Date: March 4, 2011
Author(s): Ryan Perry
The benefits of building a small PC are easy to understand, but what’s not always easy is finding an ideal case to store all of the components in. Well, for those looking for something a bit different, SilverStone has its Fortress FT03… an offering that must be seen to be appreciated. It’s a tower, yet small, and has huge aesthetic appeal.
With Valentine’s Day only a few weeks behind us, let me be romantic again for a moment by saying absence makes the heart grow fonder. Yeah, right! If this were true, I would be ready to make sweet, sweet love to the FT03 after it took almost a month to be delivered due to various delays.
Getting this case from SilverStone to my door proved to be a lesson in patience; a lesson that I am sorry to say I failed miserably. Now that it is finally on the table, I have extremely high hopes for this CES 2011 Innovation Award winning product and cannot wait to load it up with gear. Let’s go!
We were sent the FT03S model, with the S denoting the color. For those who are not into silver, a black version can be had under the FT03B model. The case has a very small footprint for two reasons; support for only micro-ATX, mini-DTX and mini-ITX motherboards and a unique internal layout that sees almost every component mounted in a different position compared to standard cases. This change allows air to be moved from bottom to top to take advantage of the natural movement of warm air.
Thanks to the way the interior is laid out, the exterior on all four sides is almost completely solid, which gives the case a very clean, simple look. The panels are made from very thick aluminum with cutouts at the top of the sides and back panels for cable management and at the bottom all the way around to ensure proper airflow into the case. The only breaks in the solid panels come from the slot for the slim optical drive on the front and a white, filtered vent cover on the lower left side for the power supply exhaust and lower intake fan.
The top of the case is made entirely of white plastic. Along the front edge are standard power and reset buttons and blue power and hard drive activity LEDs. To the right of that are 3.5mm analog headphone and microphone connections, flanked by two USB 3.0 ports that can be connected directly to the USB ports on the rear motherboard I/O.
The rest of the top is capped off by a plastic grill held in place by two catches on the back edge. This grill covers what is normally the back side of most cases. Removing it gives a clear view of the motherboard I/O area thanks to it being rotated 90 degrees, similar to other models in the Fortress series. Also visible is the 120mm exhaust fan, four vented PCI slot covers and over on the right side, a small door with a slide latch that provides access to a 3.5″ SATA hard drive hot swap bay.
The bottom of the case has four semi-hard rubber feet that extend just past the side panels and lift the case well off the floor while absorbing vibration. The ample clearance ensures that there is room for air to flow freely to the power supply and two optional 92mm fans, which are all covered by another filtered vent cover held in place by magnets. Rounding out the bottom is a recessed AC power connection, further helping to preserve the clean outer look.
Finally, there is the usual treat bag of hardware, which includes two reusable cable ties, a plastic 2.5″ hard drive or solid-state drive mounting plate, a bag of screws and motherboard standoffs and a triple 3-pin to 4-pin Molex adapter to power the included fans.
With such a simplified exterior, this section may be shorter than that of most reviews but you may want to grab a sandwich before moving on. The interior is up next!
To get at the inside of the case and see what all of the fuss is about, simply remove the top grill, pull up and then out on the side panels and pull straight out on the front panel. What is found is a layout unlike anything that I have ever seen before.
Since the airflow in this case begins at the bottom, that is where the tour will begin. The power supply area is at the front of the case and mounts sideways with the mounting area for the slim optical drive directly above it. At the rear is an angled 120mm intake fan that starts off the airflow by pushing cool air towards the video card and into a second angled 120mm fan that sits above the optical drive.
That second fan pushes air over the memory towards the CPU heatsink, but also down onto the components that surround the CPU socket such as the VRMs to help lower overall motherboard temperatures. These two fans can be removed if extra room is required for larger components with the bottom fan making way for two additional 92mm fans.
While the case can accept large tower heatsinks, the motherboard tray does not have a cutout to make mounting easier, but there is a reason, which will be covered in a moment. To help ease the pain, the motherboard tray does have several cable management holes. Above the motherboard tray is the final 120mm fan used to exhaust warm air up and out of the case. Finally, at the top rear is bracket for a 92mm fan for further cooling. All of the included fans feature 3-pin connectors and are rated at 22dB at 1200RPM, which is similar to SilverStone’s FN121 model but with a lower sound rating and a different part number, S1202512ELN-D3.
Spinning the case around to look at the right side shows the hard drive mounting points on the back side of the motherboard tray, which is why there is no cutout for mounting heatsinks that feature a back plate. In the upper front corner is the 3.5″ SATA hot swap bay with two additional 3.5″ bays below and to the right. The final drive space towards the rear comes in the form of small metal posts where the included 2.5″ drive mounting plate can be attached. Having hard drives mounted in this location means there will be no power and data cables to disrupt the airflow. Another feature that some may miss is the large aluminum heatsink attached to the inside of the right panel. This heatsink makes contact with the drive installed in the hot swap bay to help dissipate heat.
With all of the eye candy taken care of, it is time to move on to the installation and testing to see if there are any issues that come up while working in such a small, specialized chassis and whether such a dramatic change in airflow can cool components well enough to handle overclocking.
To ensure that the installation went off without a hitch, the folks at SilverStone sent along the SOD01 slim 8X SATA DVD writer, 750W Strider Gold 80 Plus Gold certified fully modular power supply and, in order to help with cable management, the PP05 Short Cable Kit, compatible with certain Strider series power supplies.
Installation was a breeze after removing the front 120mm fan to make way for the motherboard. The bracket at the top, near the video card was also removed since additional cooling there is not needed. Just to be a bit different, I decided to go with the CoolIT Vantage A.L.C. to cool the CPU since these types of all-in-one liquid coolers are becoming more and more popular, plus I wanted to see just how much room was available.
The hoses on the Vantage caused a conflict with the front fan so it was removed from the build. Due to the dimensions of the radiator, there are only two ways to mount it, both of which will have the same problem. The shroud on the back side of the radiator could have been removed, however CoolIT recommends this be left on for best performance. This is in no way a design flaw of the case and aside from this, the rest of the components installed flawlessly.
Not everybody will have access to the short cable kit so all components were connected first using the standard length power supply leads. I had to be a little creative but even those with non-modular power supplies should not run into any problems since there is a lot of room between the motherboard tray and the side panel. After switching over to the short cable kit, cable management was a dream with almost no hiding or tucking required.
The result is a super clean install with no cables cluttering up the motherboard area and disrupting airflow. Installation at times was a bit more cramped than what I am used to, even coming from some smaller ATX cases, but it is to be expected given the small footprint. All in all it was a smooth experience for my first installation into a non-standard case with all components fitting properly and securely. At no time did the chassis or the mounting points feel weak and there were no sharp edges anywhere to be found.
All of our testing is performed under controlled conditions to ensure accurate and repeatable results. The test system is kept in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after testing with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording temperatures throughout the test 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. LINPACK is a personal favorite of the Techgage staff because it stresses the processor more than other applications, which translates into greater heat output. GPU load temperatures are also generated by running OCCT’s built in test for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by using the “Load Optimum Default” option in the motherboard BIOS and the maximum overclock frequency of 4.2GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The VCore has been raised to 1.328V and the memory run at 1.35V at 1520MHz. This is the closest to stock that is allowed by the multiplier and since heat output from memory is negligible, running them like this helps to ensure system stability based on previous testing.
The final clocks on the GPU were 1020MHz on the core and 1200MHz for the memory with a +0.025V increase using Sapphire Technology’s TriXX overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
The components used for testing are:
Intel Core i3-530 – Dual-Core, 2.93GHz
GIGABYTE GA-H55M-USB3 – H55-based
G.Skill ECO 2x2GB – DDR3-1600
CoolIT Vantage A.L.C.
Bigfoot Killer NIC
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
|Stock CPU @ Idle|
|Stock CPU @ Load|
|Stock GPU @ Idle|
|Stock GPU @ Load|
|OC’d CPU @ Idle|
|OC’d CPU @ Load|
|OC’d GPU @ Idle|
|OC’d GPU @ Load|
The FT03 performed very well and was able to help cool each component well below the point of failure, even without one of the included fans. Granted, the components used in the test are not known to be power hungry infernos but I have been able to push them beyond this point in a traditional case with front to back airflow.
One issue that cropped up during testing was that leaving the GPU fan set to auto was not enough to keep it from crashing repeatedly, even though it ran fully stable in the previous case. The temperature topped out at the maximum of 93 degrees and the reports had the fan reaching 48% of full speed. After the system was reset, the fan speed was manually increased to a constant 50%, resulting in a completed run. This should not have been enough intervention to affect the final numbers but I wanted to keep the fan speed as close to what the auto setting determined was acceptable to keep from skewing the data.
Since this is my first case review and the final components for our test system have not been finalized, this chassis will be tested again and added to a growing list of results.
Like always, there are some issues that need to be mentioned. The first had to do with one of the rubber feet pulling away from the body when the case was slid a very short distance during the installation. The feet are connected to the chassis by a screw with a large head that is fed through the center of the foot itself. This clearly is not enough to ensure they stay attached but I was able to remove the screw and reattach the foot.
The second issue is that the bottom filter for the power supply and optional 92mm fans would come off with a light bump or brush. The method with which is it held in place is great since it means users no longer need to set the case on its side to remove it, however I would like to see stronger magnets used or more of them.
To some, the price could be considered steep at $165 CDN / $170 USD, but you get what you pay for; a solid case with tons of features. The styling greatly appeals to my less-is-more personality. On the outside it simply looks like a high-end workstation case or a HTPC, but on the inside, there is tons of room for high end components. There are even some pictures that show a Prolimatech Megahalem installed, and SLI or Crossfire could also be an option depending on the PCI-E slot spacing on the motherboard along with the specs of the coolers on the cards. Top that off with enough airflow to keep on overclocked system within acceptable limits thanks to a fresh internal design and near silent fans.
So with that said, the wait was certainly worth it but if you will excuse me, I need some alone time with this case.
SilverStone Fortress FT03 Tower Chassis
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