Best mATX case as of February 2013

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Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:01 am

What's the best mATX case out there today? There are some criteria in determining "best":

Price - $150 max, in my mind it shouldn't cost more
Appearance - has to look good. My own preference is for an understated look, not bling-bling
Construction - high quality materials and high quality fit and finish
Usability - best in class, there should be no compromises in the usability department (I'm looking at you, TJ08 drive cage).
Cooling - adequate, and quiet, and filtered if possible

Did I miss any criteria?

So, some candidates that I think are good representatives:
Fractal Design Arc Mini
SilverStone Temjin Series TJ08 (curse the drive cage, it's a flaw, so kinda violates one of the criteria)
LIAN LI PC-A04B

I'm highly interested in your responses.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:16 am

You can add these.

Silverstone Sugo SG09/SG10
Fractal Design Define Mini
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:59 am

I like the compactness of the Silverstone Temjin TJ08-e and the Antec NSK3480. The NSK3480's drive mounting arrangement could stand to be improved. The Antec Mini P180 is larger on the outside than I would like for a Micro-ATX case.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:09 pm

For compactness, I like the SilverStone Sugo SG03. Newegg says they're discontinued but Amazon is selling them with USB3. A potential negative is the PSU mounting but I've seen claims that a Corsair H100 can fit in the front.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:12 pm

for tight budget
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:07 pm

JustAnEngineer wrote:I like the compactness of the Silverstone Temjin TJ08-e and the Antec NSK3480. The NSK3480's drive mounting arrangement could stand to be improved.
I have issues with both of those cases (I have done builds with both).
The Antec Mini P180 is larger on the outside than I would like for a Micro-ATX case.
I might be able to deal with a little bit larger if it means I don't have the issue's I've had with those first two cases. The NSK 3480 is OK if you only have two hard drives.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:01 pm

I have been using mATX for years, starting with a DFI P45-T2RS Jr 775 motherboard. I've had a few different cases, none of the ones mentioned so far. I have a few requirements that rule out some cases, the main one being two 5.25" bays for optical drives. Also 120mm intake and output fan mounts in standard front/rear locations. The problem I have with many mATX cases is that there is little point in them being mATX - when one dimension is 18-19" you might as well go with a small mid-tower ATX case. Lian-Li doesn't seem to be able to design a mATX case without such a dimension, P180 Mini and Fractal Design are other popular examples of 'too big' mATX cases. I know there are usability reasons for this, it just defeats the purpose of mATX to me.

I've had a cheap Rosewill case (was $20 shipped) for 3 years and it worked fine on the simplest level of a case to hold components but was awkward to work with in some ways (mainly the full-height drive cage needed 'small hands' so to speak) and the materials were noticeably cheap compared to the likes of Antec...but hey, $20. I have been browsing for similar cases without mid-tower dimensions on and off ever since because I got that one mainly because of the price and I wanted to move to a tower. I was tempted by the NSK3480 (ruled out because of the 5.25"/PSU area being very cramped, but it came closest) and the Silverstone TJ-08-E and PS-07 clones (I too had read about the drive cage issues and was also unsure about the top PSU/5.25" section) Plus both those were ~$100 and I'm cheap when I can be :D

SO...in recent browsing I came across this Rosewill case and it hit all my points - 2 5.25" bays, compact dimensions that make sense for mATX, 120mm intake/output - plus USB 3.0 front ports along with USB 2.0. I decided to pick one up for $50 and I can say I'm more than pleased and not just 'for the price'. The metal material isn't Antec-grade, but it's not bottom of the barrel cheap like the other Rosewill case. The side panels are a little flexy but *meh* The paint finish is good and scuff-resistant but it's the smart layout and design that I only appreciated once I got it in my hands that made me think it was more than just a cheap alternative. The genius of this case is that it has 5 expansion slots - obviously no motherboard matches that but it's brilliant for adding a little extra space for video card ventilation, and it allows for a front-bottom 3.5"/2.5" drive mount for a total of 3, or 4 if you want to use the external 3.5" bay as one, while not interfering with the motherboard. Like all cases of this depth 3.5" drives in the regular bays will overhang the motherboard - it's unavoidable with these dimensions however they are easy to add in even with a motherboard mounted. The front panel pops off the front instead of having little side tabs that require removing the side panels so filter cleaning is easy. The plastic isn't fancy, it's kind of stiff ABS, but it's got a matte finish and it's scuff-resistant. Even the fans aren't bad for a cheap case, they aren't balanced very well but have decent noise:airflow and if I didn't have fans already I would use them. I *really* like this case for a lower-priced compact mATX case, and it's currently $40 shipped with a promo code. Something to think about!
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:50 pm

flip-mode wrote:Usability - best in class, there should be no compromises in the usability department (I'm looking at you, TJ08 drive cage).

That cage is designed to be removed. Do you actually need it?
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:27 pm

XTF wrote:
flip-mode wrote:Usability - best in class, there should be no compromises in the usability department (I'm looking at you, TJ08 drive cage).

That cage is designed to be removed. Do you actually need it?


I did a build with 2 mechanical drives and one SSD in the TJ08. Routing the cables neatly using the drive cage was sort of a PITA. Otherwise, very nice case.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:07 am

XTF wrote:That cage is designed to be removed. Do you actually need it?

Hmm... "need". Depends on how seriously you use the term. Couple of answers:

1) More than two 3.5" drives: Yes, it is absolutely necessary.

2) Two 3.5" drives: you could theoretically mount one in the floppy space and another in the spare 5.25" drive bay.

3) Just one 3.5" drive: you could mount it in the 3.5" floppy space.

4) Irrelevant question, because the drive cage should be designed to work with standard drive cables or else Silverstone should include the specialized cables as standard accessories.

Personally, I think that I might be making more noise about the drive cage faults than most would. While the cage can be worked with by ordering elbow cables, that shouldn't be necessary. Also, I'm wondering if it would be possible to use elbow cables with the drives sandwiched next to each other - would the cable on the top drive obstruct the cable for the bottom drive, or would the top drive cable have to be bent out over the bottom drive cable - if so it would hit the heatsink fan.

Also, putting the heatsink fan in the "pull" position does mitigate the issue, but to have to do so is not ideal either.

The whole problem could be fixed if Silverstone revised the case to be 1" or maybe just 3/4" longer.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:32 am

try to find a matx case with a door to cover the fan filters

oh whats this http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.a ... 6811163186
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 4:07 am

flip-mode wrote:The whole problem could be fixed if Silverstone revised the case to be 1" or maybe just 3/4" longer.

True, but that'd make the case less compact. I'd actually like to see a case that's even shorter, say 30cm depth. Obviously it wouldn't support that many 3.5" HDDs.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 5:33 am

Having researched this quite a bit, my money is on the Arc Mini. No other Mini-atx case I've found has provisions for as much cooling and while I do agree that there are others out there with more drive bays or whatever, it just seems to fit the perfect balance of everything

Unfortunately I got the Fractal design define mini before I did research, and while it is good, it isn't quite as good imo
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 6:34 am

In what way is the Define Mini worse for you?
AFAIK the Define is targeted at less noise than the Arc.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:06 am

My personal best mATX list:
HEC 6K28BB8F
Inwin Dragon Slayer
Fractal Design ArcMini
Cougar Spike
Inwin BK644BN300TBL

1. I've learned from a few aluminum cases that I HATE aluminum cases (at least those that are clearly built from too thin and too soft of aluminum.)
2. I've also found that I don't really care about USB3.0 front ports, nor honestly front audio ports (they are noisy 99.9% of the time.)
3. Lastly, I have found that price definitely matters

At the moment, I feel as though the Inwin Dragon Slayer is pretty hands down the best - specially since it can do dual full length cards.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 10:21 am

There is no perfect mATX case. The three you list are definitely good candidates, but here's my opinion (having built computers into all of them before):

TJ08
  • Horrible 3.5" drive cages, especially for internal drives. They also obstruct the CPU socket in many cases.
  • Foam fan filter is 'clog-once, never clean'
  • Whole thing feels imbalanced, like 90% of the cost went on the aluminium fascia and the rest of it is too cheap/thin/flimsy.
  • Good size
  • Decent cooling
TJ08-E
  • Better drive cages, but only just. The bottom drivecage is annoyingly offcentre, which hurts the external aesthetics, IMO
  • Amazing cooling with removable filters \o/
  • Better build quality than the original TJ08
  • Really tacky-looking top filter with woefully loose magnetic clip
Arc Mini
  • I really like the layout and design. It's quite big for an mATX case, but not wastefully so
  • Like the Define Mini, great cable management
  • Build quality is acceptable but not what I expected for the price, TBH.
  • The fit and aesthetic finish of the front panel is not as good as the pretty marketing pictures want you to believe.
  • It's not quiet - so much mesh means that there's nothing to absorb all your fan noise
  • Stupid fixed-foam filters like the TJ08 that can't be cleaned easily - expect it to look really grubby most of the time if you have any dust in your house
PC-AO4
  • Feels really high-quality throughout, like it ought to cost much more than it does.
  • Efficient use of space and great, flexible drive bay layouts
  • Best removable fan-filters in this list of cases.
  • quite compact (narrow) which is good, but it means only room for an 80mm exhaust above the motherboard port cluster (there's still a 120mm above the CPU)
  • The feet are glued on :(
  • Cable management is outdated
  • The front panel connecting cables are waay too long (clearly the same ones used for their Full-tower cases)

I personally feel that none of these cases is perfect, but I think the TJ08-E is the closest, with the PC-AO4 a close second. For me the build-quality and fixed foam filters really ruin the appeal of the older TJ08 and the Arc Mini.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 11:26 am

XTF wrote:In what way is the Define Mini worse for you?
AFAIK the Define is targeted at less noise than the Arc.


I haven't used the Arc, but speaking about the Define Mini. The front design is terrible. Not in terms of aesthetics but function. The fan filters are a huge pain to use. The filters screw into the case and the fan pops into the filter cage. So, you have to open the front door, then open the two smaller doors that cover the filters (which do nothing but choke airflow and create air turbulence, increasing noise...), then unscrew the plastic filter cage, and then pop the fans out. Just to clean the fan filters! That's ridiculous, a real oversight. The front fans move hardly any air because of this. There's not enough space for air to flow. So, either get no air movement there or increase fan speed.... neither are good options.

The cable routing holes do their job but they're not well placed. The extra fan controller is in a bad position and it's cheap. I hooked it up during my first build in the case, didn't use it again.

The Define Mini is also very, very heavy for an mATX case. It's also just as large.

So... I'd just recommend someone buying a ATX case instead of the Define Mini or just get an mATX that actually benefits from the form factor.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 12:31 pm

Chrispy_ wrote:I personally feel that none of these cases is perfect, but I think the TJ08-E is the closest, with the PC-AO4 a close second. For me the build-quality and fixed foam filters really ruin the appeal of the older TJ08 and the Arc Mini.

I must apologize: I've been slamming the TJ08 when I should have been saying TJ08-E.

Thanks for your post. Your experiences with the TJ08-E seem to mirror mine: the case is perfect save for the drive cage.

At the end of the day, I suppose I'll keep using the TJ08-E and just deal with putting the CPU fan in the "pull" configuration.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:35 pm

TJ08-E and just deal with putting the CPU fan in the "pull" configuration

This is how I roll at home; Even in a pull-configuration with a very low-rpm fan, I run at 4GHz because Sandy is just awesome.

I'm still baffled why case manufacturers are putting so much effort into giant ATX cases when mATX and mITX are clearly the way forward.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 2:43 pm

Well, even many web sites haven't caught on. TR seems to review 10 ATX cases for every 1 mATX case. Hardocp - same. Anandtech spreads love around a bit more, but still there's a gaping hole in coverage between ATX and ITX.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Thu Feb 07, 2013 9:54 pm

Like I said, I think a lot of hardcore gamers moving to a single SSD - or end users with only an SSD, don't care about the drive cage. - 1SSD, 1board, 1video for me- I'm looking forward to getting a TJ08 (or E? what's the diff)
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 4:54 am

AbRASiON wrote:Like I said, I think a lot of hardcore gamers moving to a single SSD - or end users with only an SSD, don't care about the drive cage. - 1SSD, 1board, 1video for me- I'm looking forward to getting a TJ08 (or E? what's the diff)


TJ08 is the nasty old version. It's outdated, has crap fan-filtering and is nowhere near as flexible as the newer TJ08-E, which has a removable drive cage, better filtering and also a giant 180mm cooling fan complete with a high/low fan controller switch on the side of the case.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:17 am

AbRASiON wrote:Like I said, I think a lot of hardcore gamers moving to a single SSD - or end users with only an SSD, don't care about the drive cage. - 1SSD, 1board, 1video for me- I'm looking forward to getting a TJ08 (or E? what's the diff)

I'm happy for you, man. Obviously if people are using their computers differently from you they're doing it wrong :wink: Sorry to spaz out, but this is a common theme of yours, that being that you are often unforgiving of the issues of other people that use computers differently from you. If an SSD is all anyone needs, then Silverstone shouldn't be including a drive cage at all. And what's with the floppy bay? There's something that Silverstone absolutely could get rid of.

The funny thing is that Silverstone has definitely made revisions to this case (TJ08-E). I have one here in the office that is almost two years old and I have another that is just a month old. The difference? Silverstone enlarged the cutouts for the front headphone/mic jacks, probably because having them as small as they originally were required too much assembly precision.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 6:52 am

I'm 'spazzing out' here, I see - I wasn't aware of that.

We're talking about M-ATX systems here, it's pretty obvious I'm mostly right here. - If you're downsizing your system to a smaller, more compact case you're either a regular dummy user or an enthusiast trying to go lite, either way your big disk needs are probably decreasing. Perhaps not everyone wants this but when you look at the fact /it's a smaller, compact case/ why else are people buying it?

I still appreciate your feedback regarding the 180mm fan noise (especially since from what I read it's not easily replacable as a non standard size) but I think fussing over the drive cage on such an otherwise well designed case is kind of pointless. Don't deck such a minimalist case out with full kit.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 7:48 am

AbRASiON wrote:I'm 'spazzing out' here, I see - I wasn't aware of that.
No, no, I said "sorry to spaz out" meaning I was apologizing ahead of time for /my/ spaz out.

We're talking about M-ATX systems here, it's pretty obvious I'm mostly right here.
Of course. :roll: I don't care about who's "right". I just want a case to be designed such that I can put a hard drive in the drive cage without having to flip my heatsink fan around. It doesn't matter if I'm using a single 3.5" drive or several - the drive cage is too close to the heatsink zone. Call it right, call it wrong, I don't care which it is, it's a physical fact.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 7:53 am

If you're looking at only one physical disk, it might be worth considering a different spot inside the case. I've put some drives in some peculiar locations before with the aid of a drill and the 4 screws on the underside of the disk itself. Perhaps not as elegant as the drive cage but a disk will use the rest of the case as a heatsink or with rubber grommets, make little noise at all.

I'd need to own one to see for myself about your predicament but I've got no real hesitation doing light work on a case with a dremel as long as it was well designed to begin with and it's only internal non visible changes. I think I added a motherboard tray rear access on my P183 or SX-635-II (I can't recall) - it was worth dicing up a new case for the convinience.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:03 am

AbRASiON wrote:I'd need to own one to see for myself about your predicament but I've got no real hesitation doing light work on a case with a dremel as long as it was well designed to begin with and it's only internal non visible changes. I think I added a motherboard tray rear access on my P183 or SX-635-II (I can't recall) - it was worth dicing up a new case for the convinience.

Dremmel work won't fix it. The drive cage is pushed all the way up to the back face of the intake fan. The distance between the back face of the intake fan and the front face of a 120mm tower-style CPU fan is shorter than the length of a 3.5" drive with a straight cable plugged in. An angle cable will work except for the fact that it's still so tight that you can't insert/remove the angle cable without pulling the drive cage. And again, this is all said in the context of having a 120mm tower-style CPU heatsink with the fan in the typical "push" configuration. It seems to me that if Silverstone simply figured out a way to turn the drive cage 90 degrees, all problems would be solved.

The best solution is simply putting the CPU fan on the pull side. That fixes all issues and doesn't really matter for CPU cooling unless you're OC'ing to the bleeding edge. If you're using the stock CPU cooler or other types of coolers that don't come right up behind the hard drives then there isn't any issue to speak of.

Besides that and the fan (which I consider too loud in a home environment - but totally acceptable in my louder office environment) it's a very excellent case. Lot's of cable routing possibilities, fan filters, no problems with enough space between optical drives and PSU, the thing is highly modular down to a removable motherboard tray, the construction quality is very decent, and it looks quite svelte.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:09 am

Chrispy_ wrote:There is no perfect mATX case. The three you list are definitely good candidates, but here's my opinion (having built computers into all of them before):

TJ08
  • Horrible 3.5" drive cages, especially for internal drives. They also obstruct the CPU socket in many cases.
  • Foam fan filter is 'clog-once, never clean'
  • Whole thing feels imbalanced, like 90% of the cost went on the aluminium fascia and the rest of it is too cheap/thin/flimsy.
  • Good size
  • Decent cooling
TJ08-E
  • Better drive cages, but only just. The bottom drivecage is annoyingly offcentre, which hurts the external aesthetics, IMO
  • Amazing cooling with removable filters \o/
  • Better build quality than the original TJ08
  • Really tacky-looking top filter with woefully loose magnetic clip
Arc Mini
  • I really like the layout and design. It's quite big for an mATX case, but not wastefully so
  • Like the Define Mini, great cable management
  • Build quality is acceptable but not what I expected for the price, TBH.
  • The fit and aesthetic finish of the front panel is not as good as the pretty marketing pictures want you to believe.
  • It's not quiet - so much mesh means that there's nothing to absorb all your fan noise
  • Stupid fixed-foam filters like the TJ08 that can't be cleaned easily - expect it to look really grubby most of the time if you have any dust in your house
PC-AO4
  • Feels really high-quality throughout, like it ought to cost much more than it does.
  • Efficient use of space and great, flexible drive bay layouts
  • Best removable fan-filters in this list of cases.
  • quite compact (narrow) which is good, but it means only room for an 80mm exhaust above the motherboard port cluster (there's still a 120mm above the CPU)
  • The feet are glued on :(
  • Cable management is outdated
  • The front panel connecting cables are waay too long (clearly the same ones used for their Full-tower cases)

I personally feel that none of these cases is perfect, but I think the TJ08-E is the closest, with the PC-AO4 a close second. For me the build-quality and fixed foam filters really ruin the appeal of the older TJ08 and the Arc Mini.


This is a great post. After reading it I'm tempted to give the PC-A04 a try. If cable management is it's greatest fault, I should be able to deal with that.
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:18 am

My issue with the TJ08-E drive cage is that it's pretty INSECURE if you do choose to use it. I don't know what the aim of the silly plastic basket on the side of the cage is, but it gets in the way, feels cheap and flimsy, and seems to serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever:

Image

The damn thing supports the whole drive cage and is only held on by two short-thread screws into plastic, only at the bottom of the cage (so the top is unsupported), and only on one side!
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Re: Best mATX case as of February 2013

Postposted on Fri Feb 08, 2013 8:59 am

flip-mode wrote:
Chrispy_ wrote:<Snip>
This is a great post. After reading it I'm tempted to give the PC-A04 a try. If cable management is it's greatest fault, I should be able to deal with that.


I used a USB2 version, but on my recommendation a friend bought one and needed to get herself one of these too
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