Thermaltake's Armored Fortress: A PC Case with Substance

By Victor Loh  |  Posted 2005-09-22 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Review:For some, a basic metal box is enough to house their PC's vital components. Some customers demand more. Thermaltake's new feature-packed stronghold is built to withstand some serious abuse.

The price of gas isn't the only thing getting out of hand these days. Loyd Case gave us the breakdown on inflated gaming hardware prices in his Gouging Gamers? story last month, and we're not expecting relief anytime soon, at least not from the President or foreign producers.

So if our components are getting more and more expensive, shouldn't we be paying more attention to the protection our cases provide? Thermaltake thinks so. It's not just hardware either. We've got a lot of digital media content (obtained legally or otherwise), games, photos, and browser bookmarks that we'd really prefer not to lose. The Armor VA8000BWS is Thermaltake's answer: A sturdy, reliable case that's future-proofed against the needs of tomorrow's hardware. Join us for a tour of this armored PC fortress. Continued... Our tour of the Thermaltake VA8000BWS begins at its emblematic front doors. The role of these peculiar adornments wasn't immediately clear when we unpacked the case from its massive shipping box. They didn't seem to have any real purpose, and we weren't sure if we really liked them.

After some deliberation, we concluded that the doors could provide some real protection for the front of the case. To maximize intake airflow, Thermaltake lined the entire front bezel with thin, lint-screened mesh grilles. Without this flapping frontal armor, an errant foot, knee, or rolling chair could easily put a dent in the pliant screen material. You also run the risk of accidentally pushing an exposed button or two on a naked bezel. No one wants to pop a DVD out of the drive or hit the reset button just as they're about to return an enemy's flag back to home base. In our opinion, the silly aluminum shield doors may actually serve a legitimate purpose after all.

From a uniquely aesthetic perspective, the curved doors soften the lines of the front of the case. They give the bezel façade added depth and dimension. If you don't buy the homespun architectural critique, try and visualize the case without the doors. You're left with a tall, boring, rectangular black brick. Then again, if you prefer the oblong Borg ship look, the doors are easily removable.

The flat black finish and transparent side cover rounds out the overall impression that this case means business. Blue LED light from the bezel and fans illuminates the case without being a distraction. The top panel houses dual USB 2.0, IEEE 1394 FireWire, audio and microphone ports. Continued... Removing and replacing the side panel is very easy. Thermaltake's lockable latch release system snaps in and out without requiring you to line up rail latches or anything like that. Large thumbscrews secure it in place.

Inside, it's spacious and hospitable. You'll be hard pressed to find any sharp edges, as virtually all of the trim on the 1.0mm SECC chassis is rolled for your modding pleasure. Although our Vantec VAN-470A power supply took a little wiggling to get into place, there was plenty of room to work on our ASUS A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard. Micro ATX, Extended ATX, and BTX motherboards are supported, too. Combined with ten front-accessible 5.25-inch bays (two can be used as 3.5-inch bays with an adapter), six internal 3.5-inch bays, and seven expansion slots, there's a lot of room to play with. Continued... The tool-free mounts are simple and effective. The plastic expansion slot mounts won't support a dual-slot card, though. You can revert back to the traditional mounts by removing the four screws behind the tool-free slot mechanism on the back of the case. While you've got a screwdriver handy, go ahead and mount the hard drives since they use regular screws. Internal 3.5-inch drives are mounted in a removable cage held in place by a metal tab and thumbscrew. Continued... For us, the customization and expandability features are major selling points. For example, the location of the power/reset buttons and HDD/power LEDs on most cases is typically fixed. On the VA8000 series chassis, the control panel housing can be relocated to any of the eleven front slot positions. The front intake fan position can be relocated also.

With PC technology evolving as quickly as it does, it's difficult to predict the kind of motherboard and cooling you'll need in the future to stay competitive. Built-in chassis design features support fanless or liquid cooling operational modes. Thermaltake also has an optional BTX upgrade kit that includes a BTX-compatible rear plate and Support and Retention Module (SRM).

Let's not overlook the discreetly placed storage tray occupying the bottom 5.25-inch drive slot. You could use it to stow CDs (the jewel cases won't fit), DVDs, tools, spare hardware, or extra cables. Stash your Ace of Base: Greatest Hits album in there to crank up an upcoming LAN party to the next level. Continued... For cooling, the VA8000BWS uses 120mm intake and exhaust fans in the front and back. A third 90mm exhaust fan is located directly behind the HDD cage. Cool air is drawn in through the porous front bezel. The large rear exhaust port and top vent allow warm air to escape. Continued... We tested noise levels in a quiet room with all three fans running and some of our own test equipment: an ASUS A8N-SLI motherboard, Vantec 470-watt power supply, Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI-E, and an AMD Athlon 64 Processor with the standard CPU cooler.

We took readings one foot above and one foot away from the top of the bezel. With the computer off, the ambient noise level of the room registered 38 dB. When we powered the system up, the readings increased to 48 dB.

Thermaltake's larger 120mm fans run at a relatively low 1400rpm, lowering the pitch of the primary intake and exhaust airflow. The noise is made much more tolerable without sacrificing air cooling characteristics. Unplugging the 1800rpm 90mm top fan decreased the perceived noise production by only a negligible amount. Continued... We like this case. There's a lot to work with and room to grow for the future. If you decide somewhere down the line to step it up a notch with, say, liquid cooling or a BTX mobo, you can do so without having to buy a whole new case.

But consider yourself warned, this heavyweight contender tips the scales at over 35 pounds on an empty stomach. Tack on the heft of a fully loaded chassis, and hauling this rig around will probably require some physical conditioning. If you need something more Winnebago than trailer home, think about upgrading to the aluminum version. It weighs less than half as much for about $40 more. Your joints will thank you for it. Steel cases are a bit more cumbersome, but usually provide better protection and durability at a lower cost. Whichever material suits you best, we think the Thermaltake Armor is a solid choice.

Product: Thermaltake Armor VA8000BWS
Company: Thermaltake
Price: $150 check prices
Pros: Lots of room to work in; plenty of drive space; effective airflow design; expandability options.
Cons: Heavy; power supply mounting area a bit cramped; No power supply included; no dual-slot support for tool-free mounts
Summary: This well-built case has loads of room to work and expand. If weight is an issue for you, check out the aluminum version.
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