Gaming rigs have come a long way from the gimmicky plastic things which looked impressive (sometimes) but which were distinctly average under the hood.
The Ninja Gaming case from Raidmax is a new entry into the market. Kindly donated by our friends at PC Case Gear, the Ninja looks dark and intimidating. We pull it apart to see what it offers other than a sleek black finish.
The case is picked out in a high-gloss black finish, which is particularly appealing, although slightly prone to fingerprint marking. The front panel is a streamlined downward facing design terminating at a front-mounted blue LED, which is actually responsive to hard drive activity as it plugs into the HDD LED on the motherboard (looks sweet!). The bottom quarter of the front panel is pushed in from either side by mesh-covered air ducts attached to the side panels.
The front panel itself swings outwards to the right (facing front-on), and covers the five 5.25" bays, two 3.5" bays and the power and reset buttons. The panel is a push-and-swing-open type, with a magnet mounted so that is swings back securely. The tension in the springs do allow for the smooth swingback mechanism also prevented the panel from sitting neat and flush to the case once it had been pushed back into position.
At the base of the front panel is another push-and-release panel covering two front USB ports, line-out and mic-in jacks. Unfortunately the panel swings downwards beyond the practical limits of the box. This means that to open this panel the entire case needs to be sat out about an inch over the edge of the desk, or simply use the accompanying feet system which raises the box sufficiently off the floor.
One word about the feet - they protrude from each side of the case by about 1.5" per side, which means that the overall footprint (unintentional pun) is around 3" wider than that case itself.
The left side panel is dominated by a see-through swirl design, which looks really effective and which allows ample viewing into the internal cavity. There is also an exhaust for the 8cm fan mounted behind the panel and positioned over the CPU.
The rear is pretty standard, with one exhaust for the 12cm fan mounted internally.
The interior is quite roomy, with a number of features worthy of mention.
Firstly, the motherboard mounting tray is removable. Yay! There aren't enough of these in the world - I've certainly skinned my knuckles a few times trying to slide a motherboard into the right position, and dropped screws down the side which conveniently roll underneath the board. Being able to remove the tray lets you mount the board securely and effectively. This particular tray is secured to the chassis via a single screw in the back panel. You can add another screw if you wish - there's the facility to do so.
Positioned over the PCI slots is a mounting bracket with thumb-release sliding tabs which slide down over the card riser and fix it into place. The idea here is that you can install any expansion card without needing to secure it into place with screws (part of the whole screwless design concept). It has been noted in other cases which use this mechanism that tall graphics cards which extend beyond the height of the riser can actually prevent the holder from fitting properly over the top of the riser. We tested this unit with such a card, and didn't notice the problem in this instance.
You still can secure any cards with screws, but this requires wholesale removal of the tab mechanism via three screws through the back panel.
The cover for the output array on the motherboard is affixed to the case via screws, rather than the usual push-it-into-place-and-pray-it-doesn't-pop-out arrangement. It also doesn't feature those annoying little tabs which press down on the USB and PS2 ports featured by most covers. The only downside is that this method of attaching the cover to the case isn't widely supported, and any motherboard you buy is likely to have the standard cover, and if the one supplied with the case doesn't fit your needs, you'll have to turf it in favour of the older style.
The mounting bays all utilise a slide-and-release catch, which secures any unit by placing a metal pin into the front screw holes on either side of the device. There's plenty of tension in these catches so they're pretty secure, but there's still the option to use the rear screw holes.
There are three 3.5" hard drive bays in the internal HDD enclosure, and these face out the left side of the panel rather than the traditional configuration of front-to-back. This does make installing the drives exceptionally easy (again, no skinned knuckles!), but this does take the power and PATA/SATA connectors on the back of the drives further away from the motherboard. Make sure your cables are long enough. Directly in between the drives and the front panel is another 12cm fan. This helps extract heat away from the drives, especially given that the side vents are positioned exactly at the level of the enclosure, but the drive configuration does mean that airflow is hampered somewhat, and that the drives are more reliant on cross-airflow from side-to-side rather than powered airflow from the fan.
In general, system installation with the Ninja case is very straightforward, with only a few things to watch out for.
Firstly, popping the black covers out of the front panel which cover the drive bays is surprisingly difficult and required a fair amount of force. Be careful not to lose skin doing this.
Secondly, as already noted, the hard drive configuration does draw the drive connections further away from the motherboard. This probably won't be a problem for the power leads which are generally long enough to cope, but depending on the positioning of the PATA/SATA ports on your motherboard, the data cables could be a problem. Especially with a master/slave PATA configuration - in this instance it's probably worth investing in pre-cut ribbon cable which tends to be much more flexible, or you can cut the cable yourself and bind it together.
Finally, full-length optical drives mounted in bays 2, 3, 4 or 5 may come into contact with diodes or capacitors mounted on the extreme left hand edge of the motherboard - something to watch out for.
As a gaming rig, the Maxraid Ninja is certainly visually impressive and aesthetically pleasing - two very important factors! It impressed us in the way it integrated design and airflow - the mesh vents on the front/side look great, but service a valuable purpose also.
The interior is well laid-out with room to move, and the screwless design has been implemented well. For a truly beastly gaming system it's perhaps a little restrictive as there's nowhere to move beyond the three in-built case fans. If these fans can cope with your setup well and good, if not there's no scope to improve the situation without some hefty case-modding. And there's not much room to accommodate that either.
Plenty of internal bays
Good use of cross-airflow and case fans
Potential space issues from optical drives
Hard drive connectors further away than normal
No capacity to expand cooling facilities without modding
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Rating - 8 out of 10
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