Computer enclosures have come a long way since the drab beige cases of yesteryear. Gone are the plain steel boxes whose only job was to sit calmly under your desk. With the rising popularity of themed designs, companies have gone out of their way to try to accommodate a growing customer base.Enter SANSUN, a Chinese company that has been in the IT field for several years, but has just recently moved into the area of enclosures, keyboards and mice. This brings us to the topic of the day, the BAT case. While the initial visual reaction is favorable, we're going to delve a little deeper and take a look at things like construction, features and user friendliness.So kick up your heels and relax for a few minutes as we take a look at one of the newer concept cases to hit the market, the SANSUN BAT enclosure.
Whether you've heard the character referred to as the Dark Night, the Caped Crusader, or even something entirely off the wall, the concept behind this design is more than a little obvious. Coming out just after the release of the latest movie, the BAT enclosure is based on the popular DC Comics here, Batman. The masked face is currently available in three color choices of red, blue and white. The eyes are LED lighted and have a semi-bright glow in the dark. The black area at the base of the front bezel, where you would imagine is the mouth, is actually a plastic covering over a vented area to allow for air circulation inside the case.
Swinging the face out of the way shows us the available drive options. In this case we're talking about a total of four 5.25" optical devices and two externally accessible 3.5" devices. The door is mostly plastic with a painted red metal accent. For those with a sharp eye, you've noticed there is no means of securing the front door. To keep it closed, there is a small magnet on the unhinged side that keeps everything hidden nicely.
Since we've become accustomed to the convenience of front mounted ports, the BAT enclosure keeps up with this tradition by having I/O ports mounted to the top/front portion of the case. On our test model we have a pair of USB outlets as well as headphone and microphone jacks. Available as an option is a IEEE1394 Firewire port. To either side of these ports you see the reset button and the power button. The two buttons are always external but the I/O ports can be hidden from view by the plastic cover that closes the ports to give a more streamlined appearance.
Moving along to the side of the case shows the wings of our hero. This blackened area is molded plastic covering the steel enclosure. Toward the bottom is a vented area with no associated fan and by the wing tip is another vented area that is used for the side mounted fan, which is included. The metal has a smooth appearance and the gloss is done well, but it is a thin coating of paint so be careful not to mar the finish, as it will detract from the overall appearance of the enclosure.Also take note of the fluted angles toward the top/front part of the design. These molded plastic pieces have a surprisingly clean look and the parts actually met at the proper place. This is not always a common feature of a case with this much plastic molding attached.
Checking out the back of the case shows nothing too much out of the ordinary, but as we have to be able to use industry standard components, this isn't a surprise. We have all the expected features to be used with the ATX form factor. There is also a place for a pair of 80mm fans to allow for rear exhaust, but no fans were included in the default offering.
While officially inside the box, we'll cover this portion here since it is attached to the side panel. The side mounted fan visible here has a funnel attached. This is a more recent development that allows for an intake fan to direct cool outside air directly onto the processor area of the system. While the concept has merit, I found that many motherboards do not align properly with this funnel (particularly the Athlon64 based boards), so it becomes a chunk of plastic that is in the way. It also isn't useful for systems that make use of large heatsinks.
Fortunately the funnel can be removed easily by removing the four screws that keep it secured in place. The fan can then be used as a normal side mounted type typically used to aid in overall case airflow. Since the fan itself is already oriented as an intake, you won't have to make any changes in air direction.Also of note is the painted inside of the side panel. This is something that is not normally seen on many enclosures, as it is an easy way to shave a few pennies from the build.
Since we have the side panel off, lets take a little closer look inside the enclosure. We see a fairly generic layout, but there are some features that bear mentioning in this model.
Starting with the optical drive bays we see that each level has tabs to help keep the drive aligned during installation. While this may seem basic, if you take a look at many of the cases coming out nowadays, you'll see that this doesn't hold true for many of the models currently available.The wiring you see toward the top is the cabling from the top mounted I/O ports. While not a real inconvenience, you'll want to take a little care if you use the top drive bay to make sure you don't crimp any if the wiring during drive installation. This can potentially cause future problems of electrical shorts if you are careless.
This particular model uses a new type of drive retention setup that I've not come across before. There are many tool-free drive systems out right now, but this one uses a plastic key with a central locking device that turns 90 degrees to lock or unlock the drive. Simply twist the central lock 90 degrees to the left to unlock, and the reverse to lock it back into place.
This is a closer look at the locking device. The two pins along the edges fit through the side of the drive bay and lock into the standard screw holes on your optical drive. It was a simple and effective means to secure the drive into the bay and once locked into place, there was no movement of the drive at all. This is a concept that I could get used to.
Going down the drive tower brings us to the two removable 3.5" drive bays. While there is no tool-free mechanism for the smaller drives in the system, the ability to remove the bay makes installation of these devices a lot easier. To remove the bays, just push in on the silver tab for each bay and it slides out easily. Installing it back into place is just as easy and you do not have to push in the lock to insert it fully into place.
Tucked in behind the bottom drive bay is an 80mm fan mount, but again there is no fan that comes mounted here. If you've been keeping track, there is only a single 80mm fan that comes with this unit and that is the side mounted one. If you decide to mount one (yes, this is recommended), you'll be able to make good use of it since the fan sits behind the vented mouth mentioned earlier.
To keep things at a certain level of convenience, SANSUN has made use of a slider-type PCI retention brace that allows you to install peripheral cards in a simple manner. Once the card is in place, you just lower the appropriate slider to lock the board into place.
This is a bit closer look at how the system works. Pretty straightforward as a whole.
Installation NotesInstallation Notes
Overall, the installation of a system into the BAT enclosure is not too much out of the ordinary. The removable 3.5" drive bays and the tool-free locking system for the larger drives makes things move along nicely, but there is a concern or two that needs to be mentioned.
The first concern is for those who like their optical drives mounted lower in the face like myself. With the drives fully inserted to their normal positions, care must be taken when using motherboards that have capacitors and diodes mounted toward the back/left side of the board. This installation makes use of an EPoX 9NDA3+ motherboard and as you can see, there was no choice in how I mounted the drives. The upper drive would not work in the lowest bay without running over the capacitors behind it. The drives I use are not out of the ordinary and the mainboard design is fairly common, so take heed that you may run into issues when installing your optical drives.
Another issue is with the PCI retention device. In order to work properly, the sliding clip must be able to lower itself all the way down so that the peripheral is fully locked into place. The peripheral on the left shows how this is supposed to work while the video board installed on the right shows a problem with tall boards. Lets take a closer look to show you what I mean...
As you can see, the lip of the locking mechanism strikes the top edge of the tall video board. This keeps the lock from sliding all the way down and properly securing the board into place. While a screw can still be used to hold the video card in place, there is no easy way to remove the single offending locking device without removing the entire PCI retention bracket.
Final ThoughtsFinal Thoughts
When you first take a look at the BAT enclosure, your first thought is that it has a very nice physical appearance (assuming that Batman is a character you like). With an overall steel construction and a lot of molded plastic bodywork that actually lines up correctly when assembled, this really is a good looking case design. While this is a true enough concept, there is more to a case than just good looks.As far as features are concerned, the BAT has many and most of them are good. The removable drive bays and tool-free optical locks are very convenient and worked flawlessly. The top I/O ports are in an easy to get to location and the wiring harness is plenty long enough to accommodate any motherboard design that I've seen to date. The funnel on the side fan is a good concept for those who can make use of it, and easily removed if you have a system design that can't. The lighting on the front bezel is a fun novelty, but a means to turn it off would be nice. The only choice you have to turn off lighting it to physically unplug the Molex connector coming from the front bezel. There are a lot of mounts for cooling fans, but only a single fan is included in the base package. If you have any tall PCI/AGP/PCI-E cards in use, take special note of the issue regarding the peripheral retention system mentioned on the previous page.Pricing for this case isn't known for sure at this point in time. Availability is limited and the examples I was able to find online indicate a retail pricing in the neighborhood of $75US without power supply. This will put the BAT enclosure in the middle to upper echelon of pricing for this type of case without power supply included.Bottom line... If your main goal is physical appearance, then this enclosure has a lot to offer you in this area. With body molding that is done right, the good looks are certainly present. If you're also looking for features, then you'll want to make sure that your component list will allow you to get the most out of this design. With some features good and other poor in design, this is a good initial offering that will hopefully improve in future revisions.- Pros
Very good looking designPlastic molding lines up very wellSteel construction is sturdyRemovable 3.5" drive baysTool-free optical drive locking mechanism- Cons
Paint coating is very thinSmaller than normal case design can cause problems when mounting optical drivesPCI retention device does not work with tall peripheral boardsOnly one fan included with base designRating - 8 out of 10