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Cooler Master HAF XB LAN Box / Open Air Chassis Review

Cooler Master takes the HAF series in a whole new direction with the release of the HAF XB LAN box or open air chassis.

@chad_sebring
Published Mon, Nov 12 2012 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Cooler Master

Introduction

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I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Back at CES, when I was touring the Cooler Master suite, when we were done with all the usual and new releases that they had to offer at that time, just as I was ready to leave, I was pulled aside and sat down to sign a digital NDA on a laptop. Once I had that completed, I was taken into another room in the suite where I was shown things that Cooler Master had plans to being to fruition sometime this year. I saw a few things in that room, some of which didn't happen yet, but the major feature in that room was a new chassis design that Cooler Master was trying to finalize for the HAF series of cases.

From what I can recall from that meeting, I was staring at a chassis that had a chunky plastic front on it that definitely had its style points from the HAF lineup. The entire chassis was blacked out, and almost it looked like a super-sized HTPC chassis at first glance. Even then they had most of the features worked out and in workable order for the display, but I don't want to tell it all up front, I have to save some of the surprises for the rest of the review.

I will go as far as to say that from just what I saw almost a year ago now, Cooler Master was on the right path to offering enthusiasts and beginners alike, a chassis that will do almost anything you demanded of it, and the chassis is convertible into an open air test bench. How cool it that?

By the time you read this the NDA on the Cooler Master HAF XB will have been lifted, and hopefully soon after these cases will start to arrive at your local stores or favorite e-tailers. For those of you on the quest for something just a bit different that will suit not only your gaming at home and LAN party needs, but once at home, pop off a few panels, and go to work benching the snot out of your equipment as the chassis stands in its open air test bench form.

Either way you look at this chassis, there is no way you are going to want to pass up on reading the rest of the review, because Cooler Master has definitely stepped up its game and thought processes as the deliver us the HAF XB.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

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The HAF XB is a two tiered chassis design that allows for dual cooling zones when all of the panels are on the chassis. The body, panels and drive racks are all built of steel and given a black textured paint treatment. The front bezel is made from a polymer and is shaped with the edges and a body line or two that really scream HAF series without looking like a gas can.

The dual level design allowed Cooler Master to offer a removable motherboard tray, not only for better access to installing the motherboard, but also the ability to get to the "basement" and get the drives, PSU and wiring installed and tended to much easier. The motherboard tray I mentioned will house a Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX or an ATX motherboard and still leaves room for a dual 120mm radiator on the "first floor". The sides as well as the floor of the chassis are well ventilated, so if you plan to use this as a LAN box, there is plenty of air flow and places to draw fresh ambient airflow into the chassis. If you want to leave all three panels off, you can then use this chassis as an open air test bench with great access to the components you would swap out most.

On a more technical note as far as what is found around the chassis, I will cover that now. The front of the chassis offers the front I/O, which aside from the power and reset buttons offers only the HD Audio jacks and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. Under the I/O is a pair of mesh 5.25" bay covers that easily remove from outside of the chassis, and to the right of these are a pair of 3.5" X-Dock bays for hot swap storage access. There is also a 2.5" specific storage rack. Along with the trays in the X-dock and the four bays found near the back, there are a total of six locations for them.

For the power supply, it is located in the "basement", and not only offers a pad to rest upon where it mounts, but they also add an extension panel to allow for 180mm of PSU to be able to fit. Back on the "first floor" you have a pair of 1800 RPM 120mm fans as the only ones equipped in the chassis. There is another 120mm fan at the rear of the chassis, and an option to install a pair of 80mm fans in the back at the "basement" level. Some of the last bits are some of the most important. With the top panel on, CPU coolers can be 180mm tall and still fit. You can also fit video cards up to 334mm in length, and that covers almost all cards.

Since the chassis just came from NDA status to you being able to read this review, I can guarantee there is no stock showing anywhere that I could find. There are a couple of premature listings outside of the USA, but even then they show no current stock, just pricing, not even an image yet. With the emails back and forth from Cooler Master I am astonished to see the MSRP they have set for the HAF XB. Hold on to your chin so it doesn't hit the floor as you read this; Cooler Master has set the MSRP of the HAF XB at $99.99.

For what you are about to have a look at, and from the testing I have already done, I can tell you already this is a smoking hot deal for a chassis like this.

Packaging

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Since I received my sample so early, the retail packaging was still not available. This is why you see that the panels on my sample show what is included, but also states this is a sample, and not for resale.

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Cooler Master did send some images of the packaging for me to show though. On the front you will get a box that has the chassis and its name as the most predominant things on the front. The purple box is an eye catching way to address the features as well.

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The right side of the box will have a handle in it as it offers another look at the HAF XB. It also has a box at the bottom that offers check boxes for PSU models that if ordered from CM, you have the opportunity to order one them.

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On the back CM offer three images of the HAF XB with 11 features pointed out around them. At the bottom you also get six features listed in eight languages.

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The last panel of the HAF XB will house the specifications list and that this is a "Lan Box - HAF XB" in 21 languages.

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On the inside of the box you will find the HAF XB first wrapped in a plastic liner, and then surrounded with thick Styrofoam caps placed on either side. I have to say it does a great job protecting the chassis. The box had a few holes I was worried about, but it seems the HAF XB I was sent arrived in perfect condition anyways.

Cooler Master HAF XB LAN Box / Open Air Chassis

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The front he of the HAF XB uses a lot of plastic to frame the large mesh panel in the middle that sports the Cooler Master logo. With the I/O panel in the middle, that just leaves the two 5.25" bays on the left and the pair of 3.5" bays on the right, all of which open from the outside.

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I moved in much closer to the front I/O panel so we can see what it has to offer. There is a large power button on the left that is backlit when powered and a smaller reset button above the activity LED for the storage drives. You then also get 3.5mm jacks for headphones and a microphone, as well as the pair of USB 3.0 ports.

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The top of the chassis has a mesh panel to allow for the natural convection of air flow to just go right through the top. You also have the option to mount a 200mm fan here to aid in natural cooling, or flip it over and force a ton of cool air on the motherboard.

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The left side offers a large handle at the top made of plastic that is inserted into the steel panel. Around and below it, you will find a large mesh area to allow air into the "first floor", but blocking off the "basement" level.

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There is a lot going on in the back of the chassis. On the "first floor" you have a 120mm fan mounting position, some venting, the rear I/O area, and the seven ventilated expansion slots. In the "basement" you have the PSU on the left with the extension bracket and dual 800 fan mounting positions on the right.

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The right side panel is a direct mirror image of the left side panel. It offers another large plastic handle for easier toting around, and again only ventilates the top half.

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Under the chassis you find a few interesting things. There are large oval holes in the floor to allow for the inflow of fresh air, a dust filter under the PSU, nine wire tie points, and if you look really close, there are four screws to allow us to remove something.

Inside the HAF XB Chassis

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After I removed both side panels I took a look inside the left side of the HAF XB to see what was going on in there. You can easily see the two tier design of the chassis as well as seeing the box of hardware that is shipped tied into the expansion slots.

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Starting in the lowest level on the left side of the chassis, we are now seeing the 5.25" bays and the tool-less mechanisms used to keep the drives in place and easy to remove. Just like there are two covers in the front, there are two bays in here.

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Moving toward the back of the chassis, still on the left side, you will run into a removable 2.5" drive rack. This is what the screws on the bottom hold in place. You of course get the slide rails in the hardware box to allow you to easily use these bays.

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Back upstairs, I wanted to give you a decent look at the top floor and inside of the front of the chassis. You can see the pair of 120mm fans installed there with room for a radiator, as well as the black wiring used to connect the front I/O to the motherboard.

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This part of the chassis, the motherboard tray, is removable with just four thumbscrews for ease of mounting the motherboard and adding it into the chassis. The stand-offs installed are self centering and flank the top and bottom of the large CPU cooler access hole.

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Around the back, there isn't a 120mm fan installed from Cooler Master, but you can see they chose to use thumbscrews to keep the slot covers or cards securely in place.

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Back to the "basement", this time on the right side, we are looking at the back of the pair of 3.5" drive bays of the X-Dock. Here you power both bays with a 4-pin Molex connector, add your SATA cables, and then enjoy the hot swap capabilities of these bays.

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To allow for much larger power supplies to fit inside the HAF XB, Cooler Master added an extension piece to allow 180mm PSUs to fit on top of the foam anti-vibration padding on the raised rails that support the PSU.

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The wiring coming from the front I/O is of course all black which I like a lot, but contains the native USB 3.0, HD Audio/AC'97 and F_Panel connections along with a pair of fan leads with the Molex adapters on them, but only one made it into the image.

Accessories and Documentation

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Inside of the hardware box found tied to the expansion slots you will find these eight slides that will allow you to use the four bay 2.5" drive rack located on the bottom level. You also get 12 wire ties to keep the wiring managed well inside.

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Along with what we just saw, you get this to finish off what is found in the box. There are stand-offs and the socket to tighten them, fan screws, long hex head screws that I didn't use, SSD screws for the X-Dock trays, motherboard screws, and the PSU screws.

There wasn't any paperwork, but I contribute that to the rush my sample was in to arrive ahead of the NDA. I almost forgot you also get the motherboard post beep speaker to help diagnose post issues.

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I removed the motherboard tray in preparation for the build so I figured I would show it off. The edges are folded to give it strength as well as the indent around the SPU cooler access hole. This will simply slide back into the chassis under the rear I/O and expansion slots that stay in the chassis.

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On the left I wanted to show the tab lock system CM offers with the 3.5" drive mounting. Releasing the tab allows the tray to expand, slide the drive in, then squeeze the tray together and lock the drive into place. As for the SSD mounting on the right, you do have to remove a pin and grommet from the side, but then you just use four screws through the bottom to mount it.

The Build and Finished Product

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Unless you are looking to replace the pair of 120mm fan supplied in the front of the chassis there is no real need to be behind here. Releasing seven clips is all it takes and the bezel will come right off leaving the front I/O in place.

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I then went to installing the motherboard with the CPU cooler already installed, right on the motherboard tray so when I am ready for it I can drop it right into place and screw it in.

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Since you won't get to see this later, I figured now was the perfect time to show you what a longer PSU looks like as far as the room goes. You can see there is just enough room to make the modular connections and still be able to use the back plane of the X-Dock bays.

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With just a little thought, the wiring all tucks in between the bays at the front. I have everything connected to the PSU that I need, the X-Dock is powered and SATA cables connected, and the ODD is also ready to go.

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With the optical drive in place it doesn't destroy the look of the HAF XB, and since the storage bays have full covers there is nothing to see of the SSD in the top bay.

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Peeking in the left side once everything was installed, you can see there's plenty of room for the HIS Radeon HD 7950 video card on the top level, and loads of extra room at the bottom since I removed the 2.5" drive bays rack. Also just by moving the GPU power leads one could easily slide in a radiator at the right end of it behind the 120mm fans.

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In the back the rear I/O dust shield popped right into place, and once you have the motherboard tray back in the chassis, the GPU falls right into place and is securely held with the thumbscrews.

The Build and Finished Product Continued

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Looking at things through the right side of the HAF XB you can see there is plenty of room left for even a taller CPU cooler, and I was able to keep the build very clean and almost wire free looking. In the lower half you can see just how close things get between the X-Dock and the PSU, but there is just enough for me to easily get things wired and keep it all tidy.

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Looking in from the top you can see how beneficial this concept is to an open air design. All of the wiring stays neat and tidy while with the removal of four thumbscrews you can pop the whole board out of the chassis. For those that like to swap cards and memory a lot, this also gives you plenty of room to access all of that.

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The HAF XB design allows this to be the final build stage if you wish it to be. This is what the chassis looks like with the full open air concept at play.

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If you need to add that 200mm fan to keep things cool inside, but still don't want to run the door panels, you can do that if you wish as well.

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Flipping the coin to the other side, if you have short people in your house that tend to want to grab into things on the table, you can add the side panels while leaving the top off for easy access inside.

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If you do have curious pets, or would rather run the HAF XB fully enclosed, besides the ODD or possible a bay reservoir, the exterior of the chassis looks no different really than when we first pulled it out of the box.

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As for any illumination you have to deal with, the constant glow of the red LED in the power button is all you contend with. There is an occasional amber flicker of the activity LED, but with the SSD installed, I saw very little of that. What you do notice right away at this point is that those 120mm fans in the front make a lot of racket, but since this is designed as a test bench, performance is the name of the game, not silence.

Final Thoughts

I really like what I found in the HAF XB. As a standalone chassis with handles on the side for added portability for LAN events, the HAF XB offers everything one expects in a full tower chassis. Then you add in the fact that I can also run this without the three panels and use this as an open air test bench; I just love that part. What takes this over the top of me is the way things are designed like the X-dock, the bay covers removing from the outside, removable bays for more room for say a pump, combined with the fact there is room for a dual 120mm radiator inside as well, the HAF XB jumps way up the list of cases that I will remember for quite some time after using one.

On a technical perspective, you get just the right amount of bays, wires, aesthetics, and room to make using the HAF XB very enjoyable. Even with a fair bit of noise from the fans with 12V applied to them, as I said, the HAF XB is built for power, not sneaking up on someone. It is not as easy to put together as say the InWin X-Frame I am very fond of, but you also need to realize that this offering comes at one-fifth of the price of that InWin solution. There are plenty of options to completely customize this chassis to suit your own tastes and uses it almost makes my head spin when I think about all that you get.

While testing I went various routes, but all of it was done with only the two fans provided along with the ones of my components. When I removed just the top, just the sides, or all three, the temperatures were all the same, and as one would expect, very easy to keep component temperatures under control. Once I applied the panels back on to the chassis, that is both sides and the top, I only got a slight variance of a single degree to the CPU cooler as the GPU registered the same exact temperatures as open air does. That is due to the large ventilation holes used on the sides, the large mesh panel and the 120mm fans in the front, and the dual zone thermal design of the chassis really works as intended, there is no way I can dispute that with the results I saw.

In essence Cooler Master leaves you in command of which way you want to take your HAF XB build. I really like the fact that even if I start off with the intention for a LAN box, if I want to bench with it, or even include a smaller water loop, the HAF XB will allow me to do all of that. The truly amazing part about all of this to me is that Cooler Master not only gets high marks for design and layout, but with an MSRP of only $99.99, the HAF XB is going to be a hard case to beat.

I don't care if you are in the market for a full-tower, a mid-tower, or even an SFF chassis, I strongly urge you to find the nearest retailer and get yourself the HAF XB from Cooler Master.

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After a year of gaming, Chad caught the OC bug. With overclocking comes the need for better cooling, and Chad has had many air and water setups. With a few years of abusing computer parts, he decided to take his chances and try to get a review job. As an avid overclocker, Chad is always looking for the next leg up in RAM, cooling, as well as peripherals.

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