Date: July 6, 2015
Author(s): J.D. Kane
Unless you buy server motherboards and proprietary systems, you may not have heard of Supermicro before. With its S5 Gaming mid-tower PC chassis, the company is showing signs of diversifying its market reach. Techgage got a sample, so we put it through the wringer to see just how good it is.
There are plenty of companies providing all sorts of computing solutions. Some have earned great reputations and, as a consequence, they have acquired the ability to sell their products almost just through name recognition.
You don’t believe me?
Quick, what do you think of when I say “Corsair”? How about “Corsair power supplies”?
The funny thing is, there are also companies who sell their wares without the consumer necessarily knowing who they are. The power supply unit market, in particular, is full of manufacturers who may be anonymous to most consumers but whose products are sold under different name brands. Even mighty Corsair sells PSUs manufactured by other companies.
Supermicro is one of those largely anonymous solutions providers. I’d wager that, unless you’re an IT professional or buy server-grade motherboards and other components, that’s a name you’ve probably not heard much.
Perhaps Supermicro is showing signs that it wants to expand awareness of its brand. One way to do it is to offer hitherto unavailable products to the mainstream market.
One of these products is the S5 Gaming mid-tower PC chassis. The company sent Techgage one so that we can put it through its paces and see how it stacks up against the competition.
And here is the S5 in all its black and red glory. The color scheme certainly is aggressive, and is very similar to the last chassis I reviewed in that particular aspect.
Another similarity, which I’m sure is unintentional, is the asymmetric detailing, particularly in the S5’s fascia: The left side of the fascia has a sculpted ornamental treatment picked out in red quite unlike the opposite side’s simple beveled edge, which is in black. It’s an interesting visual feature. That left edge of the fascia has an array of diamond-shaped intake holes going down two-thirds of its length. The opposite edge of the fascia has no matching array of intake holes.
Speaking of intakes, the S5 features a large intake vent on the front to feed the two 120mm fans installed there. That intake dominates the view at the front. A removable grill facilitates maintenance of the dust filter here. You’ll need to remove the drive cages inside the chassis to get to the fans.
Above the front intake and the pair of 5.25″ optical drives is the I/O cluster. The various ports and buttons are presented asymmetrically here. From left to right are the 3.5mm mic-in and headphone-out jacks, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, the HDD activity LED, the square reset button, and the rectangular power button. The presentation is simple, with the asymmetry lending things a bit of visual flair.
The S5 is pretty plain after all the details in the front fascia. The only things that stand out from this profile shot are the vertical array of intake holes on the edge of the fascia and the vents on the side panel.
This view shows the S5’s rear and side. There’s really nothing too outstanding here. The S5 has seven PCI expansion slots, which is fine for most builds. Also notable is the pair of knock-out tubing holes for externally-mounted radiators; most chassis have these holes already punched out and covered with rubber grommets, but the S5 leaves the user the choice to open these up if desired. Finally, there is a 120mm fan in the rear exhaust position.
Moving on to the roof of the S5, we see a flexible magnetic mesh cover. We’ve seen this feature in various other chassis. It’s an elegant solution, so it’s no surprise to see Supermicro adopt it for the S5.
And on the bottom of the chassis we see another magnetic dust filter protecting the floor intake vents. We can also see the S5’s quartet of circular feet, which provide a scant inch or so of lift.
Popping off the side panels we can have a look at the S5’s all-black interior. The highlights include two pre-installed standoffs on the motherboard tray (the top and bottom ones closest to the front of the chassis), smallish cable management openings covered up with rubber grommets, a good-sized cutout on the motherboard tray for access to the motherboard’s CPU socket area, and the astonishing number of storage devices that this chassis can support. All told it can fit eight 3.5″ HDDs and four 2.5″ drives; all these devices are housed in three removable drive cages.
The S5 is compatible with motherboards up to ATX-spec.
Here’s a detail shot of the tool-less storage drive retention system. The drives sit in a plastic sled sans screws; once you have a storage drive in the sled, you just slide it back into the cage.
We’ll end our visual tour with a look at the accessories that come with the S5. There are a bunch of screws and standoffs for your build, as well as a generous helping of nylon zip-ties for cable management purposes. Also included are an adapter unit the front-panel headers (this chassis was originally designed to be compatible only with Supermicro’s own motherboards, so the front panel cables’ pin-out is housed in a proprietary connector), a PC case speaker, a pair of circular grommets in case you do use an externally mounted radiator, and a perfunctory user’s guide.
Now that we’ve had a look at the S5, let’s see how well it performs.
I’ll be reviewing the Supermicro S5 on a few key criteria: ease of system installation; cooling performance; a subjective evaluation of its noise output characteristics; and a few miscellaneous comments about the chassis’ build quality.
First, though, a look at our test system’s components:
|Chassis Test System|
|Processor||Intel Core i5 2500K @ 3.3GHz/1.2V VCore|
|Memory||Patriot PSD38G1333KH 2 x 4GB DDR3|
|Graphics||EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 (Reference design)|
|Storage||Crucial C300 (128GB) SSD|
|Power Supply||BitFenix Fury 650G|
|CPU Cooling||NZXT Havik 140|
|GPU Cooling||Arctic Accelero Hybrid II-120|
|OS||Windows 8.1 64-bit|
And here’s a look at how everything looks in the Supermicro S5:
System installation took about an hour, which is about average for me. There weren’t any real surprises or difficulties. Indeed, the only noteworthy deviation from the routine was using the provided front panel header adapter.
Cable management did present some niggles. Specifically, the openings in the motherboard tray are small, so you need to be patient and careful when threading the various cables through them. They fit, but the tolerances are smaller than usual.
The gap between the back of the motherboard tray and the side panel is also a bit narrow. However, it was fairly easy to shift the bundles of extra cable length into unused spaces; attaching the side panel, then, was easy.
Speaking of the side panels, I like the fact that the thumbscrews stay on the side panel edge. That’s a feature I rarely see in chassis, and one I wish is a more universal solution.
Moving on to thermal testing, I will use the OCCT CPU stability test program to generate maximum CPU load and temperatures as well as MSI Kombustor for the GPU temperature testing. Ambient temperature will be kept constant at 72°F/22.2°C.
A preliminary note about thermal testing: A PC chassis being reviewed ought to be in as close to stock configuration as possible. That means I won’t add fans to the system (other than what comes with certain components’ cooling systems). Also, per my now routine practice, I’ll also use the same torture tests to put the CPU and the GPU under maximum load conditions. OCCT is the torture test of choice for the CPU, while MSI Kombustor fits the bill for the GPU.
So this is how the S5 fared:
Across the four cores of the i5-2500K, the maximum temperatures registered were 47°/51°/51°/51°C. The following table shows how this performance compares to other chassis I’ve tested with the test system in an identical configuration:
|Chassis||Maximum Core Temperatures Recorded|
|Danger Den Torture Rack||50°/54°/54°/55° C|
|Corsair Obsidian 450D||49°/52°/51°/51° C|
|Puget Systems Test Bench||51°/54°/54°/54° C|
|Corsair Graphite 730T||48°/52°/52°/52° C|
|Lian Li PC-A61||48°/51°/52°/52° C|
|Thermaltake Core V51||50°/52°/51°/51° C|
|Corsair Graphite 780T||48°/51°/51°/51° C|
|In Win 707||49°/52°/52°/52° C|
|Supermicro S5||47°/51°/51°/51° C|
The data show the test system reached the lowest temperatures at maximum CPU load whilst installed in the Supermicro S5. Granted, there is very little difference between our test results, but at the very least you can conclude the S5 isn’t under-performing compared to its competition.
Moving on to the maximum GPU temperature tests, the test system in the S5 registered a maximum of 70°C.
And here’s how that compares to the rest of the chassis for which I’ve gathered maximum GPU temperature data:
|Chassis||Maximum GPU Temperatures Recorded|
|Danger Den Torture Rack||55° C|
|Corsair Obsidian 450D||63° C|
|Puget Systems Test Bench||50° C|
|BitFenix Neos||68° C|
|Corsair Graphite 730T||57° C|
|Lian Li PC-A61||52° C|
|Thermaltake Core V51||74° C|
|Corsair Graphite 780T||52° C|
|In Win 707||74° C|
|Supermicro S5||70° C|
The Supermicro S5‘s performance was not the best, but it was four degrees Celsius better than the worst performances. I’d theorize that the reason for this is the restrictiveness of the mesh filter panel on the chassis roof. The finer the mesh pattern, the more it keeps dust out, but also the more it impedes airflow into a chassis.
In terms of noise output, the S5 is as quiet as they come. This is quite impressive given that Supermicro did not equip the S5 with any overt noise-dampening materials like sound-absorbent foam or anything like that.
Moving on to build quality, overall the S5 is more than adequate. The paint is acceptable for what it is; it’s not like it was given a shiny finish or anything. However, the paint seems resilient and damage-resistant. I’m also impressed with the lack of squeaks and vibrations, suggesting the S5 has a very good and strong structural integrity. Finally, I also like the feel of both the power and the reset buttons. They don’t feel cheap at all, and pressing them feels satisfying.
If there’s one thing I’d care to complain about, it’s the cheap feel of the plastic on the front fascia. I understand that this isn’t a top-tier product, but it’s never cool when you touch something and it just feels more brittle than you’d want it to be. The worst offender in this aspect is the grill protecting the front intake fan opening: I feel like I can destroy it with my bare hands without much effort.
Let’s wrap things up.
Supermicro uses its S5 for its own proprietary systems, so until a couple of months ago the only way to get a hold of one was to buy a PC from the company.
There is much to like about the S5, but let’s cut to the chase: It will never be mistaken for a premium offering. It just needs too much polish as it is right now.
Let’s start with its good points, though. Its looks are stylish, if a bit generic and corporate. The red trim and asymmetrical details give it just enough character to save it from being banal and just plain boring.
I also love the captured thumbscrews on the side panels. That might sound a bit strange to praise something as small as thumbscrews, but it’s details like this that make a design better over other existing solutions. Mind you, Supermicro isn’t the first chassis manufacturer to have done this; I just think that more chassis makers should.
This chassis’ capacity for storage drives is also impressive. Twelve storage devices (plus two optical drives) is quite a feat for a chassis this size.
Unfortunately, the S5 has a list of shortcomings that lets it down somewhat. First, the cable management openings on the motherboard tray are almost too small. Here is how this is a problem: You’d have to contort your PSU’s 24-pin motherboard power connector to make it go through the openings. Some PSU cables are too stiff to allow the connector to go in sideways or even at an angle, so your only other option in such a case is to not use the openings in the motherboard tray. This will annoy cable management fetishists.
Another issue is the magnetized mesh filter covering the chassis roof. The fineness of the mesh will keep dust out of the chassis, but it will also impact airflow through this part of the chassis. If you have fans/radiators mounted up there, that impact would be negative.
Now that I’ve mentioned it, the S5 isn’t what I’d call a radiator-friendly design. While you can install a120/140/240/280mm radiator on the roof, you can only put thin ones up there. Users with thick radiators can mount them in the front intake position, but only if 1) you remove all of the drive cages, and 2) the radiator doesn’t exceed 240mm in length. As a compromise solution, it’s far less than ideal.
So what do we make of the Supermicro S5? It’s a solid offering, but it needs a good bit of refinement to be outstanding. For one thing, I think it needs to be a little bigger. Water cooling is an increasingly popular cooling option for system builders, and thicker radiators tend to be more efficient. The S5 is too restricted in this regard.
Speaking of restrictions, I think the S5 will perform better in the cooling stakes if Supermicro used a less restrictive mesh on the roof vents. This is a fairly easy fix, so if the company decides to update the S5 for better performance, this is one way to do it.
Another easy way would be to execute the cable management details more intelligently. Increasing the size of the cable management holes is an easy way to accomplish this.
Finally, I’d be more enthused with this chassis if the plastic used was a higher-quality specification. Especially given the $99.99 asking price (though some e-tailers, notably Newegg, is selling it for $94.99 at the time of writing), I’d feel much better if it was made of better materials.
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