When I think of the Fortress naming from SilverStone, I first think full tower and the design implementations that both previous FT0x versions had. The FT01 was ahead of its day and offered wire management, great air flow, tool-free features, and a very sexy to look at exterior. The second reincarnation of the Fortress was the FT02, which took the FT01 and the Raven and mixed them up to make a pretty awesome case with a ninety degree motherboard tray alignment, while keeping most of the original ideas. Externally the FT02 was far superior to the sleek lines of the FT01 with its redesigned all aluminum exterior.
With what we are about to see, it is likely to change your perception of what the Fortress name is now, rather than what it used to be. Keeping with some of the important features that sold previous Fortress chassis', this new incarnation keeps the aluminum exterior and the rounded corners of the originals. It also keeps the terrific air flow that SilverStone is known for inside the chassis, and even plays off of the Raven and has a ninety degree rotation of the motherboard tray that allows heat to rise and exit via convective principles. With the aid of the fans there is no way for the heat to go but up.
We are going to be taking a look at the SST-FT03 in black today. While the chassis does keep a lot of the feature set and things we expect from SilverStone, what threw me the curve ball was that this chassis is for Micro ATX motherboards or smaller, only! - While the earlier Fortress chassis' were a huge success in both meanings of the word huge, times are changing and the inevitable shrinking of technology is getting greater. With that in mind, SilverStone really rethought the Fortress design and delivers high quality we expect in an odd shaped tower with a minimal footprint. I hope at this point I at least have you interested. Even if I don't, I still suggest you take the time to see everything that SilverStone has to offer in the newest of the Fortress series.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
To easily visualize the design idea of the FT03, you need to just think of the usual mid tower chassis, turn it sideways so you are looking at the door panel, and then run a saw down the middle of both sides. You now have an idea of the dimensions and footprint the FT03 utilizes. The exterior of this almost square tower is all aluminum, consisting of four main panels, one of which is not removable. The main body and support structure is made from steel. The FT03 carries a Micro ATX chassis sizing, but will also accommodate smaller m-DTX and m-ITX boards as well. The one major thing to think about with the exterior of this chassis prior to purchasing one is the fact that this chassis will only allow for a slim, slot loading optical drive, so plan ahead to buy one.
On the inside you of course have the one optical drive slot, but hidden behind the motherboard tray there is room for three 3.5" hard drives, and with an included adapter you can install a 2.5" drive as well. Wire management is in limited supply for options, but the layout is perfect and calculated to run where they need to go and stay hidden most of the way there. Since we are on the subject of wiring, I should cover the fact that this small chassis still delivers two USB 3.0 connections; nothing is overlooked. Three "limits" to the chassis, if you can even call them that, is the GPU maximum length of 13.77", the maximum height of the CPU cooler at 167mm, and a maximum PSU length of 180mm deep.
If anything, the cooling is the most thought out and ingenious layout of fans I have seen yet in a chassis with this limited of spacing. Of course, at the top you have the 120mm fan that draws all the heat out of the top of the chassis. To get a good flow of air to the rest of the components, there are some angled platforms and options utilized to do the best to keep temperatures managed in the FT03. At the floor of the chassis you have the option for two 80mm fans to be installed. From the factory, there is a 120mm just above the 80mm holes that does a fine job acting as the intake. The angle is directed toward the CPU and the fan that sits above the PSU and blows air directly at the CPU cooler for much needed air inside of a small chassis. If you plan to run SLi or Crossfire in this chassis, you also have the option to add another 80mm or 92mm next to the "bridge" end of the VGA's. Every angle is covered and all the fans offer the same specs of up to 1200 RPM and only give off 22 dBA of sound. What I expect is a quiet case, but I will have to power it up to gauge the actual airflow.
When talk of this chassis first came about, I was having trouble obtaining one due to such a limited supply in the US. Since our discussions began, this chassis has made its presence known in many US shops. As I look at Google shopping I am seeing the pricing starts at around $160, plus $28 to ship it, and topping out at $190 shipped. Our old friend is priced right in the middle. The SST-FT03 is currently selling at Newegg.com for $169.99, and they are asking $19.99 for shipping on top. No matter where you locate this chassis, the pricing in total is just under $200 US dollars. So let's get down to it and see if this is the best chassis money can buy, considering its limited space it's working with.
The front of the FT03 packaging shows both the black and silver versions of the chassis overlaid on a shot of the top of the white version. You will find seven key features listed under their proudly placed CES Innovations award.
The right side begins with a back story on how they arrived at the FT03 concept, and that gets followed by nine lists of the features in many languages.
On the back you get a view inside of the white version which shows a bit better. The compact layout gets explained with bullet points around the chassis.
If Fed Ex hadn't struck again with their excellent label placement, you would be looking at the specifications list. I am at least glad it's a panel that I could cover easily, and they didn't put it over the other panels.
The FT03 is packaged internally with very thick Styrofoam caps and thick plastic for the liner. It's nice to see that added space and "extra" protection after the last case I looked at.
The Silverstone SST-FT03B Micro ATX Chassis
From this angle I am going to cover both sides of the FT03. The front is very simple and sleek with only the snow flake logo and the slot for the optical drive visible in the large expanse of aluminum. The side has a large ventilated plastic panel that allows the exhaust, and will allow intake to the chassis as well.
The back of the chassis is just an expanse of textured aluminum panel. All the sides are textured and in this case painted black
The last side panel, and the one that will not come off for the build process, is also just a plain looking expanse of aluminum. In the end it leaves a simple, very unassuming presence in any situation computing is needed.
Under the chassis there are the tall rubber feet that support the FT03. The bulk of the bottom is taken up by the fan filter for the PSU and where the pair of 80mm fans would draw air. The bonus to this filter is that it is hung with magnets and easy to remove and replace. The small hole on the right lower corner is where you will add a power cord later in the build.
The top of the chassis is covered with this plastic mesh that keeps wires looking tidy, and will keep any kids or mischievous pets from getting into "trouble". This piece is held in at the corners with latches that with a gentle tug let the panel lose for access.
Flipping the case over, I can get a good look at the front I/O. While it looks like only USB 3.0 connections on either side of the audio, it is reverse compatible, so no need to worry. On the left is the larger power button and smaller reset, with a pair of activity LEDs as the only lighting built into this chassis.
Taking a step back, we can see a bit more of what the top of the chassis offers. I found the hot swappable hard drive bay on the right, and the bright blue USB cables to connect to the rear I/O. There is also the 120mm exhaust fan and the four expansion slots offering quite a lot of room for multi GPU setups, or even a home theater with wireless and audio cards as well as a VGA.
Inside The Silverstone SST-FT03B Micro ATX Chassis
As with a typical review, I will start by looking into the left side panel. With the square shape of this chassis it is easy to get confused. Things look a bit cramped upon first inspection, but I can see there is a bit of work removing components before I can install anything.
Internally, on the top half, you will install the motherboard on the risers that are pre installed for an m-ATX build. But you can see the middle fan of the FT03 is in my way.
Under that same fan you need to install the slim optical drive, and the PSU slides in under that on the right side. On the left side SilverStone utilized the space to act as a conduit for cool air from under the chassis allowing for the clean exterior.
Looking from the inside at the top of the chassis you can see the four slotted expansion covers and the exhaust fan and wiring, but if you look close in the bottom left corner you will see the bracket for the 80mm or 92mm fan to aid in cooling warm VGA's.
Back around to the front, unlike the lifting motion that releases the side panels, the front is held in with clips. It is much easier if you remove this panel for installation, but it isn't needed to complete the build.
The right side panel removes by lifting it upwards and it falls out of the way, but behind this panel there is a lot going on. Not only can you fit three 3.5" hard drives, there is room for a 2.5" drive as well with an adapter plate. All of the wiring is directed here as well and we will soon see just how much room there is.
With the fans out of the way and the optical drive tray out of the way, the FT03 is looking quite roomy to install an m-ATX motherboard. There is also the plug for the PSU that is lying out; this is because of the unusual PSU installation. You can also see the hole for the PSU fan and the pair of 80mm holes in the floor of the chassis.
With everything out of the way I thought I should return to the motherboard tray now that we can actually see it. Keep in mind you are looking at it as you would see it on the desk top. The motherboard is laid out to exhaust out the top remember.
Accessories and Documentation
Just inside the top of the chassis you will find a large bag; it contains this hardware seen here. You get a 4-pin Molex adapter to power up to three fans in the chassis, a full assortment of screws and risers, and a couple of wire tie straps.
Along with the hardware in the bag you will find the manual for the FT03. Both the text and the illustrations were very helpful in showing how things are removed properly, and will definitely guide you through replacing all the parts during the build process.
The last bit of shipped goods is the plate to mount an SSD or any other 2.5" drive. While you do have to screw the drive to the tray, then the tray to the chassis, at least the option is there versus those clunky metal adapters for the sides of the drives.
The 120mm fan and cage from the bottom left of the chassis shows where the fan gets replaced in the chassis with the diagram pressed into the side. If you want to pack in a super long GPU you may need to remove this frame and go with the pair of 80mm fans as an intake.
The 120mm fan and cage from the center of the chassis is a bit more involved to remove. I will suggest at this point that you have a magnetic screwdriver, it will save you a lot of time and frustration these tight quarters will create.
Of course, we can't forget the slim optical drive mounting plate. You do have to remove the center fan to get access to this, but once the fan is out, only three more screws are needed to get this out of the chassis.
One of the main things you are going to need for this build is the slim optical drive. The SST-SOD01 is currently retailing for around $70-80 US dollars, so if you don't have a slot load drive, you need to add this to the bill. There is a Blu-ray version of this drive, but it is priced near $300.
Inside the box the drive, the handy little all-in-one power and SATA lead, screws, and the manual get packed in foam and was delivered in great shape.
SilverStone also sent the PP05 short cable kit for the Strider series of power supplies. This kit is relatively cheap, as I see it priced for around $25.
Since I got the short cable kit, I need something to connect them to, and SilverStone sure delivered here. They asked what I was going to be powering and offered this 750W, 80PLUS Gold rated monster to handle the business of bringing life to my Fortress.
While some manufacturers claim their PSU is modular, SilverStone went all the way. There are no hard wired leads to hide with this PSU. Just plug in what you need to use and leave the rest of the rats nest in the power supply box! This beauty will set you back right around $160.
While I truly appreciate that SilverStone has sent the extras to not only showcase more products, this chassis design limits users to want to buy more SilverStone products to complete the build. I don't see anything wrong with that, but more fully modular PSU's on the market and access to the slim drives make you want to keep brand loyalty if you are going to shell out for the new components. As tested, case and additional parts, the chassis is at a price point of near $425 with all the equipment you have seen up to now.
The Build and Finished Product
With everything out of the way, the DFI I installed went in with all kinds of room to spare. While the Swiftech cooler is a tight fit, I was able to use a full tower cooler with no issues. At this point I also slid the body of the PSU in place and connected the power cable.
Looking in from the front of the chassis, you can see the side of the cooler is very close to the frame of the case; in fact, it's touching the chassis. Access from this side allows for an easy application of the 8-pin, and below the cooler there is even room for memory with taller heat spreaders.
I went a little crazy installing hard drives, but I wanted to show just how much room there is back behind the motherboard. I have the OS drive in the hot swappable tray with another 3.5" drive next to it. I then used the adapter to show where the SSD would get placed. I did leave the bottom left corner without a drive installed to give me plenty of room to run the wiring and keep it out of the front of the chassis.
Without the cord being run to the FT03, you really can't tell it's running. With the chassis powered up, in a living room for a HTPC the fans will be audible when close to the chassis, but for a gamer or an internet box, this case is pretty quiet for the amount of airflow it produces. Another feature I liked about the top mounted I/O is that even with the power LED on and the HDD activity light flickering, even from a slightly downward angle the lighting isn't visible. For the HTPC crowd this also means no blinding LEDs around the screen from the FT03.
Wow! Where do I start? Now in my position I am in love with this chassis. The simplicity of it all and the amount of airflow the chassis offers which delivers temperatures cooler than most mid range mid tower chassis designs. As I said before, there is nothing I could find internally or externally that struck me as odd, or anything that makes you think 'now why did they do that?' - Every component inside and out worked with precision, and is easily removable for complete access inside the chassis. As for the pricing, I am obviously spoiled and had this all delivered to my door to use, so that $425 total pricing is sort of an abstract thought to me. So for the purposes of the rating, I am going to assume you have access to the slim optical drive and already have a PSU that will work in here.
The deconstruction and installation of the components went flawlessly, and even with a few drives installed behind the motherboard I still had plenty of room to wire everything cleanly and not block any of that much needed airflow. Speaking of which, the three fans "tunneling" air throughout the chassis in combination with a standard tower cooler make for a really great setup to keep both the video cards and the CPU very cool. With the angled plates the induction of cool air from the bottom gets forced into the cards, and what passes the cards is then forced into the CPU cooler. Then the CPU cooler practically pushes right into the exhaust fan; hot air doesn't stand a chance inside the FT03. The only place I found airflow at a minimum was behind the motherboard tray, but even here the aluminum door panel rests against the OS drive I installed to passively cool the most active mechanical drive. Of course, with SSDs in use, heat isn't an issue anyways.
While the build is a bit more time consuming than the average build, everything I was given fit like it was meant to be together, and once completed offered a sexy, understated chassis that is one well oiled machine that just wants you to love it once you have had it in your hands. I have had many SFF chassis' from both SilverStone in previous SUGO releases, and Lian Li LAN Box style chassis', and comparatively the FT03 is a bit more expensive than both I mentioned, but it offers way more room, airflow, and is a better fit in any setting, keeping a small footprint. If you are in need of a sweet LAN box, or just don't have the room for a typical tower for your m-ATX build, I strongly suggest you look into this chassis. While in the end, if you have to buy all new components it can get pricey, the stand alone SST-FT03 is worth every drop of the $169.99 Newegg.com price, even with the $20 to ship it. This chassis offers everything you can find in many mid towers, but does it in much better style!