One of the joys of being based out of the bay area is getting to actually visit the headquarters of some of these vendors. I've had one on one time with Antec, NVIDIA, Logitech, and my last visit to Corsair's headquarters in Fremont got me a good look at the early prototyping stages of both the Obsidian 900D and the Carbide Air 540. Corsair's designers were pretty enthusiastic about where they were going with what became the Air 540, and with good reason. Now that I've had a chance to handle the final product, I feel like I'm looking at the next BitFenix Prodigy.

Outside of Lian Li's eclectic lineup, cube style ATX cases are rare as hen's teeth and seeing one from Corsair is especially unusual. The one-off Graphite 600T notwithstanding, Corsair has tended to produce fairly conservative, extremely refined case designs. But the dual-chambered Carbide Air 540 is a radical departure and a much needed one. It's not a perfect design and there's plenty of room for improvement, but there are very good reasons I chose the Air 540 for my upcoming custom liquid cooling loop review.

Corsair Carbide Air 540 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25"
Internal 2x 3.5", 4x 2.5"
Cooling Front 2x 140mm intake fan (supports 3x 120mm)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (supports 120mm)
Top 2x 140mm/120mm fan mounts
Side -
Bottom -
Expansion Slots 8
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 200mm
GPU 320mm
Dimensions 16.33" x 13.07" x 18.03"
415mm x 332mm x 458mm
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Almost completely toolless assembly
Unique dual-chambered design
Supports 360mm radiator in front and 280mm radiator in top
Price $139

I'm going to address a minor elephant in the room before getting into the nitty gritty of the Carbide Air 540: a cube-shaped enclosure is arguably less space efficient than a typical tower. As someone who lives in an apartment smaller than he needs, I can tell you that floor space is always at a premium, and the Air 540 does have a pretty large footprint. It's not as tall as a conventional case, it's a bit wider, and when running it probably looks like a good place for a cat to sleep.

Of course, on the flipside, by breaking out of the ATX standard, Corsair's designers were suddenly free to start rethinking about how everything can come together to truly maximize performance and efficiency. The Carbide Air 540 is in many ways operating on the same principles SilverStone's Temjin TJ08-E, Raven RV-04, and Fortress FT-04 are: as direct a path for air as humanly possible. Yet while SilverStone's designs moved the power supply and 5.25" bays to the top of the enclosure, Corsair made the enclosure wider and created a separate chamber for all the parts that didn't need direct, active cooling.

In and Around the Corsair Carbide Air 540
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  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    I wish I had a purpose for a new case, I'd very likely buy one of these. It is innovative and attractive enough that I think Corsair deserves a pat on the back, and what better way to pat a company on the back than spend your money on one of their products. :) Considering the price of many tower cases, I think it's something of a bargain.

    Well written and thorough review Dustin, thanks!
    Reply
  • Tulatin - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    Out of curiosity, how deep is the back chamber from tray to panel? This case has a lot of potential as a little fileserver cube - it just needs some mods to do it. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    Hi, it would be nice to know the total power draw (at the wall is fine) for the 'Full Fat' system.

    Thanks for the review!
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    Also, it would be nice to know, in all case reviews, if the stock fans will work with a PWM motherboard fan controller. Reply
  • Grok42 - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    Excellent case and a great review. The case looks great and I'm I really like the design of separating the components. This case will certainly be in my list of cases to consider with my next build even though I can't imagine what build it would make sense for. I hope to see more cases pushing the design envelope like this one and I will try very hard to purchase such designs when I can.

    That said, who will use this case? It isn't a file server as much as the comments here want it to be. The drive bay isn't actively cooled and there aren't enough internal bays for it. It can certainly be a gaming system but it's a bit overkill for that given that 90% of the right bay would be empty.

    This case seems perfect for a high end gaming show rig. The two separate bays makes the main bay very clean and gives plenty of room for doing about anything you want. All the extra space in the right bay could be used to hide everything that's needed to trick the visible side out. Unfortunately for me, I'm not into this but it's going to make some very nice rigs.
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    For all those wanting this to be a file server, think about this. This case is obviously for building a high-end show rig probably with water cooling and multiple graphics cards. It makes no sense to also press a $2k-$4k rig like this into menial file server as well. Sure, like Dustin, some of you have space challenges but for most it makes a *lot* more sense to build a separate file server.

    Aside from the space it takes up in a room, the "overhead" of building a separate file server is about $400. This gets you a Large Case, PSU, MB and RAM. Some of this extra cost can be recovered because you will need less costly components in your primary machine but if you're like me you won't save anything but your primary machine will be perfect for what it does rather than be a compromise between two major functions.

    This machine will serve you well for years longer than you'll keep your main system. I keep everything on my server so when I get a new machine there is no backup to be done, just drop in the new box and tell steam to download the games I'm currently still playing. My kids watch their movies from this box, we watch our movies on our TV, our phones automatically upload pictures and video to it. This is the benefit of having a machine that is always running and dedicated to being stable and working 24/7 for years.
    Reply
  • rchris - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the review. Interesting design, but not for me. You mentioned that you "feel like I'm looking at the next BitFenix Prodigy." Well, I've seen a few peeks at the upcoming Prodigy M and it looks much better than this (although not as versatile with MB sizes). That's the one I hope you can review soon. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    I feel like they need to either go larger or smaller, it's current size leaves that side chamber in no man's land... You can't use it as a dual purpose server/enthusiast rig, but you end up with a lot of wasted space for the typical enthusiast rig. Side chamber should only be as wide as the PSU/external bays, shave off a couple inches and simplify the HDD/SSD caddy space. Reply
  • Twoboxer - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    Shrunk to ITX specs and sans the space for the radiator, the side bay space would be well used and it might make a great single-vidcard gaming case. As is, there are some corner desk applications where the shorter length is an asset too. Reply
  • adamdz - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    My biggest issue is that there are no fans on the right side. It needs at least one 120mm fan there. I like the looks otherwise, but with 4 SSDs and the PS there will be some heat there to be removed.

    Also, vertically oriented DVD/BD drives are a pain to use.
    Reply

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