Assembling the Thermaltake Armor A30

Due to the Thermaltake Armor A30's "modular" design, you wind up essentially putting it together in pieces. That seems like a good plan right up until you get to cabling, at which point everything just flies out the window because the traditionally easiest way to cable a small form factor case like this one (slipping your hands in the sides) is impossible. For assembly and testing, note that we used our Mini-ITX testbed again as opposed to our Micro-ATX bed. The reason for this is that the Micro-ATX testbed's tower cooler is simply too tall; the power supply installs directly above the CPU in the A30, taking tower coolers out of the equation. I still pushed the case pretty hard with our GeForce GTX 560 Ti, though.

After removing the top panel, six thumbscrews are removed to slide the motherboard tray out of the back of the case. Even installing the I/O shield proved to be a minor nuisance, as there are studs behind the opening that force you to slide it in laterally and then snap it forward instead of being able to just pop it in. And while one would think a modular tray would make this part easier since you can wrap your hands around the sides, it actually makes it more difficult because there's very little bracing the back of the tray for when you apply pressure to the shield.

Installing the board itself was easy, but then wiring becomes an issue. The case headers are a decent length, but not really long enough to connect them all before you slide the tray back in. That means removing the power supply bracket and all seven screws there. Again, all of this would've been immeasurably easier if Thermaltake had simply designed the case's side panels to come off.

Removing the drive cages was fairly easy, but the front of the case's interior is just kind of a mess. The internal 3.5" drive cage risks pushing the header cables into the blades of the front 90mm intake fan, the gap between the 5.25" drive bays (even in the removable cage) makes lining them up more difficult than it needed to be, and the toolless mechanism used for mounting 2.5" drives to the top of the cage is not secure.

While the external 5.25" drive cage is mostly fine, mounting 2.5" drives to the top of the case involves inserting a plastic hinge into one side of the drive, then lining it up with two studs on the top of the cage and snapping it into place. The snap comes open pretty easily, and I wouldn't use a mechanical drive in either of the 2.5" slots. Irony: the one part of the A30's design that's genuinely toolless is the same one that invariably requires tools in most other cases.

The internal 3.5" drive cage feels pretty backwards, though. Half an allowance is made towards mounting 3.5" drives using side screws, but our Corsair Link unit has no bottom screw points, making it hang slightly in the cage. Some of this has to do with Corsair's awkward mounting design for the Link box, but was there any reason not to include all three side mounting holes in the cage?

Installing the power supply is actually pretty easy once you've got the cage out since it offers ample support for the underside. I was unsure of which way to orient the PSU initially; I don't like having the intake above the CPU the way it is. However, the top fan of the A30 is an exhaust, so flipping the PSU would sandwich two exhausts against each other. In the end the PSU was oriented with the intake on the bottom.

As for expansion cards, if your PCIe x16 slot is the topmost you should be fine going past the 9.5" spec I outlined in the table at the beginning of this review, but otherwise you're going to run into the cage for the 3.5" external bay.

Cabling the A30 without being able to get in from the sides was nightmarish, though. I'm fortunate that I have small hands and wrists, and slender fingers, because if I were the size of the average man I'd have been tremendously frustrated. There's a lot of fishing around the interior and a lot of shoving cables without actually really seeing where they're going. I worried tremendously that the power cables for the two 60mm exhaust fans would dip into the fan blades of the CPU heatsink, or that other cables would get stuck in the 230mm fan (this did happen at one point), or that the front leads would get caught in the fan blades of the 90mm front intake fan.

Assembling the A30 is needlessly complex and could've been drastically simplified in a few ways. First, make the motherboard tray part of the frame instead of removable. Second, use a steel frame to support the top-mounted cages instead of the side panels themselves and make the side panels removable. Third, keep the top panel removable. Fourth, reduce the number of screws holding the power supply cage in place to three: two on top, one on the back. Fifth, condense the drive cages into one major cage. Do so by stacking the two 5.25" drive bays on top of each other, and then include the pair of internal 3.5" drive bays in the bottom of the cage itself beneath those two drive bays. Sixth, use a more secure mounting mechanism for the 2.5" drives.

In and Around the Thermaltake Armor A30 Testing Methodology
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  • Dadofamunky - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    I tried a couple of microATX build with cases to match and finally gave up. It's always been too complicated and too high-maintenance for long-term use. In my experience with SFF (which ended some three years ago) the motherboards also tend to require too many compromises, including indifferently updated BIOSes, limited overclocking options compared to normal ATX boards and fewer SATA and USB ports. For me, though, the biggest headache always proved to be working with the cases and the hardware.
  • Icehawk - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Maybe a few years ago? I built a mATX machine for the first time last month with an i7 and GTX670 using the (much larger but clearly MUCH nicer) Fractal Design Mini Define and while the mobo doesn't have a ton of options as you said, it has enough to run a simple O/C and XMP which is all I need.
  • Zap - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    You're doing it wrong. :P Well, it is easier these days too.

    First thing is to choose the right motherboard. They are available, and have as many SATA/USB ports as full ATX boards and can overclock as well as an ATX board of similar price point.

    Second thing is to use a micro ATX mini tower, and NOT a "cube" style case. The computer still ends up a lot smaller than an ATX tower, and are just as easy to build.
  • Fuzz1111 - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    While I'm interested cases of this style, I can't say I would recommend the sff cases that require the use of half-height cards, or any that don't allow alternative power supplies.

    Until recently my media centre was a build that used an Antec Minuet 350, an intel E2200 and cheap gigabyte board (had an intel chipset though). The board and cpu were fine, and with a zalman 8700 I even got a decent overclock. Unfortunately half-height turned out to be more limiting than I'd have thought - vidcard choices were rubbish (still aren't great), and I had to make my own half-height bracket for my TV tuner.

    The worst problem by far was the power supply - it was a complete piece of crap and it got worse over time (in the end I was running without tuner card, and with DVD drive disconnected).
  • Death666Angel - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Can't say that I agree. Unless one specifically needs more than 2 GPUs, mATX is plenty enough. I've had my Gigabyte mATX P55 mainboard with an overclocked i7 860 since a month after the i7 came about (roughly). At first I had it in a cube case from Lian Li (V351B) with an HD5770. I had an optical drive, a 3.5" drive and a 2.5" SSD for my system in there. Had I wanted, I could have fitted more drives, the mainboard certainly provided all I needed. While it was a bit hard to assemble and maintain, it was pretty small, light, powerful and quiet. It also did not cost any more than a regular ATX with similar quality components. Last Christmas I decided to get the Silverstone TJ08-E because I wanted to get water cooling. That is also a mATX enclosure, much smaller than most ATX ones of that performance. The CPU now runs at 3.8GHz (up from 3.3 in the cube), my mainboard is still fully functional and has all the connections and abilities one can expect from a ~130€ board of the time.
    Unless you are doing LN2 OC'ing, it is stimply not true that ATX offers greater performance than mATX. Most often, they don't even offer more ports or better quality.
  • just4U - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    I have to agree with other's on this.. Nothing wrong with Matx setups.. and you don't have real compromises with the MB either. Look at Asus's Gene line, Or Gigabytes M3.
  • NA1NSXR - Friday, September 28, 2012 - link

    My X58M was offered new BIOSes periodically to support the entire lifespan of 1366. It was also capable of overclocking as well as any full ATX board in its price range, well encompassing any OC on air cooling anyone would be doing. Fewer SATA ports are moot, as my mobo had way more ports than pretty much any matx enclosure could support anyway, and I had 8 USB ports. So I don't know what you are talking about. It sounds like you just did not do the planning, which is the funnest part anyway. There is no reason to use full atx on air cooled, single GPU computers anymore, unless the extra PCIe slots are absolutely needed.

    Quite frankly when I see a massive "gamer tower" these days I just roll my eyes.
  • Operandi - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Looks like a fairly decent case aside from the 60mm fans but holy crap does it eve stop with the taken to “11” overly designed boxes that constantly try to convey the image of just about anything but a PC case?

    That and the price is a joke when I can get a Lian LI PC-Q08B for the same price.
  • Lucian2244 - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    I second that, it looks like a travel bag !
    And if it was hard for you to assemble it, i can't imagine how it would be for me as I only assembled ATX cases so far.
  • Mr Perfect - Monday, September 24, 2012 - link

    Yeah, that's way to busy for a SFF case. Angles here, windows there, extra vents, raised lines, additional bevels and a pop-up roof. To be fair, it looks like they took a full ATX design(that probably looked fine) and scaled it down until everything got jammed together.

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