Conclusion: For a Specific Purpose

My experiences with the Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced remain largely positive despite the test results; end users who need an inexpensive Mini-ITX case with stellar acoustic and thermal performance are probably going to have to spend the extra $30 for the BitFenix Prodigy and suffer with the larger size and slightly wonky stand. That doesn't mean the Elite 120 is a bust, far from it actually, but it does mean that you need to adjust your expectations of this case accordingly. Cooler Master is happy to market the case to you as being something more than it really is.

What is it, really? Fundamentally the Elite 120 is going to best serve a more modest system. In terms of performance hardware I don't think you would want to use a 95W quad core at anything higher than stock speeds, and I probably wouldn't consider a video card that requires an external power lead. The problem is the cooling system is just inadequate; for how beautiful the front design is, I get the sense that intake fan is either starving for air or just plain chintzy. Whatever air that does get through seems like it may also be slamming up against the drive cage, at least if the abnormally high temperatures on the SSD during our GeForce GTX 560 Ti test are any indication.

Don't think I'm not incredibly fond of the Elite 120, though. This is one of the more attractive Mini-ITX cases, heck one of the more attractive cases in general that I've seen in some time. The brushed aluminum fascia is beautiful, and the assembly is easy enough to make me wonder if a good, quiet system can't be built inside it. I think some real sacrifices were made to make sure the case could fit all ATX scale components (outside of the motherboard), but the flipside of that is that you don't wind up blowing all the money you saved on the case getting a slimline optical drive and a decent SFX power supply.

And you did save a decent chunk of change. What impressed me most about the Elite 120 was just how much Cooler Master crammed into the package for the price. Performance isn't going to blow anyone's minds, but at $49 it really doesn't have to. A visit to NewEgg reveals pickings around this price that are fairly slim in comparison, none of which sport at least a single USB 3.0 port. Bottom line: if you modulate your expectations accordingly, you can get a fine Mini-ITX case for not much money with the Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced.

Noise and Thermal Testing, Dedicated GPU
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  • philipma1957 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    The case looks decent in a htpc rack.

    problem is it is noisy.

    I use a sapphire hd 6670 ultimate video card. it is passive. = silent

    I use a seasonic 400 watt fanless psu = silent

    i use an asrock itx board = not cheap

    i use an intel i5 2500t cpu = low power runs cool

    i use an ssd = silent

    i use a 500gb 2.5 inch 5400 rpm hitachi = very quiet

    i use a samsung blu ray drive.

    this would have been a nice htpc machine in a rack ,but the stock fans are noisy.

    I need to play with it some more.

    the small 80 mm fan on one side is the problem very noisy.

    also using a low cpu cooler heatsink is a must.

    the cpu cooler blows right into the psu.

    I think if i had a psu with a fan and let it pull hot air out of the machine

    i could keep the machine cooler. maybe then i can lower the fan speed on the small fan.

    as for ugly the cooler master label is flat out not needed and is truly the worst part of its looks.
  • lwatcdr - Monday, July 30, 2012 - link

    Why an i-5 and an external graphics card for an HTPC? A Celeron or I3 T would be more than good enough for for an HTPC with a GPU. Or you could use an Ivy-Bridge i5 with the onboard GPU for lower cost and thermals. The only good reason to have an i5 and a GPU would be gaming. Also you might want to consider dumping the HD and using a NAS for media storage. That can be in another room and you can put as many big cheap drives as you want on one. Even something like PoGo plug will work for serving media.
  • flparula - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I've built 2 mini-itx systems. I used one of the older Lian cases. The case uses a full sized ATX power supply; but I only have used modular cable-ling. The last build used a all-in-one water cooler. Is there enough room to put a water cooler, e.g. Corsar H60 or Antec 620. Water coolers also fix a problem that low-profile fans run into with all of the cables (usual power supplies have too long of cables) a fan can hit the cable and stop cooling. No such problem with the water cooler.
  • ggathagan - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Water cooling in this case would require some cutting and would almost certainly require you to mount both the fan and the radiator on top of the case.
    It would be possible to snake the coolant lines between the PSU and the GPU, but the length of the coolant lines might be an issue.

    All in all, you'd be better served with a different case.
  • cjs150 - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Whilst I agree a different case would be better I think this case is capable of supporting water cooling, just a little imagination is needed. Remove the drive cage and use a slim line optical drive with room for one or 2 2.5 drives beneath it (or drop the optical drive). Take a 120mm radiator (140 may fit) and turn it 90 degrees so barbs are on the side. Use the new swiftech apogee drive and you have a watercooling system that can cope with the CPU and (probably) a low heat GPU. You can also use the water cooling hole at the back as a fill port so not entirely wasted.

    Personally I think it is all a bit too cramped for that but it is certainly plausible
  • KasiorMC - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    on forums someone posted one of these:

    is there any chance of you testing it in near future?
    it's roughly the same size, same price... only with different (better?) layout
  • adboelens - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I have owned two mini ITX cases that had SFX power supplies. Both I found too noisy, while an entry level 300 ATX one can be almost completely quiet. I now have a Lian Li one and very happy with performance and noise level.
  • Metaluna - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Yes it's a problem of trying to cram too much power dissipation into too small a space. There's only so much you can do with forced airflow before the fans get too noisy. Using standard modular components makes things worse as they aren't going to be tailored to match the case's layout and airflow (the author touched on this a bit talking about the chore of trying to cram ridiculously long PSU cables designed for a tower case into a mini-ITX case.)
  • Guspaz - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Well, when you try to remove all the heat dissipated in a computer using 300-400 watts with a single 92mm fan (what the Shuttle SZ77R5 uses, because that's as big as they could possibly fit on the rear), you're going to have to spin that fan pretty fast to exhaust all that heat. And when you spin a fan at 3000+ RPM, it's going to get loud no matter how fancy your fan gets.

    I think they could have designed the SZ77R5 (and other similar SFF cases) a bit differently, though. For clarification, in the SZ77R5, the CPU's cooler is just a plate attached to heatpipes that connect to a heatsink that mounts to the rear of the case, and a single 92mm fan blows air through that, acting as both a CPU and case fan. If, instead, a 92mm fan was placed on the top of the case, a 120mm or even larger fan could be used, which would allow the same amount of air to be moved while spinning at a much lower speed.
  • PyroHoltz - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Get rid of the massive logo on the front. I'm not in the market to advertise for the companies I buy from.

    If people want the Cooler Master logo, give them a sticker.

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