I am pretty sure that a company like Corsair needs no introduction, and I am also sure most TweakTown readers here have owned at least one part from their vast lineup of components over the years. Since they have jumped into the chassis market with the Obsidian 800D, Corsair has turned the chassis world on its ear, and made quite an entry into the vast and overfilled chassis segment. As I have always said though, it doesn't take a huge company to get recognized, you just have to develop something the masses of buyers out there will absolutely fall in love with. It just happened to be that for Corsair; they were and are a large company, and all the stars aligned for them when they released that chassis into the world.
Along the line, since that release, we have seen more Obsidian chassis designs, but why stop there? Corsair also brought forth two other new series' of cases with the Graphite and the Carbide series lineups. While most of these designs have been a logical evolution in the original design, maybe shrunk down in form factor, but they all seemed to fit a specific mold that made them easily recognizable in each respective series. That was until now. Corsair has again come up with something revolutionary, and while not exactly the first to deliver this concept to the public, they are the first to deliver this concept to me. This truly is a chassis that breaks the mold when you think of what a Carbide series chassis is supposed to be.
Today we are venturing into looking at the Carbide Series Air 540. That bit of the name isn't so much different, but as the title stated, this is an ATX Cube chassis. The main concept with this design was to compartmentalize the motherboard, CPU and video card from the rest of the build. To do this they had to develop a much wider chassis than we normally see. In the second section of the chassis, if you will, is where you can put extra storage drives, optical drives, the power supply, as well as having plenty of room for the wiring. On top of just the basic idea in the frame design, Corsair also offer things like good water cooling compatibility, HDD bays with back planes, and most importantly this chassis is very well ventilated in all aspects.
With all of this information swimming in your head, I say we get to covering all of the technical bits so we can move on to the images, where I am almost certain that the Carbide Air 540 ATX cube will win your heart over.
Specifications, Availability and Pricing
The Corsair Carbide Series Air 540 is like nothing I have ever had my hands on before. While mostly steel in internal construction, they have creatively used ABS plastic and steel mesh to give this wide body cube some very attractive styling. This chassis is 415mm tall, shorter than a full-tower chassis, is an astounding 332mm wide, and is 458mm in depth. This design in short, is much like if you had taken two mid-tower cases and attached them. This allows a full separation of the motherboard and its attached components on one side of the tray, while the other contains everything else you want to install.
The chassis can house boards from Mini-ITX on up to E-ATX and offers eight expansion slots in the back. It offers two 3.5" drive trays on the floor with back planes, and also offers a rack in the back to house four 2.5" drives as well. There is room for a pair of 5.25" devices, but since they are turned on edge, a bay reservoir may be out of the question. Just under the ODD bays you are offered two USB ports along with the HD Audio jacks for front panel connectivity.
Cooling this chassis is a trio of AF140L 140mm fans. One is placed in the rear of the motherboard compartment as the exhaust, while the other two are in the front behind a dust filter used as the case intake. There is also room in the roof of the chassis for a pair of 140mm fan as well, but that isn't all. Each of the 140mm fan locations will also take a 120mm fan as well. Then there is the fact, that without all the extra clutter, you can easily install thick radiators in the top as well as down the front of the chassis, and you can also hang a single radiator in the rear of the chassis. Even with the chassis coming out of the box with just three fans, with all the ventilation offered in this design, I have a feeling you will be fine running the chassis as-is, but it is nice to have so many cooling options in this design.
With a case design that is so new and fresh, there usually is quite a bit of cost involved with the new tooling and stamps needed to produce the new chassis. I am really glad to see that Corsair is able to not only produce something in this manner, but it doesn't seem that they are passing much of that cost on to the customers. While supply is limited to a few locations as I write this, the $139.99 pricing I am seeing everywhere is a great price for the chassis that is delivered.
That being said, I think you still really need to see this case for yourself, and you will see how easy it is to like, desire, and just how easy of a decision it is to walk this to the counter or add it to your cart online.
Helping to shave some of the cost, the Air 540 is shipped inside of a plain brown box that uses monochromatic printing to get the job done. A large rendering of the chassis sits next to the naming and the short list of features which are then repeated many times.
The next panel offers the naming at the top, but under the handle, you will find a specifications list. At the very bottom Corsair show the Air 540 from the left without the panel, from the front, and they finish out with an image of the right side without the panel as well.
On the back side of the box you will find much more to look at. There is an exploded diagram showing how all the panels, and components can be removed from the frame of this chassis. There are also brief descriptions of the features listed on the front to better explain why they are important to this design.
The final panel offers the same information we saw on the opposing side of this packaging. The only thing that changes is the fact that the languages used in the specs charts on this side are different than those on the other side.
Internally, the Air 540 is wrapped in a very large cloth bag. This is used instead of the plastic liner, and is something usually reserved for flagship cases. To protect it from potential football games or it being kicked off the delivery truck, thick Styrofoam covers the front panel completely as well as the back of the chassis.
As I was removing the foam and the cloth bag, I ran across the user's manual and some literature on the warranty. It is just laid on the case as it is bagged up, but it allows you access to information before you just start breaking things to get inside.
Corsair Carbide Air 540 ATX Cube Chassis
Seeing the Air 540 straight on, you see two distinct sections. The left side uses thick plastic lines separated with wide tall expanses of mesh, and there is a Corsair logo dead center of it. The right side uses flat textured plastic and offers you a pair of 5.25" bays and the front I/O panel.
That I/O panel offers a small reset button on the left of the HDD activity LED, and then you run into the larger power button. All that is left is the pair of 3.5mm jacks for HD Audio, and the pair of USB 3.0 ports.
The same ventilation design that is used on the front of the chassis continues right across the roof. Again you have a long run of very well ventilated plastic and mesh on the left, and the right keeps with the textured plastic flatness.
The left side of the chassis is almost all window. There really is just enough steel left to have a sturdy panel, and the rest us cut out to allow for the clear view of the entire left side of the chassis.
When looking at the rear of the chassis, you get a much better sense of what is going on here. The left side is almost fully ventilated above where the PSU gets installed. To the right you have ventilation, then the rear I/O and fan. At the bottom you have eight expansion slots with more ventilation next to it.
The right side of the chassis has little to offer in styling or looks, but there is a large ventilated area near the back that allows the power supply that installs on its side - a great way to take in fresh air. This is why there are the five stripes of holes in the bottom right corner.
The bottom of the chassis offers large rectangular feet to give this chassis a solid footing. The large section at the top is the underside of two of the storage racks, while at the bottom you can see tabs from the PSU support and all the holes to the right of it for the adjustable PSU support.
Inside the Air 540
Now that the panel is out of the way and we aren't trying to look through the reflection of the window, it is much easier to see what is going on inside the chassis. The only thing I want to cover at this point is the plain brown box sitting in the hot-swap HDD bay on the floor, as it contains all the hardware.
Behind the front of the chassis is the pair of 140mm fans to push loads of air into this compartment of the chassis. One thing to plan ahead for is that all three fans in this chassis use 3-pin connectors, and there are no adapters sent along in the kit.
The roof of the chassis offers a large cut-out area. This allows customers to have the option to install a pair of 120mm or 140mm fans, many of the AIO's on the market, as well as custom water cooling. Also notice how far it is from the top of the chassis to the stand-offs - plenty of room for a radiator.
The motherboard tray can take anything up to an Extended ATX motherboard, it offers nine management holes, eight of which have grommets in them, and it also offers five tie points. There is also an extremely large access hole to accommodate sockets on the EATX boards.
The floor of the chassis has four large slots to allow for an inflow of air, but this area is used for the hot-swap bays. There are plastic slide-out trays that you can install either a 2.5" or 3.5" drive into, and plug it in via the back planes at the back.
The rear of the chassis is well ventilated to allow air to escape anywhere it can, and there is the third fan of the set, this 140mm exhaust fan. You can also see that the expansion slot covers use thumb screws to secure the covers and expansion cards.
Behind the motherboard tray is where things get unusual. At the top left are the ODD bays, with a bunch of room next to it. The lower half offers a large area to the left where the wiring enters, but to the right is the four bay storage rack and where the PSU installs.
A closer look at the pair of 5.25" bays that are tipped on edge shows that they even come with tool-free latches. It was at this point that I also noticed I need to remove more of the front panel, because these bays are removable.
Spinning things around 180 degrees you can now get a closer view of the four bay stack for the 2.5" drives. Beyond that is the PSU area and you can see the support plates mounted to the floor. The one on the right is adjustable to help lock and support the PSU inside of the chassis.
The chassis wiring varies greatly depending on what it is for, and this saves some wire managing too. The top left corner shows the short F_Panel connections, moves to the USB 3.0, and offers a really long HD Audio cable. The other four wires come from the hot-swap bays for power and SATA connection.
Accessories and Documentation
Inside of the plain brown box found in the hot-swap bay, you will find a larger bag full of hardware. Inside of it you find six wire ties, an extra stand-off, motherboard and PSU screws, 2.5" drive screws and a large amount of fan screws for the optional locations.
The bag I found under the chassis containing the paperwork gives you both the instructional guide as well as the warranty information pertaining to the two year warranty of the Air 540.
On the inside you do have to pass over some of the more menial information about the specifications and description of all the hardware. Once past that you again see the chassis in an exploded diagram, but this time it is labeled to make sure you know what is what.
The rest of the instructions look just like this. Test at the top of each set of images to explain the steps needed to perform the actions seen at the bottom. The guide images are done so well that the text is pretty much irrelevant for most builders.
The Build and Finished Product
Now you can peel all of the external plastic components, but I thought just removing the mesh panels from the front and the top of the chassis were sufficient to give you an overall sense of the cooling potential in the Air 540.
If you want to remove the ODD bays, you do have to pull the front plastic on the right side. This gives you access to the thumb screws. I slid the DVD drive in already, but found when I went to replace the plastic bezel that the drive has to go in after the bezel.
Now that we have the build finished, we can start the tour again. The front of the chassis looks much the same as it did when we started. The DVD drive can go in either way, but installed as it is, I have access to the drive tray as well as a view of the window from the same side of the chassis.
With an ATX motherboard inside of the Air 540, you can see the chassis offers plenty of room for a couple of radiators and their fans at the top and in the front of the chassis. I also like that the way this is designed, you really don't see much of anything besides the major components, and everything else is behind closed doors, if you will.
There is one major downfall with the wiring coming from the front I/O panel, and that is in the USB 3.0 cable. I took the most direct route to my port at the bottom of my motherboard, and as you can see, there is not enough cable to bend the connection and plug it in.
The rear of the chassis fills out nicely as the PSU fills the large hole on the left, the rear I/O dust shield pops in, and the video card screwed in, all without incident.
Now I did remove the 2.5" drive rack, but there still is plenty of room for it, I just thought I would show some of the potential to change things up. The wiring is mostly contained to the left side; I do advise a modular PSU with short cables, and keep in mind about the fans needing adapters or a fan controller.
All back together now, and I will say this, the view from every angle is pleasing to the eyes, and the view through the window is superb without all the clutter that screws up many chassis designs. I almost feel as if this is a test bench on its side, or maybe a cool LAN box, but there are no handles for that.
Once the system was powered up, there is only the slight glow of the white LED in the power button to deal with, and the occasional flicker of the HDD activity light, but nothing eye piercing. I was also quite surprised to hear very little noise coming out of this chassis, especially since most of the chassis is open right to the air and easy to transfer noise through.
Now I know there are a couple other companies that make cases that flow a similar concept. The two I can think of are from companies that will charge you extreme amounts of money for them as well. That being said, this is the first version of anything like this I have ever had in my hands, and it now comes to you from a mainstream company that can deliver it with an acceptable price point. You do get something a bit unusual to look at, but once I got to the testing phase, I can see why Corsair chose a word like revolutionary to describe the Carbide Air 540. While it makes a lot of sense when we see it in this proof of concept design, the real question is why did it took so long to get this to the people without having to shell out a month's salary to do so?
While Corsair hits all the major points, and passes most of the testing with flying colors, there is that sticky issue with the USB 3.0 cable length. I did send over an email explaining my findings, but it is possible maybe mine is the only one like this as well. I really think that every chassis is like this, and I do think Corsair will be going to work on a replacement panel or at least a longer cable. It just seems rather strange that this detail got looked over, as if they never tried connecting it to a board. It is a good thing that the amount of air flow allowing for lower temperatures also does not make much more than a 35dB hum coming from any side of the chassis. The aesthetics really help out as well, but none of what the chassis offers can make me overlook the cabling, it just seems so obvious.
The Carbide Air 540 could have easily been a ten out of ten when it came to the scoring, but as it sits, I have to knock some points off for just not providing things the way they need to come to work inside of the chassis. While the chassis is at a great price point, for those where front panel USB access is a must, and with a lack of USB 2.0 support, or even a USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter, things could have worked. For my money, I would wait until you hear of news from the Corsair team to say if this is a fluke that only happened in my chassis, something they screwed up on, or if it is something where they want to offer free replacement kits for all the customers who want a larger motherboard inside of this chassis, so they will not run into the same issue I did.
If or when that day arrives, and there is a suitable solution, I would then say that this chassis is worth every penny, but for now, I am still a bit reserved in saying that.
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The current cables will fit the vast majority of motherboards on the market. To accommodate additional motherboard layouts we have extended the cable length by 6 inches. These will ship in future cases and will also be available as a replacement kit for existing customers in August. Customers that require the longer cable kit can contact Corsair technical support.