NCASE M1: Crowdfunded Enthusiast Mini-ITX Case

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NCASE M1 Crowdfunded Enthusiast Mini-ITX Case

April 9, 2014 by Lawrence Lee

Mini-ITX Case
Original Price

At the end of every case review we usually discuss its strengths, weaknesses, and make suggestions for improvements in future revisions. More often than not our comments and advice go unheeded. It's frustrating sometimes, seeing product after product land at our door with the same old flaws and annoyances. Some of the better manufacturers take steps to correct such issues but most just continue churning out enclosures of the same mold. Our readers who frequently build systems surely have similar sentiments — we've all thought to ourselves at some point, "I could design a better case than this," but nothing ever comes of it. (One exception we know about is the route Mike Chin, SPCR's founder, took with his ideas, which led to the Antec P180 and its progeny & copycats.)

In 2012, a pioneering group of enthusiasts on [H]ard|Forum decided to actually do it. Unsatisfied with the lack of high performance mini-ITX cases on the market, they designed their perfect SFF case, dubbed the NCASE M1, aided by input from the community and engineers from Lian Li. In early 2013, to get funding for prototypes and testing costs, they started a project on the crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, raising more than double their goal in donations from people across the globe in one month. The units were built by Lian Li, shipped, and tested with various components and configurations before the product was finalized. In August, they started a second round of funding, the actual purchasing phase of the process, requiring a minimum of US$67,500 in order to make a small production run possible. Priced at US$205 each, once again, they exceeded their goal by more than twice over, eventually shipping out more than 600 orders.

The NCASE M1 unboxed.

We managed to acquire one of these units, and we have to say, it's an absolute beauty. Aesthetics and build quality were two of the main complaints the designers had about currently available mini-ITX cases and the M1 addresses this nicely. Its exterior is pleasantly uniform and minimalist, it has a small footprint, and is decked out with 1.5 mm thick brush aluminum panels. NCASE also felt that many enclosures are larger than necessary with a lot of wasted space; the M1 is extremely efficient in this regard. Though the enclosure is only 12.6 Liters in volume, it supports up to 3 x 3.5 inch drives, a triple-slot graphics card, a reasonably large CPU heatsink, a single/dual radiator watercooling unit, and up to four 120 mm fans. Some of these features come at the expense of the others, e.g. some of the drives and fans share the same mounts, but it's still an impressive list nevertheless.

Included accessories.

The M1 ships with an ATX power supply frame (ATX units are limited to 140 mm) as the stock frame is for SFX units, a set of four fan grills and filters, brackets to stack 2.5 inch drives in pairs, screws and grommets, and an internal PC speaker.

A closer look at the M1.

The M1 is also offered in black, but the gleam of the silver version really stands out compared to the myriad of black cases out there. Accenting the sleek aluminum body are glittering case feet and a black front panel. The facia is slightly angled at the sides but doesn't function as a door. The case is heavily ventilated at the top and on the upper portion of both side panels.

Specifications: NCASE M1
(from the Indiegogo web page)
Dimensions 240 * 160 * 328mm, 12.6L (250 * 160 * 338mm overall)
Motherboard support Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX
Liquid cooling support Single 120mm or 240mm slim radiator
PSU SFX, ATX (limited)
Drives x 6 (5 + 1 using included adapter)
Fans 3 x 3.5" mounts:
-1 on case floor
-2 in removable side bracket (cannot be used with dual radiator)

3 x 2.5" mounts:
-1 inside chassis front
-1 behind front panel (in place of optical drive)
-1 on case bottom (in place of 3.5" drive)
-included double-stacking bracket allows 2 x 2.5" drives on one mount (depending on drive thickness)

Vertically mounted slim slot-load optical drive
Front ports 2 x USB 3.0, microphone and headphone jacks
Power button red/blue power/drive activity LED
Material Aluminum
CPU cooler limit -Top-down coolers are recommended.
-Height restriction: 130mm
-Cooler cannot extend past the top of the board by more than 10mm. For many larger coolers, this limits motherboard choice to those with centrally-located sockets.
-Large coolers that extend past the front of the board will prevent the 3.5" HDD cage from being used.
Watercooling limit -Sealed liquid coolers or integrated pump/block and radiator/res recommended.
-Single 120mm or 240mm radiators only.
-Thinner radiators only (under 40mm).
-Fans in push/pull are not recommended due to space constraints.
GPU limit -Rear exhaust cards recommended.
-Max length: 12.5" (slots 1 & 2), 11" (slot 3)
-Max width for cards up to 11.5" in the first or second slot: 5.5" (4.7" at the PCIe power connectors)
-Max width For cards up to 12.5" or cards in the third slot: 4.4"
Power supply limit -SFX up to 130mm, modular or non-modular.
-ATX support via included bracket is limited to 140mm non-modular PSUs with cards longer than 200mm. ATX PSUs are not recommended due to limited room for long cables. Caution: the AC inlet orientation on some ATX power supplies may prevent the angle plug from fitting, please check carefully.

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