After discussing cases extensively with other members in threads like this one, I've finally picked out my Sandy Bridge case, and picked up a PSU for it!
My Build Log details my complete parts list and main objectives. This thread is to focus on the enclosure itself as well as the PSU.
Any case I get for my workstation will hold an overclocked Intel 2500k and a pair of HD6950 2GB graphics cards, and must be able to do so quietly and discretely- no gaudy plastic molding and no LED-fans. Further, I'm looking to reduce size if possible as I'm coming from an Antec P180, and I'd like a windowed case, but it isn't necessary. Cable routing must be workable, and there must be enough available fan spots with filtering to maintain positive airflow along with a spot for a Corsair H60 to be used as an intake.
Upon stumbling on Silverstone's Fortress FT-02, I thought I had found the perfect case; indeed, I still think it's the perfect case, if you're willing to part with the $280 it takes to get it to your door. While I didn't get the FT-02, I did take note of the main thing it does right: positive airflow. With three massive 180mm fans, the case is pressurized and GPUs are force-fed cool air, keeping them cool and their blowers spinning slowly in the process. While I also like Silverstone's novel 90-degree motherboard rotation and handsome looks, it's the positive airflow setup that I really admire.
Knowing that I'd need a case that provided excellent positive airflow, that is with significantly more intake than exhaust, I began to look around. I found many cases that included the fan positions I was looking for but very few that came with un-lit fans, and even fewer that came with proper filters, all of which would have added to the cost of the case. Some of the cheaper options in the $50 range looked decent but would have required the purchase of 200mm fans as well as a bit of Dremel work for routing and so on, and installation of absorbant material. Case modifications would have exceeded the cost of the case!
With my mind and eyes still open, I've participated in discussions on this forum and others while reading reviews as possible, and found myself liking many of Corsair's offerings- but they were still too expensive and would require more fans, pushing the total closer to my ideal Fortress 2. I needed something less expensive, not made of aluminum and not loaded with fancy drive cages and external hard drive docks that push the price up- I needed a great basic case.
And to my rescue, UltimateImperative mentions a company called Fractal Design, who makes a case called the Define R3. The Define R3 is essentially a copy of Antec's P18x series, with a tilt towards increased functionality and ergonomics while cutting costs where possible. While this case doesn't have a window, it has literally everything else I could ask for, including a very reasonable $110 pricetag.
The Fractal Design Define R3:
In comparison to the P18x series, the Define R3 drops the bottom separator panel and flips the PSU upside-down to intake from below, effectively isolating it from internal airflow. This results in the lower front intake fan feeding the entire case, particularly the GPUs, in addition to the lower four hard drives. The middle front intake is in about the same place, but the Define R3 drops from four 5.25" bays to two- which is all that I'll need, making use of the included 3.5" to 5.25" adapter for a USB3 bay.
The top of the Define R3 adds a second fan position, and ups the size to 140mm, which means great exhaust potential if needed with lower acoustics, and keeps the rear 120mm fan position in place, which is where my Corsair H60 will be placed as an intake. On the left side panel, at a point that sits over the location that two GPUs will occupy on the board, is another 140mm intake. This fan is very important, as it will be cooling the front of the cards as well as pushing air in between them. Last, there is a bottom mounted 140mm intake that blows straight up toward the intake of the lowest GPU, providing cool directed flow for what is usually the warmest card.
While Antec uses layered panels in their P18x series to dampen noise, Fractal Design sticks to less expensive steel panels, and sheaths the interior of the enclosure with noise dampening material. In a highly appreciated stroke of genius, they have included steel cover panels with fitted noise dampening material for both top fan exhaust ports and the left panel intake port, which ship without fans, allowing for easy cooling and acoustic balance adjustment in the future. I appreciate this detail because I tend to re-purpose computer hardware over time.
In my Build Log, I list a number of parts purchased from Newegg and EndPCNoise to add to the Define R3, reposted here for your convenience:
Fractal Design Define R3 Black ATX Mid-tower
4x NZXT 140mm case fans
Silverstone 140mm fan filter for side fan
Nexus 120mm Silicon Fan Gasket (between H60 fan and case)
3x Nexus Closed Chassis Fan Mounts (for side intake fan and two top exhaust fans)
Nexus 120mm Fan Filter (for H60 on rear intake)
2x Zalman Fan Resistors (staying stocked up, I have two extra already, will use where needed)
The Define R3 comes with two 120mm fans, one of which is in the first front intake postition, and the other in the rear exhaust, which I will move to the second front intake position. The four NZXT 140mm fans will then fill the positions in the bottom intake between the drive cage tower and the PSU, the left side panel intake over the GPUs, and the two top exhaust positions, with the Corsair H60 on the rear 120mm position configured as an intake.
While the PSU intake, bottom 140mm intake, and two front 120mm intakes all have built in filters, I needed to get filters for the side 140mm intake and rear 120mm intake used by the H60. Silverstone's 140mm magnetic mesh filter is the only game in town for 140mm filters, and is sleek and classy, making up for it's cost somewhat. Nexus' 120mm fan filter is much more function over form, but it will be on the back of the case. Both filters are easy to remove and clean.
The Nexus Closed Chassis fan mounts appear to be ideal solutions for the side 140mm intake and top 140mm exhaust fans and match the closed chassis design of the NZXT fans. They should isolate the fans from the case, keeping vibrations to a minumum.
Last, I'll have four Zalman fan resistors on hand to help balance airflow and noise. These may be used on the exhaust fans, as well as the side intake fan; they're for fine tuning the cooling setup after everything else has been accomplished.
I didn't forget!
I have a Seasonic X650 Gold on the way from a Hardforum member to power this system. While I had considered Corsair's HX650 primarily and had looked into other units from Seasonic as well, I couldn't pass up the $110 shipped asking price for this amazing unit as well as the opportunity to support another enthusiast in her own endeavors. This Seasonic has the 4x 6+2pin PCIe connectors I need for Crossfire and future Crossfire/SLi implementations along with excellent efficiency. And while I would have gone with a higher wattage unit if I'd kept my GTX570 SC with the intention to add another, more than one review has shown that HD6950 2GB Crossfire uses around 100 watts less under load than GTX570 SLi; Seasonic's X650 Gold has all the power I'll need!