Fractal Design Core 1000: How Little is Too Littleby Dustin Sklavos on April 13, 2012 11:35 AM EST
Assembling the Fractal Design Core 1000
When discussing assembling a system in the Fractal Design Core 1000, it's important to make distinctions between the inherent limitations of the form factor and places where Fractal Design could've definitely improved the ease of use. Building a system in a small case is often difficult as a point of fact, and the Micro-ATX board that we use is, while still within spec, a bit on the large side.
It's never a good sign when assembly is difficult right out of the gate. If you'll look at the top right corner of our motherboard, you'll notice that it's cuddling awfully close to the 5.25" drive cage. To actually get the board in required a decent amount of flexing and maneuvering (mainly of the I/O shield). This was a situation that just a couple more millimeters of case depth could've made all the difference in without anyone really noticing the case was much bigger. If you have a smaller Micro-ATX board this won't be as much of an issue, but it left a bad taste in my mouth from the word "go."
The drive tray was also the source of some frustration, and part of that is due to the fact that the instruction manual included with the Core 1000 doesn't actually have any pictures of the case in it or even describe how assembly is supposed to go. Optical drives are easy enough to install, but the drive cage is initially configured for a pair of 3.5" drives. To install a 2.5" drive, you'll have to remove some of the grommets and then screw the bottom of the drive directly into the tray. For a 3.5" drive, you'll once again have to install the drive laterally and screw it into the bottom. There are no allowances made anywhere in the Core 1000 for installing a controller box like the Corsair Link (which has no bottom-facing mounting holes).
While in the open image it looks like there's clearance for longer video cards than 8.5", in practice that simply isn't the case unless you're willing to sacrifice one or both of the extremely limited internal drive mounts. That probably isn't a major loss; performance-class video cards tend to fit fairly well into the 8.5" envelope as our GeForce GTX 560 Ti proves.
Wiring up the Core 1000 makes one yearn for a modular power supply simply because there's nowhere to put excess cables except almost directly in front of the intake fan. That's a bit of a problem with our testbed, but modular power supplies still typically command a small price premium (~$10) that could've gone towards a larger and/or easier-to-assemble enclosure. More than that, the cable clutter from a fixed cable PSU has a deleterious effect on one of the Core 1000's strongest points: its airflow design. We could try using a different PSU, but for now we're just going to recommend that interested customers shop around for a good modular power supply.
Finally, that low heatsink clearance did rear its ugly head when I went to close up. Our Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo is by no means an extravagant cooler or even one of the largest ones on the market, but its 159mm height caused the tops of the heatpipes to press against the side panel, bowing it outward a little. I was still able to secure the panel, but end users are going to want to look into a smaller tower-style heatsink like the Xigmatek Loki to really maximize the Core 1000.
Fractal Design has, to their credit, produced a very small and inexpensive enclosure that allows for a decent amount of power. I do feel like three minor changes could've been implemented to make this enclosure easier to work with and more flexible at the same time. First, add an extra 5mm to the depth and width of the enclosure to allow "full-sized" Micro-ATX boards to go in with less difficulty and inexpensive, efficient 160mm tower-style heatsinks to fit. Second, remove the second 5.25" drive bay (and correspondingly the adaptor plate and tray), as this will both save building costs and potentially allow for a reconfigured storage design. While you do lose some flexibility, given the small form factor I think it's probably worth the trade off. Third, rewrite the instruction manual to make it easier to understand how the enclosure is supposed to go together. It's entirely possible I'm not the brightest torch in the cave, but I didn't like having to go online to see exactly how the drive tray was intended to be used.