Corsair Carbide Air 540 Review
Reviewed by: red454
Reviewed on: October 22, 2013
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Introduction:
Corsair has been around since 1994, initially being know as a supplier of top-notch memory. Over the years though, Corsair has gained a strong reputation for SSDs (Solid State Drives), power supplies, CPU coolers, computer cases, as well as a wide range of gaming hardware. OCC readers are no stranger to Corsair products and I'll bet that most of you have at least one Corsair component in your system.
Today we have the Corsair Carbide Air 540, which is the latest addition to the Carbide Series of cases and is Corsair's first foray into the cube style case design. This case uses a dual chamber approach to cooling and Corsair refers to this as its Direct Airflow Path™ design to deliver cool air to your components. They locate the power supply and SSDs in a separate chamber and there isn't a hard drive cage tower to hinder air flow from the front fans. This allows the main chamber to be less cluttered and give the front intake air a nice direct path past your motherboard and PCI-e components. In addition to the case layout change, we also have a couple of internal hot swap bays to check out.
This is certainly a different looking case. Not tall and narrow as most mid-tower (and full-tower) cases are, but short and wide, like a cube. I like it already and I'm anxious to see what is inside.
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Closer Look:
The front of the box shows a plain graphic of the case and we have a plain brown box with black text and a nice graphic on the front and back sides. The exploded view gives you an idea of all the components before you ever get it out of the box. Both sides and front of the box highlight the features. It supports a 280mm radiator in the top and in front a 360mm radiator.
The sides of the box are identical and show the specs as well as three illustrated views of the case.
The large, thick Styrofoam end caps keep everything well protected and instead of the usual clear plastic bag, to my surprise the case is enveloped in a black cloth bag. Even though I know what is in the bag, it still seems mysterious, like this is some sort of colossal unveiling at a special VIP event. No one is allowed to see inside until the proper time. Maybe Houdini is in there? Ok, I'm being silly, but It really does add a touch of class and elegance - like the way the owner's manual for an expensive car often comes in a fancy leather case.
And here we are out of the box, um...I mean bag. The side window really lets you see inside, but first we will look over the exterior, which is our next stop!
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Closer Look:
The Air 540 is a mid-tower case, but it reminds me a little of a mini fridge you would take to college and not in a bad way. It just departs from the typical computer case architecture, which I believe Corsair's plan was to break the mold, and in a big way. Immediately you notice the short, wide stance. Regardless of the manufacturer, there is really a common flow to the usual upright case, so the shape of the Air 540 catches you off guard. Even after a quick glance, you can't really mix the Air 540 up with any other case.
Across the front, you can see two large intake fans hiding behind the front panel. I am really curious about how the inside is laid out. I really like the design of the front and top panels, they just scream "Air Flow!".
Now when we look at the rear of the case, again we have a major departure from the standard, which may throw you off balance. You know what everything is, but it still takes you a moment to take it all in. I see eight expansion slots, one exhaust fan, two small and one large vented panel, the mother board rear I/O opening, and the spot for a side mounted power supply.
The side window is huge and you can show off everything but your power supply. The back panel is vented for the power supply intake. Both panels are secured with thumb screws. The side covers are painted metal and have a durable finish. The top and front fascia are black plastic and have a very nice matte black finish, but be careful as the matte finish can be easily scuffed.
Below the top cover you can see the top mounting provisions for up to a 280mm radiator. There are holes on top for two 120mm or 140mm fans (not included). With the power supply mounted on the side, you won't find the typical bottom air filter. But there are some fairly large holes to allow air to circulate past your two Hot Swap hard drive bays. There is a recessed area that looks like a filter location, but no filter. The case sits on four rectangular rubber feet. There is about a half inch of clearance from the bottom of the case to the ground. We aren't really relying on that area for air intake, like you do when your power supply pulls air from the bottom, so the clearance isn't an issue at all.
Just below the optical drive bays (from left to right), we have the reset button, hard drive activity light (white LED), and then the power button (with center mounted white LED). Next there are the microphone and headphone jacks and finally two USB 3.0 ports. The intensity of the LEDs is just right.
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Closer Look:
Let's take a look at the main chamber and see what is inside. First, I have to see what is behind the front and top covers. Both covers consist of a plastic frame with six long ribs spaced at about 3/4" and a perforated metal mesh insert. Both of the mesh inserts are contoured to compliment the ribs of the plastic frames. To get the front cover off, you have to remove the top cover first. There are two thumb screws that hold the top cover on. After you get the top cover off, the front cover pops off by raising it up. Right away on top you can see the mounting holes for dual 120 or 140mm fans and this location can handle up to a 280mm radiator. Up front we have two 140mm Corsair Air Series AF140L intake fans. The AF140L fans are based on the award-winning AF140 and provide great airflow performance at lower noise levels than typical case fans. The front can handle up to a 360mm radiator.
The front filter is easy to clean and reinstall, what I really like is that the filter frame is magnetic and it fits right in the recessed pocket. So what is behind the filter? Pop it out and you reveal a better view of the twin AF140L front intake fans. All the supplied fans are of the 3-pin style. You can see the mounting provisions for a larger front radiator.
Here is the front filter. You can see the eight round magnets. It fits nicely in the pocket and stays put. Grab the center of the filter frame and give it a quick pull, it pops right out.
The Air 540 does not have the typical hard drive cages up front. So there is a shorter distance from the front fans to the rear or top exhaust fans, allowing the front intake fans deliver cool air directly to your components. There are eight large grommeted holes, a generous access hole in the motherboard tray, and towards the bottom there is an oval slot for your I/O cables to reach the bottom of the motherboard. At the top of the case there is room for two 120mm or 140mm fans, or up to a 280mm radiator.
The side of the case gives you an unobstructed view of the two front 140mm fans (included), which as mentioned, does also accommodate a front mounted 360mm radiator if you like. At the rear is the included 140mm rear exhaust fan. Plenty of room around the motherboard tray to work and install all of your components.
Now to a better look at the hot swap hard drive bays. Well, not so much bays - really I should call them docks. Either way, they are definitely a nice touch. The hard drive trays fit neatly into the side guides. Now, when I added my hard drives, I couldn't figure out why they weren't showing up in the BIOS. I checked the BIOS and I did have the Hot Swap enabled for those positions. So I tried again, several times. Nothing. I looked a little more closely and realized that they weren't even spinning. No power? They work fine when I power them up on an external USB dock. Surely the power sockets weren't damaged? Well, it turns out that I had a noob moment. A good solid push and you hear and feel a nice "click" as they lock into position. I was just a little too careful when I plugged them in, only because in the past I have used a little too much force and sometimes the click you hear is actually something snapping off - but not in this situation. So give them a firm push, so the sockets engage and you'll be fine.
So now we flip the case around and look at what I'll call the back, which is actually the second chamber. This is where the power supply, optical drives, and your SSDs will mount. There is a lot of space here, which provides easy access for cable management. If you want to use a custom water cooling loop, you have some room for the pump and associated hardware in this chamber.
The power supply mounts on its side in the bottom and there is an adjustable support/foot. Two thumb screws hold the support in place and there are seven positions for longer power supplies. The power supply is situated so that the intake is directed at the vented side of the case, which ensures a steady supply of outside air. The SSD cage has room for four SSDs and mounts directly above the power supply.
There is space behind the power supply (below the optical drive bays) for stashing excess cables. It's nice to not have to cram the cables in to get the side panel to close. At the bottom, you can see the two SATA / power cables for the Hot Swap bays on the other side (one set is behind the power supply support). Just above this area are the two optical drive bays.
This is what the SSD cage looks like when it is removed from the case. Each cage attaches to the one above it with six integrated clips. They snap together and the top unit is a dummy unit that only attaches the cage assembly to the side of the motherboard tray. Be careful when pulling them apart or snapping them together, the little clips can break off (oops!). This cage system is the same one used on the Corsair Obsidian 350D and I managed to break one of the clips during that review. But even with the broken clip, the assembly is still locked firmly together with the other five clips. I was a little more careful with this cage and didn't break anything.
Here you can see the SSD cage where it mounts to the motherboard back plane.
The hardware consists of some cable ties and motherboard screws. The instruction set is very clear and easy to follow, as is typical with Corsair.
Now we can test fit the motherboard. Here is where the space allowed by the dual chamber case design comes into play. It is a breath of fresh air to be able to access the top, bottom, and right side of the motherboard for all your cable connections. Often times the way the SATA cables connect to the motherboard, there are problems making sharp turns to clear the hard drive cages. Not with the Air 540. No hard drive cages mean a clear shot at getting your main power, USB 3.0 header, and SATA cables connected to the motherboard. Even with the massive Noctua cooler in place, you still have access to the top of the motherboard. Plenty of room for a top or front mounted radiator. And with the two hot swap docks below, your SATA and power cables are handled in the second chamber, out of view. This all adds up to an exceptionally clean build with less effort.
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Specifications:
|Steel and plastic|
|415mm x 332mm x 458mm|
4.3kg / 9.5lb
ATX, E-ATX, Micro ATX, Mini ITX
5.25" Drive Bays:
3.5" Drive Bays:
2 tool-free Drive Caddies (Hot Swap)
2.5" Drive Bays:
4 tool-free SSD cage
USB 3.0 x 2, Audio In and Out
(x2) AF140L 140mm Intake fans
(x1) AF140L 140mm Exhaust fan
Up to six 120mm or five 140mm fans, or install a 240mm or 280mm top radiator and a 240mm, 280mm, or even 360mm radiator on the front panel.
CPU cooler height: 170mm
Corsiar Carbide Air 540 Features:
- Dual-chamber Direct Airflow Path™ design for outstanding cooling potential
- Clever, space-saving design still offers lots of internal volume
- Includes three High Performance Air Series AF140L fans for better, quieter cooling
- Tons of expansion room for high performance air cooling and liquid cooling
- Full side panel window
- Front dust filter
- Black interior
- Cable routing cutouts with rubber grommets
- CPU cutout in motherboard tray for easy CPU cooler swap-out
- Dual front USB 3.0 ports with internal connector
- Headphone, Microphone front ports
- Eight expansion slots for quad GPU installations
- Fan Mount Locations:
- Front: 2 x 140mm (included), 3 x 120mm (pre-spaced for radiators)
- Top: 2 x 140mm or 2 x 120mm (pre-spaced for radiators)
- Rear: 1 x 140mm (included) or 1 x 120mm
- Dual 3.5” hot swap bays
- Four 2.5” tool-free SSD drive cages
- Maximum GPU Length 320mm
- Maximum CPU Cooler Height 170mm
- Maximum PSU length 200mm
Information provided by: Corsair
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Testing:
Testing involved recording temperatures for the CPU, GPU, and motherboard during idle and load phases. The load was simulated by running Prime95’s small FFTs and 3DMark Vantage for one hour. The maximum temperatures were recorded using HW Monitor 1.21.0. Please note that each case is tested from its factory setup, including location of fans, unless otherwise noted.
- Processor: Core i7 4770K @ 3.9 GHz (100 MHz x 39)
- CPU Cooling: Noctua NH-D14
- Motherboard: MSI Z87-GD65
- Memory: Patriot Viper 3 Series Black Mamba PC3-19200 16GB
- Video Card: NVIDIA GTX 770
- PSU: Thermaltake SMART 750W SP-750P
- Hard Drive: Corsair Force GT 240GB SSD
- Optical Drive: ASUS DRW-24B1ST
- OS: Windows 7 Ultimate 64-Bit SP1
- Chassis: Corsair Carbide Air 540
The goal for the Air 540 is to offer superior cooling and it does so with just three quiet AF140L fans. And on the CPU side, the Air 540 leads the group of test cases, although it is not by a huge margin. You could likely add some top fans and see the Air 540 pull away a bit more from the other cases.
On the GPU end of the testing, the numbers are rather close, and well within the margin of error. I am using a reference video card, which means that it uses a blower type fan that exhausts hot air out the rear of the case. So as long as there is a decent supply of outside air, it is not surprising that the results are so close. A non-reference card that generally rejects heat into the case may test the cases' ability to stay cool.
Overall though, the cooling numbers show that the comparison cases are stiff competition.
Corsair Carbide Air 540 Conclusion:
The Corsair Carbide Air 540 sets your idea of what a computer case should look like on edge. This is a bold step for Corsair, and they have done it with near perfect execution. The quality is top notch, which is certainly no surprise from Corsair. The fit and finish, particularly the way the top and front vent covers fit together impressed me. The compact case size is deceiving - there is plenty of space for an attractive build. The included AF140L fans are quiet and move plenty of air. The two-chamber design indeed improves air flow and helps to keep temps down. It took me a little while to get used to the sideways optical drive, but that was no big deal. Don't let the compact size fool you, as the Air 540 can handle an E-ATX (Extended ATX) motherboard with ease.
After you build enough systems, it really becomes hard to differentiate one case from another - what I mean is that from one case to another, things aren't that much different. Sure, each manufacture tries to put a little different spin on it, but at the end of the day, for the most part, the layouts are similar. What the Air 540 does is break up the usual flow and allow a different approach to your build. Corsair brings a fresh alternative to how things are done, and that is what excites me about this case.
I really like the Air 540 - so much that I have decided to use it as the case for my current personal system. I can add the Air 540 to my other list of Corsair components - memory, power supply, fans, CPU cooler, and solid state drives. So what is it about this case that draws me to it? Is it the shape, the unconventional dual chamber design? The space? Well, yes, yes, and yes.
Through the entire review, I didn't come across anything that gave me any problems. No grumbling during the system build, no awkward cable stretching, or rerouting to get a plug to reach a socket. No "gee, it sure would have been nice if they did it this way." Nope - just a lot of fun and a really clean build. The Air 540 is available at Newegg for $129.99 and if you like something beyond the status quo, then this is certainly a case you should consider.
- Great air flow with Corsair's Direct Airflow Path™design
- Support for up to a 280mm top and 360mm front radiator
- Hot Swap bays (2)
- AF140L fans (3)
- Great cable management/space
- Tool-free drive bays
- Support for long GPUs
- Easy filter cleaning
- Compact size but not short on useable space