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Assembling Our Budget-Oriented Beast

System Builder Marathon, March 2012: $650 Gaming PC

Although I didn't run into any show-stopping problems, I did make a lot of observations and notes to pass along as we build up and start using this little rig.

Rosewill's microATX mini tower sports the lightest steel cage I’ve ever encountered. We immediately noticed a lack of tool-less drive clips and slot mechanisms. And there wasn't any of the black interior paint we grew used to from four low-cost systems we built in 2011. This basic design takes us back to old fashioned screws, an 80 mm exhaust fan, and a grey metal tray without any cutouts to simplify aftermarket cooler installation or cable management. Of course, we knew about all of that ahead of time, and they didn't really matter. Most important was the fact that a $30 price tag kept our system within its budget. We got a 120 mm front intake fan and plenty of room to house our powerful Radeon HD 6950, too.

There are some aspects of the H61MA-D3V's layout that deserve criticism. Specifically, the H61 chipset’s integrated SATA ports are not placed intuitively. The first two line up with the PCIe x16 expansion slot and are completely blocked by long dual-slot graphics cards. That leaves two integrated SATA ports, which are in such close proximity to our Radeon card that one is difficult to access. At least this board has two SATA 6Gb/s-capable ports, enabled by a Marvell controller.

The board also only has one system fan header. That's not a problem for us, since both of our case fans employ four-pin Molex connectors. But we make mention of this because our MSI-based platform had four headers at the same $70 price point. 

With the board installed, it's time to tackle drive installation. This is a rather shallow case with a forward/lateral-mounted 3.5” drive cage. I considered mounting the hard drive before the motherboard, but decided to follow convention and see if I ran into any fitment issues. In short, no. Our thin, single-platter disk fit in any of the 3.5” bays, using extreme caution to navigate around the CPU cooler. A thicker drive with less vertical wiggle room could have blocked a couple of the bays with Intel's boxed cooler already installed.

The top 5.25” drive bay is easily prepped for optical drive installation, leaving the removable front bezel attached. However, the front bezel itself is slightly curved and our DVD burner's faceplate is flat, making it impossible to mount the drive flush with the case. When it matches on the sides, the center of the optical drive is recessed about three-sixteenths of an inch from the bezel. At least with the LG drive we received, noticeable gaps were visible on each side, and it was difficult to keep centered in the bay opening as we tightened screws. We can't really be too picky given what we spent, but this would be unacceptable in a higher-priced enclosure.

Our biggest frustration with this build is managing unused power cables. Thankfully, Rosewill wraps each group of wires in black mesh up to the first connector, which helps with aesthetics. Using numerous plastic tie straps (our own, that is; we left the bundled ties for whoever wins this machine), we were able to keep all cabling away from rotating fans. Air flow restrictions weren’t particularly bad. Visual neatness was more of a concern. We stuffed excess power cables in the empty 5.25” bay. If both bays had been populated by optical drives, though, we would probably be recommending a modular supply instead.

The back of the case had an alarming amount of in-and-out flex, which was particularly noticeable while screwing in the graphics card. Though the side panels help solidify the structure, I can’t help but to be worried that the expensive Radeon card almost appeared to be part of the structural support. How much shock and vibration would pass through the card and its supporting slot? This really isn't the right case for LAN parties. And I'm glad we disassemble these machines before shipping them off to their winners.

After discovering many details worth nitpicking, the build ends on a high note. Although Rosewill’s two removable side panels are small, they're probably the most rigid and best-fitting panels I’ve ever encountered on a low-budget enclosure. They’ve been on and off numerous times, and are still easy to replace, lining up extremely well with the front bezel and top panel. Overall, this basic mini tower is completely opposite the NZXT Gamma I selected for overclocking the September 2011 $500 PC. Although that one had amazing cooling potential, its side panels were flimsy, and had to be wrestled into place.

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