Aerocool ExtremEngine 3T Case Review

Author: Andy Zen
Editor: Howard Ha
Publish Date: Monday, May 8th, 2006
Originally Published on Neoseeker (http://www.neoseeker.com)
Article Link: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Hardware/Reviews/aerocoolee3/
Copyright Neo Era Media, Inc. - please do not redistribute or use for commercial purposes.

Aerocool ExtremEngine 3.0 Review

It wasn't that many years ago that AT cases were the standard, and you were lucky to get a few case fans, perhaps 40 mm, or maybe 60 mm. Those were the days when the only thing you heard was your hard drive and optical/floppy drives. Since then, we've moved to 80 mm, 92 mm, and most recently, the 120 mm fan. We are here today at the cusp of another new generation, one even larger than before.

Aerocool has not been a major player in the case industry, sitting behind larger companies like Antec, Coolermaster and Thermaltake. However, this does not necessarily mean that their designs are old and without any innovations. Today we have the Aerocool ExtremEngine 3.0, which is the successor to the 2.0, a design that sported a 140 mm intake fan, but did little else to differentiate itself from the rest of the market. No longer is that the case with the 3.0. In what seems to be beginning of a new generation of case cooling, Aerocool has fitted a monster 25 cm (that's a 250 mm fan for you Americans) onto the side panel, forgoing the ricey window, side 80 mm fan or the passive wind tunnel available on practically every other case. The 3.0 also comes with the same 140 mm fan that was seen on the previous iteration of the ExtremEngine.

The ExtremEngine is available in silver or black. We have the black version for review today. There are no differences between the two other than the external paint job.

First Impressions

The first thing everybody would no doubt notice is the side fan. There's no possible way for a regular person to see it and not make a comment on it. Anybody who's had a glimpse of it would have a comment somewhere along the lines of "Whoa that's a big fan". If you decide to buy this case, you'll probably get similar comments.

Other than that, the case itself has a similar design to the Thermaltake Armor, which we've reviewed here with its mesh grills and its front metal flaps. Granted, the design is noticeably more cutting edge than the utilitarian Armor, which isn't surprising since the two cases target different users.

While taking the case out of the box, I noticed how many fingerprints were being picked up by case. Having completed the Thermaltake Eclipse DV and Antec 550 case review not that long ago, it was extremely obvious how different the quality in the finish was. While it was easy to leave fingerprints on those cases, it was just as easy to leave fingerprints on the Aerocool. We also noticed that the paint job had a lot of air bubbles, which was readily apparent due to the difference in light reflecting off the black paint. Both of these issues would be less severe with the silver case, as silver does a much better job of hiding dirt, fingerprints and minor cosmetic defects.

Specifications:

Material

SECC 0.6mm

Motherboard

ATX / Micro ATX

DriveBay

4 x 5.25" / 1 x 3.5" / 6 x Hidden

Cooling System

(with fan controller)

Front

1 x 14cm fan with quad blue LEDs

Speed: 650~1500 RPM

Air Flow: 68.37 CFM (MAX)

Noise: 17.8~34.72dB(A)

Side

1 x 25cm fan

Speed: 550~1000 RPM

Air Flow: 90.97~162.82 CFM (MAX)

Noise: 19.54~35.28 dB(A)

Expansion Slot

7

FrontI/O Port

IEEE1394 / 2 x USB2.0 / Mic+Earphone

Chassis Dimensions

440mm (D) x 430mm (H) x 200mm (W)

One thing to note other than the two oversized fans and their combined CFM ratings - Aerocool also provides a fan speed controller, which are three knobs located directly on the case. Also note that although there is a space for a fan on the rear panel, that fan is not included (and you will see why not later).

Front

The front of the case is where the bulk of the features are. Firstly, the swing panels are really, really sharp - aesthetics are all well and good, but it comes at the cost of safety of my fingers. From the top to the bottom, the sides of the 'door' are quite edgy. Anyways, starting from the top, you can see that the optical drive bays are meshed. This is more for looks than anything else, since there's no intake fan bracket, nor does the case need it. Right below are the power and reset bottoms, which are covered by the door when closed.

Below the buttons is the front intake fan. That jet engine turbine you see is not actually the fan. While the fins do spin, it is powered by the blue LED 140mm fan behind it. Aerocool put the turbine there to match the look of the side fan.

Below the turbine you see three knobs. These knobs are three independent fan controllers, one for the front, one for the side, and one for the rear if you need it. There are a few issues that immediately jumped out at me. Firstly, the knobs are located in a poor location, as it is not visible from beneath the turbine if it's on the floor, which leads to bending far lower than you'd like. If the fan controller was located where the power and reset buttons are, then it wouldn't matter where you put the case. Another problem is that only the center knob is accessible when the front doors are closed. As described earlier, the edges on the door are sharp, which makes this reviewer unhappy that it requires putting your fingers at risk every time you want to adjust the speed of fan number 2 and fan number 3.

Originally, I was miffed that in order to change your computer from quietest to coolest, you needed to adjust three separate knobs, but a good point was made by one of my fellow reviewers. Micah's point was that every fan had different sound signatures and different volumes at maximum and minimum levels. By having individual controllers, it is possible to adjust to the user's tolerance level without being shoehorned into a one size fits all system. This made a lot of sense, since I remember being subjected to the infamous black label Deltas and the highly rated Panaflos - in the same case. Given the option to adjust each fan would have been a blessing. The flexibility of separate controllers beats the convenience of having a single knob for all your fans.

Readers of my reviews will know that I'm not a fan of bottom USB/audio/Firewire ports, which is exactly what Aerocool has done here. They're located underneath the fan controller, so the arguments against the location of the fan knobs apply here as well. They're out of sight and out of reach (unless it's on your table, which leads to a whole new bunch of problems with a 25 cm fan around).

Side

Just for fun, here's a photo of the fan next to a CD. The side fan literally dwarfs any CD, and challenges the size of old-school LPs.

At max speed, the side fan is quite comparable to an actual desktop oscillating fan in both noise and air pushed. Here it is from the inside. The fan actually measures 230 mm, which is a little smaller than the declared 250 mm, but is still the largest stock fan by far.

Back

The back has a fan slot for a 120 mm fan or two 80 mm fans. The grill on this case is very thin with a lot of holes, which is much better for airflow. The holes are not large enough to stick a finger in, so safety has not been compromised here. There's also the standard PSU slot and rear panel.

Installation

We're not sure whether if it was an oversight, but the case we got sent did not come with instructions. Considering this case is supposed to target the mid-higher end market, a manual is something that is expected, if not required. This usually wouldn't matter, but after having issues with the fan controller and getting it to work properly, a manual would have been greatly appreciated.

After having reviewed a whole string of toolless cases, it was a little odd to come back to a case that required a screwdriver again. This wouldn't count against the case as long as the entire process went smoothly.

Power Supply

We've seen one review online that stated that the ExtremEngine required the power supply to be installed upside-down. For what it's worth, we installed an Antec Truepower 550 the right-side up to test that theory. At least for our case, we did not have any problems with the power supply.

Hard drives

Here we did suffer the same problem as other reviewers - the holes on the hard drive were not aligned properly. The holes were about 2 mm off from where they should be, which would require an angled screw entry or a little drilling of the hole to properly align the screws.

Optical drives

It was evident the original chassis had some sort of toolless mechanism (perhaps it didn't work out?), since there was a bow-tie shaped hole which was not used. This time, the screws were aligned properly, and there were no issues installing the CD-Rom that we had lying around.

Expansion cards

Despite requiring a screwdriver, Aerocool did help the user here. Whereas many cases require some fancy screwdriver work to secure the PCI and AGP/PCIe cards, Aerocool has drilled holes on the side of the case to insert your screwdriver through so that the user can get a 90 degree perpendicular angle of entry to secure the cards. Nice touch.

Fan controller

We complained about the lack of a manual earlier, and this was the reason why. While all the fans included with the case came attached with both\ male and female molex connectors, it seemed to imply that the male end of the connector would plug directly into the power supply while the female end would plug into the fan controller (which, to Aerocool's credit, was clearly marked fan 1-3). This clearly didn't work as the fans would run on full tilt the moment the power was turned on, with no effect from the fan controller regardless of the level.

Turns out you weren't supposed to plug the fans into the power supply at all. Had we had more experience with fan controllers in general, or Aerocool included a manual, this might have been solved without wasting half an hour of our time. After figuring this out, the fan controllers did work as expected, and there was much rejoicing. Only much later did we find out that Aerocool has a diagram up on their website, although at the time of testing I could have sworn it did not exist. For those of you too lazy to go look, here is the diagram.

Fans in action

As stated earlier, the intake fan is an LED fan, meaning it will glow blue when plugged in. When coupled with the turbine fins at the front, you get a glowing jet engine effect, which we've tried to capture here. At a low speed, the turbine stutters and/or stops spinning, which looks a little awkward.

The problem that we instantly noticed was that the center of the turbine was not perfectly straight; it was angled at a slight tilt. Therefore, when spinning, it looked like the turbine was wobbling, as it was about to fall off. Of course, it never did, but the effect left a bad aftertaste.

The side fan, as expected, pushed a LOT of air. It isn't a stretch to claim that the side fan was capable of pushing as much air as a tabletop fan. At full speed, it runs louder than the front intake fan, but it's more of a 'whoosh' than a high pitched whine with the smaller high speed fans.

When we first posted the specs, we noted that you do not get a rear fan with the case, and that it didn't matter. The reason is that the two fans combined push a lot of air into the case, so much so that when you put your hand next to rear outlet, you will feel the air coming out as if there was already a fan installed. Of course, installing a rear fan won't hurt, but I would bet that it wouldn't help that much either, and just increase the overall noise level of the case.

Conclusion

If you've read the entire review (and not just skip directly to the conclusion), you would've realized that the case was very much a mixed bag. While there were a lot of things going for it, such as the very impressive airflow, the fan controller (when we got it to work properly) and aggressive styling, there were also quite a few things going against it, such as the low quality paint job and the misaligned screw holes. While the missing manual thing seems to be a minor detail, and doesn't matter once you know the issues associated with this case, it's still good to have, especially for users who may not remember to read the reviews after purchasing the case. Aerocool does compensate by putting a diagram on the case's website.

Should one consider this case at all? I believe it is worthy of some consideration, as the side fan is unique and works very well due to its sheer size. It also does not have the high pitched whine that plagues smaller fans. There's also the sheer "wow" factor associated with such a unique fan setup. Everyone stares at this thing, and some of us felt it was pretty darn cool. As I stated at the very beginning of this review, I believe that Aerocool has just started the next generation of fans, and that other companies will soon follow suit. If you can overlook the flaws, you should be quite satisfied. Otherwise, look elsewhere.

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