If you're nostalgic about things like your first car, you might also remember the first computer you ever built. We sure do. It took about a week from start to finish, and left more than a few knuckles bleeding. Pointy surfaces, sharp edges and cramped quarters are unfortunately still a reality today, but some PC cabinet makers have seriously worked to reduce those risks.
One such company is NZXT, which sent the CRN Test Center two of its ATX-sized enclosures: The Vulcan enthusiast mini-tower, and the Tempest EVO mid-tower. Both are sturdy steel cases that are well- ventilated and versatile, with (almost) no sharp edges and plenty of room to get in and around and to route and manage cables. And, and both are from the company's Crafted Series of purpose-built cabinets intended for specialized applications. They also and both provide space for seven expansion slots and servicing of the processor heat sync without removing the motherboard.
The CRN Test Center also pondered a pair of power supplies from Antec: the economic TruePower New 750 and the brand-new TruePower Quattro 1200, a monster that's also under consideration for the Test Center's Ultimate PC project later this year. Both can support dual and quad-core CPUs, are certified Nvidia SLI -ready and maximize airflow with "hybrid" cable management. The Quattro supports as many as three graphics cards.
Working first with the Vulcan micro ATX gaming chassis ($69 street), testers installed the TruePower New 750 ($159 list), which sits on rubber pads to help dampen vibration and ensure a snug fit. Making things a bit too snug were two steel nubs near the back of Vulcan's case, which had to be flattened for the TruePower to sit flush. A filtered vent at the underside of the 16- inch-by-16.5-inch-by-7-inch mini-tower permits intake; exhaust flows out the rear.
Testers had to confirm visually that the TruePower's fan was running; it's that quiet. After all, it's responsible for keeping only itself cool; two large fans included with the Vulcan (one in front, one on top, with room for a second) work to keep air flowing and eject heat through an flared side panel (which also makes the innards visible) and large mesh holes front and rear. Fan speed also can be controlled manually via front-mounted dials; cut-outs simplify the addition of water cooling. Both case sides are removable with thumbscrews; the plastic front bezel is held in place with spring clips.
The Vulcan can handle two 5-inch and two 3-inch externally accessible drives, plus another two 3-inch internal drives. Two pairs of rails are included for internals; thumbscrews for the rest. And while we don't particularly favor drive rails, those included with the Vulcan use pins instead of screws, easily popping on and off.
There are two things we would improve about the Vulcan: the mesh drive bay covers have sharp edges and once bent are hard to straighten; the wires leading to the front-panel eSATA, USB and audio ports are too short to allow the bezel to rest easily. Still, the NZXT Vulcan is a solid case for the system builder catering to hard-core gamers and other power users, and is highly recommended along with Antec's TruePower New 750 power supply.
Massively expandable, extremely versatile and just plain cool. That sums up the Tempest EVO, an extended ATX chassis in a mid-tower (20.5-inch-by- x 22-inch-by x -7.5 inches) form factor that can be used to build servers, storage arrays, graphics workstations and anything else in need of sprawling real estate for storage, cooling and expansion cards. We paired the EVO ($89 street) with Antec's high-end power supply, the Quattro 1200 ($299 list).
Out of the box, the EVO can handle three 5-inch external drives and eight internal 3-inch drives with dedicated cooling fans. An included adapter allows one of the 5-inch bays to be used for an external 3-inch drive. As many as five additional 5-inch external drives can be installed, making the chassis suitable for disc disk duplication or as an optical media server, for example. Such a configuration would come at the expense of one or both intake fans and some of the internal drive bays. Three exhaust fans reject heat through the top and rear of the cabinet. Pre-drilled holes with grommets permit easy addition of one or two water cooling units.
Like the Vulcan, the EVO's top panel is home to audio, eSATA and a pair of USB ports, along with power and reset buttons, although EVO mounts them on an incline plane, whereas Vulcan lays them horizontal. Cable management is among the niceties of the EVO design. Cutouts on the motherboard tray are fitted with rubber grommets to maximize airflow efficiency and minimize the appearance of tangled wires. A large Plexiglas window on one of the cabinet's two removable sides exposes components alight with blue LEDs. Classic geek: An exhaust fan is mounted to the clear panel, which is protected during shipment by plastic.
Screwless side rails are quick and easy to apply, locking in place with a twist latch in 5-inch drives and spring notches on others. The 3-inch drive cages are removable for quicker mass assembly and servicing. Like the TruePower New 750, the fan on the Quattro 1200 is whisper whisper-qquiet. However, the two part company in terms of power connectors.
The 750, along with just about every other PC power supply we've seen, uses a C14 male connector and C13 power cord. The 1200, however, uses a C20 male (16 amp) connector, and requires a C19 female power cord. One is included, of course, but be advised if you generally keep extras on hand. For power user systems loaded with drives, memory and expansion cards, the CRN Test Center recommends the combination of Antec's TruePower Quattro 1200 and NZXT's Tempest EVO.