COUGAR Challenger Case Review

Waco - 2012-08-08 07:09:06 in Cases
Category: Cases
Reviewed by: Waco   
Reviewed on: November 8, 2012
Price: $85.99

Introduction:

COUGAR isn't a company that I usually think of when listing out chassis manufacturers, but as seen by the previous COUGAR cases reviewed here at OCC, they produce very competitive products. Founded back in 2007 by computer enthusiasts and professionals in Germany, COUGAR is dedicated to delivering high-performance and high-quality components for gamers. I haven't personally used anything from COUGAR, except for their cases and fans, but they have held up well to normal and even abnormal abuse.

Today I'll be taking a look at COUGAR's new Challenger case. This is a new case in the COUGAR gaming lineup that takes its inspiration from, and I quote, "the pilot unlock missile cover then fire!". If you're as confused by that as I was when reading through the features of the case, don't feel bad — but more about that when we get to it. The Challenger, at $85.99, sits firmly in the affordable category for performance mid-tower cases and looks to be large enough to house any hardware you can potentially throw at it. The styling, as you'll see in a bit, is fairly extreme and I have the feeling most will either love it or hate it — there's not much room in the middle.

 

Closer Look:

When this box arrived at my doorstep it was immediately obvious what had arrived. Good packaging makes its contents known at a glance and this box surely does that! The front of the box sports a zoomed-in view of the front panel of the case along with the name of the case in a large font. The side of the box reveals an isometric profile of the case along with a fairly large table detailing the various specifications and features (seen in detail on the Specifications & Features page). The back side of the box details the physical features of the case with an exploded view of the chassis. Along the bottom of the box there is a diagram explaining which GPUs will fit with the three different HDD cage configurations. The last side of the box is a mirror image of its counterpart. The whole box is printed with a single color of ink, which is always a good sign that the manufacturer hasn't wasted all of the cost on fancy packaging and not on what really matters — the contents of the box!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Slipping the COUGAR Challenger out of its packaging was a simple affair and revealed a case protected by the usual plastic bag and foam end caps. The side window of the case is clearly visible here as is an unusual hole on the side panel — as you'll see in a bit this is where the integrated side panel fan filter attaches with a fairly ingenious mounting mechanism. The packaging itself is quite sturdy and arrived with no dents, dings, or scratches. The foam end caps are a bit thicker than I usually see on less expensive cases and this is definitely a good thing!

 

Closer Look:

The Challenger is revealed! Starting with the left side of the case you can see that I have attached the integrated fan filter to cover the hole seen on the previous page. This filter actually attaches via small magnets embedded in the filter which make it exceedingly easy to remove and clean. Anything that makes cleaning easier is always a great feature in my book. All too often cases have fan filters that are just too hard to remove for cleaning so they stay attached forever once initially installed. You can also see the large window to show off your components… or your bad wiring job. Moving around to the other side of the case reveals a featureless side panel. Hopefully this does not mean there will be an issue with clearance behind the motherboard. Spinning back around to the front of the case reveals the "love it or hate it" feature I was talking about earlier. This styling is loud to say the least. It reminds me of the velociraptor from Jurassic Park just before it spits acid goo. In the lower mesh section it sports a gold and black COUGAR logo which looks surprisingly good even though I tend to hate gold on anything. My review sample is clearly decked out in orange but there are also white and black versions available (all internal components are orange on both of them as well). Taking a look at the backside of the case reveals that this isn't an overly skinny case and there should be no problems hiding cables behind the motherboard tray. The rear 120mm exhaust fan is decked out in the usual orange color that COUGAR cases seem to always be adorned with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here you can see the power button "flap" thing that is referred to by the poorly translated line on the first page. The red door actually covers up both the power button and reset button to keep you from accidentally pressing them in the heat of the moment. I can't imagine why you'd be poking random buttons on the front of your case while gaming, but it still looks neat and protects your unsaved work. Flipping up the transparent red plastic reveals a large power button and a very slim reset button. Both are easy to press and hard to mix up. What is hard to see is that the HDD activity light is hidden back behind the reset button. When running, the hidden LED lights up a good portion of the red cover without spotlighting your ceiling every time you access your HDDs. Also seen here are the two power indicators flanking the power button on each side, the dual USB 3.0 ports, and the microphone and headphones jacks. Looking down from the top I/O panel gives you a better view of the contours of the front panel itself. The 3.5" bay sits recessed by quite a bit and may make it difficult to use fan controllers that have recessed controls themselves.

 

 

As you may have noticed in the previous pictures there is a docking bay at the top of the case to house your 3.5" or 2.5" SATA drives. There are no guides here or rubber dampening so I wouldn't suggest mounting a WD Velociraptor or other similarly loud drives here unless you don't mind a lot of noise. That said, this is an inexpensive case and you can't expect all the accoutrements at lower price points. Looking a bit further back you can see the fairly substantial number of mounting points for exhaust fans on the top of the case. There are mounting points for dual 120mm, dual 140mm, 180mm, and 200mm fans. Moving a bit further back reveals a fairly standard rear panel. There are three cutouts to runwater cooling tubes out the rear of the case if you want to mount radiators externally.

 

 

Since I skipped over it earlier, here you can see the magnetic side panel dust filter. It pops off with a quick pull and attaches quickly as well thanks to the built-in alignment pins. The magnets are fairly strong and will keep the filter in place no matter how roughly you handle your rig. If you make this filter fall off then you've probably damaged something else in your case too!

 

 

Finally you can see the overall view of the COUGAR Challenger. Does this case challenge your tastes or appeal to them? Personally I like the color choice, but the overall styling is a bit over the top for me as I tend to prefer cases with much more understated styling. Nevertheless, the aesthetics do appeal to some and it certainly does scream "look at me!" Keep reading to find out if the internal components can back up the aggressive appearance that the outside projects.

Closer Look:

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!

 

Specifications:

Case Type:
Mid-Tower
Motherboard Support:
mATX/ATX
Dimensions:
268(W) x 514(H) x 523(D)
5.25" Drive Bays:
3 Exposed
3.5" Drive Bays:
1 Exposed, 7 Hidden
2.5" Drive Bays:
3 Hidden (converted from 3.5" drive bays)
External 3.5" & 2.5" HDD/SSD Hot-Swap:
1
Max. 3.5" HDDs Installed:
9
Max. 2.5" HDDs/SSDs Installed:
8
I/O Panel:
USB 3.0 x 2 (internal), Mic x 1, Audio x 1
COUGAR 200mm Red LED Fan (front):
1 (pre-installed)
COUGAR 120mm Turbine Fan (rear):
1 (pre-installed)
Ezpansion Slots:
7
Maximum GPU Length:
410mm
Power Supply:
Standard ATX PS2 (optional)

 

 

Features:

 

Cooling:

 

 

 

All information is courtesy of: http://www.cougar-world.com/products/pc_case/challenger.html

Testing:

Testing the COUGAR Challenger required pushing my hardware to heat things up! Testing involved recording temperatures for the CPU, GPU, chipset, hard drives, and overall system during idle and load phases. Recently, OCC upgraded to the ForceGT 240GB SSD from Corsair and has removed the HDD temps from case reviews. Thus, HDTune is no longer a part of the case benchmarking process.

Load was simulated by running Prime95’s small FFTs along with 3Dmark Vantage looping for one hour. The maximum temperatures were recorded using HW Monitor. It is important to note that each case is tested from its factory setup, including location of fans, unless otherwise noted.

 

Testing Setup:

 

Comparison Cases:

 

Results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On average the COUGAR Challenger performed quite well under load. The CPU temperatures, GPU temperatures, and chipset temperatures were all fairly good and left nothing wanting. The stock fans are relatively quiet given how much air they seem to move and won't leave noise purists with headaches… all I heard during testing was the screaming of the GPU as it was tortured by the OCC suite of tests. Overall, a good performance from a fairly cheap case!

Conclusion:

How do I sum up this COUGAR case? The Challenger offers quite a lot of features for the less than $90 asking price. The integrated SATA dock, the 200mm intake fan, and the 3.5" / 2.5" drive trays are all great additions on an affordable case. The build quality is top-notch and feels like it will last through several upgrade cycles without becoming rickety or flimsy. Heat is no challenge for the Challenger either as it performs quite well even when really pushing high-wattage hardware to the limit and it manages to perform this cooling with quite reasonable noise levels.

Overall there's nothing really to dislike about this case in terms of function aside from the massive cable management holes in the motherboard tray. Without grommets or any way of hiding cabling it is a bit difficult to arrange wiring in such a way that keeps it entirely out of sight. This isn't a terrible concession on a somewhat less-expensive case but it does make a build take a bit longer since the side panel does include a large window to show off your wiring prowess (or lack thereof).

I think the one stumbling point of this case is the external styling. Personally, I don't like busy cases with bright colors and lots of edges. In my opinion, this case is the antithesis of style and I have the feeling that most will skip over it when browsing for a new case for that reason alone. However, if the styling does appeal to you, there's really nothing here to complain about! It is fully functional and loaded with features for a low price. So if you like the design, then your hardware will love its new home!

 

Pros:

 

Cons: