The Ultimate Linux Box
Our selection of cases boiled down to a contest between our favorite case from last year's Do-It-Yourself Ultimate Linux Box (the Silverstone TJO7-S full tower) and a new Cooler Master full tower case. We chose the Cooler Master case for both the right and wrong reasons.
Here are the right reasons. The case is almost tool-free. Almost everything snaps in and out without screws. We could jiggle in the RAID cage and flip a few plastic widgets to hold it in place, thus mounting the cage in seconds. The motherboard tray slides out, so you can mount the CPU, memory, video and RAID cards on the motherboard while the tray is outside the case. Slip the tray into the case, and it snaps into its proper place. The exceptions to the rule, where you'll need a screwdriver, are the power supply and possibly the hard drives. You'll need to use screws for hard drives only if you mount them in the 3.5" cage that comes with the case instead of inserting a RAID cage in the 5.25" bays.
The case is not without its drawbacks though. You should not have to do this, but we had to cut some plastic off the side panel in order to mount the water cooling fan for our first shot at a video card (Figure 6).
We had to make this modification only because the first video card we chose used a built-in water cooler with an external fan. The only reasonable place to mount the cooler was in place of the 120mm CPU case fan. We even replaced the video card's fan with a more powerful fan because our first choice of motherboard used a hot AMD CPU. You could mount the cooler on the door, but the water tubes would prevent you from opening the door completely.
Regardless, even if the door interferes with anything, you don't have to cut any plastic off. As long as you don't install something that creates a lot of heat, there isn't much need to mount fans in the side door. You can remove the door entirely if it gets in the way of anything (it snaps out easily). The case has a side panel that normally fits over the door, so you won't even notice the door is gone once you have the case assembled.
It's a good thing that the Cooler Master case has casters to allow you to roll it around. This case is a tank. It is huge. It's even bigger than the Silverstone case, and we thought that was the biggest case we'd ever seen. Oddly enough, it doesn't feel like it's as big as the Silverstone case when you work inside it with the motherboard tray inserted. The difference is negligible, but we managed to scrape a knuckle now and then while arranging cables.
If we had this to do all over again, we'd try out the Antec Nine Hundred black steel ATX Mid Tower, which sells for only $140. We can't guarantee it would be a better case, but it's smaller than our choice, and the specifications still allow for plenty of room for the RAID cage and more. It even has the 120mm fan in the right place if we chose to keep our discontinued video card. The bottom line is that you won't really know whether you've got the best case unless you try them all, and that's clearly impossible. For what it's worth, we're very happy with the case we chose. But, we could have saved ourselves the aggravation of modifying the case if we'd held out a few more weeks before picking among video cards.
The Thermaltake W0106RU 700-Watt power supply may sound like it is more than we needed, but it has a minimum output of 600 Watts, and a fully configured ASUS motherboard requires 550 Watts. We've had enough bad experiences with marginal performance power supplies that we're eager to err on the side of caution. Take heed that a single 8800Ultra display card requires two 12-volt connections. We can't imagine why you'd want to do this, but if you go crazy and install two of these display cards in SLI configuration, you'll need a better power supply than this one.
We can't gush enough about the Acer AL2416 LCD monitor. Couple this puppy with a good display card, and you've got 24" of wide-screen glory for only $550. You may be able to find a better display, but we couldn't find one that competes on all three categories of size, price and performance. The 1920x1200 display is crisp, bright, has sharp contrast, and it is fast enough even for gaming.
The Creative I-TRIGUE L3800 2.1 speakers sound terrific, whether you're playing music or composing music with an attached synthesizer plugged in to the aux port. There's not much more to say other than pick whatever speakers suit your wants and needs. This is a simple 2.1 setup (stereo with subwoofer). If you have room and play games, go for the surround-sound speakers.
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