Summer 2002 - out with the old, in with the new. In spite of having repeatedly poured scorn on pretty-boy cases in favour of the industrial look, earlier this year I suddenly found myself reading reviews of case lights and guides to installing windows... I was pleased with the look of the modifications I'd made to the SuperMicro SC-750a case, but the cooling just wasn't working and that beige slab design was never ever going to be pretty - it felt like time for a change...
The new case is a Super-Flower SF-201, allegedly made from Aluminium-Magnesium alloy, but otherwise fairly typical of a number of recent offerings from Pacific-Rim manufacturers. Mine was supplied and modified by Kustom PCs in Ayr, Scotland, and I'm very pleased with the work they did, although I had to wrestle with the feeling that it was somehow cheating to have somebody else build part of a PC for me! However, I think I've proved (at least to my own satisfaction) that I can cut holes in computers with the best of them, and in the end just migrating the internals turned out to be more than enough work to keep me busy.
The internal arrangement is fairly typical of current mid-tower designs - four 5¼ bays in the usual place, a fixed frame for four 3½ devices (three external, one internal) below it, and then a removable frame for five vertically mounted 3½ hard disks right at the bottom. The latter is immediately behind the pair of 80mm intake fans, and this is apparently sufficient cooling to safely fill the bay with 7200 RPM IDE drives. Another pair of 80mm exhausts sits above the AGP/CPU area of the motherboard in the stock design, and I've added a 120mm monster to give a helping hand to the aging Gold Orb CPU coolers, along with a matching 120mm blowhole in the top panel.
The front panel of the case is an impressive slab of 5mm Perspex dotted with gold thumbscrews, and is generously equipped with USB, Firewire and audio ports. I haven't hooked any of these up, as yet, but the new Adaptec DuoConnect card that somehow came along with the case upgrade has three internal ports that should fit the bill nicely. I shall probably have to shorten and simplify the internal connecting cables when I come to hook them up, though - the stock wiring is long enough to travel all the way through the case, out of the rear panel, and plug into regular external sockets! There's no way I'll be able to bundle the excess up neatly, and I don't plan to connect all seven front ports, so I'll separate the few parts of the loom I need and shorten them to fit.
The windows are in a smoked perspex, adding to the mystery, and I asked Kustom to make them as large as possible without compromising the structural integrity of the case. They managed very well, I think, as even though the frame is only about two inches wide there is less flex than the thick steel of the SuperMicro's panels. My request for windows in the top and "off-side" initially met with a few raised eyebrows, but I was impressed with the factory-custom version sold by Directron in the US and, in the Far East, by Super-Flower themselves. I persisted, and when the work was finished the head man, Graeme, admitted that he liked the look too. The finishing touch was an "In Emergency - Break Glass" etched-glass-effect sticker on each side window - the only design I've seen, so far, that I really liked.
Still a tale of many fans, I admit - but they're smart fans, this time, and at half-speed are providing better airflow than the plethora in the old Supermicro case. They're moving over 300 cubic feet of air per minute through the case, but only assaulting my ears to the tune of about 43dB(A) - a considerable relief to all concerned... I chose the Enermax manually adjustable range, after some advice from Kustom, with a pair of 80mm intakes behind the front panel, another pair above the CPUs in the rear panel for exhaust, and monstrous120mm blowhole fans in the side and top panels. The latter are rated at almost 95 CFM full-blast, but I'm running the entire set at around half-speed and with the CPUs in the low 30°s and the disks in the mid 20°s it's quiet enough to hear myself smile.
All the stamped grilles were machined away and replaced with extra gold wire guards to match those already fitted to the Enermax fans, which helps both noise and airflow, and in spite of my worries during the planning stages I think the smaller case actually helps cooling. I always suspected that the SuperMicro's cavernous interior allowed pockets of air to circulate inside the case, but with no component further than six inches from a fan I don't expect problems now. As usual, I'm running the system without air filters and the lighting already betrays an obvious build-up of dust on the hottest components to confirm it - no question of stalled air-flow this time...
Although it doesn't seem likely that I'll need to adjust the fan speed very often, should the necessarily arise I'd like to have something more convenient than the trailing micro-potentiometers fitted to the fans as standard. One idea is to somehow mount them all on a little aluminium panel inside, another would be to retro-fit them to a rheobus in a spare 3½" bay. Such a beast is not yet available, but I'm hoping that the recent digital PWM technology will allow it soon enough.