NZXT Lexa Blackline Case Review
Reviewed by: nismozcar
Reviewed on: October 16, 2007
Many decisions must be made when choosing the “right” case. It mostly depends on the application, whether it’s going to be a gaming PC or possibly a server. Maybe even slid between your television and receiver or wrapped in a slim HTPC case. And when the choice has been made, a second important aspect comes to mind, performance. Will this case perform the way I want it to? Or even perform the way its advertised?
So, let's imagine that the choice we made is the NZXT Lexa Blackline. The Blackine is the kid brother of the Award-Winning NZXT Lexa, and this model has no intention of sitting in his older brother's shadow. Not to mention that this case has also been designed to compete in one of the most competitive and heavily scrutinized markets that a case can fall under, the Gaming/Enthusiast sector. The question then remains, will the Blackline have what it takes to climb to the top of the Gaming/Enthusiast podium?
"NZXT, a company built upon gamer's dreams, is proud to announce its addition to the high-end Gaming Classic series, the Lexa Blackline Performance Steel Mid Tower Chassis. We have always wanted to design a mean looking chassis and the original Lexa was perfect for this, with new features like the pre-drilled water cooling and glossy black finish the LEXA Blackline should prove to be a great mid-range chassis for gamers."
Even from the box you begin to get a real sense for what you are unwrapping. The front of the box covered by a large high-resoultion shot from an angle, with the phrases "Maximum Cooling" and "Perfect Symmetry". The back of the box features shots from both the blue, and red version of the Lexa Blackline, and details the cooling setup, expandability and media ports, along with key features.
On the side you will find a larger, more detailed list of specifications, and is translated in five languages. Upon opening the box you notice the care that is put into shipping. Large white foam blocks on the top and bottom protect it from rough transit, and the plastic bag keeps it shielded if the box is compromised.
The front comes to an apex at the center; it protrudes outward creating a ridge that extends down the center of the case. On the backside, NZXT has designed a cage that allows you zip-tie all your cables to it for easy management. Also seen is the large 120mm fan that exhausts out the back and the seven expansion bays for your hardware peripherals.
The smooth curves not only appeal to the eye, but are intricately woven into the technical design. They extend past the top and bottom, acting as the feet and crown, creating the clearance needed to allow air to pass through the bottom. The window on the left side allows the user to view their hardware in action. The right side is plain and simple by design, purposely trying not to detract from the left.
A small, 80mm exuast fan breaks up an otherwise empty space. The fan is protected by a built-in grill preventing foriegn objects from finding their way into its jaws. A dust filter on the bottom helps keep dust from being sucked up through the intake hole located in the center. The filter is removable making cleaning easy and quick. Four rubber pads are located on the outer edges of each feet providing a nice solid base on which to stand.
A medium-size door opens from the left and encloses the external drive bays when inactive. It is held into place by two magnets along the outer edge on the top and bottom. The Lexa Blackline houses space for up to four 5.25" and two 3.5" bay devices, but the door leaves little clearance for using devices with protruding knobs. Six push-points hold the front panel onto the case. They run down the left and right of the front rim and can only be accessed with both covers removed. With the front panel off, the 120mm intake fan is no longer hidden. It is also protected from dust and foreign objects with a removable filter. Access to all buttons and ports on the front panel are easily accessible while the panel is removed.
The cage on the back of the case is designed to allow the user the ability to manage their cables by securing them to points along the cage. It's shape borders the edges of your case and components. This makes tying wires, cables and hoses an easy clutter-free task. It is also creates the same smooth curve seen in the front panel, thus serving as a great example of form and function. The left cover is removable and exposes the bottom side of the motherboard tray. Aside from the push-points in the front, removing the cover serves little purpose.
Seen in theses photos are the intake slots for the front 120mm fan. Most of the air is drawn in from the bottom, but it is also backed up by gills that run up both sides. This design allows air in, while still maintaining the smooth aesthectics and finish of the front panel. Whether this will affect cooling still remains to be seen, though more efficient cooling could be achieved with a direct path into the case.
On the outside of the case, you will notice on the front right side is where the USB, Firewire and external audio ports are located. Placing them on the side allows the front to remain open and smooth. The second picture is a shot of the pre-drilled holes (with bushings) for use with external water cooling setups. This feature is a huge plus for those who use or plan to use water cooling, saving them the trouble of drilling the holes themselves.
Aside from the window on the side cover, a 120mm fan is mounted towards the lower back end. When powered, this intake fan will illuminate the case with a set of brilliant red LEDs. Once the cover has been removed the entire inside is exposed, thus revealing the accessory box and manual. Any and all loose wires and cables have been bundled; with fan power leads wound-up neatly.
Upon opening your NZXT package you might notice that very little is inside the case. Don't be alarmed. You will find all the accessories and the manual are packed inside, tucked snugly away in the hard drive bays. The accessories are contained in a white box conveiniently labled, you guessed it, the accessory box. Inside you will find all the mounting brackets (hard drive and external drives) and a bag full of screws, standoffs, a pair of keys, and other accessories.
After removing the accessories the hard drive bays will be accessible. There are a total of five bays, each supporting 3.5” hard drives. NZXT has made the bays easily accessible by making them face out of the case. However, with this design limits those of us who use SATA drives, foricing you to buy cables with 90* angled cables. The Blackline also features four 5.25” bays and two external 3.5” bays for your fan controllers or possibly a floppy disk drive.
At the bottom of the case you will find an air inlet covered by a removable dust screen. The screen will help prevent dust from accumulating inside your computer and around your components. A second red 120mm LED fan is mounted on the backside of the case and is the only exhaust fan in the rear. But it's immense size and location draws all heat eminating from the CPU, NB and graphics slot.
You may have been wondering what the white bag in the previous pictures contained. Inside you will discover the various connections for the case's peripherals. This includes the USB, Firewire, front panel audio cables, temperature probes, LCD power connector, as well as the power and reset buttons, and the leads for all the LED indicators (power and hard drive).
Pictured is the 80mm fan that is placed directly in the center of the top of the case. This fan exhausts the hot air that rises off the system during operation. Also pictured is the side window latch mechanism. It features a lock with a set of keys that provide added security for those who need it.
Installation is fairly straightforward. I will progress through the install and give step by step directions. The tools you should have handy are a philips-head screwdriver, a utility knife, a flashlight, and a pair of scissors. I will start the process with the PSU, then the motherboard (including CPU & RAM), followed by the hard drives and optical drives. Along the way I will make observations about things that help the install and any issues that arise. The items I will be installing are listed below.
- Intel E6300 C2D
- EVGA 608i SLI A1
- 4x1GB OCZ Platinum Rev.2 PC6400
- 4x80GB Hitachi Deskstar (RAID0)
- XFX 8600GTS
- 2x Samsung DVD-DLRW
- Antec SmartPower2.0 500w
In order to begin the installation process, you will need to remove the side cover. In the manual it states that you just need to push the lever towards the center and it will pop open. It neglects to mention that the two screws on the backside of the case will have to be removed. I have them highlighted in the photo below.
The first step is to screw in the gold standoffs included in the package into the appropriate holes that correspond with your motherboard's layout. Keep in mind that not all holes will be occupied due to the fact that this case accepts the layouts of four different styles of motherboards. Next you will take the I/O plate and insert it into the back of the case from the inside.
It's always a good idea to install PSU while the case is empty. This is due to the varying sizes of mainstream PSUs, as well as clearance from other items in the case, such as the CPU cooler or optical drives. I was unable to install the PSU without removing the back cage. The fourth screw in the bottom left (highlighted), was blocked by the edge of the cage. To remove the cage, simply apply slight pressure and bend it towards the center until the tabs at the top clear their slots. Another problem arose after the PSU was secured. The 80mm exhuast fan had very little clearance between it and the PSU. This caused the top-most power port to be blocked, and rendered it unusable, a serious problem if more power connections were needed. After the PSU is in place, you are ready to install the motherboard.
Once you have your motherboard centered over the correct holes, you can begin to screw it down. I opted to attach my CPU cooler and install my memory before installing the motherboard into the case. I ended up short by one screw and having an extra standoff, but luckily I have amassed a large collection of computer related hardware, and had no trouble finding a spare. With the board secure I can begin the process of connecting the peripherals. I started with the power connections (8-pin & 24-pin), and then the power and reset buttons, along with the power and hard drive LEDs. Pay attention to polarity when connecting the LED cables, if backwards the lights will not function properly.
Next comes the USB, Firewire (1394) and the front audio inputs. Connect each to their respective pins, although some boards no longer include Firewire. Also anyone who uses an separate audio card will want to connect the front panel audio into the card itself and not the board. The audio cable provides the option to connect using AC’97 or HD audio for those whose boards support it. I got lucky and the cables just barely reached my firewire and audio pins, but I still feel that they should have been made longer to accommodate any pins that run along tha back edge of the motherboard.
NZXT has made it simple to install your videocard, or anything into the expansions slots. The screwless design simply locks the cards into place by means of a retaining clip. To open, just press the black tab towards the top of the case while simultaneous pulling it up. Once open, seat your card in the appropriate slot, and reverse the procedure to lock it into place. Remove the hard drive brakets , labled HDD, from the accessory box. Note that they are screwless as well. Place them on either side of your drive and slide it into place until it clicks. Be sure that they are facing out so that you are able to make the necessary connections.
To install the optical drives, it is necessary to remove the plate that conceals the bay. Once removed, you will need to pop out the knockout plates using a philip's head screwdriver, carefully wiggle them back and forth until they release. Using the larger brackets, labled ODD. Slide the drive into place until it is firmly seated and a click is heard.
One very interesting aspect to the Lexa Blackline is the front panel Temperature LCD readout, although the instructions on how to connect this device and it's probes are missing from the product manual. To make this feature functional, a few connections will need to be made. Pictured are the the three temperature probes, labled accordingly. To install the probes you will need to use the tape strips included in your package. Simply attach the probes to the heatsink of the desired component. I opted to install the hard drive probe onto my videocard and my system probe to my northbridge, because I have no other means to monitor the northbridge temperature.
The last and most important step is to connect power to the LCD. The connector is labled "RED" and requires a four-pin molex connector. Once connected, your LCD should illuminate at startup and display the three temps as shown below. It would be nice if the panel was customizable allowing you name the probes if not used as specified.
Once all the components have been securely fastened into place, you are ready to make all the remaining necessary connections. This includes the molex connectors and SATA cables for my array and optical drives, and finally the PCI-express cable for my videocard. The last thing to do is reinstall the side cover and fire it up.
Once powered, the NZXT Lexa Blackline comes alive. The front becomes even more seductive as a red sliver peeks out of the center of the glossy black panel. The temperature LCD glows harmoniously in the crown, adding more appeal to the front. An unusually bright hard drive LED flashes below the sliver. In a dark room it can cast a spot on any object nearly ten feet away. This might cause trouble for those of us who have their computer in their bedroom and run it at night. From the side, the two LED fans cast an immense warmth of red light onto the components inside your case.
5.25" Drive Bays
3.5" Drive Bays
3.5" HDD Drive Bays
1x 120mm (Front)
2x 120mm w/LED (Rear & Side)
1x 80mm (Top)
Chassis Dimensions (WxDxH)
220 x 522 x 569 mm
- Screwless Rail Installation
- Sturdy 1.0mm Steel Chassis
- Three Temperature Display Meter w/ probes
- Removable Dust Filters for Dust Prevention
- Reflective Black Gloss Finish
- Cable Organization System via Rear Cage
- Pre-Drilled holes for Water Cooling
- HD Audio, Firewire, and USB2.0 support
- nVIDIA 8800GTX Compatible
- Stealthed Clear Side Panel
- Low-noise 1100 RPM @ 23dBA Fans
In this section I will be monitoring readings for two cases as I progress through a series of tests. The first reading will be taken at idle after a period of 15 minutes from power up. The next reading will be taken during a stress test, utilizing both cores at 100% for a period of 15 minutes, and then taking the average. After the idle temperature for both cases have been logged, I will overclock the CPU from the stock 1.86GHz (266x7) to 3.15GHz (450x7). Again, I will run through the same procedure, recording idle and load. Another temperature I will be monitoring is my 8600GTS at idle and under load during a gaming session. Finally, I will record the accuracy of the NZXT temperature probes as compared to actual temperatures of my components.
- Intel Core2Duo E6300
- EVGA 680i SLi A1 (P30)
- 4x1GB OCZ Platinum PC6400
- Antec SmartPower 2.0 500w
- 4x80GB Hitachi Deskstar (RAID0)
- XFX 256mb 8600GTS (675/1000MHz)
- Windows XP Pro x64 SP2
- Samsung DVD-DL+RW SATA
- Norcent 19" Widescreen LCD
- 1.86GHz @ 1.25v (266 x 7)
- OC 3.15GHz @ 1.375v (450 x 7)
- NZXT Lexa Blackline
- Comarison Case: Raidmax Smilodon
After the first round of tests you can see that the Lexa Blackline performed adequatley against the Raidmax Smilodon. At idle the Lexa was slightly higher, but when the load was increased it handled the extra heat very well and perfomed on par with the Smilodon.
Now the real challenge. With the frequncy and voltage increased, I half expected the gap to widen between the two cases. But as you can see, the NZXT case consistenly put up decent numbers when compared to the Raidmax.
CPU temperature are no longer the only thing most modern enthusiasts are concerned about. With the advancement of gaming and its surge to produce bigger and better graphics cards, most of us are also worried about keeping our GPUs cool as well. After an initial idle measurements, I ran the card through a 15 minute stint of intense gaming to see how the cases handled. The results show a small difference in temperatures, with both remaining at acceptable levels.
I felt it necessary to test the accuracy of the provided NZXT temperature LCD and probes. I monitored the readings displayed by the device during the previous tests to get an understanding of how accurate they are at reading actual temperatures. As you can see from the results, they fell short on all readings. However, they do consistenly read 5-10*C lower than actual. This is due to the fact that they are reading the temperature of the heatsink and not the chip itself. They are not designed to mount between the heatsink and chip; doing so could potentially damage the chip.
The NZXT Lexa Blackline touts that it provides maximum cooling and perfect symmetry. One of those statements happens to be true. The case is beautiful, sleek and very symmetrical. But it falls short of maximum cooling; providing what I would classify as excellent cooling. I did, however, stack the deck against it. The Smilodon has been outfitted with Zalman fans in place of the stock fans, and it has a more direct flow of air through itself. The wider chassis of the Lexa gives it more potential for cooling efficiency with the proper fans. Given that opportunity, I am positve that gap would increase. Although this time in favor of the Blackline.
So, the final question is how does this case stack up to the competition, or its older brother? Pretty well. Unique styling and innovative design are couple aspects that set it apart from the rest. The pre-drilled holes for water cooling and the rear cage for cable management are excellent additions to great list of features. The time and effort that screwless brackets provide is priceless, and having dust filters eliminates a future hassel. The finish, temperature LCD and aesthetics of the case overall make this one great package. Although, this case is far from flawless. The plastic used throughout the case seemed thin and cheap. The cables for the front panel were a couple of inches short, causing a PCI port to be obstructed. The inclusion of low RPM fans with this setup decreased the efficiency, and the interference with the PSU is unfortunate. Including temperature sensors is a plus, but they don't perform accurately, and installation of the probes is missing from the manual. After all the positives and negatives, you are still left with a great case. NZXT has engineered another winner, and with a few minor adjustments on your part, it could be a monster of case.
- Glossy finish
- Pre-drilled for water cooling
- Screwless brackets
- Temperature LCD w/ probes
- GTX compatible
- Dust filters
- Front panel audio HD or AC’97
- Low RPM fans (Noise)
- Thin plastic
- Low RPM fans (performance)
- Incomplete manual
- Inaccurate sensors
- Interference with PSU (top fan)
- Short peripheral cables