Date: April 16, 2007
Author(s): Greg King
Taking a break from making stellar gaming chassis, Cooler Master looks to invade our desks, not to house our multiple GPU systems, but rather our ever increasing storage needs with their iTower 930.
Over the last few weeks, we have taken a few looks at products normally found in servers and enterprise environments. These would of course be our recent reviews of the Thecus Y.E.S. box and the High Point RocketRAID 2310 controller card. While both are more commonly found in server environments, they are priced right and are well suited for the home users and small businesses alike.
What if, however, you donâ€™t necessarily need an external device to back up your information on? What if you could add the convenience of hot swappable drive bays so commonly found in business servers? As more and more users are abandoning their now dated parallel ATA drives in favor of SATA drives, it would be nice to actually be able to use one of SATAâ€™s primary selling points, the ability to remove a non-critical drive (one that houses the systemâ€™s operation system) and install another one in its place.
Keeping with the home server theme, we are taking a long look at Cooler Masterâ€™s iTower series 930 ATX case. With its four front facing hot swappable drives, the 930 isnâ€™t exactly being marketed towards the extreme gamers like many of their other cases have been in the past, but rather, to those who have a lot of media and apparently have that media on scattered among many separate drives.
Regardless how one uses it, the fact that the iTower 930 enables the end users to easily hot swap drives in and out, directly out of the box is certainly a plus. This opens the case up for many possibilities, most of which being server related. Assuming your motherboard supports SATA RAID, or you have a separate add in RAID controller card, you suddenly have a case that allows you to pull out a failed drive and install a new one, and by doing so, allowing the RAID array to rebuild itself, thus eliminating annoying down time.
Uses for the hot swap bays aside, throughout this review we will be looking at the case as just that, a case. And while we certainly have ideas for different uses for the iTower, we will be judging it on what it fundamentally offers to the end users and how easy it is to work with.
The iTower is packaged in typical Cooler Master fashion. Multiple pictures of the case itself can be had, as well as information you need. One thing to notice, and this is thankfully becoming more and more common, is the RoHS logo on the front of the box. Itâ€™s good to see companies finally jumping on the environmental bandwagon.
On the back of the box, there are multiple pictures of the exterior and interior of the case, as well as information in six different languages.
Once opened, it should be pointed out that Cooler Master ships their cases in sturdy Styrofoam in an attempt to protect them from errant delivery handlers.
The front of the 930 should be easily recognized as a Cooler Master chassis. Using their popular wave look, Cooler Master has produced an elegant and relatively simple looking case with its only stand out feature being the black center door that hides the four bay hot swap drives. To the right of this door is the generous I/O panel that includes 4 USB ports, a lone firewire port as well as the obligatory headphone and microphone jacks.
Moving around to the back of the 930, we find a 120mm exhaust fan, the open space for your I/O shield and the opening for the PSU. Notice the large thumb screw just under the space where your PSU will be housed. This is to be removed, allowing the back panel to be removed as well. This is necessary when installing your power supply.
Due to the rather close quarters inside the case, the PSU will have to be installed from the back of the case. While this is somewhat of a cumbersome method, there isnâ€™t any other way around it and ultimately, isnâ€™t that difficult of an operation. Also on the back, just to the right of the PSU space, there is a small round metal tab that sticks through the back edge of the side panel. There is a hole in this tab that allows a lock to be placed on the case, further protecting your system internals from the occasional wondering hand.
Another little extra that the 930 provides is a small lock at the back of the case. This, when pressed down, will lock the door in place, not allowing the side panel to be removed once the two thumb screws are removed. While not anything special, it does function well in keeping the side panel in place should the thumb screws be absent.
Moving along to the side of the case, the side panel lacks the usual flair or recent PC chassis that we have looked at here at Techgage. Clearly the iTower is not geared towards the gaming community at large. This isnâ€™t to say that gamers canâ€™t find functionality in its design, but itâ€™s not exactly something that will draw much attention at your next LAN party. Sometimes however, that isnâ€™t such a bad thing after all.
Getting back to our focus, there is a rather large section of perforation near the back of the side, allowing cool air to be pulled into the case and across the video card and motherboard.
To aid in keeping the case in place, as well as dampen vibrations, the iTower has four rubber feet on the bottom.
You know what the outside looks like. Let’s take a look inside now!
Once the side of the iTower is off, we get a good look at the interior of the case itself. The most noticeable feature of the case is the adjustable air duct. This can be moved towards the front of the case as well as the back. This allows you to place the duct directly above your CPU heatsink to help direct as much cool air from outside onto the CPU directly.
The other dominating feature, not found in your regular PC chassis, is the 4 bay hot swap connections and fan. The iTower lacks a front mounted intake fan but in its place, is a fan on the back end of the hot swap bay to pull cool air in from the front of the case, move it across the hard drives and then into the case to be expelled by the 120mm exhaust fan on the back.
To power front drives, there is a pair of 4-pin Molex connectors. To connect them to the motherboard, there are 4 SATA ports that basically pass the connection from the motherboard, through the circuit board and into the hard drive. There are also 3 3-pin fan connections that power your case fans should you wish to add more.
With the fan removed, we can see the board in its entirety. One thing that stands out to us is the small amount of open space to allow air to come though into the case. While adequate, there really should be more open area to allow a more sufficient amount of air to flow across the hard drives.
With the front offering 5 optical drive bays, as well as one 3.5" floppy bay, the drives can be mounted and removed with ease thanks to the tool less design of the iTower. All that needs to be done it to simply install the drive and lock down the plastic piece on the side of the case. There are a pair of small metal studs that stick into the holes where a screw would normally secure the drive and the mechanism is locked and unlocked by sliding the black piece side to side.
Keeping with the tool less design, Cooler Master provides us with the ability to install our add in cards such as a video, sound or network card and then lock it in place without the need for screws. To use these locks, one only needs to push in at the bottom of the piece and rotate it towards the user. Once the card is in place, rotate it back up and push on the tab to lock it into place.
Notice in the picture that the plastic tab has broken off. This was not because of the design of the lock, but rather my impatience. Please be careful when using these locks. While they are rather durable, they are ultimately made of plastic and can break.
Now to tackle the fun part… installation.
Installation of hardware into the iTower is simple and to the point. The case supports any standard ATX motherboard and as stated earlier, up to 4 front loaded SATA hard drives. For starters, we will look at the front of the case.
Here there is room for four front mounted SATA hard drives, five optical drives and if needed, one 3.5" drive. The four hot swap bays are easily accessed by opening the small door on the front of the chassis.
The hot swap drives can be removed by pushing the blue rings to the right and then rotating them outward. This unlocks the rails and allows them to be pulled out to either install a hard drive or replace a faulty one.
When the rails are removed, to install a drive, one just needs to place the side rails around the hard drive, obviously with the power and data connections facing the back and right side down, and screw in four mounting screws. Then the drive is ready to be placed back into the case.
When placing the drive back into the case, make sure first that the drive is right side up and then gently slide the rails back into the case until you get about 90% of the way in. When you get close, make sure you have the handle all of the way out. At the end of the handle, near the drive itself, there is a tooth. This is what holds the drive in the case once the handle is locked down. When you feel the drive slide into the connectors at the back of the bay, lock the handle down and this will completely push the drive into the case.
To install the power supply, there is somewhat of an unorthodox way of doing it. Instead of the normal inside mounting, the power supply must be slid in from the back of the case, pulling the cables in as you go. To do this, as covered earlier, the back plate must be removed, allowing the power supply to be slid into the case. Once the power supply is in, replace the back plate and secure it with the thumb screw. While not a very conventional way of installing a power supply, it is relatively hassle free and was a non issue for us.
The last step in our installation is the motherboard itself. With the vertical air duct out of the way, the motherboard installation is simple. While the case is not my beloved full ATX, it does offer plenty of room to work and we able to install the hardware with little effort. The cooler we decided to use was the rather large Zalman 9700. Even with a cooler this large, there was plenty of room left over. With such a large after market cooler, there is really no need for the air duct and even if there was, it simply would not fit with such a large cooler installed. The duct would be ideal for anyone using a stock cooler that sits much lower than anything that can be purchased afterwards.
With everything installed, the Cooler Master iTower 930 provided us a great chassis for a home server or simple everyday use PC. For anyone who is considering this case for the foundation for a gaming PC, I would strongly advise them to look elsewhere. While this is an incredibly well built case, the airflow isnâ€™t exactly ideal. It does provide just enough to keep your hard drives in check, if you add in a set of hot running video cards, your internal temps can really start to heat up.
As a server, this case is top notch and because of this, it earns an 8 out of 10. The 930 is robust, well built and provides a safe and secure chassis for all of your most important data. One thing I would like to see on future models though is the ability to lock the front of the case. While you can lock the side panel to keep your internals safe and secure, the front is fair game for anyone that can operate a hot swap drive. Not a huge problem but for those who are paranoid, this will most certainly deter them in their choice.
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