Cooler Master, never a company to sit around and do nothing, seems to have spent some time thinking outside the box. The result is this HAF XB case. It’s shaped like a box, I assume they didn’t do their thinking inside as it’s too small to fit a standardized engineer inside it.
Specifications and Features
I’m in an awkward situation here, the case I have in front of me (to the side, really) was packed up specifically for review duty. This means that the box has no features or specs listed, nor is there a manual inside the case with any. Due to the NDA, there were no specs or features listed on Cooler Master’s site either. They did send me a picture of the box, which has the following specs listed on it:
Not real long on stock fans here, the top fan mount is for a fairly specific 200 mm fan from Cooler Master, it has a 120×180 mm bolt pattern. Not a lightweight case either, 18 lbs is a fair bit of steel!
CM did send me a review guide, most of which is the same information above. One interesting bit was at the bottom of the Q/A section:
What are some of the many recommended uses for the XB?
The XB has many purposes. Among these uses are:
– Gaming / LAN box for easy travel
– Extreme Overclock Test Bench
– Test bench for review samples of PSUs, CPU Coolers, Fans, Memory and other system components
The first use is pretty obvious, or will be when you see the case. The second is an interesting thing to see advertised, extreme overclocking still isn’t all that mainstream. The third is similar, though a more literal “test bench” than the second example. Towards the end of this review, look for a section with my thoughts on these points.
Photos Part One: The Exterior
The box doesn’t give much away, the packaging inside the box is very standard:
I’m only showing one box panel because the other panels are either blank or identical. As the box helpfully informs us, this is a sample, not a retail case. Cooler Master did send me a photo of the box design, from which I cropped the shots below:
I’ll pull the case out of the box, it’d be a rather short review if I didn’t.
This is an interesting layout, I haven’t seen a cube type case this large before. The bottom has some feet ~1″ tall to give it clearance on carpet. Although, if your carpet is deep the PSU may have issues breathing anyway as the case is quite heavy once hardware is installed. There is a ton of mesh, two intake fans up front, mesh on the roof (with fan mounts for a CM 200mm fan). On the rear of the case, to the left, are water cooling hose and wire holes that you can punch out. You will need to supply some rubber grommets to prevent chafing though. It’d be nice if they were pre-punched and fitted with grommets already.
The sides have more venting, as well as carrying handles. The handles are flat inside rather than having a lip for easier use. They work well enough with two hands, but forget carrying the case in one hand. To be fair, it’s an extremely awkward case to try to carry in one hand, and loaded with hardware it weighs more than most people can carry in one hand anyway.
The styling, I like. It’s a fairly laid back affair, a rare thing these days. It looks decently designed for airflow. Although from that standpoint, I would close the CPU side’s side panel, the front 3/4 of the other panel, as well as having a solid lid. That would give a fairly laminar airflow in the front and out the back, that’s what I really like in case airflow as it has worked best for me in all tests.
To focus on a few things, here are the hot-swap bays in detail:
The drive tray uses the standard Cooler Master setup with metal posts in rubber grommets as you can see above. Once you get a drive installed it’s nice and secure and damps vibrations well, but actually getting the drive into them can be a pain. Interestingly, while standard 3.5″ HDDs are a pain to mount, my OCZ Vertex 3 3.5″ drive slips right in like it was made for it.
The 5.25″ bays have covers that are easily removed from the outside of the case (thank you, Cooler Master!) but still look good. They have dust screens in them, though you won’t need dust screens unless you have some pretty solid 80mm fans mounted in the rear. As it ships, the case has more intake fan than exhaust fan, making the vents function as exhausts. As a side note, this is my preferred airflow setup.
The front panel is a bit short on USB ports for my tastes, I’d like to see four, even if two are USB2 ports.
Last for this section, the accessories.
We get lots of “zip” cable ties, five pairs of small drive rails, a speaker, a stack of miscellaneous bolts and standoffs, a standoff installer (very nice!) and four screws for mounting the top fan in the case. If you buy a fan that fits.
Photos Part Two: The Interior
Now it’s time to start taking panels off, it looks like the top and both sides come off quite easily. Two thumbscrews (that you’ll need a screwdriver to break loose the first time) and presto!
You get a fair amount of access to things with the panels off, the bottom layer is hard to get to though. I discovered after I installed most of the hardware that the motherboard tray comes out (four thumbscrews), which makes things a lot easier. Look for a picture of that in the next section. The PCIe slot cover bolts are slightly overhung by the top frame rail, so care is needed when installing them to avoid cross-threading.
Under the front panel (be careful removing it, it’s not hard to pinch yourself. I did, it hurt significantly) we find two fans:
That there is a fresh fan, came off the line a little more than a month ago.
Below we have pictures of the PSU mounting bracket, remove this, bolt it to your PSU, then slide the PSU in. You won’t be installing a PSU any other way as there is simply not enough room.
The USB3 and Audio cables are nothing new, 100% standard parts. I really really dislike the official USB3 plug, it’s quite easy to tear it out of the board if you bump the cable, and doing so can bend pins. It’s too stiff and the plug itself is too tall, it gives it a lot of leverage on the poor unfortunate pins below. Like I said though that’s a standard plug, it’s not Cooler Master’s fault. The only alternative is to use the plug-into-the-rear-ports setup, which is horrible. On the plus side, the LED connectors are very clearly labeled as to which is + and which is -. This is extremely rare for the HDD LED, and very much appreciated. Thank you Cooler Master! The switches aren’t labeled as they don’t care how they’re plugged in.
Last for this section, both front fans come with a pretty nice Molex to 3-pin fan adapter:
Photos Part Three: Hardware Installation
The first thing I discovered is that it’s tricky to route cables through the limited space under the motherboard tray. Shortly following that, I realized you can remove the tray. With the tray out, you have excellent access.
As you can see, I’ve put the 2.5″ drive in already, installing it is a snap. Put two rails on, then hold them in place while you slide it in. There’s a fair bit of resistance, but the latches don’t hold very well. You’ll need to hold the drive while you connect the cables or the drive will get pushed out. In operation there is enough resistance that the drive won’t go anywhere.
Pretty cable management is tricky, there aren’t many cutouts to route them though. On the other hand cable management from an airflow standpoint is excellent. Seeing as that’s what I care about, I like it.
The 3.5″ hot-swap trays have a fairly standard rubber grommet+metal pin system for holding the drive in place. What is not standard (or what I’ve missed on previous cases) is the installation method! Observe the two pictures below:
On the bottom, on one edge there is a tab. If you push the tab the tray pops open wider, which allows you to put the HDD in without having to mess with the grommets. Squeeze the tray, and it slides shut and latches, holding the drive in place. Very cool system. Also note the mounting holes for 2.5″ drives, you’ll have to use screws to hold them in.
Closing the door engages the contacts at the back and away you go! Do note that to actually hot-swap drives you must have the SATA controller set to AHCI mode. If it’s set to IDE mode you’ll have to reboot before the drive appears.
2.5″ SSDs have their own rack and rails as mentioned previously. It’s a nice touch.
I couldn’t find the Power LED until I turned the case on, then it became rather obvious.
To finish some things off, a full built. Here’s what’s in the build:
|CPU:||Phenom II X4 955|
|CPU Cooler:||Phanteks PH-TC14PE|
|RAM:||G.Skill Perfect Storm 2000-8-8-8|
|GPU:||EVGA GTX580 (reference)|
|PSU:||Cooler Master Silent Pro Platinum 1000w|
|HDD:||120 GB Vertex 3 3.5″ + 128 GB Vertex 4|
I chose the above bits because they were hanging around and were the largest and/or hottest I had available. The PSU I chose as it’s the largest I have, to see if it would fit.
As you can see, even a nice long GTX580, an oversized 990FXA-UD7, and a massive Phanteks cooler fit easily. There’s more room for the motherboard down at the bottom too, so a motherboard could be ~0.75″ longer before it ran into issues. A wider motherboard might be an issue, as there is only about 0.3″ of room left before the motherboard hits the lip on the tray. You could modify the lip to make more room of course, if you have some tools.
The top fan mounts aren’t high enough above the Phanteks cooler to be utilized with the cooler in place, you’ll need a shorter cooler if you want a top fan. That said, a shorter cooler and a single fan on top could totally replace all the other fans; you wouldn’t really need the front fans at that point.
Cooling performance was good, there’s so much grill/mesh to this case that I’m not surprised at all. The two intake fans are fairly loud, you’ll want a fan controller to quiet them down. Alternatively, new quieter fans would do the trick. If you have a Cooler Master Silent Pro PSU with a 7V output port (like this one), that would be perfect.
I would recommend finding at least one quiet 80 mm fan for down below, just to make sure there is some airflow down there for HDD/SSD cooling. It doesn’t take much at all to keep them cool. I’d be inclined to mount the rear 80 mm fan(s) as intake fans, but it would work fine either way. I did some extended testing with a Western Digital Blue 500 GB drive, and with constant file copying for an hour, the internal temperature of the drive leveled off at 38 °C, this is in an ambient air temperature of around 22 °C. I find this to be acceptable.
There may be a solid lid available for this case, which I think would be a plus.
Once fully built you’ll appreciate the handles, it’s a very awkward case to try to move without them. With them, it’s not exactly light, but it’s pretty convenient. It’d be decent for a LAN rig, especially considering that you can use full sizes parts in your LAN rig rather than being stuck with mATX/mITX.
A final note on the fans, the front 120 mm fans are mounted back to back, a relatively thin 240 mm radiator would fit on the inside easily. Especially if you left the front fans in place on the outside to provide the airflow. There is about 1.5″ of space before the SATA cables sticking out of the SATA ports (on this motherboard) start to interfere. If you use 90° SATA cables that gains another half inch or so. There are also back to back 140 mm fan mounts in the front.
As a Test Bench
As noted earlier one of CoolerMaster’s marketing bits for this case is that you can use it as a test bench. I do an awful lot of HW testing, so I figured I’d try this case out for that purpose.
As a note, when I think of “Extreme Overclocking” I think of Liquid Nitrogen and Dry Ice cooling, so that is my main focus from the Extreme Overclocking standpoint. If you’re thinking about extreme air or water, that will be quite different!
From an extreme cooling standpoint, the case is of mixed usefulness. The stabilizing bars across the top mean that pouring into a short CPU pot like a F1EE from a full thermos is going to be a good trick. A taller pot like an F1EE with extension or a Koolance V2 or the Giraffe Pot would be much easier to pour in. For Dry Ice use, it would be fine. Insulating is going to be key, as you need to insulate the bottom of the motherboard well enough that no frost forms on the insulation. If it does it will eventually melt and drip down onto your PSU, and if there is one component that really doesn’t like being wet, that’s the one. The removable motherboard tray is nice, it’d be even better if it included the PCIe slot brackets so you could simply take the whole operation out of the case and use that as a test bench. While you do get better access to things than in a normal case, I don’t think I would use the HAF XB for an extreme overclocking test bench.
Looking at the HAF XB from hardware test/review standpoint we run into another mixed bag. For reviewing memory, GPUs, CPUs, motherboards, and 3.5″ drives the case really is quite nice. You get far more access to those components than you do in a normal case. For reviewing 2.5″ drives, if you want to mount them in the case plugging the cables in without pulling the motherboard tray out is a pain. You can just leave them lying on the table of course, but that defeats the purpose of using a case for testing in the first place. For testing CPU coolers the case really isn’t very good. In a normal case you have easy access to the rear of the motherboard tray and the cutout in said tray, mounting a new cooler is nice and easy. For this case you’ll have to pull the motherboard tray out of the case, which means unplugging everything. Not so good. From a testing PSUs standpoint, you should be using a dedicated, calibrated, load, NOT computer HW. As a side note, the PSU location makes swapping PSUs in this case more annoying than in most. For testing fans you have to take the front of the case off. This isn’t overly difficult as it just clips on, but CoolerMaster did a good job making sure it would stay on. This is great for normal use, but expect some pain when you take the front panel off! I pinched myself pretty nicely when one of the clips decided that it was happier in its normal position. You can test a single fan behind the CPU cooler, but the CPU cooler will interfere with the testing results. (Unless that’s exactly the position and case you’re reviewing the fan for, I suppose)
Overall, I’ll let them have the test rig point, it really is fantastically convenient for testing Memory, motherboards 3.5″ drives and GPUs.
This is a rather interesting case. It’s a cube, but it accepts even oversized ATX boards like the 990FXA-UD7. The HAF (High Air Flow) name is lived up to I think, because while it only has two 120 mm fans, they are perfectly situated to push air over all of the hot bits. It’s a good setup that way. I would prefer quieter fans though and ideally at least one 80 mm (quiet!) fan down below.
The construction is very solid, none of the parts flex to any meaningful degree, not even the motherboard tray or side panels when they’re removed. The handles are nice to have, this would be a tricky case to carry around without them. Even with them it’s not the easiest case to carry around.
I like how it looks, this is entirely subjective of course, but it appeals to me. I’m tempted to use it as a combination case and footrest, or build a platform on top and use it as an end table. I like it, anyway.
The cooling performance is good, I ran an extended burn test and there was no sign of anything running unhappily hot. This is with just the two factory fans. I would like a couple more fans, or at least one fan on the bottom. It wouldn’t have to be a speedy fan, even an 80mm 1200rpm fan would be nice.
It makes a nice test station for testing motherboards, memory, 3.5″ drives and GPUs. Less so for PSUs, CPU coolers, 2.5″ drives and 5.25″ drives.
For LN2 / Dry Ice cooling use, I’d stick to a motherboard box personally. The risk of dripping water onto/into the PSU is too high for my tastes.
The front panel is well designed, but short on USB ports. Two USB3 ports is nice, only two USB ports in total isn’t enough, I routinely use 3-4 on my 24/7 use case.
The hot-swap bays are nice, I’m a fan of hot-swap bays. The mounting mechanism is excellent, the addition of the tab to open the tray for drive installation is brilliant. Whoever thought that one up deserves a raise and a beer.
The 2.5″ rack is very cool, I like that. It would be nice to have a 3.5″ rack, or at least a slot or two, to go along with it though. It looks like there is room. Two 3.5″ bays is a bit skimpy.
Cable management is excellent from an airflow standpoint, though not ideal from a looks standpoint. On the other hand, given the lack of windows, airflow is the #1 concern here.
Cooler Master informs me that the MSRP for the HAF XB is $99.99, making it a pretty good value in my book. Having done some looking around I cannot find any other currently produced ATX lanbox type cases, there is some New Old Stock of LianLi’s offering selling for $95, but that lacks 2.5″ bays among other things. I have no issues with this price.
I’ll summarize, as my list is getting out of hand. There are pros:
- Good airflow.
- Looks cool.
- Fits full sized motherboards, GPUs and PSUs.
- Two hotswap 3.5″ bays, with an excellent HDD mounting system.
- Room for some watercooling inside.
- 2.5″ drive rack means no annoying adapters needed.
- Included fans plenty for keeping HW cool.
- Nice test bench for GPUs, motherboards, 3.5″ drives and memory.
As with most things, there are some cons too:
- Included fans fairly loud.
- You only get two 3.5″ bays total.
- Only two USB ports on the front of the case.
- Difficult to add more 2.5″ HDDs/optical drives without removing the motherboard tray.
All told this is a solid, interesting, functional case worth of consideration for your next build. I approve of it. There are a few things that could be done better, but nothing show stopping by any means. I give it the official Overclockers.com seal of approval.
– Ed Smith / Bobnova