COUGAR Challenger Case ReviewWaco - November 8, 2012
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Popping the side panels off requires a simple removal of a few thumb screws. Looking into the Challenger for the first time revealed a motherboard tray cutout larger than nearly any I've ever seen before on a mid-tower ATX case. This isn't a bad thing, but given that most motherboards have the CPU mounted fairly far to the left corner, the extra room here seems a bit unneeded. The opening actually extends past the edge of many smaller ATX and mATX motherboards which may make clean wiring a bit more difficult. The openings for wire management do not include grommets but they are large enough and positioned well for convenient routing. Moving around to the back side reveals a fair amount of space behind the motherboard tray for cable routing as well as the lack of tool-less connectors on the 5.25" bays. This isn't terribly unsurprising but be prepared to anchor your Blu-Ray drives in with screws once you've locked the tool-less mounts on the other side.
The front of the COUGAR Challenger can hold three 5.25" drives, a single external 3.5" drive, and seven 3.5" or 2.5" internal drives. All of the internal 3.5" drive sliders can also mount 2.5" drives near the center of each tray avoiding an oversight I've seen before on other drive trays. The locking mechanisms on the 5.25" external bays are extremely simple to use and feel like they'll hold up to fairly rough use. A pull near the front of the tool-less mechanisms forces the pins to retract and allows bay devices to be removed. Since these are only on this side of the case you will still need to attach your devices with a screw or two on the opposing side if you want them to be truly secure. The 3.5" and 2.5" trays slide out easily and are adorned in the same eye-popping orange seen on the outside of the case.
The bottom of the case has mounting points for both 120mm and 140mm intake fans. This is a welcome addition as it allows you to increase the cooling potential of the case quite drastically especially if you plan on filling up the 3.5" trays with hot hard drives. The rear of the case is fairly standard and features seven expansion slots for your various GPUs, sound cards, TV tuners, and other devices. The rear exhaust fan is the same as seen on previous COUGAR cases and is garbed in the same orange seen elsewhere in the case. Thankfully, it features a 3-pin connection instead of the dreaded Molex plug of doom seen on many less-expensive case fans.
The removal of the front panel on the COUGAR Challenger couldn't be any easier: a quick tug at the bottom of the front panel pops it loose without damaging anything or requiring wires to be removed. The pins that hold it in place are sturdy steel and don't look like they'll break in normal use. Behind the front panel hides a massive 200mm intake fan to keep your HDDs and GPUs cool. The ease of removing the front panel is something I really appreciate since all too many cases tend to have nearly impossible to remove panels that feel like they'll self-destruct in the process as well. The front panel on the Challenger could easily double as a weapon in a pinch… so whether the zombies are on your screen or in your home, the Challenger seems up to the task!
The space behind the motherboard tray in the previous pictures wasn't an illusion — at the bare minimum you get nearly an inch (2 centimeters for you metric folks) of room to cram your extra PSU connectors and various wiring from your peripherals. Speaking of providing extra room, the top three internal 3.5" bays also have a trick up their sleeves in the form of a moveable partition. Removing the trays and a pair of screws allows you to move the upper portion of the HDD mounting partition in by one inch. This allows you to mount 2.5" drives into the tool-less trays designed specifically for them and gives you that extra bit of room to mount your ridiculously long Radeon HD 7990 or GTX 690. The native tool-less mounts for 2.5" drives are a nice touch, as I haven't seen such a design even on much more expensive cases.
Here we have a few fun before/after pictures to highlight a the last few features of the case. I always like to do a test-mount of 3.5" drives into external SATA bays to make sure they're easy to use, secure, and not prone to damaging your expensive drives and important data. I'm pleased to report that the top SATA docking bay functions flawlessly and is in no danger of destroying your massive movie collection. The mounted drive does sit at a pretty good angle away from the case so you do need to take some care when removing it to avoid stressing the SATA connections too much. Flipping the case over you can see the last little addition that COUGAR has kindly implemented on this inexpensive case: a magnetic fan filter for the entire bottom of the case. No matter if you install a fan on the bottom of the case or not this will allow you to quickly clean up the bottom of the case where your PSU draws in its cool air. Easy cleaning translates into cleaning more often (at least that's how I look at it!).
The included accessories are quite sparse but on a simple case in which nearly everything is tool-less, not much is needed. The included manual is unusually helpful as I was initially baffled at how to mount the 2.5" drive trays but it cleared that confusion up quickly. The three water-cooling ports on the rear of the case have to be broken out manually (and quite frustratingly I may add) but the included grommets fit well and avoid any snags on cables or tubing. The three 2.5" drive trays are colored in the same eye-bleeding orange that the rest of the case is adorned, but they do securely mount your SSDs or notebook drives securely without having to resort to screws. Whenever I can avoid gouging my hardware with shaky-handed screwdriver work that's a plus!
Now we move on to one of the most important parts of any case: the build experience. I have to report that I had no issues at all fitting the OCC test bed into this fairly good-sized case. The additional width offered by this chassis makes wire-routing a breeze even if the lack of grommets don't do much to hide said wiring. The rear panel is quite easy to reinstall even with nearly every wire from the PSU jammed through the back side of the motherboard tray. There is no lack of room for tower-style CPU coolers either so you won't have to worry about your CPU cooking either. Long GPUs like the XFX 7970 seen here fit with a bit of clearance even with the stock 3.5" drive trays in place.
All powered up, thankfully the COUGAR Challenger does not emit a mighty roar — the included fans are quiet and move quite a bit of air. The front panel glows softly with red from the large 200mm intake fan and the top of the case emits a subtle red pulse whenever HDD activity occurs. The large window is aligned well to show off both your hardware and your HDDs/SSDs should you choose to install them in the top three trays. Overall the appearance here screams "fast" and "extreme" so move on to the next page to find out if you should fire your missiles or switch to guns!