My plunge into Danger Den came some years ago when I was looking to tame the heat of my Opteron 170; this was back when reaching 3GHz was a feat, especially with air cooling. With the DFI I had pushing the chip, I knew I had more to give, but the cooler I had at the time just wouldn't allow for it. Searching the forums, I ran across a used water cooling kit which included a TDX CPU water block. With a bit of time and effort and some really subpar pieces of equipment, I was still greeted with much better temperatures and the ability to run benches at a new high speed of just over 3.2GHz. While the jump wasn't huge, at the time it was a measureable difference in 24/7 applications and overall system snappiness.
Since the days of old have long gone, things change, as did Danger Den's lineup of things available to cool or house your components. Originally, Danger Den had a few chassis' in their listings, like the Tower 16, 21 and 26, along with Torture Racks and Air Box cases. These are all acrylic builds that offer both the ability to show off your components as well as a sense of accomplishment in the build process. The Black-Series of chassis' is an evolution on some of the previously mentioned "Tower" cases.
I received the "Bruiser" variation of this case. The standard version is the "BiPolar" which is all clear and black acrylic pieces. For an additional fee, there are seven other versions to choose from. With a name like Bruiser, the black and blue theme is most fitting. I say we get down to business and throw the Bruiser into the ring and see where this Black-Series Tower 21 contends against our previous samples.
Specifications, Availability and PricingSpecifications, Availability and Pricing
As I mentioned, the case is made entirely from thick acrylic sheets and cut to specification depending on the pieces requirements. The covering, or let's say, door panels, are made from clear acrylic sheets. The top, bottom and most of the structural components are made from a piano black acrylic. That leaves the front and back panels, which in the Bruiser are UV blue re-active acrylic. All of the parts come ready for assembly and Danger Den includes the largest hardware kit I have seen to date. Building models was something I enjoyed as a kid and I consider myself to be pretty mechanical in my abilities, so I look forward to the challenge of the build process.
There is no cooling shipped with the case from Danger Den; they already know you want to customize a build like this and their fan of choice would likely not be added anyway. They do, however, include three 120mm holes in the front panel and two 80mm holes in the rear panel. If you plan to run all air cooling, some nice LED fans, or even basic blacks will work and look good and enable quite a bit of case air flow. Now, for those water cooling guys out there, that means there is room for two radiators inside the case. With clear acrylic in play, Danger Den did some creative things like placing the single optical drive bay right across from the PSU and the four bay, HDD rack just underneath it. This should keep the wiring short and hopefully out of view.
Now, custom designing an acrylic case is one thing, but the tooling and staff to make this dream come to life does come at a cost. At first glance, this chassis is a show piece. Not only is it an eye catching chassis on its own, but makes an excellent build done by a creative person a masterpiece. I mean that literally and figuratively. While it is very nice to look at, you may not want to touch it or move it around much, so have your pedestal ready. The Black-Series Tower 21 can be found at limited locations as it is built in house by Danger Den for Danger Den, but seems to be in stock and ready to go upon order. The chassis lists for $279.99 at Danger Den's store. If this chassis doesn't seem like it boasts enough room for you, there is a Double Wide version as well. Let's get a look at the packaging and get this build underway.
The top of the packaging is all black with a large Danger Den logo and email address. On the left they list some of the finer points of the chassis, while on the right is an image of a version, what is included and the specifications list.
The bottom is similarly laid out, but this time at the left there is a list of parts you may want to include, while the right holds the warranty information.
On one side you will find the sticker that pertains to the specific case version you chose. Here you can see the Bruiser is clearly marked as the case we received today. Also, the website shows even more versions than this sticker lists.
Once you open the box, you start to get a feel for what you are in for. The pieces are all laid out and stacked to fit in this rather thin package. Things like plastic wrappings, cardboard, Styrofoam and the sticky paper layer on the acrylic all help to protect the pieces during its travels.
Unpacking the Danger Den Black-Series Tower 21 CaseUnpacking the Danger Den Black-Series Tower 21 Case
Danger Den takes their time to get your case to you in tip top condition. The two clear sides are packed around the black pieces in the back. The front and rear panels are packaged together on the left. The top and bottom pieces and the rear I/O and expansion slot piece are what is left on the right.
Breaking it down a bit, I laid out all of the black acrylic components. There are both side structural members standing up. On the table are the PSU support, optional two or four hard drive pieces and the two small optical drive hangers.
Here I lined up the top, front, rear and bottom respectively.
I'm including the hardware at this point due to the fact that I will need quite a bit of it to continue on with the building of the chassis. Here is half! There are the fan mounting screws, optical drive screws and the feet and screws on the top row. The bottom consists of the case assembly nuts, the case power button and the universal screws in the last bag.
And here we have the second half of the hardware. The risers and motherboard screws, case wall screws and expansion slot screws make up the top. That leaves the I/O shield screws and wrench, other rear I/O screws and the USB / Audio panel screws to round it all out.
Because the case is acrylic and most of it in black, it is a fingerprint magnet and Danger Den has given you some gloves to keep scratches and fingerprints to a minimum. The instructions are very basic, but do show some terrific drawings to let you know where you went wrong, or to verify it is in fact correct. I would have liked to have seen them show where the PSU support piece goes, though; it took me just a bit to figure out exactly where it went. Then there is the wiring for the included switch.
Rough fitting of all the parts is a must and it states in the instructions to leave all of the screws a bit loose. This way you can get it all together and then tighten things down and make sure it lines up square. I left the paper coating on at this stage.
So far I have just added a bunch of nuts and bolts, a few screws into the I/O and expansion card bracket, and viola! Although at this point I did realize that I put the motherboard tray in backwards; I guess that is another reason to leave things a bit loose.
With the motherboard tray reversed, I added the top panel and the floor of the chassis. Grabbing the bag with the feet and screws, I just hand screwed them into the floor. It's really starting to come together at this point.
Be sure to peel the paper before you add the top; the optical drive supports and even the metal back piece can keep you from peeling it all correctly. Once the paper is gone, it exposes some very sexy, piano black acrylic. Both the bottom of this panel and the motherboard tray show and etched logo and even that is optional when purchasing this case.
From the rear of the 21, you get a look at the layout; a top mounted PSU and up to three 80mm exhaust fans, two of which can support a radiator easily. The metal part has support for the I/O shield and up to seven expansion cards. Venting next to these slots is a nice little feature and should help rid the interior of any extra GPU heat.
The motherboard tray should show the DD etching, at least if you put it on right, on the outside of the case.
Black-Series Tower 21 Fit and FinishBlack-Series Tower 21 Fit and Finish
The chassis is for the most part structurally sound at this point, although my hardware package was lacking ten #17 screws to actually build it right. But I digress, as I had enough to continue on with the build. Here I have the PSU, optical drive and hard drive all installed and ready to do a fair bit of wire managing "magic", as I don't have a modular power unit to use and I highly recommend you use one in this case.
Not the best solution, but I don't plan to use this daily, so I stashed all the extra wires here for now. With the four bay drive piece (the two drive piece is shown), I would have had more room to house wiring or just use it for four drives.
If you remember, in the hardware goodies there were three screws and an Allen wrench. Well, here are the holes for them and all I have to say is, good luck! The holes aren't tapped, so trying to start a machine screw in this acrylic just got interesting. I couldn't get them to thread in my chassis with the supplied wrench. No matter really; the other screws that hold it to the rear panel keep this piece in line.
With a bunch of zip ties and what I thought was some creative placement, my PSU wire management is left looking like, well, spaghetti. This is why I strongly suggest a modular PSU and if an option, the short cable kit to go along with it. Even so, with a full ATX motherboard and all my vital components in, it is relatively clean for how open the design is.
A nice feature is sometimes the simplest thing. Taking the time to line up and drill access holes to pass a screwdriver through is something most steel cases don't even offer. It's nice to see Danger Den didn't overlook the easy things that can make or break an installation.
Looking closer inside, you can see there is a ton of room for radiators, tubing, pumps; whatever you could possibly want to stick into this case. If you don't want an optical drive, the bay res can be set there, freeing up even more space for goodies like lights and such.
There isn't anything wrong here, but I just want to drive home the fact that this chassis concept takes great planning on the part of the builder. Simple things like connecting fans and hiding the wiring gets a lot tougher with it all exposed to the world as it is.
Black-Series Tower 21 Fit and Finish - ContinuedBlack-Series Tower 21 Fit and Finish - Continued
With all the innards in place, we can get a look around the exterior of the chassis. I had a couple blue LED fans to accent the front panel, so I installed those, the optical drive and the power switch. The included nut and bolt system for the fan installation is a bit of a pain in the u know what, once the chassis is assembled. Plan ahead and add them before you place on the front of the case, it will make it so much easier.
Careful how you run your wires or tie them up! The motherboard tray has no room behind it and we have yet to install the covering clear acrylic.
The chassis really fills out and every angle of the included parts is visible. Just under the PSU you can see my rats nest of wires. I wish I had had a few 80mm fans on hand, but to be honest, who really uses 80mm fans these days? Most chassis' are built with 120mm fans in mind, but I understand possibly the room isn't there to make the case structurally sound with so little material here.
Closing things up, as I am pretty sure I built it right. I did only use two screws in the clear acrylic for now, as anything can happen and I can always add them later. I was a bit disappointed here, too; the holes are not threaded and threading this acrylic is no easy task by hand.
The front, I did the same thing; just added two screws, as it will soon be disassembled, either for another rig, or to be torn down to save a bit of room for now.
With my more basic build, you cannot see much change once it got powered up. With the doors all closed and under power I see it more as a presentation piece, or the ultimate for displaying your PC building handy work. Some UV lights to make the front and rear react with the right cooling loop could look fantastic in here.
The front when under power can look quite attractive, as the blue LED's even accentuate the front panel. While the lights aren't actually in the front panel, they do make the edges seem to glow.
Here is the angle from which most of your friends will see it, as I'm sure if they get too close they will most likely get their hands slapped. Seriously, though, with the right lighting, even on air, this case is definitely something I have never had the pleasure of building before.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
It's hard to base my comparison against other steel chassis', as they are much easier to make them do what you want and with fewer rules to follow than acrylic demands. That in mind, I tried to be as fair as I could, but still keeping in mind what else is out there for the price. Speaking of, let's get that over with now. The Black-Series Tower 21 lists at Danger Den's store for $279.99 base price. I say base price, because there are a few things that you can change. Color of the front and back, removal of the fan grills, or possible custom ones, or the Novus cleaning kit to ensure a fingerprint free experience can all add to that price. We haven't even gotten into the custom etching that is possible through Danger Den either! I'm sure if you want to go all out you could end up with a chassis nearing the $400 mark, but it will be completely customized as per your request, as long as it fits in with their requirements.
Pricing out of the way, we can get a real effective look at things. Roughly $300 puts you in the league of the Obsidian 800D and Lian Li's and even most SilverStone choices. Those are superb offerings, but lack customizability from the manufacturer and the pride of accomplishment; nor do they offer the view the almost invisibility Black 21 has. With that said, there were some issues. First and foremost was the lack of hardware. I'm sorry, but this is a big thing to me, especially at that price. I would assume it happens, but for $300 I expect someone to know how to count. Dust, wow, the dust! I have an older home and it is prone to being a bit dusty at times when the furnace is active, but this thing was so statically charged from peeling all the protective coating, it was a magnet for everything floating within 5 feet. I would assume wiping it down with the cleaner that is optional may correct this; I really don't know. This is my first acrylic experience. The last thing to bring up is more for a personal reason, but one that you may not have thought of. This is not a tinkerers chassis, as getting inside isn't as simple as a couple of thumb screws and badaboom, you're in. You need gloves and a screwdriver and about 2-3 minutes just to get in, so be sure before you close up shop, things are stable and permanent.
In the end, I have three words of advice if you really love the looks and desire to obtain the Black-Series Tower 21. And those are patience, planning and some more planning. The chassis is a real looker and a well laid out design, just once it is assembled, sometimes it is already too late and you need to remove six or eight nuts and bolts to correct the issue, like trying to install the front case fans. Things like a modular PSU, where you plan to run the wires, or even how you may want to hide them needs to be addressed, because with the almost 360 degrees of visible access, there is no room for shortcuts or haphazard wiring without detracting from the build inside, so keep those things in mind. Even with pieces missing from the hardware and things that if I did the build again, I would definitely change, I can see this taking a normally great rig, and making it a truly outstanding show piece for all to admire. You just may need to get bibs to keep the drool off of the case.
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