Hot on the heels of our Antec P280 review, we’ve got another next-generation case in the lab with some mighty big shoes to fill. Today’s object of techno-lust is none other than the Cooler Master Cosmos II—an “ultra-tower” chassis that seems a little bit ironic in a world filled with slender ultrabooks and watered-down light beer. The Cosmos II is anything but.
When the original hit the retail circuit, it inspired double-takes. The tubular aluminum handles protruding from its futuristic, sculpted body made the Cosmos look less like a computer case and more like something that should be warping around the galaxy launching photon torpedoes at Klingons. Internally, the original Cosmos was nothing to scoff at, either. It could accommodate six hard drives, five optical drives, and all but the largest dual-socket motherboards.
Now that the deuce has arrived on the scene, the original Cosmos is the least of the Klingons’ worries. Everything about the second iteration has been scaled up. The Cosmos II is wider, taller, deeper, heavier, and pricier than its forebear—and it can house a lot more hard drives, too. The exterior styling has been updated with more ventilation, aggressive-looking panels, and buttons galore. Multiple water-cooling radiators can be squeezed inside, and there are more fan mounts than you have fingers, including a couple that’ll accommodate 200-mm spinners.
At this point, the pulse of any enthusiast should be racing. When I tell you the Cosmos II is set to cost $349, you might feel your heart stall. Take a deep breath. Enthusiasts are no strangers to premium enclosures, and we’ve taken a closer look at the Cosmos II to see if it’s worth the extra scratch.
The perils of plastic
Instead of introducing an exotic structural material to the mix, Cooler Master sticks with a tried-and-true blend of aluminum, plastics, and steel for the Cosmos II’s hull plating and skeletal structure. Plastics have been liberally applied to the case’s outer shell and comprise most anything that isn’t a large, flat surface or a mesh insert.
While the P-word is often enough to get case connoisseurs up in arms, the Cosmos II pulls it off—aesthetically, anyway. The plastics and metals are melded together exceptionally well, and they complement each other nicely. However, it’s harder to forgive plastics when they handle load-bearing tasks.
Such is the case with the Cosmos, which uses a spring-assisted sliding plastic cover to protect the front port cluster and control panel. On the underside of this cover are several plastic posts that protrude downward through two slots that guide the motion of the sliding cover. During shipping, the posts on our sample broke, and the cover arrived resting loosely atop the case. The plastic posts seemed unusually brittle as I worked on reattaching them with a general-purpose epoxy. In addition, the cover’s location and design make it conducive to aggressive sliding and misuse as a hand grip—both bad things from an endurance standpoint.
Now, for the good news. After being made aware of the issue, Cooler Master informed us that it identified and corrected a quality defect with the original slider design. The thickness of the shipping materials has also been beefed up for added protection during transport. Both of these changes will purportedly be present in the final version of the case shipping to end users.
Examining the hull
Lurking beneath the sliding cover is a frontal port cluster that comes equipped with no fewer than six USB ports—two of which boast SuperSpeed credentials. To the left of the USB ports are the obligatory 3.5-mm audio jacks for headphones and a microphone, as well as a single eSATA connector.
Below the front ports is a Motorola Razr-esque keypad containing buttons for power, reset, LED bling activation, and fan control. The fan controls are split between four zones—front, top, HDD, and GPU—with a corresponding button for each. The entire pad is etched with a concentric ring pattern that emanates from the central power button. The resulting surface is pleasing to the touch, but the buttons themselves feel flimsy and have many dead zones. I was able to eventually feel out the buttons’ ideal pressure points, but as a mechanical keyboard enthusiast, I’m not impressed. Cooler Master need not use Cherry MX switches for these buttons, but their feel could use some improvement.
For each of the four fan zones, users can choose one of three speed settings. The speed of each zone can be set independently, and the corresponding buttons feature illuminated icons that change color from blue to purple to red as one cycles through the available speeds. Red indicates the maximum speed, while blue represents the slowest. The panel also emits a shrill beep when a button has been depressed. The visual and audible feedback are nice touches, but it would be good to have the option to disable the audio alert in certain situations.
Behind the button panel, a large mesh expanse hides a rather versatile fan mount. The mesh panel is held in place by a single thumbscrew; underneath, it’s possible to install one 200-mm fan, three 120-mm units, or two 140-mm fans. This space can also accommodate a water-cooling radiator up to 360 mm long.
The Cosmos II retains its predecessor’s trademark aluminum handles. Don’t think it’s all for show, though. The handles are attached directly to the frame and have been designed to withstand the stresses of transporting a fully built system. Attached to the bottom handles are four rubber feet, each affixed using a pair of recessed screws. The feet will protect hard surfaces from scuffs and scrapes, but they also hinder movement on carpeted floors. Officially, Cooler Master warns that sliding the case along the ground may damage the rails. It’s nearly impossible to avoid sliding this behemoth in reality, and we found that the case scoots along carpeted surfaces much easier with the pads and screws removed.
Another sliding door can be found adorning the front of the Cosmos II. When closed, the door is held shut by two rare-earth magnets along the top edge. A slight tug will unlatch the panel, causing it to slide downward and reveal the external drive bays. The remainder of the case’s face is covered by a large mesh grill that conceals a 200-mm intake fan.
Our only beef with the front door is its snail-like lack of urgency. The door takes about 12 seconds to open fully, which feels like an eternity when you just want to eject a disc. Even though it’s designed to drop open smoothly under its own weight, we frequently got impatient and tried to speed up the process. Doing so only rewarded us with a chorus of grinding plastic gear noises. The Cosmos’ sliding mechanisms definitely give the panels a feeling of refinement, but they need to be sped up for the highly caffeinated among us.
The Cosmos unhinged
The sliding front door eventually uncovers a trio of 5.25″ optical bays perched atop a pair of hot-swappable 3.5″ hard drive bays, or “X-docks,” if you prefer the marketing jargon. Each hot-swap bay can accommodate a bare 3.5″ SATA hard drive, which slides in from the front. Closing the bay door pushes the drive into place and completes the connection with the Serial ATA data and power ports. With the door closed, everything can be locked in place using an included key. Removing drives is just as easy. As the front hatch opens, a lever extends to disconnect the drive and push it outward by about an inch.
The only thing missing from the Cosmos II’s front face is an external 3.5″ drive bay for a memory card reader or perhaps an ancient Zip drive. Cooler Master could have at least provided a 5.25″-to-3.5″ bay adapter in the box. And, no, you can’t slide an external 3.5″ drive into one of the hot-swap bays.
A new signature feature of the Cosmos line is a pair of wickedly cool hinged side panels. The panels are tool-less and can be popped open using levers around back. Once released, they swing forward like some kind of an angry, armored insect about to take flight. The hinges are incredibly sturdy, and the side panels can be lifted off completely after being opened at least 35 degrees.
The panels measure 1″ thick near their angular crease and taper off to about 0.5″ at the back edge. A brushed aluminum outer shell and a thick, plastic interior frame create a layered design reminiscent of the Antec P180, although it’s fairly obvious silent running isn’t this enclosure’s prime directive.
Running clean does seem to be a priority for Cooler Master, though. Like every other air inlet on the case, the ventilation ports on both side panels are covered with dust filters. The panels feature gills backed by a striking honeycomb venting pattern, and there’s added ventilation along the left-hand panel to assist toasty graphics configurations.
A removable dust filter can be found on the bottom of the case covering the PSU inlet. The underbelly also hosts several screws that fasten the bottom hard drive cage to the chassis. If this cage is removed, a 240-mm water-cooling radiator can be installed in its place.
Like most cases these days, the Cosmos II situates its power supply at the bottom. However, the mount sticks out from the case to allow an extra inch of clearance for high-end PSUs. As a result, you can cram a PSU up to 9.5″ long into the Cosmos without interfering with other internal components.
No fewer than 11 expansion slots line the rear of the case in a 10 + 1 configuration. The side panel’s release levers are located in the middle of the rear panel, and a 140-mm exhaust fan is placed over the motherboard I/O cluster. If you prefer liquid cooling, three grommet-lined holes are available for plumbing to pass through.
Opening the shuttle bay doors
We’ve worked with some large cases in our day, but the Cosmos II takes the cake—then eats it for good measure. Even Corsair’s Obsidian Series 800D is humbled in the shadow of this colossus, which measures 27.7″ tall, 13.5″ wide, and 26.1″ deep. When it finally came time to peek inside the enclosure, we were greeted by a blacked-out interior with enough space to shoehorn the state of Texas, complete with cattle and Rick Perry campaigners.
Like its predecessor, the Cosmos II employs a split compartment layout. The PSU and six of the HDD bays are separated from the CPUs, GPUs, and other flame-throwing components. This design may have debatable merit from a thermal efficiency standpoint, but it does serve to keep the insides of the case looking neat and organized. The panel dividing the two compartments features a pair of grommet lined holes for cables and coolant tubing.
On the cooling front, the lower hard drive bay is covered by a hinged shroud containing two 120-mm intake fans. The case’s other pre-installed fans include a 200-mm wind machine in front, a 120-mm exhaust up top, and a 140-mm exhaust at the rear. The ability to house a versatile array of cooling solutions is one of the Cosmos II’s trump cards. In addition to the five fans that come installed in the case, the Cosmos can accept five more: two more up top, a couple more in the side panel, and one more in front.
As far as motherboards are concerned, the spec sheet for the Cosmos II should probably just read: “Yes, please!” Officially, the case supports microATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX, SSI CEB, and SSI EEB form factors. A Mini-ITX board could also be wrangled into the chassis, but it might get lost in the expanse.
When dropping this much scrilla for a computer case, we’d expect to find a suitably sophisticated cable management system. The Cosmos II doesn’t disappoint on this front. There’s room aplenty for routing, bundling, and stashing cables behind the motherboard tray, which is lined with two columns of grommet-wrapped cutouts to account for different motherboard sizes.
Let’s talk drive bays for a minute. Cooler Master must have missed the memo about the flooding in Thailand, because the Cosmos II flaunts 13 places to stash a 3.5″ hard drive. In addition to the two external hot-swap bays, there are 11 internal, traditional sleds that also accept 2.5″ drives. Five drive caddies are stacked vertically beneath the hot-swap bays, while the remaining six sleds are located in a fan-shrouded bay at the bottom of the case, just to the right of the power supply (in the picture above). The drive bays are all removable to allow for ludicrously long expansion cards up top or a 120-mm radiator down below.
The drive sleds are pleasantly simple to use; just bend them a bit, insert a hard drive onto the grommet-laced metal posts, and then snap everything into place. Mounting 2.5″ drives like SSDs onto the sleds will require the use of some old-fashioned screws, though.
In addition to the five-star hard drive accommodations, the Cosmos II comes equipped with three tool-less 5.25″ bays. It would have been nice to see some more external 5.25″ bays in a case this large, but Cooler Master apparently believes internal drives are where the action’s at these days.
The retention mechanism for the optical bays uses a novel push-button design similar to that of the original Cosmos. To install a drive, simply slip it into place and push the button to lock things down. To remove a drive, press the button again and yank the drive out. The mechanism works well, but it’s not rock solid. Fortunately, screws can be added to shore up drive stability.
Space dock: building inside the Cosmos II
Building inside the Cosmos II is about as easy as it gets—until you have to move the thing. Due to its gargantuan proportions and considerable heft, the Cosmos is difficult to rotate and slide around while assembling a system.
Because the case is so large and the power supply is mounted at the bottom, Cooler Master thoughtfully throws in an extension cable for the eight-pin auxiliary 12V motherboard connector. Also included with the accessory pack is a USB 3.0-to-2.0 converter, keys for the hot-swap drive bays, a system speaker, mounting brackets for a 240-mm radiator, a wide assortment of screws, and a fistful of cable ties.
The Cosmos II can handle coolers up to 7.5″ (190 mm) tall, so even our sizable Thermaltake Frio heatsink was comfortably accommodated with room to spare. Our graphics card slotted in with even more leg room, as the case can gobble up cards in excess of 15″ long. Dual-GPU monstrosities like the GeForce GTX 590 and Radeon HD 6990 don’t even breach the 12″ barrier.
A fountain of cables erupts from the Cosmos’ front panel, and most of them are tied to the fan controller. Thankfully, all the leads are explicitly labeled. The fan controller provides a maximum output of one amp per zone, and multiple fans can be connected in most zones. The top and HDD zones have three fan headers each, the GPU zone has two headers, and the front zone is limited to a single spinner. There are also four LED leads that connect the lighting components of compatible fans to a button on the front panel.
At the bottom of the case, our average-sized ATX power supply rests comfortably in its bay. The bay’s upper limit is set at 9.5″, which ought to be enough room for even the beefiest 1500W PSUs on the market today.
In case we overlooked something, here are the nitty gritty details of the Cosmos II distilled into table form.
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||27.7″ x 13.5″ x 26.1″ (704 x 344 x 664 mm)|
|Weight||47.4 lbs. (22 kg)|
|Supported motherboards||Micro ATX, ATX, E-ATX, XL-ATX, SSI CEB, SSI EEB|
|3.5″ drive bays||13 (2 hot-swappable)|
|2.5″ drive bays||11 (Shared with 3.5″ bays)|
|5.25″ drive bays||3|
|Fan mounts||8x 120 mm, 4x 140 mm, 2x 200 mm|
|Included fans||3x 120 mm, 1x 140 mm, 1x 200 mm|
|Max. graphics card length||15.15″ (385 mm)|
|Max. CPU cooler height||7.48″ (190 mm)|
|Max. PSU length||9.5″ (241 mm)|
|Gap behind motherboard||1″-1.5″ (25-38 mm)|
Please specify testing parameters
Case review groupies may note that the components used in this build differ slightly from those that Cyril uses in his reviews. The table below outlines the specifics of the hardware we’ll be using for our test bed.
|Processor||AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition at 3.4GHz (140W TDP)|
|CPU heatsink||Thermaltake Frio – Single fan in a pull configuration|
|Thermal compound||Arctic Silver 5|
|Memory size||4GB (4 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1333 at 1333MHz|
|Audio||Realtek ALC889 with default Windows drivers|
|Graphics||XFX Radeon HD 6870 1GB GDDR5|
|Graphics drivers||Driver Version: 8/850.0.0, Catalyst Version: 11.5|
|Hard drive||Seagate NL35.2 ST3500641NS 500GB|
|Optical drive||ASUS DRW-1814 with Lightscribe|
|Power supply||OCZ GamerXStream 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 maintain a separate data set, 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 do represent approximately the same power and thermal characteristics associated with today’s high-end hardware.
Below is a list of the relevant software pieces used in this review.
Some further notes on our test methods:
- Noise levels were measured using an Extech 407727 Digital Sound Level Meter placed six inches from the side, front, and top of each case. Ambient noise levels were below the 40-dB threshold of the Extech meter.
- Each case was tested with its stock cooling fans. All side panels and doors were secured in place, and dust filters were installed in their factory positions. The ambient room temperature was measured at 22°C during testing. AMD’s Cool ‘n Quiet dynamic speed throttling technology was enabled, and the CPU fan was set to run at a constant speed of 2,100 RPM. This fan speed was settled upon after much trial and error, and it represents the best balance between cooling performance and noise.
- Idle temperature readings were taken with the system sitting at the Windows desktop with 0-1% CPU utilization. After setting this idle baseline, we moved onto a GPU load consisting of the Unigine Heaven benchmark running 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 for the duration of the stress test. Then, we applied a full system load by adding a four-way instance of Prime95 using the “in-place FFTs (Max heat/power consumption)” setting. Temperatures were allowed to stabilize before taking readings at each load level.
We’ve learned that size isn’t everything when it comes to an enclosure’s cooling performance. Case in point: the Fractal Design Core 3000. That’s not to say size can’t be a factor, though. Larger cases provide more internal room for heat to dissipate, and they typically accommodate more fans. The Cosmos II, for example, has five fans installed at the factory—at least two more than most of the other cases we’ve reviewed.
For reference, we’ve included previous results for a range of cases including the NZXT H2, BitFenix Shinobi Window, Fractal Design Define R3 and Core 3000, Corsair Carbide 400R, and Antec P280. The cases that include factory fan controllers (like the Cosmos II) have been tested at their highest and lowest fan speed settings.
The Cosmos II’s CPU temperatures are very respectable, coming within striking distance of our perennial champion, the Core 3000. Even at the lowest fan speed setting, the Cosmos performs as well as the Corsair Carbide 400R.
Due to a fan failure, we were forced to swap graphics cards for our P280 coverage and all future case reviews. The replacement card is exactly the same as the original down to the clock speeds and the reference cooler, but in multiple enclosures, it seems to run 4-5°C cooler under load and maybe 1-2°C cooler at idle. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that we removed the new card’s heatsink and reapplied with a superior thermal compound some time ago.
Regardless of the compound used, this new card’s heat dissipation should match that of the original. Since the cooler design is also identical, we don’t expect the new card to alter any results beyond the GPU temperatures. The affected scores have been highlighted with an asterisk in the graphs above.
Since the Cosmos II and P280 were both tested with the same graphics card, their results are the most comparable here. It’s a tight race between those two, with the Cosmos running a little cooler in some configurations, and the P280 coming out ahead in the others.
The Cosmos II keeps our system’s motherboard consistently cool, even under load. However, with the fans spinning at full speed, the Cooler Master case is still behind the Antec at idle and under a GPU-only load. Our motherboard’s temperature sensor appears to be located near the top of the case, where the P280 provides more exhaust fans than the Cosmos. The Cosmos II does maintain lower motherboard temperatures than the P280 when the fans are spinning at a leisurely pace, though.
You’d be pretty chilly, too, with a 200-mm fan spinning its blades an inch from your face. The Cosmos II easily manages the lowest HDD temperatures with its fans running at full tilt. Even at the slowest fan speed, which increases temperatures by 5-6°C, the Cosmos’ hard drive remains competitively cool.
Admittedly, the overall results aren’t terribly surprising to us. The Cosmos II offers good cooling performance, which it should given the target market.
Much like the old P180, the Cosmos II has thick, multi-layered side panels that should put a damper on vibration and other noise. Other than the rubber grommets cradling our hard drive, the Cosmos doesn’t employ further acoustical embellishments. Cooler Master seems content to rely on the case’s massive fans and spacious interior to keep noise levels in check.
If our test subject was nervous going into the audio exam, it can stop sweating now. The overall noise levels emanating from the Cosmos II are comparatively good. At low fan speeds, the case can even hang with the quietest examples we’ve tested.
Because its fans are controlled manually, the Cosmos does sound a bit raucous at idle when its fans are spinning with all their might. Based on the case’s thermal performance, it’s safe to leave the fans at their lowest speed.
In an attempt to illustrate our tested enclosures’ tendencies toward high or low frequency noise emissions, we’ve recently begun analyzing captured audio recordings of each system. Just because two sources emit the same amount of noise as measured in decibels doesn’t mean that they necessarily sound the same. Hopefully, these next results will help to paint a more complete picture of the Cosmos II’s acoustic profile.
Audio recordings of our assembled test systems were captured in a silent room. We then ran a spectrum analysis on the audio file produced and plotted the case’s sound signature across a range of frequencies from 30Hz to 15,000Hz—the limits of our microphone. We used an Audio Technica ATR-2500 USB mic placed approximately 1.5″ from the side and front of the case. The uncompressed mono audio track was recorded at CD quality with 16 bits of resolution at 44.1kHz. The spectrum data was plotted and exported using Audacity’s Plot Spectrum feature with a Blackman-Harris window, a linear frequency, and a FFT size of 4096. We cut off our charts after 4,000Hz to highlight the most relevant portion of each case’s acoustic profile. At higher frequencies, the lines really start to converge, indicating less difference between our subjects.
This is a fairly new method for us, so we haven’t been able to test all of the cases in our stable. The Cosmos II will have to make do with the Core 3000, Carbide 400R, and P280 as its only competition. The Core 3000 and Carbide 400R were tested with their fans plugged directly into the motherboard, while the P280 and Cosmos II used their built-in fan controllers at the highest setting.
When analyzing the graphs above, it’s important to note that sound pressure levels and frequencies both influence our perception of loudness. To the human ear, high-pressure sounds at lower frequencies can seem just as loud as low-pressure sounds occurring at higher frequencies, a concept described by the equal-loudness contour. The case noise we recorded is a constant hum, which is similar to the steady tone associated with equal-loudness contour curves. Spikes along the curve represent variations in the sound produced by each case.
The spectrum curves for the Cosmos II are interesting because there is little separation between the load and idle results. From the side of the case, the lines begin to diverge between 2000 and 3000 Hz, indicating that the video card fan has spooled up and is contributing to the overall system noise at these frequencies. From the front, both curves closely follow one another, indicating a consistent system sound despite the added processing load.
While the Cosmos II tracks closely with most of the other cases across our frequency spectrum, the P280 registers lower decibel levels throughout. The Antec case is at its quietest when measured from the front and side; unfortunately, our testing rig doesn’t have enough room to mount the microphone above the case for a third set of results.
In day-to-day use, the Cosmos II produces a nondescript hum regardless of its given workload. The case sounds a bit more refined than other high-airflow designs we’ve used in the past. However, acoustically dampened chassis like the NZXT H2 and Define R3 still sound best to my ears.
The Cosmos II’s family resemblance is uncanny. However, there are two important differences between the current model and its lineage that make us wonder if Cooler Master should have gone with a different name. The Cosmos II is quite a bit costlier than the original, and amazingly, it’s also larger.
The original Cosmos RC-1000 was not a cheap date by any stretch of the imagination, and its retail running-mate, the Cosmos S, cost even more. Even so, those cases could be had for $200-250, which is still attainable for enthusiasts with flexible budgets. When it hits store shelves later this month the Cosmos II will demand a tidy ransom of $349, putting it into a price bracket that’s much harder to justify. Something that costs this much generally requires a much more specific usage agenda than simply crunching numbers in style.
While the older models were marketed as full-tower enclosures, Cooler Master had to invent a new “ultra-tower” term to describe the enormity of its latest creation. The extra space is put to good use, giving the Cosmos II the ability to house more fans and hard drives than its predecessor while also accommodating longer graphics cards. Everything has been scaled up for the sequel while retaining a look that’s somewhat reminiscent of the original Cosmos.
When all is said and done, smaller full- and mid-tower enclosures are likely to remain the champions of more practical enthusiasts. Practicality can be boring, though. Sometimes, you need 13 hard drives, four graphics cards, and a huge dual-socket motherboard—or sometimes, that’s just what you want. In those situations, a lesser case simply won’t do.
Without a doubt, the Cosmos II is a technical tour de force. Envelope-pushing cases like this one remind me why I’m a hopeless hardware nut. Assuming the sliding-cover issues have been ironed out and the asking price jibes with your credit limit, this case could be very hard to resist. While I’d like to see the top 120-mm fan replaced with a 200-mm unit, there’s little else I can fault. An extra 5.25″ drive bay or two might have been nice, but the hot-swap bays make a pretty sweet consolation prize.
There’s even something to be said for the Cosmos II’s high-priced exclusivity, although we’d love to see a price cut make the case more accessible to the enthusiast community at large. Perhaps in the future, Cooler Master will see fit to bring the Cosmos—or some of its slick features—down to more attainable price points.
Ultimately, the thought of using the Cosmos II as the foundation for my next desktop rig puts an ear-to-ear grin on my face. It may not be the epitome of practicality, but the Cosmos is exciting. The child-like enthusiasm I experienced while combing over the case almost earned it a recommendation then and there. Add the superb craftsmanship, great performance, and a comprehensive feature list, and we’ve got all the trappings of an Editor’s Choice award winner.