Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 1
Introduction
 
Choosing a case in today's market is a very difficult affair. First you need to decide what you want from a case, be it aesthetics, functionality, style, space, cooling capability. Few cases offer them all. The decision is made even harder when you visit enthusiast forums who's members all seem to have there own favourites. Few other components create greater debate than a case with it being such a personal item to house your hidden hardware.
 
While there is no doubting there are some excellent cases on the market, they are still tower cases at the end of the day. To get the absolute maximum benefit from watercooling, many of the cases require at least a little modifying - something many are reluctant to do when the case costs the thick end of £200. Add additional powder coating and radiator cuts and the cost soon doubles. Wouldn't it be nice to buy a case, pre-modded, pre-coated with enough space to house a nuclear reactor and the cooling capacity to keep it in check? Step forward Mountain Mods.
 
The USA based company is located in the small town of Hood River, Oregon, nestled between Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams and was established in June 2003. Their first product, the U2-UFO was a basic, brushed aluminium cube that set tongues wagging throughout the enthusiast community. This design has evolved many times over thanks to feedback from consumers and forum members alike along with the company constantly striving to both improve the case and improve the manufacturing standards. Today, Mountain Mods offer numerous case designs, each with it's own 'mods' for the consumer to choose from.
 
Most recently, they have introduced their first modular Tower case in the form of the Pinnacle 24 allowing a quad radiator AND a triple radiator to be fitted. How many cases do you know that can do that? You can also CYO (Choose Your Own) panels to make your case unique, making the Mountain Mods case  truly hyper-modular with, for example, over 1000 different configurations to choose from in just the Ascension model we have for review today! The possibilities really are endless allowing the consumer to design there own case, for their own needs, from the ground up.
 
Once you have decided on your case format, you will then need to decide on the paint finish as well as your colour choice. Black wrinkle, Gloss white powdercoat, anodised or plain brushed aluminium are just some of the finishes available. Once painted up it's time to make your window decisions. Made of 3mm acrylic, smoked, green, blue, red - the choice is yours. The decisions don't stop there though, how about engraving to make your case truly unique? This is not a problem for Mountain Mods who will happily engrave any or all of your windows panels. This is a uniqueness that sets Mountain Mods apart from all other case manufacturers and something that has gained the company a loyal following.
 
The Mountain Mods Ascension case we have for review today is the culmination of feedback from enthusiasts wanting the absolute best from a PC case with no compromises. Over the next few pages, I will be casting my critical eye over every detail to see if this agenda has been met but before that, let's take a look at the manufacturing process...  


Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 2
Manufacturing
 
 
The fabrication division of Mountain Mods use an Amanda Gemini FO3015-NT (4000W) laser cutting machine to forge the majority of parts needed to build the cases. Because of the laser, each part is cut to precise measurements ensuring each panel fits together perfectly (something I will put to the test later in the review). Blemish free sheets of high grade Aluminium are loaded into the machine one at a time and are spewed out at the opposite end once the holes are cut.
 
Amanda gemini
 
The Amanda Gemini is cooled by the means of the extreme overclockers favourite liquid - LN2 (liquid Nitrogen). Sadly, the Ascension is aimed towards those who like to watercool but those huge bottles of LN2 certainly do look the business!
 
LN2 lazer
 
Once the panels are cut, they are stacked and ready to be drilled and counter sunk. When this is done, they are fed into the 'timersaver' one at a time, which gives the aluminium its brushed effect. All of the parts are brushed regardless of whether they are to end up as powder coated or anodised in finish.
 
cuts panel brush
 
With the various panels now brushed, they can be sent to the anodising orpowder coating department. Those panels that need moulding into shape with flanges etc are sent to the Amanda hydraulic press with each component again hand fed into the machine and then stacked ready for collection.
 
press brace
 
After the panels have been bent into shape with all the relevant flanges correctly pressed, the units are ready to have their threaded inserts fixed using a Haegar 618 insert machine. All of the hand work that goes into the process really is astonishing and it's also reassuring that a robot is not responsible for making your case as any errors in production can be clearly identified and slung into the recycling bin before it gets to you.
 
ready for rivets inserting
 
With all of the parts now prepared, it's time for the last stage before it goes to powder coating. Little rubber plugs are used in the holes to ensure the threads are not clogged in the powder coating process. Once this is complete, the parts are cleaned of any foreign material, hung from a rack and sprayed with powder (if you are having the parts powder coated that is). The powder is attracted to the parts because they're positively charged by the powder gun and the case components, because they are earthed, attract these positively charged particles so that the powder particles 'stick' to the case.
 
plugs spray
 
With all of the components powdered, they are sent to be cooked in the powder coating oven for thirty minutes at 300 degrees. After the baking process is completed, the parts are left to cool off completely before being sent to the packing and distribution section.
 
oven cooling off
 
The whole process is overseen by human eyes which is very re-assuring and while the major cutting is done by machine, each part is inspected throughout the fabrication process for any errors. Because of the human factors involved, cost is inevitably affected but quality control should not be an issue thanks to the hoards of staff checking, rechecking and checking again before the product is sent out to the consumer.
 
Let's see how the ordering process is navigated...


Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 3
PurchasingSketchup
 
Buying a Mountain mods case is an investment. It's not the sort of case you buy to throw away or change on a yearly basis. It's case you choose to match your complete needs. If you want an off the shelf product that looks the same as nigh on every other case out there then you have simply come to the wrong place. A Mountain Mods case is as unique as you are going to get save from nipping to your local hardware store and buying a jigsaw and Dremmel.
 
Few places stock Mountain Mods cases worldwide due to the cases not really being designed to be 'off the shelf', so therefore it would be impossible to stock every single unit in adequate numbers to make the venture viable. So then, the best place to buy the case is from Mountain Mods direct who have a very easy to follow website making the whole buying experience a pleasurable, if somewhat time consuming task due to it's nature and the sheer amount of options available.
 
Primarily, you have to decide on the foundation of your case, be it tower, mini-cube, cube or extended cube. My choice was the Ascension CYO (right) which is an extension of the highly popular U2-UFO.
 
Here's What Mountain mods had to say about the  Ascension CYO:
 
The Mountain Mods Ascension adds 6 inches of height to the already massive U2-UFO platform. The behemoth stands 24 inches tall and is 18 inches deep and wide. The Choose Your Own series allows you to choose from a variety of possible configurations. The Ascension like the U2-UFO is COMPLETELY MODULAR - or "HYPER MODULAR" as we call it. The front and back panels can rotate 180 degrees for a different configuration. Or easily change your configuration by purchasing individual panels. The Ascension is fabricated by skilled workers in the USA. It is made from thick aluminum making it lightweight, sturdy, and thermally friendly. Casters are included for easy mobility.
 
Once you have made your decision that will form the foundation of your Mountain Mods case, you are then taken to a separate page where you can begin to make adjustments depending on your preference for fan locations, radiator setup, finish and panel layout etc via a number of drop down menus showing the options available.
 
Panel Options:
front side
 top back
 
As you can see, there are a fair amount of options available and as the design's modular you can mix and match until you find your perfect solution. With the panel choices made, you can then decide what radiators you wish to fit. As Thermochill and Swiftech/Feser etc have different fan spacings, Mountain Mods allow you to choose which spacing you require or both spacings should you wish to use different radiators in the same unit.
 
order form
 
As you can see from the image above, most of the options are available to swap and change around to fit in with your plans for the ultimate PC case. The options however, do not stop there. Speaking to Ben at Mountain Mods will also allow you to specifically change something that is not on the list within reason. Obviously, the more modifications you add to the list will affect the length of time it takes to build as each case is built to order with only limited amounts of options pre-fabricated.
 
Here's the specification of the case I received:
 
Material - Aluminium 5052
Thickness - 1.65mm-3.25mm
Dimensions - 24x18x18 inches
Finish - Powder Coat - Sky White
Power Supplies - 2 optional ports
HD Bay - 2 sets of 120mm HD brackets - Holds 6 out of box
5.25 Bay - 2 x Removable
5.25 Devices - Holds 6
MB Tray - Removable - Horizontal
Form Factors - mATX/ATX
Front Panel - Trinity
Rear Panel - Horizon
Side Panel - Big Window
Top Panel - Standard (UFO)
120MM Fan holes - 16
Empty Weight - 18 lbs.
 
Let's see if the case arrived safe and sound from the USA to the UK via FEDEX...


Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 4
Packaging & Appearance
 
As the case has to pass through the hands of various couriers as well as making the trip across the Atlantic, suffering at the hands of customs and then the local delivery guy, the packaging of the Mountain Mods case is crucial if it's to arrive in good condition. Despite the box being ripped open and closed numerous times (evident by the amount of different tape used to seal the box), it arrived in fair condition. There were few marks on the box and thankfully no footprints which is just as well as the box was not the most sturdy I have come across. Opening the box up, we find the contents to be securely packed with brown padding paper ensuring nothing is free to rattle around inside.
 
box open
 
Unpacking the contents was like opening Pandora's box. Components after components were tightly packed inside, each part either being wrapped in cellophane or separate card board, Sellotaped to the component to strengthen and protect it. The main panels were wrapped securely in cellophane. This form of packaging, while frustrating for those unwrapping the product, is necessary to prevent the finish from being scratched. I would have preferred to have foam insert used as well as the wrapping but the modular nature of the cases dictates this to be an unnecessary luxury that would no doubt add to the cost. Regardless, every component arrived unscathed from the journey across the pond, testament to the good, if somewhat unorthodox packing methods used. 
 
front panels
 
Because this case is so huge, it would be impractical (and expensive) to send the unit pre-built as although the package is light thanks to the aluminium construction, size is a major factor when posting. The unit arrives flat packed with nothing but the casters pre-assembled. Judging by the 100's of screws included, I certainly have my work cut out assembling the case. This work is made even more daunting due to the fact there's no instruction manual included. There's a short instruction manual on the Mountain Mods website but again, due to the individuality and uniqueness of the Mountain Mods cases, it would be impossible to cater for every possible setup.
 
bits accessories
 
After unwrapping all of the panels, I examined them for any dents, bends or scratches and I' happy to report there were none. Out of the whole case, there was only one very minor mark (read pin prick) that was not coated. The machining of the panels was very good with no sharp edges and the finish had no significant orange peel that I could detect - a rarity among powder coating.
 
panels 1 panels 2
Each panel has numerous screw holes, some counter sunk, some not which made the identification of which screws to use all the more easier. The first job was to begin with the base. I'm not a huge fan of casters but judging by the size of the case, I feel they are going to be needed as lifting the case when it's fully loaded with components and water is going to be quite a task. The wheels are your standard caster units which unfortunately do not have a locking mechanism on them, so ensure you have the case on an even surface.
 
base castors
 
Let's see how I got along with constructing the Mountain Mods Ascension... 


Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 5
Construction
 
After a quick browse through the instructions on the Mountain Mods website (here) and after a lot of head scratching, I finally figured out which bit goes where and with what screws. I started my mission by making the removable motherboard tray first which was pretty straightforward with the hardest task finding a small Allen Key to use for the cap head screws. With the tray assembled, I then slotted the tray into the rear panel and attached it using 8 screws. For purposes of quick removal, I would have preferred to use thumb screws for this area as screwing and unscrewing this panel will no doubt become tedious after a few occasions.
 
Motherboard tray tray fitted
 
Next up came the fitment of the front panel power and reset switches along with the corresponding LED's. This is easily done by threading the units into the front panel and fastening the nut behind. The LED's are very bright blue in colour which again, can be relatively easily swapped out should you decide they do not fit in with your plans.
 
Bulgin switches front switches
 
The 5.25 bays are assembled to the front panel through the corresponding slots and then the drive bay holding plates are then screwed to the units with counter sunk screws. Because of the size of the case I chose, a maximum of six slots can be utilised but should I have opted for the standard front panel, this would have allowed a further four drive bays to be used. As I have more need for cooling than drive bays, I went for the additional radiator option rather than the extra four drive bays as I simply do not have the components to fill 10 drive bays. One disappointing aspect of the drive bay area however, is that there were no blanking plates included. While these can be purchased separately, it would have been nice to have a couple included should you not have the means of filling up the bays rather than be left with gaping holes in the front of your case.
 
5.25 fitted
 
For attaching the hard drive plates you will need a fan (not included) as the hard drive plates attach to the fan, which then obviously attaches to one of the many spare fan holes. This simple method of attaching hard drives to the case has a two fold benefit. Firstly at all ow you to fit the hard drives pretty much anywhere you choose. Secondly, because the hard drive is attached to a fan the drives will be kept nice and cool when in operation. Unfortunately, the plates were not packed with this case (an oversight on Mountain mods part) so luckily I had a spare set from a previous build lying around. Rest assured though, 4 plates that will house up to six hard drives are included as standard. If you have more than 6 hard drives then you can purchase more plates separately should you require them.
 
drive bay holder HArd drive plates
 
To support the motherboard tray a 'C' shaped bracket is included. This is one part of building up the case that threw up more questions than answers. No matter how I orientated the panel it just looked out of place. It wasn't until I realised that the tray just sits on the bracket and the screw holes at the end of the motherboard tray were not for the bracket that I felt confident I had gotten it right. I do however believe this is not a very good design and indeed it's an opportunity missed as the bracket would be better fixed to the tray rather than just balancing like it does. The reason for the holes at the end of the motherboard are for fixing the motherboard horizontal rather than vertical which is great as it's modular but unsightly when not used in that configuration. Another problem the bracket causes is the issue of the side window. It sits perpendicular to the window blocking the view which is less than ideal. This is something I'm sure Mountain Mods will rectify in future revisions.
 
 motherboard tray 1 bracket
 
With the internals now assembled, it was time to put the finishing touches to the case by attaching the panels. This is done by using a combination of counter sunk and button head screws. Once the side panels are attached to each other via lips on the front and back panels, a cross member can be attached to each side along the top of the case which allows the top panel to be fitted with button head screws. Halfway through screwing it all together I dreaded coming to fit the top panel as I envisioned a trapezium like shape would greet me. My fears however, were unfounded with everything slotting into place perfectly, not too tight, not to slack. Here's a quick hint though, do not screw all the panels down until you have it correctly in place!
 
countersunk  button head
 
Remember how I said Mountain Mods also offer an engraving service? Below left is the image I sent to them and asked if they could engrave that. I didn't expect them to be able to do it as engravers normally like to use a black/white simple image with no shading. However, as you can see, Mountain Mods did an amazing job of engraving both side panels with the Angel picture. This was done by the use of a 40w Laser engraver which can engrave images up to 1500 DPI. All the window panels were also cut by the same machine ensuring precise cuts are achieved.
 
image Engraveing
 
So with the panels attached, the case is complete. It's certainly not what I would call gorgeous, more awe inspiring than pretty. It's not designed to be pretty to be fair though. You have to appreciate that this case puts function over everything else. No other case that I know of will fit FOUR Thermochill PA120.3's without any modding. Do you really need that amount of cooling? Well in most cases no, but then this is not about 'need', it's about 'want', it's about a case that can take anything you choose to install, it's taking things to the extreme. If you can see past the ugly gaping holes waiting to be filled, you will see that the Ascension is a PC case like no other. It's the ultimate platform from which to launch a very special personal computer build.
 
 back top
 
front side
 
Let's take a look at the conclusion where I gather my thoughts on the Mountain Mods Ascension... 


Mountain Mods Ascension PC Case Page: 6

Conclusion

 

It's difficult to pass judgement on the Mountain Mods  Ascension as there is nothing else quite like it on the market. Few cases can be bought pre modded, tailored to your needs save for alternative Mountain Mods designs. While it may not win any fashion awards, there are no other cases on the market which match the modular nature of the case.
 
The Ascension, much like all other designs from this company, is simply not aimed toward the style conscious, Functionality over form is the order of the day and the Ascension is the chef's special. It has more fan holes (16 to be exact, which can be increased further depending on the panels chosen) than any other case out on the market and thanks to the huge amount of space available, up to four PA120.3 radiators can be fitted to this particular case. No other case can offer this amount of cooling, especially when you consider there is still space for six 5.25 devices and a further four 120mm fans! If watercooling is not to your preference but storage is then you can possibly fit up to 48 hard drives all cooled by 120mm fans! The possibilities really are endless when you consider the amount of space available.
 
That's the attraction of Mountain Mods. They seem to have pulled off the impossible, they are selling fresh air neatly wrapped up in an all aluminium case. How you use that space will depend on what configuration you decide on. Mountain Mods make this decision all the more difficult thanks to the wide array of choices they afford the consumer. The ordering process is simple and straightforward, the hardest part is which configuration to opt for.
 
Delivery times vary. I have a few colleagues who have imported Mountain Mods cases to the UK that have taken just 7 days, others have taken weeks. A lot depends on availability of the parts and the configuration you choose. Price is perhaps the biggest drawback of acquiring a Mountain Mods case. This particular version cost $469 excluding P&P. You also have to factor in the cost of import duty. In short you are looking at the thick end of £300 (exchange rate dependant) which may be enough to make some people baulk. However, one needs to put things into perspective. Take for example a Silverstone TJ-07, a popular case among enthusiasts. Add the cost of powder coating inside and out, laser engraving, the time and money to modify the case to a satisfactory level and the price of a high end off the shelf case soon exceeds that of the Mountain Mods Ascension.
 
Performance of the case cannot currently be evaluated as it's undergoing a full custom water cooling install (see here for Project Angel build log). Anyone who buys the Ascension for anything other than watercooling is missing the point of the case. It was designed from the ground up to provide optimum performance in a watercooled environment and to afford the owner a unique computer case that sets itself apart from the crowd, leading the way by being the ultimate case for the serious PC enthusiast. Mountain Mods have achieved what they set out to do and for that they can only be congratulated on a job well done.
 
The Good
- Hyper Modular
- Perfectly aligned panels
- Unrivaled space for components
- Full Aluminium
- Excellent laser etching
 
The Mediocre
- No included Blanking plates
- Missing HD plates and PSU cover in our version
- Odd method of supporting the motherboard tray
 
The Bad
- The price may be too much for some
 
 
Thanks to Ben at Mountain Mods for providing today's review sample. Discuss in our forums and follow the Project log here