I recently reviewed Cooler Master’s Elite 110 Mini-ITX case, and while I found it suitable for a mid-range gaming PC, I felt that it might leave the enthusiast builder wanting. Today, I’m taking a look at Corsair’s latest enthusiast-oriented Mini-ITX enclosure, the Graphite Series 380T. With a built-in fan controller, enough room for high-end components and their accompanying coolers, and aggressive styling, the 380T seems set to play the Ferrari or Lamborghini to the subdued, subcompact Elite 110. Is there substance under all of that style? I’m going to fill ‘er up with some high-performance components and find out.
The styling of the case certainly evokes the latest from Maranello and Sant’Agata Bolognese, starting with the eye-scalding black-and-yellow color scheme. The matte yellow panels are made from molded plastic that’s secured to a metal frame. I’m a fan of the yellow exterior, but Corsair also offers the 380T in black or white for those with more subdued tastes.
Regardless of the color choice, black metal mesh covers the front and side panels, and a window at the top of each side panel allows for a glimpse of the components inside. The experience is sort of like peering through the transparent cowls on some supercars, and it’s heightened by a white internal LED that illuminates the motherboard tray for easy ogling. The included 140-mm intake fan is also studded with four white LEDs in the case’s white and yellow incarnations. (Buyers of the black version will get red LEDs.) If all of those diodes aren’t enough, there’s yet another white LED under the beaky protrusion at the front of the case.
See the carrying handle up top? Corsair affectionately called the 380T the “drink cooler case” in its correspondence with us. While I wouldn’t put that moniker to the test, the handle makes the 380T a cinch to carry. Whether as a LAN party box, mobile recording rig, or dorm box, the 380T is built to be moved around.
The front panel includes several buttons and ports. The button on the left controls the speed of fans hooked up to the built-in fan controller, while the one on the right is a large reset button. If the car analogies weren’t overt enough yet, the power button could have been taken from the dashboard of any modern car. It might even make you go “vroom” the first time you start up the system—not that I’m speaking from experience. The cluster is rounded out with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and a microphone jack.
When the system is turned on, the power and fan-controller buttons light up with white LEDs, as do the USB, headphone, disk, and microphone indicators. It’s very slick-looking. As with the intake fan, the black version of the 380T uses red LEDs here, instead.
The rear of the 380T offers the first hint of the dual-level interior design. The power-supply and storage bays get a chamber at the bottom of the case, while the motherboard and expansion are meant to reside up top. I’ll explore the interior of the case more thoroughly in a moment.
At the very bottom of the 380T, a pair of plastic feet with thick, full-length rubber pads serve as the case’s foundation. The large rubber pads should help to keep any vibration from the 380T’s components from reaching floors or desks—a welcome feature.
Here’s a table of the Graphite Series 380T’s specs, for easy comparison with other cases we’ve reviewed:
|Corsair Graphite Series 380T|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||14.0″ x 11.5″ x 15.5″ (356 x 292 x 393 mm)|
|3.5″/2.5″ drive bays||2|
|2.5″ drive bays||2|
|Fan mounts||2x 120 mm, 1x 140 mm, or 1x 200 mm (front)
1x 120 mm (rear)
2x 120 mm (side)
|Radiator mounts||1x 120 mm (rear)
2x 120 mm or 1x 240 mm (side)
|Included fans||1x Corsair 140 mm (front)
1x Corsair 120mm (rear)
|Fan controller||Headers for 3x 3- or 4-pin fans, 3 speeds controlled by front panel button|
|Front panel I/O||2x USB 3.0
|Max. graphics card length||11.4″ (290 mm)|
|Max. CPU cooler height||5.9″ (150 mm)|
|Max. power supply unit length||6.3″ (160 mm)|
|MSRP||$129.99 (black), $139.99 (white or yellow)|
Perhaps the best feature of the 380T is its built-in fan controller. Though nothing beats a motherboard with plenty of fan headers and good EFI fan control, most Mini-ITX mobos only have a couple of fan headers: one for the CPU cooler and another for a case fan. Add a closed-loop liquid cooler to your parts list, and both of those motherboard headers will be used up by the CPU cooling fan and pump. Manually controlling case fans using the button on the front panel is a bit inconvenient, but it beats no control at all.
All of these high-end features don’t come cheap. In keeping with its exotic bearings, the 380T starts at $129.99 for the all-black version or $139.99 for the white and yellow versions. That’s a lot of money for any case, so I’ll be judging the 380T by an equally high standard.
Now that we’ve seen the exterior of the 380T, let’s see how Corsair laid out the interior.
Getting inside the Graphite Series 380T is painless. Each panel has a handle at the top. Pulling up on that handle unlatches the panel from the case. The front panel comes off with a gentle press at the top corners, as with most Corsair enclosures. All of these removable panels are filtered to minimize dust buildup, but the filters themselves are permanently affixed, unlike the magnetic, removable filters on the Obsidan 250D.
Removing the front panel reveals the included 140-mm intake fan. If the stock fan isn’t quiet enough, the front panel has mounts for a 200-mm fan, instead. For those especially concerned about cooling their 3.5″ drives, the front mount also supports two 120-mm spinners.
Unlike its Obsidian 250D stable mate, the 380T has no 5.25″ drive bays. That’s fine by me, but users who can’t live without an optical drive will have to resort to an external unit.
On the lower level is the power-supply bay, which can fit units up to 6.3″ (160 mm) in length. The bay has a vent with a removable dust filter at the bottom, so PSUs should be installed with their fans facing down.
Along the side of the PSU bay is a pair of tool-free 2.5″ drive bays. Facing it is a cage containing two tool-free 3.5″ drive trays, which can also accommodate 2.5″ drives. That cage can be removed to make room for a longer power supply, but bear in mind that the 380T’s bottom vent may not line up with the center-mounted fan on an extra-long PSU. Also, there’s a rail or flange at the top that looks like it might interfere with longer units. All things considered, it’s probably safest to abide by the recommended PSU length.
In the top chamber, you’ll find a motherboard tray with integrated standoffs, the included 120-mm exhaust fan, and… well, not much else. This is good, though, because it means there’s plenty of space for tower-style air coolers and large graphics cards. The 380T supports tower-style coolers up to 5.9″ (150 mm) in height. That’s not quite enough room for our favorite Thermaltake or Cooler Master heatsinks, but it should be sufficient for shorter tower-style heatsinks like the Cooler Master Hyper N520.
Graphics cards up to 11.4″ (290 mm) will fit in the 380T. That means some GeForce GTX 780s and Radeon R9 290s are fair game. Just be sure to double-check the length of your card before making your purchase. Many high-end models have coolers within a tenth of an inch of the 380T’s maximum supported length, and some are simply too long.
At the very top of the case are a toggle switch for the internal LED and three header cables for the built-in fan controller.
Moving around to the right side of the case, you can see the two rails meant to hold liquid-cooling radiators or 120-mm fans.
Overall, the Graphite Series 380T is full of the kinds of enthusiast-friendly features I like to see in a case of this caliber. Next, I’m going to install my version of TR’s Casewarmer build and put the pedal to the metal.
The Casewarmer rides again
With all of that room inside, I was looking forward to building a system in the Graphite Series 380T. Unfortunately, I ran into some snags right away.
The MSI A88XI AC motherboard I’m using went in smoothly. When I tried to install the backplate for the Casewarmer’s Cooler Master Seidon 120V closed-loop liquid cooler, though, I discovered that two of the bolt holes on the A88XI AC were obstructed by the motherboard tray, despite the presence of a cutout underneath the motherboard. After removing the board and reinstalling it with the backplate in place, I was ready to move on. Owners of Intel mobos might not run into this issue, but a glance at the bolt pattern on some of those boards doesn’t give me much hope. I’d install any custom cooler backplates before installing the motherboard, just to be safe.
The trouble didn’t end there. The 380T has a 120-mm rear radiator mount, but the top rail of the case prevented the Seidon 120V’s radiator from fitting there. The end tanks of the cooler butted up against the flanges on the rail, which meant the screw holes couldn’t align. I can only speculate that the end tanks on Corsair radiators are somehow different from those on the Seidon 120V’s, but this is a strange incompatibility, if so. With 163 reviews on Newegg, the Seidon 120V can’t be dismissed as an edge case, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the huge variety of liquid coolers from other manufacturers.
I tried to mount the radiator at the front, but that was a bust, too. While the 380T has two front mounts for 120-mm fans, there’s no way a radiator can fit there. As with the top rail, a flange behind the front panel prevents the radiator from lining up correctly. Had Corsair flattened out the rear of this panel, I probably could have secured the radiator there—but no dice.
Ultimately, I had to install the radiator on one of the side mounting points. Thanks to the mesh side panels, the radiator fan could still draw cool air from outside the case, and the push-pull configuration of the intake and exhaust fans kept the radiator’s heat from stagnating inside. Having to install an extra fan to cool the CPU was somewhat annoying, but I’ll live.
Unlike the Elite 110, the 380T can fit many plenty of conventional heatsinks and fans, so prospective buyers don’t have to use a liquid cooler. Still, cooler compatibility issues like these feel at odds with the enclosure’s enthusiast aspirations.
Next, I was ready to install the PSU. I unscrewed the retaining bracket at the rear of the case, then fastened it to the rear of the Casewarmer’s Cooler Master V550. That accomplished, I snaked the V550’s permanent cables through the PSU bay and into the lower level of the case. I found that removing the 3.5″ drive cage beforehand made it easier to get those cables inside. Once the PSU was fully inserted into the bay, I reinstalled the four thumbscrews that secure the PSU bracket to the rear panel of the 380T, and voila: the PSU was ready to go. I also found that it’s best to install any required modular cables at this point, since the 3.5″ drive cage blocks access to the PSU.
I then turned my attention to the GPU. I grabbed the Casewarmer’s Zotac GeForce GTX 660 Ti from my parts shelf and got to it.
The Graphite Series 380T uses a tool-free expansion card retainer, which turned out to be more annoying than helpful. This retainer works by trapping the graphics card’s I/O bracket between two metal plates. One is a fixed part of the case, while the other is a guillotine-like bracket that’s secured with a thumbscrew.
After removing the thumbscrew, I slid the movable bracket upward, installed the graphics card, and then tried to secure it by moving the bracket back into place. I don’t know if it was a matter of tight tolerances or some other issue, but I had to bear down hard on the bracket and wiggle the graphics card before the screw holes could line up. I would have preferred a simple pair of thumbscrews to this finicky tool-free system.
A PC is no good without storage, so next, I installed the Casewarmer’s Kingston HyperX SSD and a 3.5″ hard drive from my parts bin. The 380T’s drive bays are an example of tool-free done right. My SSD clicked right into the appropriate bay, while the 3.5″ tray clipped into the screw holes on the sides of my hard drive without resistance.
I do take issue with the fact that the business ends of the 2.5″ and 3.5″ bays wind up on opposite sides of the case, though. This configuration makes for a long stretch from the SATA ports on the motherboard to the 2.5″ drives, and it also makes it difficult to use a common SATA power cable for the 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives, as I was able to do in the Elite 110. I ended up using two SATA cables from the PSU: one for the 2.5″ bay and another for the 3.5″ bay. This made for more of a nest of cables under the 3.5″ drive cage than I would prefer. At least the cable tangle wasn’t blocking airflow down there.
At this point, all of the major components were in place, but I still had a couple of loose ends to tie up. Since the Seidon 120V’s fan and pump took up both of the motherboard’s fan headers, I used the 380T’s fan controller to power the front and rear fans. It also wouldn’t do to leave the fancy internal lighting without power. The lighting system and fan controller both use a common SATA power connector for juice, so I hooked it up to one of the extra connectors from the cable routed to the 3.5″ bays.
Finally, I turned my attention to cable routing. The most logical place to stow excess cabling is under the 3.5″ drive cage, since that space lies directly in front of the PSU. Other potential stowage spots include the open area on the right side of the case (beneath the radiator mount) and the large open space between the motherboard and the front of the case. I left the space in the upper chamber unused so that airflow through the case wasn’t impeded.
Overall, building a system in the Graphite Series 380T was harder than I expected. All of the other Corsair cases I’ve used have been breezes to build in, so the 380T’s issues with radiator compatibility, the tight fit between the front of the PSU and 3.5″ drive cage, and the finicky expansion card mounting system were all unexpected annoyances.
My experience wasn’t all rough edges, though. I appreciated the ample room for cable routing. The tool-free drive bays are a favorite feature of mine on other Corsair cases, so I was happy to see them make an appearance here. While the Zotac GeForce GTX 660 Ti I used didn’t come close to the length limit, I imagine builders looking for a case to handle lengthy top-end cards will be happy with the space on hand in the 380T.
Before we see how the 380T handles a few billion silicon ponies switching away under the hood, I have to devote a couple of sentences to the carrying handle. With the Casewarmer installed, the 380T weighs about 21 pounds, which is hardly MacBook Air territory. I toted the 380T around my house a few times, and the handle never felt unworthy of the task. While a fully loaded 380T is more of a luggable than a true mobile system, it’s reassuring to know the handle is more than a mere styling flourish.
Now, let’s fire up the Casewarmer and see whether the 380T can take the heat.
Our testing methods
Here are the specifications of the Casewarmer inside the 380T:
|Motherboard||MSI A88XI AC|
|Memory||8GB AMD DDR3-1600 (2x 4GB DIMMs)|
|Graphics card||Zotac GeForce GTX 660 Ti AMP! Edition|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD, Samsung F1 750GB|
|Power supply||Cooler Master V550|
|CPU cooler||Cooler Master Seidon 120V closed-loop liquid cooler|
|OS||Windows 8.1 Pro|
A big thanks to Cooler Master, Gigabyte, MSI, Zotac, AMD, and Kingston for contributing hardware to make this review possible.
I relied on three software tools to test the Graphite Series 380T:
- AIDA64 Engineer for data logging
- Prime95 for CPU torture testing
- Unigine Heaven 4.0 for GPU torture testing
Each test cycle included the following phases:
- 10 minutes of idle time at the Windows 8.1 desktop
- 10 minutes running the Unigine Heaven benchmark
- 10 minutes running both the Unigine Heaven benchmark and the Prime95 CPU torture test
- 10 minutes of idle time at the Windows 8.1 desktop
Since I used the same MSI A88XI AC motherboard as in the Elite 110, I had to go through a similar song-and-dance routine to get a good profile loaded for the CPU fan controller, the details of which you can read more about here. With that accomplished, I proceeded to put the Casewarmer through its paces. The onboard fan controller was tested at its lowest and highest settings, which affected the speeds of the 140-mm intake fan and 120-mm exhaust fan in my test configuration.
The tests and methods we employ are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, join us on our forums to discuss them with us.
Here are the temperatures for the Casewarmer’s components, plotted over time:
And here are the minimum and maximum temperatures for each section of the test cycle:
(Note that, due to operator error, I don’t have hard drive temperatures for the Elite 110 to compare against the 380T. Sorry about that.)
With the fan controller at its lowest speed, the Graphite Series 380T didn’t break a sweat with these components inside. The only slightly worrisome temperature was that of the motherboard, but since this result seems to be following my CPU and mobo combination from case to case, it’s probably not fair to blame it on the 380T.
Overall, at the low setting, the 380T’s temperatures look pretty close to the Elite 110’s—with a couple of exceptions. The 380T’s all-mesh side panels appear to be especially good for the GPU. The Casewarmer’s GeForce GTX 660 Ti ran 3°C cooler in the Corsair case. The SSD also didn’t budge much off its idle temperature, with only a 2°C difference between idle and load. This is excellent performance. I wouldn’t hesitate to put even the hottest, most power-hungry components inside the 380T.
I was also curious to see what effect higher fan speeds would have on the 380T’s thermal performance. So, I gave the front panel button a couple of clicks to rev things up, and I ran my test cycle a second time. As you can see in the graph above, the motherboard, GPU, SSD, and hard drive all benefited from the added airflow. Their temperatures all dropped a couple of degrees Celsius from my initial test run. I had to double-check my numbers to make sure the flat 31°C temperature of the SSD wasn’t a mistake.
While these aren’t huge improvements, having the option to increase fan speeds might make the difference between comfortable and worrisome temperatures for more demanding systems. I didn’t test the fan controller’s middle speed setting, but it’s probably fair to say it would perform somewhere between the low and high settings. As we’ll soon see, the 380T is well-mannered even with its fans at full blast, but being able to fine-tune the balance between noise and cooling performance is definitely a good feature to have.
While the sonorous roar of an Italian V12 might make for a great soundtrack on the open road, that’s not the kind of sound most people want from their PCs. Mercifully, the 380T isn’t nearly as loud as its color scheme.
To test noise levels, I relied on an iOS app: dB meter – lux decibel measurement tool. This is just a smartphone app, and you probably shouldn’t compare its numbers with the results from a lab-grade decibel meter. However, the app does give us a decent sense of the 380T’s relative loudness.
According to the app, the noise floor in my office with no appliances, HVAC equipment, or other computers running is about 30 dBA. To gather my numbers, I took readings from the front, sides, and top of the 380T. I positioned my phone 6″ from the case for each reading.
At idle, the 380T runs louder than the Elite 110. Part of the blame probably lies with the all-mesh front and side panels, which don’t do much to block noise from the inside of the case. Under load with its fan controller on low, the 380T is about on par with the Elite 110. Kick the fan controller up to high, and the dBA numbers increase accordingly, but not enough to be significantly louder than the Elite 110. The two cases are basically at a dead heat under load either way.
Of course, the character of a sound is just as important as hard numbers. As in the Elite 110, the noisiest components here were the Casewarmer’s whiny GPU cooler and the Seidon 120V, whose pump ticked audibly. The stock fans in the 380T were pretty good performers, though. They were nearly indistinguishable from background noise at idle, and even at full speed, they produced something close to an ideal, broad-spectrum “whoosh”—neither unpleasant nor distracting. I’d be fine with having the 380T on my desk full-time, despite its higher sound pressure levels.
Exotic cars often have boatloads of quirks to go with their staggering performance and eye-catching lines. As a stylish Mini-ITX enclosure designed to hold high-performance components, the Graphite Series 380T is certainly an exotic case. Is it like an Acura NSX, the paradoxical “reliable supercar,” or is it more like a classic Maserati—beautiful, but full of “personality?”
The 380T’s styling makes a statement, to be sure. Its yellow-and-black color scheme is a welcome break from the gray and black cases that usually come through our labs, and its curvaceous exterior is eye-catching and aggressive without being tacky. The white LEDs scattered throughout the case also enhance the 380T’s visual appeal without cheapening its overall appearance.
This case isn’t all about looks, either. Its built-in fan controller is a useful feature, given the limited fan control afforded by most Mini-ITX motherboards. Demanding enthusiasts will also appreciate the space for top-of-the-line graphics cards. Another plus is that the 380T can accommodate large tower-style air coolers, so builders won’t have to resort to liquid cooling by default. Most importantly, the 380T is easy on the ears, both at idle and under load. (While the Cooler Master Elite 110 is quieter at idle, its fan sounds distinctly coarser.)
Unfortunately, the 380T isn’t without its own flaws. I couldn’t get the Cooler Master Seidon 120V liquid cooler to fit the rear 120-mm radiator mount. Maybe some obscure compatibility issue is to blame, but that’s hard to know just by looking at the case online. If you’re planning to use liquid cooling in a 380T build, I’d be ready to use the side mount—or play it safe and stick with air cooling. The tool-free expansion card bracket turned out to be more frustrating than labor-saving, as well, and I found it difficult to add or remove modular PSU cabling with the 3.5″ drive cage in place.
These flaws would be easier to accept in a less expensive case. At $140 for the yellow version, though, the 380T is one of the most expensive Mini-ITX cases around. I therefore don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a friction-free experience. The Elite 110 was an easier case to build in despite its smaller size, and it costs only $50.
Like the Obsidian 250D before it, the Graphite Series 380T is probably best suited to the seasoned PC builder. Its quirks might prove frustrating to first-timers, and even for the more experienced enthusiast, finding out the hard way that certain components don’t fit isn’t the best feeling in the world. With the right components inside, though, the 380T is a great performer. It’s just not as easy to live with as a Honda Civic.