IN WIN Maelstrom Review
Reviewed by: airman
Reviewed on: November 16, 2009
Many sizes of computer cases are available today, from many different manufacturers. Currently, mid towers dominate the market due to their convenient size and general affordability. Other common case sizes that can be found are the SFF (small form factor) cases that are great for LAN party-goers in need of something portable, or perhaps a home theater PC that has space requirements. On the opposite side of the spectrum, at least in home computing, full tower cases are large, spacious, and preferred by a large chunk of computer enthusiasts. The main selling point of these large cases is simply the amount of room that they have - with the ability to house a lot of hardware and to remain cool due to the large amount of volume. In this review, I will explore a full tower case from IN WIN, named the Maelstrom. Originally based out of Taiwan, IN WIN was founded in 1985 and plunged straight into computer chassis manufacturing. Since then, the company has established branches in the USA, Japan, and the UK. Having won several design awards, I'm looking forward to evaluating the Maelstrom and seeing how it performs.
The Maelstrom is packaged in a glossy black cardboard box. The front of the box shows a quarter-faced picture of the case with the text "Ready to sweep across the world" written above it. The left side displays a table of its specifications, including dimensions, material, and other information, while the right side shows some of its selling points; exquisite and durable paint job, superb expandability, as well as about four others. The rear of the case is similar to the front, except it only shows a side profile picture of the case, with more features listed across the bottom, almost like icons.
Inside the box, the case can be found inside a plastic bag with two large chunks of flexible styrofoam on each side. I like packaging that uses this styrofoam, as the other types are brittle and can break while trying to remove the product, making repackaging a little tougher. On top of the packaged case is its manual, which includes information about the case in many different languages and has simple installation instructions. At the bottom of the box, after removing the packaged case, a bag can be found containing the usual screws and standoffs, as well as two 4-pin molex to 3-pin fan adapters. Accessories also include the toolless hardware tray that holds all the "rails" for the optical drives and hard drives, and a 5.25" to 3.5" adapter tray. These two trays are actually found already mounted inside the case, and not in a separate box.
On the next page, I will begin to tear down the case and look at its internals, as well as how the working components function.
The front of the case is relatively simple, as it has no buttons, lights, or I/O. Instead, those are found on the top of the case. The front has two green "bars" that run horizontally on the lower half of the case, to add a simple accent. They have no other function, and have a removable warning label on the top one to let the user know that they are not handles, as the front bezel is not attached strong enough to hold the weight of the case. At the bottom, a 120mm intake fan can be seen through the bottom "drive bay" covers. With close enough inspection, the top drive bay cover has a middle section that can be removed and used with a 3.5" drive. Behind this cover, from the factory, is the removable 5.25" to 3.5" tray adapter. Turning the case to view its right side displays the massive 220mm intake fan and the mounting holes that allow the panel to hold up to six 120mm fans instead of the included 220mm. All the mounting gromets are rubber, so that they may help minimize noise caused by vibration in the fans. Checking out the rear of the case shows a 120mm exhaust fan, seven PCI slots, two large areas of perforations to allow heat escape passively, four holes for external water cooling loops (which are capable of fitting 3/4" OD tubing), and a spot for a bottom-mounted power supply. The left side of the case shows the plain side panel, and not much more.
As stated above, the top of the case is where the I/O ports, lights, and buttons are located. This is a nice location for when the case is on the floor, where the user does not have to reach all the way over, sometimes to the other side of the case, to turn on the machine or use a USB drive. I definitely like this feature. The I/O ports include four USB, one Firewire, and two e-SATA, as well as audio out and mic in. The top also houses an included 120mm exhaust fan, with room for one more 120mm fan. Between the two creatively designed fan vents is a stamped IN WIN logo. On the bottom of the case, a vent can be found directly below the power supply's location. This can be found on practically any case and helps keep the PSU cool, due to a lot of the power supplies with fans on the bottom where it may be obstructed by the bottom of the case.
The front bezel pops off easily by only having to squeeze one of the tabs on the inside of the case. With the front of the case off, you can see that there are no wires or any electrical connections at all associated with the front bezel. There is no fan filter specifically associated with the front 120mm intake fan because the drive bay covers themselves (which have a fine plastic mesh) act as dust filters. These covers are removable everywhere on the front panel, even though the three spaces at the bottom do not have the ability to hold any external drives.
Now that I've taken a look at the outside of the case, it's now time for me to start checking out the internals and get the hardware installed so that it may be tested.
Once the case was taken apart, the first thing that I noticed was actually the foam noise dampening on the inside of the case. I thought it was a neat addition, but there's really no accurate way to test how well it dampens noise. I'm sure it helps, but the fact that the entire side panel is perforated metal and thus sound can escape, I don't see it helping out too much. The chassis itself has a very rigid feel, thanks to the 1mm SECC steel in its construction. It does not wobble, especially with the feet extended as seen in the picture. The entire inside of the case is painted matte black. Looking at the outside of the case shows the common opening in the motherboard tray to allow for access to a heatsink mounting bracket. This incredibly convenient feature keeps a user from having to remove the motherboard in order to access the screw holes.
The back of the inside of the case has two 120mm exhaust fans; one on top and one on the rear, both of which use 3-pin plugs. The seven expansion slot covers are just like others in most cases now - metal mesh. They are rigid, which adds structural support, but the mesh allows for passive heat exchange. On the motherboard tray itself is a label that tells which numbered hole that a standoff should go in for certain sizes of motherboards (ATX, mATX, Flex, etc). The four water cooling ports can be seen more clearly below. The benefit to having an extra pair of water cooling ports is if a user wishes to run multiple loops. This is common for computers with multiple graphics cards, where the heat from them can be too much to be on the same loop as the CPU, at least with most radiators. Also, below the power supply's location, there are four rubber feet that support the power supply itself and help isolate some more of the noise from vibration, three of which can be seen in the picture below.
The front of the case is where all the drives are housed. Both the 5.25" external and 3.5" internal bays use a toolless mounting procedure. The toolless 5.25" bays implement the same process of most toolless harddrive procedures, as two "rails" are placed on either side of the drive, secured by pins in the screw holes, and slid into the bay. When in position, they click and stay locked. To release the drive, the rails are pinched and the drive slides out in the same manner that it was slid in. With the hard drives, I will mention first that I prefer to turn my hard drives around in a computer case so that more wires can be concealed and a cleaner layout can be presented. I am not alone with this method, as many computer builders do this for the same reasons as I do. However, this is when I found a drawback to this case's design. When turning the hard drives around and installing them, they were unable to go far enough in to be locked. On an IN WIN case I owned over a year ago, this was an issue then as well. I hope that IN WIN can alter its design to accommodate this practice. Two pictures below show the two steps of installing a drive, using the included toolless drive rail tray, and also show the removable 5.25" to 3.5" adapter tray as it was installed from the factory.
The large 220mm side intake fan is stated to run off of 12v and draws 0.23A. It is lit by blue LEDs, which can be switched on and off by an external slider, and is powered by a 4-pin header. The other three included fans are 120mm, with the top and rear installed as exhaust and the front as intake. These 120mm fans are labeled as 12v with a current draw of 0.32A, using 3-pin headers. At normal operating speed, these fans are relatively quiet, well below many's threshold level.
Everything on this case looks great so far. There is plenty of room, it is solid, appears that it would flow well, and IN WIN has even taken measures for sound dampening. The one drawback I mentioned earlier was that the hard drives will not lock in when installed backwards to conceal wires, but they do fit in snugly, so I don't really worry about them sliding out while moving the case around. During installation, I noticed a huge boo-boo on IN WIN's part - it may only be on the x58 motherboard used, but the access hole in the motherboard tray is over a quarter inch too low! This makes the access hole practically useless for a lot of motherboards.
A little disappointed with the misplacement of the access hole, but it's time to test this case where it really counts. With everything installed, the case is ready to be put on the "hot" seat.
Front: 12cm Fan x 1
Rear: 12cm Fan x 1
Top: 12cm Fan x 1 (Maximum Supports 12cm Fan x 2)
Side: 22cm LED Fan with switch x 1 (Maximum Supports 12cm Fan x 6)
Water-Cooling Hole Ready
4x USB 2.0
External Drive Bays
Includes FDD Cage (5.25” to 3.5” adapter)
Internal Drive Bays
Power Supply Support
PS2 or EPS Power
- Great expandability
- User friendly ergonomic and mechanical design
- Superior acoustic and vibration solution
- Revolutionary high efficiency thermal solution
- Luxurious exterior and interior painting
Information courtesy of IN WIN @ http://retail.in-win.com.tw/website/pd/pd_detail.php?iw_lanid=0&iw_name_id=30#
To test the IN WIN Maelstrom, temperatures will be recorded for the CPU, GPU, chipset, hard drives, and the overall system temperature during load and idle phases. Load will be simulated by Prime95 small FFTs and HD tune for one hour, with maximum temperatures recorded by RealTemp. The GPU load will be the maximum value recorded by Rivatuner after five loops of 3DMark06’s Canyon Flight test. Fan configuration is front and side 120mm intakes, and top (140mm) and rear (120mm) exhausts. The data collected from other cases will have the same fan configuration, if applicable.
- Processor: Intel i7 920
- Motherboard: MSI Eclipse SLI
- Memory: Mushkin HP3 12800 7-7-7-20
- Video Card: eVGA 8800GTS
- Power Supply: Mushkin 800w Modular Power Supply
- Hard Drive: Seagate 1TB SATA
- Optical Drive: Lite-on DVD-RW
- OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
- Ambient Temperature: 25° Celsius
- CPU Heatsink: Stock Intel
The IN WIN Maelstrom lived up to its expectations and performed quite well in the live testing. Its large size and hefty amount of airflow right out of the box from the factory proved that fans do make a difference, though they may remain slightly audible. The case is very solid and sturdy, has a conveniently placed I/O and button panel, and is one of my favorite cases out of the ones that I've tested. I am disappointed with IN WIN with the major mishap on the placement of the motherboard access hole, as it is useless for the motherboard I used, and probably for most other x58 boards! I was very surprised when I realized this, and it was a huge deal breaker for me. Most of the air coolers that I use require access to the rear of the motherboard, so if I wanted to change out the heatsink for a bolt-on, the entire motherboard would still have to be removed. I also hope that IN WIN soon allows its toolless hard drive mechanisms to fully lock when facing the hard drives backward in order to lessen the amount of visible wires. With those two problems fixed, I think the Maelstrom moves higher up onto the must have list. Those problems aside, however, the Maelstrom is a very well-built case, runs cool, and features a rugged military style look.
- Large form factor allows for lots of hardware
- Included fans work well
- Toggle switch for the blue LED fan on the side panel
- Both side panels lined with sound-dampening foam
- Good airflow
- Painted inside
- Toolless drive retention
- Rear motherboard access hole does not work for all motherboards
- Toolless hard drive mechanisms do not lock in if hard drive is installed rear-facing