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Tagan A+ Black Pearl Full Tower

Date: June 8, 2007
Author(s): Greg King

The chassis market is full of common names, but it’s not often a new player comes along that really impresses. Tagan is one of those rare companies who delivers a full-size case that is well worth your consideration.



Introduction


When setting out to build a new PC, one of the hardest pieces to pick out is… wait a minute, that’s the beginning of our Gigabyte Aurora 570 review. Never mind.

When it comes time to build a new PC, a certain amount of preparation should be taken when it’s your own hard earned cash being spent. Consideration needs to be given to hardware, performance and ultimately, your budget.

If you’ve been paying attention, over the last couple of weeks, we have taken looks at quite a few different PC cases, each with their different pros and cons and in the two plus years we have been on the web, we really haven’t found that one perfect case that provides us with everything that we look for in a complete case. It’s that pros versus cons debate that most everyone goes through when they start shopping around for a new computer tower. With everything in mind, our quest for the perfect case continues… at least our idea of what the perfect case might be.

Everyone has an idea of what they want. I know when I start to look around for a new chassis; I usually stop by the usual suspects. Antec, Thermaltake, Silverstone, Cooler Master and Lian Li are all case manufacturers that I will visit, just to see what they have to offer. As we have mentioned in the past, there are usually a few companies that are well known for other products that for whatever reason, have decided to throw their hat into the chassis ring.

We have looked at cases from Gigabyte and Asus recently, neither of which are known for their cases. Built by Tagan and sold under the A+ brand name, the Black Pearl is a stout chassis with plenty of features and a unique design.

If you ask anyone, one of the best chassis manufacturers around today is Lian Li. They make great cases and their prices reflect this. The Black Pearl at first appears to be a direct knock off of Lian Li’s V2000 with its inverted ATX design and its half windows. They say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery and this is a saying that rings loud a clear in the case world. There are many designs that are sold by different manufacturers but happen to share the same look. This happens all the time. Think of it as a Ford/Mercury type situation.

Closer Look

The Black Pearl is shipped in a large black box with a picture of the case on the front. The back side of the case looks exactly the same.

Just as other cases are packed securely in a foam shell, Tagan has decided that this method of shipping will work for them as well. Wrapped in a plastic bag to ward off any scratches that might occur while in transit and sandwiched between a pair of molded Styrofoam pieces, the Black Pearl is quite secure and arrived undamaged to our labs.

Time to haul the case out of the box and see what we are in for.



Closer Look

Once out of the box, we see the sheer size of the case. One unique feature about the Black Pearl is the one single piece of aluminum that makes up the front, back, bottom and top. This adds to the overall appearance of the case as well as making it sturdier. This similar design can be seen on Silverstone’s TJ07 and the Lian Li V2000. Offering seven 5.25″ drive bays the expandability of the Black Pearl cannot be questioned.

This total however is lowered to six should the users decide to use the provided 3.5″ bay adapter. The top two drives are occupied with a pair of drive shrouds. These are used to cover up the optical drive bays but with their spring loaded doors, they continue the all black look regardless of the color of the CD/DVD drive.

Just under the drive bays, there is a small LCD screen flanked by two small buttons. This is actually the read out of the included fan controller. Just to the right of this display, the power and reset buttons can be found.

Here is a closer look at the top two drive bay covers. These are spring loaded and made entirely out of aluminum. One suggestion I have is to remove the front of the drive trays as these can catch randomly on the door.

No case is complete anymore without a slew of I/O ports. Not wanting to be left behind, the Black Pearl offers a pair of USB ports, a FireWire port and an audio out and microphone pass-through. These are all cleverly hidden from sight behind a small black aluminum door. Notice the screws on either side of the door. These screws allow the I/O ports to be removed the desire ever strike you.

On the top, at the back of the case, there is a large perforated area, just about the right size to accommodate a pair of 120mm fans. While a pair of fan can be mounted back here, the intended use for this area is the installation of a radiator. This is obvious by looking just behind this perforated area and seeing a pair of hole. These holes can allow the user to pass through up to ½” tubing. The best part of this whole idea is that the hole covers are held on with screws. This is night if one ever gets tired of water and decides to change back to air cooling. Instead of punch outs that cannot be replaced, if the user keeps track of the covers, they can be reinstalled.

Moving to the right side of the case, we see a half window in the side panel. Tagan has decided to design a case completely opposite of what is normally seen in 99% of all computer towers. With the motherboard tray on the other side, the motherboard is going to obviously have to be installed upside down. This is a design that we first saw in the Liquid XS at All American Computers and one that I install fell in love with. Finally, an exotic video card cooler can be seen. The side door also helps to hide a lot of the wiring mess that is common in most every PC build.

The back of the Black Pearl showcases the inverted style of the case. With the power supply mounted in the bottom and the PCI slots at the top, the Black Pearl is certainly different than majority of other cases available today. In the middle, just to the left of the I/O shield is as 120mm opening for a, you guessed it, a 120mm fan.

At the bottom, we see the power supply area. Just above the opening, there is a pair of grills that allow air to flow into the case. There are also holes should a pair of 80mm fans get installed onto this area.

Just above the power supply area is the I/O shield and the fan screen.

At the top, the PCI slots are just to the right of even more ventilation holes. The PCI slot covers have a mirror finish and look great with cards installed.

To secure the doors on either side of the case, there is an incorporated pull tab that when pulled out, released the door. This is secured onto the case with an attached thumb screw.

Moving down to the bottom of the case, there are three separate blocks of holes, all aiding in air circulation. To dampen some of the case vibrations, as well as protect any surface you set the case one, there are four rubber feet.

Let’s take a look now at the interior!



Interior

With the side panel off of the case, we see just what it has to offer underneath the motherboard area. Organized exactly like the V2000, the Black Pearl has the case divided up into three sections. The top is reserved for the motherboard and optical drives while the bottom section is divided up into two separate parts. On the left, there is a pair of hard drive cages while the right side is left wide open for the power supply.

Starting with the power supply area, we notice that the PSU does not sit directly on the bottom of the case. Instead, there is a small shelf with many quarter sized holes for ventilation. Just above the opening for the power supply we again see holes for ventilation.

To the left, we get a closer look at the hard drive area. Both cages can hold up to 4 hard drives in each one, allowing the Black Pearl to hold a total of eight drives in all. These cages can be removed individually by simply removing a thumb screw.

Above these two areas is the main chamber of the case. This is by far the largest and is intended to house the optical drives, as well as the motherboard. The drive bays are wide open with the bottom bay being occupied by a 3.5″ adapter.

While not a tool less chassis, the Black Pearl does offer a few conveniences such as locks for optical drives. These simply fit into the holes on the back of the drive, locking it into place.

The front bay covers, as stated earlier, are made out of aluminum and are held onto the case with small metal nipples that stick out of the side. This allows the covers to remain on the case without the use of screws.

Another somewhat unique feature of the Black Pearl is the CPU air shroud. This is supposed to direct air from the back fan onto the CPU. Remember however, should a tall tower cooler be used, this piece will not fit and must be removed. If this is what you choose to do, remember that the fan is installed opposite of normal. It is sucking air into the case instead of out and if you use a tower cooler and face it to blow out of the case, the two fans will work against each other and the temperatures will reflect this. Trust me on this, I made this same mistake.

With the shroud removed, the case feels much more open. One thing to note is that the holes on the motherboard are not marked. When the standoffs are installed, make sure they are placed in the correct holes.

At the top, the PCI slots are held on with thumb screws. While not tool less they do have cut outs to allow screw drives to be used.

At the bottom of the upper chamber, there is a set of plastic lined holes. These allow the power supply cables to run up to the motherboard. The PC speaker is also situated just above the larger of the two holes.



Interior Cont.

As in any case, the power and reset buttons, along with the hard drive LED need to connect with the motherboard and the Black Pearl is no exception. With twisted wires, the button cables are clearly marked and plenty long.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the USB, FireWire and audio cables. These all look similar and the only way to tell them apart is to look at the individual pins. This isn’t a big deal but an issue that can easily be solved in future builds.

At the front of the case, there is a 120mm fan to intake cooler outside air. There is just under an inch between the fan and the front of the case to allow cool air through the perforated bottom as there isn’t any holes directly in front of the fan itself. Conveniently, as most everything else on the case, the fan is held in place with a pair of attached thumb screws. Once removed, the fan easily slides out.

Once removed, we see the aluminum housing that the fan itself attached onto. It has a total of 144 small holes to allow air to pass though into the case. Between this piece and the fan, there is a filter to keep out a majority of the dust that is inevitably floating around the case.

To remove the the fan and clean the filter, the fan itself is attached to another piece of aluminum that fits onto the filter guard with small fins that slide into place. This makes the filter easy to clean once the fan is removed.

Once removed, we see that Tagan as decided to mount the fan using rubber grommets to eliminate as much vibrations as possible. It’s this attention to detail that is becoming more and more like a trend in the Black Pearl.

With vibration dampening in mind, even the entire fan guard is separated from the rest of the case with a small piece of rubber.

Just above the front intake fan, there is a small circuit board. This is actually a small fan controller. This small board is what controls the front LCD display and in turn, with the help of the front buttons, controls how fast or slow the connected fans spin. Also connected is a small thermal probe. This can be placed anywhere in the case and the temperature will be shown on the front of the case.



Installation

There is a reason that I personally prefer larger cases like the Black Pearl. In the past, I have either owned or evaluated PC cases of all sizes. With larger cases, you have plenty of room to work in and I personally appreciate that. It’s not to say that smaller cases are worse, but for me, I enjoy working in a case with plenty of room to move around in.

I have also found that the larger the case, the more room there is to hide unwanted cables on the power supply. To some this is cheating but to me, it’s easy.

Before we get too far into the installation, the following is a list of the hardware being installed in the Black Pearl. This hardware should be familiar to most as it’s the hardware we have used in our most recent chassis reviews.

To start out with, we are going to put the hard drives into the case. With only a pair of 750GB Seagate Barracudas to install, we are obviously not going to need all eight bays. Out of cabling convenience, we are going to use the drive cage closest to the middle of the case.

The drive cages are held onto the chassis with a thumb screw and that thumb screw in turn, keeps the cage securely locked into place on four posts.

With the drive cage removed, we can take a closet look at the cage itself.

The first thing we noticed was the attached rails on the sides of the cages. This is different than any other case that we have worked with in the sense that the drive isn’t screwed onto the cage at all. Instead, the hard drive sits on these rails with the help of a rubber grommet.

The rubber grommets are similar to the way hard drives are installed in the Antec P180 and P182. This was personally my favorite aspect of the Antec case and with the Black Pearl, its nice to see someone else has adopted this method.

With the grommets installed, the drives slides down the rails and into place. Once at the end of the rail, the front grommets simply lock into place by pressing downward on the hard drive itself. This is a method that I personally love and is seems as if the hard drive is floating. That and it helps dissipate a good majority of the vibrations caused by the hard drive spinning.

For long hauls, or the extremely paranoid, the drive can be locked to the cage with one screw in the middle of the drive. This is useful for when transporting the PC anywhere, say a LAN party like Stompfest or AsylumLAN.

To aid in installation, Tagan has provided all the essential hardware and then some. Included with the Black Pearl is the fan shroud and an motherboard extender plate.

Also included is all of the needed hardware, including motherboard standoffs, thumb screws, spaced bolts for the rubber grommets, and motherboard standoff screws. Also included in the package is plastic rings to place in the top holes should water tubes be passed through as well as cable management equipment such as zip ties and cable locks.

Finally, Tagan has included a small tool to properly tighten down the standoffs. Again, a small little tool, worth less than a quarter, adds a lot to the overall package and again shows off Tagan’s attention to detail.

Once everything is installed, the cables need to be run from the power supply and the hard drives to the motherboard. This is made simple with the openings in the bottom of the upper chamber (or at the top of the lower chambers if you want to look at it that way).

There is also a small notch on the back of the case, just above the power supply to route cables in. This kept the auxiliary 8-pin power cable well out of sight which helped add to the total look of the finished product. At the bottom, time can be taken to make sure the cables are nice and orderly or they can be simply pushed out of the way. After all, this area is going to be well hidden behind the side panel. The choice is up to you.

There is also a small open area towards the front of the case behind the motherboard tray. With the left side panel removed, this area can be used to route unsightly cables to the motherboard. We chose to route the front panel cables through this area as the motherboard pin headers were located on this side. It would have been idea to route the 24 pin power cable this way as well but unfortunately was not long enough.



Finished Result, Final Thoughts

With everything as it should be, the finished product should look something like this when behind the clear side panel.

The last thing to cover is front LCD display and fan controller. With the A+ logo on the left, lit up in a light blue, the thermal probe results, as well as fan speed are shown in a bright red. This is a neat feature but I do not like the fact that individual fans cannot be controlled independent of the others.

Whatever speed one fan is spinning at is the speed that all of the fans are spinning at. The speeds are controlled with the two buttons on either side of the LCD display. The left button speeds up the fans and the right one slows them down. Simple and to the point but ultimately not as complete as most would like.

Final Thoughts

As in all of our past case reviews, we will look at the cooling capabilities of the case and compare it to past results. The hardware used has remains constant with the only difference being the case itself. Our results do provide a decent idea of the cooling capabilities of each chassis but do contain a slight margin of error. It is difficult to maintain the exact same ambient temperature from evaluation to evaluation so please keep that in mind when reading the graphs.

In our tests, we report the temperatures of both the CPU and GPU when at an idle state, as well as under 100% load. To get the cores of the E6600 working at full steam ahead, CPU Burn-In is used, one instance on each core. This is setup to run for an hour with the case’s side panel in place. At the end of that hour, the temperature is recorded using Core Temp Beta 0.94. As stated earlier, the fan on the back of the case is installed to pull in outside air. To accommodate for this, the Zalman 9700 is installed in the same fashion. Air is brought in through the fan and the pulled through the Zalman.

While not the best performer, the Black Pearl is right up there with the Thermaltake Kaldalf, the best performer in the group. While the lower the temperatures the better, we really cannot complain with what we have seen out of Tagan’s A+ flagship case. The performance of air cooling is average and the graphs reflect this but the true beauty of the Black Pearl lies in the features. There aren’t many cases that I have seen with more room, more expandability and more potential than the Black Pearl.

The all aluminum, thick aluminum at that, design makes the case light and the single piece used for the main part of the body adds to the stability. The top mounted I/O ports along with the area seemingly designed with water cooling in mind make this case the single best case this editor has ever worked with. Add onto that attention to detail included fan controller and the Black Pearl is a gem with gads of potential under the hood.

With that in mind though, our experience was not exactly a bed or roses. The fan controller, while a nice addition, could have had a bit more functionality and just underneath it, we would have liked to have seen holes for the front fan to breath a bit more freely. We also feel that a hole towards the back of the case, on the bottom of the motherboard chamber would be a nice addition as it would allow more areas to route cables to the motherboard.

With all of the ups and downs taken into consideration, it’s clear, at least to this editor, that the pros far outweigh the cons. It’s because of all this that the Tagan A+ Black Pearl earns a 9 out of 10. It also earns an editor’s choice award for it’s great potential. The only down side is the price. Weighing in above $200, the Black Pearl isn’t cheap but for what you get, a clone of a very good Lian Li, your getting your moneys worth.

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