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Thermaltake Armor LCS VE2000BWS

Date: October 19, 2006
Author(s): Rob Williams

Thermaltake has had great success with their Armor and Kandalf cases, and there was a natural step to take to bring them both to the next level… water cooling! For $100 more above the price of a standard Armor case, you can have one complete with a well designed WC setup.



Introduction


There is little doubt that the Thermaltake Armor is one of those cases that most everyone can appreciate. It’s spacious, looks great and is built well. Matt took a look at the case back in April, and walked away impressed. It was not jaw dropping, but delivered enough to earn itself an 8 out of 10 on our scale.

Building upon the success of both the Armor and Kandalf cases, Thermaltake thought it was a good idea to create a new version of the case with the addition of water cooling. This was far from being a bad idea. The Armor is a big case and really allows water cooling enthusiasts to enjoy the benefits of having a large space to work in. However, there are a few people who love the idea of water cooling, but don’t want to dive into the complete DIY realm of the hobby.

That includes me. Personally, I enjoy water cooling however I am not knowledgable in the regard. I could throw together a water cooling rig just fine, but I am still a complete noob when it comes to understanding which parts are better than others, what metals not to mix with a certain type of coolant… and so on. Both my primary workstation and benchmarking PC run off of Corsairs N500, so that’s evidence to the fact that I am not the type of person to plan out the ultimate solution with a DIY setup. However luckily enough, the N500 proves to be a great all-in-one solution that I’ve come to enjoy quite a bit.

Being the noob that I am, I looked quite forward to receiving the Armor LCS to see just how easy it would prove to be to setup and use. Since this is the first time I’ve ever touched an Armor, I will give my experiences on the case overall as well.

Closer Look

The case arrived in a huge box… I am sure the mailman was pleased to deliver such a beast. I did not include photos of the box itself, because it apparently had quite a rough journey making it across the Continent to me in Canada. Upon opening, the first thing you will see is the case wrapped up in a strong blanket-like material used to prevent scratches. Chances are any scratches that will occur would be when you take the case OUT of the box, not during shipping. Good packaging job overall.. tight and secure.

The case… weighs over 20Kg, so it was fun getting it out of the box easily. The easiest way way to lay the box down on it’s side and pull on the styrofoam pieces to haul it out. After that, you can remove one piece of the foam, stand the case up and remove the other. This cheesecloth like material well wraps around the case, so I had to lift up each end to get it free.

I apologize for the less than ideal images. I am in a small room, and this is a huge case, so you will see my bedroom randomly. That said, here is the case! It’s hard to see from this photo, but compared to the NZXT Apollo in the background, there is no comparison. The Armor could eat both the Apollo and Lexa for dinner.

As a whole, the case is very stylish. The front has two small doors on hinges that open up to install a new CD-Rom, media panel or whatever have you. The left door lets you in on a little secret… the name of the case. The hinges on these doors… show the quality that has gone into the case. These are not cheap, and you will never see them come loose, at least hopefully. Very strong looking design.

The entire front is full of drive bays, although 2 – 5 are the only ones useable by drives. The bottom six have the radiator directly behind them, so air is sucked through here to keep it cool.



Closer Look

Good air circulation is something Tt believes in well, and that’s evidenced by the top of the case. Here we have an open air honeycomb design, to let fresh air seep in, or depending on your fan setup, it could be a release for warm air. Also here are a few USB ports, firewire port and audio ports.

The top drive bay is where the power and reset buttons are located. Also here are the HDD and Power LEDs.

As it should be, one side is completely clean of anything.

Looking through the back, you can see styrofoam a plenty. Two keys also adorn this side, which must be cut off. The key is to lock the side panel on, though it’s up to you whether or not you actually need to lock it. The back as a whole… is like most other cases. You can see the top 80mm fan and middle 120mm fan also, both being for exhaust. The four circles below the top fan can be popped out if you want to go with an external radiator.. the tubes can go in this way.

When you first unpackage the tower, the entire window side will be coated with a film of plastic that is easy to remove, and leaves absolutely no residue. The door has two latches used to remove it from the case, and also the keyhole.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Tt wants you to receive the case in great condition, because they fill any available space with styrofoam. In behind these pieces are two small boxes, with all of the water cooling related contents.

The first thing I pondered after removing the inside contents was “Holy holes”, because this case is chock full of them. Beside the usual motherboard holes, there are many more scattered about. In general, it allows you to customize the inside of your case to your liking, with the ability to screw in a piece of hardware near anywhere.



Closer Look Cont.

Let’s take a stroll through the case to see what it offers.

First we have some slot openings… nothing new here. However, Tt makes it incredibly easy to remove and add a new card. Simply flip the green tab and remove the card, or push it down to secure it. On the other side though, in order to remove the actual metal blocker, you will need to grab a flathead screwdriver and pull the bottom piece in order to remove it. This is to assure that the metal blockers will not “fall” out when moving the case I suppose.

Up top we have the large blue LED 120 fan, and also the motherboard guard. If you, like me, always remove this, it’s a simple two screws away. Most cases allow you to simply pop it out, but not here. You would hurt yourself, as it’s nearly impossible without unscrewing it first.

The slots for the CD-Roms are of interest, because this is by far the easiest method I have seen. Simply grab a hold of both tabs to lift the piece of plastic up, insert your device, and secure the plastic piece again. Simple, and secure.

The bottom six slots allow for 6 hard drives, which would be slid into the chrome bracket. This is used somewhat as a dampening device, as the drives would not be touching your case directly.

It’s hard to capture on camera, but behind this chrome plate is the radiator… long enough to handle dual 120mm fans. The outtake and intakes are at the very bottom.

The case gets more interesting near where you would normally place your power supply. Instead of installing your PSU horizontally, you install it vertically, and to the left side. To the right of it is where you can install up to three hard drives. Behind these hard drives is the 80mm exhaust fan that we seen earlier. If you run incredibly hot drives, such as the 750GB Seagates, you may be able to turn this fan around in order to cool them quicker. Depending on your airflow setup, that may defeat the purpose. However, by default it will be used as an exhaust.

Here, in all of it’s glory, are the water cooling related contents. We have the pump and tank, two bottles of coolant, the block, tubes and all of the required screws.



Installation

If you have never put together a water cooling rig before, don’t worry. The included manual is well detailed, so you should have no problems at all. You can see a sample below. All of the pages are as detailed, so it’s really hard to go wrong.

Before installing the motherboard, you need to install this see-thru plastic film to specific areas of the motherboard to prevent the board from touching any of the metal. I had only needed to use this single piece, but if you have a different style motherboard, it may vary.

After installing the 9 or so motherboard mounts, you can throw your motherboard in. You will note that everything is well installed in the below photo, but I foolishly did not install the waterblock first. It may vary depending on what CPU you are using, but the 775 method requires you install a bracket on the backside of your motherboard prior to installing the board into the case. Don’t make the same foolish mistake like I did. This is by far the first time I’ve done this, so apparently I never learn my lesson.

Next up was the hard drive… again not the next step. It was quite easy to install though… just slide it in and screw into place. Could not be easier. Before installing the hard drive here though, that cage can be removed, and -needs- to be in order to fit the PSU in properly. So first remove this, install the power supply and re-insert it.

As you may have noticed in an earlier photo, there is an additional 80mm fan included with the case. This is where it can be mounted… the direct top of the case. It will exhaust the warm air to the outside, or vice versa depending on your fan arrangement.

Time for the water cooling installation! First up are all of the included accessories, screws, brackets, et cetera.

My installation is with a 775 system as mentioned, so it will be different than if you are installing to a 939/940 or AM2. First thing I had to do was remove the motherboard and clean up the CPU, and install the first bracket to the back of the motherboard. The back bracket is comprised of three different parts… one silver thick mount, followed by a black thin mount, similarly shaped. Finally, there is a thick similar shaped foam mount that has a sticky side for you to affix everything properly. Finally, you can line up the screw holes, secure it, and move on.

Here you can see the long screws that were fed through. So far so good! The next step is to apply a washer to each one of the screws, followed by a few stand offs.

Behold… the waterblock. It’s rather simple in design, but works well. It’s equipped with blue LEDs… because what isn’t nowadays?

After applying the thermal paste, the block sits on the CPU without a problem. The last step for now, is to throw another bracket on top of the block to keep it in the correction position, and then use a few thumb screws to hold everything tight.

This is a better shot of the board as a whole, once the block is properly installed. It’s a hefty setup, that’s for sure. I am impressed with the installation so far though. While there were more steps to take than I was expecting, the end result is a very sturdy and securely affixed waterblock. It does not budge in the least, but is not so tight that it would break something.



Installation Cont.

The tank is a simple design, but again it works. It swivels so that you can position the tank to lay down rather than stand up. That would be a little difficult though, as I will get into shortly.

Time to make the first attachment:

Long story short, here is the end result.

Really, what you see is what you get. This is the recommended setup according to the manual, and it makes perfect sense. Overall the installation was a breeze, but there were a few instances where I scratched my head.

It’s hard to capture the fact with an image, but note where the tank is sitting. According to the manual, and common sense, thats where it belongs. However, they mention in the manual that you need to screw it into place, and seeing that the base of the tower is loaded with holes, this shouldn’t be a problem. But it was.

Regardless of where the tank was sitting, it could not align with more than one of the holes at a time. If the tank was installed on an angle it would be no problem, but that’s just plain odd. I fiddled with this for literally 15 minutes, and there was just no simple way to align more than one hole at once. So needless to say, the tank is being held there by a single screw.

Another small problem was the fact that the rad is so close to the tank, it was difficult to properly place the tube that runs directly from the rad to the tank. It may be common sense, but you do -not- want to install the tank until you route the tubes properly. Once mounted, you will not be able to reach in behind to secure the tube to the rad. That was the only problem with mounting the tubes though… so nothing major.

All those troubles aside, installation was a sinch really. My biggest problem was finding room all of the cables from the power supply. But luckily, there is a hidden compartment at the very top of the case where some of them could fit, so I was in luck there.



Testing and Temperatures, Final Thoughts

When I first received this case, my mom fancied the design so she claimed it for when I was done with the review… Mothers! Anyway, she’s still on Socket A, and I had an Intel Dual Core lying around doing nothing. So needless to say, this proved to be a perfect opportunity to upgrade her PC and also test one of the hottest beasts out there. Here are the system specs:

I don’t have comparison results for you today, due to the fact that the Intel hasn’t been used in months. However for the sake of any comparison, at 3.92GHz, the Intel ran up to 72°C with the ambient room temp being 80°F, using the Corsair Nautilus 500. During testing for the LCS, ambient room temperature hovered between 75°F – 77°F for 3.36GHz testing and 80°F – 81°F during the 3.92GHz testing.

For a beastly 110W chip, I am impressed with the 3.36GHz not going above 50°C. That’s two cores, fully stressed, at the same time. Not bad at all. What I am most impressed with more though is that at 3.92GHz, it proved 7°C lower than what I accomplished previously with the Corsair Nautilus. Whether it’s a straight out better water cooling system of better air design is beyond me, but as a whole, it’s a great setup.

The lower ambient temps certainly did not help out the GPU at all. Still, not too bad considering the card before an RMA reached 90°C with ease. HDD temps are also respectable, considering it was stressed over the period of eight hours!

Am I impressed? Without doubt. The results would be even more impressive with a Conroe or AM2 machine, but this Netburst is known to run hot. I did not hit 70°C like I had previously though, and that’s what I am most impressed by.

Final Thoughts

As soon as I pulled the Armor LCS out of the box, I was impressed many times over. To date, it is by far the best put together case I have used, due to it’s large stature and also the evident thought process that’s gone into it. The case as a whole is also great looking, but not over the top. Classy so to speak.

You receive the case with clear instructions, and with all of the important parts already mounted for you. The only fan to add is the one in the top of the case, and that’s only because you need the room to put the PSU into place first. That said… the inside of the case is well designed and made installation rather easy. Having a vertical PSU and the ability to mount HDD’s beside it leaves a lot of room, especially if you don’t plan on adding any hard drives to the normal area.

Another feature I really liked was the fact that you can hide extra PSU cables in the utmost top compartment, which is directly behind the power on/off switch in the front. There is not -that- much room in here, really, but enough to hide a few of the cables to allow for better airflow. If you have a modular PSU, this won’t matter to you.

Besides the small issue of properly installing the final tube that runs from the rad to the tank, the case is very installation friendly. The slots have pull tabs that proved to be the easiest I’ve used, and the CD-Rom installation could not be easier. Nothing to slide or unscrew… simply pull the plastic piece, put the CD-Rom in place and secure it again. I did not test any HDD’s this way however. That in itself should prove quite easy though if you plan to mount them directly in front of the rad.

Airflow was taken into consideration with this case, and it shows. On the backside of the case we have a 80mm and 120mm fans used as exhausts, including one also at the top of the case. In the front, we see two 120mm fans mounted on the radiator, which sucks in cool air from the room, which in turn keeps the rad at a respectable level. I don’t have a single complaint with the fan placement… it just makes sense. There is no fan in the door, which is simply because it’s not needed. This is actually a good thing in the long run, since you will not have an additional fan to worry about cleaning dust out of.

What would I have liked to see? Longer tubes supplied for one. I -nearly- made a big mistake when cutting a tube but luckily was able to remedy it quickly. If someone smacks down a lot of cash for such a case though, they should never have to run into this problem. Even if the supplied tube was 25% longer, it could allow a good amount of slack in case someone poorly planned a cut.

The fact that the tank was unable to be secured with at least two screws was odd to me. Despite the fact of the manual telling me to secure it in this exact spot, there is just no way that two of the holes would align properly.

Maybe one of my biggest gripes after it’s all said and done, is that this case is hard to move! Not in the heavy sense, but in the sense that there is no easy spot to grab a hold of. You -can- reach underneath on each end and pick it up that way, but that could prove difficult for some. It doesn’t run on wheels, so the computer won’t slide. In the end, the case probably weighs around 50lb after everything is installed and water is added. Perhaps wheels would have been a welcomed feature?

Perhaps the best part of this case… is the price. The standalone Armor retails for $150US, but the LCS version is only $100 more. If you are to purchase the Armor on it’s own and then gather WC’ing parts afterwards, it will cost you more than $100 easy. The LCS offers the parts to cool your CPU, installs the rad beforehand, and includes exactly what you need to get installation done quickly. The only thing the case did not include, which I wish it had, were GPU blocks. Tt sells those, and additional tubing/coolant extra.

Here are a few more additional points that I’d like to point out:

For the asking price, this is a great offering from Thermaltake and it deserves a 8 out of 10. In future versions of the case, I’d love to see an addition of a longer tube, GPU block, handle of some sort… or wheels, easier mounting of the tank… et cetera. Nothing majorly wrong with this case though, so it’s well worth your hard earned money should you want it. If you like this idea but are not fond of the Armors look, you may want to check out the Kandalf LCS which is similar, but has an entirely different front panel. Not to mention a triple 120mm radiator!

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