When you think of the name "Tagan", you probably think immediately of power supplies. After all, these folks have been bringing us a very high performance PSU lineup for several years. In the recent past, however, the company has decided to expand their product line and offer us a bit more than just another high-end power supply.
Enter the Tagan Black Pearl WCR. The "WCR" moniker is an acronym for "Water Cooling Ready", so it is designed for enthusiasts who need the flexibility to run unconventional cooling solutions. But can the PSU Dudes pull off a quality enclosure?
Go ahead and take a load off as we delve into this very issue. After all, when it comes to spending our hard-earned dollars, it is important to see if we are getting what we really need.
The first thing you notice about the Black Pearl is its size. Simply put, this thing is BIG. It is capable of handling just about anything that you can throw at it and still have room for future upgrades. This enclosure stands just a shade over two feet tall and has enough space to be used in server applications. Of course, this also makes it an excellent size for the hardcore gamer and enthusiast alike.
The case is made from aluminum, so weight will be minimized. This can be a good thing when you need to lug your system to that weekend LAN party for an all-out fragfest. The black coloring is well done with the finish being somewhere about in the middle of the "flat" and "gloss" zones. This gives it a good look without as many fingerprint issues, so the paint is a good compromise between shiny and dull.
The front of the Black Pearl shows immediately that it is prepared to handle the load. The top two optical drive bays have hinged covers to hide off-color drives and there are an additional four bays below that. This gives a truly staggering amount of flexibility for your system. There is also an externally accessible floppy drive bay for those who still make use of this form of data storage.
Below this is a LCD display area that shows fan speed and internal temperature. This temperature is taken from an attached thermal probe, which can be mounted nearly anywhere inside the system. You can set it up to monitor internal case temperatures, or mount it to your processor or graphics board(s) to keep track of those areas.
Like most manufacturers today, Tagan has helped make things easy to get to with there external I/O ports. These are mounted on the top of the enclosure just behind the front bezel. Included are a pair of USB ports, a Firewire IEEE1394, and two audio ports that give access to microphone and headset capabilities. Nothing out of the ordinary here, but I think we are at a point in design where we feel like something is missing if this feature isn't included.
Moving to the side shows us a plain black panel so we think that there won't be any windows or anything. While this isn't necessarily a wrong thought, it isn't as cut and dried as that. You see, the Black Pearl is backward in design and this side panel is not the primary access point to your system.
The back of the enclosure is set up to have the power supply mounted at the bottom. Everything else is pretty standard with the exception of being just the opposite of what we are accustomed to. Some might glance at the image above and think the case is upside down, but I can assure you it is not. The motherboard mounts on the opposite side so everything is adjusted for this new mounting method.
As noted in the introduction, this enclosure has a "WCR" moniker attached to it. This stands for "Water Cooling Ready" and shown above is one reason why it makes this claim. At the back side of the top panel you will see a pair of circular covers that can be removed to allow for plastic tubing. Those who have played around with water cooling and an external reservoir will appreciate this feature since it means there is no need for modifying the case to allow for the tubing to pass.
Once we open up the side panel we see that the Black Pearl has a similar design and layout to the Lian Li V2000 series enclosures. Indeed, it is not uncommon for manufacturers to license out their designs to others, so given the stature and reputation of the Lian Li line, we have a good starting point for this product. But do not misunderstand, this is not a Lian Li case; it simply uses their design as a basis for their own improvements and features.
Like many designs using some of the features in the now all but defunct BTX standard, the Black Pearl splits their enclosure into two distinct sections. The top section, shown above, will give you a place to mount the mainboard, optical drives and peripherals. This allows the system to have a smaller working area for optimal airflow management. This smaller minimizes hot spots in the corners and makes cooling the system easier.
This brings up a question, though, since the folks at Tagan decided to use a backwards installation design for the mainboard. With the system board being installed in the reverse of what is customary, the exhaust fan is not positioned at the top of the rear panel. This might not be too much an issue if not for two considerations; there is no fan mounted in the front bezel of this section to create a constant inflow of air, and there are no fans on the top panel to allow for the removal of heated air's natural tendency to rise. Granted, about half of the side panel is vented and there are some holes toward the back half of the top panel, but it is just open with no active cooling in place. During our testing with two ATI 2900XT video cards, intensive graphics usage created the graphics to heat up more than I like to see. Now I am running an extreme video setup, but it just goes to show that high-end systems may have issues if you don't use any aftermarket cooling.
The bottom partition of the enclosure is devoted to the power supply and hard drives. This section does have active cooling in place as well as a vented middle support strut, so air can be kept constantly moving over the hard drives and then through the bottom section where it will be vented out by the PSU. This particular method has been used before and from all tests I have conducted to date, it works very well. Hard drive temperatures were very good and there were never any issues or concerns where heat was concerned.
Moving up to the drive storage areas, we will start at the top where we see a whole bunch of openings for optical devices. The top two have a spring loaded cover panel that will hide your of-color drives while the other four are of the normal variety. This huge number of 5.25" bays opens up any number of possibilities. For those who are looking for a case that allows a burning rack system, this one delivers. For those who may just have a couple of drives but want to have space for an internal reservoir for their water cooling solution, you're still set with the Black Pearl. Simply put, this enclosure has space to spare for a majority of setups.
At the bottom of the drive column you will find a bay for your floppy disk drive. This externally accessible drive bay has a cover plate that works for most industry standard drives, and leaves the drive covered with a black cover to enhance the outward appearance of the system. For those (like me) who utilize a floppy drive with a built-in media card reader, fear not. You need only remove the front panel by getting rid of two small screws and it will open up the slot for a full-sized exterior facing.
With regards to your installation of drives, the top two bays (those with the hinged covers) require the normal routine of screwing in the drives. The bottom four bays, however, make use of a flexible plastic tab that locks the drive in place. Just pull outward on the back lip of the latch and your drive will come out with no tools needed.
While this case is not equipped with a removable motherboard tray, the interior space is ample and you should have no problems with this. As hinted to before, this enclosure is big; big enough to handle the Extended ATX motherboards that are commonly used in server solutions. Standard ATX boards also fit with no issues and there are holes in the motherboard tray to handle other standard sizes as well, but the PCI slots are designed for a full sized mainboard.
Speaking of the PCI slots, the Black Pearl comes with the expected seven slots and the peripherals will be secured with thumb screws. While I have seen many different varieties of "tool-free" retention devices, many of them are not that good. Screws seem to be the best way to properly secure your components, even if it doesn't happen to be the most convenient method.
Interior - Continued
Moving down to the bottom half of the enclosure will lead us to the hard drive bays, and yes, I said "bays" as in plural. The Tagan Black Pearl has not one, but two hard drive bays. Each bay is designed to handle four hard drives, so storage space should never be a concern here. Also of note is the 120mm fan that is mounted directly in front of the hard drive bays, which will allow for plenty of cool air to flow over your hot drives. This air moves to the rear so you won't have to worry about your hard drives heating up your other system components.
To make your drive installation easier, the drive bays can be completely removed from the case. Drive installation is also tool-free by means of form fitted rubber grommets that are attached to the side of the drive. Once in place, the drive slips neatly into the cage and drops into a cutout groove to keep it nicely secured.
Toward the rear of the hard drive cages is the small bay used for the power supply. This area is well designed and should cover all issues. The PSU will be mounted atop a raised mounting tray, so even if you have a power supply with a fan mounted on the bottom side, it will still be able to draw air. There are also vent holes cut into the bottom of the enclosure to make certain that you will have enough airflow to work with.
With the power supply being in a separate compartment, there has to be a way to route your wiring harness to the components that need to be powered. This is addressed by slots that are cut in the surrounding panels. The good thing about this design is that they remembered to use a plastic grommet around the opening where your cabling will run. This makes sure that you don't accidentally rub a hole through the wire covers.
Overall, the Tagan Black Pearl WCR has a lot going for it. Starting off with a design based from Lian Li makes for an excellent starting point. While some may frown at the idea of using another manufacturer's design, it is nothing more than a starting point and designs are commonly licensed to other companies. Tagan has added its own features to make the Black Pearl a more unique casing solution.
As far as space is concerned, you will likely find yourself having a very difficult time trying to fill it all. With room for six optical drives, a floppy, eight hard drives and motherboards up to the Extended ATX size, there is more then enough space for your current system with room to grow. As stated earlier, this thing is just plain BIG!
The use of a separate compartment for the power supply and hard drives is also a tried and true method to help manage system cooling. Having up to eight drives can create a whole lot of heat. There is a lot to be said about this design and it does work well. The design also planned for the need of a raised platform to mount the power supply on, which is even more important for those with the fan on the bottom. The active cooling allows for the hard drives to remain cool and exhaust the air out the back through the PSU.
My only real concern is the cooling potential of the upper compartment, the one where your mainboard and primary components reside. There is no active cooling on the front bezel to create a proper airflow pattern. The only fan (besides the one attached to your HSF if you are using air cooling) is at the bottom of the compartment at the back of the enclosure, and it is set up as an exhaust. There is venting along the side where air can come in, but it is not filtered in any way and will allow all manner of dirt and dust to take up residence in your system. This was an area of concern when testing the system with a pair of very hot video cards with factory cooling. Normal systems will probably not have anything to really worry about, but the enthusiasts out there should plan accordingly.
Price is what you would expect for a quality made enclosure that is rated toward the high-end of the enthusiast line. The Black Pearl has a MSRP of about $270US but it can be found online for closer to the $250 mark. While not the most expensive case out there, it is priced toward the upper end of the scale. It has a lot to offer for the price, but the upper compartment cooling is a glaring oversight.
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