Date: February 27, 2017
Author(s): Greg King
Modularity and customization are at the heart of PC building. With so many different components and needs, it’s hard to find a chassis that can do it all. Cooler Master’s MasterCase series aims to please as many builders as possible. Now with the MasterCase Pro 3, mini-tower builders now have something to work with. Let’s check it out in this review.
Our last chassis review, Tom’s look at the EVGA DG-87, was all the way back in September. In that time we’ve published our thoughts on a lot of hardware, but today we’re back with a look at the Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 3.
The MasterCase line of cases has been around for a while and currently there are a few mid-tower offerings. The MasterCase 5 series offers what Cooler Master calls their FreeForm Modular System, allowing users to mix and match exterior parts, such as the top panels and chassis doors.
The interior of the chassis offers additional flexibility to add and remove pieces as space allows and hardware calls for. Cooler Master has taken the benefits of the MasterCase Pro 5 and incorporated them into a smaller offering. For this review, we are taking a look at CM’s Pro 3, a chassis designed for micro-ATX and mini-ITX motherboards.
I’ve had little recent experience with Cooler Master products other than talking with them at CES over the last few years. When the opportunity to check out their latest chassis offering, I was happy to take it on and put it through its paces. In fact, over the last eleven and a half years with Techgage, I’ve only looked at three products from Cooler Master, with the most recent being at the end of April, 2007. Almost ten years ago. The last chassis I’ve dealt with in a review fashion was the In Win D-Frame Mini and with that review in mind, the same motherboard, CPU and cooler were used in this review.
Building a PC is a very personal experience. Almost everyone that goes through the process of picking out their parts and piecing them together, put a lot of thought and pride into the final product. No piece of that process is more visible than the chassis itself. Cooler Master knows this, and also knows that we of the Master Race like to customize the bejeezus out of our PCs. It’s with that in mind that their MasterCase Pro series offers maximum customization options, allowing many different permutations of the same overall case. Let’s get into it.
The stylings of the MasterCase Pro 3 are fairly unique, but still manages to remain familiar. Similar to other cases, the face of the chassis is perforated from top to bottom. This perforated face is removable, making the installation of radiators or cleaning a breeze. Like other cases of this size, there is a single 5.25” bay on the front for those of us that still like to have an optical drive in their PCs (it’s been about 6 years since I’ve had one in my daily driver).
Like many other cases today, the side panel is windowed so we can view upon the glorious components that give us max frame rates. That, however, is where the commonalities end. The front IO panel is situated in the middle of an angled section on the top front corner of the chassis.
From left to right, the MasterCase Pro 3 offers an LED for disk activity, a pair of USB 3.0 ports flank the headphone and microphone outputs (both support HD audio), and then finally a reset button. Just below the line of IO and centered is the power button. Above all of this is a large air intake that looks like a hot rod’s hood scoop and it doubles as a carry handle (steel reinforced) for those that like to take their gaming on the road with them.
As part of the Cooler Master FreeForm Modular System, accessories can be purchased to change the look of your MasterCase Pro 3. A tempered glass side panel can be installed to replace the Plexiglass clear window on the base model. Additional accessories that can be added are 2 and 3 bay hard drive bays, cooling brackets, Graphics card supports, and fans. More on that in a bit.
The top of the MasterCase Pro 3, behind the carry handle, is constructed of plastic and is also perforated for additional airflow. If this aesthetic isn’t for you, the screen can be covered with a plastic insert that gives the top of the chassis a more unified look. If you choose to install a radiator at the top of the MasterCase Pro 3, the entire top can be removed, as well as the steel bracket that holds either fans or a radiator.
The back of the MasterCase Pro 3 is pretty standard. The chassis has a bay for a bottom mounted PSU, and a faceplate that is removable to ease the installation. Above that is a set of 5 PCI brackets and to the right of them is a section of perforated steel for airflow. Still moving upward, we have the motherboard IO opening and ventilation for a pre-installed 140mm fan. This is the same model of fan that is pre-installed in the front of the case and both spin at 1200 RPMs.
The interior of the MasterCase Pro 3 looks standard but there are a few neat features that Cooler Master designed into the mini-tower. The divider that separates the power supply and hard drive area can be removed if needed. When left in place, it has a grommeted hole to run PSU cabling through as well if so desired. There is also ample space behind the non-windowed side panel for cabling to be routed and Cooler Master included cable stays to help keep them in place.
At the front of the divider there is space cut out to allow the installation of a 280mm radiator (maximum length supported is 297mm). This panel also has a pair of removable mounts for 2.5″ hard drives or SSDs. Sharing the area under the divider with the PSU is a removable hard drive cage accommodating up to two hard drives. These drives are installed by using the included tooless plastic drive sleds, making their installation and removal simple.
Running vertically at the front is something Cooler Master is calling a sliding clip and click panel. This can be moved horizontally to two different locations (only about an inch apart). This is to be used for reservoir installation or to support a 5.25″ drive with the included bracket. This bracket is necessary as the MasterCase Pro 3 lacks a proper internal drive cage.
The MasterCase Pro 3 accommodates mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards and the standoff holes being labeled is a welcome sight. To the right of the motherboard are a pair of grommeted holes for cable management.
Working inside of the MasterCase Pro 3 is simple. The ability to remove both the front and top metal brackets to attach fans made the installation of the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme a breeze.
For this build, we chose to place it at the top of the chassis and with the top removed, it took little time to get everything in place.
For this build, like the In Win D-Frame Mini, we’re using the ASUS P8Z77-I Deluxe, a mini-ITX motherboard. Because of this, the standoffs needed to be moved.
I’ve had a small tool to remove these over the years but Cooler Master included a Philips screwdriver adapter that makes the removal and tightening of the standoffs in the correct holes an absolutely simple procedure.
With the motherboard in place, the PSU and drive installation and cable management was next. The MasterCase Pro 3 offers plenty in the way of cable management. With the smaller size of the P8Z77-I, we had to stretch both the primary and auxiliary power cables to their limit but we got everything connected with a little slack left over. Once power was in place, the IO connections were made and the fans connected.
One thing to note; the motherboard we used only has two fan headers. Thankfully the fans that move air across the Thermaltake radiator connect to a splitter, so with those connected the other header was used for the water pump. Because both headers were occupied, we needed to power the front and rear chassis fans directly off of the power supply. Thankfully Cooler Master includes a pair of Molex to 3-pin fan adapters with the MasterCase Pro 3. With these connected and the Intel SSD installed, the only thing left was to power the system up.
For those of you skipping to the conclusion, the Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 3 is as close to a perfect smaller form factor chassis as I’ve seen in a long time. Cooler Master decided to depart from the standard boxy look of the majority of other PC chassis and gave the Pro 3 the same beautiful angles of the MasterCase mid towers. Like a Cadillac, at a distance you know it’s a car but it’s the angles that really set it apart when viewed at a closer distance. The same can be said of the MasterCase Pro 3.
Internally, the case had no sharp edges that I could find, and the installation of the various components was made simple by the removable brackets. Airflow inside the case was ample and should you find your system running hot, an additional 140mm can be added to the front. In our case, we had a dual fan 240mm radiator, but given that the chassis does not ship with anything up top, an additional two 140mm fans can be installed for additional cooling capacity.
Cooler Master has devoted a lot of engineering hours to the tinkerers in the PC community. It, amongst a few other companies, have seen the benefit to a modular design and the fruits of its labor have led us to the FreeForm Modular System. If you go to the Cooler Master store, you can find a section devoted just to its modular system PC cases. At the time of writing, the only products are for the larger MasterCase Pro 5 but a few could be used for any chassis, like the universal VGA holder for GPUs that like to sag. I’m looking square at you, pair of 970s in my own PC.
It’s difficult to point out anything glaringly wrong with the MasterCase Pro 3. The one thing I originally spotted was the lack of a dust filter behind the perforated panels at the top and front of the chassis. Once the MasterCase Pro 3 was disassembled for pictures, I noticed that there is a very fine wire mesh that sits behind each panel so rest easy, the times you will need to vacuum out your chassis will be kept to a minimum.
Cooler Master’s attention to detail in the MasterCase Pro 3 is impressive. Most of the thumb screws found in and around the chassis are captive, meaning as you remove them, they remain in the part being removed even after disengaging from the part they screw into. This helps prevent the loss of screws and I find to be a nice touch.
The lack of sharp edges is another bonus as well. Many cases I’ve worked in over the years have had their share of sharp edges. As we worked with the MasterCase Pro 3, it was picked up and rotated with multiple areas and exposed edges being grasped when moving the chassis. None were found to be sharp enough to leave more than an indention in our hands.
On a personal note, almost all builds that I do for myself, family or friends, with the exception of my primary desktop, use mini-ITX or micro-ATX motherboards. The industry has done a stellar job embracing smaller form factor builds and I find that Cooler Master is no exception.
The Master Case Pro 3 is a perfect example of a company paying attention to the needs of the community and then engineering those needs into its products. It isn’t alone in doing this, but the final product, and focus of this review, is damned near perfect for a smaller build and one that I think most people can appreciate.
At a price well below $100 USD (at time of publishing). I’ve found it at a few places for under $90 USD. That’s a great starting point for any builder looking to go the smaller route and should leave a few pennies more in your budget for a faster CPU or GPU.
When all is said and done, the Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 3 is a phenomenal deal and one that should be on most everyone’s short list when upgrading an existing system or building a new one. Because of all of this, the MasterCase Pro 3 earns an Editor’s Choice award.
Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 3
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