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 Post subject: Musings on Future Designs
PostPosted: Mon Mar 06, 2006 10:04 pm 
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Lately I've been wondering, how much further can they (companies) improve system cooling, and case design?

From when I first started buying and building computers, intakes and exhausts had fairly restrictive grills, partly to deal with EMI standards. I'm assuming they may have been more restrictive than absolutely necessary. And of course, to take off both panels of a case to screw on card drives or various other 5.25" drives. Filters where non-existent; if you got dust, you got dus, and where just stuck with it. It was also fairly standard to just have 80mm fan mounts. Bezels had fairly small openings, restricting noise from leaking out (though by accident), but significantly inhibiting airflow. Screw mounting was common, this was before SPCR and so no one even knew about rubber isolators.

A few years later, I got my first Antec case, ~ 1998. Again, fairly restrictive grills, fairly restrictive bezel. While you still had to take off both side-panels to attach 5.25 drives, it introduced a new, innovative feature: a drive cage. You took it out, screwed in a drive to each side, and slid it back in. It was a slight pain to take the bezel on and off everytime you wanted to take a drive in and out, but it was more efficient than having to unscrew things from each side. Regardless, when plugging or unplugging hardware, you still had to open the case (of course). Unlike some older cases I had worked on, the side panels were easy to take on and off, held on by a single screw each, accessible after taking off the bezel.

I later got an inwin case a few years later, and it had no design improvements over the Antec case. At some point, doors were added onto case designs, but I don't know the time frame for that. Anyway, there were appreciated because they blocked a (little) of CD-ROM noise

Eventually, after visiting SPCR for awhile, I heard mixed praise over 80mm vs. 120mm. Some said 80mm was quieter, some said 120mm was more efficient at cooling. Some said multiple 80mms were quieter than 1 120mm, and vice versa. I bough and Antec 3700AMB. Like previous cases I had, it had restrictive grills. But, it had a built in filter, though you had to take off the bezel, requiring removing each side-panel to take it off. It had a more conveniet drive cage, held in place with a spring lever and a single thimbscrew, a vast improvment over their old drive mounting. It even came with rubber grommets. While somewhat hard, they made some difference in vibration and seek noise vs. the old method of direct mounting to the steel of the case. 5.25 bay drives replaced direct mounting to the case with plastic rails, allowing more convenience in replacing drives. The Sonata originated the concept of using grommets for hard drives, as well as using soft mounts for fans, to decrease vibrations. They also used a form of rubber/silicon feet to decrease vibration transmitted to any hard surfaces the case may rest on.

Newer cases, such as the above, began to offer dual 80mms for intake and exhaust, or perhaps a single 120mm for each. Grills were made to provide better airflow, though at the cost of falling beneath previously established EMI standards.

Evercase, at one point, introduced the concept of having side vents for the case intake, allowing good cooling and minimizing noise from the front of the case.

Now, we have cases such as the P180 and P150. While the execution is different, both are based on sound dampening panels as part of their construction. Both use a superior form of soft grommets, doing a better job at suppressing hard drive vibration that previous attempts. The P150 goes back to the inferior method of removing hard drive as in my first Antec case, but makes up for it with an easier to open bezel. It also offers the new, innovative built in suspension system, completely elminating vibrations transmitted to the case from the hard drive. The P150 also is one of the few cases that offers a form of built in cable management. Though somewhat crude, it does help with loose, non PATA cables. The P180 separates the PSU from the rest of the case to keep the overall system cool, though there are issues inherent with this design where PSUs have cables too short to reach the motherboard. Both come with quieter fans than almost any prior cases from any company, as well as superior rubber feet. The two cases use both hard drive cages, and in some instances a removable tray for each hard drive. In others, they have the drive directly mounted to the cage with silicon grommets. They both offer side vents similar to the Evercase. Evercase is a small company, yet between the grommets and the side vents, they have offered some of the most unique and copied design concept for quiet computing.

After all this, the questions remains; where do we go from here?

It is very easy to assume that case designs have hit a plateau, and that they can never be improven on. Of course, that might have been said by people at the time of my first Antec, which only had the "advanced" feature of a difficult to access hard drive cage.

There will always be new things that I, or you, might not think of, that someone else might. There are also design concepts, no matter how basic, that will not be found in every future case design by any manufacturer. The concept of side-vents might be ignored, for reasons people outside a company's design company might not know. Or, rubber feet won't be put on for reasons of cost to the company, so they might earn more profit. Or they may be made out of aluminum, lacking any sound panel dampending, to make a case lightweight and relatively easy to transport, such as someone who reguarly attends LAN events.

With the exception of having their fans softmounted, it is somewhat difficult to see where the Sonata II falls into Antec's current marketing scheme. The P150 has a quieter PSU, in theory, provided you get a working one. It has a better had drive system, a quieter air intake at the front bezel. The P180 has similar advantages. The P150 and the P180 have panel dampening, which the Sonata II lacks. The concepts of quiet case design have strayed outside of their "silent specific" model; making the specific naming of a "quiet" case only as part of a marketing technique, though the designs, possibly even superior ones, are no longer restricted to one offering by a company such as Antec.

There are some features that will keep a case from being seen as "perfect" in the eyes of one person. There were cries by SPCRians when the P180 and P150 came out, disappointments over a lack of specific mounts for notebook drives. A feature that most case-makers would never include. It would drive up costs for such a small feature few would use, requiring more parts, more careful design for a case, to take into the effect of such a design on the whole, and possibly more painstaking labor in the creation of such case.

With my limited imagination, there are only a few things I can think of offhand which might be the "latest and greatest" design concepts:
1. Modular case. I wish the P180 had come with a cover for the top blowhole. It occured to me, why not make a modular case design? Several places with caps for fans. Each one can be swapped out with a 120mm, or a "cap" that holds 80mm, or 92mm fans. Take of the whole cap, and you have a 120mm mount. Replace it with a different cap with a smaller hole for 92mm, etc. For doors with cases, the door would cover the power and reset buttons. However, you would be able to remove a small portion if you wish to uncover those buttons. The case would be similar to a "doorless" case, so the side vents would be independent of whether there's a door on or not. Allowing you to use a door for additional sound dampening, or not using it at all. In either case, it would look aesthetically pleasing, for those who don't like the looks of most cases under the door (ex: P180).
2. Stronger hinges for doors. So far, I have yet to see hinges as good as the ones on the Gigabyte Aurora. Some cases have been mentioned as having flimsy hinges. These are high grade steel; able to handle the heaviest of doors safely
3. A better cable management system. Both the P150 and the Aurora have forms of cable management, though both seem to be a somewhat clumsy implementation. Perhaps a form of steel "trench" to run wires would work, with modular pieces of plastic with periodic holes for the wires to be routed out on top. It would provide the easiest method of cable management for those who don't want to have to jump through hoops for clean cable managent.
4. Integrated power cables. There are complaints about systems where for clean routing, or even for reaching portions of the case (P180) that there is too much, or too little, in the length of PSU cables. Modular PSUs are here, though there is a possible alternative solution. Plug a single (or maybe several) power connectors into an integrated plug in the case, next to the PSU placement. Cables would be pre-attached/routed throughout the case, powered through the connection next to the PSU. The cords could also be "retractable", much like a tape-measurer, only having the minimum you need pulled out, with no extra slack.
5. 5.25" bay softmounting. While the CD-drives aren't continually accessed like the hard drives, there are times when they are intensively used, such as when writing a large amount of data (4-8 gigs, single vs. dual layer), copying it (again, up to 8gb), or even using it too watch movies as an HTPC. There are silicon stips you can buy to apply on the side of the rail, but they are basically useless. It would be worth considering a grommet-mount-sled for these drives, similar to ones used in the P150/P180. Even if it can't deal with "whooshing" noise, every little bit helps, especially with extreme vibrations from these type of drives.

At the end of all of the evolutionary steps above, what do I really consider should be "mandatory" in a case? Things which are useful, yet don't get into the way if not used, nor significantly increase weight for those who need to move their computer a lot?

1. Silicon Feet
2. Grommet mounting for hard drives
3. side vents on the bezel for air intake
4. low restriction grills
5. Rails/drive sleds which allow you to pull a drive out quickly and easily, instead of having to open the other side of the case to remove a component.
6. A small box built in to hold extra screws and sundries
7. Optional soft suspension (P150)
8. Small attempt at cable management, such as the P150 or Aurora edit or the type in the Chenbro Gaming Bomb II.
9. Included softmounts for fans
10. Quiet fans
11. Quick disconnect - have a disconectable cable to plug in all of the headers from the bezel so you don't have to redo every one of the headers one at a time.

Things that would REALISTICALLY be nice to have in current cases, or in future designs
1. Built in panel dampening
2. High quality hinges
3. Improved cable management system
4. Softmount/grommet style rails for 5.25 devices
5. Modularity in case; at least for blowholes, if not for different fan sizes throughout the computer. Part of door removable to uncover power buttons, for people who complain about those sort of things.

There is always more things that will be discovered, engineered, experimented with, and be a success or failure with the public. Antec is the most innovation geared company, albeit they need to go back to more Q&A testing for some features of their recent products (P180 door, NEO PSU compatibilites, cord used in drive suspension in P150). While I do appreciate Antec in what they've done, the more companies that are willing to experiment the better, though too many are content with copying others designs, or staying with the tried and true from 5 years ago.

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Last edited by Shadowknight on Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:34 am, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 06, 2006 10:57 pm 
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Location: Somewhere over the rainbow....
Perhaps we should start our own company? :)
SPCR inc.

the above ideas are nice

I like
the intergrated power supply, though that would be better if there were some sort of standard (ex where the 24 ATX cable input goes)

softmount 5.25 drives, nice to have, but may cause relibility issues?

about everything else expect below

dislike
side vent - my opinion, screws up the case airflow

My ideas
mainly cooling wise

seal the gap between the AGP card and case panel, air is allowed to bypass the MB and CPU if unsealed

mutiple intakes- PCI area

p150 suspension with some sort of retaing device that ensures the HD does not move about, but retains full suspension

more to come

I believe the Cenbro Gaming bomb 2 had cable trenches, but not seen to often

the Antec 3700AMB bezel can be taken off alone without taking either side panel off

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 1:27 am 
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There is no limit to the number of modifications and alterations that can be made to a standard case to improve its quiet cooling capability; take for example the TNN 500 series of cases from Zalman. However the market for such expensive and unwieldy cases is extremely limited, and as the big chip manufacturers continue to focus on improving performance per watt, the trend of the last few years of cases having to deal with ever-increasing amounts of heat seems to be reversing, at least partially. So while of course current designs can be improved upon, we may have hit the "high water-mark" of this particular cycle of more and more elaborate cases.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:02 am 
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jaganath wrote:
There is no limit to the number of modifications and alterations that can be made to a standard case to improve its quiet cooling capability; take for example the TNN 500 series of cases from Zalman. However the market for such expensive and unwieldy cases is extremely limited, and as the big chip manufacturers continue to focus on improving performance per watt, the trend of the last few years of cases having to deal with ever-increasing amounts of heat seems to be reversing, at least partially. So while of course current designs can be improved upon, we may have hit the "high water-mark" of this particular cycle of more and more elaborate cases.


True, the cooling might not need it, but there are still plenty of things that can be done to improve the user's experience with a case. Sort of like the reason why they still come out with new car models every year even if the average top speed doesn't change anymore.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 7:25 am 
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How does the trend toward HTPC or SFF systems fit in? There appear to be some trade offs here between compact size and ease of access/modification.

Also, how about standardization? I suspect that a case that's quiet with good cooling but that won't accept your choice of components would not be OK. On the other hand, it depends on who defines the standards. Seen any good third party BTX CPU coolers yet? :roll:

Since we're brainstorming, how about doing away with cables. Pushing a hard drive or CD/DVD into a cooled and quieted drive mount with integrated power and data lines connected to a system bus seems neat. The motherboard, PSU, drives, fans, etc. all plug into power and/or data busses integrated into the case. No cable routing and real plug and play. :lol:


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 9:03 am 
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I think we are close to the max regarding power consumption and heat output for the home computer (I'm talking 700 and 850W dualcore SLI beasts here). They will never become mainstream. Even the lowest budget computers are fast enough for almost anybody, and with C'n'Q and power management there's only some 50-100W of heat that needs to be dissipated.

Compact, quiet and cheap is the way to go. I think it's interesting to look at companies like Arctic Cooling. They provide innovative, no-nonsense designs for very low prices. AC's Silentiums, Intels BTX standard and the inverted Lian Li cases show that there is plenty of room for improvement regarding airflow. In my opinion, current computer cases are still way too big. I have a transparent case (secondary pc), and everytime someone sees it for the first time they wonder why it is so empty. I think full-size ATX/BTX will become obsolete as on-board components get better and better. Honestly, how many of you have more than 2 PCI slots filled?

I like qviri's comparison with the car industry. Computers and cars are both high tech devices, and (almost) all households have (at least) one. Even though they're both expensive in absolute sense, the large scale at which they are produced make them very, very cheap for what you get.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 9:57 am 
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Personally I like small minamlist designs that look sexy. Unfortunately these cases are expensive have obviously poor expansion and usually substandard noise reduction/cooling features.

What I would like is a product that sits on your desk has:
  • integrated slimline DVD writer
  • a power button
  • all usual front panel connections (USB etc.)
  • a couple of PS2 ports
  • possibly a monitor (DVI/VGA) connection
  • maybe a little VFD display if you want to get really fancy

and connects to at least one PC

So basically a bit like a KVM switch with DVD writer

Then I could hide away my big box of noisy bits in a corner or another room but still have all the functionality I am ever likely to use.

I have thought about building something like this myself but I'm not sure I have the expertise. I would certainly have trouble making it look as good as it is in my head (with its curvy brushed aluminium body...)

What are your thoughts on this idea and its feasability? Is there anything similar to this idea in existence?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:38 am 
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You cannot have a monster-pumping-testosterone-fuelled gaming rig in something the size of a mini-itx case. You just can't with current technology (without getting into the realms of the insanely expensive or the dangerously modified).

However if it's a media PC you're after have a look at the Asus Pundit P2-AE2.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 10:56 am 
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I recently read a lot of case reviews that left me with the opinion that there just is no such thing as the perfect case. You just have to pick a case that satisfies your preference for how you'd like your case to look, and is easily modified to satisfy your silence and air-flow requirements.

I see some cases, Kingwin 523 for example, that appears to provide zero-front-air-intake with the front case door closed.

I see expensive cases, Liang Li cases for example, that still include 80mm case fans. For those prices, you'd think they could afford to retool for 120mm case fans.

I see great emphasis on side-ducts and side-vents, that tend to combine higher case noise with poor front-to-back air flow and higher drive temps.

I see emphasis on 'tool-free' drive cages, featuring small grommets that are simply ineffective for drive vibration-decoupling.

I see cases 'featuring' multiple case fans, instead of focusing on optimized case ventilation and quieter operation with a single 120mm vent fan.

I have no problem with the 'bling' trend - some folks like bling, and markets have to be tended to - but I do have a problem with bling-instead-of-performance. It needn't be one or the other.

I bought an I-Star Nitro AX - largely for the 'black monolith' looks. It's fine now - attractive, quiet and cool-running - but only after a number of mods to get it that way.

The perfect case is a myth.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 12:20 pm 
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Quote:
6. A small box built in to hold extra screws and sundries
- Thermaltake Xray 5.25" Drive Bay. Its both a cigerette lighter and ashtray, but more useful is that it can act as a holder for screws and stuff (If you sacrifice a 5.25in bay)

Quote:
5. Rails/drive sleds which allow you to pull a drive out quickly and easily, instead of having to open the other side of the case to remove a component.
- a la server style? it is possible with all cases through the use of 5.25 drive racks, but these often have noisy 40mm fans which go against the principles of SPCR.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 12:25 pm 
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edit.

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Last edited by Erssa on Tue Mar 14, 2006 7:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 3:17 pm 
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Gojira-X wrote:
Quote:
6. A small box built in to hold extra screws and sundries
- Thermaltake Xray 5.25" Drive Bay. Its both a cigerette lighter and ashtray, but more useful is that it can act as a holder for screws and stuff (If you sacrifice a 5.25in bay)

But I mean BUILT IN. Like the case that comes with the P180. It's already there, and doesn't take up any extra space.

Quote:
Quote:
5. Rails/drive sleds which allow you to pull a drive out quickly and easily, instead of having to open the other side of the case to remove a component.
- a la server style? it is possible with all cases through the use of 5.25 drive racks, but these often have noisy 40mm fans which go against the principles of SPCR.

Nooo.... Some cases still require you to screw the 5.25 drives directly onto the case. I'm referring to the sled style used in cases such as the P180/P150/3700AMB, etc. It's fairly mainstream, yet not all current cases uses this feature, unfortunately.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 5:59 pm 
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Computer cases are all about choices. I find those choices too limiting, unless I scratchbuild one for myself.

There is no such thing as a "plateau" for computer case design. You perhaps forget that it's the LEAST significant component in a computer. Indeed, you can literally discard it entirely and the naked collection of components will function more or less identically.

The stuff inside the case is what really matters, and it's constantly evolving. As the components within evolve, the computer case must evolve to deal with the new requirements.

Once upon a time the CPU was the most temperature sensitive component, and it didn't really create so much heat as to present a hazard to the rest of the components. Thus, in the classic AT layout, the CPU was placed right behind the front/bottom intake. AT motherboards were laid out lengthwise to accomidate this.

The ATX layout radically altered these principles. More modern CPUs generate lots of heat, and due to various changes are more resilient to hotter temperatures. The ATX motherboard layout is different, and computer cases had to adapt to the changes.

If BTX catches on, it'll change all the rules also.

So just remember, it's the case which has to adapt to the stuff inside, not the other way around!

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2006 7:07 pm 
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I like the ideas.

The largest thing I can see coming to PC cases is like the Alienwear back cage. I see a few dells with the PSU set back 2 or 3 inchs in to the case. I think this will be more common. The MB is usually se back ~ 1 cm, but if this was larger say 4 inch it would better protect rear cables, and give adequate room for rear baffles.

I think the tower PC case and desk top design was highly functional and influenced by the size of the CRT monitor. With more people using PC designed desks and LCD monitors I can see a large potential for “sideways” cases. Similar to how almost every photo I see of the inside of a computer is side ways. Like side insert hard drives in the s. LANboy or Sonata, but for the optical drives too.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 2:52 am 
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gud4u wrote:
I recently read a lot of case reviews that left me with the opinion that there just is no such thing as the perfect case. You just have to pick a case that satisfies your preference for how you'd like your case to look, and is easily modified to satisfy your silence and air-flow requirements.

I see some cases, Kingwin 523 for example, that appears to provide zero-front-air-intake with the front case door closed.

I see expensive cases, Liang Li cases for example, that still include 80mm case fans. For those prices, you'd think they could afford to retool for 120mm case fans.

I see great emphasis on side-ducts and side-vents, that tend to combine higher case noise with poor front-to-back air flow and higher drive temps.

I see emphasis on 'tool-free' drive cages, featuring small grommets that are simply ineffective for drive vibration-decoupling.

I see cases 'featuring' multiple case fans, instead of focusing on optimized case ventilation and quieter operation with a single 120mm vent fan.

I have no problem with the 'bling' trend - some folks like bling, and markets have to be tended to - but I do have a problem with bling-instead-of-performance. It needn't be one or the other.

I bought an I-Star Nitro AX - largely for the 'black monolith' looks. It's fine now - attractive, quiet and cool-running - but only after a number of mods to get it that way.

The perfect case is a myth.


Good points...including the conclusion I agree with,get a VERY well built case,like the I-Star Nitro,and mod. I like a big case I can stick stuff (hard drives) in without having it crowded. I like the look of wise design and quality construction.
Silentiums are a clever design...using too many fans and having to little space. Antecs do include "some" noise reduction...but just enough to be better out of the box than most. If that's not enough,then there's features you bought but replaced with a better plan. You can start with a grat case like this Nitro,and mod it well beyond most anything.

The Thermaltake Tai Chi is neat,a well done,but expensive gem. Sadly there is no flex heatpipe type thing to really use those finned aluminum sides.

Potentially a double-wall,sandwich panel case can reduce noise.. A case can have a floor inlet with an air channel so there's no front or side openings. 140 mm fans are getting available. Case makers have done some duct stuff,but that's an area that can improve.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:41 am 
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Next thing will be flattened cases delivered by Ikea with an allen key. It saves space and keeps shipment cost down. The different parts will consist of modular blocks, for instance you would order a top front section with a specified number of 5.1/4" and 3.1/2" bays, then a bottom front section with a specified intake and number of HDD bays, and so on. All sections/blocks would be pre-wired.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 16, 2006 4:51 am 
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ronrem wrote:
The Thermaltake Tai Chi is neat,a well done,but expensive gem. Sadly there is no flex heatpipe type thing to really use those finned aluminum sides.


Pehaps you could use the Borg heatpipe sets designed for the mCubed HFX case?
see: http://www.mcubed-tech.com/eng/produkte.htm


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