There are several ways to tell a budget shirt from an expensive one. You have the fit and style, of course, and the quality of fabric used also plays a significant role. Aesthetics and materials count for a lot with desktop enclosures, too, but there are other less obvious factors that really separate luxury cases from cheap ones. Enthusiasts expect premium enclosures to be easy to work with through multiple upgrades, to offer ample airflow for power-hungry components, and to keep noise levels low enough to enable nearly silent builds.
Corsair has traditionally done a good job of catering to enthusiasts, and the company’s first entry into the enclosure market dives right into the deep end as one of the largest and most expensive cases I’ve ever used. The case’s designers have obviously done their homework, because in addition to using a blend of aluminum and powder-coated steel, they’ve outfitted the Obsidian 800D with extensive cable routing, four hot-swap hard drive bays, a wealth of cooling features, and a strikingly well-done paint job. With all of these features, the Obsidian definitely looks the part of an enclosure that could last through several generations worth of upgrades. Time to find out if that’s really the, er, case.
Obsidian is a good name for the 800D
I’ve been excited to take a closer look at the 800D ever since spy shots started showing up around May of this year. As an enclosure enthusiast, I was anxious to see what Corsair would do with the common tower case. That’s not to say there’s been a shortage of innovation lately; indeed, a plethora of new ideas have come to market, including snail-shaped enclosures, sideways-facing external drives, and cases with the motherboard turned 90 degrees. I have a feeling that a lot of those designs will soon be forgotten, however.
Rather than thinking way outside the box, the new features Corsair has brought to the table with the 800D are much more subtle and sensible. And with a classic, monolithic exterior, the Obsidian stands a better chance of staying aesthetically appealing over the long haul. Fans of Lian Li’s industrial styling should appreciate the 800D’s boxy look, as well.
At 24″ high, the 800D stands an inch taller than the already towering Lian Li X500. You won’t find any vents or optical drive bay doors on the expanse of black, brushed aluminum that is the front bezel, but there are five external 5.25″ bays, a stealthily-concealed card reader and port cluster, another door covering the four hot-swap hard drive bays, and a small logo just a couple inches from the bottom.
Unfortunately, removing the protective plastic skin that covers the front bezel lifted off some of the logo. This is a shame considering that the rest of the front panel looks so clean and polished, but truth be told, I almost like the grittier, distressed look better. Corsair tells us this is a rare problem that should be resolved soon.
The top of the 800D is strictly business, with three adjacent 120-mm vents providing plenty of room for even the largest aftermarket water-cooling radiators. One could also add three large case fans to provide a healthy dose of improved airflowor simply leave the case as is, allowing natural convection to make use of the ample ventilation. The flat surface atop the 800D also makes a handy place to set a cell phone, MP3 player, or flash drive, which is more than can be said for some super-sized cases.
In case you were wondering, the Obsidian is as deep as it is tall. The case’s overall dimensions are 24″ x 24″ x 9″, and it weighs in at 35 pounds.
Behind the squarish aluminum door on the front panel, you’ll find the one feature probably most responsible for the hype surrounding the 800D: four server-style, hot-swap SATA hard drive bays. In addition to looking sweet, the hot-swap bays allow users to add, remove, and replace hard drives without cracking open the casea major convenience. We’ll take a closer look at the hot-swap bays in a moment, but first, let’s check out the rest of the exterior.
The power button and hard drive activity light sit just above the highest 5.25″ drive bay alongside a port cover shielded by a drop-down, push-button door. Behind the door, you’ll find four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks. The rings of chrome around the power button and activity LED are nice touches, and I love how the whole port cluster looks, especially when closed. However, the ports are all recessed, which could create problems for fatter USB thumb drives. Such a high-end case should really have an eSATA or hybrid eSATA/USB connector in its port cluster, as well. I do like how Corsair puts the power button and port cluster at the top of the case’s front face, though. This approach should work equally well for folks who run the case on or under their desks.
A sail-shaped acrylic window takes up most of the case’s left-side panel, providing an unrestricted view of a system’s internals. The rest of the panel, and the entirety of the right-side panel, is black, powder-coated steel.
On the back side of the 800D, one can see first of three included 140-mm case fans, this one functioning as an exhaust. Two rubber-lined holes easily large enough for 1/2″ outer diameter tubing lie above the motherboard area. Near the top corners of the case are a couple of buttons to activate the latches that hold the side panels in place.
Like many newer enclosures, the 800D mounts the PSU at the bottom of the case. However, the mounting holes are simply stamped into the back plate, which means the power supply can only be installed in one orientation. This design should work just fine for the vast majority of PSUs on the market, but with other premium cases offering mounting brackets that allow users to flip a PSU’s orientation, the Obsidian’s lack of flexibility is a little disappointing.
Looking for the 800D’s air intake? Check the bottom of the case. Hexagonal-pattern venting provides an unrestricted path for airflow, although the case doesn’t come with any intake fans attached directly behind the vents. You do get a handy nylon air filter that neatly slides out from the back of the case to allow for relatively easy cleaning, though.
To keep the Obsidian elevated enough to make the underbelly intake useful, Corsair sits the case on three rails that lift it about an inch off the ground. That should be enough clearance for most situations, but those with thick shag carpet might want to set the Obsidian down on a flat board to ensure optimal airflow. Of course, if you have thick shag carpet, you might want to look into a flooring upgrade before dropping $300 on a computer case.
The black abyss
The mechanism used to open the side panel of a case is one of those areas where I’ve seen more creativity lately. Compared to traditional thumbscrews, the 800D’s push buttons are much quicker and more convenient to use. When fully depressed, the side panel’s top edge pops off with a satisfying ca-chunk. The panel can then be lifted away with ease.
The first thought I had when I saw the interior of the 800D in person was much akin to Neo’s infamous ‘whoa’. If black is your absence of color of choice, you’ll likely have a similar reaction when you open up the Obsidian. The fan blades, tool-less optical drive mounts, and individual rivets and motherboard standoffs all match the exterior color. I wouldn’t normally make such a big deal over a seemingly minor aesthetic quality, but this sort of attention to detail is rare in the enclosure industry. Cases always seem to have at least one part, whether it’s a bracket here or a screw there, that doesn’t quite match everything else. Corsair’s done an excellent job of blacking out everything inside and out of the 800D.
Now, there’s more to be excited about in the interior than just the way it looks. Case makers are increasingly punching holes in motherboard trays to allow for cleaner cable routing, and the 800D takes this to the extreme with 13 rubber-lined holes. Slots next to the drive bays in both the top and bottom portions of the case bring the total number of openings to 15, which is more than I’ve seen in any other enclosure.
A couple of holes also perforate the panel separating the top and bottom zones of the case to allow a water-cooling radiator or pump to reside in the lower section.
Much like other premium cases, the 800D separates its internals into two zones, with the power supply and a couple of standard hard drive bays living in the lower compartment. A 140-mm fan mounted to the underside of the zone divider draws air into the case through the bottom-panel intake vents and channels it up into the main compartment.
The 800D’s third and final fan is another 140-mm model tucked behind a shroud attached to the hot-swap drive bays. This shroud’s design directs air from the bottom of the case across the hard drives and then behind the motherboard tray, where it eventually makes its way out through the exhaust vents at the rear. With two fans drawing air in and only one active exhaust, the main chamber maintains a net positive air pressure, which helps to keep dust from making its way into the case through unfiltered vents. Excess warm air can easily makes its way out through the Obsidian’s generous top-panel venting thanks to the miracle of convection.
There are two more hard drive bays in the bottom portion, but they don’t include hot-swap caddies, and you’ll have to add your own 120-mm fan to give them dedicated cooling. Corsair includes a fan shroud for the 120-mm mount to direct airflow over the hard drives.
After taking the right side panel off, the 15 cable routing holes are even easier to see. And now, we can also see where Corsair intends for all your extra cabling to go. The wiring for the port cluster and front panel is neatly bundled and long enough to reach the bottom of this side of the case before popping through to the other side. If you’ve ever been frustrated by having to remove your motherboard to install a CPU cooler with a custom back plate, you’ll especially appreciate the removable panel just behind the socket area of the motherboard tray. Pop it out, and you have very good access for pretty much all modern sockets.
Filling out the 800D
OK, time for some hardware to fill this bad boy up. Since the hot-swap bays were just too cool for me to avoid any longer, I started by installing a hard drive.
After a little lever-pull action, the hard drive sleds can be completely removed from the hot-swap area. They’re primed to accept 2.5″ or 3.5″ drives, so there’s no need to break out an adapteror duct tapeto secure an SSD.
Considering that the rest of the Obsidian is a tool-free affair, I was a little surprised to see screws used to secure drives in the hot-swap sleds. The sleds also lack any form of vibration or acoustic dampening; they’re just steel and plastic. Plenty of cases offer built-in vibration absorption and tool-free hard drive mounting options, but then few even high-end enclosures have hot-swap caddies and native support for 2.5″ drives.
In addition to the four hot-swap bays, two more hard drives can be more permanently installed in the lower area of the case. Oddly, these drives are secured using drive rails that don’t require screws.
To access this lower drive area or pop out the necessary knock-outs in the front panel to install a 5.25″ drive, you have to remove the front bezel completely. It pops out with a firm push from behind, which isn’t nearly as elegant as the button-released side panels. A simple sliding latch held our optical drive from just one side more securely than I expected. I didn’t need to add any screws to the right side, but that’s an option for those who really want to lock a drive down.
Connecting the motherboard to the hard drives is slightly different when a hot-swap bay is part of the equation. Four circuit boards host power and data plugs for the corresponding hot-swap bays, and Corsair provides a strip of SATA power connectors that neatly delivers juice to all four bays. Users need only to connect a single power cable along with the data cables, which simplifies things a little and makes for cleaner cabling overall.
The power supply was the next component to go into the system, but I didn’t get far before running into a small snafu. Without any extra wiggle room, I started by securing one of the top corners of the power supply. The Enermax unit’s top mounting holes just barely lined up with the holes in the back plate of the case, and the bottom holes were far enough off that I couldn’t get one of the screws to start. Eventually, I was able to muscle the screw in by manhandling the PSU a bit, but it wasn’t easy. Most of the other cases I’ve worked with have larger screw holes with a little extra tolerance.
Installing the rest of the components in the Obsidian was pretty unremarkable, save for the ease with which I was able to run cables neatly behind the motherboard tray.
Between the modular cables of our Enermax power supply and the massive size and routing features of the Corsair case, this was probably the easiest build I’ve ever done. I was particularly impressed that even a standard IDE ribbon cable nearly vanished in the Obsidian.
One could certainly do a better job of tidying things up behind the motherboard tray, but the best part of Corsair’s approach to cable clutter cleanup is that it’s easy to sweep cabling under the rug, so to speak. A few of our cables were just barely long enough to reach their destinations, including both motherboard power leads and our optical drive’s power cable. Cable reach is bound to be a problem in a taller case that mounts the PSU below the motherboard and encourages indirect cable paths, but with a little extra planning, I suspect few folks will have a hard time making all the necessary connections.
The Obsidian’s fan wiring is a little different than what I’ve commonly seen on other high-end cases. The Lian Li X500, Antec P180 series, and Thermaltake Spedo all use fans that plug directly into the power supply, while the 800D’s fans have three-pin connectors designed to hook into a motherboard. You’ll need at least three onboard headers to power the fans or an adapter for your PSU.
After finishing the build, I put the left panel back on and marveled at the size of the Obsidian once more. Notice how even our monstrous Noctua CPU cooler looks reasonably sized inside the 800D.
Speaking of monstrous, it’s worth noting that the Obsidian can accommodate larger Extended ATX motherboards. There’s also clearance for expansion cards as long as 15 inches, which is plenty of room for even workstation-class graphics cards.
To better push a case of the 800D’s stature, we needed to tweak our test system to be a little more demanding than usual. We’re still using an AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition processor, but we’ve overclocked it from the stock 3GHz to a respectable 3.5GHz by increasing the CPU multiplier. Noctua’s NH-U12P heatsink provides processor cooling with a 120-mm fan hooked up to a constant 12 volts of power.
The only case I have on hand that comes close to the 800D’s ambitious size is the Thermaltake Spedo, which will fill in as today’s comparative reference. In its stock configuration, the Spedo is way too noisy. However, this is easily remedied by removing the 240-mm fan attached to the side panel, which lowers not only noise levels, but temperatures, as well. We used this tweaked setup for the Spedo, while the Obsidian was left in its out-of-the-box config.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition overclocked to 3.5GHz|
|System Bus||HT 3.6 GT/s (1.8GHz)|
|Motherboard||Asus M3A32 MVP Deluxe|
|Memory Size||2GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory Type||Corsair CM2X1024 DDR2 SDRAM|
|Hard drive||Maxtor 200GB SATA|
|Graphics||XFX GeForce 8800 GTS 512 PCIe with ForceWare 190.62 drivers|
|Power Supply||Enermax MODU 82+ EMD625AWT 625 Watts|
|OS||Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition|
|OS updates||Service Pack 1, DirectX redist update August 2008|
We used the following versions of our test applications:
The tests and methods we employ are publicly available and reproducible, but as is always the case with cooling and overclocking, individual results may vary.
System temperatures and noise levels
We’ll kick things off with a look at system temperatures, starting with the system at idle. For this test, we let the system sit at the Windows desktop until component temperatures stabilized.
The 800D and Spedo have similar motherboard and graphics card temperatures, but the Corsair’s higher CPU temperatures are immediately apparent. I’m chalking this one up to the fact that the Spedo moves a lot more air through its chassis thanks to a greater number of fans that are also spinning faster. The Thermaltake case also has a 240-mm exhaust fan located directly above the CPU, providing gobs of airflow for the Noctua air tower that’s cooling the processor. Plus, the Spedo has an intake fan located directly behind the CPU area with venting in the right side panel to feed it, while the 800D has a cover in the same place.
Next, we probed component temperatures after they’d stabilized with a full GPU load generated by the rthdribl HDR lighting demo.
Here, we see an even greater difference in CPU temperatures between the 800D and the Spedo. Everything else stays about the same, with the Corsair running the motherboard a little cooler but the graphics card a little warmer.
Our last temperature test adds a four-way Prime95 CPU load to the mix.
Again, the 800D’s CPU temperatures are much higher than those of the Spedo, likely thanks to the latter’s greater airflow around the socket. However, 65 degrees Celsius is still a reasonable temperature for a fully loaded 3.5GHz quad-core Phenom, especially considering the Obsidian’s fan configuration.
Since component temperatures are only one part of the equation, we’ll turn our attention to noise levels next. I measured noise levels 12 inches away from the front, top, and left side of case under our most demanding load.
The 800D might run the CPU a lot warmer than the Spedo, but the Corsair case is quite a bit quieter. When I turned off the test system, my sound meter registered 22-24 dBa. Impressively, the 800D’s only a few decibels louder than the ambient noise floor of my testing room, even with an overlocked Phenom II and powerful graphics card running at full steam. This is probably the quietest system I’ve never heard.
Keep in mind you can tip the temperature/noise scale in either direction by adding or subtracting fans and changing their speeds. Corsair has obviously optimized the Obsidian for lower noise levels by equipping the case with only three relatively quiet fans. Amazingly, the 800D maintains near silence despite using steel side panels that are completely devoid of the acoustic-absorbing materials found on some other high-end cases.
In my extended testing with the Spedo, I managed to achieve almost the same temperatures with much lower noise levels by limiting all the fans to seven volts. This only requires a little re-wiring of Molex plugs, but if you want lower temperatures in the 800D, you’ll have to purchase additional 120-mm exhaust fans. Adding fans to the top panel to keep more air moving across the socket area should help to lower CPU temperatures without dramatically increasing noise levels, provided you pick the right fans.
If I could sum up the 800D in one word, it’d be substantial. The Obsidian is a no-nonsense, extra-large case with an impressively uninterrupted, blacked-out aesthetic both inside and out. Even though this is Corsair’s first entry into the market, its engineers have designed a case that gets a lot of little things right while also bringing new innovations to the table. I’ve yet to see a case with a better array of cable-routing punch-outs, making it easy to wire even a crowded system cleanly. The 800D’s partitioned cooling zones still leave plenty of room to work inside the case, and the access panel behind the motherboard tray’s socket area should greatly simplify heatsink swaps. And then there are the hot-swap drive bays, which are a rare find in desktop enclosures and certainly something a lot of enthusiasts will find both useful and drool-worthy.
As nice as the hot-swap bays are, they could still use a little work. A tool-free design would be much appreciated given the lack of screws elsewhere in the case. I’d also like to see vibration-dampening materials added, since even many budget cases include them these days. The side panels could use some acoustic absorption goodness, too, although the 800D is still plenty quiet without.
Since relatively high CPU temperatures are the 800D’s only real performance weakness, I’d like to see Corsair ship the Obsidian with more than just the three fans that are included now. Users wouldn’t have to use them all, but at least they wouldn’t have to purchase additional fans to beef up the case’s cooling capabilities. A $300 full-tower enclosure should really be better equipped to cool toasty hardware, especially given the fact that much less expensive enclosures like the Thermaltake Spedo and Cooler Master Cosmos offer a lot more airflow out of the box.
The 800D’s lofty price tag makes little flaws harder to excuse, particularly given some of the cheaper options on the market. However, the issues we have with the case are minor when compared to rarer perks like the hot-swap drive bays, socket underside access, and extensive cable routing options. Plus, the all-black styling is surprisingly consistent and really quite classy, in an imposing sort of way. The Obsidian’s gargantuan proportions obviously aren’t for everyone, but I think this is exactly the kind of case a lot of enthusiasts have wanted for a long time. If you consider that it should last through several upgrades and system builds, the 800D actually represents solid value for those who need a towering enclosure to house their high-end workstations or gaming rigs. If you’re one of those folks, the 800D is TR Recommended.