Hey everyone - goatsongoats and I managed to get hold of some of the new CaseLabs and did a quick video and photoshoot. I hope you find this interesting, and if it's the wrong section - apoliges! Stren
CaseLabs Merlin Preview
First off a big thanks to Jim for letting us play around with these cases pre-release. Sadly we didn't have as much time as we'd have liked but we wanted to share with you the photos, videos and our opinions :thumb:
Bear in mind that the SM5 and ST10 are prototypes and so the exact design may change slightly before release.
We had a lot of cases to play around with this weekend:
Back row - left to right:
CaseLabs Merlin SM5
CaseLabs Merlin SM8
CaseLabs Merlin ST10
CaseLabs Magnum STH10
CaseLabs Magnum TX10-D + Pedestal
Front row - left to right
Spotswood Tech Bench
Danger Den Torture Rack HPTX Edition
To give you another idea of the relative sizes:
The complete Merlin lineup - from left to right: SM5, SM8, ST10
CaseLabs' new Merlin series is the latest product line. It integrates several new features into a full fledged water cooling tower case format as well as keeping the favorite CaseLabs hallmarks from the Magnum series:
- Drop in radiator mounts
- Reversible ATX
- Flex bay system and accessories
- Removable motherboard trays with self retaining screws that can become a mini tech-station
- More drive bays than you can shake a stick at
- Buckets of space for cable/tube routing behind the motherboard
- Optional I/O accessories including audio/USB3
- Hidden HDD and SSD support behind the tray
We'll go into more details on each of those, but first some basics about CaseLabs nomenclature.
The number in the case name refers to the number of slots on the motherboard tray and gives an idea of the motherboard support. Therefore the SM5 has five pci-e slots and the largest board it supports is mATX. The SM8 has 8 pci-e slots and the largest board it supports is single processor eATX. The ST10 has 10 pci-e slots and the largest board it supports is XL-ATX. CaseLabs uses "H" in the product name to designate HPTX support. Therefore none of the Merlin cases support HPTX. If you want HPTX support you'll have to look at something in the Magnum line (e.g TH10 or STH10). Here we can see the CaseLabs trays themselves:
The SM5 mATX tray is at the front, on it's left is the SM8 eATX with an ATX board fitted. Behind the SM5 tray is the ST10 tray awkwardly fitted with an EEB 2 processor board. Behind and to the left are the CaseLabs HPTX trays fitted with a variety of boards (SR2, R3E, R4E)
Here's another view showing how a standard ATX board is a bit smaller than the eATX tray:
A larger GPU card like a 590 however is still overhanging the edge of the eATX tray a little:
Of course this is not a problem, and there is plenty of space in front of the tray.
The HPTX trays you can see here the exact size of an HPTX board, however when you fit an eATX board on them like the trays on the left you can see there is a lot of leftover space:
Here we see the backs of the Merlin cases showing the slots of the motherboard trays:
You'll also see a difference in height. The SM5 and SM8 are basically the same height except for the loss of the 3 slots. The ST10 on the other hand has more clearance above and below the motherboard tray. This gives extra clearance for larger radiators running push/pull. This is also why the ST10 is called the ST10 and not the SM10. The T stands for "tall":
While the ST10 is noticeably taller than the SM8 because of this, it is however the same depth:
Both the SM8 and ST10 support 140.3 or 120.4 radiators in the top or bottom, however as you can see the SM5 is less deep and therefore only supports 120.3 radiators. This is a nice compromise and you'd expect the SM5 to be in general smaller than the SM8. The top/bottom radiators have what are called "drop in radiator mounts". The frame let's you drop in various mounts for different radiators. It also makes it easy to setup or remove radiators for servicing/dusting and is a key differentiator for CaseLabs. Here are some official CaseLabs photos that show the top of the case in three states:
1. Top drop in mount empty:
2. 120.4 mount fitted:
3. 140.3 mount fitted:
The drop in mounts also come with blanking plates to cover any of the fan holes that you may not want to use. This can be seen in the next photo along with the PSU support.
You can also fit radiators in the front flex bays using the optional accessories. Each "flexbay " is a group of 3 potential 5 1/4" bays. Each one could be used as a fan, or a 4 HDD/8 SSD mount, or as radiator. The number of flexbays a radiator mount uses is directly equal to the amount of 120 fans that radiator has. Therefore because the SM5 has 10 bays it can fit a front mounted 360 radiator at and have one spare 5 1/4" bay. The SM8 has 11 bays and therefore it can fit a front mounted 360 radiator and have 2 spare 5 1/4" bays. The ST10 has 14 bays so it can fit a front mounted 480 radiator and have 2 spare 5 1/4" bays.
You can also see the one of the two quick release PSU support brackets that come with the case. This particular one is from the ST10 where you can see the clearance below the PSU. It's large, but not really large enough to fit a radiator and a PSU:
It should be noted that as with the Magnum series, CaseLabs does not offer dust filters. CaseLabs has always said that these cases are highly customizable and that they would have to offer many different options leading the cost to be prohibitively high. In other words you'll have to buy your own after market filters if you want them. Different people have had success with individual Silverstone filters, or with larger Demciflex filters depending on the situation. Don't expect this to change any time soon.
Changes since Magnum first launched
As goatsongoats and I both own Magnum cases there were some differences we noted. The motherboard tray handles have been changed for cost reasons. This is the new one:
The old one was a real loop of a handle which meant you could easily get your hand through it which gave good leverage for lifting the case if needed or for particularly heavy motherboard trays i.e. a board fully loaded with full metal blocks on GPUs/CPUs/motherboard/RAM etc. It's not a big deal because the new one is functional for removing the tray and the old one probably shouldn't be used in a way where the difference would matter anyway.
The hinges were also changed. The new ones still function like the old ones though and as both are hidden at the back of the case it makes little difference.
SM8 - $379
The SM8 was the first Merlin case to launch and has been out for a month or so. As it supports the most common m otherboard standard of ATX/eATX it will be the one that most potential buyer's consider.
The case is a good balance of performance and flexibility and has been understandably popular. We expect the SM5 and ST10 to be more niche alternatives to the SM8's middle of the road appeal.
The SM8's competitor's include the Silverstone TJ07 ($369), the Corsair 800D ($275though it has less cooling portential), the as yet unreleased and unknown Corsair 900D and CaseLab's own M8. The SM8 is a very attractive price given that it's a full aluminum case with a lot of base potential as well as a lot of options to extend However the cost of the options once configured may push it higher than you might initially expect. it's capability. In terms of cooling capability it's class leading although the TJ07 and 800D could be extensively modded and have similar capability. The quality and attention to detail however is top notch and CaseLabs customer service is the stuff of legends.
In terms of size the TJ07 and SM8 are almost identical height and depth:
However the CaseLabs is significantly wider due to the cable/tube routing space and hidden HDD/SSD support:
The TJ07 can natively fit a 480 in the base heat chamber, however space is limited as you have to fit a PSU behind it. There is little space above the motherboard for a radiator and although the front bays can be modded to fit a 240 radiator there is no native support. There is no removable motherboard tray and the overall feel of the TJ07 is of a more dated design that was one of the best for water cooling at the time but has since been topped my the M8 and SM8.
There are also niggles on the TJ07 like only having 7 slots (no 4 way SLI or CFX) and the use of 92mm fans for the rear exhaust above the PCI slots. The CaseLabs on the other hand uses a more contemporary choice of a 120mm fan mount. The other more "ugly" thing design detail on the TJ07 is the window being outside of the door and being held on with non color matched screws. All of CaseLabs screws are black and there are no screws visible on any of the front, top or sides. The only plus that the TJ07 really has over the SM8 is the support for unusual dual processor motherboards like the Asus Z9PE-D8 WS, or the older skulltrail board like goatsongoats has in this case:
The SM8 has tons of space for long GPUs as well as large bay devices while still leaving space for cylinder reservoirs:
You really won't be short on space and if you want more space you can always add on the optional pedestal later like Mandrix did here:
However at this point it's also worth considering cases like the SMH10 or STH10.
Like the other Merlins there is space behind the motherboard tray/panel for hard drives and SSDs. However when you use the optional I/O ports to enable front panel USB3/HD Audio then you will lose the SSD space. However adapters are sold to put 2 SSDs into one of the HD mounts.
Overall The SM8 is a solid choice. It reflects CaseLabs unique design vision and aesthetic. The biggest competitor to it is honestly the M8 which is more compact and space efficient and is only 15" wide vs 11" for the SM8. Which one to choose however is a very personal choice.
SM5 - $349
The SM5 is the "baby" of the CaseLabs lineup. That is not to say that it's small, because it's probably the biggest mATX case out there. It's not even much smaller than the CaseLabs M8. However it's part of CaseLabs vision of "no-compromise" cases and as such offers a niche enthusiast case that there is no direct competitor for. The SM5 enables a full-on watercooled mATX build (imagine 2 7990s or 690s plus a Xonar STX on a mATX board while offering plenty of room for 2 360's and a 120 as well as a cylinder res with dual pumps. It really poses the question - why go any bigger?
Sadly we didn't have a mATX board to photography the case with:
However here's one we stole from CL's photo collection:
The motherboard tray seems so small next to the larger ones that it's really quite cute, and the rear of the tray seems peculiarly small in comparison to the rest of the case.
The SM5 like the other CaseLab's cases keeps the same high level of attention to detail and it's an excellent case with very little competition. However because it is very close in size to the M8 then we can only see it being for those people who specifically want an mATX only case. Otherwise why not go a little wider and get full ATX support and more cooling capability?
This is the reason why we believe CaseLabs should have gone smaller on the mATX case and really make more compromises. I'd have loved to have seen a real "baby" case that only supported 240/280's. It would have been a compromised design, but it also would have provided something for people who want to go actually small rather than just build a slightly smaller version of a large case. After all this mATX case is larger in *all* dimensions than most mid-tower full ATX cases.
ST10 - $419
The ST10 is an interesting case because XL-ATX boards are few and far between and it's about the same height as the more flexible albeit more expensive SMH10 which will at least support HPTX. Here we see it next to the STH10 which is essentially the SMH10 with an extra heat chamber on top:
Here's a close up of the height difference:
However it is not quite as deep which partly explains the lack of HPTX support. That and HPTX is even more niche than XL-ATX:
The extra depth means that an SMH10/STH10 can fit a 480 and still fit useful stuff in the front bays in front of it. The ST10 however can't:
Of course the TX10-D on the right is just a monster and should only be used in the most extreme of circumstances but that's another kettle of fish.
The taller height of the ST10 makes the width of the case feel more natural than in the much shorter SM5 which feels a tad out of proportion.
Because of the additional height of the ST10 it also fits another 2 SSDs natively, which means that you can also fit the USB3/HD Audio IO panel without having to use an SSD adapter.
Here's a shot of the XL-ATX tray:
Overall a very nicely proportioned case:
Overall CaseLabs has done very well with the Merlin line. The SM8 is very strong and is a direct challenge to SilverStone and Corsair's turf. Quite how successful it is may depend on just what the upcoming 900D does. The SM5 and the ST10 on the other hand are very much more niche products that expand the CaseLabs lineup but frequently are only competing with CaseLabs' own cases anyway. They give more choice to the consumer but we still wish CaseLabs had been more aggressive and gone smaller still.
Let us know what you think!