|Cooler Master ATCS 840 Computer Case RC-840|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Cases|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Monday, 17 November 2008|
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Computer Chassis Final Thoughts
Initially I had no plan of creating a stand-alone page for my final thoughts, but then I began to dwell on a few trends that seem to be circling the computer chassis industry without relent. For each and every year that I have been professionally involved with computers (which officially began around 1998), the same collective trends have repeated themselves over and over. Originally, beige computer cases were the de facto standard for enthusiasts wanting to construct their own IBM clone personal computer. The focus seemingly revolved around strength and capacity (usually for fans) while fashion and creature comforts were usually neglected.
I thought this trend was going to phase itself out around the turn of the century, but there was still a dominant demand for large full-tower cases. Beige was still the only color you'd expect and nearly everything was built of steel. The most you could really expect out of higher-end computer cases around the Y2K era was a vast collection of colorful (usually purple) cages for smaller 60mm cooling fans (92mm in rare occasions). Case strength was still a marketing buzz word used in ads to show how much lumpy geek-weight could be supported by their case. Even though most of these products were anchored down to the floor due to their excessive weight, the marketing hype seemed to hypnotize the masses. This is all slowly bringing me to my point: which is that the more things change the more they seem to remain the same.
Personal Computers evolved out of the beige-syndrome condition sometime around 2002, when Thermaltake began shipping aluminum versions of their full-tower cases and Dell began shipping systems with a black contoured plastic shell. It would take a little while to catch on, but not much later we began to see colored plastic bezels and see-through side panel windows available on just about everything that could hold a motherboard. With the exception of a few minor tweaks here and there, computer cases remained the same item at its core.
So here I am in the middle of 2008, almost exactly ten years since I began breathing in bytes. The computer industry has changed to the point that I believe it could soon look entirely different from the landscape I joined into only a decade ago. But something tells me that with all the change, we'll inadvertently keep a few things the same out of habit. One of which, the one trend I've been harping on about, is the rugged durability of computer cases that seem to have evolved above and beyond what any normal consumer would actually require.
Since Benchmark Reviews was launched in March of 2007, I have personally reviewed dozens of computer cases. I sometimes think that I've seen it all, but then I browse the Lian Li website for world-class products and see a computer case shaped like a snail. It's a bizarre world for sure, but what can we leave behind as we evolve away from our ancient computing roots? Not all that long ago everyone seemed to want a full-tower computer with ten drive bays, and just a few years later they reduced their demands to almost half that amount. Heading into 2009, I have to wonder what it is we will really need from our computer cases.
The future of computer cases
Back in the day, having two (or more) optical drives was almost a requirement for anyone who wanted to work with the CD and DVD formats. Now, you can have one drive that reads and writes to CD, DVD, and Blu-ray Disc of HD-DVD. This makes anything more than two 5.25" external drive bays unnecessary. Next is the 2.5" external drive bay, which was used exclusively for floppy disk drives (once upon a time). Since your average CD-R or USB flash drive has replaced removable magnetic media for pennies on the dollar, I don't expect the 2.5" drive bay to get much attention anymore. Although a few people might still be using multimedia expansion bays (outfitted for a 5.25" expansion bay), I think that manufacturers have done an excellent job making I/O ports readily available on the front, top, and side of most cases we see produced. So far, there hasn't been real reason to have more than two or three external drive bays, but there's more fat to be trimmed.
The last hold-out is the hard drive cage, which has historically (if not traditionally) held between four and six hard disk drives. This made sense back at the turn of the century when capacities were on the level of 8 GB, but we live in a world of affordable Terabyte-size hard drives openly available to the retail market. So do we need all of this space? I don't think so, and it seems that enthusiasts are trying to make a slow shift towards compact computing. Small Form Factor (SFF) cases have been getting more popular over the past two years, and now make up a noticeable segment of the consumer market. Let's recount our basic needs: two external 5.25 drive bays and possibly two more internal 5.25" drive bays. With an open mind, you could even begin to see how a MicroATX motherboard might also make good sense for most of us since PCI slots are really a necessity of the past (for modems, sound cards, and network interface cards).
Which brings me into my final thoughts: are we really clinging to the past when we accept a new design? I don't know what each of you need out of a computer case, but I can begin to imagine that none of you will be using your PC chassis to support your body weight while you change a light bulb. Full tower cases, while still in demand for a tiny slice of enthusiasts, are about as necessary for home users as Cadillac Escalades. Mid-tower computer cases are a different story, and without some major change to power supply unit dimensions in a future ATX standard we will be seeing them for a long time to come. I think it's great that we can have all of this extra space, but personally I think we need manufacturers to begin to think outside the box and come up with product designs more in-line with our evolved hardware needs.
Please continue on as I conclude my review of the Cooler Master ATCS 840 computer case and give a final rating for the RC-840.