Date: July 18, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
In our first-ever look at a Rosewill product, we’re taking the company’s Blackhawk mid-tower chassis for a spin. It offers similar design cues to another mega-popular chassis and adds in a couple of new features to help set itself apart, so let’s see if it manages to stand on its own and becomes worthy of your $100.
Seeing as how I obsess over hardware most of the time while I’m awake, I tend to visit a large number of online retailers to see what is on the market and for what price. If you’re like me, chances are you’ve seen Rosewill products of just about every type on a major hardware retailer’s website.
Luckily I’ve been “in the game” long enough to see the company begin launching products aimed towards the enthusiast crowd, and that includes cases. I’ve wanted to try one out for a while to see how they stack up with some of the more popular brands, because choice is never a bad thing. The time has come and we have the Rosewill Blackhawk on the review table today.
As the name suggests, the Blackhawk is black inside and out. It features a steel body with plastic accents and supports micro-ATX and ATX motherboards. The review sample that we received is a refresh with USB 3.0 support added. From the start, some may compare the look of this case to another popular case from another manufacturer, so it’ll be interesting to see if the Blackhawk offers any features other than what its competition does.
From top to bottom the front panel features a metal mesh to help with airflow. At the very top are four 5.25″ drive bays with the bottom doubling as a 3.5″ bay thanks to a converter. The rest of the front is taken up by the ventilation area for two 120mm blue LED fans. There is also room for a third 120mm fan, but that will be covered shortly when the panels come off. Both of the included fans are powered by 4-pin Molex connectors.
The left side allows users to show off their components thanks to a large, smoked, right arrow-shaped window. Directly behind the window is a 120mm non-LED fan with a 4-pin Molex connector. A fan in this area will help to supply components with fresh air to drive down temperatures.
Around back starting at the top left is the motherboard I/O opening. To the right are three holes with pre-installed rubber grommets where one is for the USB 3.0 cable that runs from the top panel to an open port on the motherboard I/O. The remaining two holes can be used to run hoses for a water cooling setup. Below these is a second 120mm non-LED fan powered by a 3-pin connection to exhaust warm air out of the case. Continuing down are eight vented PCI slot covers, a small vented area to the right, two more water cooling holes below and the opening for the power supply at the very bottom.
The right side has a mounting area for an optional 120mm fan directly behind the CPU to help reduce temperatures further by cooling the backside of the socket and surrounding area. Due to space restrictions, only fans up to 18mm thick will fit, so standard 25mm thick fans are a no-go.
Moving up top at the front finds the I/O connections. From left to right there is the USB 3.0 port that connects directly to the motherboard I/O as mentioned earlier, the first pair of USB 2.0 ports, 3.5mm headset and microphone jacks and a second pair USB 2.0 ports. On the right are the reset button with the hard drive activity LED above and the power button with the power LED above it as well. With the exception of the area directly behind the I/O, the rest of the top features the same mesh as the front panel, but this time it hides a 140mm blue LED fan powered by another 4-pin Molex connector.
Behind the I/O area is a hot swap SATA drive bay. Assuming the motherboard supports AHCI, a 3.5″ or 2.5″ drive can be added and removed on-the-fly when needed. Rosewill included a handy cap to cover the data and power connections when not in use to keep dust and dirt out.
With the case flipped over, the rubber pads attached to four molded plastic feet can be found. These lift the case up off the ground to help with ventilation for the power supply and optional bottom fans while absorbing any vibration and stopping slipping and sliding. Both areas feature filters to help keep dust out of the system and are removed by flexing the mesh so it slips out from under metal fingers. On either side of the filter for the fans are thumbscrews that can be removed if the bottom section of the hard drive cage needs to be taken out.
The outside the Blackhawk offers fairly traditional styling by today’s standards with some extra expandability in the form of USB 3.0 and hot swap bay on the top panel. It’s time to have a closer look at the interior to see if it holds any extra surprises.
Removing the front panel gives a good view of the two front fans. As mentioned, there is room for another optional fan but only if three of the four 5.25″ drive bays are not used. The bottom three bays have break away but reusable covers behind the front panel and an extra fan can be mounted to them. These can be moved around so that the bottom bay can be used and the fan mounted above it, but if two devices are needed there will be no room. It’s hard to see in the photo but there is a fine metal mesh behind the entire front panel to keep dust out of the system.
Swinging back around to the left side at the bottom front is the hard drive cage. This cage is broken up into three, two tray sections and each section features plastic trays that can accept 3.5″ or 2.5″ drives. If an alternate drive cage configuration is needed due to an extremely long video card, for example, there are five possible configurations. The top, middle and bottom sections are all removable giving users the ability to tailor their setup based on the components being used.
Above the hard drive cage are the four tool-less 5.25″ drive bays. As mentioned, the bottom bay comes with a 5.25″ to 3.5″ converter but all four have the same method of securing 5.25″ devices in place.
The bottom of the case has space for two optional 120mm or 140mm fans to be mounted in front of the power supply, however if two fans are to be installed the bottom section of the hard drive cage has to go. Oddly enough, the official specifications make no mention of a second fan being possible but the screw holes are clearly there. The power supply area at the very back has a Velcro strap that goes around the unit to help keep it in place during transportation. When installed, the unit rests on four small foam pads and the same foam can be found around the rear opening to help absorb any vibration.
Up next is the motherboard tray that allows for some tidy cable management thanks for the areas with pre-installed rubber grommets down the right side and at the bottom. Data and power leads can be fed through these to keep the inside looking clean and leave airflow unimpeded. The tray also features is a large cutout to help with the removal and installation of CPU coolers that feature a backplate and there is also a smaller cutout in the top left corner for the fan and 12V power leads. From the factory the Blackhawk comes with the motherboard standoffs pre-installed for ATX motherboards.
The rear of the interior showcases the tool-less PCI slots. The rest of what is found here was mentioned earlier when looking at the exterior but this time around there is a better view of the USB 3.0 cable that runs from the top panel.
The top of the case has the 140mm fan but there is also room to mount another optional 120mm or 140mm fan for extra cooling.
The back of the motherboard tray shows off most of what can be seen from the other side. The data cables have been secured at two points next to the cable management areas to keep them snug and tight. There are also metal loops in various places to help keep hidden leads in place. This is great because there is very little room to tuck cables. With just under half an inch or over a centimeter of clearance, some creative cable management may be needed.
One thing I wanted to show so it isn’t missed in the overall shot are the three thumbscrews that help hold the three sections of the hard drive cage in place in conjunction with the two found on the bottom of the case:
Included with the chassis is a bag of hardware that comes in an overly large cardboard box. Inside are the manual, two cable ties, a speaker, a metal loop that allows for the left side panel to be locked and a bag that contains extra motherboard standoffs, screws for the motherboard and power supply, screws for 3.5″ hard drives and 5.25″ devices and screws for 2.5″ hard drives.
So far the Blackhawk looks like a winner to me, so it’s time to see how the case fares during the build and how cool it keeps our overclocked components with its large number of included fans.
The motherboard installed without any problems and when it came time for the power supply, the unit slid into place nice and flush. However, the review sample was missing one of the foam pads that it would rest on.
There were also problems with running leads through the nearest opening in the motherboard tray – I could not keep that rubber grommet in place no matter how careful I was, likely due to the sharp angle that the leads needed to be run at. This put extra strain on the grommet and it pulled away from the motherboard tray. Even without cables run through the opening I couldn’t get the grommet back on for some reason, so after 15 minutes of trying it was pulled from the system.
Hard drive installation was easy enough with 3.5″ drives simply snapping into the tray and held in place by metal pegs surrounded by rubber to help absorb vibrations. A 2.5″ drive used for demonstration was installed using four of the included screws to secure it from the bottom.
To ensure nothing is overlooked during a case review I always test out each feature, even if it isn’t required during the build process. One such feature is the sectioned hard drive cage. To remove all sections there are the two thumbscrews on the bottom of the case and three more behind the motherboard tray. On the left side of the drive cage are four standard screws holding the top two sections in place along with another six that need to be removed from the front through small openings in the frame of the case and are only accessible with the front panel off.
This is far too inconvenient for those who regularly switch their configuration and far too intricate for those who may not have a steady hand or at least a screw driver with a magnetic tip. Putting the screws back in through the small openings was a pain as well when the frame obstructed my view. If you didn’t like the game Operation, you won’t like this any better.
Expansion cards such as GPUs, soundcards or network cards are all intended to be held in place by using the plastic retention mechanisms. Each is opened by pushing in on the rounded area until it clicks. It can then be swung open and closed up when the card is in place. That’s how it should work, but not how it actually works.
As you can see, it simply cannot engage and lock anything in place because it does not have the clearance thanks to the plastic shroud over the GPU heatsink. This is not a new design on GPUs so this should have been caught during the design phase. It’s best to go old school with some trusty screws if cards do not lock into place.
The optical drive installed without issue as well although it felt pretty tight. I could not tell if it was because of the bay itself or if the drive was contacting the wires that hang down ever so slightly from the top panel. Pulling back on the latch and lifting up disengaged the locking pins and once the drive was in place it swung back down and pushed forward to lock it in. There is absolutely no forward to back movement once the bay is locked.
There were no issues with the hot swap bay on top as it picked up the drive instantly. Slide it in and slide it out. There’s nothing difficult about that. I like the fact that the drive sat secure but not to the point where excessive pulling force was needed to remove it. For some reason, making fast, jerky movements with a mechanical hard drive just doesn’t appeal to me.
With all of the components installed, users will end up with something that hopefully looks like this. All cables were long enough to reach the intended connectors and there were no other issues to speak of until it came time for cable management on the back side of the motherboard tray.
Here the Blackhawk threw a curve ball due to the limited space available. Most power leads can be hidden behind the hard drive cage but it was actually the 24-pin power connector that caused the problem in our build. The lead itself is so thick that it made for a very tight fit when the right panel was put on. After a few attempts, it did finally go on, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a panel bow outward as much as this one did.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
The components used for testing are:
Techgage Test System
Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)
ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based
Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T
EVGA GeForce GTX 470
Western Digital 2TB Green
Antec TP-750 Blue
Corsair Obsidian 650D Mid-Tower
Corsair SE White 600T
SilverStone Raven 03
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Corsair H60 (Exhaust Configuration)
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
Luckily, the shortcomings of the Blackhawk are offset by the thermal performance. At stock it turns in numbers better than most with the exception of the Level 10 GT, but it does manage to hold its own when it comes to the GPU. When overclocked, the numbers are in line with the rest of the group with the exception again being the Thermaltake case.
When it comes to noise I found it to be a little on the loud side. Without sound measuring equipment I cannot give a quantifiable number but it seems to be the loudest case of the bunch, making slightly more noise than the Corsair 600T that may or may not have had a bad top fan. I felt no vibration through the case so I don’t believe that is the cause for the extra noise and will simply chalk this one up to the fans. It’s not intrusive by any stretch of the imagination but it certainly isn’t whisper quiet.
Overall this was a typical build with some twists and turns and finished off with a fairly happy ending thanks to the thermal performance. Next up is the thrilling conclusion to our story.
There’s no denying that the Blackhawk takes a lot of its styling cues from another popular case and I’m sure those who are serious about hardware will know which one. There’s no denying that this style of case is quite popular, so if it isn’t broken…
The hot swap bay is a welcome feature as is USB 3.0 support. Thankfully, companies such as Rosewill seem to be watching the market more and more and launching refreshed versions as new, useful technology is moving to the forefront.
What impressed me the most was the cooling ability. Our tests showed the Blackhawk coming in a close second to a case that retails for over twice as much. I guess that’s to be expected with a case that includes five fans.
Where the case starts to go wrong is with the PCI retention locks. This is the second case that I have looked at that has used plastic tool-less locks and it is the second case that has failed to be able to hold our GTX 470 in place. So far, thumbscrews have proven to be the easiest and most secure way to keep expansion cards locked down and I cannot see them being any more expensive then the method found here.
Adding and removing sections of the hard drive cage is another feature that left me wondering what the design team was thinking. It’s needlessly complicated but I believe it boils down to the fact that the cage comes apart in L-shaped sections and not as a full cage with a top, bottom and two sides.
To see if I could simplify things, each section was installed with only the thumbscrews keeping them secured, but there was too much movement for my liking, especially given the fact that the hard drive trays rely on the rigidity of the cage to stay locked in place. For those who rarely change their hard drive setup this may be a very small issue.
The final feature that fell flat for me were the grommets that line the majority of the cable management areas. A small bit of adhesive would go a long way in keeping these in place. I can admit that I stressed the area with a large number of cables, however many users want the cleanest build possible and I’m sure they would do the same.
$100 will score a Blackhawk, but that’s an awful lot of money for a case with what I would consider a deal-breaking flaw in the form of the PCI locks. For those who are more forgiving, this might just be the case they are looking for since it looks nice, provides a wide range of features and should be able to handle even the hottest components.
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