Putting the pieces together
Building an air-cooled system inside the MasterCase is easy enough: the interior of the case is open and well-thought-out. I didn't have any trouble routing cables or installing any of my Casewarmer system's components. Despite my concerns about the amount of room for cables behind the motherboard, I was able to get the power cables, front-panel wiring, and storage routed back there just fine, and the side panel went back on without issue.
There was one hitch, though: going by the instruction book, which tells the owner to use the coarse PSU screws for motherboard mounting instead of the finer-threaded screws meant for that purpose. It's deceptively possible to thread the coarser screws into the standoffs with some force, but they immediately become cross-threaded in the soft brass.
Thankfully, I only mangled one standoff this way, and it wasn't too bad to get the screw (and by extension, the motherboard) back out with some careful use of needle-nose pliers. Still, this is a head-smacking issue that should have been caught way before the parts hit the box, and it's one I was able to replicate with those same screws and other included standoffs. As noted earlier, I brought this issue to Cooler Master's attention, and the second case the company sent me to evaluate had the proper number of motherboard screws, if not a corrected instruction book.
In the meantime, I was able to find some other compatible screws and standoffs in my big bag o' hardware and forge ahead.
My liquid-cooling installation experience was also a bit frustrating. For one, the base MasterCase 5's top panel isn't radiator-friendly, and that's hard to swallow from a modern case. 240-mm or 280-mm radiators can't be mounted up top due to the panel's hole spacing, and even though one can affix a radiator to the 120-mm fan mounts, trying to hack it this way risks clearance issues with the motherboard or memory. My Nepton 120XL double-wide cooler just barely fit up top with one of its fans installed, and installing both of its push-pull spinners caused it to run into the motherboard.
To be fair, the MasterCase 5 can accept 120-mm or 140-mm radiators on the rear fan mount, and those who need more space for radiators can purchase the dedicated top panel and accompanying mesh cover. Admittedly, those parts are a high-quality kit, but no other case I've tested recently has required add-on parts to make top-mounted radiators work.
Those extra parts are supposed to be part of the FreeForm system, sure, but asking builders to buy more parts to bring the MasterCase 5 on par with competing cases could be a hard sell. If a builder wants to add a top-mounted radiator to Fractal Design's Define S or R5, for example, they only have to pop off a couple of plastic covers, and voila—they're set. Corsair's Obsidian 450D already has a perfectly good top radiator mount, too. Cooler Master's own excellent Silencio 652S has a radiator mount up top, as well.
Then again, all of those products are built with more plastic than the MasterCase 5 and don't promise the same degree of modular flexibility. They're not really the same class of enclosure.
One could just buy the ritzier MasterCase Pro 5 to avoid this issue. All told, whether the modular features and metal construction of the MasterCase are enough of an ace in the hole to justify the extra cost is something buyers are going to have to work out for themselves.
That said, the front fan mounts in the MasterCase 5 can accept a 240-mm radiator just fine, and that may be an optimal place for it anyway.
Builders with 3.5" storage will have to decide whether they can live without the 5.25" bays. That's a tradeoff I'm usually quite happy to make. To demonstrate the flexibility of the MasterCase 5, I installed the extra dual-3.5" drive cage that Cooler Master sent me in the bottom chamber, and I also installed the included dual-3.5" cage above the radiator. One could also install the optional triple-3.5" drive cage above a 240-mm radiator, for a total of five 3.5" drives.
This is one area where the MasterCase has a big leg up on the competition. To use a front-mounted radiator in the Define R5, for example, all of the 3.5" drive cages have to be removed first, and there's no other place in that case to install 3.5" drives. The FreeForm system neatly solves this issue.
Since the front-mounted radiator exhausts the CPU's heat into the case, I moved the 140-mm front fan to the top panel for some extra exhaust airflow. With all that done, I was ready to put the MasterCase 5 through our testing gauntlet.