Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing
The "shoe box" style PC chassis has been around for a while, and with more and more users downsizing their desktop PCs these days, we do not see this market reaching its end of life anytime soon. A few years ago, if you had asked us where to get some of the better cases in this category, we would have likely pushed you towards Cooler Master or Thermaltake designs, but as time goes on, features improve, and what were significant cases in their day, are left by the wayside. This allows companies you may not think of like Fractal Design, to take what we loved from their larger designs and drop it all into a much more compact form factor.
There was, of course, the NODE 304 we reviewed some time ago, in which Fractal Design took their first shot at making a "shoe box" style SFF chassis, but there are two significant differences in what we have today. First of all, the NODE series is made to look outstanding as a piece of art, sitting out in the open in the home theater realm. The second key thing about the 304 was that the interior was packed with drive bays and again, with the intent being for mass amounts of storage that usually comes along with a media PC. Today things may come in a similarly sized chassis, but the intent is to offer a chassis this time for the gamers. While space is a premium commodity in cases such as these, Fractal Design uses every square inch to their advantage and deliver their latest take on what an SFF chassis should be in today's market.
When we bring up the CORE series that Fractal Design is so well known for, our minds immediately recall that all previous designs have been mid-tower or larger. This is their first chassis, of this stature, to sport the CORE naming. This CORE 500 Mini-ITX Small Form Factor chassis keeps the brushed front panel with angled sides, it offers modular systems which many love, and they also delivered a chassis, which while compact, offers compatibility for water cooling as well. With a market producing tons of options, let's see if Fractal Design and their CORE 500 can get you into something more affordable.
The specifications of the CORE 500 are laid out well by Fractal Design and covers everything you need to know. Here we find that this Mini-ITX and Mini-DTX compatible chassis comes in black, it is only 19.5 liters in size, measuring in at 250mm wide, 203mm tall, 380mm in depth, weighing in at just 4.4 kilograms. This steel and ABS plastic chassis delivers room inside for two expansion slots at the back, and at the front are room for a 5.25" drive and a spot below that for a 3.5" or 2.5" storage drive. The other pair of storage drive locations is found on the right side of the chassis. We also find that in this section, they cover the limitations inside of the chassis. There they mention that CPU coolers can be 170mm in height, standard ATX PSUs can be used if they are shorter than 170mm if you want to install a video card that is near the 310mm left in the chassis for that.
In the CORE 500, we see that it is shipped with a single Fractal Design Silent Series R3 fan in the back. This 140mm fan is made to stay quiet but still deliver ample air flow at just 1000 RPM. As for the rest of the chassis, there is also room in the top of the chassis for a pair of 120mm or 140mm fans, and both the top and the rear of the chassis are water cooling compatible. While they do make mention that if the pump is on the radiator of particular AIOs, they will not fit, but what they do bring up is that the fan and radiator combination can be up to 100mm in thickness. The left side of the chassis is ventilated to offer any video card ample area to breathe freely, while the right side provides a smaller area near the front to allow the PSU to exhaust. To help keep things clean on the inside, dust filters are offered on the top and left side of the chassis, both of which are magnetic. There is a third screen that sits under the PSU, and it slides out for easy cleaning.
The last bit of the specifications delivers information on the front interface, commonly addressed as the front I/O panel. On the CORE 500, Fractal did not want to limit your options and delivered what many cases do. You do find a pair of USB 3.0 ports, which of course will work with older devices, but you will need native USB 3.0 on the motherboard. There is also a pair of HD Audio 3.5mm jacks. All that is left then is the backlit power button, the HDD activity LED, and the reset button.
What takes the cake for us this early in the review, has to be the pricing. Not only can you install water cooling, not only were they sure to devise secondary locations for storage devices, but you also get cable management options, modular systems to make room for all of this, and an aesthetic that only the CORE Series brings. With all things considered, when we looked for this chassis to check out pricing, not only are they found practically everywhere, the price is more than reasonable. While Amazon is reaching a bit deeper into your pocket asking near $72 for this chassis, Newegg is listing it at $59.99, along with quite a few other locations. So for just a mere $60, you too can sport this attractive, compact chassis, which has more to offer than first impressions lead to.
Chad's Chassis Test System Specifications
- Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD4-B3
- CPU: Intel Core i7 2600K (buy from Amazon)
- Cooler: Corsair H80i GT (buy from Amazon)
- Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws F3-12800CL6D-4GBXH
- Video Card: ZOTAC GeForce GTX 970 AMP. Extreme Edition (buy from Amazon)
- Storage: SuperSpeed 128GB SSD
- Power Supply: SilverStone SST-ST85F-G (buy from Amazon)
- OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit (buy from Amazon)
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