Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6299/inwin-grone-case-review-do-features-make-the-case
In-Win GRone Case Review: Do Features Make the Caseby Dustin Sklavos on September 18, 2012 12:01 AM EST
Introducing the In-Win GRone
It's been a very long time since we've had an In-Win case in house for review. In fact, the last one we checked out was the BUC, an affordable enclosure that was able to hit just the right balance between silence and performance for its price class. The BUC was and remains a reasonable value for end users who want a flexible case and don't mind the slightly gaudy aesthetic, but today we have In-Win's recently launched GRone.
The GRone is poised to be one of In-Win's flagship enclosures, an E-ATX-capable case with a built-in fan controller, attractive if understated LED lighting, five large fans, and a wealth of features even beyond those. Yet it also comes with a substantial asking price of $160, which puts it directly up against some serious competition from vendors like Antec, Corsair, and SilverStone. This is around the price point where we stop making trades between acoustics and thermal performance and start demanding both. Does the GRone fit the bill?
My gut instinct with the GRone is admittedly not a great one. I'm inclined to take aesthetics off the table for the most part; cases that look like the GRone does have a tendency to split audiences into "love it" or "hate it" camps, and many users simply don't care what the case looks like as long as it performs well. Yet the sheer abundance of plastic on a $160 case is disconcerting, though that unease is staved off somewhat by the substantial amount of features In-Win has crammed into this design.
|In-Win GRone Specifications|
|Motherboard Form Factor||Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX, E-ATX|
|Drive Bays||External||3x 5.25”|
|Internal||1x 5.25", 8x 2.5"/3.5"|
|Cooling||Front||2x 140mm intake fan (1x internal 140xmm intake fan); all support 120mm|
|Rear||1x 140mm exhaust fan (supports 120mm)|
|Top||1x 140mm exhaust fan (supports 120mm), 2x 120mm/140mm fan mounts|
|Side||1x 120mm/140mm fan mount (behind motherboard tray)|
|Bottom||2x 120mm/140mm fan mount|
|I/O Port||2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic, SATA hotswap dock, two-speed fan controller|
|Power Supply Size||Standard ATX|
|GPU||13.5" / 343mm|
22.13" x 9.65" x 23.35"
562mm x 245mm x 593mm
|Weight||26.5 lbs. / 12kg|
USB 3.0 connectivity via internal headers
Removable drive cages
Integrated two-step fan controller
Support for 360mm radiator in top of enclosure and 240mm radiator in bottom
SATA hotswap dock
In-Win is probably most anxious to catch your attention with the tremendous number of fans included; five fans are nothing to sneeze at, and it's interesting to see how the "behind-the-drive-cage" fan has caught on in recent months despite the fact that I'm not really sure just how effective this decision is. The two-step fan controller is worth paying attention to as well, though, as is the SATA dock integrated into the top of the enclosure. SATA docks aren't uncommon, though I personally would still like to see card readers integrated into more case designs since they're absolute bog standard on notebooks these days.
In and Around the In-Win GRone
While I'm for the most part inclined to take the In-Win GRone's aesthetic out of the equation, I do want to make a few generalized notes about the build. I personally like the gunmetal gray color In-Win uses for the case, and the steel side panels and chassis match the plastic fascia and shell very well. There's a two-toned black and gray motif that I think serves the GRone well; if nothing else, it's fairly consistent.
The front of the enclosure is marked by what appear to be a series of ventilated bay covers similar to the old Cooler Master Centurion, but in actuality only the top three of these covers actually hide 5.25" drive bays; the rest are for consistency's sake while also allowing fresh air to reach the front intake fans hidden behind them. Above the drive bays are a healthy amount of connectivity: two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports along with the usual audio jacks. Also included is a sliding fan speed switch that allows the case fans to operate in "silence" and "turbo" modes. The reset button is actually shared with the IDE access LED, which is the long sliver to the left of the power button. It's not labelled at all, but that's what it is.
When you move to the top of the GRone, there's an angled accent that's ventilated and hides the trio of 120mm/140mm fan mounts, and in front of it is the recessed SATA hotswap connector. It's not quite as elegant as NZXT's solution in the H2 but it gets the job done.
Interestingly, the left side panel has a large window that's extruded and tinted aquamarine; if you look closely you can see the In-Win logo on it. There aren't any fan mounts, though. The only fan mount on a side panel is actually behind the motherboard tray, though an enterprising user could probably swap the two side panels if they felt like the existing allowances made for cooling were inadequate.
Removing the thumbscrews and popping open the GRone reveals business as usual with a few kinks thrown into the mix. In-Win positions the GRone as an E-ATX case primarily, and given the placement of the routing holes in the motherboard tray they're pushing that scenario pretty hard. There's a substantial opening next to the power supply bay, though, and both drive cages are actually removable. In-Win uses a drive sled design similar to what SilverStone employed with the FT02, where the door allows the drives to lock into place. Worth noting is the way removing the center drive cage doesn't result in losing the 140mm interior fan.
In-Win's design is for the most part clean, though they use red LED fans on the front intakes. Those fans are fairly dim and inobtrusive, presenting more of an accent, but then why tint the side window blue instead of red? We're already at three tones before we get to that blue window. Aesthetics notwithstanding, though, the GRone promises to be at least reasonably easy to assemble and I'm fairly optimistic about its cooling potential.
Assembling the In-Win GRone
As it turned out, the In-Win GRone was about as easy to put together as I expected and a nice change of pace from the spate of Mini-ITX enclosures I've been testing lately (and more due soon!). In-Win has all the holes in the motherboard tray for the appropriate mounting standoffs, and most of the design is toolless. In fact, installing the motherboard tray is about the only time you'll need tools; that, and installing 2.5" drives into the sleds (as is typical).
Honestly, installation was mostly uneventful. I'm very fond of the toolless mounting mechanism In-Win uses for the optical drives, but the observant reader will note the presence of four mechanisms despite only three external 5.25" bays. The top one is covered by the I/O, but I don't see why a resourceful builder couldn't install an adapter cage and either a 3.5" drive or a pair of 2.5" drives in the top bay. In-Win uses pegs that pop out slightly; you remove the bay cover by squeezing the indentations and then slide the drive into the case. Push the pegs back into the mounting holes of the optical drive, and you're done.
The drive trays are also par for the course. There are pins in the sides to allow 3.5" drives to snap into them securely, while one of those pins needs to be removed in order to install a 2.5" drive, which screws into the bottom. Personally I wish the 2.5" drives were centered in the tray as they are on newer Corsair cases, but it's a minor complaint.
Expansion slots are handled by thumbscrews, and there are extrusions around the power supply bay to line up the PSU.
Where I think things start to go a little bit south is in cabling. Simply put, the routing holes seem designed only to acclimate E-ATX builds; the main motherboard power lead was stretched pretty much to its limit, as were the PCI-e power leads. The fans also, somewhat contrary to what the instructions say, appear to be intended to be daisy chained. Each one has a 3-pin male and a 3-pin female lead, and all of them are then connected in this way back to a single 4-pin molex lead that then connects to the power supply. I don't think this is a bad idea necessarily, but it forces you to route cables above the motherboard instead of behind the tray. What's more puzzling is that the side panel above the motherboard is extruded, while the panel behind it isn't, making the case harder to close up than it needs to be.
Ultimately the In-Win GRone was fairly easy to build in, but users looking to use anything smaller than an E-ATX board or even a more robust ATX board are liable to find cabling to be a bit more difficult than they'd like. I feel like they could've designated more space behind the motherboard tray as well as enlarging the cable routing holes. I appreciate the healthy amount of headroom above the motherboard that makes the AUX 12V lead easy to connect, but it wouldn't have been too difficult for In-Win to make better allowances for smaller motherboards if for no other reason than to increase the case's flexibility.
For testing Micro-ATX and full ATX cases, we use the following standardized testbed in stock and overclocked configurations to get a feel for how well the case handles heat and noise.
|ATX Test Configuration|
Intel Core i7-2700K
(95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 4.3GHz @ 1.38V)
ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP
(tested at stock speed and overclocked to 1GHz/overvolted to 1.13V)
|Memory||2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600|
Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400|
|Power Supply||SilverStone Strider Plus 750W 80 Plus Silver|
Each case is tested in a stock configuration and an overclocked configuration that generates substantially more heat (and thus may produce more noise). The system is powered on and left idle for fifteen minutes, the thermal and acoustic results recorded, and then stressed by running seven threads in Prime95 (in-place large FFTs) on the CPU and OC Scanner (maximum load) on the GPU. At the end of fiteen minutes, thermal and acoustic results are recorded. This is done for the stock settings and for the overclock, and if the enclosure has a fan controller, these tests are repeated for each setting. Ambient temperature is also measured after the fifteen idle minutes but before the stress test and used to calculate the final reported results.
Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our testbed.
- Thank you to Puget Systems for providing us with the Intel Core i7-2700K.
- Thank you to Gigabyte for providing us with the GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3 motherboard.
- Thank you to Crucial for providing us with the Ballistix Smart Tracer memory.
- Thank you to Corsair for providing us with the Corsair Link kit.
- Thank you to Cooler Master for providing us with the Hyper 212 Evo heatsink and fan unit.
- Thank you to Kingston for providing us with the SSDNow V+ 100 SSD.
- Thank you to CyberPower for providing us with the Samsung BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW drive.
- And thank you to SilverStone for providing us with the power supply.
Noise and Thermal Testing, Stock
In testing the In-Win GRone, I made the decision to remove the center drive cage similar to how I tested the BitFenix Prodigy and the Fractal Design Define R4. The three drive trays remaining will likely suffice for most users. I did test it at both the "Silence" and "Turbo" settings, and you'll see by the test results that neither one seems to be optimal for this case design.
Ambient temperatures hovered around 25C during testing.
Thermals for the GRone are actually quite good, generally falling within the margin of error for the top of the chart. At our stock settings, the testbed just doesn't seem to push the GRone particularly hard and the "Silence" fan setting provides more than adequate cooling performance.
Of course, thermals don't always tell the whole story and it becomes clear that the GRone might be a bit deficient in processor cooling, at least in its "Silence" mode.
Fan noise is pretty solid if unexciting, though, ranking with the best of them in "Silence" mode despite no allowances made for acoustics in the case design outside of the integrated fan controller. The "Turbo" mode is, on the other hand, punishingly loud. It's so loud, in fact, that it almost completely smothers the load noise of the components inside.
Note, too, that these test results don't reflect the pitch and timbre of the noise. In "Silence" mode the GRone is objectively similar in noise level to cases like the Corsair Obsidian 550D and Fractal Design R4, but those cases do a better job of muffling the whine of the graphics card's fan and sound less "open" than the GRone does.
Noise and Thermal Testing, Overclocked
Our stock test results with the In-Win GRone were generally quite and demonstrated a healthy amount of thermal headroom for the case that should hopefully be reflected in the test results from our overclocked testbed, but they're still strangely underwhelming. With all of those fans running at full bore, the GRone should've decimated the charts instead of simply ranking. We'll see how things fare when greater thermal stress placed on the enclosure.
Test results in the "Turbo" fan mode are generally quite good and on par with the freak of nature that is the Antec Eleven Hundred, but the "Silence" mode performance is underwhelming. These thermals are certainly competitive, but "competitive" isn't what we're looking for at $160. You really want results closer to the AZZA Genesis 9000 at least, and certainly not below inexpensive cases like the Corsair Carbide 300R with less than half the sticker price.
With all that said, if acoustics be damned, the GRone will definitely give you some room to play. The GPU in particular is already pushing the limits of the chip itself, but if you have something hotter that you want to flex a bit, you'll be able to do it here.
Unfortunately we're still caught between two horrible options with the fan speed controller. "Silence" mode doesn't move enough air to keep the fans from working too hard (and thermals down as a result), but "Turbo" mode is punishingly loud. We really needed a middle setting here and we didn't get it.
Conclusion: When Competitive Isn't Competitive
Let me be clear: the In-Win GRone is by no means a bad case. On the contrary, the performance potential is there and the features are there. I chafe a bit under the extensive use of plastic on the fascia and the odd mish-mash of colors used beyond the basic gunmetal-and-black aesthetic, but the case is fairly easy to build and In-Win has a few good ideas floating around in here. If the feature set is what you're looking for, I wouldn't fault you for eyeballing the GRone.
The problem is that I feel like for how well the GRone does perform, it doesn't perform well enough. It needs five fans to do the job of two or three in competing cases, and the fan controller doesn't offer the happy medium the case desperately needs. Instead of dual modes, either a middle mode or an analog control (similar to NZXT's Sentry Mix or Corsair's Obsidian 600T) seems to be the order of the day here to get the balance right between noise and thermals.
What really hurts the GRone is the price, though. $160 is a reasonable price for some of the features, but not the build quality and mediocre acoustics. It's at this point that I'm going to trot out my favorite dark horse, the Rosewill Thor v2. Rosewill is willing to sell you a case that will perform better and quieter, with dual analog fan controls and roughly the same connectivity (you lose the SATA hotswap tray) for $30 cheaper. Meanwhile, watercooling ninjas are liable to be better served by either BitFenix's Shinobi XL or NZXT's Switch 810, both of which are price competitive with In-Win's offering.
The GRone isn't a bad case, but it's not a homerun and there are things beyond the price tag that need to be addressed in a revision. Until that happens, the one thing that can always be corrected is the price. If In-Win can get it down to around $130, the value proposition improves tremendously and it's at that point that I have a much easier time recommending it. Our old saw is "no bad products, only bad prices," and that's true here. With the GRone, I feel like that would make all the difference.