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Thermaltake Soprano DX

Date: March 13, 2007
Author(s): Matt Serrano

Thermaltake has a case for everyone and for every price range. The Soprano is one of their less expensive ones, but you wouldn’t know it by looking. In addition to it’s sleek styling, it has a piano mirror coating and a brushed aluminum front panel.



Introduction


Deciding on the right case to buy is a very personal decision. How big should it be? What cooling system do I want to use? What features do I need? What color should I get? These aren’t questions anyone can answer for you. However, we can try to guide you to making the best choice.

While looks are subjective, cooling, noise, and usability certainly aren’t. Every case has strengths and likewise, flaws. If you’re looking for the perfect case with all the bells and whistles and looks to top it off, you probably aren’t going to have much luck. Unless you can make your own from scratch, you’re going to have to make some scarifies.

That being said, we’re not living in an age where enthusiasts are ashamed to have their rig sitting on their desk. You can buy stylish and flashy cases without breaking the bank. Innovation has transformed the way components are made to how computers are built. Newer features have made it easier enough for pretty much anyone to buy their own parts off the shelf and put together something that works, something we can all value.

Thermaltake is a company that has been around for a long time. They are probably best known for their cooling solutions power supplies, but the company’s no stranger when it comes to quality PC enclosures. Recently, the company has had success with products from their Tsunami and Armor series, so naturally the company hopes to achieve success with their new Soprano DX chassis.

This case seems to bring a good amount of features to the table, and it looks great on paper, so let’s so how it performs.

Closer Look

The Soprano shipped bare with only a box showcasing the product. The front simply states the product’s features with the case in the foreground. I would have liked to have the case shipped by a different method, such as a box within a box, but the packaging manages to suffice. The overall packaging protection will depend more on the retailer than the manufacturer.

The other two sides of the box show the two models. The only difference is the absence of a clear side window on the VE7000BNS model. With the inclusion of the window and windowless models, the case can be purchased in black and silver colors.

Once I had the case in front of me, I was astounded by how big it was. The chassis measures 18.82 inches tall by 8.27 inches wide, making it larger than a lot of other mid tower cases, and certainly larger than most modern cases I’ve come across. Once it’s dragged out of the box, you’ll have a hefty amount of tape and wrapping to peel off, which did a nice job of preventing scuffs and scratches.

A box with screws, motherboard stand-offs and manual were also included in the package, but there were no other extras.

The entire exterior of the case, excluding the side with the window and top of the case, is made up of aluminum. The window takes up most of the space on it’s side anyway, so it detracts from any complaint I would’ve had against it. In my opinion, this is a welcome improvement over some of the cheaper cases you may come across that only have a metal door or front bezel, leaving the rest of the case with plastic. This does add some weight, but it can provide better cooling and a superior build quality than plastic ever would.

You might be disappointed once you open the front door, because the bezel and drive bays are in fact plastic, but it won’t spoil the rest of the look if you leave the door closed. Two features that are worth noting include the metal hinges, which should last much longer than plastic would in other cases, and the magnet holding the front door in place in the closed position (which is weak enough to prevent any harm to any components).

The side window has a mount for a 120mm fan that was left unoccupied.

The only notable feature on the case’s backside is the 120mm fan that Thermaltake supplies with a blue LED. There’s a hole for a power supply on top and seven expansion slots, pretty much what we’ve come to expect.

The I/O panel is located on the top of the case, just like Thermaltake’s Tsunami case.

The cover is opened and closed by pushing it down. You have two USB jacks, 1.8” audio and microphone jacks, a connector for an e-SATA device, and what should be an HD Audio jack, but the actual hole is filled and a cable isn’t provided. I would have preferred to have the ports in the front or on the side of the case because I can’t think of any situation where the placement would be useful, but this is more of a personal issue.

Let’s take a look inside.



Inside the Case

Opening the case is as simple as removing two (giant) thumb screws and pulling on a latch. A key is included, but it’s irrelevant considering most manufacturers use the same locks.

The inside had enough room to justify the absence of a removable motherboard tray. I mentioned that this case was bigger than others I had come across, and Thermaltake didn’t add the extra girth for nothing.

Here’s a shot of the 120mm fan from the inside.

Going towards the bottom, we have a shot of the expansions slots with the tool-less installation that has been made popular over the years. This is a trend that you’ll see throughout most of the chassis.

The case holds five optical drives with 5.25” bay rails, and two 3.5” floppy drives. Again, we have the same tool-less installation feature here.

The hard drive bay, which holds five drives, is held into place by another thumbscrew. To remove it, you only need to take off the thumbscrew and push down the tab on the top.

There is a massive 200mm fan behind the hard drives pulling in air. I prefer this to other solutions that place the fan on the other side of the cage, because it offers better airflow (meaning there isn’t a fan in the middle of the system sucking in air, but one placed on the side).

Taking off the front panel is a breeze. There’s another lock on the right side of the case near the front panel. Thermaltake includes another separate set of keys for the front panel. Unlocking the door to get to the drives and power/reset buttons involves rotating the key 90 degrees, and accessing the optical drives requires a 180 degree rotation. There is a washable filter in front of the intake fan that can be removed by squeezing on its tabs on the front.

Before we jump into the installation, you may wish to review my system specs:

Let’s take a look at the installation and then finish off with my conclusions.



Installation and Testing

One problem I have to mention was the power supply installation. The EvoStream I had used was a bit larger than other, less powerful power supplies. Because of this, while I was trying to place it in the case and mount it, the I/O panel was preventing me from putting it in.

Afterwards, I tried removing the panel, but there wasn’t enough clearance to get it back on. With a bit of luck, I managed to force it in, but I have to say it was a terrible design choice on Thermaltake’s part, and could have been easily taken care of if they had implemented a similar slot-loading mechanism that was present on a case like Cooler Master’s Stacker, and installing the power supply from the rear of the case.

Once I had the PSU installed, I went on to install the motherboard. Thankfully, it wasn’t as frustrating or time consuming as the power supply. Standard procedure really: screw in the standoffs, place the motherboard inside the case, and screw it into place. Thermaltake went so far as to provide a guide showing where the standoffs for different ATX, mATX, and full ATX form factors go (though the locations may vary depending on the board). I seemed to be missing a standoff (and my board had another screw that was under the ATX), but that’s hardly worth mentioning, and hardly a complaint.

Installing additional components has been made ridiculously easy for the most part. Thermaltake thought well to include some of the features from their other lineups, but I would have loved to see another option for the hard drive installation. It’s by no means a deal breaker, but coming up with a solution that didn’t need any tools (such as hard drive suspension, thumbscrews, etc.) would have been much more elegant. The motherboard (to which there is no real alternative), power supply and hard drives are the only parts of a system that absolutely require a screwdriver to install. You do need one for taking off the drive covers, but I found another underlying problem there..

Even though I did appreciate the optical drive installation, you might want to be weary of installing a drive in the first bay. Doing so means taking off the top hinge, which doesn’t require much work in itself, but does demand another unnecessary step. As it is, the lid of the case already covers a decent amount of the drive once it’s ejected.

Once that’s said and done, there’s one last conflict to acknowledge. The Soprano doesn’t “fully” support video cards longer than average. Thermaltake’s website states that the hard drive bay must be removed (touting this as a feature) to fit a video card which leaves you with enough space to install two hard drives in the 3.5” floppy drive bays. Even with my 7800GT, I couldn’t install the card while having every slot taken up because the PCI Express power cable and SATA data and power cables wouldn’t fit. If the drives were mounted with the connectors facing the inside of the case, like what we’ve seen from much of Antec’s series.

I recorded the temperatures at idle and load states from Everest’s temperature sensor. Everything used here is cooled via stock cooling. The CPU and hard drives was tested by using Everest’s benchmark testing feature, and the GPU by running Half-Life 2: Episode 1’s stress test.

The system stayed relatively cool throughout the testing. Even while reading and writing data to the hard drives and doing buffer tests, the temperature never exceeded the idle state. The fan mounted in the front moves a lot of air through its ventilation, and it shows.

I can confidently say noise wasn’t even a factor from my time with the case. I would say it’s even quieter than the case I use for my own build, the Antec Sonata II, which says a lot considering it’s being compared to a case that’s designed to minimize noise. Even though you could probably purchase an even quieter enclosure at this point in time, you still wouldn’t mistake it for a jet-engine.

Overall, The Soprano DX proved to be a decent case for its price range. It looks sleek and has the build to match, and it’ll be hard going back to a case made out of plastic. I loved the tool-less installation on the parts of the case that had it, but Thermaltake could have gone the extra mile to eliminate some of the steps involved with sections that shunned the feature. I did have some problems with the installation, but most of what I encountered was easily avoidable. It’s by no means a case you would want to bring to a LAN party, but it has been made to appeal to a certain audience. Despite its drawbacks, I would still recommend the case provided you don’t plan on using a larger video card like nVidia’s 8800GTX or ATI’s R600 when it’s released.

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