In the PC enthusiast realm, Corsair is a brand that needs no introduction. After establishing itself as a go-to source for quality computer memory, this plucky bunch from Fremont, California dropped a bomb on the computer enclosure world in the form of the Obsidian 800D. We loved the case’s new innovations and attention to detail, and the freshman effort quickly became a favorite among PC enthusiasts with a penchant for full-sized towers.
The nearly $300 price tag attached to the 800D allowed the competition some breathing room, but over time, Corsair has methodically cut off the air supply at lower price points with follow-up cases like the Obsidian 700D and 650D, and the Graphite 600T. Now, Corsair has put yet another kink in the air hose by bringing its repertoire of enthusiast-friendly features down to $100 with the Carbide 400R.
Corsair cases have always felt expansive and inviting to work inside, and the Carbide 400R provides even more internal volume for cables and fans thanks to a pair of bulging side panels. They may come off as a little pudgy in glamor shots, but these love handles can be put to good use. The flared panel on the case’s left-hand side provides enough clearance for the installation of two optional 140-mm fans without getting all up in your video card’s business. A symmetrical bulge on the right side panel offers builders a welcome cavity for tucking cables behind the motherboard tray.
Having previously seen the 400R in various press shots, as well as in passing—while I pushed my way to the front of the 650D line at CES this past January—I can attest that the Carbide looks even better in person. Perhaps it’s just a classic case of the camera adding 10 pounds. Whatever the reason, as the Carbide 400R slipped out of its shipping box and into something more comfortable, I caught myself staring. The overall fit and finish is impeccable, as we’ve come to expect from Corsair’s enclosures. The plastics used for the front panel feel sturdy, and despite being made of steel, the case is actually lighter than you’d expect, tipping the scales at a reasonable 18.5 lbs. This should be welcome news to LAN party goers without a gym membership and a bucket full of creatine.
The front fascia of the 400R features a metal mesh similar to that of the Graphite 600T. Surrounding the mesh is a rounded plastic bezel that extends slightly beyond the top of the case, forming a convenient handle for grab-and-go transportation. The handle feels sturdy, even with the added heft of a fully built system’s internal components.
Behind the mesh are two 120-mm intake fans with white LEDs. The illumination of these fans smartly complements the matching white power and hard drive activity indicators. However, if LED bling isn’t your thing, Corsair kindly provides a button on the front panel that disables the subtle glow while keeping the fans spinning. I typically find LED accent lighting gaudy and distracting, but these toe the line between flash and class well enough that, like Motel 6, I’ve opted to keep the lights on.
Atop the chassis’ face, just above the 5.25-inch drive bays, resides the power button and front I/O port array. Like many of the newer cases seeping onto the market, the 400R incorporates a pair of SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports that utilize an internal motherboard header instead of an unsightly pass-through cable that plugs into the rear I/O cluster. In our recent test drive of the Fractal Design Define R3, we derided the lack of accommodation for users with motherboards only equipped with USB 2.0 headers. Corsair has foreseen this eventuality and includes a USB header adapter that enables the front ports to be used with USB 3.0 or 2.0 headers. My only quibble is that our adapter did not mate securely to the case’s USB connector, necessitating the liberal use of electrical tape to hold things together. We’re not sure whether this is an isolated incident or a larger-scale issue with these adapters.
In addition to the USB 3.0 ports, the 400R’s front panel squeezes a FireWire connector and 3.5-mm headphone and microphone jacks between the buttons for power, reset, and fan lighting. For some reason, the ribbon cable connecting the front panel’s buttons and LEDs was disconnected when I received the case. Whether it was jostled loose during shipping or was simply overlooked at the factory, I can’t be sure. This issue became painfully evident during the first system boot attempt, when absolutely nothing happened. Some quick troubleshooting revealed the system would boot successfully when the power pins on the motherboard were directly shorted with a screwdriver, so the issue had to reside somewhere up the chain, in either the wiring or the switch assembly itself.
After removing the front face plate and unscrewing the I/O-panel board, I discovered the detached cable. For experienced builders, having to reconnect this cable is a moderately annoying but easily remedied issue. For novice system builders still learning the ropes, such an issue may not be as readily identifiable, and it could result in the initiation of a frustrating RMA. Applying a quick dab of hot glue at the factory could prevent such incidents.
The back side of the case features four holes replete with rubber grommets, allowing cabling or water-cooling tubing to pass through. Corsair decided to bring eight expansion slots to this party, giving system builders the opportunity to experiment with Quad SLI or Crossfire configurations if they so desire. Otherwise, the back of the 400R looks fairly standard, revealing a bottom-mounted power supply emplacement and a single 120-mm exhaust fan without any LED bling.
Under the hood
The bottom of the 400R features an easily removable dust filter that shields the intake venting for the power supply and a neighboring fan mount. Speaking of fans, this case is armed to the teeth with mounting points for 120-mm and 140-mm spinners. With two mounts on the left side panel, two on the top, two up front (which only accommodate 120-mm fans), one in the back, and one more on the floor, the Carbide offers 6,561 (3^8) possible cooling configurations with just the three fans included with the case. Even more configs are possible if your cooling compulsion calls for additional fans, mixing and matching sizes, or adding water-cooling radiators to the mix. There’s even room for the 240-mm radiator attached to Corsair’s Hydro Series H100 water cooler.
With a spacious interior and ample cooling potential, the 400R seems focused on performance junkies rather than silent types. While not as cavernous as taller members of the Obsidian series, the 400R gobbled up the components of our test system and seemingly asked, “is that all you’ve got?” Video cards approaching 12.4″ (316 mm) in length can be accommodated, which should cover everything one might consider popping inside a $100 case. Just about any PSU should fit, too, although longer units may block access to the optional fan mount on the bottom panel.
Excellent cable management has been a hallmark of Corsair cases, and the 400R is no exception. The cable management cut-outs surrounding the motherboard area are lined with the best rubber grommets I’ve seen to date. They stay firmly in place when cables are passed through, and they look excellent to boot. The motherboard tray features an especially large cutout around the CPU region, which enables quick and easy access to a heatsink’s retention plate. This layout saves builders the time-consuming hassle of removing the entire motherboard and attached peripherals just to adjust or install an aftermarket CPU cooler. To save even more time, the mounting posts for standard ATX motherboards come pre-installed, ready to accept most standard motherboard layouts straight out of the box.
The 400R offers ample storage space for cabling, allowing us to veil our power supply’s excessively long tendrils with ease. While I certainly wouldn’t argue with the inclusion of a few extra tie-down points punched into the back of the motherboard tray, the Carbide does include a couple of stick-on cable clamps that can be placed where desired.
Like Corsair’s earlier case designs, the Carbide is loaded with tool-free drive bays. Four external 5.25″ bays occupy the top of the 400R and hold optical drives in place with very little wiggle. Below them, you’ll find six 3.5″ drive sleds that feel a tad flimsy at first. This flexibility is by design, and it makes installing hard drives insanely easy. You’ll have to bust out a screwdriver to attach solid-state drives to the 2.5″ mounting holes included in each drive sled, though.
While assembling our test system, the only feature I wished for was some sort of tool-free mechanism for the rear expansion slots. Each slot cover is secured by a thumbscrew, but there isn’t much room around the screws to wrap your fingers. Otherwise, I find it difficult to pinpoint any major issues with the overall build experience.
Our testing methods
Obsessive readers may note that the components used in this build differ slightly from those that Cyril uses in his case reviews. The table below shows the specifics of the hardware we’ll be using for our test bed.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (140W)|
|Processor cooler||Thermaltake Frio (single fan in a pull configuration)|
|Memory size||4GB (4 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair XMS3 at 1333MHz|
with default Windows drivers
|Graphics||XFX Radeon HD 6870 1GB GDDR5
with Catalyst 11.5 drivers
|Hard drive||Seagate NL35.2 500GB 7,200 RPM|
|Optical drive||Asus DRW-1814|
|Power supply||OCZ GameXStream 700W|
|OS||Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit|
In an attempt to promote some consistency, the chosen parts for this system use roughly the same amount of power as Cyril’s at full load. Using a Kill-a-watt P3 meter, I measured the following peak power utilization numbers (at the wall) to use as a reference.
|CPU load only||302W|
|GPU load only||280W|
|CPU & GPU loads||394W|
Due to the similar energy usage, you can compare these test results to Cyril’s with the requisite salt shaker in hand. To make things scientific, however, I’m maintaining a separate data set going forward, representing only the cases I’ve tested using these parts in the same environmental conditions. The components used may not be the newest kids on the block, but they have approximately the same power and thermal characteristics as today’s high-end hardware.
Most of the tests and methods employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have any questions about our methods, hit up our forums to talk with us about them. Below is a list of the relevant software pieces used in this review.
As we alluded to earlier, the 400R was not designed to be a silent case. The mesh front panel and octet of unfettered fan mounts give incarcerated sound waves a multitude of avenues for escape. The upshot to all of this, as we’ll see, is a noticeable reduction in operating temperatures.
Because the 400R doesn’t ship with a fan controller, the rear system fan was regulated by the motherboard in our tests, while the front intake fans were connected directly to a Molex power connection as intended. The CPU fan was run at a constant speed of 2,100 RPM for the duration of testing. This fan speed was settled upon after much trial and error, and it represents the best balance between cooling performance and noise.
Thermal testing was conducted using only the stock cooling fans supplied with all cases, including the Carbide 400R. All of the case’s side panels and doors were securely in place, and all the dust filters were installed in their factory positions. The ambient room temperature was measured at 22°C during testing. We’ve included results for the NZXT H2, BitFenix Shinobi Window, and Fractal Design Define R3 for reference. Because the H2 and Define R3 cases feature factory fan controllers, they were tested at both high and low settings.
Our first step in testing was to establish the baseline acoustic and thermal properties of the Carbide 400R enclosure. The fully built system was allowed to sit idle with CPU utilization at a consistent 0-1% until temperatures stabilized. For all tests, AMD’s Cool ‘n’ Quiet dynamic speed throttling technology was enabled. Temperature readings were taken using Speedfan and GPU-Z.
With the idle baseline set, our mission objective was modified to include torture-based intelligence gathering. First, we targeted the GPU by running the Unigine Heaven benchmark in a continuous loop until system temperatures peaked and leveled off. The Heaven benchmark was run in full-screen mode at 1920×1080 with stereoscopic 3D and tessellation disabled, “high” shaders, 16X anisotropic filtering, and 4X antialiasing. GPU-Z reported GPU utilization of 98% or more during the stress test.
After giving the system some time to return to baseline temperatures and compose itself, the CPU was brought in for joint interrogation. The Unigine Heaven benchmark was thrown at the GPU again, while the CPU was strapped to four instances of Prime95 using the “in-place FFTs (Max heat/power consumption)” setting. After enough time had elapsed, and temperatures had plateaued, our prisoners finally broke and spilled their secrets.
Inside the Carbide 400R, our system components ran much cooler than they have in any other case we’ve tested to date. The temperature gaps were so large that I went back and re-tested everything and measured the ambient temperature again to verify the findings.
Particularly promising are the CPU temperatures under load. The 400R puts on an exciting show, coming in a full five degrees cooler than its next closest competitor, the BitFenix Shinobi. The fact that these impressive results were achieved with only the three factory installed fans should be music to the ears of overclockers.
These superb thermal characteristics do come with a price. The resultant drone emanating from the enclosure also topped our charts, and not in a good way. Sound levels were measured using an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter placed six inches from the side, front, and top of the case. Ambient noise levels were below the 40-dB threshold of the Extech meter.
Under load, the Carbide is the loudest of the bunch, but not by a huge margin. At idle, however, the difference in noise levels is more prominent. Whereas the other cases use fan controllers or have system fans that plug directly into the motherboard, which can regulate fan speeds to some degree, the 400R’s front fans are tied to four-pin Molex connectors that have to be plugged directly into the PSU. This connection provides the juice necessary to spin the fans and light the LEDs, but it also restricts the fans to a constant speed, regardless of the system load.
The front fans can be separated from their Molex wiring harness, but each one has a non-standard three-pin plug. This plug can be jammed into a motherboard connector, but it doesn’t play nicely with the vertical tab that extends upward from a standard fan header. You’ll probably want to shave off that tab to avoid stressing the header. Also, the wire that would typically report the fan’s rotational speed has been repurposed as the LED on/off circuit. When plugged into a motherboard, the LEDs glow at about 10% of their normal brightness and can’t be turned off—without snipping wires.
Replacing the front fans entirely or connecting them to a fan speed controller would be the best way to reduce the Carbide’s noise output. Doing so will leave the case’s LED switch hanging, but I’m sure modders and tinkerers will find creative ways to use it.
The Corsair Carbide 400R gets a gold star for being the easiest case I’ve had the pleasure of working with thus far. The cable management is truly top notch, and ample interior room is available to accommodate most hardware configurations. The overall quality of the case, combined with flourishes like the pre-installed motherboard posts, make this enclosure a system builder’s dream.
The 400R earns another gold star for its excellent thermal properties. If keeping your gear cool as a cucumber is a top priority, this is an excellent starting point for your build. As we’ve noted, up to eight fans can be installed, six of which can be of the 140-mm variety, and the top mounts are designed with massive water-cooling radiators in mind.
Where the Carbide 400R falls a bit short is in its noise output. The noise levels under load aren’t much worse than other cases we’ve tested, but the Carbide is noticeably louder than its contemporaries at idle. Tweaking or swapping out the front fans would be time well spent if you want a quieter system.
This wouldn’t be a proper conclusion without some commentary on the case’s looks. Ever since the Cooler Master ATCS series came out, I’ve been in love with all-aluminum case designs. I went into this review as a skeptic, wary of the pudgy sides and plastic-and-mesh combo used for the face of the 400R. I’ve experimented with plastic-adorned enclosures only to feel a little let down each time, but Corsair has finally made a believer out of me. The 400R proves that it is possible to incorporate plastics into a case and still make it feel like a high-quality product. For this feat, I award the Carbide 400R one final gold star.
Sadly, we have no pre-defined system of converting gold stars to anything quantifiable or meaningful. Instead, let’s skip the arbitrary calculations and get right down to the heart of the matter. This case is good—damn good considering the $100 street price. I’d gladly house anything short of a home-theater PC inside the Carbide, and I’d recommend it to anyone shopping for a budget enclosure. So, there you have it: the Carbide 400R has three gold stars and is TR Recommended.