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Cooler Master's MasterCase 5 reviewed

Modular and modder-friendly

Cooler Master has big plans for its products of tomorrow. Chief among them is modularity: as the company told us a couple months ago, its future product catalog will contain fewer items with more customization options. That customizability will be achieved through modular parts that can be added, removed, or changed as needed. The company also wants to get in on the "maker movement," where adventurous modders might use 3D-printed custom parts to mold a product to their unique needs.

Now, the first product based on that philosophy is in our hands. Say hello to the MasterCase 5:

This case's clean lines and matte black exterior don't give much of that weighty philosophy away. The black mesh front panel, hexagonal motifs, and subtly sparkly paint are straightforward, perhaps a bit plain. Modders might see the MasterCase as an inviting blank canvas, while the less adventurous will probably enjoy the quiet, purposeful styling. I like what Cooler Master has wrought here, but it shouldn't be a big deal to add an LED fan or five to the MasterCase for those who find it too subtle.

Two metal handles up top provide sturdy handholds when moving the MasterCase 5, and you'll appreciate them with a fully loaded system: most of this case is solid metal inside and out, with only a few plastic accents here and there. That explains the MasterCase's 23-pound heft.

A removable metal panel on the roof of the case eases installation of top-mounted fans and radiators. Two 120-mm or 140-mm spinners can go here—but 240-mm or 280-mm radiators can't. The fan hole spacing is too wide. Cooler Master also says the MasterCase 5 can't accept 120-mm or 140-mm radiators here, even though the mounts might tempt one to try. We'll have to explore this point later on.

The top panel is rounded out with a power button, headphone and microphone jacks, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, and a reset button.

A tug at the bottom of the front panel reveals the front fan mounts. Cooler Master includes one 140-mm intake fan out of the box, and as many as three 120-mm or 140-mm intake fans can be installed here. Installing a fan on the topmost mount will block the 5.25" bays, though. Radiators as large as 280 mm can be installed behind the front panel, as well. More on that when we open up the MasterCase 5.

The front panel's coarse metal mesh exterior is backed with a finer mesh on the inside that should do a decent job of stopping dust and hair from making its way inside. Cooler Master has bonded the mesh to the panel, though, which might make it a pain to clean. I prefer Fractal Design's single-layer dust filters, which can be cleaned by hand on both sides without a hitch.

Around back is an adjustable 120-mm or 140-mm fan mount, which Cooler Master populates with a 140-mm exhaust fan out of the box. Seven expansion card slots belie the MasterCase 5's mid-tower weight class. The removable power-supply bracket is a nice touch that makes PSU installation easier. We'll see why when I pull off the side panels. I'm also happy to see the large vented area beside the expansion card slots. Every bit of potential airflow helps.

A pair of broad, metal feet that echo the handles up top support the MasterCase 5. The bottoms of these feet are insulated with thick, rubber pads that should isolate the case from whatever surface it ends up sitting on. Turning the case over also reveals the filtered PSU air intake. Such a filter is par for the course with any modern case, but it's still good to see Cooler Master including one here.

Here are the MasterCase 5's specifications in tabular form, for easy comparison with our other case reviews:

  Cooler Master MasterCase 5
Dimensions (W x H x D) 9.3" x 20.2" x 21.6"  (235 x 512 x 548 mm)
Supported motherboards Mini-ITX, microATX, ATX
3.5" drive bays 2 (expandable with add-on cages)
2.5" drive bays 4 (2 2.5" or 3.5" combo bays, 2 dedicated)
5.25" drive bays 2
Fan mounts 6 120-mm or 140-mm
Included fans 1x Cooler Master 140-mm front fan
1x Cooler Master 140-mm rear fan
Front panel I/O 2x USB 3.0
Max. graphics card length 11.7" (297.2 mm) with 3.5" cage installed
16.2" (412 mm) with 3.5" cages removed
Max. CPU cooler height 7.5" (190 mm)
Gap behind motherboard 0.75"

The MasterCase 5 retails for $109.99, which puts it right in contention with many of our other favorite cases. From a build-quality standpoint, the MasterCase is right there with Fractal Design's similarly-priced Define R5. Cooler Master's baby lacks the Define R5's insulated side panels and door, though, as well as its copious room for 3.5" storage space. Of course, the Define R5 isn't quite as flexible inside as the MasterCase.

The MasterCase series will include two other cases: the MasterCase Pro 5 , which comes with an extra 3-drive 3.5" cage, a mesh-and-plastic top cover, a windowed side panel, an extra 140-mm intake fan, and a turreted top panel designed to allow top-mounted 240-mm and 280-mm radiators to be installed. Cooler Master will also offer an as-yet-mysterious MasterCase 5 Maker exclusively through its website.

Moving up to the fancier MasterCase Pro 5 will cost $139.99, making it one of the more expensive cases to hit the market of late.  Along with the MasterCase 5, Cooler Master sent me most of the parts that will make up the Pro model. Let's talk about those parts and open up the MasterCase 5 now.