Our case-warmer build doesn't normally change between reviews, but this time, we had to make special adjustments to account for the 250D's form factor. Our full-sized ATX motherboard wouldn't fit (duh), and neither would the microATX one we used inside the Obsidian 350D. Our Thermaltake Frio cooler was also too tall.
Instead, we used Asus' P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard along with Noctua's NH-C14 cooler. The NH-C14 has a fairly low profile to begin with, and it can operate with its 120-mm fan sitting between the CPU socket and the fin array. Even in this arrangement, it was a smidgen over the 250D's maximum 3.7" cooler height. We were able to free up an extra 1.8" or so of headroom by removing the 5.25" drive bay—which, really, was no great loss. In the age of digital distribution, cloud backups, and Google Fiber, an optical drive can be much less valuable than a good CPU heatsink.
We also had to live without one of the 250D's bundled fans, since our motherboard only has two fan headers in all (one for the CPU cooler and one for a single case fan). We decided to hook up the 140-mm front intake rather than the 120-mm side exhaust. The 140-mm intake should be able to pump more air, and its position at the front should translate into positive pressure inside the case. With only the 120-mm exhaust spinning, the pressure inside the case would be negative, and dust would get sucked in through the cracks and other unfiltered gaps.
Having only two fan headers isn't uncommon among Mini-ITX motherboards, by the way. One has to wonder why Corsair doesn't outfit the 250D with some kind of fan controller, or at least a three-pin-to-Molex adapter for powering the second chassis fan. I suppose the company may have designed this case with closed-loop liquid coolers in mind. With a cooler like, say, Corsair's own H60i, the radiator would hug the side 120-mm fan, and there would be no need to power a third fan.
Given the relative awkwardness of using a large, conventional heatsink in a Mini-ITX system, perhaps that's the route we should have gone. We had no spare liquid coolers on hand, however, and we wanted to conduct an apples-to-apples noise and heat comparison of the 250D and its larger siblings, which were previously tested with the Thermaltake Frio—a cooler not dissimilar from the Noctua NH-C14 in its basic design.
But enough about cooling. We have other nits to pick, starting with the 250D's storage bay arrangement.
As we said, the drive bays are pretty straightforward to fill up. Unscrew the cover at the back, slide the trays out, snap them onto the hard drives and SSDs, and slide them back in. Easy. Hooking up the Serial ATA data and power cables is a little harder, though.
See, the drive trays are all stacked on top of one another, with the 2.5" ones at the top, sandwiched between the motherboard and the 3.5" trays. Because all four drive trays are lined up against the back of the case, the 2.5" trays, which are shorter, don't extend as far toward the front—and the front is where the connectors must go. Long story short, one pretty much has to push the 3.5" trays out of the case to connect the SSDs. Even then, it's hard to see what one is doing. We had to use an LED flashlight to get the job done.
Inserting the graphics card took a little finesse, too, especially since our XFX Radeon HD 7870 is fairly long, at 9.76".
Again, because the motherboard lies flush against the back of the case, any expansion card's I/O bracket must protrude outside. One must therefore hold open a sort of L-shaped guillotine during the installation process to make sure the bracket goes through it. Here's how we did it: we lowered the card just above the PCIe slot, slid it horizontally toward the back of the case until the top of the I/O bracket stuck out through the guillotine, then pushed the card down into the slot, and fastened the bracket with two thumb screws.
The two thumb screws can be seen from this angle, as can the guillotine-like piece of metal that holds the I/O bracket in place. The guillotine is in its resting position here.
Happily, aside from these minor niggles, putting together our build inside the 250D was relatively uneventful. Everything worked as it should the first time around, and we like that Corsair reserves plenty of space between the board and the front of the chassis for cable routing. Our build was quite tidy, all things considered.
Still, throughout the building process, it was clear that Corsair had to make compromises to keep the 250D small. For the most part, those compromises made sense. However, they did mean the 250D wasn't quite as easy to work in as a full-sized case—or even a slightly shrunken design like Corsair's 350D. The clearances were tighter for just about everything, and the connectors had to be plugged in the right order to avoid blocking off other ports prematurely.
The payoff may be worth it, since the 250D lets one pack a full-fledged gaming rig inside a very small volume. Only one question remains: is the 250D's cooling up to the task?
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