Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/1377




Introduction

A little over a year ago, we looked at 3 clear acrylic cases by ClearPC, C3, and BeanTech in our first clear PC case roundup. At the time, these so-called clear cases were just making an appearance and beginning to create a niche in the desktop case market. Manufacturers of these acrylics aim their products toward fanatics who have a taste for "modding" with customized parts from neon lighting to glow-in-the-dark data cables.

A year and some later, we have been privileged to take a look at 4 new clear acrylic cases by BeanTech, ClearPC, SunBeam, and Logisys. With time, these manufacturers have taken customers' opinions into consideration and improved upon their manufacturing processes as well as their designs.

The first case that we looked at is one from Logisys Computer, Inc. There are only 2 clear cases in Logisys' entire product line, but they are both worthy competitors. We had a chance to look at the CS888CL, which has a price tag of about $85. The CS888CL has many features that strengthen its construction as well as place in the line up.

The next case that we had a chance to work with is the Secret Agent from ClearPC. The design of this acrylic was unusual in that it was shaped like a briefcase with a handle to match. The Secret Agent was most likely designed to allow a LAN partyist to transport his gaming PC easily in a stylish, self-modded case. We will look at the positive and negative aspects of this briefcase style design.

Third in our round-up is the SunBeam LAC-UVT. This acrylic came disassembled and took about 2 hours to assemble due to some confusion with screw sizes and their correct locations. The instructions were somewhat detailed in where all of the included pieces were to be attached, but since SunBeam Technologies decided to use about 8 different types of screws to hold the case together, things became slightly complicated. In the end, we managed to complete the task and were pleased with the outcome.

Our final case in this clear case roundup is the BeanTech BT-85. This clear case was the only one out of all of these chassis that had a removable/sliding motherboard tray. The BT-85 was also the only chassis with rubber HDD mounts, which absorb any shock that could negatively affect mounted HDDs.




Overview

In last year's three-way round-up, we went over a few things of what to look for in acrylic cases. In summary, we outlined a few features to look for and some characteristics to avoid when purchasing an acrylic case:

Assembly - We have seen 3 main types of assemblies in clear cases. The first, which is the most common, is one where the case can be broken into its separate pieces. For example, the outer shell can be separated into 6 panels with the inner parts (i.e. drive bays, add-on slots) also being separable. The second type of assembly is the "molded" assembly in which manufacturers heat a piece of plastic to shape it in the way they want. We stated the word in quotes because we also see molding as pouring liquid acrylic into a special mold to create solid parts for the final product. This is the 3rd method, which we consider to be real molding. Though higher in quality, this third method also comes at a higher price.

Cut - When it comes to acrylic cases, there are two methods in cutting the pieces for them. The first method is the most efficient and flawless of the 2: laser cutting. Since laser cutting happens quickly, there is less of a chance for the acrylic to become too hot and melt. We can usually tell how the acrylic has been cut by looking at the edges. If bubbles and rough edges are noticeable, the acrylic had to have been cut using the same methods used to cut metals like steel and aluminums. The laser method, on the other hand, produces a cleaner, smoother cut.

Cleaning - When it comes to clear materials, like glass or plastics, fingerprints and residue can make a fine looking product look dirty and unattractive. Some cases come with cleaning solutions, but others with only the plastic shrink wrap in which they are packaged. You must take this into consideration when choosing between a regular metal case and a clear acrylic model.




Logisys CS888CL Construction

Logisys' has a product line packed with cases and mod-worthy accessories from specialty fan grills to custom windowed side panels. It basically has something for everyone when it comes to case modding, but it doesn't stop there. Logisys not only sells mods, but also cases to stick them in. Two examples are their clear cases, the CS888UVBL and the CS888CL, which we had the pleasure of working with.



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The CS888CL came assembled and packed in thick styrofoam to keep from damaging during the shipment. The acrylic came not only assembled, but filled with LED case fans, 5 to be exact, all 80mm. One sits at the front towards the bottom as an intake. We learned from past, non-acrylic cases that a filter is a necessary component when it comes to air intakes. In a clear case, an air filter is even more important, since any dust and debris that enters the case can be seen throughout. The CS888CL, however, does not include a filter, which may require it to be cleaned more often. There is another fan at the top of the chassis, one at the back below the power supply, and the final two 80mm case fans on the left side panel, side-by-side.



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One thing that we noticed when installing the OCZ power supply was that it would not fit into the CS888CL while the top fan was in place. We had to remove that fan to mount the power supply properly. Though the OCZ that we are now using for our test bed is of the over-sized flavor, we thought case manufacturers should take this into consideration, since most newer power supplies from some of the bigger names come in that size.



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Logisys CS888CL Construction (cont'd)

Besides that one minor setback, all of the other components installed effortlessly. The motherboard tray is not removable, not surprisingly since that feature is still rare in acrylic cases, but does come with 1" long standoffs, which allowed us to mount the AK86 board easily with the provided screws.



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The drive bays reminded us of those from the SilverStone Nimiz, which we looked at back in March. The CS888CL did not have quite as many 5-1/4" drive bays (4 compared to the Nimiz's 6), but did have eight 3-1/2" drive bays, two being exposed. The drive bays are removable to allow users to install drives easily.

In many acrylic cases that we have seen in the past year, one thing we did not like much was the way manufacturers designed the add-on card mounts. Logisys, on the other hand, has designed that area with steel to reinforce it, reducing the risk of the acrylic cracking and increasing support for each add-on card.



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ClearPC Secret Agent Construction

We have seen many new ideas in cases from the various manufacturers in the past few years from solid aluminum wheels, like those on the Lian Li PC-V1000, to alterations in the shape of the chassis. ClearPC has done this by designing the Secret Agent acrylic case to look like a briefcase with an acrylic handle to complete the look.



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The Secret Agent is noticeably smaller than a standard-sized case, like the CS888CL, at 6.25" wide, 18" long and 14.25" high. It is constructed of mostly 3/8" acrylic, which we assume has been laser cut by its clean, bubble-free edges. To allow for the smaller size, ClearPC has designed the Secret Agent in a way that will allow the most necessary of components to be installed efficiently. At one end of the case, which we like to call the front, lies the area for dual 5-1/4" drives on the right, and a power supply on the left. Yes - the power supply mounting area is at the "front" of the clear case beside the 5-1/4" drive bays.



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If this were a normal mid-tower style chassis, we would have frowned in disappointment, but seeing that the Secret Agent is aimed towards the more mobile consumer, we let this minute drawback slide. Also, due to its compact size, the power supply would have not fit anywhere else in the case. The power supply can be mounted with the included thumbscrews.



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There are 3-1/2" drive bays directly above the 5-1/4" drive bays (looking at the case when on its side). Since the Secret Agent is designed to be mobile, keeping the drives to a minimum would make more sense than lugging around, say, a raid strip of 4+ hard drives.

All drives are mounted with the included screws, and the HDD's are mounted with included thumbscrews, which make them easier to remove/replace without the need of any separate tools.



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ClearPC Secret Agent Construction (cont'd)

Moving to the rear half of the case, we notice the 3/4" long acrylic standoffs on which to mount the motherboard. They seem strong enough to withstand the usual wear and tear of daily uses for a mobile style case. The back panel of the chassis, usually where the motherboard's external connectors reside, is all made of acrylic. On the sample that we tested, the piece of acrylic, which the add-on boards are mounted on, had broken off on one end where it met the case. This flimsy construction could lead to damaged internal hardware. The steel reinforcement that Logisys used on the CS888CL provided for enough support to mount add-on cards without any stress to the acrylic case.

As far as air flow goes, there are also 2 holes on the backside of the case to mount the included 40mm fans with their provided grills. ClearPC claims that these combined 40mm fans will provide the same air flow as a single 80mm fan, but could also produce higher noise levels. On the top side of the Secret Agent, there is a 120mm fan above where the add-on cards would be mounted. This could possibly help relieve heat from the hot running video cards of today and tomorrow.



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Above the CPU area are machined-out slots, which can cool the CPU better than any other design on the market, if used in conjunction with a good heatsink fan. Since the slots are directly over the CPU, warm air is sent directly out of the case instead of circulating around the chassis.

At the middle of the Secret Agent's briefcase style door are the auxiliary connectors for audio, USB, and firewire. The audio and firewire connectors are the loop-back type, which would go out the back and plug in to the external connectors of a sound card. The USB connectors are the internal flavor, which plug directly into the motherboard.



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The power and reset buttons as well as the power and HDD LEDs plug into the front of the case from the inside. The power and reset buttons make use of a hex nut to secure them while the LEDs just tightly plug into the drilled holes. ClearPC has provided aluminum caps that go over the factory red caps - one for power, and a smaller cap for reset. The internal connectors are, however, mislabeled, which we hope ClearPC has fixed.

Finally, ClearPC has completed the briefcase look of their Secret Agent with a handle mounted on its side. At first try, the handle seems to be a nice added touch, but when filled with hardware, the edges seem to bite into flesh painfully. ClearPC may want to round off these edges to make it more comfortable to grasp.



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BeanTech BT-85 Construction

BeanTech has a number of acrylic cases in its product line, which makes it one of the largest manufacturers and sellers of clear cases on the market. Currently, they have 5 different sizes in acrylic cases, including mini tower, mid tower (which we had a chance to look at), full tower, cube style cases, as well as the old desktop sized cases. Each size comes in 3 different colors or tints, since they are clear: clear, green, and blue.



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Like the Logisys CS888CL, the BT-85 features the standard four 5-1/4" drive bays, but one less 3-1/2" drive bay. The BT-85 does have rubber bumpers on 5 of the 7 bays to absorb the vibrations that case fans as well as random bumps to the case may cause.



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There are a total of four 80mm LED case fans included with the BT-85. Two of these fans are intakes that are mounted at the front of the case, in front of the hard drive bays. There is also a fan control knob mounted on the bottom left corner of the front bezel to control the speed of these intakes.



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BeanTech BT-85 Construction (cont'd)

On the bottom right of the case are the USB and firewire ports. The USB ports connect directly to the motherboard while the firewire port connects to an external firewire port at the back of the case. We were disappointed that audio ports were not included in the BT-85, since they are standard on many other cases nowadays.

The side panels are held to the case by 4 screws each, and required a Philips head screwdriver to remove them. Thumbscrews would have been a better, more preferred method of attaching the panels. The current screws can be replaced by thumbscrews, so we're not all out of luck.

The best feature of the BT-85 is its sliding removable motherboard tray. By removing a total of 4 screws, 2 on the back and 2 on the side, the motherboard tray slides out with add-on cards still attached to the motherboard. The cabling for the front panel LEDs and power/reset buttons is also detachable for easy motherboard removal. The tray uses metal standoffs to mount an ATX form factor board. We have yet to see a tool-less/screw-less solution to mount motherboards in acrylic cases.



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The back panel of the tray is much stronger than that on the Secret Agent. The add-on card mounting (where add-on cards are screwed into) is just as strong as the rest of the chassis on the BT-85 to support the heaviest of PCI and AGP add-on cards.




SunBeam Technologies LAC-UVT Construction

SunBeam's LAC-UVT acrylic case has to be the strongest case in this lineup, in every sense we can think of. Though it took us about 2 hours to assemble this gold-trimmed wonder, we were very pleased with the final product.



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Starting with the pieces right out of the box, the LAC-UVT came in 27 separate acrylic pieces plus all of the extras, like aluminum back plate and add-on slot covers along with the 11 types of screws. There were also 4 LED light strips and a circuit board where the auxiliary ports and power/reset and LED buttons resided.

The instructions on installation were pretty straightforward, besides the fact that using 11 different types of screws became slightly tedious. And if a few wrong screws were used in the wrong place, that meant possibly starting many more steps back than we would like to.

After the two hours of assembly, the LAC-UVT was finished. Starting at the front, the bezel was screwed on with one of the golden screws. There are 4 acrylic face plates for each of the 5-1/4" drive bays and 2 for each of the 3-1/2" drive bays. At the bottom of the case, at the front, is an opening for an 80mm fan, which is not included. There are also 80mm openings on the left side panel (2), one at the top of the case, and the final opening at the back. SunBeam Technologies has a wide range of accessories on their website, but we would like to have some included with the case.



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At the bottom right of the front of the case is the power/reset buttons as well as power and mode switches for the LEDs. There are also USB and audio ports, which are color-coded to the PC audio standard.



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SunBeam Technologies LAC-UVT Construction (cont'd)

Inside the LAC-UVT, there are four 5-1/4" drive bays as well as six 3-1/2" drive bays of which two are exposed. Drives can be mounted securely using the provided screws. We would have liked to see rubber mounts for the 3-1/2" bays for HDD installations in order to reduce shock.



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The LAC-UVT features a motherboard tray, which makes use of standard metal hex standoffs that are included with the package. The tray isn't easily removable, but can be separated from the rest of the chassis by removing 4 screws. Otherwise, the tray does have plenty of holes to install the standoffs for various form factors.

There is a thick acrylic platform, which the power supply rests on for support. Again, mounting an oversized power supply, like our OCZ, is difficult, if not impossible, with a fan mounted to the top of the chassis. A slight modification, moving the cutout for the fan a bit forward, would help resolve this problem.



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In order to support add-on cards, SunBeam has included an aluminum back panel, which is secured by screws. Like the steel back panel on the CS888CL, the golden back panel on the LAC-UVT helps hold add-on cards securely to the case and motherboard.


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The side panels slide back along rails and are secured to the case by enlarged plastic thumbscrews. One major drawback with the left panel is that when the two 80mm fans are mounted on the inside of that panel, it cannot be removed, or inserted for that matter. SunBeam Technologies' website does not show any of its acrylic cases with fans installed, so consumers may not realize this until it is too late.




Heat Benchmarks

When we test the performance of cases, we usually focus on how well they move cool air into the case and warm air out. Air flow is a huge factor in this and is affected with the number, types and sizes of the fans included with the case as well as where they are mounted. It doesn't stop there. The hardware used also makes a big difference on how well a case performs as far as heat goes.

As time goes on and technology advances, standards change with it. Our previous test bed seemed to hold for a while, but we thought it was time for an update. And what better to introduce a new test bed than clear acrylic.

The hottest running component in a PC is the CPU. We have chosen the Athlon 64 3200 for our new test bed, which is cooled by a Zalman CNPS7000 copper heatsink fan. For our motherboard, we have chosen the AOpen AK86L with the VIA K8T800 VT8237 Chipset. Our new power supply is the 520 Watt OCZ PowerStream. Since SATA is slowly making its way to desktop PCs, we are using a 120GB Seagate Barracuda in the SATA flavor. Finally, no PC is complete without a video card. To switch things a little from our previous test bed VGA card (the GeForce4 Ti4200), we are now using ATI's 9700 Pro 8x AGP with 128MB. And now to the tests!

As with our previous test bed, we measure heat dissipation in Celsius from the CPU, Heatsink, HDD, DDR memory, the Northbridge and Southbridge, the temperature of the power supply as well as the ambient temperature inside the case. All readings are taken with the power supply fan as well as the heatsink fan turned on to simulate normal system operation.

AOpen AK86-L
AMD Athlon64 3200
OCZ PC3200
Zalman CNPS7000 Copper
Seagate Barracuda SATA
ATI 9700Pro 8x
OCZ 520W PowerStream


Logisys CS888CL

 System On-Time  CPU  Heatsink  HDD  DDR  Northbridge  Southbridge  Power Supply  System Ambient
10 57.2 43.2 28.2 37.6 41.3 40.9 29.3 31.5
30 59.1 44.9 29.3 38.5 42.5 42.6 31.2 32.6

ClearPC Secret Agent

 System On-Time  CPU  Heatsink  HDD  DDR  Northbridge  Southbridge  Power Supply  System Ambient
10 56.7 42.5 29.9 38.5 41.2 40.9 29.1 31.9
30 58.1 43.6 30.8 39.9 42.7 42.9 31.0 32.9

BeanTech BT-85

 System On-Time  CPU  Heatsink  HDD  DDR  Northbridge  Southbridge  Power Supply  System Ambient
10 58.1 43.6 26.2 37.4 41.9 40.4 29.6 32.1
30 59.6 45.1 27.6 38.2 42.8 42.1 31.7 33.4

SunBeam Technologies LAC-UVT

 System On-Time  CPU  Heatsink  HDD  DDR  Northbridge  Southbridge  Power Supply  System Ambient
10 56.4 42.6 28.1 37.4 41.1 40.2 28.8 31.8
30 57.6 43.9 29.1 38.2 42.2 41.9 30.1 32.4

As you can see from the results, each case performed about the same with the BT-85 and the LAC-UVT being the floor and ceiling, respectively. Since the LAC-UVT did not come with case fans, we used five 80mm fans rated at 2000rpm for our heat tests. With five fans, the LAC-UVT exhausted warm air better than BeanTech's 4 fan rig.

The Secret Agent did equally as well compared to the LAC-UVT, most likely due to its smaller size and the use of its 120mm case fan. And since the Secret Agent had machined out slots directly above the CPU, warm air from that area would be exhausted completely.

Another huge factor that could have kept temperatures high was the acrylic. When we have aluminum cases, the aluminum material absorbs some heat and dissipates it on its own. But with acrylic, heat is trapped inside, similar to a greenhouse effect in the acrylic case. Now, we usually do not have sunlight shining on the cases at all times, but heat is not easily dissipated through plastics like acrylic.




Sound Benchamarks

Heat is not the only number important in choosing the right case. No one likes a box that hums during the late hours when they are trying to sleep or a rattling case during a quiet movie at home. In our last test bed, we used the quietest equipment that we could find to help produce accurately the sound of the case as it came in the manufacturer's box. Older power supplies as well as heatsink fans tend to be extremely noisy, so we went out and found the quietest running equipment that we could for our test bed.

Even though the OCZ PowerStream and Zalman CNPS7000 are pretty quiet, we turned off their fans to allow us to read the sounds produced by the case's factory installed fans. We measured the noise levels 12" away from the sealed cases. Take a look at how each acrylic case performed in our noise tests.

   dBA
Logisys CS888CL 49
ClearPC Secret Agent 47
BeanTech BT-85 48
SunBeam Technologies LAC-UVT 53
Lian Li PC-6070 44

We predicted that the Secret Agent would perform above the rest in our sound tests due to its use of a single 120mm fan, and we were correct. At 47db, the Secret Agent was the quietest case of the bunch. The loudest was the SunBeam LAC-UVT at 53db. Following was the BT-85 and second quietest was the CS888CL at 49db. We have discussed in previous articles that a larger fan produces less noise than smaller 80mm as well as the 40mm fans, also used in the Secret Agent.




Final Thoughts

From the benchmark results, we have learned that acrylic has its positive aspects as well as its negatives. Besides the visual blemishes that may occur to the surface of acrylic, its performance isn't all that great compared to metal cases when it comes to heat. Components run hotter, like in the BeanTech BT-85, if a good number of fans are not used, unlike metal cases, which dissipate heat better than plastics. In our heat benchmarks, SunBeam Technologies' LAC-UVT performed the best out of the lineup with the lowest temperatures on our test bed. Though it did not include any case fans, the substitutes that we used simulated normal conditions in the case, and did not disappoint. The LAC-UVT does have a hefty price tag in the mid to upper $100's; especially since it does not come with case fans.

ClearPC's Secret Agent also performed well due to its smaller design and use of the larger 120mm fan. It helped exhaust warm air from the 9700Pro well and the machined out slots above the CPU aided in quick drainage of heat from that area. The Secret Agent was slightly expensive at $149, compared to BeanTech and Logisys' $80 range.

In our sound tests, the ClearPC Secret Agent performed the quietest, again due to its larger 120mm fan. Though it had two 40mm fans, they did not have a great effect on the noise levels. BeanTech's BT-85 came second in our noise tests due to it having four 80mm fans instead of the LAC-UVT's and CS888CL's five.

In the end, it comes down to personal preference with acrylic cases. The four contenders in our round-up varied in features and had both positive and negative aspects to each model. The BT-85 had a removable tray while the others didn't; the Secret Agent had a flimsy mounting for add-on cards; and, the left panel on the LAC-UVT was obviously not a good design, since it could not be slipped in if fans were mounted on it. After looking at our results, it was obvious the BeanTech BT-85 came out on top with the best price for its performance. The BT-85 is clearly the most reliable clear chassis pick in this clear chassis roundup.

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