Corsair’s Carbide Series Spec-04 TG case reviewed

Corsair’s Carbide Series Spec-04 case and its aggressive front panel will turn heads in the sea of black rectangles typical of today’s inexpensive chassis. The Tempered Glass, or TG, version of the case that I’m reviewing today adds a window made from this increasingly-popular material to a chassis that rings in for just $60 at its suggested price.

The front panel of the Spec-04 TG is constructed of ABS plastic broken up by a large amount of bi-layered metal mesh.

The metal mesh should allow ample amounts of air to flow in to the case, and it could also double as a dust filter. This impromptu filter isn’t removable, though, so keep a can of compressed air handy for the inevitable dust bunnies.

A fairly firm pull on the bottom of the panel will separate it from the chassis. With the front panel removed, we get our first look at the only preinstalled fan: a 120-mm spinner that lights up with red LEDs. Above and below the preinstalled fan is room for additional 120-mm fans or one 120-mm or 140-mm radiator.

If one doesn’t need to install 3.5″ storage inside, the Spec-04’s hard-drive cage can be removed to allow enough room to install a 240-mm radiator. Our test rig requires a spot for a hard drive for temperature-monitoring purposes, but I did mount a 240-mm radiator in the front of the Spec-04 TG to verify that one does fit.

At the rear of the case, Corsair includes a standard I/O shield cutout and mounting points for a 120-mm exhaust fan or a 120-mm radiator. As an ATX mid-tower, the Spec-04 TG offers seven expansion slots with a locking plate for extra security. On the bottom is a cutout for a standard ATX power supply.

On the right side of the case, Corsair arranges the front I/O ports in a vertical line. This I/O panel is mounted under the front panel with a cutout on the right, accessible from the right side of the case. Although this arrangement looks cool, it could prove inconvenient for folks who keep their cases on the right-hand side of their monitors or desks. The panel includes power and reset buttons, 3.5-mm headphone and microphone jacks, one USB 3.0 port, and one USB 2.0 port.

On the top of the case, Corsair provides two mounting locations for 120-mm fans. These mounts can’t accept radiator stacks, however, likely thanks to their proximity to the motherboard tray.

The bottom of the case has a removable dust filter for the power supply. Rubber pads on the feet of the case could help reduce vibration and noise transfer from the case to the floor or desk.

 

Getting inside

The sheet of tempered glass that makes up the left-side panel of the Spec-04 TG rests on four rubber-grommeted standoffs, and it’s held in place by four padded thumb screws. With this panel removed, we can see the case’s three 3.5” drive sleds in the removable HDD cage.

The motherboard tray already had all the standoffs installed for an ATX motherboard and can support ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX form factors. Corsair says the case can accept graphics cards as long as 14.6” (370 mm). The spec sheet also claims the case can house CPU coolers as tall as 6.7” (170 mm), but other documentation suggested a 150-mm maximum. I pulled out my tape measure and determined the actual space for tower-style CPU coolers was in fact 150 mm. 

At the bottom of the case, there are four rubber contact points to help reduce vibration and noise transferring to the rest of the chassis. Thanks to its open and shroud-free design, the Spec-04 can handle power supplies as long as 8.8” (225 mm), although builders will want to leave some room in mind for extra cabling.

As we’ve already seen, the right side of the case is covered by a metal panel held in place with two thumb screws. Loosen those fasteners, and the panel comes off with a pull towards the rear of the chassis. With the panel removed we can access the back side of the motherboard tray.

The Spec-04 TG provides a medium sized cutout for installing aftermarket CPU coolers with the motherboard in the case. The back of the motherboard allows for some cable management with a rounded channel for cables and plenty of tie-down points. Two spots for 2.5” SSDs or hard drives hide out behind the main wall of the interior, as well.

The build

While the Spec-04 TG offers an open and inviting layout, my build experience didn’t quite live up to my first impressions of the interior.

The first problem I ran into concerned our Cooler MasterLiquid 120 all-in-one cooler. I ran into trouble when I tried to line up the radiator on the rear exhaust panel. The mounting points for the glass panel are riveted to the chassis, and these rivets extend far enough from the chassis to potentially skewer the radiator, preventing its proper installation. I took a 120mm fan of the shelf and verified it was in fact able to line up without a radiator in the picture, at least.

Since the Spec-04 TG’s top panel can’t accommodate a radiator stack, the only other place I could mount the radiator was behind the front panel on the top-most fan mount. The radiator did line up properly in this position, and it had all the room I needed for the MasterLiquid 120’s push-pull setup.

I also ran into a bit of a snag when I went to install our test system’s power-supply unit. The rear panel has fin-like guides punched out of the chassis to help the PSU into position. The Aerocool P7-850W PSU in our test system initially seemed too wide to fit into these guides, but a little elbow grease helped it into place.

When I went to install the test system’s graphics card, I had to pull on the back panel to line up the mounting bracket on the graphics card with the mounting holes for the expansion slots the card stood ready to occupy. This issue occasionally rears its head even with more expensive cases, but it’s still an annoyance.

Overall, I was able to install every component of our test system inside the Spec-04 with some trial and error. The clearance issues I ran into with our 120-mm radiator weren’t encouraging, and the elbow grease I had to apply to get my PSU and graphics card installed weren’t endearing, either. Now that our test system is up and running in the Spec-04, let’s run some tests.

 

Our testing methods

Here are the specifications of our test system:

Processor Intel Core i7-6700K
Motherboard ASRock Z170 Extreme7+
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR4-3000
Graphics card Sapphire Radeon R9 380X
Storage OCZ Vector 180 480GB SSD

WD Black 1TB HDD

Power supply Aerocool P7-850
CPU cooler Cooler Master MasterLiquid 120
OS Windows 10 Pro

Our thanks to Intel, ASRock, OCZ, Sapphire, WD, Aerocool, and Cooler Master for their contributions to our test system. Our thanks to Corsair for providing the case and memory we’re testing today, as well.

Our case-testing cycle consists of the following phases:

  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop
  • 10 minutes running the Prime95 CPU torture test
  • 10 minutes running the Prime95 CPU torture test and the Unigine Heaven GPU torture test
  • 10 minutes idling at the Windows 10 desktop

Our testing methods are generally publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, feel free to hit us up in the comments or join us in our forums.

The ambient temperature in my office at the time of my tests was 68° F.

Cooling performance

Here are the results of our cooling tests, plotted over time:


And here are some minimum and maximum temperatures from each testing phase:


For the first time in my case-testing experience, the Core i7-6700K CPU I use for testing got so hot in the Spec-04 TG that it had to throttle during the full-load phase of our cycle. I’m guessing that’s because the only place I could mount the radiator was at the front of the case, so all of the waste heat from the CPU was directed back into the enclosure.

Without an exhaust fan on the top or rear of the case, this waste heat seemed to increase the temperature of all the components inside, and the passive ventilation offered by the Spec-04’s unoccupied top fan mounts wasn’t sufficient to let the waste heat exit the case through convection.

To isolate this issue, I dismounted the radiator from the front panel and let it dangle in open air. In this configuration, CPU temperatures under our Prime95 load dropped roughly 10° C from the maximums I observed with the radiator installed behind the front panel, suggesting that the two layers of mesh at the front of the case could actually be reducing airflow to the front fan mounts.

After completing our regular test cycle, I moved the preinstalled 120-mm intake fan to the rear exhaust position and restarted our full test load of Prime95 and Unigine Heaven. After ten minutes of this load, the CPU reached peak temperatures of 92° C. That’s still quite high for a stock-clocked Core i7-6700K in any modern case, but at least the processor wasn’t throttling.

Overall, I’d say that an exhaust fan of some kind is absolutely needed for the best performance from this enclosure. I’d consider relocating the included intake fan to the rear mount if it’s not otherwise occupied. Even with that help, however, the Spec-04’s cooling performance isn’t up to the standard we’ve come to expect from modern cases.

Noise levels

Before we consider noise levels from the Spec-04, it’s worth noting that the noise floor in my office was lower than usual during my tests, so the Spec-04’s noise measurements will benefit from that variance. Prior to the tests, my smartphone app read about 27 dBA, where other tests averaged about 33 dbA. I’ll chalk the difference up to colder weather and fewer people moving about in my apartment building.


When the system is powered on, it makes itself known through a light and undisturbing hum from the fans inside at idle. Under load, though, the Spec-04 almost reaches out and grabs you to let you know it’s under stress. At some points around the case, noise levels increased by 10-11 dBA while the system was under load. When we account for the advantage that the difference in noise floor affords the Spec-04, it’s neck-and-neck with the Aerocool P7-C0 as one of the louder cases I’ve ever tested, despite the fact that the P7-C0 Pro had three more 120-mm fans whirring away inside.

 

Conclusions
Corsair’s $60 Spec-04 TG makes a valiant effort to bring the aesthetic appeal of tempered glass to an affordable price point. The distinctive front panel and edge-to-edge sheet of glass on the side of the case definitely serve to catch the eye and mark this case as a Corsair enclosure.

Image: Corsair

Unfortunately, the build quality and performance of our Spec-04 didn’t live up to its looks. An especially annoying and intrusive rivet on the rear panel in our particular case prevented me from mounting our closed-loop liquid cooler there, so I had to move the radiator to the front of the case.

Even then, the Spec-04 TG’s mesh front panel didn’t seem to allow our CPU cooler to breathe as well as it should have. In combination with the lack of a stock exhaust fan, the vents in the top and rear of the Spec-04 didn’t provide enough passive airflow to keep the system inside cool, causing our Core i7-6700K CPU to bounce off its throttling threshold. Our graphics card also got hotter in the Spec-04 than in any other case I’ve tested so far, and the case’s noise performance wasn’t outstanding, either.

To be fair, I was able to mitigate the case’s hot-headed tendencies somewhat by moving the included 120-mm LED fan to the rear panel of the case, but the improvement in cooling performance we saw by doing so still didn’t bring the Spec-04’s load temperatures down far enough to be competitive with other cases we’ve used.

More stock fans might have helped to move enough air through this case to keep it cool, but it’s hard to see how Corsair could do that and keep the reasonable price tag of the Spec-04. It’s also possible that a different liquid cooler could fit properly on the rear exhaust mount and prevent the heat-dumping issue we experienced in the first place, but having to roll the dice to find a cooler that fits isn’t exactly a reassuring prospect.

Overall, the Spec-04 TG’s primary appeal lies in the fact that it brings distinctive looks to a wallet-friendly price point. The issues with cooling performance that I experienced might not be typical of the kinds of air-cooled budget builds that this case seems like a natural home for, but folks looking for room for their PC to grow might find this case stifling down the line.

Had Corsair included an exhaust fan and smoothed some of the rough edges we experienced, the Spec-04 TG might have been a more solid value. Right now, though, this case’s calling card is more form than function, and buyers taken with its looks may have to do some tweaking to get the best performance from it.

Comments closed
    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 2 years ago

    such a cool front and such an ugly top to the case. :^/

    • Thresher
    • 2 years ago

    That is the second fugliest case I’ve ever seen a mainstream company make. The other one was the Bulldog from Corsair too.

    • Chrispy_
    • 2 years ago

    Those of us that have been building into the 100R and it’s derivatives for the last two years will be scratching their heads at how Corsair think such a flimsy, bare-minimum-sturdiness case with thin steel is worth of a big expensive slab of tempered glass.

    There’s nothing particularly wrong with the 100R as a spacious, well-cooled, easy-to-build case but it’s a low-budget part that toes the line in terms of how cheap and thin you can go with the steelwork before it’s unacceptable.

    Our 100Rs are mostly dented through being moved around occasionally and kicked under the desk. You realise that the sculpting in the side panels is the only thing that gives them any hint of rigidity.

      • MOSFET
      • 2 years ago

      I have some 200Rs and your comments absolutely apply to them as well, especially the middle paragraph.

    • NTMBK
    • 2 years ago

    No external drive bays in a case this ludicrously big? Seriously?

      • Chrispy_
      • 2 years ago

      It’s an internal radiator bay, which is mutually exclusive.

      If you want old-school external drive bays, buy the windowed 100R which this case is based on. The bezels of the window will also hide the ugly grey steel optical drive you want without removing the benefits of a transparent side panel.

        • NTMBK
        • 2 years ago

        Oh good point, I forgot to complain about the pointless, heavy, breakable glass side panel. What a stupid case.

          • strangerguy
          • 2 years ago

          I have less beef with glass side panels and more with how often manufacturers put GPU cooling vents aka useless dust holes on the side panels for their non-windowed cases.

          And also, placing front panel I/O ports sideways are certifiable grade A levels of dumb.

            • Chrispy_
            • 2 years ago

            useless dust holes in side panels are very annoying. I usually get some self-adhesive sound-dampening foam and kill two birds with one stone by blocking the “dust holes” with soundproofing.

    • Shobai
    • 2 years ago

    A couple of suggestions for the temperature section:

    You give the ambient temperature in degrees F, but then all the results are in degrees C; would you consider translating the ambient temperature also?

    What are the chances of having a toggle on the plots, to switch between deg. F and C?

    You point out that the CPU appears to throttle in this case; the plot appears to be truncated – the chart area might need to go to 110 deg. C.

    Has TR considered plotting temperature deltas, incorporating ambient temps?

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