Case Cooling

It is clear to me that most computers have marginal at best cooling. Cost, fashion and cluelessness seem to be the primary reasons why this is so.

Why cool in the first place?
There are several reason to cool things (other than having a computer that sounds like a real computer room).

  • The most important reason is that cool parts last much longer than hot parts.
  • For semiconductors, it is generally agreed that dropping the temperature 10C makes the part last 10x longer.
  • This is very important when you have a CPU (or 2) that costs $500 or more.
  • If you want to overclock your CPU, it will make more heat, especially if you increase the voltage. If it gets too hot, it will stop working, or produce incorrect results.
  • Disk drives don't like heat either. They have lubricant inside the bearings, and when the lubricant goes, so does the drive. The drive electronics probably don't like being very hot either.
  • Some new video cards have chips that run at 90C. This is pretty toasty, and even if the chips can work that hot, they can toast nearby parts. Personally, I keep my stuff for awhile, and I like to keep things cooler, to increase reliability.
  • I like to keep my machine running all of the time. In the summer, I prefer not to run my house air conditioner all of the time, so good computer cooling is required to keep things from melting.

I first learned about cooling problems when I bought two old Seagate Barracuda 2 gig (1.6" high) drives. They are ST12550N drives to be exact, and according to Seagate use 13 watts at idle and 16.9 watts max. Well, with 2 of these drives in my Gateway 2000 case, things got pretty hot indeed. The good thing about the case, was it was a full tower AT case. A crowded case is bad for airflow, and the full tower was the biggest case Gateway sold at the time.

The advantage of the AT case, was there was a fan in the front which sucked air in, and a fan in the back (inside the power supply) which sucked air out. This is a good thing, because there is a more-or-less straight flow of air from front to back. I added another fan in the front to suck air in, and another fan in the back to suck air out.

The drives were spec'ed to work up to 50C, given serious air flow, and they were getting pretty toasty. In order to have airflow, air must get get from one side of the drive to the other, or the front to back. But most cases aren't really set up for that. Even with the extra fans I added to the case, the hard drive mounting brackets kept air from flowing around the drives. With just the existing Seagate Hawk, it wasn't a big deal, but with these 2 hot Barracudas, something had to be done.

The first thing I did was to separate the drives, so there was a spare bay between them. This helped a bit, but there still was no air flow. The next thing I did was to remove the front plastic drive covers along with the RF shielding metal drive covers. Now I had some air flow from the front of the case, along the drives, and being sucked out. This was a big improvement, but I still wanted the drives to be cooler.

Well, I couldn't increase the air flow over them much with case fans, so I decided I needed another approach. I carefully measured the temperature all over the drive, and found it hottest on the bottom, in the center of a starburst pattern, which I guess is where the drive motor lives. I decided to add a small heatsink and fan from a 486 CPU cooler which cost $5. It worked really well. Finally the drives were cool enough to suit me.

A small case is a big enemy to keeping a computer cool. Air doesn't like making lots of twists and turns. With lots of cables as well as hot parts, it is very difficult to keep things cool. Realizing that I would be getting more drives, I decided I needed a bigger case.

I decided on the Supermicro SC-801 Server Case which is reviewed below. It is certainly big enough, and the air flows from the front to rear, which is great for a simple airflow path. I have made a number of modifications to it, in the quest to improve its cooling ability.

My next brush with cooling problems happened when I decided to update my Pentium 120 by getting a new motherboard with dual Pentium Pro 200 MHz/512k cache processors. I knew the processors dissipated lots of power (38 watts * 2), and so knew that some serious cooling was in order.

The PPro's came with a mini-tower and each PPro had a small heatsink and fan (50mm*10mm). When I put them in my new case, it was clear to me that the PPros wanted to be cooler. I got some pretty nice pin grid heatsinks (1" high) as well as 60mm fans. This helped quite a bit, but I decided I wanted more. I ordered some 1.5" high pin grid heatsinks as well as some temperature sensing high power 60mm fans. They were very expensive, but they automatically cooled better when it got hotter. I got that fans first, and attached them to my PPros. Now the hotter PPro (the upper one) is about 20F higher than ambient (measured at the hot spot of the heatsink). This is fine for now. If it gets pretty hot this summer, I will use the 1.5" high heatsinks.

I made a panel to control all of the fans in the case. It has 8 switches that can be set to off, low power, or full power. There is a two color led associated with each power setting. I used simple resistors to drop the voltage. Today this would be known as a fanbus. I built mine around 1998. But this was a bit of a hassle to use, and it was not well secured mechanically in the case. The case has two 92 mm exhaust fans, which seemed insufficient to keep everything cool. The good news was they were near the top of the case (warm air rises).

I had a spare back panel for my case (I got it for some unknown reason when I upgraded my case to ATX), and so I modified the case to a fit the two 120mm fans. I bought two Panasonic Panaflo 120 mm fans, which flowed a bit more air than the fans that came with my case. But these were a bit awkward to use with my manual switches. Fortunately, my favorite surplus store had some large temperature sensing exhaust fans (120mm). I bought 4 of them. (Two finally died after about 3 years, making death-noises for a few months before dying. I put one of the spares in.) Now there is plenty of air flow, and if things heat up, the fans will run faster. I had to mount these fans on the outside of my case, as I put a 3.5 inch disk rack in the back of my case (right in front of the fans for good cooling). I even have room on the back of the case to add another 120m fan if I need it (unlikely).

I have recently given up on the panel I made to control all my case fans. It did work and control the fans. It did not do nifty pulse width modulation (PWM) and so it did not adapt to fans with different current draw without soldering in new resistors. It only had off, low, and high power settings. I bought a PC-Toys SystemMAXX 4 channel fan controller. Simple, cheap, and practical. I also got rid of all case fans that were not Panaflo fans. The Panaflo fans seem to be very quiet and reliable for the given amount of air flow. That, coupled with cleaning the dust off my heatsinks has reduced the temperature of my CPU's as well as making the case much quieter. I plan to replace my 80mm CPU fans with Panaflo fans real soon now.

I have since bought a few cases and learned more about cooling. Some cases have one or two exhaust fans in the rear. Typically 80mm. Some have one or two intake fans in the front of the case. Again, typically 80mm. No case, except for my Gateway 6400 case have had a decent amount of air inlets in the front. This includes the Supermicro SC-801 Server Case. What I have had to do to get decent airflow in, is to ignore the intake fans (which are generally situated in front of a solid object designed to prevent air from getting in) and to open up a spare 5 1/4" bay. With an open bay, plenty of air gets in. It won't cool the 3 1/2" inch hard drives though.

What is needed are a few simple things. I am sure there is some obscure company other than Gateway that knows how to make it.

Stupid Case Design

Lately, it has been fashionable to have all kinds of ventilation in computer cases. Proper ventilation is very important to keeping a case cool. Improper ventilation will mess with keeping a case cool. Generally speaking, it is a good idea for air to come into the case from the front, cool stuff, and exit out the back of the case. Often there are fans in the front to draw air in and fans in the back to draw air out.

On my two Coolermaster Stacker cases, there is a big hole on the side, roughly a foot in diameter. There is provision to mount an 80mm fan in the center of this. I am not sure what the purpose of the big hole is. It might be to exhaust air coming in the front of the case. It might be to allow air to come into the case to help cool the CPU or video cards. The hole is covered with a thin foam mesh. It does a good job of collecting dust. I ended up covering the entire hole with tyvek and taping it down. Not very pretty, but it helps airflow and reduces the sound coming from the case. And what is the purpose for the center fan? If it is an exhaust fan, air will enter the case from the big hole, and then be blown out the exhaust fan. If it is an intake fan, air will go in the center, and then likely exit the large hole surrounding the fan. So it is pointless at best. The Stackers are not an isolated design. The Raidmax Seiran has a similar design with a 180mm fan.

On my Antec P180B and P280, the rear of the cases are full of ventilation holes. Even the I/O shields are full of holes. The P180B and P280 have 120mm exhaust tans. If the rear ventilation holes are left open, the exhaust fan will likely draw most of the air in through the rear ventilation holes and then out the case, providing virtually no case cooling. If the rear fan is not used, the rear ventilation holes could allow hot air to escape. However, the P180B has a 120mm fan on the top of the case near the rear, and the P280 has two 120mm fans on the top of the case. If they are used, they will likely draw most if their air in from the rear ventilation and then out of the case, providing minimal case cooling. I ended up sealing up all of the rear ventilation holes on these cases as well as all of my cases, because I use the rear fan. The Antec cases even have ventilation around the rear of the power supply for reasons that baffle me.

Many cases now mount hard drives via trays that secure to the bottom of the hard drive. The Antec P180B and Super Lanboy do this. So does the Raidmax Seiran case. The problem is cooling. The hottest part of the hard drive is the motor on the bottom of the drive. All of these trays that I have seen block part or all of the bottom of the hard drive from airflow, thus the hottest part of the hard drive gets no cooling.

Cooler Master Stacker 810 Case

I got a Cooler Master Stacker 810 ATX case to replace my 8 year old Supermicro SC-810 case. It was $155, including shipping (which is a lowest price I could find). For those that don't know about the CoolerMaster Stacker, it is a modular case with 12 front panel openings that accept 1 3/4" high 5 1/4" wide drives. One opening will almost certainly be used for the power switch, reset switch, power led, hdd led (both are the same color which is silly), 6 USB connectors, firewire connector, and 2 audio connectors panel.

Another panel holds a floppy drive. These panels generally are made of black metal with lots of small holes to allow air flow to pass inside the case. I suppose the best features of the case are great air flow and a completely modular front. The hard drives mount in a '4-in-3 module', which has a 1500rpm 120mm diameter fan in front of it. This does a great job of cooling hard drives. There is some air filtering with removable sponges that are behind the black metal panels with holes that cover the 4-in-3 module. My hard drives are cool and happy. The lower hard drive in the 4-in-3 modules doesn't get much air on the bottom of the drive (which is the hot side). It does have ventilation holes on the bottom of the module, unlike the top, no doubt to help with airflow. I may modify my 4-in-3 modules in order to allow for more air flow. Also, the modules have to be removed from the front of the case in order to remove a hard drive. It is a bit of work. The Gateway 6400 case makes it much easier to install and remove drives, as the drives mount in sideways, and the wires are on the side where they won't get in the way of airflow provided by a nice 120mm fan in front.

The rear holds two 1500rpm 120mm fans that remove air from the case. With my motherboard, it is a very, very tight fit. There is no way I can access anything in that area, including the ATX power connector. I may move the fans to behind the case, which will look ugly and present me with a problem of getting the wires inside the case. It will allow me much more room inside the case, as well as allow me to use thicker fans than the 25mm thick fans if needed.

(Update #1) Well, I decided to change CPU fans. There was no way to access the CPU fan power connector with the exhaust fan inside the case. I removed the exhaust fan, installed the CPU fans. and reinstalled the exhaust fan outside of the case. I had to route the power cord through the PCI slots which I am not very happy with. I could only screw the exhaust fan to the case with two screws, as the exhaust fan has no way to access the back exhaust fan hole from inside the case. I may add fan screws that run through the fan in order to secure the fan on all 4 sides. I didn't move the top exhaust fan outside the case, as it doesn't get in the way.

Overall, it is a great case. I don't know of a case that is better overall. I can't imagine spending more money for a different case, unless it had a better way to cool hard drives. I did purchase an additional 4-in-3 module, which made the case even more expensive. There are a few things that could use improvement however. The sides are brushed aluminum, but they are super-thin and prone to denting. I have no idea why they are so thin, as most of the case is steel, and they certainly weren't trying to save weight. The panels should be 1mm thick. Though I don't notice any problems with noise, they sure ring when tapped. The rear screws that hold them on aren't aligned very well. CoolerMaster needs to include a speaker for inside the case. I had one lying around, so I glued it in place. It is a bit of a hassle to screw in something to the front of the case, as it is a bit wider than a standard 5.25 inch drive, due to the quick mounting feature of the case. There should be more than two LED's on the front panel, and they should be different colors. Additional switches would be nice, but not as important.

(Update #2) I realized a few things weren't perfect with the case. The worst feature is there are too many ways for air to get in and out, without going through the front or back. Ideally, all the air goes in the front, and all the air goes out the back. Having other paths for the air reduces the effectiveness of the front and back fans. In addition, dirt can get in. Also sound can get out. The Stacker has a bunch of small holes on the motherboard side of the case, though one could cover then with tape. The Stacker also has a bunch of small hones on the bottom of the case, which I did cover with tape as it could suck in dirt. The worst feature is the non-motherboard side of the case, which has a enormous hole. It is covered with flimsy foam which acts as a dirt magnet. Lots of air will flow through this. There is no way to cover it up, without doing something very ugly. Another thing I don't like about the case is the sides are flimsy aluminum which do nothing to absorb sound. One nice feature is it is trivial to wire up the inside nicely, a feature which I didn't appreciate until I moved my computer into my Antec P180 case.

(Update #3) I ended up covering the big hole in the side of the case with a piece of tyvek, which was taped all around the perimeter. This way, no air can go through the foam. I also used some inexpensive soundproofing on much of the inside surface of the side panels. Best of all, it turns out that you can swap the case sides panels. This puts the big hole near the backside of the motherboard. Since there is less noise on that side (all the fans are on the other side), the solid panel ends up being on the noisy side. The 80mm fan mount must be removed from the foam side (because it is in the way on the motherboard size), but you just remove the screws on the metal cover for the foam, and them remove the screws for the fan mount.

Cooler Master Stacker STC-T01 Case

I got a Cooler Master Stacker STC-T01 case for my file server. It was about $100, shipped on sale, and came in blue. It is the predecessor to the CoolerMaster Stacker 810 case, and is very similar. It has provisions for 2 power supplies (in case you needed lots of power, before the 750watt+ power supplies came in fashion). It Since there is room for 2 power supplies, there is only room for one 120mm exhaust fan. However, if you use only one power supply, you can put two 80mm fans where the second power supply would go. Additionally, this case also supports the BTX form factor (should you ever find a BTX motherboard). There is a size of motherboard, bigger than the E-ATX, called W-ATX for quad socket processors. The 810 will fit that size, but the STC-T01 won't. Beyond that, there are no significant differences. The 4-in-3 modules work, and the case does a great job of cooling. I prefer the 810, because it has room for two 120mm exhaust fans. I did buy a bigger, faster 120mm exhaust fan for my STC-T01 case, to help cool it down (I don't like 80mm fans). Highly recommended.

(Update #1) I ended up covering the big hole in the side of the case with a piece of tyvek, which was taped all around the perimeter. This way, no air can go through the foam. I also used some inexpensive soundproofing on much of the inside surface of the side panels. Best of all, it turns out that you can swap the case sides panels. This puts the big hole near the backside of the motherboard. Since there is less noise on that side (all the fans are on the other side), the solid panel ends up being on the noisy side. The 80mm fan mount must be removed from the foam side (because it is in the way on the motherboard size), but you just remove the screws on the metal cover for the foam, and them remove the screws for the fan mount.

Cooler Master Elite 330 Case

I got a Cooler Master Elite 330 case, which is an older case. It has some interesting features. It is almost completely 'tool-less', which means there are very few screws inside. PCI cards and the like are all secured via a clamp, which doesn't require any screws. It also doesn't require that the card be mounted straight, as I found out. So you have to manually check that your card is going in straight. The places where there are no cards have some sheet-metal tabs covering the slots. These tabs have to be bent a few times to break them off from the case. If you ever remove a card, I would guess you would have to find a conventional blank card plate to fill the hole. None are provided.

The case comes with a 120mm exhaust fan, which does a good job, though it hums a bit. The 3 wire power cord isn't long enough to reach the motherboard fan connector I have. Another few inches of fan cord would have been nice. The grill isn't perfect for the exhaust fan, but it should be ok. Eventually I decided to fix the exhaust fan grill. I should have cut it out when the case was empty, but I didn't think ahead. I covered it with tape on the inside, and using great violence, I removed the restrictive grill and replaced it with a wire grill. I had hoped it would reduce my GPU temperature, but it didn't. I guess it wasn't so restrictive. Perhaps I will put a more powerful fan in one day... The CoolerMaster stacker rear fan grills are much better, as are most Antec cases. There is room for a front 120mm fan (or a smaller one). There is actually a decent air inlet for the front fan. Almost the whole case front is made out of metal with lots of small holes to allow air in. Sorta like the aluminum Apple case, but the holes are smaller. Most of the air inlets have a very thin sponge designed to trap dirt. They are pretty useless however.

I installed a floppy which meant removing the floppy drive cover. There were no instructions, and I had to use quite a bit of force. If you aren't careful, it would be easy to cut yourself on the sharp edges inside. Removing a cover for a DVD drive was a bit easier, but still harder than it should be. All drives are secured via a novel tool-less design. There is a piece of plastic with a knob to turn that mates with the case. When the knob is turned, it can be removed from the case. On the plastic are two pegs that go into the screw holes of the drive. So you slide the drive in, align the holes with the plastic piece, align the knob hole with the case, and push it in, and turn the knob to secure the drive. Works reasonably well, but not nearly as secure as screws. The hard drives can wiggle a bit, which probably won't do any 10k or 15k rpm drives any good. The floppy drive mounted more tightly, as did the DVD drive.

The rest of the case is unremarkable, except for two air inlets on the motherboard side to allow CPU and video card cooling. It does have front mounted USB connectors, as well as audio connectors, but that is pretty standard today. The audio connector wires are individual, which doesn't make it easy to attach to the motherboard. The case is made of very thin, flimsy steel. It sure is light, but I would prefer the metal be a bit thicker. Not only would it vibrate less, but the chance of denting or otherwise damaging the case would be greatly reduced. It might even attenuate sound more if the metal was thicker. Overall, a decent if unremarkable case. The reason I bought it was a got it free after rebate. I wouldn't pay more than $20 for it, now that I have seen it, and installed a computer in it. A far cry from the CoolerMaster Stackers I have.

The power button for the case is very poorly designed. There are four very thin webs of blue plastic that are used to screw it to the front of the case. Somehow these broke, and so the power button started floating around behind the front panel. I called CoolerMaster, and they kindly sent me 4 replacement buttons, as I had bought two of these cases. The front panel does remove easily, and it is easy to clean the dust from it. This is a plus in a very inexpensive case.

Raidmax Seiran Computer Case

The Seiran case has one feature which caused me to buy it - The case can mount up to nine 5.25 inch drives. Since I will be using it to hold 2 racks of hot swap sata drives, they will take up six spaces. Adding a dvd drive will take another space. The number of cases with at least seven 5.25 inch spaces is very very small. I bought it to replace my Coolermaster Stacker case. The Stacker is a great case; it is just a bit on the big side for my needs.

The case comes with three fans, a 120mm intake fan, a 120mm exhaust fan, and a 180mm side fan which exhausts air. There is a fan controller near the power switch which can vary the speed and brightness of the fans. There are cables for 3 fans and 3 LEDs, though for some reason the one of the fan cables has a female connector, which will not mate with any fan I have seen, as they all have female connectors. The side fan may have a LED, but neither its speed nor its brightness can be controller, as it only has a 4 pin molex connector. In addition, the 180mm fan is known to interfere with some CPU heatsinks. Of course, it interfered with mine. So I removed the 180mm fan and used the 120mm intake fan, as it doesn't interfere with my CPU heatsink, and the case side is designed to accept either the 180mm or a 120mm fan.

I read a few reviews about the Seiran before buying it. I knew it has some silly features common to many cases. I knew the back was well ventilated, which means that the rear exhaust fan will draw air into the rear of the case due to all the ventilation, and then exhaust it out the back. I have no idea why this is a popular 'feature' of many cases. On my Antec P180B and P280 I had to seal up these vents. Their only possible justification is on a passively cooled system, that has no fans. If you do passive cooling, having holes on the top makes more sense than holes on the back and side. The Antec P180B and P280 does have ventilation on the top of the case, but the Seiran has none. I wish I understood why vents are put on the rear and side of the case when fans are also present. Also the side exhaust fan is surrounded by lots of ventilation, so the air it exhausts will mostly come from outside the case. Fortunately, using enough tape and Tyvek, I can close up the ventilation in the side, bottom, and rear of the case.

In addition, the case is made of really flimsy steel. This makes is light, but quite resonate. Fortunately, I have some dampening material left over from my cat stereo install to help with that. The side of the case next to the motherboard has a very odd shape, which may be designed to look stylish. It is stamped into the steel so there is nothing I can do about it. From my perspective it just makes the case wider. There is a single USB 3.0 port in the front of the case, and twp USB 2 ports. The USB 3.0 port has the typically dual USB 3.0 internal connector to attach to the motherboard. I would much rather have 2 USB 3.0 ports in the front. The way the 5 1/4 inch drives attach is via a 'tool-less' clamp - at least there is a clamp for both sides of the drives.

It does have a very nice handle on the top of the case, which is quite handy to move the case around. Since almost all of the weight will be in the front to my case (with 8 hard drives installed), it works better than if the handle was in the center of the case. The side exhaust fan will be useful after I tape up all the side ventilation. It even lights up with a red LED. If you don't need up to 9 5 1/4 inch drives, there is no reason to buy this case. It is worse in every other way compared to a decent case such as the Antec P280, which is far superior to it. The Seiran is compact and has all those 5 1/4 inch drives, so if you need those features then it is the case to have. Don't get the Seiran II, as it doesn't have lots of 5 1/4 inch drives.

Well, my computer is now assembled. The side of the case behind the motherboard is really tight. Thete is a silly pattern on the side door which makes no sense to me. I was able to stick some unused power supply cables there, but only after taping the connectors to lie flat. The USB cables for the front panel are so short that routing them behind the motherboard makes them too short to use with my motherboard. The slots on the side of the motherboard for cables to go from the back to front are so small that the 24 pin power supply connector can't be routed through it. Doing so would have helped a bunch with the mess of cables on the motherboard side. You could route the 4 pin motherboard cable behind the motherboard, but there is no way to get it to the motherboard side, so it also got routed on the motherboard side. It turns out the case is a bit on the shallow side when measured from front to back. My supermicr hot swap drive trays are pretty deep and it was much better to mount them sticking out about 5 mm fron the case. If I could, I would have mounted them sticking out 25mm, As it is, the front panel connections on the motherboard are overlapped by the hot swap trays. Asus has a really nice connector that goes between the motherboard and the front panel connectors. You attach the cables to the connector, and then you plug the connector in. Unfortunately the connector makes the cables stick out far enough to interfere with the hot swap hard drives, so it had to go. I ended up covering the side panel with a sheet of tyvek, so there is no air flow at all. A lot of sound gets through, as the tyvek covers flimsy mesh. The case could also do with more fans to extract the air. If I upblocked the side fan, it would help with cooling, but the case would get even lounder. Hopefully it doesn't get too hot...

Ultra Wizard Mid-Tower ATX Case

I decided to buy the Ultra case, because it was free after rebate. In the manufacturers product description, the case is described as being pretty wonderful. I understand that there is often a bit of marketing hyperbole, but I think they go over the top. I can live with "In the red-hot gaming market, Ultra's UV Wizard will quickly become the best-selling case of all time!" However comments like "When it comes to performance - no case can match the UV Wizard's versatility, expandability, durability and airflow technology." are clearly not true. I guess they don't know about the Coolermaster stacker, which is more versatile, expandable, durable and has better airflow. There are several other cases that are better in all ways. What is worse are claims that are bold face lies, such as "Available in your choice of outrageous colors, the magnificent UV Wizard is compatible with all the leading motherboards including AT, Baby AT, ATX and Micro ATX.". The outrageous colors that are available are Black and Blue, not exactly what I consider outrageous, but perhaps they are outrageous to some. Now I own a few AT motherboards. There are a few points about them that bear mentioning. They don't use ATX backplates. They do often have the keyboard and sometimes the mouse connector attached to the motherboard. The keyboard connector can be similar to a DIN connector, and is about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. There are no provisions on the case for an AT keyboard connector. I suppose one can drill a hole to make it fit, but I don't call that compatible. Another feature of a AT motherboard is the power switch isn't controlled by the motherboard, but wired directly to the power supply. It directly switches the 120v (or 240v in some countries) power, and has 120v wiring going through the case to the power button. This button doesn't look like it is rated for 240v, nor does it have the 1/4" spade lugs that an AT power switch features. One reason for going to the ATX specification was to make it unnecessary to run full AC power through the case. So the claim of AT motherboard compatible is a clear lie.

The side panel has a hole for a vent and a fan. The product description says "The UV Wizard's large front-panel vent system allows maximum airflow,..." Well the case does have some venting on the front panel, but it is less than the CoolerMaster Stacker, the Antec Super Lanboy, or the Logisys Spider case, all of which allow for 120mm intake fans. The Ultra case allows for a single 80mm intake fan. Not exactly "maximum airflow". At least the rear of the case is designed for a 120mm fan, which is the minimum I consider necessary for decent air flow. Strangely, no fans are included with the case. Also mentioned is "Durably constructed of the highest quality steel..." I am not the best judge of the quality of steel, but I can say the steel certainly isn't as nearly thick as the steel in my supermicro SC-801 case. I can also say the steel isn't stainless steel, which I would judge to be of higher quality than the normal steel found in a typical computer case. So I have serious doubts about the "highest quality steel".

Gateway 6400 Server Case

I bought two Gateway 6400 servers because they were a great deal. What I didn't realize when I bought them was they came with a great case. It can be adapted to be a 4U chassis if you buy some adapter plates. It has a 120mm intake fan which blows directly on the hard drive bays (which are mounted sideways, so no cables get in the way of airflow). It has a 120mm exhaust fan which is mounted near the CPU(s). This alone makes the case much better than the usual cases. What makes it really stand apart is the substantial air intakes in the front, which allow a serious amount of air into the case. It is second to none in air intake. In addition, the front panel has the usual lights and buttons. What is unusual is that there is a single multi-pin connector that connects to the motherboard. This makes it trivial to connect the motherboard, though putting a new one in would require a bit of hacking. All the wires are well laid out and don't get in the way of air flow.

The hard drive bays are great because they are mounted sideways in the case. They come with tabs that mount on the side of the hard drives. So after you open the door of the case, you just unhook the cables for a drive, and grab the tabs and pull. I haven't seen a quicker way to remove a hard drive. The cage itself is very well ventilated so that air flows through it easily, cooling the hard drives. Since the cables are on the 'end' of the cage, they don't get in the way of airflow. The only problem is there is only room for 4 hard drives. This isn't a big problem for a generic server case, but it became a problem for me, as I was running out of hard drive space.

I was thinking of getting another Cooler Master Stackercase to solve the problem, when I realized that there was some unused space below the hard drive cage. I tried to fit another Cooler Master 4-in-3 module down there, but there wasn't room. There was room for a 3 1/2" hard drive to stand on its edge. I was able to find a cheapo hard drive cage. After some bending, it fit below the existing cage. I drilled a few holes in the case to secure it, and installed two more hard drives (with a gap between them to help air flow). There is a space in the front of the case which looked like it was designed for an optional 120mm fan to cool the interior. I put in a 25mm thick fan, and was dismayed to find that the holes in the case seemed designed for a 110mm or 115mm case fan. Try as I might, I couldn't get more than one hole to line up. If I ever take the case apart again, I will drill a few more holes, so a 120mm fan will bolt in. Things are a bit tight with the fan and hard drive cage and hard drives below the existing cage. Nonetheless, everything fits, and all my hard drives are cool. If I need more hard drives, I will get the Cooler Master Stacker.

Logisys Spider-X Computer Case

I got a Logisys Spider-X case, for $19.99 plus shipping (it was a closeout deal). It has 4 external 5.25 inch bays, 2 external 3.5 inch bays, 4 internal 3.5 inch bays, a LCD temperature display, and some external case lighting. Back in 2004, I had found no decently priced cases with decent airflow, until now. There are many cases available that have a 120mm fan. Some cases even have two, one for intake, and one for exhaust. The last case I bought was an AMS G-Mono Mid-Tower Case. It was about $40, and had a 120mm intake (no fan present) and room for two 80mm exhaust fans (one present). As I should have realized sooner, though there is room for a big intake fan, the intake is so blocked up, virtually no air can get in. I ended up removing a 5.25 inch bay cover, in order to let air get in.

Of course the Gateway 6400server case is a superior case. But it is very hard to come by. It does have two 120mm fans, one for intake and one for exhaust.

I was looking at a decent case for a decent price, the Yeong Yang Technology YY-5601 case or the Yeong Yang Technology YY-5604 case, and thinking about buying it. I can't find anyone selling them though.

Then I found the Logisys Spider-X Computer Case. It isn't as good as the Gateway 6400 case. It isn't as good as the Yeong Yang case. It does have room for two 120mm fans (one included). It does have decent airflow in and out of the case (which I have found to be very rare). It is made of pretty flimsy steel (unlike the tank-like Gateway 6400 and the reasonably sturdy Yeong Yang). It has the hard drives mounted front-to-back which will cause some airflow limitations due to the hard drive cables. The data and power cables really cut down airflow. Even if you use good airflow power cables, they cut down airflow. Since I was planning on putting in SCSI drives which are hot and I don't have round SCSI cables, this was of some concern. The Gateway 6400 and Yeong Yang have the hard hard drives mounted sideways, which might be a problem for my hot-swap 80 pin SCSI drives (due to the space the adapter takes up).

But the case is inexpensive. It also is designed for gamers, so one side panel is clear plastic with a silly spider-web on it. There is room for an 80mm exhaust fan (which is a good idea), but it is very far from my two CPU's (or where anyone would put CPU's, which is bad). I covered the hole with a piece of clear plastic. The front panel has a cover for the 5.25 inch drives, which is nice. There is a front LCD temperature display, which is nice. There is some silly gamer lighting on the front panel with blue LED's, which I plan on disconnecting or ignoring.

But overall it is a great case. The edges are rounded so it is pretty tough to cut yourself. Everything installed smoothly. The case has great airflow. The case is sturdy enough. The case is a great value. And for you folks from way up north, the case is even made in Canada. Highly Recommended.

Well, times change. The old case is no longer available. The newly available cases are Xoxide Spiderman Black case, and Xoxide Spiderman Silver case, which are basically the same, except they are $59.99 (or $49.99 on sale). It is the best case at the price that I have found. If only it were bigger and had room for more intake fans and hard drives it would be perfect. But if you only have 4 or less hard drives this is the best value case I have ever seen, because it will keep your computer cool.

Quieting the Case

I highly recommend Silent PC Review as a great site for a wide variety of reviews and information relating to quiet computing.

After I read a very clever article on making a case quieter, I decided it was time to try it out. I bought lots of carpet padding, and I have glued it to the removable side covers of the case. It has definitely quieted the case down quite a bit. I will have to put some padding on the top surface of the case, but I will have to remove it first, which is not trivial, especially with my disk rack bolted on, in front of the exhaust fans. Still, some very clever ideas in the article.

Supermicro SC-801 Server Case

Due to cooling concerns (as well as having no more room for drives), I decided it was time to buy a real case. I looked around a lot. There are some reasonable cases around. I wanted a case that would keep my drives and future processor(s) cool. I looked at many cases, and I read many reviews, including the excellent reviews on Tweakit Hardware Reference Site (now defunct). I seriously considered the Antec KS-011 Server Case, however, after looking at it carefully, I decided that it offered insufficient cooling. I finally decided on the Supermicro SC-801 Server Case after reading the review on Tweakit. I have noticed all manufacturers websites are a bit lacking in their case description. So I will clearly describe the case. If my description contradicts someone else, believe me, not them.

I bought an AT server case (which was a mistake, I should have gotten an ATX server case, but I dealt with my mistake, and I now have the how swap 300 watt AT power supplies for sale) which has a dual redundant, hot swap 300 watt power supply. There are 11 front accessible 5.25 inch drives. There are 2 is front accessible 3.5 inch drives. There is one internal 3.5 inch drive space, above the 2 external ones. There are two wheels in the front, and two wheel-height plastic skid things in the back. I would have preferred 4 wheels that could be locked. The wheels are pretty cheap. The two sides of the case can be removed independently from each other. This case has a drive (left) side, and a motherboard (right) side. There can be 1 or 2 92 mm fans on the drive side rear. There can be up to 4 92mm fans on an internal partition near the front of the motherboard side. It is easy to mount 3 fans, however it will take some drilling to get the fourth fan mounted. There were a total of 4 fans shipped with the case.

The power supply has an alarm, in case one of the supplies fails. The alarm can be turned off. There is a cable inside the case, and a front panel switch. The front panel switch and the internal cable connectors are physically incompatible however. You need to buy 2 connectors and fabricate an adapter, which really sucks on an expensive case. Each power supply has a led in back to indicate that is on. This is a good thing, since the power cords have a bad habit of working themselves loose. I have never seen another power cord do this (and I have used plenty of cords). There are also cables inside the case that end with a connector with a green led in it, indication power for each power supply. Too bad there is nothing on the front panel for the LEDs. There are plenty of other LEDs on the front panel, like 6 drive LEDs, a power led, a fault led, and an overheat led.

One bad feature of the AT case is there is a hole for a standard, old fashioned keyboard connector. Since I have a Intel Baby AT motherboard, it has the newer-style small keyboard and mouse connectors next to each other. I had to use a sheet-metal nibbler to enlarge the large keyboard hole. Not very pretty. The other problem with this case is that it does not accept ATX style motherboards. Since many new motherboards are ATX, you are stuck with the Baby AT and the Full AT. This isn't so bad for a real server. Another bad feature is the razor sharp sheet metal inside the case. I have a few cuts, even though I was careful, courtesy of the case.

Now for the good news. The case is nice and big. Plenty of room to run wires. Plenty of room and airflow to keep hot disks cool. I have some digital thermometers with external probes that I have monitoring the temperature of my hot disk drives. I am still using the CPU-cooler fans, but only one fan for my motherboard, and one fan for the disk drive side of the case. Along with 2 power supply fans, the case is pretty noisy. I play on doing something clever to control the fans as a function of temperature.

The biggest problem with the case is it isn't really designed to cool drives well. There are lots of slots on either side of the case near the front, but they don't get any air moving near the drives. There are also slots on the motherboard side front of the case. With the internal fans in front of the motherboard behind the front slots, the case was designed to cool motherboards reasonably well.

I don't have a clue how the designers thought air would flow around the drives, because it really can't. Well, what I did was to prop open the drive doors (there are two), and to remove the front plastic drive covers as well as the RF shielding metal drive covers. With the drives spaced out so air can flow above and below them, plenty of air now moves over the drives. So does plenty of dust. So I had to block off the front of my Sony SDT-5000 4mm DAT drive, since it failed after getting too dusty. Designing the case for some air flow over the drives, as well as a filter on all the air intakes would have been a much better solution...

When I knew I was getting the PR-440FX motherboard, I tried to get the case updated to ATX from Supermicro. They told me there was no way to upgrade it. I seriously thought about doing lots of sheet-metal work. But I was cruising the web and I found out that Chenming Mold Industrial Corp really makes the case. Here is a picture from their web sight of the 'AT-801F' File Server case.

They were much friendlier than Supermicro. They had an update for $50 to turn the case into an ATX case, which was a real bargain as far as I am concerned. I also bought a ATX power supply and power supply plate, which cost a few more dollars, and now my case can take ATX motherboards. They did include a new back panel of the case, which seems just like the AT back panel, which I ended up modifying for larger fans.

Well, summer was approaching, and my computer is getting warmer. I have 4 radio-shack remote thermometers monitoring hard disk temperatures as well as CPU temperature. Each fan is controllable by my custom front panel. I can turn each fan on, off, or run at 50% power. When it is around 80F in the room, the old Seagate Barracuda (with its own CPU heatsink and fan) was running at 90F on the bottom of the case. I once saw it get up to 95F, which I decided was too hot.

The case comes with two 92 mm fans to remove air from the rear of the case. I decided these were insufficient. I bought two Panasonic Panaflo 120 mm fans from Digi-Key , and I started hacking up the back of the case. After much violence, the fans were mounted. Running at 50% power, the hot disk drive gets no more than 5F warmer than ambient (with the disk heatsink fan running at 50%). When the rear fans are going at full power, it is a bit noisy, but everything stays really cool. I have since changed the 120mm fans to thermo-sensing fans by Delta Electronics. Now I don't have to manually set the fan power level. And I have the case front doors open, and a air inlet above and below each disk drive.

The only imperfection of my case (other than the original marginal airflow in warm conditions, is the disks are pretty far from the SCSI controller. I have a ultra-wide drive, and I plan on getting more, and the total cable length must not exceed 1.5 meters if I want to run at ultra speed. (No ultra-2-wide-SCSI for now). It would be really nice if there was a disk rack for 3.5 inch disks near the rear of the case. I have found a case with all of these features, and I should have gotten it if I had know better. It is The Chenbro Ultra Server Case. I bought their 3.5 inch disk rack for $10 plus shipping. I have now installed it in the rear of my case, just in front of the back panel. I have my two wide Seagate drives there, which seems to work out well. I plan on getting more wide drives and putting them in the rack. The drive bays in the front will be used mainly for 5.25 inch drives, like CD's and large tape drives and such, which need the space as well as front panel access. It really was a waste putting hard drives in front (unless they were hot swappable which mine aren't).

Sep 10, 2004. After buying my ASUS PC-DL system I decided the case needed serious work. The case is basically divided into two unequal sized halves, by a motherboard tray. The motherboard faces one side panel, and the drives are near the other side panel. What is worse, there is no easy way for hot air to get away from the motherboard. The power supply is at the bottom of the case, (along with a fan to help suck air out of the case). Since hot air rises, the power supply and fan don't help remove heat. Also there isn't much space between my new Intel windtunnel xeon CPU coolers and the case side.

I thought about buying a CoolerMaster CM Stacker case, which has a much better thermal design, but I decided I could do as well or better by modifying my case. I had a few problems to fix. I wanted the power supply at the top of the case. I wanted lots of room above the motherboard. I wanted superior air flow.

I noticed that it was possible to flip around the back of the case in several ways. I also noticed that it was possible to flip around the backplate attachment for the motherboard on the back of the case. What I did was to flip the back of the case top-to-bottom. I didn't rotate it, which would have kept the outside painted part on the outside, but put the motherboard on the wrong side. I turned it over, so the unpainted part was outside, and what used to be on the bottom was now on the top. This solved the PS and fan being on the bottom. I also flipped around the motherboard back plate adapter. I had to drill two more holes on an internal bracket to secure the motherboard tray. While I had the back of the case off, I drilled out a mount for another 120mm fan.

I removed the hard drive rack I used to have next to the rear of the case (in front of the two 120mm fans). I mounted it in the front of the case (where the 5.25 inch external drives go). I now have the case doors open to allow air flow over the hard drives due to the three 120mm fans sucking air out of the case.

Now it is much easier to get to the hard drive wiring (which was a real pain) with the hard drive rack I used to have in the back. I had to lengthen a few wires that go to the motherboard, as then now have to go from the top to the very bottom of the case. Now there is about a foot above the motherboard, which is plenty of room for heatsinks. More important, the heatsinks suck hot air from the CPU's, and the hot air is directly sucked out of the case by the three 120mm fans. The top two fans are thermostatically controlled (I got them cheap at a surplus store). The first two thermo fans broke after about 3 or 4 years of service, but I had spares. The lower fan is controlled by my homebrew fan controller, and is running at reduced voltage.

The CoolerMaster 3.5 inch hard drive adapter looks more elegant than my solution, but they are about $30 each, and I would need two. Perhaps I will improve my solution a bit later. I now have a total of three 120mm fans, one 80mm fan, and the power supply sucking air out of the case. It isn't too loud, and it is noticeable quieter than the Intel xeon fans running at 5000+ rpm when the CPU's got hot...

USB 3 ports for cases, and cables

I needed to add some USB3 ports to my computer cases. Some older cases don't have USB3 ports, so it is really handy to add some. My favorite case, then Antec P280 has two USB3 ports. One never worked well, and the other one failed after over 8 years of use. Antec didn't have spare parts to replace the failed ports, so I needed to buy generic USB3 ports for the Case. I bought a front panel 2.5" dual USB3 port adapter. It worked perfectly. I also bought several rear panel I/O port dual USB3 ports. I had a number of issues. One was branded 'MSI' and worked perfectly. Another no-name dual port USB3 also worked perfectly. Now the fun begins. The good news is all the ports were functional. The bad news is many of the ports only ran at USB2 speeds. I tested this using a USB3 flash drive that had a read speed of about 120 mbytes/second. If it was running at USB3 speeds, I saw 120 mbytes/sec when copying files. Unfortunately, many of the ports only ran at about 30 mbytes/sec. All of these parts looked ok. All had the extra row of USB3 electrical pins. One item had one port that ran at USB3 speeds, and one that ran at USB2 speeds. Another two items had both ports that only ran at USB2 speeds. If you are buying these, I highly recommend buying from a reputable seller and one that ships quickly. I also recommend verifying that the parts work at USB3 speeds.

I bought an USB3 1.5 meter extension cable to route a rear case port to the front of the case. The cable looks pretty, and says 6A and 100w on the connectors. Unfortunately, just like some cheap rear ports, the cable only operates at USB2 speeds. I verified this with multiple known good USB3 ports. This is the first 'USB3' cable I have bought that is not a USB3 cable.

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