We've looked at quite a few Aerocool items here at OC3D and can say that we have noticed something of a theme developing with regards to their styling. Lets just say that they're not exactly subtle. Now that's not a criticism, it's merely a statement of fact, and I would hazard a guess, a direct result of a marketing strategy. Let me explain. With the most avid users and therefor buyers of all things PC and gaming being men between 18-25 it stands to reason that along with those that prefer sleek black understated cases, a good proportion of this demographic will like the aggressive bold styling that is the hall mark of Aerocool products, and in particular the "Strike" range. Oh yes, this case comes as part of range, and I don't mean just the other cases in the Strike range, you can also get PSUs, Mice, fan controllers and before long even speakers.
So lets look a bit more closely at the Strike-X Air. Having established it's an open frame design it's probably best you understand just how big this case is. It's not tall as most cases are being only 340mm in height, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in other areas. With a width accross the front of 612mm and a depth of 535mm you'd best be sure you've got room on your desk for it. For the rest of the vital statistics lets turn our attention to the technical specification.
Material: SECC 0.7mm Steel
Motherboard: Micro ATX, ATX, XL-ATX
Dimensions: 340mm (H), 613mm (W), 535mm (D)
Drive Bays: 3x5.25" (Exposed), 3x3.5"HDD or 2.5"SSD
Expansion bays: 10
Max GPU Length 330mm
Max CPU Cooler height 230mm
Ftont I/O: 1xUSB3, 3xUSB2, 2HD Audio
Up Close: Exterior
The Strike-X Air Is predominantly made from formed plastic over a metal frame to give strength. As you can see from the images below the horizontal layout of the open frame design is essentially split into two halves, with the motherboard area on the right and the drive bay area on the left. The footprint of the case is so large that it won't actually fit into the light tent, necessitating a bit of improvisation involving a trip to the haberdashers to purchase some black material.
The front I/O panel sporting 1xUSB3, 3xUSB2 and a brace of HD audio sockets is a situated off to the Right hand side of the case, but sitting centrally to the motherboard area. The power and reset switches can be found off to the right of the front I/O. Above the front I/O area looms the main case cooling fan. A huge mesh panel supporting a red bladed red LED 200mm fan, the panel's angle can be altered, enabling it to be swung open completely for access, held horizontal , or closed up completely for maximum cooling impact.
While on the subject of the cooling panel I think it's fair to point out this is perhaps the weakest part of the case design. Not because it's not a good idea, it is, in fact the top fan positively pours down cooling air by the bucket load on the hardware below. It's because it's structurally weak. As it's not able to support it's own weight when positioned horizontally Aerocool have fitted a simple strut to the left side in order to provide support, much like you'd have under the bonnet of a car. The problem arises after a few moments when the right hand side of the cooling panel sags under it's own weight somewhat spoiling the aesthetics.
Unfortunately the problems with the panel don't end there. With the panel fully closed the ribs down each of the flanks don't quite seem to line up with the grooves in the front panel, causing it to not quite close. Either it's a little too big to line up with the grooves or it's way too small to make it to the edges of the rebate. Just looks wrong.
Moving round the back things improve. With no less than 10 expansion slots the rear hints at the X-Strikes ability to swallow big motherboards. The case also offers a not towards watercooling with 4 grommeted tubing holes and some mounting holes for a 120mm rad on the bar above. Off to the right we find the PSU port and the rear of the drive bay area.
Flipping the case over to see the underneath we get to look at the rear of the motherboard area. I have to admit when I first flipped the case over I couldn't help thinking how much of a pain it might be to build into the case if this was the only way to access the rear of the Motherboard. With 6 large grommeted cable management holes, and a total of 14 cable tie mounts though there should certainly be ample opportunity to do a decent tidy job. the image below right shows a close up of the PSU vented area which although meshed does not have a filter, and the large non gormmeted hole by which the cables leave the PSU before travelling behind the Motherboard.
Up Close: Interior
With open frame cases it's quite hard to define what's exterior and what's interior. For the benefit of this review we've kept to the same format and will be detailing here the areas that would typically be found on the interior of a case. of course with the X-Strike air, they're as much on the outside as they are on the inside.
Looking at the Motherboard tray area we can see that this case is able to accept the large XL-ATX motherboards. Along with a good sized CPU cut out, with two rows of grommeted cut outs to allow for cable management with the larger and the smaller standard ATX boards. This is a nice a touch as all to often we see cases able to accept large motherboards only having cable management holes spaced for the larger boards, leaving a large distance to run your cables if you opt for the smaller boards. Strangely all the front I/O cables exit the front panel on the upper side of the motherboard tray. With the tray being so close and the front I/O being so low why not have had them exit on the underside where they would already be hidden? On the plus side, the open frame design does allow for the accommodation of really quite large Air coolers. With the cooling panel in the horizontal position it's possible to fit coolers of up to 230mm under there. and with a capacious interior it's also able to house GPUs up to 330mm in length. Both of these tolerances are reduced a little when the panel is placed in it's closed position, but in reality it's not likely you're going to be using the case with the panel in that position.
Off to the left hand side of the case we find the two drive bay areas. The lower section is able to accept up to 3x3.5" drives or 3x2.5" SSDs or HDDs. The drives are loaded into cassettes securing with 4 screws and inserted into the bay area. What isn't immediately obvious is that all 3 slots offer hot swap capability with no need to to wire in a drive every time you swap one round. A single red LED 120mm fan stands on duty down the side of the bays to provide cooling to the area.
Above the 3.5" bay area we find the 5.25" bays. Again accommodation is provided for 3 5.25" devices. Drives are held in place with screws as opposed to any sort of tool less mechanism. For ease of installation the whole of this upper drive bay area is removable.
Before we leave the interior lets just take a look at how technology meets simple design. The left hand image below shows the interior of the rear of the hot swap 3.5" bays. The bays come with 3 SATA cables already attached which is just as well as space for larger hands is limited as I discovered trying to remove the lower cable of the 3. The image below right shows the extremely simple solution Aerocool have adopted to enable the cooling panel to be propped open!
Instructions and Accessories
The case comes with an instruction booklet which gives reasonably clear guidance on how things go together. It doesn't exactly push the boat out though to tell you about all the various access holes and cable routing options that are available. I guess Aerocool figure you can work this out for yourself. Also included for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom are no less than 3 PSU mounting brackets. These are screwed tot he rear of the PSU with the PSU then being slid into the rear of the case clipping in place when they reach the right point. All I can think is that this is done with a nod towards using the case as a test bed for PSU's although why it's thought it would be too much trouble to just unscrew the 4 screws and re use the plastic bracket. We're also provided with 2 sets of 4 adhesive isolation feet, again I guess for when we swap from 1 PSU to another! A final rummage through the accessories box reveals the usual selection of screws along with a good sized handful of cable ties
You'll remember that I was a little hesitant as to how to achieve easy access to the rear of the motherboard area. In a traditional case this is done by simply removing the opposite side panel and turning the case around. With the X-Strike it wasn't going to be that simple though. The solution however came rather quickly as the strength of the case enables it to be flipped on it's side giving unprecedented all round access. Even at this stage we weren't quite sure how we were going to manage so many cables in such an open plane enclosure.
I guess we needn't have worried though as in reality the underside of the case seems to just swallow all the loops of unwanted and unsightly cables with the management holes perfectly placed to allow them to pop up at just the right place. even the front I/O cables we were worried about seem to easily disappear.
With a modest sized GPU such as the old faithful 8800GT it's actually possible to close the cooling panel lid. This it must be appreciated just isn't going to be possible with the larger modern GPUs. The accommodation of massive CPU coolers may also be possible with the lid shut, but this may be compromised by the degree to which they extend over the RAM area. For this build I fitted the moderately sized Havik 120 cooler which fitted underneath no problem, and does give some idea about just how much room there is under the lid.
Installation of both the 5.25" and 3.5" drives is simplicity itself as previously mentioned the 3.5" drives screw into their cassettes then simply slot into the hot swap bays. the 5.25" drives slide neatly into the bay area and are held in by good old fashioned screws.
Performance, Testing and Conclusion
In concluding this review we need to establish that this is an open frame case and not a traditional closed case. Well Duh! I hear you say. What I mean to say is that as such we cannot entirely directly compare it to a traditional case. Sure, there are some areas where we can make comparisons but for the greater part we must look at this case in a different way. We must appraise it for what it is, which is essentially an open frame gamers case with a nod towards test bench capabilities
The market isn't exactly awash with open frame cases, but as someone who's built into, modded and used the Antec Skeleton case on a daily basis since its launch It's fair to say we have a good benchmark against which to measure the X-Strike Air. It's also fair to say not all of us here at OC3D towers share the love for the Skeleton, but then perhaps like the X-Strike, the looks are something you'll either take to or not.
The X-Strike air is certainly very easy to work on, with the lift up top fan cooling panel circumventing the problems of a fixed top fan and allowing access down into the mother board area, not just from the sides, but also directly down from the top. If it wasn't possible to flip the case over to gain access to the reverse side of the mother board to route and secure cables the build would have been next to impossible. As it is though the build process was a positive pleasure, in fact easier than a great many cases I have worked on. That's not to say it's perfect, the access for the 12 pin CPU power cable could be better. The front I/O cables could be routed directly under the motherboard from the outset, and the access to the rear of the 3.5" bays to attach the power and SATA cables could be better. These though are the minor niggles and do not significantly detract from the ease of the build process. So access is good, but then it should be as this case is aimed not just at gamers but at people who want to be, or need to be changing their hardware on a regular basis. Looking at the case from this standpoint, it stands up as one that is easy to work on. Swapping out GPUs and coolers is a cinch as is pretty much any other piece of hardware for that matter. However it's only fair that if we are to look at this case as a test bench then we must mention the other options available. The Lian Li PCT60B can be had for about the £75 mark, it's not able to take the larger boards that the Strike X Air can, but it does occupy considerably less desk. Then we have the Phobya WaCoolT at £95 (no I haven't just had a spas on the shift button, that's really how it's written), and the Dimas Tech V2.5 Easy for £100. These are both superficially quite similar designs with both offering watercooling support for larger rads. It must be remembered that these 3 cases are all pure test benches and do not make the same allowances for the Gamer as the Strike X does.
Appreciating that the world appears split into those who prefer sleek looking cases and those who like their cases to look a bit more aggressive, (because let's be honest if you like your cases sleek and sexy you're not going to like this one little bit).. Let's examine how this case might appeal to the gamer who's in the latter camp and looking for something a little bit different. Well it certainly seems to tick a significant number of boxes. Aggressive styling, Blinged out fans, LEDs, Desk presence, big GPU and tall heatsink capacity, good cooling, decent storage, hot swap bays, it's pretty much got it wrapped up. For those of you who raised an eyebrow when I said good cooling and question how, without a case, you can achieve good airflow, let me explain something I've learned. Open frame cases with top down fans disperse heat differently. The heat from the hot components radiates up from the general motherboard area and is then simply blown away from the area by the top fan, kind of like a continuous bucket of water pouring down on a fire. For this reason they tend to have very good cooling, in fact for this very reason we don't test CPU coolers in open frame cases as they can knock a good 4-6 degrees of the max temp. Also, for those of you who think dust will be a problem, I see no reason why this case should collect anymore dust than the Skeleton, which I can say hand on heart is one of the most dust free cases I've ever owned, again thanks to the top fan simply blowing the dust away.
So far so good, but for those of you who've read the whole review you'll know there are one or two problems. The first of which is the hinged top fan panel. It's pretty inexcusable for this panel to be as flimsy as it is, it's not even able to support its own weight and when propped on one side droops on the other. I spent ages trying to get it to stay flat and level but it just wasn't to be. Additionally the fact that it doesn't seem to quite line up with the front panel section when it's closed does nothing to add to the feeling that it's a quality item. You might be interested to know that the roof fan panel can actually be purchased as a separate item and is marketed as a laptop cooler. Can't help wondering which purpose it was originally indented for. The other big problem for me is the looks. I wouldn't normally comment on a cases aesthetics as it's very much an individual choice, however, as a reviewer you learn to appreciate not just aesthetics, but also design. I'm not going to say I either like the looks or dislike the looks, that would be a far too subjective opinion, there is however something wrong with the balance of the design, the symmetry of the case isn't so much wrong as totally missing. For example, the right hand side of the case, housing the motherboard etc looks to have been designed by a different chap, in a different building possibly in a different country to the chap who designed the left hand side of the case housing the drives and PSU. Not only do they look totally disjointed, they also appear to be the wrong scale for each other. The lack of symmetry doesn't end there, take a look at the two "side on" images and you'll notice that the shape and curve of the struts on the left side of the case are different from those on the right. It's almost as if they had so many cool looking drawings and designs they thought they'd try to incorporate everything. Either that or the design decisions were made by a committee that couldn't quite agree.
So like a lot of items we review there's good as well as not so good. In the end though we have to draw things to a close and decide what we really think of the Strike X Air. In concluding I'm going to ignore all aspects of aesthetics as this may just be a personal thing. I can't however ignore the issues with the cooling panel as this is just weak design. As a gamers case I think it performs well. It'll keep things cool as well as look cool. It'll take the big cards and coolers and it'll look imposing on your desk (or what space you have left on your desk). As a test bench it also performs well. It's easy to build into, with one or two minor niggles. Access is good from the top down and from the sides and it's easy to do a good job on the wiring.
I've deliberately resisted the urge to compare this case to the Skeleton, which it has to be said is the only other real hybrid case/test bench on the market. However, aesthetics and the issues with the top panel aside and appreciating that neither may be to your personal choice I have to say that the X Strike Air is the better case with regards to flexibility, features, CPU cooler capacity, GPU capacity, ease of build and ease of use. From someone who loves the Skeleton that is praise indeed. Take into account the price and if you're looking for something that bit different, can live with the droopy top cooling panel and are in the habit of swapping your hardware about then this might just be the case for you. When it comes to scoring the Strike X Air does reasonably well, sadly though let down by that top fan panel. If Aerocol can get that sorted and make it look like it's part of the case as opposed to an afterthought then they will score much higher.
Thanks to Quiet PC for the sample on test today, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.