Aerocool XPredator X1 Evil Black Edition Case ReviewWaco - October 24, 2012
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Removing the side panels (via four thumb screws) reveals an all-black interior highlighted only by the orange fan at the rear and the three orange 5.25" bay locking mechanisms. This case ships with a very large box zip-tied to the 5.25" bays. What does it contain? Well, you'll have to read further for that. The motherboard tray has a fairly large cutout for CPU heatsink brackets and the cutouts along the edge of the tray for cable routing are grommeted to hide messy cables. The usefulness of those grommets may be a bit limited though, as there's not a whole lot of room behind the back panel for cables to be hidden. If you're going to hide cables they'll have to be crammed up near the front of the case by the 5.25" bays.
The top of the Aerocool XPredator X1 has a unique look. Why? It moves! This feature, if you can call it that, baffles me a bit though. As you can see there is a louvered portion that runs nearly the full length of the case that can be opened and closed. Why is this baffling? Perhaps it's just me, but I can't imagine any situation where you would want to close the top of the case off. Doing so will hurt cooling performance and is unlikely to mask any noise given that the louvers are made of thin plastic that even at first touch was rattling a bit. In addition to that the controls to open and close the baffles feel cheap and breakage-prone if actually cycled more than a few times. While this does look somewhat nice when open I just can't see why you'd ever want to close it and it adds one more thing to rattle and/or break after a few years of use.
Moving on to the top of the case reveals a fairly large orange rubber mat branded with the Aerocool logo. The angle on the mat guarantees that nothing will fall through the above-mentioned louvers and looks to be a nice place to store USB thumb drives and other small items. The top I/O panel itself is a bit disappointing up close, however, as the whole panel is actually marred by what is essentially a poorly-aligned sticker. I was tempted to peel it off and re-align it, but I left it as-is just in case this is a consistent issue. The fan controller itself has a nice feel to it and has stops at the minimum and maximum positions (versus infinitely spinning knobs of annoyance). The two USB ports are indeed of the SuperSpeed variety so you won't be left to plugging your fast USB 3.0 peripherals into the I/O panel on the back of your machine.
Moving back to the interior of the case you can see the nine 5.25" bays dominating the front of the case. The three sets of 5.25" bay locks you see here are all that come with the case, so if you plan on installing a plethora of DVD, Blu-Ray, or CD drives you're going to have to put in the balance of them with old-fashioned screws. However, since there are only three external 5.25" bays I can't really count this against the case. A simple twist of the center locking mechanism releases the locks for installation and a small twist in the opposite direction locks them back in place. Simple and effective; my favorite kind of part.
Moving on to the rear of the case brings us to the orange 120mm exhaust fan. It is of the non-lighted variety and plugs in via a 4-pin Molex connection or a 3-pin fan connector. There is enough length here to get to either your PSU or any of the usual fan connections on most motherboard. One thing to note is the lack of opening near the top of the motherboard tray for ATX 12v power connections. You'll have to snake the 4 or 8-pin ATX power cable up the middle of your board unless you have a freakishly long cable that can run up the front side of the case to make it all the way back to the top corner (even my PC Power & Cooling PSU won't reach without going across the motherboard). The accessory cable bundle includes some of the usual lines you'll see on any case (power switch, reset switch, HDD activity, power LED) along with front panel audio, a USB 3.0 / 2.0 plug, and a few Molex power plugs.
I have a bit of a rant here actually -- the included fan controller has clearly marked "Power" and "Fan" connectors. That's not the problem, but the fact that the fan power plug is of the wrong gender is. Molex power connectors are pretty simple and power is always supplied by the female version of the connection (the version you see on your power supply). On this case, the power is supplied to the fan by a male connection. If you aren't paying attention you could wire this incorrectly and, at best, you'd have a fan controller go up in smoke. At worst you could end up with a fire if your PSU is powerful enough to simply burn wiring to and from the fan controller. I've been building computers for a very long time and I still almost wired this backwards. Buyer beware!!!
The front of the case is quite spartan but is nearly completely covered in black and orange steel mesh. Airflow doesn't look like it'll be an issue assuming you load this case up with fans (by default it ships with a single 120mm orange LED fan in the front). There are provisions to install up to six 120mm fans into the front of this little beast so the mesh front is quite needed! The three external 5.25" bays are also covered with mesh but the rub here is that you have to pull the whole front panel off to remove them. Once built this isn't much of a hassle but it was surprising to find on a modern case.
The bottom of the case houses four fairly sturdy rubber feet along with another mounting location for a 120mm fan. The PSU air intake is nicely covered by a mesh fan filter that easily pulls out from the rear of the case for cleaning. This is a nice touch for those who dread pulling their rig apart to clean out dust bunnies and accumulated crud. The filter itself sits flush to the PSU air intake so dust has no chance to get past the filter into your clean rig.
Removing the top of the case is quite easy though I caution you to be extremely careful with the top panel. Even being as careful as possible I still managed to break off one of the mounting studs; Aerocool used some pretty flimsy plastic here. You can mount two 120mm fans in the top of the case but I'd suggest doing this before installing your motherboard and heatsink; it's a tight fit up top. The back panel is also a tight fit, so you won't be hiding any cables behind the motherboard tray. There's literally about 2-3mm of room at most and the minimal bumping out of the side panel won't buy you enough room to sandwich anything back there.
Spinning around to the rear of the case you can see how Aerocool reduced the overall size of the case by externally mounting the rear expansion card mounting points. Interestingly enough the top slot has a removeable panel while the other six panels are of the "break out once and lose them" type. For the small price they add to a case I'd really have liked to see seven removable slot covers here. The external mounting mechanism doesn't require you to use regular screws but no thumb screws are included in the accessories pack.
The accessories box seen on the last page included quite a few little goodies. One is a 5.25" to 3.5" mesh panel for installing a card reader or floppy drive. The manual is actually for the white edition of the case but I can't fault them for printing the one that's easiest to read and identify parts on. Also included are a plethora of screws, some zip ties, and a pair of motherboard standoff sockets. Also in the box were five X-shaped HDD, SSD, and fan installation brackets. There are actually six of these total but one of them is pre-installed with the front 120mm orange LED fan. The HDD and SSD mounts aren't unusual at all, but the ability to mount 120mm fans is pretty neat to be honest. Each of the brackets can hold a single 120mm fan and there is actually room to install all six of them loaded up with 120mm fans at the front of the case assuming you have a minimal number of cables to hide and a shorter than average video card.
Installing the test hardware into the Aerocool XPredator Evil Black Edition took a bit of elbow grease and finesse but everything fit quite nicely. If you have a long GPU you won't be able to make full use of the 5.25" HDD mounts so if you're planning on installing a bunch of hard drives, fans, or SSDs you will likely want to choose something else. The 7970 in the OCC test setup blocks access to two of the internal bays. The ATX 12v power cable had to be run right up the middle of the motherboard and I barely managed to fit all of the cables on the partially-modular test PSU into the case without creating a mess. The Noctua cooler used in the testing setup clears the side panel by a hair at best. Tall coolers will require some careful measuring to ensure fitment and even modest coolers will prevent the use of the side panel mounts for 120mm fans.
Firing the case up for the first time revealed subdued lighting of the orange variety. The power indicators at the top of the case are orange as is the lighting on the front 120mm intake fan. HDD activity lights up in bright white from the same location as the orange power lights and the XPredator X1 logo lights up in bright white as well whenever power is applied. The last shot shows the case in a dark room with a long exposure to highlight the orange glow from the front intake fan. Move on to the next page to see how this little case deals with the heat from the OCC test setup!