Image courtesy of Lan Gear
Back since I bought my first caddy load cd drive I have been building my own computers for personal use and gaming. Since IT is now my career, the past few years I don’t do as much gaming but still like to keep my home system up to date with at least a current video card and cpu. This year I already had a pretty nice base system but decided to replace the Case and Video Card. My fascination with Micro Atx components always presents challenges when building a decent gaming system due to lack of space while using full size components. I was using a Lian Li V351 and absolutely loved the case but was looking for something a bit smaller that could still fit a full size video card, 2 desktop drives, and still adequately cool an Intel Core i5 750 Quad Core CPU.
After some forum scavenging and a few phone calls I settled on a the Lan Gear “Da Box 100 Blackheart” Micro ATX case. I honestly never heard of this company before I began my research but did read a few things about the case on some forums. Some of the reviews were good, but some of them rated the build quality lower than some of the other big names in the business. I took that information and figured I would give them a call and place the order anyway. I probably would be modifying it anyway so any minor details were no big deal. I had some crappy cases in the past and some really great but expensive ones also. I also like the fact that it was made in the USA. Not that I have anything against products made elsewhere, but its nice once in a while to support someone in your home turf.
The case came nicely packaged and well protected in cardboard box with adequate foam protecting the sides and edges. I pulled out the case and did a quick inspection making sure there was no big dents or scratches so if I needed to send anything back, it would not hold up the build. The case comes with a pretty big goody bag of accessories and cooling products. Included was the manual, 2 120mm fans, 1 90mm fan, the power extension cable, plenty of hardware, 3 fan filters, and the USB front panel header. I liked the fact that they used quality Cooler Master fans and included fan filters to keep the dust and pet hair out. There is also some optional fans that you can add inside the case for hard drive or ram cooling, but they are not included and must be bought separately.
The all aluminum case has a matte finish on the outside which is slightly rough to the touch but is nice because it isn’t as big of a fingerprint smudge magnet as high gloss cases. Some of the edges were a little rough but not enough to cut yourself unless you are really trying to do so. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t slice up my hands putting together a computer so it was nice to see that the case was a little more skin friendly. The motherboard tray slid out rather easily, only requiring me to loosen the rear thumbscrews. The thumbscrews are spring-loaded, which is quite convenient because they do not come completely out which means you can’t lose them when your taking your case apart.
The innards were pretty simple to disassemble and understand where everything went. Lan Gear did a nice job of sorting out all the component locations while still keeping it fairly easy to work on. The hard drive tray and optional fan bracket for the video card were removable for easier installation which is always a help in small form factor case. The front and sides of the case are made of a thick 2mm aluminum with a nice satin black finish. The top and sides are all one piece and the front cover is removable which again allows room to build before assembly.
I started the assembly with the power supply since it usually ends up being the biggest pain since you have to fit a full size PSU and cabling in a small form factor case. My Enermax is modular so it cuts down on the amount of cabling, but some of the cables are still long and the slack still needs to be stored out-of-the-way without obstructing air flow. The PSU mounts in the front of the case and vents out the right side which provides adequate cooling, but could cost you on fan noise if you have a noisy PSU. I choose my mATX components based on quality and sound so I hoped this would not be the case. The wiring comes out on the left side right where the video card(s) are which is one spot that made this build a little tricky.
After the PSU I moved on to the motherboard tray and mounted the motherboard, Ram, video card, and cooling setup. For cooling I wanted to give the Corsair Hydro H50 setup a shot. The closed loop water system was a nice alternative to air cooling and was all contained in a small package. The heatsink and pump are all one unit which is piped to a single 120mm radiator. This was much smaller than a heavy aluminum air cooler, but came to be a little trouble in the end. It fit nicely and was easy to mount, but the radiator was a little big and did not allow me to use a cooling fan on the side of the case like I had wanted. I fixed alleviated that by mounting the 120mm radiator fan on the rear of the case which gave me room for the fan on the side. I also had to route the power connector to the outside of the case because the radiator would not allow the grommet to fit nicely in place. This is not a fault of Lan Gear, just something I overlooked when deciding on components. Not really a big deal since it’s my own fault.
Once the motherboard was done I mounted the two hard drives in the drive cage. The case was probably what I like least about the unit. If I had decided to use 2.5″ drives then it would not have been a big deal but since I used standard 3.5″ drives that’s where I hit the first real problem. The drives basically would hit the video card when the cables were plugged in. The clearance was so small that I had only a few mm between the back of the video card and the ends of the drives. The motherboard would not allow me to use the other PCIx slot since I was not running SLI so I had to modify the drive cage and move them closer to the outside of the case. I fired up the dremel and moved the mounting holes on the cage to give me a little more clearance. I could have used angled SATA cables, but they still would have hit the video card more than I liked them to. The trade-off is that I took up most of the space for the 80mm optional hard drive cooling fan. I didn’t plan on using one, so it’s really no loss but should be noted. I don’t think you could run a gaming type video card and standard hard drives without having some clearance issues.
After I got that all buttoned up I installed the hard drive tray again and slid the motherboard tray in and had adequate clearance to get the cables connected and routed. The OCZ Ripjaw ram had some pretty big heatsinks and just barely cleared the hard drive cage, but again that’s what your up against when you are fitting a mATX case with full-sized components. There is plenty of other great ram out that has a lower profile than the Ripjaw, I did not change the ram on this build so it’s what I had to work with. Everything was pretty tight but fit, so I started routing cables and tucking them wherever I could to keep it as neat as I could for the initial startup. So far I have not really run into any quality or fitment issues short of the hard drive tray, so at this point I assume whatever quality issues I read about, they were fixed.
The power and reset buttons were a little disappointing. Although they look good and fit pretty nice, I would have liked to see them use some vandal resistant type metal switches to compliment the rest of the aluminum case. They are pretty cheap feeling and not very rigid, but once they are mounted and the front cover is on, they work pretty well and look fine. Not really a deal breaker, but may be something I change myself in the future, especially since I have a couple of them lying around from previous builds. The LED’s fit nicely behind the front cover and are not too bright that they require some sort of diffuser like some of the other cases. They are small but noticeable and placed nicely in the upper right hand side of the case. The cabling for the switches and LED’s was plenty long enough and easy to loom together. They were long enough but not too long as in having to find a place to store the excess. The rest of the front panel is machined well and fit nicely once installed. I do have a few complaints about the optical drive cover and button.
Both are not fully cut out of the aluminum front cover when you receive them. Not a big deal but this still requires you to cut them out since the metal is too thick to break the tabs out. You have to file both the front cover and optical bezel down to remove the edges which could cause the anodizing to come off and turn shiny instead of black. You have to stick them on the drive and button with included double-sided tape but the button cover has a piece of silver metal behind it and it clearly shows through the front. Since the initial build I took this piece back off and colored the metal, but I feel this small detail could have been handled at the factory during the assembly. The optical drive itself slides nicely into the upper support tray and has a little bit of space between the tray and top of the hard drives which adds some airflow and easy cable routing and storage.
With all the components mounted in place and a temporary wiring job I fired up the machine with a success on the first go. I assembled the covers and ran a few stress test to get things heated up inside and was surprised with the results. The case stayed relatively quiet and provided adequate cooling even without a front case fan installed. The excess cabling from the power supply prevented me from putting the front fan in but I was able to install the upper fan for the video card, the rear right side fan and the rear fan for the radiator. All the fan are setup as exhaust and still allowed for enough airflow in to the case for the hot air to be pulled out. Since I have no CPU fan the heatsink heats up a little warm but nothing near any dangerous level. I tried switching the configuration around a little with the fans but in the end went with all 3 as the exhaust. The video card fan was loudest of all the fans in the case but is muffled enough by the aluminum cladding to be annoying. Overall I was happy with the sound levels and cooling efficiency of the Blackheart.
In conclusion I like the aesthetics of this case and the fitment of mostly anything inside. Short of the hard drive issue and optical drive button backing I can’t really say to many negative things about the case. The cooling is pretty optimum for a case this size and the sound levels are where I wanted them to be. As far as quality and fitment of the components all the cuts and stamping are of high quality and the build went fairly simple. As with most gaming cases there is always some room for improvement and modification, but if there wasnt then all the fun would be gone. I have some cable management to deal with and some rear case modifications to do for the power cable, but there is not much else I need to do to get this case exactly where I want it. I want to thank Lan Gear for making a decent SFF case and look forward to seeing some more products from them in the future. If you’re in the market for a nice mATX case then this should be considered for your next build. You can find this case on Lan Gear’s site for $179.99 with a few other options including side window, silver interior, and a few other accessories.
Update: Since the initial build I replaced my monster Nvidia GTX9800 with a Nvidia GTX460 which is about 2″ shorter and cools much better than the 9800. It still would have hit the SATA connectors but allowed much more room for airflow and cabling. Lan Gear also released a new hard drive cage that mounts above the video card which would eliminate the drive issue altogether.
What I liked:
- Thick aluminum frame and shell
- Quality manufacturing of the metal
- Lots of cooling configurations
- Cool and Quiet
- Fits most full-size components (must use mATX motherboard)
- Plenty of room if you want to run SLI video cards
- Quality fans included
- Fits 10″ full size video cards
What could be improved:
- Optical drive cutouts and silver plate behind button
- Hard drive cage too close to back of video card
- Power and Reset buttons could be better quality
Via Lan Gear