Project OCCC: AOpen HX-08 Case Review
Reviewed by: Bosco
Reviewed on: March 22, 2003
: GF City Computers
Price: $105 USD
As I launched into what would ultimately become known as Project OCCC, I was looking for a roomy case with lots of flexibility. The finished project is to be used in reviewing hardware and so will see lots of parts swapping in and out. In addition, it has to have enough room to accomodate a fairly serious DangerDen water cooling setup. After much looking around, I eventually picked the AOpen HX-08 server tower. Today I'll show you what it is, what I liked, and what could use improvement in their design.
Courtesy AOpen's website
Let's get to work
The case is a 23.25" tall (24.5" with feet) server tower, compatible with ATX, micro ATX and full AT form factor motherboards. The HX-08 measures 16.5" from front to back, the internal measurement is 15". Side to side it's 7.75" - not as wide as, for example, a LianLi - I would have preferred it was about 1" wider by the time I was done.
And finally, it weighs in at 28.5 lbs/13 kg. This is no lightweight case, being constructed of heavy duty 1mm steel. It's a bit of a chore to lug around, especially when fully configured with the water cooling kit, but weight was absolutely no consideration in my choice. If you mod this case, expect to stock up on reinforced dremel wheels, I went through about 10 in the course of the project. There's very little chance you will accidentally dent or bend any piece of the case, it's very solid construction indeed. And the edges are all bent in, I spent literally hundreds of hours handling the case and never caught a finger on a sharp edge.
Disassembling the case is standard fare, with one exception - the top has to be completely removed in order to open up the sides of the case. There is a small 'flap' of steel that extends down from the top at the rear of the case and prevents the sides from sliding out towards the back of the case. As the sides are on a track or rail and have to be slid the full length of the case to be removed, there is no getting around removing the top first. Well, 5-10 minutes with a dremel and this was fixed but I view this as a serious design flaw - why should users have to remove the top in order to access 90% of the internals?
There are slots for 7 - 3.5" drives plus 1 3.5" floppy, and 5 - 5.25" external drives - more than ample for just about any setup. If you actually use a floppy in its designed location at the very top front of the case, you will have a chore finding a floppy cable long enough to reach the motherboard. Yes, 24" floppy cables are out there, but not easy to find. It would have been nice if AOpen would have included a floppy cable with the case, given this somewhat unique configuration. Also unique in my experience is the removable drive cage above the power supply. It is a removable cage, suspended from the top of the case frame and held in place by 2 standard case screws. It has capacity for 4 - 3.5" drives, with the other 3 going in the more conventional drive cage in the lower front portion of the case.
The power supply that came with the case is actually pretty decent. I'm not sure if AOpen manufacture them or contract them out but they are much superior to the 'typical' generic power supply you would find included with a case. According to their website, there are options for 300W, 350W and 400W ATX P4 ready switching power supplies with the HX-08. This case came with the 300W model, which is happily cruising along in (my wife's) AMD Thunderbird 1400 system providing the following voltages: 3.3v rail = 3.33v, 5v rail = 4.95v, 12v rail = 12.22v. The power supply has significant weight to it, which you can take as a *very general* sign of quality in a power supply. No, it's not up there with the Enermax's and Antec's but for a general purpose/stock power supply it's more than adequate.
Slide-out motherboard tray
One prime consideration in my purchase was the slide-out motherboard tray, given that components are likely to be switched frequently. It secures to the frame of the case with up to 6 standard case screws. It slides out along both upper and lower rails which are a very tight fit, I don't even bother to use screws to secure it to the frame it's so tight. As mentioned above, there are plenty of motherboard mounting options/form factors supported and a good supply of brass mounting spacers come with the case.
You can also see in the picture above that there are mounting and ventilation holes for 2 - 80mm fans above the power supply. Looking back up at the picture of the upper section, you can see that AOpen have left space between the upper rear drive cage and the frame of the case so that you could use fans mounted here to either cool drives or exhaust from the case, or both.
Doesn't that look spacious? It's a little deceiving with the motherboard tray removed, actually. The plastic bracket at the lower front of the case is designed to house an 80 mm fan and a 40mm fan, presumably for cool air intake. As with most cases, it's not very well designed in that there's only a small opening under the bottom of the front bezel from which a fan in this position could get air. The 3-bay drive cage is removable, sliding towards the rear of the case after taking off the case screw attaching it to the frame.
Lower frame front
From the other side, you can see that the ventilation holes are spaced rather further apart than what would be ideal. I heartily recommend that if you're going to use this location for a fan, you cut yourself a hole in the case suitable for the size of fan you're going to use. You can see here that I've marked the case where I'm going to cut out a hole for a 120mm fan. You'll have to read the next article to see how I'm going to deal with getting airflow to the fan =)
The bezel has the standard 3-per-side plastic clips which snap into corresponding holes in the frame. It comes with plenty of wiring for the on/off and reset switches and the green & orange power and HDD activity lights. I really liked the locations of the switches - with the power switch being at the very top of the case, there's very little chance of reaching for it and hitting the reset switch, unless you're not watching what you're doing, because the reset switch is actually about 12" lower, in the middle portion of the bezel. The switch, button and light assemblies were all very easy to remove from the clips in the bezel. A minor complaint is that the reset button actually doesn't secure to the bezel in any way and could theoretically pop out and get lost, for example if you were transporting the case somewhere. The main power switch assembly is actually secured to the frame beside the floppy drive using a standard case screw. I liked this setup well enough that I actually kept the original switch/button configuration even as the case went through other major modifications.
In its standard configuration the problems with getting cool air into the case would likely be a problem, especially if all 13 (!) drive bays were in use and pumping out heat. Having to take the top off to access the internals is more an annoyance than an issue that can't be overcome but still worthy of consideration. It is unquestionably well constructed and at $125 CDN, it's competetively priced with competing server towers and less than many. From a modder's perspective it has tremendous potential and flexibility, with my main beef being the width of the case - another 1" wider or so and I would probably say that it was perfect for someone prepared to do some cutting and rearranging on their own.
Stay tuned and follow along as we take the HX-08 from sedate to INTENSE.