With moderate noise suppression and excellent heat expulsion, the biggest case in today’s comparison wins. Yet, before we hear a collective “duh” from enthusiasts, we should also note that the smallest case in today’s roundup took a close second place in performance.
However, I don’t think any professional reviewer would settle for the second-place contender. At $100, NZXT’s Hades has panels as thin as most $30 cases and twists so easily that we were almost afraid to pick up the complete system. Other issues include a drive door that only swings to the right, while many of us require it to swing the other way, and the fact that no moderately-large CPU cooler will fit under its side fan. Living with the Hades thus begins to feel like living in Hades. We also have to question why anyone would want top-panel ports on a case that’s so small, since its only practical placement is on top of a desk where top-panel ports are hard to reach.
That last comment also applies to the sturdier Zalman Z7 Plus. The Z7 Plus would make a great low-cost desktop tower, if not for the fact that $80 is not a low price, and that putting it on top of a desk makes its top-panel jacks difficult to reach. Yet, with its solid design and top-quality finish, Zalman’s Z7 Plus at least looks and feels like an $80 case.
The most expertly-produced case in today’s lineup, Cooler Master’s Storm Sniper suffers from an almost-forgivable performance deficit. We say "almost" because it almost supports a double-fan radiator and internal liquid cooling that would more than compensate for its slightly lower air-cooled performance. The apparent effort Cooler Master put into design and production makes this tiny shortfall more of a big deal. Cooler Master, you could have won this one so easily.
The true winner of today’s comparison wasn’t perfect, either. We had trouble getting the Thermaltake Element V’s side-panel fan to work properly due to a slight misalignment of its surface-contact connector, and that connector isn’t even adjustable. The brush side of the connector is permanently attached to the fan, forcing owners to source any replacements directly from the factory. And the corners of the side panels were tight to the point that we had to yank the case open. Those are all elements that could have handed the win to a competitor, if not for its competitors' lack of an overwhelming feature.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect perfection for $135. When the side fan works, the Element V is worth at least twice the $35 difference between it and the next-cheaper case, NZXT’s Hades, even though the cheaper model has a three-reading thermal display. The Element V thus gets our recommendation, with the reservation that buyers may need to exchange theirs if they encounter similar panel-fitment issues.