AOpen XC Cube EZ65: A Quiet, Powerful SFF

Complete|Mobile Systems
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The interior is neat, tidy and well laid out with plenty of room to work. Extensive cable management with plastic zap straps and cable sleeving routed along the metal channels of the all-aluminum interior skeleton keeps wire clutter to an absolute minimum. The removable drive cage makes it especially handy to get access to everything directly.

Tidy layout and great cable management for ease of installation.

The PCI and AGP slots are contrary to conventional arrangement. Normally, it is the AGP port that is closest to the CPU. In this board, it is the PCI slot that's closest and the AGP port is close to the edge of the board. There is a simple physical reason for this arrangement: It's only on the edge that any of the larger AGP boards can be physically accommodated, due to space restrictions. The drives get in the way otherwise, as the photo below shows.

The first step for assembly is to remove the drive cage assembly by undoing two screws, slipping it back just a bit from the flange in front, then lifting off. The CPU / heatsink and memory slots are then completely accessible.

Removing the drive cage gives easy access for CPU, heatsink and memory installation.

The drive cage is a nicely designed integrated structure that holds all the drives. Ideally the drives should be installed in the cage, and then the populated cage dropped in place in the chassis. The external 5.25" and 3.5" drives should not be screwed down however, so that you can get the alignment just right before doing so. Access to the 5.25" bay screws is a bit blocked by the cables running front to back, but a little pushing and shoving gets your screwdriver in OK.

Cage for all the drives. A single thumbscrew allows the bottom mounted HDD to be removed even after the cage is installed in the case.

The Samsung optical drive I used didn't align quite right. The correct position is in-between the last two screw holes. I had to leave out the screws out in order to allow the eject button to work properly. This is probably because the eject button on different drives are at slightly different height. Mounting screw slots instead of holes would solve this problem. AOpen might say using one of their optical drives would be a better solution. ;)

The heatsink/fan in an integrated affair. It's reasonably chunky, with a copper base, aluminum fins, and a 70 x 15mm fan. The base is flat and smooth, though not in the champion class. The built-in clips are simple to use and quite secure. This cooler is a departure from the norm, as the fan is set up so that it blows across and through the fins horizontally, much like heatsink/fans often used in server rack systems.

It is installed, as shown in the photo above, with the fan on the left side of the case. Several benefits can arise from this side-to-side airflow arrangement:

  • There is very little back pressure to the airflow compared to the conventional blow-from-top setup. This should mean reduced turbulence noise.
  • If there is an exhaust vent nearby, the hot air can be directed out of the case instead of using another fan to do that job.

Lo and behold! Remember those side vent holes mentioned earlier? One of them is right where the exhaust from the fan on the heatsink goes. Yes, it's all part of a grand plan. Here are two thermal airflow simulations from AOpen that show what apparently happens with the system in operation.

The outside air is drawn in through the large pattern openings on the left near the front. It flows across the drives, providing cooling effect, beflor being pulled into the PSU and the CPU cooler.

The CPU fan blows the air through the heatsink fins and directly out the right side vent just on the other side.

The power supply, as you can see from the internal photos and images above, is NOT an ATX design. It's smaller in every way, maybe a little bigger than 1/3 the size of standard ATX PSU. It is a custom size that does not fit any standard form factor, as far as I can tell. It does use an 80mm fan whose speed is thermally controlled. A label on the PSU provides the following specs:

AC Input
115/230 VAC, 50-60 Hz
DC Output
Max Current (A)
Max Power
Total Power

Note that the current for the individual voltage lines have almost no bearing whatsoever on the total available output power. The 21A max output for the +5V line, for example, is already the max Power available for the combination of the +3.3 and +5V lines. And if the PSU delivered 180W, there'd only be 40W available for the rest of the lines.

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