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AIR 240 CONSTRAINTS
It's only after we examined the case sample Corsair shipped that the serious
limitations of this case became clear: The space for the motherboard, CPU &
VGA is only around 5" wide, 10" high and 14" deep (after allowing
for fans). This limits the height of both VGA card and CPU cooler
to 120mm. The CPU cooler height limitation is obvious, but there are many high
performance top-down fan coolers which could be pressed into service. With decent
case airflow, quiet CPU cooling should be assured. But is 12cm for the VGA card
a significant factor? Well it turns out to be significant, indeed.
Air 240 case flipped on its left side: Oh-oh! As the circled area shows,
there is only ~2.5cm of extra height above the add-in card slots.
Reference VGA cards in recent years have all been around 10cm tall, with the
top of the PCB extending less than 1cm past the top of the PCI slot opening
(of any standard computer case). Those cards will all fit in the Air 240 without
issue, though the PCIe 6/8-pin plugs to the cards may get pressed up against
the side cover. Reference high end VGA cards are hardly famous for their low
noise, however, especially as the load goes up.
The non-reference graphics cards with larger heatsinks and fans are needed
for quiet stock cooling. And what is their size? Well, the ones that we've been
excited about, the quiet GTX 970 and 980 cards, are all pretty big. In fact,
they are well over 12 cm tall. The PCB of the ASUS Strix GTX 980 protrudes nearly
3.3 cm above the slot opening, and the looping heatpipe puts the total extension
at nearly 4 cm. There is no way to fit this card, nor the Strix 970, nor the
MSI GTX 970 or 980, in the Air 240.
Three high end cards from the last couple years, fitted into a motherboard
with 3 graphics card slots for a close visual comparison: ASUS DirectCU
GTX 680 on left, AMD Radeon R9 290X reference in center, ASUS Strix GTX
980 on right.
The reference card protrudes beyond the slot cover by only 1/2 cm. The
Asus DCU 680 takes a little over 2 cm, the Strix 980 takes nearly 4 cm.
The size restrictions led us immediately to considerations of the video card
and the CPU cooler. We had hoped to use the Strix GTX 980 with its proven low
noise performance. That option was out, along with the 970 version. Having examined
images and specs of the MSI GTX 980/970 Gaming series, lauded alongside the
Asus Strix models as being equally quiet, we knew they would not fit in the
Air 240, either. High end AMD cards for this build were not even considered,
given their much higher power profile. Ditto previous gen nVidia cards. The
total space in the Air 240 to house both CPU and GPU is under 15 liters, and
pushing total heat past 300W would not be amenable to quiet cooling.
It was around this time that we took delivery of a Zotac GTX 970. It came in
a big box, but the card turned out to be surprisingly small. The ZT-90101-10P
is very slightly overclocked compared to the reference GTX 970 and uses a much
shorter PCB, but in other specs is almost identical to the reference. There
would be no trouble fitting this Zotac into the Air 240. Of course, we knew
nothing about its acoustic qualities. Given its small heatsink and fans, it
would likely not meet our super-low noise standard at load, so we were prepared
to swap out the cooler for a quieter one.
Zotac 970: Huge box, small card.
A dual-slot cooling design just barely wider than the PCI slot opening.
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