Tempered-glass case windows are probably the most popular design choice in PC chassis this year, perhaps even more so than RGB LEDs. Aerocool’s Project 7 P7-C1 Pro evolves the design choices of the Project 7 P7-C0 that I reviewed a while back to serve a different kind of builder. The P7-C1 trades away dual tempered-glass side panels in exchange for better top-mounted radiator support, and it offers an improved RGB LED control arrangement to better harmonize its trio of RGB LED fans and front LED accent with other Technicolor components.
Like its smaller sibling, the P7-C1 is a pretty standard ATX mid-tower. It measures 9.6″ wide by 21.7″ high by 17.6″ deep (245 mm by 550 mm by 446 mm). This case is compatible with ATX, microATX, and Mini-ITX motherboards. Unlike its smaller sibling’s side panels, only the P7-C1’s left-side panel is made of tinted tempered glass. The right side is covered by a standard metal panel, which I prefer since it hides any potential cable mess that might gather behind the motherboard. Empty, this case weighs 23 pounds (10.4 kg), although a fair deal of that weight is concentrated in the tempered-glass panel. Upon pulling the case out of the box and stripping it down, I didn’t get the sense that the underlying steel chassis was all that substantial.
The front panel of the P7-C1 is made of plastic and metal mesh. The edge bevels into a LED strip that outlines that large metal mesh opening. A rather firm pull from the bottom of this panel will disconnect the front panel from the chassis. Once that cover is removed, we can access the removable dust filter and the 3 preinstalled 120-mm RGB LED fans. To remove the filter, I just had to pull out on its integrated handle and slightly bend the frame to remove it from the four tabs holding it in place.
Behind the front panel, we get room for one 240-mm, 280-mm, or 360-mm radiator. That heat exchanger would need to be mounted directly behind the fans. Ultra-thick 360-mm radiators might not fit into the cutout in the PSU shroud made for that purpose, so builders will want to measure carefully before loading up their carts with custom liquid-cooling gear for this case.
The left side of the case, as I’ve already noted, boasts the sole tempered glass panel on this enclosure. Removing four thumb screws allows the panel to be pulled off the chassis. The rubber grommets that provide the cushion between the glass panel and the mounting points are designed to stay on the glass panel. This is a great improvement over Aerocool’s P7-C0, as the panel grommets on that case tend to pop off and bounce into inconvenient locations quite frequently. The glass panel mounting “pegs” seem to be standard motherboard standoffs.
The P7-C1’s rear panel offers a standard I/O cutout and metal mesh exhaust fan mount. Aerocool populates the rear fan mount with a black 120-mm fan, and that’s as large a spinner as a builder can put on this mount. As with many modern cases, the power supply mounts at the bottom of the case. Seven expansion slots provide ample room for expansion cards, and those cards are held in place with a sliding bracket. Sadly, only the top expansion slot cover is designed to be removed and replaced. The remainder are breakaway-style covers that can never be reinstalled once they’re removed. We don’t like this approach on $50 cases, and it’s hard to defend on a case that’s twice as expensive at retail.
On its top panel, the P7-C1 offers two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports, standard power and reset buttons, separate microphone and headphone jacks, and a built-in card reader for SD and MicroSD media. The card readers connect to the PC’s motherboard using an internal USB 2.0 header.
With a firm upward pull from the back of the case, the plastic top panel will pop out of its mounting points, exposing a removable sheet of metal mesh and mounting locations for two 120mm fans or a 240mm radiator. This “turret” approach lets the case remain narrower than it otherwise might while also allowing for a top-mounted radiator, a luxury that the P7-C0 does not afford builders.
The bottom of the P7-C1 is largely covered by a large plastic fascia with mesh vents for the power supply’s intake. Unlike the top and front panels, the bottom panel is screwed into the bottom of the chassis, making removal of the PSU’s dust filter difficult (if not impossible) without taking off the panel. The whole case sits on two legs with rubber pads for the contact points to reduce the potential for noise and vibration transfer to a floor or desk.
The “Pro” in P7-C1 Pro comes from the included P7-H1 RGB LED hub and the three RGB LED fans in the front of the case. This hub allows you to control the color of the three front fans. In a useful change from the P7-C0, the P7-C1’s RGB LED accent ring can be controlled by the P7-H1, as well. That means builders can employ the full range of RGB LED lighting colors with their systems instead of coordinating the rest of their system with just 10 solid colors, as on the P7-C0.
The hub can employ three different modes for the LED lights: static, breathing, and pulsing. Those effects are all controlled by Aerocool’s P7-S1 utility, and if that’s not enough rave lighting, the hub can also connect to the increasingly-common RGB LED strip headers on many motherboards and pass the signal from that header to its connected devices. For more information about Aerocool’s RGB LED software and the P7-F12 fans, check out my run-down in the P7-C0 review.
We surveyed e-tail for the P7-C1 Pro, but surprisingly, we couldn’t find a retailer with this case in stock yet. Aerocool suggests a $165 price tag for this case tag in its materials, though. That price tag puts the P7-C1 Pro in the upper echelon of similarly-equipped cases. It rubs shoulders with RGB LED-bedecked enclosures from the likes of Corsair, Silverstone, and Phanteks for that kind of money, so we’ll be keeping that in mind as we evaluate its features and performance.
With the glass panel out of the way on the left-hand side of the case, we can get a good look at the main chamber of the P7-C1.
Like many other modern cases, the P7-C1 has a full-length metal shroud covering its power supply and hard drives. On top of this shroud, we get two 2.5″ bays. Unscrewing the captive thumb screws on these sleds allows for the required slide-and-lift motion needed to remove them. Aerocool does provide a cable pass-through for these SSD trays, but it only provides direct access to the rightmost such tray. Certain SATA power or data cables might not play well with the tight distance between the left SSD tray and the top of the shroud.
This case can accommodate graphics cards measuring up to 14.8″ (375 mm) or 15.8″ (400 mm) with its front fans removed, as well as CPU coolers up to 6.5″ (165 mm) tall. Why anybody would go to the trouble of discarding the included fans to install a lengthier graphics card is beyond me, though.
Once we remove the metal right-side panel, we get our first look under the PSU shroud. That panel slips into place using the rather finicky tab-and-slot system we’d expect to find on less-modern cases. Just forward of the PSU mount, we get a dual-drive 3.5″ drive cage. The drive cage holds two tool-less 3.5″ bays. There are two 2.5″ bays mounted to the back wall with slots and thumb screws to keep the bays tight, as well. Aerocool has also provided many points to secure cables to make everything look clean and allow proper routing. Cable management space varies from 19mm up to 29mm.
On to the build. For the first time in a long time, I had to install a few motherboard standoffs in the P7-C1, but that task was made easier thanks to an included thumb-screw driver. I was happy that I didn’t have to go dig out my driver set to get the required standoffs in place.
With the motherboard installed, I opted to install a 120mm radiator in the rear exhaust position, so I moved the preinstalled fan to the top of the case. As I started lining up the 120-mm exhaust fan with the top mounts, I was quickly surprised by how much the sides of the fan-and-radiator turret were bent out of position right out of the box. I had to bend one side of the turret out and the other inward to make them square up with the screw holes on the 120-mm fan.
Like I noted in my overview of this case, six of the seven expansion covers on the P7-C1 are punch-out-style covers. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with these type of covers with any case, let alone a $165 chassis like the P7-C1. Most modern cases use thumb screws and reusable slot covers. I only had to remove one of these covers from the P7-C1 to make our test system’s graphics card fit, but builders with more complex expansion plans might end up with some gaps in the P7-C1’s rear panel if they adjust their complement of expansion cards over time.
When I installed the power supply, I had to remove the 3.5″ drive cage to provide enough room to route my cables. I didn’t have any trouble removing the four screws holding the cage to the chassis, but when I pulled the cage out, it was obvious that the cage was bent out of shape. Removing the plastic hard-drive tray from the case was tricky prior to reshaping the cage by hand. These types of build-quality issues just shouldn’t pop up on a case this expensive.
Overall, building inside the P7-C1 Pro wasn’t much of a challenge. I’d appreciate the convenience of pre-installed motherboard standoffs and a better layout underneath the power-supply shroud for easier cable routing, but that complaint applies to all cases with full-length power supply shrouds, not just the P7-C1. I ultimately was able to get my cables routed cleanly through this enclosure, but the process wasn’t as simple as I would have hoped.
Now that we have the P7-C1 built up, let’s see how it performs.
Our testing methods
Here are the specifications of our test system:
|Processor||Intel Core i7-6700K|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z170 Extreme7+|
|Memory||16GB (2x8GB) G.Skill Trident Z 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, G.Skill, OCZ, Sapphire, WD, and Cooler Master for their contributions to our test system. Our thanks to Aerocool for providing the case and power supply 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.
Here are the results of our cooling tests, plotted over time:
And here are some minimum and maximum temperatures from each testing phase:
Overall, the P7-C1 performs about as well as its P7-C0 cousin. The Aerocool cases certainly keep processor temperatures down compared to the Corsair Spec-04 TG, but they can’t quite catch the MasterCase Pro 6. Graphics card temps are also slightly higher in the P7-C1 compared to the P7-C0 and MasterCase, as well, though not alarmingly so. For the most part, the P7-C1 offers competitive cooling performance.
Keeping components cool isn’t much good if a case makes a racket doing it, though. Let’s see how loud the P7-C1 gets at idle and under load.
In a test system with high-quality components like ours, the P7-C1 doesn’t have a great deal of work to do to keep things quiet. Even so, it remains significantly quieter overall compared to the P7-C0, especially at idle. Under load, the P7-C1 doesn’t get significantly louder than the MasterCase Pro 6, except at the top panel where I moved the case’s stock exhaust fan. That’s excellent performance. I didn’t notice anything more than a low-pitched and unobtrusive sound from Aerocool’s fans, either, despite the open front panel of the P7-C1 Pro.
The P7-C1 Pro presents a slightly different take on what an Aerocool case can be compared to the P7-C0 Pro we reviewed a while back. With a more sensible side-panel arrangement, better radiator-mounting options, and better-integrated RGB LED lighting control, this case fixes a lot of the minor complaints we had about the P7-C0 without introducing too many wrinkles of its own.
As with a lot of modern cases, I have to reserve some scorn for the P7-C1’s power-supply shroud and the hard drive cage that sits under it. While this cage is removable, it limits the length of power supplies that can fit in the system if a builder needs 3.5″ storage inside, and it makes a modular PSU a must to avoid cramming the limited space under the shroud full of spares. Lots of 3.5″ drive bays are becoming less critical than they used to be, but even with the reduced number in many modern cases, those bays shouldn’t impede usability.
I was also let down a bit by the bent and therefore misaligned sides of the top-side radiator turret in this case. This issue might be isolated to my example of the P7-C1, and I was able to fix it by bending the metal back into place, but it’s also symptomatic of the rather thin sheet metal used throughout the chassis. Aerocool’s quality-control folks could stand to make sure issues like these don’t have to be resolved with elbow grease. Finally, the use of break-away slot covers on a case this expensive just doesn’t keep pace with modern designs from other companies.
Those potential annoyances aside, the P7-C1 has a lot going for it. Getting three high-quality hydraulic-bearing RGB LED fans and an RGB LED control hub in the box is a nice extra, and I appreciate that Aerocool’s RGB LED fan hub can connect to and be controlled by standard motherboard lighting headers. That makes coordinating this case’s fans and RGB LED lighting ring with other RGB LED components easy.
The P7-C1 Pro also doesn’t disappoint on the fundamentals of performance and noise levels, at least. Our test system didn’t get any hotter inside this case than it did in the already-fine P7-C0 Pro, and its noise levels at idle and under load didn’t noticeably exceed those of the already top-shelf Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 6. At the very least, this case doesn’t trade performance for good looks.
It’s hard to evaluate the P7-C1 Pro’s value right now since it’s not widely available at e-tail in the United States yet. Should it arrive on store shelves near its $165 suggested price, though, the P7-C1 faces strong competition not only from similarly-priced cases from other manufacturers, but also from a wide range of less-expensive enclosures without RGB LED components that nail all the fundamentals we look for in an enclosure. Prospective buyers will really have to fall for the P7-C1’s looks and complement of RGB LED accessories to make the stiff price tag worth it.