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Coolermaster ATC 101 - power is nothing without style
Product : Coolermaster ATC 101 with pre-made window panel
Manufactured by : Coolermaster
Price : £191 (including VAT) for case, £TBA for matching window panel

Coolermaster have earnt themselves a good tradition in making cases. They don't however, produce many of the add-ons we see from the other manufacturers like pre-cut panels with fitted windows or front 5.25" CD-ROM panels. This is led other manufacturers, mainly Lian-Li to gain a good foot-hold in the enthusiasts market. Most people you see on message forums haven't heard of Coolermaster such has Lian-Li's domination been in the market, however Coolermaster came out to market with aluminium cases several months (if not years) before their well known foe.

The whole "case modding" scene is coming alive with support and recognition from major hardware vendors. At this year's ECTS, Intel issued several press releases regarding the modified cases that were on show at their stand. AMD too had a number of modified computers at their developers lounge showing that this hobby can become a recognized art form in the industry.

Whilst a number of people love devoting time (and money) to producing these wonderful modifications, others are scared that one mistake could render hours of work, hundreds of pounds useless. It's a simple mistake to make. You have just purchased the best aluminium case, get it home and within 1 hour you take a hacksaw to it. One slip and your case is ready for the bin.

What are the manufacturers doing about this? For a while they did nothing, however now there is a plethora of add-ons that can make your case look the business without having to get your hands dirty.

Whilst the window panel is the most striking feature of this case, it is important to remember that we are looking at one very professional, high quality and flexible case. Coolermaster has given this model the 101 badge for reasons which we can't fathom (it's not smaller than, say the ATCS 201). It does, however sport some unusual and interesting features.

Once we got the packaging removed it was easy to see that the 101 was infact, a larger version of the ATC 500 (review). Inside however, it was a slightly different story.

Dealing with the outside first, the ATCS 101 has 5 externally accessible 5.25" bays, 4 of which come covered with brushed aluminium panels. Front mounted USB ports can be found behind the hinged panel at the bottom of the case. The panel is made out of thick, solid aluminium and has a reassuring weight and feel (it can be likened to the air-con buttons you find in German cars). Sporting a full array of buttons (which we have not seen in recent Coolermaster models) and LEDs (in lovely blue) the front is functional, if not slightly common. Some people might moan at the 1 externally accessible 3.5" bay, however most people don't have the need for a floppy drive let alone two drives these days.

     

Inside, things are slightly different to the ATC 500. With the large number of external 5.25" drive bays that are present on the ATC 101, Coolermaster had to introduce a new method of stacking hard drives in order to allow 4 units to fit. They have come up with an interesting solution. By allowing two hard drives to be mounted vertically rather than the more traditional horizontal position, they are able to only have 2 horizontal bays with 2 further bays coming into action when the vertical support module is screwed into place. Granted, it's not the easiest thing to imagine so here's a few pictures :

     

The idea works fairly well. There are a few downsides to mounting your hard drives this way. Previously with Coolermaster cases fans used to be placed in front of the drives to help them cool down. It worked very well. However with this method there is no fan that can be mounted, whether it be straight onto the vertical mounting model itself or by other means. Whilst hard drive cooling isn't of critical importance in the IDE market (yet), with SCSI devices which operate at much higher rotational speeds resulting in extra heat being generated cooling becomes vital to ensure reliable operation.

As with all Coolermaster cases, you are allowed to slide out the motherboard tray allowing you to easily mount your bits 'n bobs without the intrusion of the case. The tray is kept in position by a number of thumbscrews which have a high quality feel to them. The sliding rails can be a little troublesome however application of WD40 always does the trick.


It also came to our attention that there is a number of aluminium constructs which support the case. It's quite unusual to see these things in cases like this (although they are common in rack mount server cases) and gives the sense of extra rigidity. The motherboard tray itself has a support along it's back. It is important to say that these constructs are at the back of the case, so they won't appear through your side panel window.

Like almost all other Coolermaster cases the 101 comes with front mounted USB ports. These are hidden away neatly behind a smart looking aluminium door which you have to apply pressure to in order for it to open. However we encountered a serious issue with these ports. The cables which connect these ports to your motherboard are too short. In fact it looks like you would need a motherboard which is almost in an extended ATX format in order to make these front mounted USB ports operational. Longer port connectors please.

We touched on the issue of hard drive cooling earlier in this article. It is worth noting that there are three fans fitted as standard on the 101. All have chrome grills fitted and feature a nice hologram sticker for that added touch of class. One is mounted under the 3.5" drive bays with a pivot so it's angle of inclination can be changed. This is similar to what we saw in the ATC 500 (review) and allows users to concentrate airflow on a particular area, or PCI/AGP card. The ATC 101 has two other exhaust fans which are positioned at the top and rear of the case. In use both expelled hot air, which gave us the impression that they were doing their job. The noise of these fans were low, with the greatest noise coming from our CPU heatsink/fan unit. Any user can, should they so wish, fit faster fans without any trouble.

     

Moving onto the panel itself, the Perspex is pretty thick, unlike many window kits. Instead of using sealant to keep the window in place, Coolermaster has created an oversized window and used chromed pivots which produce a different and professional finish. We mentioned earlier the fact that home made finishes might be fun but not everyone wants to spend their weekend with a Dremel. Whilst a pre-made window panel might alleviate the fun of making a panel it does solve the problem I personally have had when I took on projects of this nature - producing the professional look. Some people would like a more contemporary shape of window however the amount visible by the window is greater than most and when lit up it produces a beautiful spectacle of an otherwise boring motherboard.

Taking a look back at the main features of the ATC 101 we have :
  • 5 5.25" external drive bays
  • 4 3.5" internal drive bays
  • 1 3.5" external drive bay
  • Front mounted USB ports
  • 3 80mm case fans

    In addition you are now able to purchase a pre-made case window panel.
  • Conclusion

    No case is ever perfect. However there are bits of this case where you really have to give credit to Coolermaster. There are also bits where this case can be criticized. Looking at the good points first, the amount of external 5.25" drive bays cannot be complained with. Each has a beautiful brushed aluminium blanking plate. Internally there is 4 "hard drive" bays, or 5 if you don't fit anything in the external 3.5" slot. These days 4 is more than enough for most desktop needs.

    Inside you are presented with a case that allows easy access, something every hardware enthusiast needs. The inclusion of aluminium constructs to help rigidity is an interesting structural decision. Most users won't find this an irritation since the constructs are not visible through the window and everything else about this case oozes quality and workmanship.

    There is a couple of downers though. The cable for the front mounted USB ports is too short. We couldn't get it anywhere near our motherboard's connector. The top panel is riveted onto the case. This means that replacing the power supply is a harder job than it has to be. We can't quite figure out why it's riveted onto the case.

    The ATC 101 with side panel window is a very nice package. Whilst it has faults these can be considered minor when looking at the product as a whole. If Coolermaster included longer cables for the front mounted USB ports then we would be bowled over. If you liked the ATC 500 but thought it was too small, then the ATC 101 is just the case you've been looking for. It performs well and has all the space you could want.