At this point in building and reviewing products, I have had my hands in quite a few types and models of cases. Not too long ago I was greeted with an e-mail asking if I would like to review a mini-ITX case. I accepted the challenge and went on Newegg and got a hold of a ZOTAC mini-ITX motherboard to go along with parts I already had on hand, ready for a build. The case finally arrived at my door from A+, one of three of the Cupid series. I asked for the Cupid 3 for reasons I will address later, but there is also a Cupid 1 and a Cupid 2 in this line-up.
A+, which is associated with many other big names in the PC aftermarket retail world, is a branch of Maxpoint GMBH, with research and development going to Nanopoint. Then of course there is Tagan, which is the name the PSUs are under, and the last one being Icy Box for enclosures. Tagan as a whole has been in the market since 2001 and has made quite a name for themselves in eight years, as most tech-oriented readers have at least heard of them, if not bought one of their various products by now. My first look into A+ was when the A+ 380 was released, which has since evolved. A+ makes a variation now called the Diablo, which is similar in concept.
Growing up as a kid, I spent my winters building model cars and planes, which is what I liken this mini-ITX build to. With the interior space being very limited with the basic idea of the mini-ITX form factor, one needs to take their time and make sure everything is secure and in its proper place. Making sure you have a bit of extra time and patience is the key to making it all go together smoothly. The anticipation has gotten to me; I think it's about time we get down to business and show what the A+ Cupid 3 has to offer the HTPC community.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The three cases released in the Cupid series from A+ are different in overall dimensions, but share the same color scheme and mini-ITX form factor. All of them, including the Cupid 3, come with varying power supplies. The Cupid 3 for instance, comes included with a 200 W mini-ATX power supply. This version is more narrow and taller than the 1 and 2 models. The Cupid 3 measures 8.75" wide by 5.25" tall (with feet) by 13.25" long to the end of the PCI expansion slot. The Cupid 3 with the power supply weighs in at 2.3Kg, or right around 5 pounds, which seems in my hand to be relatively light. The main structure of the case and the cover are built from 0.7mm steel, while the front is an acrylic base with aluminum face plates.
This case also features one 5.25" bay that opens the case front door and two 3.5" bays hidden below. The Cupid 3 also features a 56-in-1 card reader nuzzled in between front output audio jacks and two USB ports. The overall looks of the case are sleek and sexy in my opinion; the all black body with the silver front, covered in aluminum, two-thirds brushed and one-third polished. All of this leaves a flat yet sophisticated look to the front, so it makes a clean addition to your HTPC set-up.
The Cupid series of cases just made their press release back in early February, but were also assured this series would hit e-tailers shelves soon. Newegg does carry the Tagan / A+ case line-up, but has yet to place an early link in anticipation for their arrival. I can only speculate and hope they hit markets in the next few weeks, so keep your eyes peeled if this case fits your needs.
The projected pricing for the Cupid 3 is to retail for around $89 USD when they do hit retailers locally or e-tailers stock. Looking at current stock at Newegg, I found that they currently only stock seventeen different mini-ITX specific cases. This leaves a big hole for manufacturers like A+ to step up and fill the demand. With so few to choose from it is really tough to judge against the field for pricing, but the $89 asking price does seem to be in line with many of the other options available from other manufacturers.
A+ shipped the Cupid 3 in a brilliantly bright, light lime green with banding of other greens and browns to highlight the image of the Cupid 3. A+ used the top corner to display their logo and then made sure we knew it was designed in Germany at Nanopoint. The reverse side of the packaging is a mirror image of the front, so no image was taken.
This end of the package continues the same greenish colour scheme and A+ displays five key features in three different languages.
The opposing end of the package also lists six other features of the Cupid 3 and again, A+ repeats these in three languages, too. These are under an image of the Cupid 3 with the front panel released exposing the front inputs.
The Cupid 3 is packaged snugly inside the cardboard box. They use Styrofoam halves to surround and support the case on each side and for added protection from abrasion it is pre-packed in a plastic liner.
The A+ Cupid 3 mini-ITX Case
As I addressed previously, the front of the Cupid 3 is sleek and sexy. The combination of brushed and polished aluminium for the face of this case really appealed to me. The bottom left has a release to expose the 56-in-1 card reader, front audio inputs and USB 2.0 headers. The bottom right has the power button surrounded by crystal blue LED lights. This case has no reset.
Spinning the case around to show the side reveals that A+ has really ventilated the side with many holes drilled in a chevron pattern. The sides and top are all shiny black and textured heavily and makes it look similar to a lot of media components you may already own. Again, the opposing side is identical with the same ventilation holes and pattern.
The rear of the Cupid 3 comes well ventilated and as you can see has an included mini-ATX power supply already mounted into place. The bottom majority of the case is used up with the I/O shield placement, but leaves just enough room for the PCI expansion slot to be added.
I had to get a closer image of this texture so the readers could appreciate what I saw. Not only are there valleys and plateaus, but there is even texture atop these plateaus. All the texture really plays with and diffuses the light, so the case won't reflect any lights if the case should need to be exposed in your media room.
Inside the A+ Cupid 3
The removal of four Phillips head screws, two at the top and one on either side allows the black outer steel to slide back a bit and then lift out of the way. This exposes the inside and some of the included parts and hardware that come shipped inside.
Removing four more screws gets the power supply out of the way so that I could get a proper rear image of the case. You can start to see the split cages to hold drives and see where the wiring to the case stems from.
From the top, with everything out of the way you can get a real idea of the layout of the Cupid 3. The motherboard is mounted to four, stamped risers to keep it off the case floor. To the right you can see a stepped section of bent steel at the top and the bottom. These again are to support one optical drive and up to two HDDs. The PCB you can see is the back of the front panel inputs.
Speaking of that PCB, these are the connections that are found on the other end of the wiring. Starting with the wires connected to the power button, at the top left, there is the standard power switch and HDD activity LED connector. Then you are left with only the positive and negative LED power connections. Note, there is no reset connection. Moving counter clockwise, there is the USB 2.0 header and the front panel audio optional connector, followed lastly with the connection for data transfer of the card reader.
That leaves me with the power supply I removed early on. The Cupid 3 comes with a 200 Watt mini-ATX PSU and this power supply is ample enough to get any media PC up and running. While a 13 Amp, 12 volt rail isn't a lot, it is in fact plenty to keep even some power hungry older equipment running fine.
While the included PSU is pretty basic by most standards, it does have an active fan to aide in cooling the PSU and possibly helping to draw out warmer case air. They also offer no fancy sheathing, as what is the point when there isn't a window to see it and most times the HTPC is somewhere you can't see it anyway.
The specifications I was given to the Cupid 3 are just a bit off from this early released sample, but that is something that happens from time to time and is corrected prior to retail samples hitting the shelves. In this instance it was with the power supply connections that were supplied with my sample. From the bottom left, mine includes one SATA connector versus the three that are advertised. Hopefully this wasn't overlooked, as even an adapter would make this work out just fine. Then we have two molex 4-pin connectors that terminate into a 4-pin FDD connector. Moving right brings us to the 20+4-pin main power connector, while laying on top is the supplied P4 plug.
Accessories and Hardware
Included along with the Cupid 3, shipped inside the case is the assortment of accessories that accompany it. At the top left it the optical drive cover to keep the brushed aluminium facia unified. At the top right is the power cord for the included PSU. The two pieces in the middle are adapters so that you may use smaller than standard drives and still be able to mount then in the Cupid 3. At the bottom left are four, moulded, rubber feat with tape pre-applied for use under the case. Mistakenly, I inverted the A+ case badge that sits under an included tie strap. On to the screws!
A+ sends all Phillips head screws with this case making assembly much easier. Two of these are pointed self tapping screws to use with the black adapter rails. The next group of seven screws are for mounting the motherboard to the inside of the case; only four are needed for assembly. The last group of ten to the right are for mounting the hardware to the drive bays. Last but not least is the diagnostic motherboard speaker and with things tucked away in the media room this will give a good tone to let you know when something has gone wrong.
Going back to what I said earlier, sometimes with samples everything isn't quite ready to go. A+ shipped me the Cupid 3 without any instructions included, but since they just publically released the case, I understand writing and printing the instructions takes time. I would like to add that I didn't run into any curve balls with the installation. This bodes well for A+, as their design must be really straight forward in concept.
I thought I should give the readers a good look at the hardware being used, as once the build starts going you soon lose the ability to see most of what is really under there. As I said, I went and bought a ZOTAC mini-ITX motherboard with WiFi so I could use my existing hardware. I had an E6600, the 2 GB of G.Skill PC2-6400 RAM and a 120GB IDE hard drive to accompany the IDE DVD/CD burner. One thing to note is the DVD/CD drive in the image was replaced due to the length of the drive; I will show just why that is a bit later.
First things first, I have to remove the front face of the case so as not to damage the finish by moving things around during assembly. I opened the push-release door to give you a sneak peak at what is hidden behind it.
The reverse of the face plate shows the four tabs that unlock its grip to the case. The bottom left corner of the optical bay door opening, you can see A+ connects the tiny outer button to a much larger plate to allow the use of any drive, as the plate is big enough to still reach the open button on the drive itself. Then of course is the PCB and its six wires emanating behind the power button. At the very bottom is the supplied spring that attaches to keep the door plate closed when the drive door isn't open.
Installing the ZOTAC mini-ITX motherboard was a snap. Just pop in the I/O shield, align up the board with the risers and screw in four screws; pretty simple.
The top right corner of the motherboard from the last image is slightly blocked by the optical drive and hard drive rack. A+ eased this issue by adding a hole in the end of the rack to allow the screwdriver to reach through it.
Here we have a shot of the wiring laid out and plugged into the motherboard. A+ leaves just the right amount of wire to get to the opposite end of the motherboard, but not so much it becomes a hassle to manage. Every connection made it into place and allowed enough slack to lay flat on the floor of the case where it was out of the way to continue forward with the build.
Once I got the motherboard and the wiring in place, I got to looking at the bigger picture a bit. Using an E6600, I needed a cooler I thought would fit. I had on hand, a stock cooler from a 45nm CPU, thinking the lower profile cooler would ease concerns about fit. Looks to me like it's going to be a close fit!
Next came installing the PSU back into place. My advice is to plug in the P4 connector before mounting the PSU into place, as the limited space under the PSU will make this a real challenge. At this time I also plugged in the 20+4 pin connector to the motherboard and tried to get the wiring to lie under the drive rack. I also went ahead and attached the IDE ribbon cable to get it ready for more peripherals. This is also a good time to plug the SATA connectors to the motherboard, if that is the option you choose.
The Build - Continued
Suspicions were confirmed about the stock Intel cooler. The power supply does in fact rest on the gage and something else to consider is that both fans will be pulling against each other. Although, this is just the Inlet solution and with the other options on the market based on low power consumption, their coolers are a bit smaller.
Here we have a look at how things really start to disappear; with the addition of the HDD, it really begins to close things off inside. Be sure to get the connections made before you slide the drive into place, as again, there won't be too much room to do this after it's installed.
At first glance I assumed the slotted rails were for screwing in the HDD itself, while they are designed to be used with the adapter rails. The HDD, or HDDs, depending on your needs, are both to be mounted here. Being limited on my motherboard connections, I really couldn't benefit, but there is room enough to mount a SSD to the floor of the case as well.
I alluded to the fact that the drive I pictured with the hardware was replaced; here is why. The original drive was an older full length drive and it just wouldn't fit between the PSU and the front of the case. So I went back to my parts shelf and was lucky enough to find this shorter optical drive that fit in the space allowed.
Once everything is assembled, you can see there is barely room to get a can of compressed air in there. A+ has used the space available to them very well.
From the other side, you can see to the left the space I was referring to that you could set a SSD on the floor. All the wiring runs to the other side, leaving this virtually empty real estate. I did leave the HDD loose and only used two of the optical drive screws at this point. If I had any issues I could easily still get down to the board.
While I hadn't noticed at the time, I inadvertently got the I/O shield hold-down tab over the mouse PS/2 port. This was later corrected after I saw this image. I wanted to get a finished rear image before I place on the cover and see if my building skills are up to par.
Fit and Finish
A+ includes a spring to keep the brushed aluminum door shut when the optical drive door is closed. The issue is that the included spring is too long and doesn't function properly. I was able to cut off a few rings and re-bend the last two rings to hold on the latch.
This is what I mean about the spring being too long and not functioning properly. With the spring ends on both pegs, the door sits open just a bit when the drive door is closed. Shortening the spring did correct the issue as I stated above.
Adding some power to the Cupid 3 and pushing the power button reveals that the edge of the button is surrounded in LED's. The reddish purple lights indicate hard drive activity, while the blue is just to indicate power being on.
Here is what you look at while the Cupid 3 is at an idle state. You are left with a mellow blue LED showing a sleek aluminum finish.
With the optical drive button pushed, the drive door opens and drops the outer door while extending out. The entire tray for the CD or DVD is open to access.
With the face of the Cupid on this time, I opened the door at the bottom left to give a finished look at the outputs, 56-in-1 card reader and the two USB 2.0 ports. If you plan to use the case without the supplied feet in use, this door will hit whatever surface you are on and not fully open. For the sake of the image, I set the Cupid 3 up to work this way.
Last but not least is the feet I was just talking about. I suggest that you use them if you plan to purchase this case. The texture that is applied to the outer shell is also applied to the bottom. As you can see, this texture scraped a bit of paint from the photo box, so I can only imagine what it might do to a nice hardwood stand.
With all things considered with the Cupid 3 from A+, I have to say I really enjoyed the simplicity of the build, the black textured finish and the sleek aluminum facing. While things are tight inside the Cupid 3, this is to be expected with the mini-ITX form factor, as the whole point is putting as much tech as you can in as little space as possible. Personally, the A+ Cupid 3 case is going to make an addition in my own media room.
Taking advantage of almost every available inch is what the design team for A+ did. With this in mind and just a little bit of planning to get the right hardware, I see no issues with most hardware going into this case. The adapter rails come in handy for the smaller drive sizes. I really hope that A+ includes some sort of SATA adapter in the retail packaging to support the use of at least three drives. I have to say, that if in fact the smaller issues are sorted out for the retail packaging, the $89 USD asking price isn't out of place at all for what you can accomplish with the Cupid 3.
I have already hit on the issues that I ran into during my go at the installation process; first being the closure spring for the drive bay door. Simply a shorter spring would correct this issue, point blank. The second issue, which I haven't addressed until now, is that the bottom of the stamped braces for the drives are extremely sharp. If you aren't really careful, the cables can be cut and possibly damaged while getting them into place. The last issue is that the PSU rests on the short Intel cooler, so keep this in mind if you plan to build one yourself.
But even with these issues, I can overlook them and say I'm happy to have this sitting on my living room shelf.
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