I’ve had a long love-hate relationship with Thermaltake products. Often, it’s the only (or at least the first) manufacturer to implement nifty gadgets that really make sense and set its cases apart from generic models. Sometimes Thermaltake comes up with outlandish designs that seem fit only for the most EXTREM3 computer geeks, and while that’s usually not my thing, I can appreciate the fact that there will probably always be a market for garish designs.
However, I rarely find a Thermaltake case that doesn’t have some nagging problem, whether it’s the inability of a tool-less expansion lock mechanism to work with all my PCI cards or an unwanted door or aesthetic piece that I can’t get rid of easily. It feels like the majority of Thermaltake cases I’ve used are only a step or two away from being excellent products, and therein lies the frustration.
Today we turn our attention to Thermaltake’s new Spedo Advance Package, which sports surprisingly subdued styling and an array of innovative features that should position the case well against other full tower enclosures. Read on to see what makes the Spedo unique and whether any fatal flaws ultimately sink its appeal.
Funny name, serious case
Images of sports cars adorn the ridiculously large box containing the nicely-packaged Spedo, so I think the name has something to do with speed. Thermaltake cases have consistently impressed me with their packaging. They’re always prepared for whatever delivery services may throw at them, surrounded by large foam blocks and a dust cover (in this instance even uniquely marked with a Spedo logo). All loose extras are neatly and individually wrapped, boxed up, and strapped down tightly inside the case with twist-ties. That’s all well and good, but I think you’ll agree the Spedo is more interesting once it’s unwrapped.
Considering Speedos generally have everything to do with being compact and streamlined, the sheer size of this case deepens my doubt that the name is connected in any way with the popular swimwear. The Spedo measures 24 inches tall, 9.1 inches wide, and 21.1 inches deep, which puts it firmly in full tower territory. It’s no lightweight, either, with a steel body that tips the scales at just under 30lbs.
Here I’m showing you the right side of the case first, since I want to save the more impressive left side for later. Note the two large grills, one of which is positioned directly under the CPU area on the back side of the motherboard. More on those later.
In a rather uncharacteristic fashion for Thermaltake, the Spedo’s face is devoid of any doors, flaps, or even markings, instead opting for simple dark gray and silver accents on either side of a stack of black grill covers for the hard drive and 5.25″ bays. While it’s hard to tell from this picture, the top four and bottom three 5.25″ bays are open for optical drives; a 120mm fan and dual hard drive cages sit behind the five grills in between.
The tops of cases often get neglected by the design department, but the Spedo appears to have reversed this trend, with more elaborate vents made of both plastic and steel. This all makes the automotive resemblance a little more obvious. The design decision to carry the mesh look from the front right over to the top adds to the sleek overall feel, as well.
As far as ports go, you get two USB, headphone and microphone jacks, and eSATA (but no Firewire). Each jack has ample room around it for larger plugs, and the chrome finish on the power and reset buttons adds just enough bling.
Caution and minimalism are thrown to the wind (ha!) on the left side of the case, which houses another steel grill up front, in addition to a clear plastic window with a 230mm, 13-blade fan. Air-movers like this 0.75-foot monstrosity are something I’ve always wanted to see in a case, as theory has it that larger fans should be able to move more air while generating less noise.
Once we get around to the back, we see even more evidence of a focus on extra airflow. Like the Gigabyte 3D Mars we just looked at, the Spedo has dual 120mm fans for extra exhaust and soft, rubber-lined cutouts for easy routing of water-cooling plumbing. Yet another similarity the cases share is rotating feet, which I’ve positioned for extra stability in the picture above.
Designed for cooling
Two black thumbscrews (it’s always nice when the screws are painted to match the rest of the case) secure the left side panel, but you also have to lift a latch behind the window to detach the panel from the rest of the case.
The large, window-mounted fan is easier to see from the inside, as is its novel wiring job.
Instead of the usual practice of letting the fan’s wiring just dangle loosely inside the case, the Spedo’s side fan wiring leads to a spring-loaded contact in the bottom trim piece of the panel. The case side of this contact point has wiring that runs to a normal Molex cable, so upon latching the panel in place, the fan is automatically connected to wiring that’s easy to access. Nifty.
You would probably expect the Spedo to have a huge, open interior, but you’d be wrong. Instead, Thermaltake uses several large plastic partitions to cut up separate areas inside the case. These so-called Advanced Thermal Chambers wall off the power supply at the bottom of the case, the graphics card in the middle, and the CPU area up top.
The front of the case looks pretty cramped with the partitions installed, but there’s still space for four 5.25″ drives up top (or three 5.25″ and one 3.5″ with an included adapter) and three more 5.25″ drives at the bottom. Thermaltake also includes an adjustable 120mm fan mount right behind the hard drive cages. A quick-release lock can hold the fan at many different angles and at any height along a rail that stretches across the case’s middle seven drive bays.
Once I removed the dividers, I realized just how much thought Thermaltake put into their design. The uppermost one is lined with extremely flexible plastic fringes that will press up against motherboard components but not damage them. The next one is just a semi-translucent plate with a healthy amount of venting right over the graphics card. Next down is another partitioning piece, which this time is fitted to make a tight seal between the power supply area at the bottom and the rest of the case. This one also has some height to it, and as if to make use of every square inch of the case, this piece even has a swing-out drawer. A final plate simply hides the PSU and its cabling, finishing the ensemble with a pretty tight seal.
With the partitions completely removed, the Spedo’s interior looks cavernous. Of note on the bottom is the venting under the PSU, separated into two areas with a movable filter that should keep the air entering your power supply clean. As with most nicer cases we’ve looked at lately, holes have been punched to allow a PSU to be mounted whichever way makes the most sense. Up top, a second 230mm fan is mounted towards the rear of the case along the ceiling. It’s just like the one on the side panel.
The hard drive cages are easy to remove from the case thanks to wide plastic levers and well-machined steel tracks. It’s always nice to be able to put a computer together with minimal reaching for the screwdriver, but you never want to risk your hard drive’s safety, either. Thermaltake tackled the problem by designing drive sleds with four plastic rockers that each fit where normal HDD mounting screws go.
When the sled is inserted into one of the cages, the rockers are pressed in tight and the drive is secured by the prominent gray latch. I took the cages out to showcase their design, but you can remove individual sleds just as easily without pulling out the entire cage.
Even more goodies
This closeup of the drive area without the cages in place provides for a good basis to explain some of the subtler elements of the Spedo.
Tidy cable routing is encouraged by the cutouts in the motherboard tray and the neatly-bundled wires from the port cluster. More plastic latches are utilized for the seven optical drives, and while they work OK, I didn’t get quite the same sense of security that the hard drive cages provided. A single, red-LED-equipped 140mm fan provides active intake for the hard drives. Additional passive venting on the right side and on the floor panel is now plainly visible, too.
Normally we don’t have to take too much time to explore a case’s right flank with the side panel off, but the Spedo has some pretty ingenious cable management, which Thermaltake dubs CRM, or Cable Routing Management.
In preparation for installing the test system, I decided to put the one spare 120mm fan that’s included with the case behind the CPU area instead of on the movable mount in the middle of the chassis. I felt this location would be more beneficial than simply adding more airflow in the core of the chassis. With the last fan in place, it was time to connect all the Molex plugs and loosely tie the wiring together.
Each of the three plastic covers clips in on three-quarter-inch high legs that sit at each corner. This leaves plenty of room for a multitude of cables to fit under the sides of each cover, and the posts then act as guides to better route cabling. You can use the system as I did to simply hide a relatively quick and dirty routing job, or you can use it in conjunction with Velcro, zip-ties, or whatever else you prefer to create something a little more immaculate.
While we’re talking wiring, I should note that Thermaltake includes an extension for auxiliary 12V power cables. This is a great addition because the upside-down chassis puts the motherboard’s power plugs further away from the PSU than traditional designs.
After preparing cabling, I put the assembled motherboard into the case on the provided standoffs. With it in place, its easy to see just how large the empty area between the top of the case and the motherboard is. If one wanted a very large, internally-mounted radiator, there would certainly be space for it here, although you’d have to get creative to incorporate or replace the 230mm fan.
Although there isn’t nearly as much space under the motherboard as above it, there was plenty of room for our Enermax power supply, or indeed any unit up to twice its size. This picture also gives you a pretty good idea of how the tool-less expansion clips workthey unlatch from the rear and pivot out, with their shape acting like a spring to hold cards tightly in place. In the past, I’ve had problems getting Thermaltake’s previous plastic expansion card clips working with SoundBlaster cards and some graphics cards. Without an alternative, I was forced to just let the cards dangle loosely. However, you don’t have to rely on just the clips in the Spedo, since the case also comes with normal back plate mounting screws. For me, the ability to fall back on screws is the best part of the tool-free clips.
Before we move on, note in the picture above that there’s plenty of room to the right side of the motherboard. The Spedo’s motherboard area isn’t quite wide enough to accommodate Extended ATX boards, but there’s enough room for graphics cards up to 13 inches in length.
After installing the motherboard and power supply, my attention turned to the optical drive. Like other cases we’ve looked at lately, the Spedo’s whole front panel simply snaps off. From here it’s easy to put an optical drive in any of the available seven drive bays; once aligned, the respective plastic clip holds the drive tight with a surprisingly simple lock.
If you’re not happy with hard drives being installed sideways, a quick transformation lets you slide a drive cage in from the front.
This rearrangement is as easy to perform as it is useless, in my opinion. It basically robs you of three 5.25″ bays without providing any more useful space; it’s not like you can easily put anything else in the area where the hard drive cage usually sits. I supposed a crafty water-cooling case modder might appreciate the space for a single 120mm radiator or pump assembly, but as mentioned earlier, there’s a lot more space for that above the motherboard.
Nonetheless, the dual-position hard drive cage is a cool exercise in case modularity, and I’m sure some will appreciate the option to have easy access to the hard drive sleds from the front of the case. Note that you’ll need to remove the 5.25″ bay pop-outs to gain access to the drive sleds from the front. This looks a little funny, since the larger bays aren’t designed to match the dimensions of the smaller drive sleds.
Overall, it was easy to assemble our test system in the Spedo thanks to its spacious interior. With a little more effort, you could even clean up the cabling quite a bit given the numerous routing options available. We chose to leave our hard drive cages in the default location for what we felt would be the best configuration for testing.
Testing the beast
A case this accommodating wouldn’t be done any justice by using a micro ATX system, so this is the perfect opportunity to introduce our new quad-core test system. We used an AMD 790FX-powered Asus M3A32 MVP Deluxe motherboard paired with a 2.0GHz Phenom X4 9350e. To cool this Socket AM2 processor, we used a popular tower heatsink from Kingwinthe Revolution RVT 9225 HDT with a 92mm fan rated at 28dBa at 2800RPM. An XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 512 filled in on the graphics front, and we threw in threw in two 1GB sticks of Corsair CM2X1024 DDR2 memory for good measure.
In working with the new motherboard’s BIOS, I found that the “Q1” smart fan speed control matched up nicely with this heatsink if I used the “Optimal” fan speed setting. With this configuration, the processor cooler generated less noise than any of the case fans at idle. Under load, it spun up just enough to be as loud as the quietest case fan. This time around, we’re testing system fans running at a full 12 volts, since the majority of users don’t want to have to mess with extra fan speed controllers or voltage hacks. Having fans running at their default speed should make it easier to compare case noise levels, as well.
We chose to leave the power supply area blocked off in all the tests. The bottom of the case has plenty of airflow to cool the power supply, and the heat produced should be exhausted from the case by the PSU’s own fan.
In one set of tests, we’re leaving the two top divider plates out, so the large side fan will benefit both the CPU and GPU. To really put the Advance Package Spedo through its paces, I also tested the case with all its dividers installed. My expectation was that the CPU might stay cooler with the partitions in, but the graphics card should run hotter since it won’t benefit from the generous airflow that should bathe the rest of the system.
The Spedo already has more airflow from the back, front, and top fans than a lot of cases, so I also disconnected the side 230mm fan completely for one test. This should help with noise levels, as I could tell the side fan was producing the bulk of the noise made by the system.
Finally, I’ve also put the Phenom system into Gigabyte’s 3D Mars enclosure to illustrate how the Spedo performs against some competition. We were impressed by the Mars when we reviewed it a few months ago, so it’s a good reference point for the Spedo.
At idle and with the Spedo’s dividers in place, disconnecting the side fan raises component temperatures slightly. That’s not the case with the dividers removed, where we see most component temperatures unaffected by the presence of the side fan. Instead, the temperature of the air around the CPU rises slightly, as hotter air around the graphics card is mixed with the rest of the system.
If you go back and take a look at the 3D Mars’ performance compared to a couple of other cases, you can see that it did very well even with its twin rear 120mm fans turned way down to five volts. With those fans now running at full speed, alongside another 120mm fan in the front and two 80mm fans on the side, the Mars still can’t keep our test system’s CPU as cool as the Spedo. The graphics card, on the other hand, is about the same temperature on both cases.
Nothing really surprising happens when we fire up the rthdribl HDR lighting demo for GPU torture test. The partitions allow the side fan to lower motherboard and GPU core temperatures by a degree, but leaving them out benefits temperatures across the board, especially with the side fan off. The Gigabyte case runs the processor much warmer than the Spedo, but other system temperatures are relatively close, depending on the Spedo’s configuration.
After adding a heavy CPU load across all four cores courtesy of Prime95, the value of the Spedo’s cooling partitions becomes rather questionable. Turning on the side fan actually increases CPU temperatures without actually making the graphics card run any cooler. In fact, the lowest temperatures come with all the dividers removed and the side fan turned off. Compared to the 3D Mars, this configuration is quite a bit better, especially for the processor.
The quietest way to run the Spedo at stock voltage is to leave the dividers installed and the side fan turned off. Again, though, the sweet spot seems to be leaving the side fan disconnected but taking the top two partitions out, as this is the second quietest configuration and the coolest under load.
The 3D Mars’ noise levels put things into perspective. As you can see, the Spedo isn’t really a quiet case. That isn’t to say it couldn’t be made quiet with a few simple modifications. All the fans connect via standard 4-pin Molex plugs, so it wouldn’t be hard to feed them 7V or 5V instead of a full 12V. With the sheer number of fans in the Spedo, I’m confident you could achieve any point on the scale from quiet and hot to loud and cold.
I was expecting a number of novel features considering this is Thermaltake’s latest flagship case, but there’s more to the Spedo than the usual tool-less gadgetry. Under its decidedly simple exterior, I found real innovation, especially in the basic construction of pieces that have been mostly the same for ages. The fan mount behind the CPU area is the best example of this, but cable routing and concealing is pulled off in such a manner that it doesn’t take any extra work to appreciate. If anything, the simple cable management system just makes the whole process of building a system more enjoyable and the end result tidier.
With enough fans to fill a stadium, the Spedo is a great enclosure to show off an enthusiast build. The adjustable internal fan mount is certainly a nod to tweakers who commonly find that just a single part of their build needs the extra attention of dedicated 120mm fan. However, at their default speeds, the fans create more noise than I prefer. It’s probably better to have the extra airflow available for those who want it, since fan speeds can easily be toned down through simple modifications or auxiliary fan speed controllers.
The Spedo Advance Package sells for around $200, and compared to other cases in that range, like the Coolermaster Cosmos, I think Spedo is better suited to handle overclockers who want to squeeze every last drop of performance out their gear. The Cosmos will probably give you a quieter system without as much work, but if noise levels are important to you, the Spedo can easily be quieter with a little fan controller love. There’s no fix for the case’s lack of a front door, though, but that tends to be a matter of personal preference.
Although the Spedo’s use of massive fans, partitioned cooling zones, and clever cable management will probably affect future case designs, the formula clearly hasn’t been perfected yet. As it stands, the Spedo performs better overall with most of its partitions removed and its gargantuan side fan disabled. That said, the Spedo still has excellent build quality, a good internal layout, smart drive caddies, and more fans than most folks will ever need. This is one of the best full tower cases around, and it deservedly walks away with a TR Recommended award.