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Four Full Tower Cases From $150 To $600

Four Full Tower Cases From $150 To $600

The back of ABS' massive Canyon enclosure

I make it no secret that I’m a fan of small form factor systems…as business desktops. When it comes to gaming, I’m more of a realist. Processors that dissipate 140 W just don’t do well in the confines of a cramped little box, nor do multiple graphics cards. Falcon Northwest managed to fit an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 and a pair of Radeon HD 4870 X2s in its FragBox QuadFire, showcased in our 2008 Holiday Buyer’s Guide. We didn’t have any stability issues with that configuration, but there’s no doubt that it ran hot—really hot. And at $4,000, you’re most definitely paying a premium for big muscle in a compact chassis.

Twin 80mm exhaust fans, circulating air from the storage chamber

Right now, the hot ticket—no pun intended—is Intel’s Core i7 platform. Overclocked, an i7 920 is actually a reasonable proposition. And with most of the X58-based motherboards we’ve seen supporting CrossFire and SLI, your choice for budget-oriented multi-GPU setups is more diverse now than ever before. So, in the interest of testing out some of the full tower chassis that’ve landed in our lab during the past three months, we’ll be loading each up with a complete Core i7 setup, a couple of Radeon HD 4870s, and an assortment of hard drives. We’ll build up each enclosure, take note of any snags that hamper our progress, measure acoustics, measure thermals, and compare design philosophies.

Antec's Twelve Hundred

Just who, exactly, is on our dance card? We have ABS’ Canyon 695, with its elegant looks and performance-oriented construction, Antec’s Twelve Hundred, with its 12 drive bays, seven expansion slots, and massive coolers, Cooler Master’s beefy HAF 932, able to accommodate eATX motherboards and up to seven expansion slots, and Thermaltake’s Spedo, armed with its optional Advanced Package, said to improve cooling and prevent hot air from being re-circulated.

prices range from $150 to $600, so there’s undoubtedly something for everyone. If you’re building a gaming box with hardware that really needs to breathe, you won’t want to miss this comparison.

Display 71 Comments.
  • 6 Hide
    Proximon , December 15, 2008 8:27 AM
    Thank you Chris, another very useful article. Not enough case comparisons around, as I'm sure you realized.
    I'll be sure to add the HAF to my recommendation list. I hadn't before because I thought all the extra holes would hinder cooling more than help. The hole in the MB tray sounds especially useful.
    I would have liked to see on of the Cosmos cases included, although I suspect they are simply quieter but hotter.
  • 5 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 12:30 PM
    Nice article.

    Though, I'm curious. 40db+ isn't whisper quiet. That's freak'n loud. What's up with calling it whisper quiet?
  • -1 Hide
    Pei-chen , December 15, 2008 12:39 PM
    The three cheaper cases are powerhouses but too big and overkill for most people including gamers. I think the Antec's Three Hundred ($60 a few weeks ago on Newegg) suits the need for most people. 750w PSU are usually enough for SLI/Crossfire so 1000w+ aren't needed.
  • 0 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 1:11 PM
    I'm curious when they will start releaseing more cases that have more depth, so that they have more room for today's much larger videocard solutions.
  • 2 Hide
    kubes , December 15, 2008 1:29 PM
    Ya I agree that case designers should consider making them have more depth. With this in mind though i'm sure vidoe card manufactors will only make their card even longer however.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 15, 2008 1:35 PM
    Lian Li has plenty of depth, and otherwise just huge (PC-A70).
  • 1 Hide
    antiacid , December 15, 2008 1:38 PM
    Good article. Now it gives a procedure and template to test other cases as well. It'd be great to have a review of cases which could be "best of" a certain category (cooling, noise, ease of use, weight, etc). It would be even nicer if the results were put in bullet point form and were setup in a table like the ones used in hdd/video card tables. That would make it a lot easier to compare everything.
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 1:40 PM
    I do believe that all the cases available in the market these days are poorly designed especially when it comes to air flow. You may notice that front fans, rear fans, buttom, side and top panel fans -when combined- cause turbulence in air flow that reduces the overall air flow. That's why I buy a cheap $25 case and modded myself!!!
    I have so many innovations regarding case designs that I hope someone buys them and excutes them in reality!!
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 2:11 PM
    Here is one of my ideas...
    To put it plainly: air needs to be moved in one direction, preferably from down-upwards, since hot air tends to go upward by nature and the hottest part of any system (that's the GFX cards) is located at the lower part..Hence a PSU mounted at the upper part of the case (with its 120-140mm fan), with another 120mm top-panel exhaust fan and two 120mm buttom intake fans will be by far more efficient than all the available cases. To achieve this efficincy I close any other holes (even the ones the manufacturer meant for ventilation) so the air enters the case only from the buttom fans where I put dust filters to minimize dust inside my case. Furthermore I use a case with long "legs" to minimize inhalation of the dust at my desk's surface.
    To minimize noise: I use
    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.
    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!
    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.
  • -1 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 2:27 PM
    Fortunately many aftermarket CPU and GPU coolers helped me. They can be installed in a way that the fan moves the air upwards. There is evidence that the setup I suggested above reduces -though marginally- the power consumed by the CPU and GPU fans to reach thier designated rpm and increases the lifetime of these fans, since instead of meeting resistance, the one directional air flow helps them.
  • -1 Hide
    malveaux , December 15, 2008 2:48 PM

    I'm curious about putting sinulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not.Heya,

    I'm curious about putting insulation in a case. I'd love to see measurments of noise levels in a case with just random sponges in the case versus not, and other solutions. Personally, I don't like lights and other stuff in the case, I don't look at my case, I look at my display. Reducing the case's obvious footprint and pressence is a nice thing. Less noise would be wonderful (especially since I use mine as a HTPC too). I've always been a fan of the blow hole (top fan to draw hot air out). Sealing up a case to reduce all holes to just air flow from bottom to top, with insulation of some kind to reduce noise would be a great project to try.

    Again, I'd love to see some noise and temp measurements! To the forum? Got some ways to measure it?

  • -2 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 3:23 PM
    Believe it or not the setup I mentioned keeps my E6750 (overclocked from 2.66ghz 1.23v to 3.8ghz 1.44v) under 55 c under full load (hours of dual prime 95) in a very hot room that lacks a cooling system(temps:40 to 50 c !!). (Don't be smart with me, we lack electrical power in my country and private small-groups generators are the only reason I can be online!!)

    I don't have the means to measure the noise level but I can tell you -though subjectively- it is very quiet when using all the mentioned steps. In the end I wish someone with enough resources (like the guys at Tom's) tests my project and give the whole world accurate objective measures and compare them to the available cases..Even the high end ones.
  • -2 Hide
    avatar_raq , December 15, 2008 3:35 PM
    In my last post I forgot to add that I use vertically-oriented Zalman CNPS 9500 LED as a CPU cooler.
  • 1 Hide
    kamkal , December 15, 2008 4:00 PM

    600$ for a case? hahahahaha

    almost spit out my drink when i saw the price tag

  • -1 Hide
    kelfen , December 15, 2008 7:16 PM
    They should make an article on water cooling for the i7!
  • -1 Hide
    cangelini , December 15, 2008 7:35 PM
    Getting there. Gotta remember that i7 is still new, so there aren't a ton of options available yet.
  • 2 Hide
    Shadow703793 , December 15, 2008 8:31 PM
    Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.
  • -1 Hide
    cangelini , December 15, 2008 8:51 PM
    Shadow703793Good write up. But should have increased the # of cases and droped the range to a max of $350-400.

    Kept the number lower so I could spend more time with the cases involved--takes a deceptively long time to build each system up, test it, etc. The ABS case is actually the one that set the whole roundup off--it was a struggle finding enclosures that could compete. I think we'd all love to have that thing, but the price is just prohibitive. Even still, very nice to look at.
  • 1 Hide
    ccintron , December 15, 2008 8:56 PM
    Wow, those are four hideously UGLY cases... I'll stick with the Cooler Master Cosmos series.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , December 15, 2008 10:37 PM
    Okay I'll bite:

    1.low RPM silent fans.
    2.rubber washers between the fans and the case to minimize vibration noise.

    Okay, these 2 ideas are pretty well established. Although personally i have doubts about #2 really making a difference.

    3.cover all the interior surfaces with a layer of an insulator, that can be as simple as sponge!!!

    Right, but it can also be as simple as extreme fire and inhalation hazard. Make sure what you are using doesn't burn easily.

    4.even design external air ducts that divert the exhausted air (which carries the interior noise) to the back.

    This may seem like a good idea on the surface, but by restricting the air flow (you build additional pressure in the outlet) you might actually be increasing fan noise and heat buildup.

    High legs are a good idea to prevent dust (i have this problem as well) but can be dangerous for someone who has the case on a carpet or other uneven surface, since it increases the chances of the case tipping over.
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