For a great many years, ATX computer cases have stuck to a few key guiding principles. The motherboard sits upright with the CPU socket at the top. Drive bays are located at the front of the case, and the power supply sits at the back, either below the motherboard or above it. Most seem to favor a bottom-mounted power supply emplacement these days. That, coupled with the appearance of cut-outs in the motherboard tray for cable routing and CPU socket access, about sums up the adventurousness of today’s crop of enclosures.
Silverstone’s Raven RV03 is different. If it were in high school, it might be the goth kid sitting behind the bleachers at lunchtime, listening to Marilyn Manson on his iPod. While the Raven looks almost normal from the outside, its insides are all weird—and, frankly, a little scary at first glance.
Silverstone has seen fit to rotate the motherboard 90 degrees clockwise, so the CPU socket faces the front of the case and the expansion slots point upward. Some of the hard-drive bays are located behind the motherboard tray. The PSU compartment is at the bottom, but not exactly the way you’d expect: it’s rotated 90 degrees and tucked under the front drive bays, so the on-off switch faces the Raven’s left panel.
Wearing black eyeshadow and listening to Marilyn Manson is a little out there, but there’s some sound thinking behind the Raven RV03’s odd internal configuration. Hot air rises, so placing the CPU and GPU toward the top with a pair of humongous 180-mm fans at the bottom would seem to encourage lower internal temps. The power supply placement also saves the trouble of pushing cables under the motherboard tray only to route them back out—instead, power cables start off behind all the key components (and away from airflow), ready to be routed.
The Raven’s design means external I/O connectors plug in at the top, with all external device cables routed through a small gap between the roof of the case and its top shroud. That shroud pops on and off with ease—a concession for which you’ll be thankful, because you’ll have to pry the shroud off and snap it back on any time you need to plug in a display, a set of surround speakers, an Ethernet cable, or any device that can’t be served by the Raven’s front-panel USB 3.0 and audio ports.
The upside is that the Raven RV03 looks rather tidy from any angle. (Yeah, I guess this is where the goth-kid analogy breaks down.) The two gold strips that line the front and top shrouds ruin the cleanliness of the look somewhat, though. Silverstone’s website provides instructions for ditching the gold trim, but that apparently involves a fair amount of work.
We’ll go in for a closer look and compare the Raven’s cooling performance to that of a more conventional enthusiast case in a moment. First, though, we’d be remiss not to examine this oddball enclosure’s feature loadout in greater detail. Note that this is the third enclosure of its name—Silverstone also produced Raven RV01 and RV02 enclosures with slightly different designs.
The Raven RV03 accommodates microATX and ATX motherboards, of course, but it also supports Extended ATX workstation mobos. With a cavernous interior, the RV03 even has sufficient space for graphics cards as long as 13.58″. There’s a total of seven drive bays at the front; all can accommodate 5.25″ optical drives, but six of them are fitted with removable 3.5″ hard-drive trays. Five additional hard-drive trays are located on the right side behind the motherboard tray; three of those auxiliary trays are of the 3.5″ variety, while one of them is designed to hold a couple of 2.5″ drives.
On the cooling front, the Raven RV03 comes out of the box with two 180-mm intake fans at the bottom and one 120-mm exhaust fan located at the top (just above the CPU socket). Tucked away behind the front-panel connectors, a pair of switches lets users choose between low and high speeds for bottom fans. Silverstone provides room for an extra six 120-mm fans: four at the front, one at the rear, and one on the side. That’s probably overkill, unless you really pack the Raven to the gills with high-end gear and fast hard drives.
All told, the Raven measures 9.3″ x 20.6″ x 22.4″ and weighs in at 25 lbs. Despite such capacious innards, it’s not an intimidating heavyweight like Corsair’s Obsidian Series 800D or Thermaltake’s Level 10 GT. The Raven is also fairly affordable at $139.99, although some e-tailers like Newegg charge a little more for it. How does it compare in ease of use, cooling capabilities, and noise levels?
Under the hood
To crack open the Raven RV03, one must first pop off the top shroud, which grants access to the expansion slots, I/O cluster, rubber-lined liquid-cooling holes, and the all-important pairs of thumbscrews holding each side panel in place.
Those blue USB 3.0 ports in the top panel connect to the motherboard using standard type-A plugs. Their destination is only a few inches away in the I/O cluster. Silverstone didn’t deem it necessary to include plain USB 2.0 ports with regular headers, but the blue ports are backward-compatible and will happily accommodate USB 2.0 devices—as they should be.
We’ve already shown you the left side of the case with the panel removed. Here’s another angle that reveals the underside and the two removable fan filters.
The filters stick to the bottom of the Raven using small magnets affixed to their plastic frames, so they’re surprisingly easy to remove and put back into place. The process is almost too easy—more than once, while picking up the case, I inadvertently laid my fingers on one of the filters and was surprised to feel it move. The filters should help ensure that neither of those huge 180-mm fans nor the PSU fan suck too much dust into the case.
What does the right side of the Raven RV03 look like without its access panel in place?
At the bottom left, you can see the small nook for the power supply. The PSU is supposed to slide in head-first with the on-off switch facing the left panel and the cables poking out the other side. Because the PSU fits in sideways, there’s only so much room for unusually long units. Silverstone specifies a 180-mm (7.1″) length limit—anything beyond that, and you probably risk not being able to shut the right side panel.
This side of the Raven plays host to five extra drive bays: two mounted on each side of the CPU socket cut-out and one, the 2.5″ bay, sitting under it. The manual actually instructs the user to mount his primary hard drive back here. Silverstone’s justification, detailed in the FAQ portion of the manual, is interesting:
Q: Why put hard drives behind the motherboard tray?
A: There are two reasons
1. Maximum use of space — for novice users, RV03’s spacious 5cm gap behind the motherboard tray allows for generous room to easily route extra cables. For more advanced builders good at routing cables, the extra room provides spaces [sic] to mount hard drives for more flexibility in storage.
2. Better cable management — placing hard drives behind the motherboard tray also helps to hide cables connected to the hard drives.
Fair enough. There’s nothing wrong with giving users options. That said, a couple of potential problems come to mind. First, there isn’t exactly a lot of airflow behind the motherboard tray, so heat from hard drives seems likely to stay trapped (and perhaps mix in with heat from the back of the motherboard). On top of that, four screws hold each tray in place, and users must remove the trays to install hard drives. Sounds like a lot of trouble.
Surely, the front-mounted bays are easier to operate, so long as as you’re not afraid to spend a little extra time routing cables. Right?
Those front drive bays
Sadly, the answer to the question on the previous page is a resounding, earth-shaking “no.” Allow us to demonstrate.
The Raven organizes its six front 3.5″ bays into two groups of three. A pair of 120-mm fan brackets holds each group together. To free one of those groups, one must first remove three drive bay covers at the front.
One must then, on the left side, undo two screws that hold the rear fan bracket in place and another two screws that steady the top and bottom drive trays. (I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the screws that must be removed in red.) After that, one needs to pull three of those plastic clips into their unlocked positions.
There’s more. On the right side of the case, one must first remove one of the drive trays by unfastening four screws…
…then remove an additional four screws. Just like on the other side, two screws hold up the rear fan bracket, and another two screws keep the top and bottom drive trays in place.
The drive trays are finally free. Now, time to pry off the two fan brackets, attach hard drive(s) using four screws each, and then repeat the aforementioned procedure in reverse to put everything back together. No, I’m not making this up. This procedure is straight out of the manual, and I see no simpler way to go about it.
As if accessing the front bays weren’t a big enough problem, airflow to them seems like it might be in short supply. While the Raven’s main compartment is very well ventilated, none of the stock fans blow air in the direction of the front bays. Silverstone admittedly lets users sandwich each group of three drive trays between 120-mm fans, and it even allows users to remove the solid plastic bezels from the bay covers, like so:
However, out of the box, the Raven RV03 seems to provide next to no direct ventilation to any of its drive bays. Users are expected to supply their own fans and take care of that themselves. We’ll see in our testing whether this design has a material impact on temperatures, but it certainly doesn’t bode well.
Evidently, the Raven RV03’s drive bay design is either a complete afterthought or the product of a puritanical mind terrified at the prospect of users loading up hard drives full of rock music and ripped Harry Potter movies. In either case, the Raven RV03 comes out looking exceedingly old-fashioned when most other enthusiast enclosures have tool-less drive bays with easily removable trays and plentiful ventilation.
Now confident we knew what we were dealing with, we got our hands dirty (or dirtier), reached for our case-warmer components, and fashioned the Raven RV03 into a full-blown PC. Here’s what the finished product looked like:
The rotated internal layout made things a tad confusing at first, but getting the motherboard and graphics card in was a straightforward affair. Well, we did have to install three of the motherboard standoffs ourselves.
The PSU took a bit of coaxing to get situated, although it fit snugly with cables ready to be routed to their destinations. Because of the rotated layout, hooking up power to the motherboard and CPU was actually easier than in enthusiast cases with traditional or upside-down PSU positioning. Routing power cables to storage devices was simple enough. However, there wasn’t much clearance between the edge of the motherboard and the front drive bays.
Speaking of storage devices, getting the hard drive mounted in one of the right-side trays was, predictably, a frustrating affair. Unscrewing the tray and bolting the hard drive into it didn’t involve much effort, but attaching the tray required laying the case on its side and carefully inserting screws into narrow grooves between the hard drive and the lips of the tray. As we showed on the previous page, that’s nothing compared to the amount of work needed to install a hard drive in one of the front bays.
Mercifully, the optical drive installation was much less punishing. We needed only to lift the plastic clip on the left side of the bay, slide the drive in, and push the clip back into place once it lined up correctly with the drive’s screw holes. Plugging in the power and data cables required some finger contortion, though. If your motherboard’s SATA ports are arranged like ours, you can probably forget about neatly routing your DVD drive’s data cable behind the motherboard tray. The distance is too great, and the SATA cables bundled with motherboards are usually too short.
While juggling cables, we made sure to connect power to the enclosure’s fan-speed controller. Doing so involved grabbing the adapter (a four-pin Molex plug that branches out into a trio of three-pin fan connectors) and hooking it up to the spinners. Want to connect more fans to the controller? Too bad—you can’t.
The final step involved plugging in the requisite AC cable into our power supply. How does one do that when the PSU is sitting sideways with a side panel blocking access? Simple: the Raven RV03 comes pre-installed with a short AC extension cord that connects to an AC port under the front face plate. You’ll see it if you look carefully at the left side of the image above. Just sneak your AC cord under there, and hit the power button to get going.
(As a side note, hitting the power button on our sample Raven RV03 didn’t get us going. There was apparently something wrong with the power switch wiring, because plugging in the header caused the system to start up immediately and then shut down after a couple of seconds. Manually shorting the power switch pins to start up the machine worked fine, though. We haven’t seen any complaints about this problem in Newegg user reviews for the RV03, so this was probably a fluke manufacturing defect.)
Our testing methods
You’ve already seen our test components on the preceding pages, but here’s an exhaustive list with all of the nitty-gritty details. Because of an unforeseen problem with the mounting mechanism of our last CPU heatsink, we tested using a new one: Corsair’s A50.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 975 Black Edition|
|Memory size||2GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair Dominator DDR2-1142 at 800MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC889A with default Windows drivers|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 280 with GeForce 257.21 drivers|
|Hard drive||Western Digital RE3 1TB|
|Optical drive||Samsung SH-W163A DVD burner|
|Power supply||BFG Tech 800W Power Supply|
|OS||Windows 7 Home Premium x86|
A number of these parts have already been supplanted by newer, faster components, but their energy consumption is what matters here—and they don’t sip power. Using a Watts Up meter, I recorded power utilization at 385W with our CPU and GPU loads running simultaneously. That’s not all that surprising, since we’re talking about a 125W processor and a graphics card with 236W peak power consumption. Keep in mind that today’s fastest components are designed to fit within similar thermal envelopes.
Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Here are individual component temperatures inside a fully built Raven system. We ran our tests once with case fans running at their lowest speed and a second time with them cranked up to their highest speed. The motherboard was entrusted with controlling the speed of the CPU fan. Ambient temperatures were around 26°C.
Note that we included numbers for the Corsair Obsidian Series 650D to provide a frame of reference. At $189.99, the 650D is more expensive than the Raven RV03 but is an otherwise comparable product.
For our first test, we booted up the machine and waited 10 minutes for temperatures to stabilize before taking readings using Speedfan and GPU-Z:
Then, we loaded up the Unigine Heaven benchmark and waited another 10 minutes for temperatures to stabilize. We looped that benchmark with stereoscopic 3D and tessellation disabled, “high” shaders, 16X anisotropic filtering, and 4X antialiasing in a 1920×1080 window. Frame rates were a little choppy, so we expect our GeForce GTX 280 broke a sweat.
After logging temperatures with our GPU load, we began looping the Heaven benchmark and a Prime95 torture test simultaneously. We then waited 10 minutes for temperatures to peak before taking the following readings:
Our suspicions are confirmed: the Raven did a pretty awful job of keeping our hard drive cool, at least when it was installed in the recommended emplacement.
We really wanted to give the Raven’s storage accommodation capabilities a fair shake, so we painstakingly removed the hard drive from the back of the motherboard tray and positioned it in the sixth bay up front. This bay is located near the bottom of the case, a reasonable distance from heat-generating components. We then popped the plastic guards from the three surrounding bay covers, leaving air free to flow through the mesh. The result? With fans at their low setting and the system running Heaven and Prime95, our hard drive’s temperature only fell to 43°C. That’s a little embarrassing, considering how much cooler the same drive runs after a much easier installation in the Corsair 650D. We didn’t test this config with the high-speed fan setting because none of the case’s included fans blows air toward the drive bays.
Looking at the other temps, it appears the Raven’s rotated layout leads to lower motherboard temperatures. The system’s CPU and graphics card stuck to similar temperatures in the Raven and the 650D, so the funky layout doesn’t seem to help much there. We should, however, point out that our Corsair A50 CPU cooler could only be mounted perpendicular to the Raven RV03’s fans. Silverstone says we would have seen lower temperatures with a cooler sitting parallel to airflow. Prospective Raven users hoping for optimal temps will probably want to make sure their cooler can be mounted the right way—as for us, the A50 was the only working Socket AM3 heatsink we could procure in time for this review. The orientation didn’t pose a problem with the 650D, which has both top and rear exhaust fans around the CPU socket.
While we were running our temperature tests, we probed noise levels using an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter. (The missing bars in the graphs correspond to noise levels below our meter’s 40-dB threshold.)
To Silverstone’s credit, the Raven RV03 is blissfully quiet at idle with the fans at their low setting. If you want to crank up those fans, well, you’d better reach for some earplugs. Judging by our temperature readings, you’re probably fine keeping the fans at their minimum speed. The temperature differences between the two settings is minimal at best.
Much like that goth kid sitting alone behind the bleachers, the Silverstone Raven RV03 seems to go out of its way to attract attention. The case is obviously different, and it deserves praise for daring to stray from the flock. However, the RV03 feels like it’s trying to be different simply for the sake of being different—not because there’s a good, justifiable reason.
Being different for the sake of being different often leads to choices that run counter to common sense or good taste. The Raven’s abysmally poor drive-bay design is one such affront, as is the fact that you can’t access the motherboard’s external I/O cluster without physically removing a large plastic shroud from the top of the case. There are numerous smaller side-effects to this struggle to be unique, like the rotated motherboard tray putting Serial ATA ports a long way from the front drive bays. The lack of support for king-sized PSUs is also puzzling, since Silverstone designed this enclosure to accommodate Extended ATX motherboards and up to 10 hard drives.
Yes, the Raven RV03 exhibits some impressive traits. It’s extremely capacious for its size. The overall build quality is solid, and at $140, the asking price is definitely reasonable. This is also one of the quieter enclosures we’ve tested—with the fans at their low setting, we could barely hear the system idle… and neither could our noise level meter.
For my money, though, I’d have a hard time justifying the purchase of a Raven RV03 over, say, a similarly priced Corsair case like the 600T or 650D. The Raven’s quirky design has some positive attributes, but none that make up for the frustrating drive bay design and other aforementioned eccentricities. I’d be more forgiving if the rotated layout led to lower temperatures across the board, but it didn’t with our components. Only our motherboard sensor registered a drop, and our hard drive ran considerably hotter—worryingly so.
In the end, the Raven RV03 feels like more of a curiosity than a serious option for enthusiasts. Silverstone should definitely be commended for trying something new, and it could take this concept to a better place with a future revision, but the Raven RV03 just isn’t there.