be quiet!’s Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 case reviewed

Mainstream PCs these days can easily fit into smaller and smaller form factors, but truly high-end builds with the latest many-core processors and massive AMD or Nvidia graphics cards aren’t quite able to take advantage of the miniaturization trend. Cooling those chips and feeding them with massive amounts of storage capacity still demands massive cases, and actually building such a system can reveal unforeseen speed bumps even in cases that seem perfectly poised to accommodate high-end hardware.

For just one example, when I put together our Ryzen Threadripper video-editing build earlier this year, mounting our 360-mm radiator in the top of that case required me to collapse the Fractal Design Define R6’s many 3.5″ bays into just two behind-the-motherboard mounting points. I had to sacrifice its 5.25″ bays in the bargain, as well. During assembly, I also had to re-mount that radiator after our initial configuration to combat a clearance issue I hadn’t accounted for. The biggest, baddest cases around tend to avoid those annoyances, and that’s apparently why they keep selling.

If you’re at the far edges of PC building and never want to consider a single trade-off, ATX full towers remain at the ready. be quiet!’s Dark Base 900 full-tower case family launched over two years ago, but the rev. 2 model we’re looking at now updates the case’s basic formula with several new features to keep up with the latest trends in chassis design. We’ll talk about those in a second, but first, let’s get to know be quiet!’s flagship full tower.

From the outside, the first things you’ll notice about the Dark Base Pro 900 are its wrap-around brushed-aluminum shell and massive tempered-glass side panel. Mesh vents with baffling inside promise to minimize the escape of unpleasant sounds from inside the case while also allowing for the intake or exhaust of air from the fan mounts they feed. Orange plastic accents neatly define the shape of the case on our particular Dark Base Pro 900, but like past be quiet! cases, the company will offer the case with silver and black accents, as well. Overall, the Dark Base Pro 900’s style is effortlessly classy.

The Dark Base hides its pair of 5.25″ bays and front fans behind a featureless aluminum front door backed with sound-deadening foam. The two included Silent Wings 3 140-mm fans can be complemented with a third such spinner using an optional fan mount in place of the 5.25″ cage. These included spinners can now max out at 1600 RPM, up from 1000 RPM on the original Dark Base.

The front panel of the case can accept up to four 120-mm fans or radiators as large as 280 mm or 420 mm depending on the builder’s preferred fan size. A stepless slider behind the front door controls as many as eight PWM fans off the included fan controller. Sliding this control all the way to the left lets the hub accept PWM signals from a motherboard fan header, too.

The Dark Base Pro 900’s front-panel I/O offers an impressive array of ports. The case’s accommodations start with two USB 3.0 ports and the usual headphone and microphone jacks, all of which sit left of the orange-backlit power button. It’s right of the big button that things get interesting. The Dark Base Pro 900 is one of the few cases with a front-panel USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C port that’s actually ready to hook up to that high-speed header on compatible motherboards. Right of that, we get a USB port with quick-charging support for compatible devices.

A discreet button to starboard of the power switch controls the Dark Base Pro 900’s integrated RGB LED lighting controller. That hub can cycle compatible four-pin RGB LED hardware through white, red, green, blue, orange, or purple hues, or it can be bypassed in favor of a signal from motherboard RGB LED headers. The Dark Base Pro 900 includes two hard adhesive-backed RGB LED strips to hook up to this controller, too.

The inset matte black rectangle in the Dark Base Pro 900’s top panel serves as a Qi wireless-charging spot for compatible devices. Corsair’s Dark Core RGB SE mouse can top up its battery from Qi sources, and the Dark Base Pro 900 swiftly topped up that rodent when I set it atop the charging pad. If you always want a Qi charging pad at the ready, the Dark Base Pro 900 is perhaps the only such case on the market to offer a built-in inductive coil.

The top panel pops off after we release several plastic tabs from the inside of the case. A look underneath reveals another layer of sound-deadening foam, plus the baffles behind the mesh we saw from the outside of the case. be quiet! claims these baffles help break up direct air flow and smooth out the case’s noise character, but they primarily appear to constrict air flow to my jaded eye. We’ll see whether that impression carries over in our performance tests.

The top of the case offers a wide range of radiator-mounting options. Radiators up to 360 mm or 420 mm long can go here, as well as four 120-mm or three 140-mm fans not pushing air through radiators.

Around back, we see the Dark Base Pro 900’s single 120-mm or 140-mm fan mount, pre-populated with another one of be quiet!’s Silent Wings 3 140-mm spinners. Observant eyes will note that the Dark Base 900 doesn’t have the power-supply mounting flange typical of virtually every other case on the market. We’ll talk more about why in a sec.

Flipping the Dark Base Pro 900 on its back reveals an expanse of brushed aluminum and four plastic feet with anti-vibration rubber pads. As with the top of the case, the bottom panel is actually an aluminum-covered plastic shell. The bottom panel can come off for those who need it to, but removing it won’t be a regular occurrence. A full-length dust filter cleans any air brought in through the sides of this panel. That filter pulls out through the front of the case for easy cleaning, too.

Here’s a run-down of the Dark Base 900 rev. 2’s critical specs in convenient tabular form:

  be quiet! Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2
Type ATX full tower
Dimensions (W x H x D) 9.6″ x 23″ x 22.7″

(24.3 cm x 58.6 cm x 57.7 cm)

Supported motherboards E-ATX, XL-ATX, ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX
3.5″ drive mounts 7 (shared with 2.5″ devices)
2.5″ drive mounts 14 (12 shared with 3.5″ cages)
5.25″ drive bays 2
Fan mounts Front: 3x 140 mm, 4x 120 mm

Top: 3x 140 mm, 4x 120 mm, 1x 180 mm

Bottom: 2x 140 mm or 120 mm

PSU shroud: 1x 120 mm

Radiator mounts Front: 120-mm rads up to 360 mm, 140-mm up to 420 mm

Top: 120-mm rads up to 360 mm, 140-mm up to 420 mm

Rear: 1x 120-mm or 1x 140-mm rad

Included fans Front: 2x be quiet! Silent Wings 3 140-mm

Rear: 1x be quiet! Silent Wings 3 140-mm

Front panel I/O 2x USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C, 1x USB quick charge,

headphone jack, microphone jack

Max graphics card length 12.8″ (32.5 cm) with hard drive cages installed, 18.5″ (47 cm) without
Max CPU cooler height 7.28″ (18.5 cm)

At $269, the Dark Base Pro 900 is one of the most expensive cases around before we get into hyper-exotic stuff like dual-system enclosures. That said, there’s little be quiet! doesn’t include in this case’s box, and its huge range of potential mounting options for air-cooling and liquid-cooling hardware mean that even the most extreme dream systems can likely be made to fit in this beast.

Most of what makes the Dark Base Pro 900’s second revision new lies inside, so let’s get to looking.

 

Inside out, upside down

The changes be quiet! has wrought with the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 start with the massive tempered-glass left side panel. This sheet of glass now has matte black strips running across its top and bottom edges to hide all the naughty bits of the case’s frame that are important for the non-Pro Dark Base 900 but go unused with the Pro’s tempered-glass panel. This transparent sheet is slightly tinted with a warm smoke-gray color.

Looking into the case’s main chamber, we can see the other major change be quiet! made to the design of the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 versus its first-gen forebear. A full-length PSU shroud now runs across the bottom of the case for a cleaner look, in keeping with most other cases these days. Plastic covers on top of this shroud can be removed to allow for better air flow to the power supply and storage devices underneath. be quiet! will make this shroud available to those who already own a Dark Base 900 and want to cover up their cable nests.

Unlike most PSU shrouds, the Dark Base 900 rev. 2’s isn’t joined up with the motherboard tray in the least. Instead, a generous gap between the tray and the shroud creates a full-length cable routing channel from the bottom of the case into the main chamber. This is one of the better approaches for bridging a dual-chamber case layout that I’ve seen, not least because of its versatility.

be quiet! touts the flexibility of the Dark Base Pro 900’s interior, and I have to agree that this is one of the most adaptable cases I’ve ever seen. The motherboard tray, rear fan mount, and rear expansion slot panel are all a unit on this case, and they’re joined to its frame by six rubber-dampened screws. The tray can sit in any of three positions on the frame to balance space above the motherboard with room for expansion cards.

This range of possibilities is worth noting up front. To take advantage of this case’s full complement of eight expansion slots, you’ll have to tolerate just 40 mm above the motherboard—not enough for the 52 mm or so the typical radiator and fan stack occupies. To put a heat exchanger above the motherboard, it’s worth dropping the mobo tray down a notch to open up 62 mm of space above the board at the cost of a single expansion slot.

If this default configuration doesn’t suit your needs, the Dark Base Pro 900’s motherboard tray and hard-drive cage can be removed from the case entirely and flipped to create an inverted interior layout, again with three different spots between the top and bottom-most mounting points. be quiet! also says you can use the tray as a test bench if need be, but more elegant options exist if you’re running such a bench full-time and not just as a trial run to ensure your new build is functioning. Given the complexity this design entails, it’s definitely worth opening up be quiet!’s lengthy manual and figuring out the full range of the Dark Base 900’s capabilities before embarking on a build.

be quiet! also cleaned up the appearance of the Dark Base 900’s hard-drive mounting points in the case’s second revision. Instead of bare holes in the hard-drive mounting tray, the case now comes with plastic covers pre-installed that look more intentional than the let-it-all-hang-out approach of the past. These covers aren’t just there for better aesthetics, though—they can be popped out of the hard-drive tray to varying degrees to allow cables to pass through if needed without ruining the otherwise-clean appearance afforded by this improvement.

Each of the Dark Base Pro 900’s hard-drive mounts comes in the form of a metal cage secured to the hard-drive mounting panel with three thumb screws. These cages come with rubber isolators to dampen hard-drive motor and head vibrations. If a builder doesn’t plan to install spinny storage, each cage can take in two 2.5″ devices, as well.

Flipping the case around to its right side reveals a busy and rather constricted backstage area. There’s about .7″ (17 mm) of space behind the motherboard tray, but the transition from bottom chamber to the space behind the tray is blocked by a flange that forms the bottom of the motherboard tray. This leaves two holes in the bottom of this flange as the only real way to cleanly route cables into this space, and they’re not necessarily the best routes (as I learned during our build process). With a case this large, I would have expected a lot more room behind the motherboard, period. Other companies’ mid-towers have offered far more space behind the motherboard tray in the past for far less money.

Another standout feature of the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 is its integrated fan and lighting hub. This hub can distribute a PWM fan signal from the motherboard to as many as eight connected fans, and switches on the controller can gear down those PWM signals to create separate low-speed and high-speed groups of four fan headers each. Like I noted earlier, the hub can also take a signal from the now-ubiquitous four-pin RGB LED headers on most motherboards and distribute it to the Dark Base Pro 900’s included pair of hard RGB LED strips or to lights connected to another four-pin RGB LED header on the hub itself.

The Dark Base Pro 900’s power-supply mounting system is unique among the ATX tower cases I’ve used. Because the PSU mount can be repositioned to accommodate the possibility of an inverted motherboard, the mount isn’t a fixed flange at the back of the case like it is in most other chassis. Instead, a mounting ear snugs up to the PSU and holds it in place away from the rear wall of the case.

A power-cable pass-through then joins the PSU’s plug with the outside world. Two smaller mesh panels above this extender can be repositioned to keep the case looking right when the adjustable motherboard tray is moved up or down on its mounts.

The mounts for those ears leave only a narrow strip of open vent for the PSU to draw air in from, not the wide swath of mesh we’ve come to expect from cases with bottom-mounted power supplies. If you want your power supply to be able to breathe in this case, I’d avoid setting it up to draw air in from the highly constricted bottom vent. The plastic covers on the power-supply shroud above can pop off to reveal vents to allow the PSU to draw in cooling air, and that’s likely a much better way to set up a build in the Dark Base.

 

The build

Given the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2’s high-end bearings, I set out to fill it with a suitably high-end build. I did so not only for its own sake, but to explore the kinds of unexpected roadblocks that can crop up when you start messing with extra-long radiators, multiple graphics cards, and other such exotica.

Mounting our test system’s motherboard, graphics cards, and storage proved simple enough. I didn’t realize that the motherboard tray’s default position afforded radiators on the top mount of the case just 40 mm of clearance, so I immediately ran into issues when I attempted to install the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate 360-mm liquid cooler we use with our Ryzen Threadrippers. The radiator ran straight into our test motherboard’s VRM heatsink. After some head-scratching, I decided to give the Dark Base’s adjustable motherboard tray a shot—even with a fully-assembled and fully-cabled system installed already.

Happily, the adjustable tray functioned perfectly even with a full load of components on board. I only had to support the tray to keep the weight of the system from crushing cabling plugged into the bottom edge of the motherboard while dropping the assembly to its second position. Once the six securing screws were re-installed in the motherboard tray, I was able to install my liquid cooler without a hitch. This kind of flexibility is a lifesaver. In any other case, I would have had to abort my build, find a different cooler, or generally engage in the disassembly of an already-completed system. The Dark Base 900 let me shrug that fitment issue off in just a few minutes, and the time its flexibility let me save made me fall in love with it.

While the Dark Base’s PSU shroud may help create a clean-looking interior, it’s mandatory to take out this entire piece to install the PSU or run any cabling. Three screws along the bottom left edge of the case are easy enough to find, but the last is hidden on a bracket that sits at the bottom-right edge of the hard-drive mounting area. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to remove the shroud fully, but a trip to the manual revealed the location of this final screw.

With two RGB LED light strips, three RGB LED fans, and all of their supporting cables, the behind-the-motherboard-tray area on the Dark Base 900 quickly became crowded. Had this build been a more permanent effort, I would have put more effort into cable management, but in this situation, I deliberately left the rats’ nest to give an idea of the default cable-management situation with the Dark Base. The case does include hook-and-loop strips in the box to deal with this kind of mess, but there’s still not a lot of room for wires to hide. I shudder to think of how a build with more 2.5″ or 3.5″ devices might need to be cabled in this case.

Even if the space behind the motherboard tray can get a bit messy, the main chamber of the Dark Base 900 rev. 2 ends up looking plenty clean. I especially appreciate the flexibility of the full-length cable-routing channel from the bottom chamber into the top chamber, and the trio of rubber grommets at the front edge of the motherboard proved as handy as ever for getting power and storage cabling into position.

Once the motherboard tray was in its proper place, the pop-off panels and roomy insides of the Dark Base made building a straightforward process. I didn’t have to remove any major elements of the case in order to get my parts to fit, and I only had to pop off a couple of plastic panels from the PSU shroud in order to ensure that our power supply would receive adequate airflow. If be quiet! had engineered more space into the area behind the motherboard tray, the Dark Base Pro 900 would be among the easiest-to-use cases I’ve ever built in. Let’s see how the case performs with these high-octane parts inside now.

 

Our testing methods

Here are the specifications of our test system:

Processor AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X
Motherboard Gigabyte X399 Aorus Gaming 7
Memory 32 GB (4x 8 GB ) G.Skill Trident Z RGB DDR4-3600
Graphics card 2x Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition
Storage Corsair Neutron XT 480 GB SSD

WD Blue 2 TB HDD

Power supply Seasonic Prime Platinum 1000 W
CPU cooler Thermaltake Water 3.0 Ultimate 360-mm closed-loop liquid cooler
OS Windows 10 Pro

Our thanks to AMD, Gigabyte, G.Skill, Nvidia, and Corsair for helping to outfit our test systems with some of the finest hardware available. Our thanks as well to be quiet! for providing the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 for review, as well.

I raised the temperature (but not power) limits on our GeForce GTX 1080 Tis to the maximum of 90° C to prevent thermal limits from artificially capping the temperature our graphics cards could reach in our testing.

Our case testing cycle consists of the following phases:

  • 10 minutes of idle time at the Windows desktop
  • 10 minutes of the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test
  • 10 minutes of the Prime95 Small FFTs CPU torture test and the Unigine Heaven graphics torture test
  • 10 minutes of idle time at the Windows desktop

Ambient room temperature during our test run was about 78° F or 25.6° C.

Cooling performance

Since our tests today are simply functional rather than competitive, I’ve chosen only to present minimum and maximum temperatures during each of our test phases.


Surprisingly, the Dark Base Pro 900 doesn’t get much out of the switch between quiet mode and performance mode on the fan hub. Motherboard temperatures under maximum load are four degrees C lower than in quiet mode, but the rest of our components run at virtually identical temperatures regardless of the case’s fan speeds. That may be down to the Dark Base Pro 900’s solid front door. We might have to perform some quick informal tests to see just how that door affects graphics-card temperatures when we can.

One thing these numbers do suggest is that if you’re going to run a top-mounted radiator and two graphics cards in SLI, blower coolers are the way to go. Our Founders Edition GTX 1080 Tis may have 500 W of board power between them, but their coolers ensure all of that hot air is going out the back of the case under full load. Our Ryzen Threadripper 1950X didn’t move a degree higher in full-load testing thanks to that arrangement.

Noise levels

When your system is pulling 700 W to 800 W from the wall under load, even an 80 Plus Platinum PSU is going to get hot. In fact, I tried both an 80 Plus Gold 1200-W PSU and an 80 Plus Platinum 1000-W PSU in this case to try and keep noise levels down, and they both had to ramp up their fans to howling levels to remain operational in this case. That din led to some troubleshooting on my part, after which I learned opening both of the Dark Base Pro 900’s PSU shroud vents instead of the rear one only seemed to provide enough airflow to the PSU to avoid starving its fan. Set up thusly, the Dark Base Pro 900 proved well-mannered enough to run our usual noise measurements.


With its fan hub in quiet mode, the Dark Base Pro 900duced a pleasingly smooth noise character under load that belied the pair of GTX 1080 Tis and 180-W CPU cranking away inside. All of the fans I could hear sounded mostly like moving air, and I couldn’t hear a single stray vibration or rattle from the case. The absolute noise levels produced by the system in this configuration were loud enough to be consistently noticeable, but they didn’t annoy me or otherwise cause me to seek aural relief.

Clicking the Dark Base’s fan hub over to performance mode pushes the case’s absolute noise levels into the range where I would start reaching for a pair of headphones. In this mode, the case’s Silent Wings 3 fans took on a somewhat pitched high-midrange character that was still smooth and unobtrusive, but it was just too loud to easily fade into the background. I’m glad the performance option exists, but I’m not sure I would want to use it as my go-to setting unless case airflow demanded it—especially given that our test system got little or no performance benefit in exchange for the increased noise levels.

 

Conclusions

be quiet!’s Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 case intimidated me a bit at first with its massive size and huge array of potential interior arrangements. I never imagined that I might need the case’s adjustable motherboard tray, for example, but it proved a lifesaver when I attempted and failed to mount our test system’s 360-mm liquid CPU cooler on my first attempt.

Instead of having to rip out my entire fully-cabled system, I simply had to undo a few screws and drop the tray to the next notch down on the Dark Base 900’s frame. That’s the kind of time-saving delight that separates the best from the rest. Other cases might have required alternate cooler mounting arrangements or forced me to give up entirely, but the Dark Base’s incredible flexibility allowed me to just keep going with my build.

Not every inch of the Dark Base is as well-designed, though. With flexibility comes complexity, and some parts of the case’s design suffer in the name of accommodating the Dark Base’s dizzying array of interior configurations. The power-supply mount on this case doesn’t offer juice boxes nearly enough breathing room, and some might appreciate the option to swap the noise-killing but restrictive front door with a high-airflow mesh panel.

Most bemusingly, the Dark Base 900’s massive footprint doesn’t include much room behind the motherboard tray to route cables,  at least in its default non-inverted state. Lesser cases have offered much more room to work with for cables. In a full tower this massive, I wouldn’t have expected such a paltry amount of space to work with. While the Dark Base still offers plenty of ways to tame a cable mess, the space for doing so is tighter than I would have liked.

Even with those minor annoyances, the case provided unmistakable style, excellent cooling performance, pleasant noise levels, and a smooth aural signature, even with a 180-W Ryzen Threadripper CPU and a pair of GeForce GTX 1080 Tis inside. The Dark Base 900’s variety of noise-dampening features didn’t seem to give any of our components any trouble in getting the airflow they needed to stay cool. Overall, the case proved a quiet and competent home for our high-end test system.

At $269, the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 is one of the most expensive cases around before we get into hyper-exotic super towers, but there are few boxes it leaves unticked. The included Silent Wings fans are of excellent quality, the integrated PWM fan and lighting hub greatly simplifies cable hook-ups, and the included RGB LED lighting strips are a nice cherry on top. The unique Qi charging pad works well for those who need it, too.

If you really, truly need all the space the Dark Base Pro 900 rev. 2 offers for massive builds, I think it’ll be hard to come away disappointed by the features and flexibility it offers. If you can work your way around a few minor design flaws, this case is a great foundation for an ultra-high-end system, and I’m happy to call it TR Recommended.

Comments closed
    • freebird
    • 1 year ago

    Why does the very 1st image look like there are only 7 PCIe case slots, while the view of the back looks like it has 8? Is the Power Supply Shroud/Cover blocking the 8th slot from the inside???

    • strangerguy
    • 1 year ago

    I will not consider any case without unfiltered intake vents like this one, they are just a dust disaster waiting to happen.

      • Usacomp2k3
      • 1 year ago

      That’s a triple negative. How about “I will only consider a case with filtered intake vents” or “I would ignore a case without filtered intakes” or “I would ignore a case with unfiltered intakes”.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 1 year ago

        I wouldn’t not say no to any case without unfiltered intake vents.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    The ATX market demographic [i<]should[/i<] be this: [quote="Jeff Kampman"<]If you're at the far edges of PC building and never want to consider a single trade-off[/quote<] In reality, it's this: [quote="Chrispy_"<]If you are a normal, mainstream buyer who would prefer a smaller system but was wholly unimpressed by the limited choice of decent mATX and mITX cases[/quote<]

      • Mumrik
      • 1 year ago

      I get the impression it’s more about people wanting a lot of empty space to exhibit in their tempered glass window.

    • chuckula
    • 1 year ago

    [quote<]In this mode, the case's Silent Wings 3 fans took on a somewhat pitched high-midrange character that was still smooth and unobtrusive, but it was just too loud to easily fade into the background. [/quote<] [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp9aHtN4K74<] Here's the audio of Silent Wings[/url<].

      • Inkling
      • 1 year ago

      Not quite the way Jeff described it, but seems legit.

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