QMicra from PC Design Lab: SFF Super-sized

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Sept 1, 2006 by Devon Cooke with Mike Chin

Product
QMicra from PC Design Lab
Full ATX, Small Form Factor Case
Manufacturer
PC Design Lab
Market Price
US$330

The QMicra is a niche product par excellence. It is an unusual an all-aluminum Small Form Factor computer case designed and manufactured by new startup PC Design Lab. The company and its sole product are unusual in many ways:

  • It is not based in Taiwan, China or Korea. Almost every other case brand is either based or at least does its manufacturing in the Far East.
  • The company is based in Rochester, upper state New York, and its product, including all the components, is made there.
  • The Qmicra was designed not by an anonymous team but one engineer. It is original, not based on any previous case.
  • Qmicra began life not as a stand-alone case but a case to give high end SFF system integrators a unique selling proposition. It was made available to the enthusiast market in response to demand.
  • The current $329 starting price is substantially higher than you'd expect for a smallish computer case.

All of this — and the look, feel and overall design of the case — was different enough for us to make a call to Mr. LaLopa, the creator of the QMicra and the principal of PC Design Lab, as we started our review process. The chat lasted the better part of an hour, and it helped us to gain a more complete understanding of the Qmicra.

The concept of a SFF case is unusual — most SFF systems are sold as barebones systems and often use proprietary or unusual form factors for the motherboard and power supply. The QMicra is larger than most SFF systems: It can fit a standard micro-ATX motherboard, a standard ATX power supply, and up to four hard drives. With the right motherboard, even dual graphics cards are possible.

The QMicra is manufactured in Rochester, New York, using locally sourced materials and labor. This is the main reason for the unusually high price — it's tough to compete with Chinese labor. Initial anticipated volume was not high enough to justify seeking contract manufacturing in China. Independence from the rest of the industry means that the QMicra shares very little with other products on the market. It bears little resemblance to any existing designs that we have seen. Its closest rival may be the Silverstone SG01 Evolution, but there is much to set the QMicra apart.

How different is it? Perhaps an analogy with the automotive industry is in order. Most cases are built like trucks: They are built on frame that provides a mounting point for the outer shell and all of the internal components. The QMicra is built like a car: There is no frame to speak of; structure is provided by the shell in conjunction with the internal components. The advantages of this style of construction (called unibody construction) are similar to those embraced by the automotive industry. The QMicra is one of the lightest cases we've ever encountered, and less internal structure means fewer points of metal on metal contact that could cause vibration noise. And, like modern automobiles, the QMicra uses the internal components to add rigidity to the case. No word on whether it comes with front or side crumple zones...


Some of the packing material was damaged in transit, but the case itself was unharmed.


The usual hardware bits... and a small blue multitool!!?!

SPECIFICATIONS: QMicra (from PC Design Lab's web site)
Colors
- Silver Metallic
- Two-Toned Black Anodized Aluminum
- Black Powder Coating
Case
- 1/16" Aluminum Base
- Stainless Steel Bezel,
- 1/8" Lexan Acrylic Face
Motherboard
Micro-ATX
Power Supply
Standard Sized ATX
External Bays
2 x 5¼" Bays,
1 x 3½" Bay
Storage Bays
4 Hard Drives
Card Slots
4 x PCIe
Cooling
4 x 80mm fans
Dimensions
Height: 9¾" [248mm]
Width: 11¼" [286mm]
Depth: 14" [356mm]
Weight
5½ pounds [2.5 kg]

FEATURE HIGHLIGHTS: QMicra (from PC Design Lab's web site)
FEATURE & BRIEF OUR COMMENT
Precision made using only high quality materials for an attractive finish and long lasting construction
They all say this.
Designed to be used with mATX mainboards, ATX sized PSU’s, high performance hardware and large custom heatsinks
Most SFF systems use proprietary parts and most are not suitable for high end components.
Advanced front to back airflow cooling solution provides excellent dispersion, a high flow rate and unbelievably quiet operation
Unbelievably quiet? We don't believe it.
Tool free access and removable sub-assemblies make system construction, maintenance and upgrading extremely easy
Ease of use is important, and hard to come by in SFF systems.
Aftermarket part technologies are integrated as standard features to enhance function and offer a high potential for customization
Perhaps this refers to the full systems that PC Design Lab builds?
Prominent high quality switches for reliable operation
Not that switch reliability is usually a problem...
All screw holes are steel reinforced to resist stripping
Very important for an aluminum case.
Rounded edges and corners
Child-safe?
Enhanced portability due to its small size and light weight
They're going after the LAN party market here.
Available in several custom color combinations and finishes
A variety of different colors are available, not just the usual black and silver options.



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