For PC users on the go, a laptop is usually enough to get by with, but what happens when you go to a friend's house to do some gaming? In my instance, it involves quite a bit. Not only do I need to get together my screen, mouse and keyboard, but I also have to get ready to lug my Corsair Obsidian 800D and all the accompanying hardware. I remember after doing the review, I had to bring the chassis, fully loaded, up two flights of stairs to get it to the office for daily use. I told myself then that that would be the last move for that chassis until I decided to sell it.
So what are you supposed to do when the phone rings and your best mates are on the other end with a stack of your old favorite games? Well, you can lug your full tower everywhere you go, or you can start to think "portability". There are a couple of things that come to mind when I think portability in chassis design. First, you have to have a way to easily move or carry said chassis, and the second is having the room inside this smaller chassis to build what I like to refer to as a "sleeper". That is when you take a chassis and pack quite a bit of PC horsepower into a completely unassuming space, and it sort of surprises others as you peel open the side and show off your goods to your friends.
Why all this talk of "portability" and "sleeper" chassis designs? That is because NZXT has brought a new chassis design to the masses and is offering just that. Portability is covered in the smaller nature of the chassis, and taken a step further with an optional mountable handle for the top. To fit my description of a "sleeper" the chassis must be unassuming, small and have potential to put some of the best hardware available inside its outer shell, allowing you to not only have the ease of portability, but to have the equipment to still get the FPS needed to PWN your friends and deliver those embarrassing head shots. Today we are going to be looking at the Vulcan from NZXT's Crafted Series. Let's have an in depth look at just what this small chassis has to offer.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
This all steel chassis body is painted inside and out in a textured black finish. The front bezel, front I/O area and top fan shroud are all made of a black plastic base. The front of the case is covered with sections of mesh; some for removal for drives and other sections that provide intake ventilation. In the front bezel there is room for two optical drives and two floppy drives to show through with removable covers. The hard drives can both sit hidden on the inside. On the top it is just a plastic housing with a large mesh panel that will allow for two fans to push air out and through this mesh. In front of and behind this shroud there are two holes. These four holes are to attach the carrying handle, which I will show later, making the m-ATX chassis easily portable.
Fitting the "sleeper" aspect, this Vulcan shows up at about sixteen inches square, with the handle added, and weighs in at just over thirteen pounds empty. So we have small stature and portability, now here comes the trick! While NZXT only allows m-ATX for compatibility, they did design the interior with long cards in mind. Internally there is a gap between the optical and floppy drive bays at the top and the hard drive bays at the bottom. This allows for cards greater than 350mm in length to be able to fit; that is thirteen and three quarters of an inch of room for VGA's! The rear of the chassis has four expansion slots, so even SLI or Crossfire inside here is still an option.
Cooling is handled out of the box with two supplied fans. One white bladed, 120mm fan is used for the lower front as intake. The other included fan is set in the top, and has orange LED's. This fan is also a 120mm and has room for a second fan next to it. NZXT did leave the rear exhaust fan optional as well as the side panel. If you want fans to cool your components here, you are going to have to plan ahead and buy a couple extras. In the rear of the chassis and in the front I/O you will find connections to control the two fans shipped inside. The front has two separate fan controllers that can both control two fans for a total of four. In the back, the push-button is to control the LEDs on the supplied top fan and I assume the front panel of the case. This makes it easy to tone down the noise of the fan if it isn't in hard use, but also allows the end user to set up the fans in "zones" with separate control.
Finding one of the NXZT Vulcans at this point is a little tough to do. I only see one place to get one currently via Google. Online at that retailer I saw an asking price of about $75, but to be honest, I have never heard of the shop itself. Don't worry, though, as the Vulcan has just been released and I'm sure it will hit all the major e-tailers. If you have to have one right now, you can still get it direct from NZXT for $69.99 and of course a little bit extra to ship. I think it's time to get out the camera and get a real close look at what NZXT is offering for $70 in this m-ATX chassis they call the Vulcan.
The Vulcan ships an all brown cardboard box with black and grey used to show off the chassis and the grey for highlighted text.
Specifications can be found here. From things like outside dimensions, how many bays, and compatibility of both motherboards and card length can be seen.
The back shows four illustrations of the chassis with a lettered system of features. At the bottom the corresponding letters are explained in six different languages.
Mirroring the other side panel, this side relists the specifications.
With a plastic liner to protect the chassis from any small scratches, and the Styrofoam end caps to support and center the chassis during traveling, the Vulcan arrived in perfect condition.
The NZXT Vulcan Crafted Series Enthusiast M-ATX Case
At first glance you can see the Vulcan is a bit "squat" in stature. Offering room on the front bezel for only two optical drives and two 3.5" devices just above a 120mm intake covering mesh; it drives this point home. The surrounding plastic bezel is done in a matte finish and the NZXT logo can be found at the top to the right of the dual fan speed controllers.
The left side panel has a raised area of mesh that allows for an almost completely ventilated side. There are four holes for the potential 200mm fan you might purchase.
Looking at the rear of the Vulcan also dives home the fact that there isn't going to be a whole lot of room for expansion inside the Vulcan. With a bottom mounted power supply, the four expansions slots are all you get here. Above the slots is where you can mount a 120mm exhaust fan flanking the rear I/O area. Lastly, NZXT does offer a way to get water cooling tubes in and out of the chassis, and hides a LED on/off switch in between.
The right side of the chassis keeps the same design as the mesh panel on the opposing side. This time not only does it keep the chassis optically balanced, but here it offers a bit of space to allow for wiring to easily fit behind this panel. One thing I missed while showing the other side was the slots on the side of the front bezel. These will allow for a bit more unimpeded air flow into the chassis.
On the top you will find a spot for two 120mm fans, one of which is included and it bares orange LED lighting. These are covered with the same mesh you will find on the front. There are the holes I mentioned in the specs; these four holes, two at the top and two at the bottom are where the handle mounts through.
The front I/O consists of a reset button and power button to the left. There are two 3.5mm jacks for audio, two USB 2.0 and e-SATA connections that finish of the front connectivity.
Underneath you will find four plastic feet with rubber pads supporting the chassis. Then the rear of the floor is ventilated for the power supply fan, and NZXT includes a removable fan filter here as well.
Inside the NZXT Vulcan Crafted Series Enthusiast M-ATX Case
Removing the mesh covered panel, we get a better look inside the chassis. The longer box in the middle contains your handle and screws, while the box stuffed into the hard drive bays contains the rest of the hardware. As you can see, the same textured paint finish found on the outside is also covering the entire interior.
In the front you will find a spot for two 5.25" drives, or one drive and a bay reservoir. Underneath those are the two external 3.5" drive racks. NZXT has left quite a gap in the drive bays until you reach the two 3.5" bays for the hard drives. This gap is to allow even a HD5970 to be installed in here!
In relation to the case size, this has to be the largest CPU access hole I have seen. Wire management holes are almost non-existent, but NZXT does offer a place to immediately move the PSU leads to the back of the tray via the hole near the bottom. There are plenty of wire tie spots punched into the tray, but behind the drives there is little place to hide anything.
At the top you get a little look at the wiring from the LED switch. NZXT uses special fans with an extra 2-pin connection the powers the lights separately. This switch covers the top fans LEDs and the ones in the front of the case up the right side of the bezel. Thumbscrews are used for the four ventilated expansion slots with a bit of venting along the side.
Spinning the Vulcan around, you can see NZXT has already done a bit of basic wire management. To keep everything clean, and trying to figure out the fan and lighting connections, I had to undo most of this. There really isn't anything here to worry about, though. Just like in the Storm series of cases from Cooler Master, NZXT also adds quite a bit of room into the side panel, so no worries about running even the 24-pin wire back here.
Getting the majority of the wiring together, I ran into four, 3-pin fan connections labeled 1 and 2. These numbers refer to the dials on the front, and which leads are controlled in which "zone". Powering all the fans is this 4-pin Molex connection. There is a reset, power, and HDD activity (not pictured), as well as a single USB 2.0, audio, and e-SATA (not pictured) connections.
The plastic front bezel comes off with a tug from the bottom, just as most do. With the Vulcan all of the front I/O wiring is connected to the bezel, so be careful when removing it. The four bay drive covers are held in place with a tab on either side and are easily removed. The bottom uses a honeycomb pattern to support the mesh and allow for air to be sucked into the 120mm fan in the case.
Accessories and Documentation
The box that was shipped inside the drive bays contained these goods. There are four rails used for hard drive mounting. In individually labeled bags you will find risers, hard drive screws, motherboard and PSU screws, extra fan screws, and screws to mount optical drives.
The long skinny box holds the handle you see here and a set of four screws for mounting the handle.
Once the handle is installed it should look like this. Mainly made of plastic, the handle has a softer rubber, gripping, center section that will allow for secure movement even if your hands are a little sweaty from hours of gaming.
I do have to mention that this handle as shipped is a pain to install. The holes in the handle aren't big enough for the screws. So you either have to take the time to force thread the screws into the plastic, or re-drill the holes larger to make installation a breeze. As it ships, it took me a good ten to fifteen minutes of fiddling to get it mounted.
The included paperwork has on one side an explanation and checklist for all the parts and pieces.
On the reverse there are drawings to aid with installation, most importantly, a wiring diagram for the fans and lights.
The Build and Finished Product
Adding an optical drive doesn't detract from the front at all. The textured drive fits well with the matte finish of the bezel. When the panel is back on the drive is flush and fits nicely.
Inside things can get cramped pretty quickly! I will say this, though; even in these tight accommodations, there seemed to be plenty of room for all the components and even has room for another GPU, and longer ones if you should choose. The optical bays end at just the right spot and will allow any card to pass just under them with enough room not to ground out on accident.
The rear of the chassis fills out as expected. No real issues with getting anything to fit. The PSU went in with no issues and the card slid in like butter. The rear I/O is tight and took some force to snap in the plate, but I got it in there in the end.
Wire management was a breeze. With all the punched loops for wiring in the motherboard tray, there are plenty of opportunities to mount wires as needed. Don't be shy here, the wires can be in big groups and you don't need to have a friend help you get the panel on. With the large "bump" on the door, these wires are not any sort of concern.
Once the side is back on, the mesh allows for a really good view of the installed components. If you are going to install an optional 200mm fan here, it is going to do a superb job covering not only a good amount of the motherboard, but it should dump a good amount of air into your graphics card fans, too.
I do wish I could have gotten some of the orange glow captured on film for you all to see, but the lighting was just too dim to show in normal lighting conditions. Literally I had to shut the lights off to get what I would consider a "glow" of lighting. The front right side of the Vulcan has, what I assumed to be, a strip of lights, indicating power and a separate one for the HDD activity. When I booted this Vulcan, I got the spare light for the HDD to flash, but as far as the lower strip was concerned, I only got one LED at the bottom to light the whole six inches or so. The front fan adds no lighting as it isn't LED equipped, the top however did seem reasonably bright. Note that even with the switch for the LEDs in the back being on, as you use the dial control on the front for fan speed the lighting will dim as well.
Even though the Vulcan only ships with two of the five that can go inside, I was pleased with the air flow as shipped. Temperatures did rise, as the case is small and could benefit from an exhaust fan at the very least. The flow the two fans generate kept everything at acceptable levels. With the addition of the optional three fans, there is no reason things should get toasty in here. I mentioned the dials on the front, and these work very well. Once it was all wired I setup the Vulcan to use the top fan on one controller and the front intake on the other. As you add fans, two of the three can be powered here or any four fan combination. With the controller in the lowest position, out of the box, this case is dead silent. Turning them to the maximum setting brought just a mild hum over the stock CPU cooler and graphics cards fans. As you add fans, this may completely change, so if silence is key to your build, keep in mind the fans you add are going to make or break that.
Don't let the award fool you! While it didn't make the "best of" anything as far as our groupings go, the Vulcan offers a surprising amount in this tiny package. Painting a chassis entirely is always a hit with me, and adding wire management as well as air cooling options, the Vulcan does stand above most chassis' in this segment. m-ATX compatibility, its smaller form factor, and its lack of "extra" interior space limit the buyers for this concept. To me, even with its limitations, the portability and the fact that you can still run even dual HD 5970's inside makes this the "sleeper" chassis of choice in my book. When you set the Vulcan on the table at the next LAN event, no one would even suspect that a powerhouse like that would even fit, but the joke is on them as you take them down in a game of CS:S.
I definitely learned here not to judge a book by its unassuming cover. NZXT offers quite a few space saving features that allow for monster GPU power in this Crafted Series entry. For around $70 to get one to your door, the Vulcan sips money from your wallet and can keep all of that horsepower under control, even under air cooling.
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