SBM 3: High-End System

Builder's Notes: You'd Think This Stuff Would Work Together?

One might think that a case with an MSRP of around $300 would be designed with the highest-performance components in mind, especially considering its cavernous size and the enormity of its included liquid cooling system. Such assumptions can easily lead one down a very difficult path, however.

Let's start with the "easy" stuff: like many motherboards, the Asus Striker Extreme puts its IEEE-1394 FireWire port in the lower rear corner of the board. Most board manufacturers also put the audio ports in a similar location. Conversely, Thermaltake puts its "front panel" connectors on the top of the case, which requires a lengthy path for its cables.

With the emergence of Thermaltake's Xaser series several years ago, several reviewers noted that the top-panel audio cables were too short to route around the motherboard or over the cards, and a darned tight stretch to be routed beneath the board as a last-ditch alternative. The same exact issue occurred in today's build with the IEEE 1394 FireWire cable, which had to be stretched so tightly beneath the board and around its bottom edge that we feared the cable connectors might be torn away! All these years have passed without Thermaltake correcting such an obvious problem, by simply adding a couple inches to its cables!

The second problem concerns the extended length of our power supply, which prevented Thermaltake's rear support bracket and the top panel exhaust fan from being installed. In fact, we even had to remove the top panel port bracket just to wiggle the thing into place, replacing it only after the power supply had been mounted. Thermaltake fans will cry, "but it's not a standard sized power supply!" To them, we'll point out the first paragraph of this section: a $300 enthusiast case should be designed for enthusiast parts, and nearly all high-capacity power supplies have an extended length.

The third and most significant Armor LCS design problem is that the water pump and reservoir are not designed for this case; rather, the case been drilled to accept the mounting hole pattern of the pump. This is important to note, as the pump only "fits" one way, with the outlet pointing towards the rear of the case while blocking a motherboard's bottom two expansion card slots! This means you can say goodbye to SLI unless you're willing to do some modifications.

The pump must be rotated to fit long cards into a motherboard's lower slots

Our modification included rotating the pump and reservoir 180 degrees so that the sideways-facing nozzle pointed towards the front of the case, into the lower 3.5" hard drive cage. This required drilling new holes into the bottom of the case for attaching the pump.

Rotating the pump also required an alternative tubing rout. We sacrificed the bottom five bays of the 7-bay hard drive cage that sits behind the radiator to allow for "smooth" tubing bends, which left only the top two bays useable.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.