Anyone who has tinkered with computers for any amount of time will immediately know the name Ultra. With a number of products that cover case fans and lights, designer cases, DVD products, hard drive coolers, media drives, complete memory solutions, memory coolers and power supplies, these folks can provide you with a large selection of upgrade items.Today we will be taking a look at one of their system enclosures, the m998. It is a mid-tower design based around the ATX standard and has some features that may be a little different than what you have seen in the past.Of course, there are a lot of choices in this market segment, so our job is to sort out the features and help you decide whether it might be a worthy option for your next upgrade or system build. So relax for a bit as we dig a little deeper into the Ultra m998 mid-tower enclosure.
Like many enclosures being offered today, the m998 features an aluminum shell surrounding your vital system components. Though this is common, the use of 1.5mm metal is not. Most of the aluminum boxes we have seen to date make use of a lighter 1mm aluminum material that isn't quite as sturdy. The thicker metal panels will add stability to the entire case without adding much in the way of extra weight.The front bezel is plastic and has a sleek design that is not out of the ordinary, but offered a look that is aesthetically pleasing. There are a few LED lights on the front that indicate power state and hard drive activity, and the power and reset buttons are easy to get to and slightly recessed to keep you from accidentally rebooting the machine all the time.
Just below those recessed buttons and the LED lights is a small door that gives access to the I/O ports. Included is a pair of USB ports, a IEEE1394 Firewire port, the expected speaker/headphone and microphone jacks and an eSATA port. All are mounted on the front for easy access but can be hidden behind the closed door if you are not using them.If you look a little closer at the photo above you will see that the entire bottom portion of the front bezel is ported. This lets airflow to move from outside in, allowing for cool air to be added to the cooling system from the lower front area of the case. This has been shown to be the most effective manner of airflow planning, so you should be off to a good start without adding anything extra on your own.
Turning to the side shows a full sized acrylic window that allows you to show off your system to its fullest. It also offers a pair of vented holes, which lets more cool air to enter around the areas of the processor and the graphics adapter, the two biggest heat producers in the system.The top vent has a telescoping funnel designed to maximize cool air intake to the processor. While it moves from the side panel inward, it does not have any other adjustments, so if your processor doesn't line up, you'll just need to keep it in its most outward position to allow for cool air to enter in the general area.Also of note is the lack of filtration in these ports. The top one has a small hex shaped shield over it, but no real filter in place. The bottom vent doesn't even have this. To maximize your cooling, you should always have filters of some sort in place for any opening that can potentially allow air to enter the system.
Turning the enclosure once more shows the back side of the box. While layout is dictated by current industry standards, the mirror finish of the metal is not. For those who have their enclosures positioned in a manner that allows people to see it in its entirety, this will go far in making your case look good. This is also a handy feature for those who like to partake in the local LAN party since it will allow others to see your system always looking good. The back end will no longer be an eye sore.Also of note are the thumb screws that are used over the entire design. Whether you are taking off a side panel or installing a power supply, thumb screws are already in place and ready for use. This will make installing a new system a breeze.
While many folks will feel right at home with their system situated low to the floor, some want a bit more flexibility. For those people, the folks at Ultra have included a set of casters that can be mounted to the bottom of the enclosure. This also adds mobility for those who have this need. It can also make your enclosure useful as a small server. It is good to see that Ultra looks at customer needs and addresses them.As a side note, if you do not have a desire to install the wheels, there are still rubber feet on the bottom of the enclosure, so you can sit it directly on your floor without any issues coming up.
Taking the side panel off shows us something that is truly out of the ordinary. While we expect the exterior to have a nice coating of paint, very few manufacturers add this concept to the interior of the case. All surface areas inside are coated with the same paint as you see outside. This helps protect the metal from mars and nasty fingerprints. In general, you would have to carefully take apart your case and paint interior surface areas yourself to get this kind of treatment. Very nice indeed!Of course, having that dark an interior can make for an awfully macabre system, so to lighten things up a bit a mirror finish on the motherboard tray has been added. While your mainboard will cover a good portion of this tray, all of the surrounding edges will be readily visible. Add a little cold cathode low-level lighting and you will have a truly remarkable looking system, even with the side panel installed.You will also note that there is a large diameter hole in the tray for those motherboards that require this feature. It will also keep the metal away from aftermarket coolers that have large mounting plates on the bottom of the motherboard.
With the exception of the interior paint, the optical drive tower is pretty standard and there is nothing out of the ordinary in this area. This makes sense, though, since I was always taught that if it isn't broke, don't fix it.From this angle you can also see that each optical drive bay has a small rail in place to make installation easier. There is not, however, a rail system in place for installation so you will have to resort to the screws and a screwdriver to mount your drives. Not a huge hit, but many folks like a rail system.
Dropping down to the hard drive tower shows room for five hard drives to be installed. This entire drive tower is actively cooled by a 120mm fan installed in the front bezel, so you can run your high-speed drives without fear of burning them up. This gives you room for a boot drive and a 4-drive RAID, but if that isn't enough room for you, then you can still make use of the two externally accessible 3/5" drive bays directly above this area to expand even more. This should be enough space for even the most demanding of power users.Like the optical bays, there is not a rail mounting system in place, but each slot has a small rail for easily installation of your hard drive.
As noted in our introduction earlier, this enclosure has some major differences from other cases on the market. Above is one of the primary features that Ultra has included, called the "Ultra Power Bar". It is a feature that is designed to keep cable clutter to a minimum. It does this by allowing you to plug in your Molex and PCI-E8 cables to the upper ports pictured on the left in the photo above. This set of ports are positioned close to the upper section of the case where you can wrap up your PSU cabling and keep it stored high so that it does not interfere with airflow. Next, you use the included cabling harnesses, which are slim in design, to connect the ports on the bottom to the devices mounted in your motherboard. This minimizes the amount of cabling that can interfere with airflow and makes cooling an easier beast to handle.This is an interesting device that worked surprisingly well during our tests. I was able to use some zip ties to bundle up a majority of the cabling from the power supply and keep it stored above the airflow channel. The thin wiring harness provided uses shorted cables that are easy to control and the amount of clutter blocking airflow was reduced.
WOOHOO! Finally, somebody has gotten it through their designers' heads that removable motherboard trays are a good thing. While this isn't exactly a small case, it is so much easier to install a system when you can remove the entire motherboard tray and get your major components mounted without scuffing up your knuckles. This is especially important for folks, like me, who happen to have large hands. The addition of a motherboard tray will always be a big plus in my book, and I know of many others who agree with this sentiment.From this angle you can also see that there is cooling provided on the back edge of this enclosure as well. It is another 120mm fan that is matched up with the front fan to create a sufficient amount of airflow. During our tests I did not have any problems with temperatures using just the included fans, even when running a dual graphics setup with a pair of X2900XT video cards.
Our final stop on our tour of the interior is the PCI retention devices. While thumb screws are handy, they can sometimes be difficult to maneuver, like when they are mounted close to a metal wall. While this would normally be a bad thing, remember that this enclosure has that removable motherboard tray, so getting to the screws is pretty simple.From this angle you can also get a good look at the potential for that mirror finish on the tray itself. I would imagine that there are several readers who are already getting ideas as to lighting effects that could be used to best effect with this little baby.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
Overall, Ultra has come up with a very nice enclosure. The heavier aluminum used in the construction, the impressive feature list and the attention to detail with the interior paint and reflective motherboard tray and back panel shows that these folks have some ideas for enthusiasts. We often tend to be picky buyers and this product aims at addressing those concerns right from the beginning.The addition of Ultra Power Bar was also a stroke of inspiration that I found to be very good. Any time you can reduce the obstruction of the airflow, you make the overall cooling effort that much more effective. The idea is simple, but the end result was very positive. A pair of X2900 boards creates a lot of heat, especially when gaming. Being able to keep the system functional without any extra fans was impressive.I also liked the light/dark theme of this case. In its base configuration there are no included lighting effects, so your own imagination will be the only limiting factor. The interior paint also keeps your lighting effects operating in their intended manner. Often times we have to make some adjustments because the off-silver coloring of the interior aluminum gives a color result that was not what we had intended. This won't be an issue with the Ultra m998. The addition of a removable motherboard tray is also a very nice feature. You just can't beat the ease of a new installation when you can take out a tray and get most of your primary components installed right in front of you on your work desk.Of course, this isn't a perfect case. Even though the cooling was effective, some folks are still going to want to add more fans. There are no mounts set up for this so you will need to get ready to mod the case to make this happen. I was also a bit disappointed with the lack of filtration on the side panel vents. As noted previously, ANY
opening that has the potential of allowing air to enter the case needs to be filtered. Dust has always been one of the biggest component killers since enthusiasts began tinkering, so missing this point was a bit unexpected.As far as cost is concerned, the MSRP for the Ultra m998 is listed at $199.99US, but a bit of searching online will yield you prices closer to the $160 range or so. While not a budget case, the features are noteworthy enough to make this price point pretty close to where it needs to be. You will be getting a whole lot more with this enclosure than many others on the market today.