Let’s face it: there’s nothing nicer than a high-end PC enclosure. Today’s offerings don’t just give PCs personality. They also greatly simplify the building process, thanks to tool-less widgets, provisions for cable routing, easy-to-access storage bays, and roomy innards that leave plenty of space for comfortable component installation. One wouldn’t dream of building a state-of-the-art gaming rig without a comparably state-of-the-art case.
We certainly love high-end enclosures here at TR. We’ve reviewed quite a number of them over the years, and a few of our favorites have earned prized spots in TR’s System Guide—not to mention under our desks.
Not everyone has the budget for a top-of-the-line case, however. Folks with shallower pockets will understandably want to prioritize internal components like the processor and graphics card, which will usually mean housing those parts inside something cheap and cheerful. Sadly, getting an inexpensive case can involve ugly compromises, like being forced to block airflow with a mass of cables, having to screw in hard drives by hand, and maybe cutting your fingers on a sharp steel panel or two. Aesthetics and stealth are often sacrificed in the name of thrift, as well. In lower price rings, garish front bezels and loud fans abound.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Today, we’re going to look at a couple of cases from Corsair and Antec that bring high-end amenities to the budget space. Please join me in welcoming Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R and Antec’s Three Hundred Two.
These babies are both priced around the $70 mark. The Carbide Series 200R will set you back $59.99 before $9.99 shipping at Newegg, while the Three Hundred Two is available for $69.99 with free shipping. Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
The 200R is the most recent arrival. It debuted late last month, earning the title of Corsair’s most inexpensive enclosure ever. As we noted at the time, the 200R looks surprisingly upscale for the price. Especially on the inside, it doesn’t seem all that different from Corsair’s higher-priced offerings, like the Obsidian Series 650D. Naturally, Corsair has had to cut a few corners to reach the lower price point. We’ll soon see which corners were cut and which weren’t.
The Three Hundred Two came out a few months before the 200R. As its name suggests, this is a successor to Antec’s hugely popular Three Hundred case, which has literally thousands of reviews on Newegg. Among the additions and refinements in the Three Hundred Two are USB 3.0 connectivity, sideways-facing hard drive bays, a tool-less drive mounting scheme, cable routing holes in the motherboard tray, and dedicated 2.5″ bays for solid-state drives. That’s an extensive list of improvements, and it makes the Three Hundred Two a fairly formidable competitor to the 200R.
Here’s how the two contestants’ specifications stack up:
|Corsair Carbide Series 200R
|Antec Three Hundred Two
|Dimensions (H x W x D)
|16.9″ x 8.3″ x 19.6″
|20.2″ x 9″ x 18.5″
|ATX, microATX, Mini-ITX
|3.5″ drive bays
|2.5″ drive bays
|5.25″ drive bays
|2 (120-mm front and rear)
|2 (120-mm rear, 140-mm top)
|Front panel I/O
|2 x USB 3.0, headphone, mic
|2 x USB 3.0, headphone, mic
|Max. graphics card length
|Max. CPU cooler height
|Gap behind motherboard
The Antec case is taller and wider, with more space behind the motherboard tray to tuck away cables. The Three Hundred Two also has more hard-drive bays, and Antec touts its support for Mini-ITX motherboards. Why you’d want to stick a tiny motherboard in a full-sized ATX case is another matter—but hey, if you’re into that sort of thing, I’m not one to judge.
Meanwhile, the 200R is lighter and a little deeper, and it allows room for more fans, more solid-state drives, and longer graphics cards. The cooling arrangement is different, too. Both of the Three Hundred Two’s bundled fans are exhausts by default (with one at the rear and one at the top), but the 200R has an intake fan at the front and an exhaust fan at the back. Antec’s strategy may result in lower processor temperatures, but the Corsair design could minimize dust and cool other components, like the graphics card, a little better. We’ll look at temperatures and noise levels in excruciating detail very soon.
By the way, sticking a Mini-ITX motherboard in the 200R isn’t technically impossible, even if Corsair doesn’t advertise the fact. The Mini-ITX mounting hole pattern is a subset of the ATX one. However, the 200R has a stabilizing nub instead of a standoff under one of the main mounting holes. That nub helps steady ATX and microATX motherboards for installation, but if you were to install a Mini-ITX mobo, you’d only be able to fasten it in place with three screws.
To test both of these cases, we’ve gathered some fresh components. Behold the new TR Case Warmer:
That’s a Core i7-2600K plugged into a Z77 motherboard, with a Thermaltake Frio cooler strapped to it. We’ve also got a Radeon HD 7870, a 128GB solid-state drive, a Blu-ray drive, a modular power supply, and even a sound card. All told, these parts draw about 260W under a simultaneous CPU and graphics load.
One might consider this collection of test hardware overkill for budget enclosures like the 200R and Three Hundred Two, but we think it’s helpful to stress these cases properly. If they’re any good, they needn’t be restricted to budget builds. We’d also expect these cases to have plenty of room for future upgrades—and the ability to cool those parts appropriately. You wouldn’t want to grab a new graphics card only to have it overheat in Far Cry 3, now, would you?
Okay, that’s enough for introductions. Let’s get into the meat of this review by taking a closer look at the 200R and Three Hundred Two. (There will be pictures—plenty of them.) Then, we’ll fill up the cases with our Case Warmer guts, document the process, and run some stress tests. Ready? Here we go.
Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R
Corsair is known for its understated yet elegant designs, and the 200R definitely follows that tradition. I wouldn’t be ashamed to put the case on my desk—if I didn’t have plenty of room under it, that is.
The filtered front vents are tucked away on the sides, which keeps the face nice and plain. You’ve got the two USB 3.0 ports, audio in and out, and power and reset buttons at the top. Beneath those are the three optical drive bays, and there’s a tiny Corsair logo at the bottom. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Flip the case around, and you can see the power supply goes at the bottom, and the side panels are kept in place with easily removable thumb screws. We wouldn’t expect less from a self-respecting enthusiast case.
The black paint job extends to the inside. That’s a nice touch, especially for a case this cheap.
As we noted earlier, the 200R’s internals somewhat mirror those of more upscale Corsair cases like the Obsidian Series 650D. The 200R and 650D both have nice, big cut-outs in the motherboard tray, which make routing cables and accessing the back of the CPU socket a breeze. Both cases also sport sideways hard-drive bays and completely tool-less storage mounts. The 200R has fewer drive bays in all, though, and its cable-routing holes aren’t lined with rubber. Still, the family resemblance is clear.
In the shot above, you can see the two pre-installed 120-mm fans: one at the front and one at the back. There’s a second front fan mount, which Corsair hides under the front bezel. You can pop off the bezel without too much trouble by bending plastic clips on the left side.
Note the space between the 3.5″ and 5.25″ drive bays. That gap leaves room for uber-long graphics cards, and it also plays host to the 200R’s plastic cage for four 2.5″ drives.
Installing an SSD is as simple as pushing it in until the drive clicks into place. To remove it, pull back the tab on the side and slide the drive back out. Easy as pie. The cage doesn’t have a lot of ventilation on the sides, but solid-state drives shouldn’t run all that hot. We’ll check SSD and hard-drive temperatures in a bit.
Speaking of ventilation, the 200R has a copious number of vents. In addition to the two 120-mm fan spots at the front and the one at the rear, Corsair offers vented emplacements for two side fans (both 120-mm), two top fans (both 140-mm or 120-mm), and one bottom fan (120-mm or 140-mm). The two top fan emplacements can also double as a home for a jumbo-sized liquid cooling radiator.
Corsair sticks a nice, easy-to-remove dust filter under the PSU fan intake. The front vents are filtered, too, but the other vents are left bare. Any dust that gets sucked through the central bottom vent—or that falls in through the top ones—is going to go right inside the case.
Corsair’s Carbide Series 200R—the assembly
Installing a motherboard in the 200R is nice and straightforward. All of the standoffs are pre-mounted, and there’s a nub at the center to help position the motherboard before you screw it in place. Corsair has left plenty of clearance around the motherboard tray, as well, so getting the screws in (and hooking up the various fans) doesn’t involve unnecessary contortions. The process would likely be a little more awkward with fans occupying the two top emplacements, though.
Inserting the power supply is also quite easy. There’s a small steel lip between the motherboard and the power supply mount, so the PSU is kept steady and secure while you tighten the screws at the back.
Incidentally, the case comes with a special USB 3.0 connector designed to mate with newfangled motherboard headers. That’s great if you’re using a newer mobo, as we were, but it’s bad news if you’ve got something a little older that doesn’t have the right pin-out on the circuit board. Since there’s no adapter in the box, you’ll be forced to leave the front-panel USB ports unplugged—frustrating, even if one can (kind of) forgive Corsair for not accommodating outdated hardware.
Things are reasonably tidy around the right side. Well, okay, maybe not so tidy—but this is where you’re supposed to hide cables. Strapping everything down with cable ties might look nice, but it’s often pointless, since it impedes future upgrades and doesn’t really affect airflow. We would have used ties if cables had bulged out enough to prevent the side panel from closing easily, but the mess wasn’t quite that bad.
Happily, snaking cables around the 200R is a very pleasant experience. The routing holes in the motherboard tray are nice and big, and mostly everything is in the right place. There were a couple of minor exceptions: the CPU power connector, which wouldn’t squeeze through at the top unless we bent the motherboard tray back a bit, and the SSD bays, which don’t face the same direction as the hard-drive bays. The difference in orientation means you may be forced to use separate power cables for solid-state and mechanical storage, since feeding both with one cable can be tricky.
At least installing the drives themselves is a piece of cake. SSDs slide in with a click, as do hard drives. The process with hard drives is slightly different: pull back the tab on the side, push in the drive in with the connectors facing away from you, and release the tab so that it bites into the drive’s corresponding screw hole. You can fasten the drive more securely with screws if need be. Some might prefer to do that, since the lone tab doesn’t feel completely secure. In fact, our drive slid loose while I was pushing in the power connector from the other side.
Optical drives are installed in essentially the same way as hard drives, only the tab mechanism feels a little sturdier. Here, too, Corsair offers the option of screwing the drive into place, if you don’t fully trust the tool-less mechanism.
All in all, assembling a full, working system inside the Carbide Series 200R comes surprisingly close to a premium experience. I’ve spent plenty of time with both the Graphite Series 600T and the Obsidian Series 650D, and this case doesn’t seem like a huge downgrade. Aside from the aforementioned kinks with the SSD bays and USB 3.0 connector, my only gripe is that the side panels aren’t really easy to put back on. Laying the enclosure flat on its side is almost a requirement.
Antec’s Three Hundred Two
Where the 200R looks like a scaled back version of pricier cases, the Three Hundred Two is more akin to an upscale variant of cheaper offerings. Seen from the front, it’s almost identical to the old Three Hundred. The only obvious differences are the curved fins and the blue hue of the USB 3.0 ports.
The Three Hundred Two has further novelties in store around the back: switches to control fan speeds and rubber-lined holes for liquid cooling hoses. Notice how the expansion slots are flush with the rear panel, too. More on that later.
Popping off the side panel confirms that the Three Hundred Two is a very different animal from its older sibling. The optical drive bays have gained tool-less mounts, the hard drive bays have been rotated 90 degrees and made to accommodate rails, Antec has cut holes for cable routing in the motherboard tray, and a fan mount has appeared behind the CPU socket.
Compared to the 200R, the Three Hundred Two looks a little plain. There’s no slick, black paint job on the inside, the routing cut-outs in the motherboard tray are clearly smaller, and as you might have noticed, not all of the motherboard stand-offs are pre-installed. The Three Hundred Two’s extra hard-drive bays are nice, but they limit the length of supported graphics cards to 12.5″—not that that should pose a problem in a budget case such as this, of course.
The Three Hundred Two has a less impressive array of vents and fan mounts than the 200R. Antec provides two pre-mounted fans—a 120-mm spinner at the rear and a 140-mm one at the top—and it leaves room for an additional four fans (all 120-mm): one on each side and two at the front. The front fan emplacements are both hidden under the front bezel, which can be popped off easily, just like on the 200R.
Also mirroring the 200R, the Three Hundred Two includes a dust filter under the power supply’s intake fan. The filter slides out from the left side, which is arguably a better, more convenient design than Corsair’s. The Three Hundred Two has dust filters covering the front intakes, as well, but other vents are left bare.
Here, we have the Three Hundred Two’s fan controls. These are simple slide switches with two settings: low and high. They’re hard-wired to the case’s exhaust fans, so they can’t control the speed of additional fans. We’ll try both speed settings in our temperature and noise level testing in a little bit. Before that, let’s take a look at the assembly process.
Antec’s Three Hundred Two—the assembly
I normally don’t comment on the odor of PC components, but I can’t help it here. Coming out of the box, the Three Hundred Two smells pretty awful. The scent is like a mix of burnt plastic and noxious chemicals, and it’s so bad I had to open the window while putting everything together. I still felt nauseous and a little lightheaded once I was done.
The assembly process is a little thornier with the Three Hundred Two than with the 200R. The side panel thumb screws are too hard to remove by hand, and once you get the side panel off, you have to fish motherboard standoffs out of the included plastic bag and install them manually. There are no nubs to help position the motherboard, either. It’s up to you to keep the thing in place while bolting it down.
That process is rendered even more awkward by the top fan, which limits clearance around the top edge of the board. To get those last screws in, I had to drop them on the circuit board and coax them into their screw holes with my screwdriver. Plugging the top fan into the corresponding header at the top of the board was hopeless; I had to use tweezers. I’m probably partly to blame for using a big tower cooler, but the Thermaltake Frio isn’t exactly outside the scope of a budget system. Newegg sells it for $57.99 after a $10 mail-in rebate right now.
While we’re on the subject of the top fan: Antec inexplicably runs the little wire connecting that fan to its speed controller right in front of the blades, and the wire is too short to move out of harm’s way. The solution is simple enough. You can swap the two speed control switches, which are easily unclipped from the back of the case, so that top fan and its switch are closer together. That gives the wire just enough slack to tuck away. One wonders why the case didn’t ship with the switches in that arrangement.
One last complaint before we move around to the other side. Getting the power supply into place was surprisingly difficult. Just like in the 200R, there’s a steel lip between the PSU emplacement and the motherboard. Unlike in the 200R, however, the lip is bent down too far to make a straight, single-motion insertion possible. I had to insert the PSU in the middle of the main compartment and slide it toward the rear, which left a big gash in the top of the unit—and little flakes of black paint everywhere.
The Three Hundred Two has slightly more space behind the motherboard tray for cable routing. However, the cable routing holes are smaller, so the actual routing process feels less straightforward than with the 200R. On the flip side, the side panels are easier to put in when the case is standing up and cables are protruding slightly. Instead of simply sliding into place, the panels first connect with a hinge (positioned at the front of the case) and then swing shut. It’s an old, tried-and-true design, and Corsair used something similar for its more upscale enclosures. Curiously, though, the 200R lacks this feature.
Oh, and before I forget, the Three Hundred Two has the same dedicated USB 3.0 connector as the 200R. Antec also declines to include an adapter in the box. Too bad if you have an older motherboard.
Installing expansion cards in the Three Hundred Two is bafflingly complicated. A bracket holds the L-shaped lip of each expansion card in place, and you have to unscrew that bracket from the outside of the enclosure. Also, the mounting screws that hold expansion bay covers in place straddle multiple bays. While I was installing the graphics card, I realized the card wouldn’t go in properly until I unfastened the screw for one of the adjacent, unused expansion bays. In total, I had to undo and subsequently re-fasten five screws just to put in that one card. None of those were thumb screws, either. On the 200R, the same process was accomplished by undoing and re-fastening just two thumb screws.
There is an upside to the Three Hundred Two’s convoluted design, which is that all connectors are flush with the rear of the case. That probably makes it easier to find the right port when you’re crawling under your desk and trying to avoid all the dust bunnies. I personally don’t think that’s worth the tradeoff, though.
Despite its other failings, the Three Hundred Two has a better installation process for hard drives and optical drives than the 200R. You’ve got to clip little plastic rails onto hard drives before sliding ’em into place, but the mounting mechanism feels much, much safer, and there’s no need to fasten screws for extra security. With optical drives, the mechanism involves a rocker clip. Pushing in the drive flips the rocker, which causes little metal teeth to bite down into the screw holes on the drive’s sides. Nothing else to say there—everything works great.
If only adding solid-state drives were as easy.
This is the part where I dug up the manual, because I wasn’t sure where the Case Warmer’s SSD was supposed to go. Turns out the Three Hundred Two’s only SSD bays are at the bottom of the main compartment and behind the motherboard try. I figured I’d slap the drive behind the mobo tray, since that would make cable routing easier, but I couldn’t. Why? Because the motherboard blocked access to two of the four screw holes.
If you want to mount an SSD on the back of the motherboard tray, Antec says you’re supposed to do so before putting in the motherboard. Removing the SSD will then, of course, involve removing the mobo and all expansion cards. “Comically inconvenient” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
In the end, I chose to mount the SSD in the other spot, between the power supply and the 3.5″ bays. The SSD’s mounting screws go right through the bottom panel, so you have to lay the case flat on its side to proceed. Once that’s done, the drive sits flush against the bottom panel, which means you can forget about L-shaped Serial ATA connectors. The Case Warmer’s Asus mobo only came with L-shaped SATA cables, so I had to grab some straight SATA cables from an old Gigabyte motherboard box. Ugh. Really, you’re probably much better off using a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bay adapter than bothering with the Three Hundred Two’s SSD bays—or, you know, just duct-taping the thing somewhere.
All things considered, the Three Hundred Two feels much rougher around the edges—figuratively speaking, that is—than the 200R. Some parts are designed better, but the installation process feels more labor-intensive and less comfortable. Coming to that realization was a little disappointing for me, since this is an otherwise very well-built case, and I have fond memories of Antec’s Sonata and P180 enclosures. The Three Hundred Two just isn’t as good.
Our testing methods
We’re now going to see how the Carbide Series 200R and Three Hundred Two stack up in our temperature and noise level tests. We already introduced our Case Warmer parts on page one, but here’s a more detailed run-down of the components we used:
|Intel Core i7-2600K
|Asus P8Z77-V LE Plus
|4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
|XFX Radeon HD 7870 Black Edition
|Asus Xonar DG
|Samsung 830 Series 128GB
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB
Asus Blu-ray combo
|Corsair HX750W 750W
|Windows 8 Pro
We’d like to thanks Asus, Corsair, Kingston, Intel, Samsung, Thermaltake, and XFX for supplying all of this excellent hardware.
We tested using the following applications:
The tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to discuss them with us.
Temperatures and noise levels
We’ve been testing cases in essentially the same way for years. This time, we figured we’d try something a little different. Instead of doing simple spot measurements, we used AIDA64 to keep track of temperatures for individual system components (the processor, GPU, motherboard, and storage drives) throughout a 40-minute period.
We left the system idle at the Windows 8 desktop for 10 minutes, then fired up the Heaven GPU benchmark and left it running by itself for 10 minutes. We then added a Prime95 CPU torture test to the mix and left it running, together with the Heaven benchmark, for 10 minutes. Finally, we stopped both tests and let the system cool down for the final 10-minute stretch.
Here are the results, plotted as lines over time. You can click the buttons below the graph to see temperatures for the different components:
Even with its fans set to run at the lower speed, the Three Hundred Two clearly does a better job of keeping components cool under load than the 200R. Not only that, but as the GPU graph demonstrates, temperatures return to their pre-load levels quicker in the Antec case. Even the SSD runs a little cooler in the Three Hundred Two, despite the fact that the 200R has a fan blowing right behind the drive. Perhaps the Corsair case’s plastic cage is trapping some of the heat. To be fair, though, neither the solid-state drive nor the hard drive run particularly hot in either enclosure.
The plots above depict broad trends, but we can also show you some exact numbers. The bar chart below shows the minimum temperatures from the idle and cooldown parts of the run. It also shows the highest temperatures recorded during the two load tests.
Both our Core i7-2600K and our Radeon HD 7870 Black Edition ran about five degrees hotter in the Carbide than in the Three Hundred Two at the lower fan setting. In the case of the Radeon, the temperature increase was a little scary. 85°C is quite warm, even for a top-of-the-line GPU. We’ve seen some older graphics cards run close to 100°C on an open test bench, though, so we’re probably not witnessing anything out of the ordinary here. Besides, since these are budget enclosures, the Three Hundred Two and the 200R are likely to accommodate cheaper and less power-hungry graphics cards.
What about noise levels? We used our TES-52 digital sound level meter to measure those.
At the lower fan setting, the Antec Three Hundred Two manages lower temperatures and lower noise levels from the side and top compared to the 200R. Not bad at all. The 200R is quieter when our noise level meter is positioned at the front, though. And the Three Hundred Two’s “high” fan speed setting doesn’t offer a good compromise between cooling performance and noise.
In the grand scheme of things, the differences in noise levels between the two cases are fairly small. These enclosures also sound similar to the naked ear at idle—they both emit a soft, innocuous whoosh, which is very easy to tune out. That whoosh gets more intense under load, but it’s not disagreeable either on the 200R or on the Three Hundred Two at the lower fan preset. (The higher preset makes the Three Hundred Two sound like a roaring jet engine under load.)
Unfortunately, the Three Hundred Two loses points because of its top fan. With the slide switch set to the “low” setting, the top fan consistently refused to start when the system booted up cold. Apparently, our motherboard just wasn’t giving it enough juice at the default fan regulation setting. That problem can be worked around if you flip the switch to the “high” setting and then back to “low” after startup, but you’re not going to want to do that at every bootup. Tweaking the motherboard’s fan profile may work, as well, if your board allows for it. Some do not.
The Carbide Series 200R is a very impressive case. Antec has many years of experience offering inexpensive enclosures to budget buyers, and its Three Hundred is practically legendary at this point. Yet Corsair, with its first attempt in this price range, has managed to offer something more compelling overall than even the Three Hundred’s new-and-improved successor.
Now, the 200R doesn’t do everything perfectly. Its hard-drive bays feel a little flimsy, and its cooling performance lags a bit behind that of the Three Hundred Two. I wish the 2.5″ and 3.5″ bays faced the same direction, and it would be great if the side panels went on more easily when the enclosure is sitting vertically. Despite all of those small flaws, however, the 200R feels more like a proper enthusiast case than a concession to tight budgets. Really, it does.
I’ve already detailed the pros and cons of these enclosures extensively, but my overall, residual impression is pretty telling. Building a PC inside the 200R was actually enjoyable. I had fun doing it. Completing the same process inside the Three Hundred Two, I felt frustration more often than joy. Oversights like the misplaced SSD bay behind the motherboard and the bizarre expansion bay fastening mechanism are just plain annoying, and I can’t think of a good justification for them. The Three Hundred Two does have a few saving graces, like extra 3.5″ bays and marginally superior cooling capabilities, but I don’t think they make up for its faults.
If I were building a budget gaming rig for myself, I’d definitely go with the 200R. Thus, I’m giving the 200R our TR Editor’s Choice award. I wish the contest were closer—I wish both of these cases were deserving of a recommendation, and budget shoppers had a choice between two equally excellent solutions with different mixes of pros and cons. In reality, however, the contest isn’t close. Corsair has clearly raised the bar for what one should expect from a budget enclosure, and other manufacturers will have to follow in its foosteps.