from perfect. The shiny parts of its plastic trim are prone to hazing, and every effort to clean those surfaces increased that effect. Its rear door can be difficult to remove and install, given a recessed lower hinge that partially blocks the non-recessed portion of the side panel. And nothing short of a screwdriver can get the forward side door off without breaking the hinge.
The T81 also had a few “cheap case” quirks, such as a cable management area behind the motherboard tray that requires the wiring to be bunched towards the central protruding portion of the slide-on, right side panel. That idiosyncrasy is probably acceptable in a sub-$200 chassis, but it’s not going to make the cut in a premium case comparison.
The Urban T81 might win the value portion of this premium case comparison, except that it's not really a premium case. We still consider it worthy of consideration for power users on a budget. Then again, Corsair's Graphite 760T deserves the same respect.
That leaves us heading into part three reminding ourselves that we're on the look-out for an exceptionally high-end enclosure to crown our victor. There are three cases left to judge, so the competition remains up for grabs.
- Another Look At Elite ATX Cases
- CaseLabs Merlin SM08
- Inside The Merlin SM08
- Building With The Merlin SM08
- Corsair Graphite 760T
- Inside The Graphite 760T
- Building With The Graphite 760T
- Thermaltake Urban T81
- Inside The Urban T81
- Building With The Urban T81
- How We Tested The Elite ATX Cases
- Heat, Noise and Heat Vs. Noise
- Which Case Offers The Best Features And Quality?