What is a cube? The answer to this question is surprisingly complicated. The Wikipedia article on cubes begins with a fairly intuitive definition, but it quickly branches into levels of complexity that my feeble brain isn’t quite built to navigate.
I jumped down this rabbit hole because Corsair calls its Carbide Series Air 240 a “cube case.” Even after I shattered my understanding of cubes by reading the page above, I feel fairly confident in saying that the Air 240 isn’t a cube. It’s also not a square cuboid. At best, it appears to be a rectangular cuboid, just like many other cases on the market. I think. Point is, none of this makes for good marketing copy, so I’ll let Corsair’s fast-and-loose definition of a cube slide. Let’s take a look at what the Air 240 has to offer.
The Carbide Series Air 240 is about the same size as the Graphite Series 380T I reviewed earlier this year, with one major difference: it’s a box, or rectangular cuboid, if you prefer. If Corsair carved the 380T’s curvaceous shape out of a block of clay, like a 1950s concept car, one could be forgiven for thinking that the Air 240’s conception stopped with the block.
The boxy design has its advantages, though. The Air 240 has room for both Mini-ITX and microATX motherboards, while the 380T is limited to Mini-ITX motherboards only. Corsair also had enough room to divide the interior of the Air 240 into two separate chambers: one for the motherboard, CPU, and graphics cards, and the other for SSDs, 3.5″ mechanical drives, and the power supply. Corsair claims this design allows for unobstructed airflow to the hottest components of the PC inside.
The left panel is windowed to show off those hot components. The left chamber is wrapped with vents at the top, side, and bottom. These vents are covered in metal mesh, and all of them are filtered. The filters are a welcome touch, but washing dust and dander from them will be difficult, since they’re semi-permanently attached to their respective panels with screws and metal tabs.
The front panel has all of the requisite port, jacks, and buttons we’ve come to expect: a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a mic jack, a headphone jack, and power and reset buttons. Like every other small-form-factor case that’s passed through my labs, the Air 240 lacks a 5.25″ expansion bay. For builders who don’t want to rely on an external optical drive, Corsair offers the larger Carbide Series Air 540, which has a similar dual-chamber design but also makes room for two 5.25″ bays.
The right chamber has a full-length vent for the power supply and storage bays. This vent is covered by one of Corsair’s signature magnetic dust filters, which should be far easier to work with than the semi-permanently-attached ones elsewhere on the case.
The Air 240 can sit either horizontally or vertically, although the benefits of the horizontal (or “desktop”) orientation seem dubious to me. The case occupies more square footage in this mode, and the windowed side panel means you probably don’t want to put anything on top of the case to save desk space. A neat touch: you can remove and rotate the Corsair emblem to match the orientation of the case. It’s held in by magnets.
The exterior of the Air 240 is mostly finished in a matte black plastic—save for the metal side panels and frame, which are covered in standard black crinkle paint. As with most of the matte plastic finishes I’ve encountered, the Air 240’s attracts fingerprints like a magnet. Be careful with your Air 240 if you want it to remain pristine.
Here’s a spec table for the Air 240, for easy comparison with our other case reviews:
|Corsair Carbide Series Air 240|
|Dimensions (H x W x D)||15.6″ x 10.2″ x 12.6″ (397 x 260 x 320 mm )|
|Supported motherboards||microATX, Mini-ITX|
|3.5″/2.5″ drive bays||3|
|2.5″ drive bays||3|
|Fan mounts||2x 120 mm (front)
2x 120 mm (bottom)
2x 120 mm (top)
1x 120 mm (right side panel)
2x 80 mm (rear)
|Radiator mounts||1x 240 mm (front)
1x 240 mm (bottom, Mini-ITX motherboards only)
|Included fans||2x Corsair 120 mm (front)
1x Corsair 120 mm (top)
|Front panel I/O||2x USB 3.0
|Max. graphics card length||11.4″ (290 mm)|
|Max. CPU cooler height||4.7″ (120 mm)|
|Max. power supply unit length||11.4″ (290 mm)|
|MSRP||$89.99 (black or white)|
Now that we’ve looked over the outside of the Air 240, let’s open up each chamber and see what lies inside.
Loosen eight thumbscrews, release some clips, take off some panels, and the Air 240 is open to the world.
The motherboard chamber is simple enough. Corsair’s usual rubber cable grommets abound, and there are sets of grommets for both Mini-ITX and microATX motherboards. Pre-installed standoffs are at the ready for motherboards of either type, too.
True to its name, the Air 240 has room for lots of fans. The case comes from the factory with three fans: a pair of 120-mm intakes at the front and a single 120-mm exhaust up top. Builders wishing to add more fans can put another 120-mm unit up top, two more 120-mm fans on the bottom of the case, and another pair of 80-mm blowers on the rear wall.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room for tower-style CPU coolers in the Air 240. The case can take a 4.7″-tall unit at most. It’s good that the Air 240 can accommodate large liquid coolers, then. The front wall of the case can handle radiators up to 240 mm long, and if you’re willing to use a Mini-ITX motherboard, the bottom of the case can accept another 240-mm heat exchanger.
Moving around to the power and storage chamber, there’s room for three 2.5″ drives and three 3.5″ drives—as well as for PSUs up to 8.9″ (or 225 mm) in length. For perspective, Corsair’s beefiest PSU, the AX1500i, is about 8.9″ long. Mere mortals should have no problems fitting their PSUs into this case. The PSU mounts are topped with four rubber discs, which should help to minimize noisy vibrations.
Removing the right side panel alone doesn’t grant access to the storage bays. The 2.5″ drive cage is covered by the top panel, while the 3.5″ cage is protected by a hatch at the rear of the case. The complexity of this arrangement is a little annoying, but I don’t see any other way Corsair could have placed the drive bays while keeping the Air 240’s compact dimensions.
Each drive cage contains three tool-free drive sleds, which are dampened against drive vibrations by rubber isolators.
With all of its panels removed, the Air 240 is ready for a system. Next, I’ll install our Casewarmer build, and we’ll see whether the Air 240 can keep it cool.
The Air 240 is the most voluminous small-form-factor case I’ve had my hands on. Its spaciousness makes system building an easy task, at least in theory.
Installing a motherboard in the Air 240 is simple enough. Removing the 3.5″ drive cage allows access to a cutout in the motherboard tray for cooler backplates, but installing backplates is a bit awkward. Because the motherboard tray is in the center of the case, I had a hard time getting a hand and backplate in there without obscuring my line of sight. I found that it was easiest to use this cutout by laying the case on its right side and snaking the cooler backplate for my CPU cooler, the Cooler Master Nepton 120XL, in through the empty PSU mount.
Attentive readers will be asking themselves what happened to my previous CLC, the Cooler Master Seidon 120V. Unfortunately, that cooler sprung a slow leak at one of its radiator fittings during another test run. We’re sending the Seidon’s corpse back to Cooler Master for inspection, and we’ve removed it from our System Guide recommendations for the moment. Its replacement, the Nepton 120XL, shares many of the best attributes of its bigger brother, the Nepton 240M, including longer, more flexible tubing and a better mounting system.
This is where I ran into my biggest issue with the Air 240. With both of the motherboard’s fan headers occupied by the Nepton 120XL’s pump and fan hookups, there was no way to plug any of the remaining case fans into the mobo.
Part of the blame lies with the Casewarmer’s MSI A88XI AC motherboard. Other Mini-ITX mobos, like Asus’ Z97I-Plus and H97I-Plus, have three fan headers instead of two. The Air 240 also supports microATX boards, which tend to be more generous in this department. Powering a CLC along with all three of the included case fans would require a total of five headers, however, and few boards offer that many.
In the Graphite Series 380T, Corsair gets around this limitation with a built-in fan controller. Here, users are expected to come up with a solution of their own. The cheapest option may be to grab some a couple of 3-pin fan cable splitters (for $3 each), perhaps along with a Zalman Fan Mate. Corsair’s Commander Mini fan controller might be a more elegant alternative, although at $60, it’d be a pretty pricey one.
Since I didn’t have any splitters or extra fan controllers on hand, I had to test the Air 240 without its stock fans hooked up. I wound up taking out the inactive fans to open up some space for cables above the motherboard—and to enhance passive airflow in the case a little. As you’ll see on the next page, the Air 240 still performs pretty well in that configuration.
With the motherboard and cooler in place, I installed my graphics card. The expansion card retainer on the Air 240 eschews the fiddly thumbscrew-and-guillotine setup common on many Corsair small-form-factor cases in favor of a hinged metal clip that simply snaps into place. I much prefer this design, as it made installing my GPU a literal snap. The area where the clip snaps in does have a couple of sharp corners, though. These pointy bits hurt when they poke you, and I very nearly sacrificed some blood to the Air 240 while manipulating this clip. Boo.
After reinstalling the 3.5″ drive cage, I moved the Casewarmer’s storage into the Air 240. No complaints here—Corsair’s tool-free drive sleds are the best in the business, in my experience. Finally, I installed my Cooler Master V550 PSU. Again, no complaints. Installing a PSU should be a simple affair in any case, and the Air 240 doesn’t disappoint.
Next, we’ll see whether the Air 240 can keep the Casewarmer cool, and we’ll check how loud it gets while doing so.
Our testing methods
Here are the specs of the Casewarmer as it sits today:
|Motherboard||MSI A88XI AC|
|Memory||8GB AMD DDR3-1600 (2x 4GB DIMMs)|
|Graphics card||Zotac Nvidia Geforce GTX 660 Ti AMP! Edition|
|Storage||Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD, Samsung Spinpoint F1 750GB HDD|
|Power supply||Cooler Master V550|
|CPU cooler||Cooler Master Nepton 120XL|
|OS||Windows 8.1 Pro|
Thanks to Corsair for the Air 240, and to MSI, Cooler Master, AMD, Kingston, and Zotac for their respective contributions to the Casewarmer.
I relied on three software tools to test the Carbide Series Air 240:
- 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
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.
I used the fan profiler feature in MSI’s Command Center software to create a low-speed curve for idle temperatures. Unlike with my previous tests, I kicked in a little extra fan speed (75% at 55°C) for load temperatures, since the Nepton is handling the waste heat of the entire system. The Silencio fans that Cooler Master bundles with its latest Nepton coolers are good performers, so I wasn’t worried too much about extra noise.
I grabbed the Cooler Master Elite 110 off my parts shelf to serve as a point of comparison for the Air 240, since the death of the Seidon 120V made our old data unusable. I’ll discuss its performance below, as well.
Why didn’t I re-test the Graphite Series 380T, too? As it turned out, I couldn’t fit the Nepton 120XL into the 380T at all, even with only one fan on the radiator. Despite my best efforts, the cooler either hit the DIMMs or blocked motherboard power connectors. Corsair claims that the 380T supports the company’s own double-width coolers on its website, so I’m not sure why the 120XL didn’t fit. Either way, I couldn’t re-run my tests with the yellow wonder.
I wouldn’t recommend an extra-beefy liquid cooler like the Nepton 120XL for the Elite 110, either. It fits, but only just. I had to use the flat-headed screws from the Seidon 120V to ensure that there was enough room for the snap-on front panel. Even so, between the push-pull fans and the thicker radiator, the double-stuff 120XL turns a snug case into an uncomfortably cramped one. Removing the “pull” fan would make more room, but the numbers gained wouldn’t be useful for this review.
With only the Nepton 120XL’s fans serving to move air inside the Casewarmer, I had to do a little trial-and-error to arrive at the best cooling setup, too. Initially, I was hoping to use the Nepton as an intake, with the full-length vents at the top and bottom of the case serving as enablers of convective airflow. No such luck. With that setup, GPU temperatures soared into the low 80C range under load. After some brainstorming with Cyril, I moved the Nepton to the top of the case, with its fans blowing hot air out, which helped. The pictures in my build log represent this final configuration.
Be warned, though, that mounting the radiator to the top of the case isn’t supported in all configurations. With a microATX motherboard, the fan and radiator combo will hit the mobo when installed up top. I only got away with this setup because of the Caswearmer’s Mini-ITX motherboard.
Here are the results of my cooling tests, plotted over time. The ambient temperature in my office at the time of my tests was about 72°F (22.2°C).
And here are the minimum and maximum numbers for each testing phase:
Even with its stock fans sitting out this round, the Air 240 does a good job of keeping the parts inside cool. The only really worrisome numbers are the motherboard temperatures at idle, which can likely be chalked up to the missing exhaust fan above the motherboard. CPU temperatures also suffer slightly, since the Nepton 120XL is blowing heated internal air over its radiator, but I’ll take that slight increase over a big jump in GPU temps.
The HDD and SSD results demonstrate the value of the Air 240’s dual-chamber design. Compared to the much smaller, single-chamber Elite 110, the temperatures of my storage devices barely budged in the Air 240. The Elite 110 does show the advantages of setting up one’s CLC as an intake, though, as well as having air blowing over chipset coolers. The A10-7850K didn’t get as hot in the Elite 110 during any phase of testing, and the A88XI AC stayed cooler at idle while also cooling down faster in the post-test phase. The Air 240 would likely have performed better with all of its included fans in place.
Here are the noise levels I measured for the Air 240. Each measurement was performed 6″ from the case, using the iOS app dB meter. The usual caveats apply: these numbers may not be scientifically accurate, but they do provide a relative idea of the loudness of each case.
Subjectively, the worst offender in the Casewarmer continues to be the cooler on the Zotac GeForce GTX 660 Ti, whose whiny fans make themselves clearly known through the large vents on the Air 240. The Nepton 120XL also makes a fair bit of noise under load, but its Cooler Master Silencio 120-mm fans have a mostly broad-spectrum noise character, so it’s not a big deal.
Compared to the Elite 110, the Air 240 wins on both a subjective and objective basis, at least with its drastically reduced fan complement. The smaller Elite 110 has a large vent right next to the GPU bay, which makes the noisy character of the Zotac 660 Ti even more obvious. The Air 240’s solid side panel and more traditional vertical motherboard orientation keep the GPU noise a little more muted. The Air 240 might turn in higher noise numbers with all of its fans in place, however.
Corsair has delivered something novel with the Air 240. This case takes up no more space than the Mini-ITX-only Graphite Series 380T, but its boxier design offers room for bigger motherboards and more expansion cards. The Air 240 is also $50-60 cheaper than its curvier cousin. Does it hit the small-form-factor sweet spot?
The Air 240’s dual-chamber thermal design really does work. No matter how much heat the CPU and GPU are throwing off, the Air 240’s dedicated storage chamber keeps hard drives and SSDs cool. Unlike the other small-form-factor cases I’ve tested, the Air 240 also has room for microATX motherboards, which makes it possible to install a couple of extra expansion cards. There’s also plenty of room for full-length, enthusiast-class GPUs inside. The Air 240 is the quietest small-form-factor case I’ve used, at least with my testing configuration, and it’s also the easiest to build a system in.
Unfortunately, since this case lacks the built-in fan controller of its Graphite Series 380T cousin—and since it didn’t come with any fan splitters—powering all of the included fans may not always be possible without third-party accessories. The Air 240 still performed admirably in my testing without any of its stock fans pumping air, though. It’s just too bad Corsair doesn’t at least throw in a fan splitter in the box, because I expect performance would be even better with the stock fans contributing.
Overall, though, I think the Air 240 is a solid choice for Mini-ITX and microATX builders alike. It’s easy to build in, it’s got plenty of room for enthusiast-grade hardware, and it has the vent area to keep hot parts cool. At $90, this case is pretty affordable, as well.
Update: We’ve retested the Air 240 with more of its stock fans installed. The Air 240 put in such a good showing with its stock fans in place that we decided to revise our original verdict. The Air 240 is now TR Recommended.
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