Gigabyte used to be known only for its motherboards, and without a doubt that remains the core of its business. We’ve consistently been impressed with the range of mobo models the company offers and the careful execution that has delivered quality products with excellent performance. The firm’s high-end boards combine phenomenal overclocking potential with a rich array of expansion capabilities. A few extras get dropped further down the line, but you’ll still find plenty of reliable, stable, and overclocking-friendly offerings at affordable prices.
What does this have to do with cases, though? Well, not much, except that a few years ago, Gigabyte started to branch out from its core business into other areas, including cases. The first enclosure we saw from Gigabyte was the 3D Aurora, which offered a novel design philosophy and aesthetics, but failed to set itself apart from the rest of the market. Undeterred, Gigabyte has made several cases since then, including the Aurora-ish 3D Mars that we’re reviewing today. The 3D Mars might even be considered the successor to the 3D Aurora, but I think that more of the quality we’ve come to expect from Gigabyte is present in this latest all-aluminum offering. Let’s have a look at why.
This Mars ain’t red
Somewhat like the Rosewill Conqueror we just reviewed, the 3D Mars (which seems to be referred to as the GZ-FA2CA-AJS by North American vendors) has an angular, futuristic appearance that favors straight lines and a simple separation of areas to create a stately look. When I first took this case out of the box and set it up under the lights, it just plain looked good.
There’s no door to cover your drives, but that’s definitely been counted on as part of the Mars’ utilitarian look. Measuring 8.07″ wide, 20.55″ tall, and 22.24″ deep (205 x 522 x 565 mm), there’s no mistaking that this is a large tower case. These ample proportions allow the Mars to offer five 5.25″ bays, one external 3.5″ bay, and five internal hard drive bays, which should be more than enough for even drive-happy enthusiasts. And yet at only 17.6 lbs (8 kg), the Mars is surprisingly light for its size and expansion capacity.
Perhaps in an effort not to have this nice-looking case left under a desk for no one to appreciate, Gigabyte locates the ports and power buttons on the front panel of the case, directly under the external 3.5″ bay.
Now, I’m not a professional designer, but even I can appreciate the careful alignment of the labels above each button, light, and jack. Impressively, each element is placed evenly, a small detail some products tend to get wrong. It doesn’t hurt that the brushed finish of the aluminum is stunning on its own and is even employed on the power button itself.
Just to drive home the point that the front of the case is really the showpiece of the whole unit, a close-up of the vent area around the very bottom is in order. The emblem’s choice of fonts seems fitting for the look of the rest of the case, and the angled vents are subtle enough to instill a real sense of the case’s style without appearing gaudy.
The right side of the case lacks the blank side panel commonly supplied with tower enclosures. Instead, the Mars has a vent with what looks like two fans hiding behind a grill. This intake provides additional cooling for the case’s hard drive bays, breaking up an otherwise-uniform expanse of brushed aluminum.
The left side isn’t all that different, save for the rectangle of interest being significantly larger. The “grill with a view” incorporates a handle for removing the entire side panel right into the design, maintaining a look consistent with the rest of the case. I’m not as partial to the raised ridge along the edge of the cutout, but it’s necessary for the manner in which Gigabyte has chosen to make this mesh grill interchangeable with a clear plastic window.
While it might first appear the feet of the 3D Mars are horribly inconsistent in the last two pictures, the truth is that each one can be rotated either to stick out for extra stability or to swivel in for a cleaner look. I’ve only seen this on a few other cases before, so having the choice here seems like a nice little luxury.
Before diving inside, we should take a quick look at the back of the case. Here, it becomes clear that the 3D Mars is a significantly taller case than your average mid-tower. The designers have incorporated two 120 mm fans for exhaust, and that takes a lot more space than your average mid-tower provides. In the bottom right-hand corner of the case are two rubber-clad cutouts designed to hold water tubing for an externally-mounted radiator. Unfinished steel cutouts could cut into the soft, flexible tubing used in most water cooling setups, so by lining the holes with softer material, the coolant tubes can be held in place securely without risk of damage to them.
The left side panel of the 3D Mars unlatches and comes off with a strong pull, and it feels solid even when removed.
A crossbar that supports the power supply and gives extra rigidity to the chassis might at first seem like an annoyance, but the crossbar is removable, and it doesn’t really get in the way given the sheer height of the enclosure. Each of the external drive bays has a sliding plastic lock that holds drives securely without the need for tools. The two fans that were somewhat visible from the right side of the exterior are now easier to see, but they stand out even more when we remove the side panel from the right side of the case.
The fans are 80 mm Everflows with half the depth of a usual case fan, but they’re not the only prominent feature here. Two large foam pads cling to the motherboard tray toward the bottom, providing a measure of vibration dampening between the case wall and interior. There are also three small cutouts near the top of the motherboard tray that allow cables to be routed behind the motherboard. However, these cutouts are too small to accommodate even SATA power and data cables, so their utility is limited.
The Mars’ hard drive cage sits on custom-fitted rails that anchor the cage to the case. These rails line up with pins that allow the user to mount the cage with the hard drive connectors facing out or toward the motherboard tray, providing a unique layer of flexibility.
The top plate has two more pins that plug into two of the four soft washers attached to the cage, locking it in either position with thumb screws. The cage’s simple design works well enough, but I found that that the cage can be difficult to slide into place. I’d also like to see Gigabyte’s use of sound-dampening materials on the top of the cage extended to the bottom.
Unlike most cases I’ve seen, where the wiring comes from various places and is bundled together with a rubber band somewhere toward the front of the case, Gigabyte takes the time to route wires for the Mars’ larger fans along grooves that keep them out of the way of the rest of the build.
The case’s two 80 mm hard-drive fans have their own 3-pin power connectors, but all three 120 mm fans are wired in parallel to one 3-pin connector. This arrangement reduces cable clutter not only by keeping the fan wiring cleaner, but also by simply requiring fewer fan connectors in total. Note that Gigabyte provides additional connectors close to each fan, so more customized wiring is still easily accessible for the ambitious enthusiast.
You don’t have to take off the front bezel when installing 5.25″ drives in the Mars, but it makes things much easier since there are pop-outs in both the removable bezel and the front face of the chassis. The front 120 mm fan can only be accessed by removing the bezel, as well, even if you just want to change the filter. Removing the bezel is as simple as releasing the six tabs that hold it in place.
To give the blue LEDs in the case’s front fan a more dramatic effect on the case’s appearance, Gigabyte puts highly-reflective material on the inside of the front cover between the vents.
The front fan is the same as the ones in the rear, and it’s positioned snugly in a compartment behind the front bezel. My initial feeling is that it’s not a good idea to put a grill right behind the fan, since it will block some airflow, but at least the grill protects the fingers of those working inside the case. Few enthusiasts are likely to swap hard drives while their systems are running, but Serial ATA does allow for hot-swapping.
Our test system’s motherboard and power supply slipped into the 3D Mars without any difficulties. The tool-free locks on the 5.25″ bays didn’t get along as well as we’d hoped with our DVD burner, but once we slid the drive in just the right amount, it wasn’t too difficult to lock into place. Next up was the hard drive, which was a cinch to anchor to the separate cage with either thumbscrews or regular case screws. With only the graphics card left to install, we encountered another novel element to the Mars’ design.
Unlike some individual sliding or hinged locks we’ve used, this single clip did a good job of holding our video card solidly in place without getting in the way of other components or irregularly-shaped expansion cards. With the graphics card installed, our build was complete.
Normally one picture of our assembled system would be sufficient, but the Mars comes with both a mesh grill and a clear plastic cover for its side window. I like the look of the metal grill, but I’m not a fan of having additional intakes that don’t direct air over specific components.
Switching to the plastic cover is straightforward, but it takes some time to remove and replace the ten screws that hold the cover in place.
The acrylic window provides an unobstructed view of the system’s internals, and it should help to keep dust out, too. However, there’s no filter on the Mars’ 80 mm side intake fans, so particulates will inevitably make their way into the case.
To test the 3D Mars, I kept its configuration similar to the previous two cases we’ve reviewed, opting for the mesh side panel rather than the acrylic window. With the three 120 mm fans fed 5V power, they still moved enough air to keep our components stable under full load. Unfortunately, going to 5V power wasn’t necessary only to match the other cases in noise levels, but also to avoid a high-pitched whine emitted by the fans at a full 12V. It’s unusual for 120 mm fans to make much noise at all, but I triple-checked and the whine was definitely emanating from the rear pair of fans at full voltage. These fans were practically silent on five volts, though, so I left them there for testing. The noise generated by the side 80 mm fans wasn’t noticeable even at 12V, so I powered them directly from a motherboard fan header.
With an Antec Tri-Cool fan set to low speed on the CPU, we turned down the fan on our VF700-Cu GPU cooler until it wasn’t noticeable anymore. Our test system was configured with a basic nForce-based Micro ATX board, an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ processor, and an Nvidia GeForce 6600 GT graphics card. We fired up the rthdribl HDF lighting demo for GPU load testing and used Prime95 to stress the CPU. Component temperatures were measured using SpeedFan.
For our first set of measurements, we left the system idling until temperatures stabilized.
The Mars turns in results nearly identical to the Rosewill Conqueror’s at idle, despite the fact that the Rosewill is running its rear fan at 12V. That’s a testament to how well the Mars’ dual 120 mm exhaust fans move air, even at a lower voltage.
Component temperatures increase for all our cases under a heavy GPU load, but the 3D Mars does the best job of keeping the graphics core cool. Differences in airflow patterns between the cases likely explain why the Gigabyte enclosure doesn’t fare quite as well when we look at the ambient temperature around the graphics card, though.
It took a very long time for temperatures to stabilize with the 3D Mars under full load, and the system’s CPU core eventually settled a few degrees higher than in the other enclosures. That’s not terribly surprising given our use of the Mars’ mesh side panel, which allows warmer air to swirl within the case rather than being directed toward the rear exhaust fans. The Mars’ hard drive temperatures are higher than those of the Osiris here, but they’re at least competitive with the Conqueror’sand the Gigabyte case still has the lowest GPU core temperature of the lot.
As tested, the 3D Mars was every bit as quiet as Hiper’s Osiris, which is to say I could barely tell it was on at all. The whine I mentioned with the 120 mm fans running at 12V isn’t loud enough that folks should avoid the case because of it (especially since you can easily drop the fan voltage with an adapter), but we’ve let Gigabyte know about the issue with the hope that they can eliminate it. In my testing, I found that the rear 120 mm fans are best set between 5 and 10V, which provides a little more headroom for additional airflow.
When all is said and done, my overall impression of the 3D Mars is one of quality and flexibility. This case offers options for those looking to build an extremely quiet computer, a water-cooled beast, or an extreme PC with loads of airflow. Normally, when one product tries to cover so many bases, it ends up faring pretty poorly with each, but Gigabyte has been careful to incorporate multiple configuration possibilities within a solid overall chassis layout.
At around $140 online, you’d be hard pressed to find an aluminum enclosure that matches the 3D Mars’ finish and ability to accommodate larger builds. The Mars is certainly one of only a select few cases capable of easily housing an internal 2 x 120 mm radiatora piece of equipment many modders are willing to bust out a Dremel to install. Even for users who aren’t interested in water-cooling, though, the Mars offers plenty of fans of its own, and it should be capable of housing your next several builds without any hassle, including longer PSUs, extra-large CPU coolers, and even monstrous video cards like the Radeon HD 4870 X2.
My only serious criticism of the Mars is that I’d like to see the tool-free clips and latches used to retain 5.25″ drives and expansion cards migrate to the hard drive cage, where they would replace common screws. The drive cage could use some additional vibration-isolation materials, too. But the Mars makes up for these minor shortcomings with slick little details, like the careful routing and consolidation of internal fan cables, your choice of window covers, and an attractive design. Overall, I think the 3D Mars is one of the best cases in its class.