History it seems, is a bit vain. History it seems has a habit of inserting page markers into its own timeline, deciding as it were to draw your attention to the start or end of certain chapters. Inserting markers that cause people to instinctively remember where they were and what they were doing when certain momentous events occurred. The Death of Elvis, The First Moon landing, The Twin Towers, the first time you saw a actual naked woman. If you're a geek then history may well have chosen other events to mark your journey through life (apart from the naked woman one, that's pretty much universal). If this is the case, then along with the birth of online gaming and a version of windows that didn't suck more than the last one, most likely the inception of the Cooler Master HAF series is one such event. Am I over egging this? perhaps a little, but the fact remains that the HAF marked a significant point in PC case history.
So successful is the HAF that Cooler Master feel confident that they can stir the pot a bit, changing the footprint and form factor of the case whilst at the same time remaining true to the original design concepts and styling cues. Gentleman and ladies (for we know there a some of you out there). We bring you the HAF XB. A Mid tower (sort of) ATX case eschewing the conventional in favour of a double decker layout. PSU and drives below, Motherboard and cooling up top. Able to accept tall coolers and long cards, the XB offers even more. Twiddle a few thumb screws stripping away the body, and the XB transforms itself into a Test bench. Looks like we need to put it through the OC3D wringer and see if this latest incarnation is able to uphold the name of HAF.
|Material||Steel body, front mesh, Plastic Bezel|
|Motherboard support||ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ATX|
|3.5"||2 (from X-Dock)|
|2.5"||6 (2 from X-Dock)|
|I/O Panel||2xUSB 3.0 Audio in/out, supports HD audio|
Front 2x120mm 1800rpm 21 dBA Included (2x 140mm optional)
Rear 120mm optional
Top 200mm optional
|Water cooling support|
Front optional 240 or 280mm Radiator
Rear optional 120mm radiator
|Powers Supply Support||ATX PS2 max mength 180mm|
Up Close: Exterior
By now you're probably used to the usual route we take around a case when we review it. However although supporting the ATX form factor the XB can't be said to follow the usual layout conventions, and as such don't be surprised if this route varies a little from the norm.
Measuring 442x330x423mm the XB resembles a hunkered down cube, with the large notches down either side of the front bezel nodding firmly in the direction of its HAF heritage. Subtle yet perfectly sized had holds on either side remind us just how easy this case will be to pick up and carry to LANs.
The upper section of the front the of the XB is dominated by a large mesh area. Rather than being a purely two dimensional sheet the mesh is sculpted and angled. A simple Diamond cut Cooler Master logo badge sits proudly in the centre. Under the Mesh we find the front I/O area. A large power button and smaller reset button sit alongside HD audio in/out jacks and a pair of USB 3.0 sockets.
Further down and to the left the mesh of the upper panel is repeated offering blanking for the pair of 5.25" bays. These are easily removed by means of simply pinching together the small tabs on either side. Over to the right we find the two external 3.5"/2.5" bays, each of which enables hot swap by means of Cooler Masters X-Dock mechanism.
The layout of the rear of the XB gives one of the first hints that the interior is laid out somewhat diferrently to a conventional ATX tower case. Plenty of hex mesh and ventilation, but we can't help noticing an absence of fans back here.
If we imagine the upper half of a tower case rotated through 90 degrees the image below left does at least make a bit more sense to us. At the far left side we find a selection of punch outs should you opt for external watercooling, to its right there is a mesh protected mount for a 120mm fan (conspicuous by the absence of a 120mm fan). Below this we find the rear I/O cut out and 7 expansion bays. Further down we find the PSU cut out. An extension enables the accommodation of longer PSUs without too much encroachment into the interior. finally, over to the right there are mounts for 2 80mm fans, again, no fans are included in this position.
Flipping the case over we can see that the body of the case is amply support by broad dense rubber strips at each corner and along the front, with the PSU area featuring a removable mesh filter.
Last but by no means least on our trip round the exterior we visit the roof. A single plate held in place by 2 thumb screws, the roof features a large raised central mesh vent. locations are provided in the mesh for the attachment of a 200mm fan, but bear in mind this may restrict the height of the CPU cooler below. For those of you looking at the roof and whose Dremel hand is twitching as we speak, you might be interested to know that the case is available with a windowed roof as opposed to a mesh roof. The image below right we hope helps show the build quality and finish that we've come to expect from Cooler Master.
Up Close: Interior
The Cooler Master HAF XB splits the housing of its hardware between two levels, with the Motherboard, CPU and expansion cards being pretty much the only items on the upper level. Access to the lower levels is gained by removing the motherboard tray and by removing the side panels, all of which are held in place by the now ubiquitous thumb screws. Although a large CPU cut out is provided it is pretty much mandatory to have to remove the Motherboard backplate to change a CPU cooler as although there is ample room behind (below) the CPU access is restricted by the PSU and by the various drive enclosures. We're not mentioning this in the context that it is an issue, it isn't, the nature of the removable motherboard tray means you can have the whole lot out in under a minute.
The keen eyed amongst you will have noticed that there's quite a bit of space between the rear of the two 120mm fans and the edge of the motherboard, 60mm to be exact. With this amount of space on hand and with access from either side it seems almost criminal not to mount a 240 or 280mm radiator in there, especially as the case is designed with just that in mind. Although the cables can be routed up through the edges of the motherboard tray it's far easier to bring them up through the large space at the front edge of the tray, just need to bear that in mind when deciding on the thickness of radiator.
With the Motherboard tray removed we are afforded a better view of the lower level of the case. Towards the front left are located bays able to hold a pair of 3.5" or 2.5" drives and to their right a 5.25" bay able to house 2 devices, or perhaps a reservoir. Did we just say reservoir? Yes we did. For those of you that have been concentrating will already know this case will accept 240 or 280 rads in the front, but more of that later.
The PSU is mounted by means of a sort of external extension. This extension slips over the rear of your PSU with the whole assembly then being slid in from the rear (stop it now). It has to be said that the thick layer of anti-vibration rubber padding at the base of the PSU mount makes the fit very tight. So tight in fact that we had to remove the fan cowling from our PSU to get it in, and even then a fair amount of wiggling was required. The reason for the extension of course is that is permits a certain amount of the PSU to hang out the back of the case and as such enables the use of PSUs up to 180mm in length. Unlike other conventional towers though the longer the PSU you use the less room you're going to have to manoeuvre those cables, as you'll see when we come to the build section. The image below right shows the business end of the Cooler Master X-Dock technology. essentially a PCB with a 4 pin Molex and two sata data connections the X-Dock enables hot swapping of 3.5" and 2.5" drives from the exterior of the case via the front hatches shown earlier.
Up Close: Test Bench Configuration.
The well made and smooth fitting top and side panels are easily removed by means of knurled thumb screws revealing the bare frame of the chassis. Like the case exterior the chassis itself and interior are powder coated in thick matte black so should be well able to withstand a knock or two without losing their rugged good looks. The release of 6 clips allows the front panel to be removed leaving the front I/O and power board behind. In this configuration, with all the pretty panels removed the HAF XB reveals its inner test bench credentials.
Although not offering quite the same amount of access as units such as the Dimastech units, it does have to be said that working on the hardware in the HAF XB with all the main panels stripped away is simplicity itself. Perhaps the ability to remove the struts running from front to back along the upper corners of the case would have made access even better, but we really are just being pedantic. Credit where credit is due though, although we might have preferred screws enabling removal, Cooler master have ensured the structural rigidity and strength of the unit by double riveting the joints between cross members. Not something you see every day, but i guess if you're designing something to be portable it's best to make sure that the thing you're carrying it by stays attached to the rest of the case.
So having stripped the case down to its undies, before we move on to the build let's have a quick look at what else we get in the box. First up is a set of comprehensive instructions with informative although quite small diagrams. A small brown box secured inside the case contains the usual selection of screws, a slack handful of black cable ties a buzzer and a set of rails for mounting the 2.5" drives.
Up Close: The Build
Undoing the two thumb screws on either side of the motherboard tray enable it to be lifted out clear of the case, making the job of mounting the motherboard and the cooler as easy as can be, especially with the more than generous CPU cut out.
With the PSU inserted we can begin to think about how we're going to route our cables. We say think because as this is not a conventional layout, we're not going to be able to follow conventional routes. Still, as everything is compact there's no concerns about cables not reaching their destinations. Far from it in fact, our biggest issue, if you can call it that was having too much cable to lose in the process of getting it from A to B. Those of you who've read other case reviews will know we hold great sway by the cable management options afforded at the rear of a Motherboard, and with no less than 110mm of space we can safely say the XB will not leave you wanting. But what of cable tie points we hear you cry? Well we think there are at least 25. why so vague. I'll tell you why, because there's so damn many we kept losing count, and every time we tried we seemed to find another in an ingenious place we hadn't noticed before, that's why. Not only are there plenty of them, but a great many of them are set at a 45 degree angle enabling attachment of cables running in any direction, not just across them at 90 degrees.
With motherboard complete with cooler and GPU in place we can wire up the components having previously passed the cables up from underneath. It's essential you pass the wires up and through first because with the motherboard in place there's no way you're getting them through, not unless you're blessed with having multiple wrist joints. The end result is a tidy wiring job up top, with most of the unused cable lengths being stowed safely below decks where it can't be seen.
Earlier on we talked about the ability of the HAF XB to accommodate a 180mm PSU. The unit we've used below is a relatively modest 160mm unit, and even here we can see that the amount of space between it and the rear of the 3.5" X-Dock assembly is quite limited. if you're using a modular PSU it's a good idea to attach whichever cables you will need first before inserting the PSU into the case, again, if you have multi hinged wrists, this won't be an issue for you.
With everything in place we can re attach the panels and bask in the glory of our build, noticing that although the mesh panel in the roof is primarily designed for ventilation it does provide a rather nice view of the hardware within.
Performance Testing and Conclusion
If you've read the full review or even just skimmed through it you'll know by now that we're quite taken with the HAF XB. Not a standard affair by any means, and indicative of Cooler Masters design flair that they feel confident enough to stir the pot on a classic design. It's HAF, but not as we know it.
So let's have a bit of a recap on what we've found out about the XB. Quality wise it ticks all the boxes. Good thick steel, blemish free finish, well fitting panels no sharp edges. The simple act of undoing the thumb screws and removing a panel is enough to bring home the inherent build quality and attention to detail here. The panels slide nicely into place, with no grunting or peering into the shut lines to check if everything is lined up right. The panels just slot into their tracks in nice and smooth with the holes for the thumbs screws lining up perfectly. it's what we expect from Cooler Master, but we should never take it for granted.
Building into the XB is about as easy as it gets short of using a dedicated test bench (and even they can be a bit of a fiddle at times). With the ability to remove the sides and the top as well as work with the motherboard and tray removed there's not a corner you can't get into. Couple this with cavernous space below decks as well as cable routing holes and more cable tie points than we can count (seriously we gave up trying after 25) and you start to get the feeling that this is one of the easiest cases we've built into in a long time. Now that's not to say it's intuitive, it's not, as the layout varies from the standard tower design you will have to think hard about your wiring routes, and of course make sure you attach and route all your cables up to the upper deck before securing the motherboard tray. And if we're honest we can't help wondering if the PSU bulge at the rear was there from the beginning or a fix to enable the accommodation of longer PSUs once the overall dimensions of the case had been determined. We think the former rather than the latter as proportionately the XB wouldn't have looked right if it was much deeper.
Looking at the XB first and foremost as a case you're not going to have difficulty getting your kit in here. OK if you're rocking a dual CPU motherboard and 4 GPUs then you need to look elsewhere, but for the majority of us there's ample space. With the ability to house CPU coolers up to 180mm in height and GPUs up to 334mm in length you'd be hard pushed to find something that won't fit, and with 7 expansion slots there's even room for some multi card madness. Now let's remember that this little tank of a case is LAN portable, with a deep sturdy handle on either side you're not left feeling that you have it gripped only by the tips of your fingers.
The XB isn't just a case though, a few seconds stripping away the panels and you have yourself a test bench. OK, not quite in the same league as the Dimastech offerings, but to be honest it makes a pretty good fist of it. There's ample access where you need it, with perhaps the only suggestible improvement being the ability to remove the upper cross struts, although we do recognise this may compromise structural integrity.
Designed primarily as an air cooling case, and remembering that HAF stands for High Air Flow, we were perhaps a little surprised by the absence of an extract fan at the rear of the case. Granted you could always add one in, as you could add in a pair of 80mm into the lower section, or a 200mm into the roof, but we feel that perhaps the rear fan is something of a given these days. Still with the large roof vent and ample ventilation the absence of the vent fan didn't appear to have any major impact on the thermal characteristics of the case.
Let's not forget that the XB also lets you get wet. Lob a 240 or 280mm in the front, a pump/res combo into one of the 5.25" bays and you've got yourself a fully functional watercooling rig without the need to get Mr Dremel out, can't be bad.
Now it would be normal at this point in the review for us to give a bit of a roundup of other cases that are just like the one we've reviewed, but may be better, or worse or cheaper etc. Thing is, there's nothing really out there that is the same as the XB. Yes we know there are other cube cases, yes we know there are other Mid Towers that offer watercooling support, and yes we know that there are test benches that offer better functionality and yes we know there are other LAN portable cases. What there isn't though, for the time being at least, is a case that can match the XB trait for trait. With the urge for PCs to get smaller and encourage greater living room integration, could the birth of the XB be one of those moments where the vain hand of history inserts a page marker. Only time will tell.
We were going to leave it there, but there's one more thing we'd like to add about the XB. If you Mod cases (and we do) then you'll be familiar with the feeling of seeing a case and thinking what you would like to do with it. Some cases stimulate this desire more than others, and this doesn't mean they're bad cases, far from it, it usually means they're good cases and as such they get your juices flowing. For us, the HAF XB is one such case, it gets our creative juices flowing, and this is a very very good thing.
Thanks to Cooler Master for sending the Haf BX in for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.