iCute 0408 SL computer caseReview date: 13 April 2005.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Fans keep most computers alive. In the power supply, on the CPU, probably on the video card, and often also on the front and/or back of the case.
As every 14 year old overclocker knows, more and louder fans mean more air flow, and thus more performance headroom. In theory. In the real world, guiding the airflow to stuff that actually needs cooling is a better solution than just blowing a hurricane through the case, and there's not much point to shifting cubic kilometres of air through an enclosure every minute; gear can only run so fast, and you hit diminishing returns pretty quickly when you ramp up the cooling.
Hence, this. It's the Casepower iCute 0408 SL, and it's a perfectly ordinary and unremarkable cheap-ish steel midi-tower ATX PC enclosure, 430 by 200 by 440mm in size (16.9 by 7.9 by 17.3 inches).
No, really, it is. Perfectly normal.
Oh, OK, there's a door that opens to give you access to the externally accessible drive bays and the power and reset buttons, and the edge of the front panel has a FireWire socket, a couple of USB sockets and a couple of audio sockets, but that's it. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Oh, that fan.
I'll get to that in a moment.
The side of the 0408 has a regulation I Paid For A Video Card With Light-Up Fans and So I'm Gonna Make You Look At It acrylic window, but with a neat little duct in it to deliver air directly to your CPU cooler. There are also small gill-like vent slits above and below the window; the other side of the case has slits, too.
The back of the case is retained with thumbscrews, and also has a pull-handle to make it easy to remove. The only other thing of interest back here is the big 120mm exhaust fan. The front intake fan - yes, yes, I'm coming to that - is a 120mm unit as well, which means you get more airflow, less noise and longer bearing life than you'd get from regular 80 or 92mm units.
The side duct telescopes with a simple clicky mechanism, so you can easily position it above the fan of all but the tallest coolers (it's just screwed in place, so you can remove it altogether if you have to). The end of the duct has a slightly off-centre intake, which you can turn to line it up a bit better with your CPU fan.
Inside, this is a pretty standard steel midi-tower, but it's got more drive bays than usual.
You get four 5.25 inch bays, all externally accessible of course, plus two externally accessible 3.5 inch bays, and six internal 3.5s. That's enough for a pretty seriously stacked machine, and the front intake fan blows over the lower 3.5 inch bays, so you could get away with installing six 7200RPM drives and probably avoid heat problems (if you're going for 10,000RPM-plus server drives, though, I'd only install four in those bays, if I were you).
The front panel connectors terminate in the usual spray of little plugs; if your motherboard has headers for USB, FireWire and audio, you should be able to connect them without any problems.
And yes, this case does come with feet, of the usual swing-out type that let you widen the case's stance if you've got enough floorspace to do so. I just forgot to plug the feet into the holes in the bottom for these pictures.
OK, time for the main attraction.
That very impressive turbine thing in the front of the case, which makes the whole enclosure look like a more professional version of my venerable Wind-Tunnel PC, is backed by a normal 120mm fan - with clear blades and blue LED lighting, but still just a normal fan.
You can remove the front panel by pinching some split-pin fasteners with pliers, if you want to see the fan. It runs from a speed controller with a setting wheel on the edge of the front panel above the connectors, and you can daisy-chain the rear fan (a plain black unit) onto the speed control as well, if you like.
The two fans are only medium-power, but between them and a PSU fan they ought to keep a quite stacked machine adequately cool. It'd be easy to swap in a high power rear fan if you liked, or replace the side duct with another intake fan; the front fan's held in place with melted-over plastic pegs, but you could bust it out and replace it too if you wanted.
The turbine itself, I'm afraid, is unpowered. It's a pinwheel. A decoration. Tinsel.
Oh, it spins all right, in the breeze from the intake fan. And it looks cool, especially with the blue light from the fan shining through. But all the thing actually does, practically speaking, is get in the way of the air flow. You'd get better ventilation without it.
Here the "turbine" is, unclipped from the front panel. It rides on a simple sintered sleeve bearing, as used in most computer fans, and that bearing ought to last well, given that the turbine doesn't actually spin that fast.
If you'd like a front turbine that really does something, it could be done. Press the impeller axle out of its existing bearing, yank it out of the impeller, press the impeller onto a motor shaft (a motor from a regular fan would probably work OK), and it'd move some air.
It wouldn't do it very well, though.
The reason why computer fans all look the way that they do is that when you want to move air against relatively little resistance - which is the situation in computer cooling - you want few fins, with lots of room between them. Computer fans have five (or so) blades, rather than only two (some very fast model planes have one bladed propellers with a counterweight on the other side, but that's really hard on the bearings), because they'd make too much noise if they had two and spun faster. They'd be more efficient if they were two-bladed, though.
Anyway, a turbine design, with many small blades with little space between them, is what you want if you're trying to get power from a passing ducted airflow, or if you're pushing air into a duct that's got a lot of backpressure. That's why jet engines have those kinds of fans in them, and that's why everybody thinks a turbine fan is the coolest looking kind.
Here in Australia, Aus PC Market are selling the 0408 SL for $AU143 including Sydney metropolitan delivery (buyers from outside Sydney will pay more). That's without a power supply, but that's not a bad thing; not everybody wants one of the off-brand PSUs that normally get bundled with cases like this.
If you are happy with a basic PSU, of course, you can buy one with your 0408; AusPC have an iCute-branded one (with another 120mm fan, and a mildly questionable 400 watt rating) for less than $AU50 delivered. If, on the other hand, you want to build a PC worthy of a front turbine in your 0408, you can get a flashy PSU to match.
Gimmicky computer cases are a dime a dozen, but I must admit I quite like this one. The turbine on the front shouldn't hold up the airflow any more than the average dust filter does (and, heck, it may even catch some dust!), and the rest of the case is really quite sensible.
Exciting to work on, the 0408 ain't, but it's not full of sharp edges, its big fans keep the noise down, the ducted side window is a nice touch, and there are plenty of drive bays. And you don't have to pay for an, um, "budget", power supply if you don't want to.
There are cheaper cases out there, some with serious standard ventilation (check this out), but you'll have a hard time finding another case with a window and a front panel with significant whoa-value for this money.
You'll have to save up a bit more for the Aveox 46/43 to drive the turbine, then a bit more again for the warning signs, but I'm sure it'll be worth it.
Here in Australia, Aus PC Market no longer sell the 0408 SL.
Never mind, though; they've got the 0508 now!
(if you're not from Australia or New Zealand, Aus PC Market won't deliver to you. If you're in the USA, try a price search at DealTime!)