In the PC case market very rarely do you ever find a case designed specifically for silence. Up till now…
The Antec P180 and all of its spin offs have really been the only practical cases to take silent computing seriously. To this end NZXT have introduced the Whisper, with the obvious hope of stealing some of Antec’s thunder. Mind you I have never worked with the P180 or any of its variants, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a bad word about these Antec cases. So we’ll see how the Whisper stacks up.
The Whisper, being a monster size E-ATX chassis, comes in a monstrously large box. As always NZXT’s packaging design is very good, with their standard slick presentation.
The front of the box makes the bold claim that the Whisper is “The next standard for silent performance.” I don’t really have any other “silent” cases to compare it to, but we’ll see how well it performs later in the review.
The side of the box lists the Whisper’s specs.
On the back of the box you have the usual pictures and feature explanation.
Opening up the top of the box we get a good look at the Whispers front panel design. The chassis itself is protected in transit by foam blocks and plastic wrap – standard fare really.
While removing the foam and plastic wrap, this little piece of broken plastic showed up at the bottom. The foam and plastic wrap weren’t enough to protect the case, apparently.
The front of the Whisper is somewhat attractive. The door itself is plastic with an aluminum triangle bolted to the front of it.
Opening up the front door we get a look at the seven 5.25” drive bays, one of which is occupied by a 3.5” adapter. At the bottom is the mesh covered intake for the front LED fan. The door is held closed by the two magnets which you can see along the left front edge.
Shifting angles a bit, we get a better look at how the door is constructed. Look closely and you can make out the metal door hinges – there is nothing worse than plastic hinges, people.
Looking closely at one of the hinges we can see that while they utilize metal pins, the chassis and door attachment points seem to be all plastic. Hopefully this won’t affect the door’s durability.
Moving up to the power and reset buttons, we can see that NZXT didn’t put a lot of effort into designing these switches. They look and feel cheap, to be honest. Note that the reset button is covered when the door is closed, while the power button is accessible.
It’s hard to photograph, but the finish on the edges of the aluminum triangle is pretty rough. I was expecting better from NZXT in this area in particular, as I’ve seen them do some awesome stuff with aluminum.
Houston we have a problem: Look closely and you’ll see a sizeable gap between the door and the chassis front. This gap isn’t supposed to be here.
Moving up to the top NZXT tried something a little different with the front ports….
The front ports are contained in this cute little pop up panel. I like that NZXT thought to include an eSATA connection, but what I don’t like is that the build quality is poor here as well, especially on the latch, which feels like it would easily snap if you quickly closed the panel.
The top left corner of the front of the case seems to have been dinged in transit.
Moving around back, we see that NZXT has decided to go with an “inverted ATX” layout on the Whisper, with the PSU sitting at the very bottom of the case. The rear of the case features one 120mm and two 80mm exhaust fans. NZXT has also included rubber edged pass-through holes for watercooling tubes.
So this is why the build quality is so poor! It really bites when this stereotype gets further reinforcement, as I do think a lot of decent quality manufacturing goes on in China. Mind you China also manufactures their fair share of garbage, so it’s easy to see where the bad rep comes from.
All the included fans are all NZXT branded.
The PSU gets mounted in this area of the chassis. Unfortunately the included PSU bracket does not permit inserting the PSU from the rear of the case, so you’ll still have to jam in the PSU the old fashioned way.
The Whisper includes thumbscrews for the right side panel, but not the left. I don’t know why NZXT didn’t stick to the “standard” thumbscrews that you see on practically every case these days; I really prefer the usual design over this new design.
Popping off the side panel for the first time, you know that NZXT was serious about making the Whisper quiet. Both side panels and the top are covered in very thick acoustic foam. Hopefully this foam will provide a noticeable reduction in noise.
The Whisper includes a large bundle of connectors for hooking up the lights, switches and ports.
Also included in the case is this black envelope. What does it contain you ask?
In the envelope you get the manual, a boatload of mounting screws, a soft rubber PSU silencer, the case speaker and the necessary motherboard standoffs.
The PSU silencer is VERY soft, so it should give a pretty substantial reduction in PSU-to-chassis vibrations.
So going over the vast number of included screws and accessories we have….
Screws for 2.5” HDD’s (the removable hard disk trays have extra holes for 2.5” drives, which is great for people who would like to use SSD’s)
Screws for 3.5” HDD’s.
Motherboard standoffs, screws and cardboard washers.
Assorted other screws.
Even more 2.5” HDD screws.
The optional case speaker.
One of these plastic cable clip do-dads.
Then assorted ODD, HDD, PSU, and air duck screws….. Wait WHAT?
Once again I get a kick out of NZXT’s labeling – it was an honest mistake, no doubt, but still quite funny.
Let’s move on to the user’s manual.
The user’s manual gives good instructions (with pictures) on how to install your various bits of computer hardware.
It seems to be a persistent occurrence that I find something either: A. Hilarious, B. Mind Boggling or C. Just plain wrong in NZXT’s manuals. In this case they state that the dampening foam is 10mm thick in one sentence, only to state that the same foam is 3mm thick in the next (a decent example of occurrence B). I think what they were trying to get across is that the foam is between 3 and 10mm thick depending on the point of measure, since the foam has many peaks and valleys.
Moving back to the Whisper itself, you can see the nine hard drive trays installed in the lower compartment.
The seven 5.25” drive bays are placed in the upper compartment. The Whisper utilizes plastic tool-less brackets to secure your drives, but they can be removed if you prefer using screws.
The cables for the top panel protrude through this cut-out in the top of the case.
The foam material used on the top panel is identical to the foam used on both side panels.
Pull out all the hard disk trays and you too can make a lovely stack like this!
Each tray is equipped with super-soft rubber grommets. Also note the second set of grommet cut-outs that match up with the mounting holes on 2.5” hard drives.
The 2.5” mounting option is a boon for home server builders. Finally you can easily make use of 2.5” industrial-grade hard disks and SSD’s.
The build quality on the trays is a tad rough. They come beat up, scratched, and covered in what seems to be silver marker out of the box.
With the hard disk trays removed, the lower portion of the case is fairly empty.
The front blue LED fan provides direct cooling to the front five hard drives.
Moving up to the 5.25” bays again, the included tool-less mounts can be easily removed after a bit of fiddling.
Underneath the mounts are your standard screw holes.
An unfortunate byproduct of using relatively soft plastic for the tool-less mounts is that they have a tendency to create little plastic filings whenever you use them.
The case includes a multitude of slots to allow cables to be run between the top and bottom chambers.
These two slots will end up along the forward edge of a standard ATX motherboard. Should you decide to use an E-ATX board, these slots will be covered.
Above the PSU in the lower compartment we have two included 80mm exhaust fans.
In the upper compartment we have one included 120mm exhaust fan.
The two shorter hard drive cages are removable.
Removing these cages leaves an absolute void in the lower compartment. You could easily fit a 1000+ watt PSU and assorted water-cooling gear down here now.
Continuing my disassembly of the Whisper, I moved around to the right side of the chassis. Here I noticed that the entire front bezel was not fitted properly – this bezel is supposed to be flush with the side of the case.
I decided to skip over the right side for the moment and pull out the 5.25” to 3.5” bay adaptor to check it out. The unit is entirely plastic except for the brass threads that NZXT has installed for the case mounting screws.
The build quality on this component was also rather sub-par. Notice the extremely rough mounting slot on the right; this was the condition it was in before I attempted mounting anything in it.
In order to fix the front bezel I grabbed this assortment of tools.
After knocking the bezel back into its proper position, I checked out the bottom of the bezel and found the source of the piece of plastic I discovered in the beginning of the review. Because of the thin edges used in the construction of the bezel it ended up being forced OVER and AROUND the front steel portion of the case that it is supposed to sit IN FRONT of. So because of the stress on the assembly, the little piece of plastic on the bottom of the bezel gave way, hence the little plastic surprise in the bottom of the box.
As it turns out the little plastic tab on the other side of the bottom bezel was also ready to snap off.
So I helped it along a little. Nothing a little super glue can’t fix.
While we have the case keeled over like this he can observe the four soft rubber feet that keep the case securely planted.
Removing the front bezel reveals a number of features. I found it odd/interesting that NZXT decided to create plastic supports for the 5.25” drives. Most cases you see just use folded metal tabs, which I bet would be far more robust. Also notice the front fan and its removable dust filter. Keeping the dust away from your assorted high-end hard disks certainly isn’t a bad thing.
Bending a pair of plastic tabs allows the entire front fan assembly to be easily removed.
Unfortunately this plastic assembly had also sustained damage. One of the tabs was almost cracked clean off at the frame.
I never liked “almost” broken parts, so I took it the rest of the way. Hopefully I will be able to glue this piece back on as well.
The front LED fan is quite large. In fact it exceeds the 120mm size stated on the package.
The 140 in the model number indicates that this is a 140mm fan, not a 120. This is a nice surprise, as the extra 20mm should give it a slightly better airflow/noise ratio than a 120mm.
On the topic of fans let’s check out the fan leads. Unfortunately NZXT has employed what I consider to be a downright silly measure and wired both a 3-pin and 4-pin connection to each fan. It can’t cost that much more to wire them with a 3-pin and include a four pin adapter (I’m sure if there were an additional cost it would be pennies). The reason I h-+ate this setup is that it adds unnecessary cable clutter whether you use the 3-pin or 4-pin. It also makes sleeving the wires a pain, should you ever want to sleeve them.
Moving back to the front of the case, NZXT includes a special drive blank to run the front panel cables though. This should help keep them from getting in your way when you install 5.25” drives.
Since I had gone over practically the entire case, I decided to make some necessary repairs, first with the fan bracket (the glue didn’t hold during the fan install unfortunately).
Then with the bottom of the bezel (the glue held quite well in this case).
With the repairs completed I moved around the back again. NZXT includes a PSU mounting bracket that allows you to flip your PSU over and mount it upside down (useful for PSU’s with large bottom intake fans). It would have been cool if they created some sort of caddy to allow the PSU to be inserted from the rear, but this setup gets the job done.
The Whisper is pretty barren looking after being stripped of most of its parts.
For this chassis I chose to install my old Socket A system. Just for kicks I also decided to load in a box of unused SCSI drives I had kicking around plus I finally got around to reviving my old Thermaltake LCS, so that got installed as well. This rig is going to be a file/print/music server, and in conjunction with an X-FI Xtreme Audio card will handle music playing duties as well.
Have you ever wondered what a mountain of 15,000 rpm SCSI drives looks like? Well, wonder no more.
The drives slip in without too much trouble. The one empty caddy ended up holding a conventional 160Gb 7200 RPM IDE drive. Unfortunately I don’t have the necessary cables/terminators/adapters for the hot-swap SCSI drives. I’m also fairly sure the RAID card I have kicking around only supports 5V PCI, which isn’t standard for consumer motherboards if I remember correctly.
The build was not the cleanest I have ever done, but not the messiest either. The tubing holes in the rear of the case came in handy. Note that this tubing is all ¼” ID, so NZXT is severely limiting the usefulness of the tubing holes to serious enthusiasts. I’m sure most of you out there with liquid cooling run something between 3/8” ID and 1/2” ID so forget about using the rear holes.
Routing cables behind the motherboard ended up being a difficult task as well. The spacing between the right side panel and the rear of the motherboard tray is tight to begin with, and is only made worse by the thick foam insulation on the side panels. It also doesn’t help that the panel that separates the top and bottom chambers extends almost completely from left side panel to right side panel. This panel lacks any cut-outs on the motherboard backside to assist in routing wires, so you’re basically limited to running ribbon/SATA/fan cables around the back of the motherboard tray.
Luckily the substantial empty space in the bottom chamber leaves plenty of room for extra PSU leads. This is especially helpful if your PSU is not modular.
The Whisper is quite slick looking once powered up. The front fan has blue LED’s, plus the slot cut out of the aluminum panel also lights up.
Unfortunately I ended up rather unimpressed by the Whisper. The build quality was consistently subpar. No doubt the Whisper has a number of great features, but most of them are crippled by poor execution. There are a number of things I might suggest, should NZXT decide to make a Whisper 2 at some point. The tubing holes should be made larger, to make them compatible with large bore enthusiast water-cooling kits. Although the Whisper isn’t really marketed at those who would run water-cooling, if NZXT wants to make the holes they may as well make larger ones.
I also suggest beefing up the latch mechanism of the top port panel. The power/reset buttons could use improvement, installing Bulgin switches on the top of the case and ditching the front switches would be a fairly easy fix. The finish on the aluminum piece on the front panel was not nearly of the quality of aluminum crafting I have come to expect for NZXT. This is a relatively minor issue though.
The tool-less optical drive mounts work well, but the plastic used to make them is a little too soft. The case fans should really be hard-wired with 3-pin connectors only, with removable 4-pin molex adaptors included. There should also be additional space between the right side panel and the rest of the case to allow thick cables to be routed behind the motherboard tray.
The one feature I really love about the Whisper is the support for 2.5” hard drives. With high-rpm disks moving to the 2.5” format plus the increasing market penetration of SSDs, 2.5” is likely to become the new 3.5”. I like the sheer amount of workspace inside the Whisper. I like the fact that the front fan is larger than the specifications indicate.
In terms of silence, I don’t really have a baseline to compare against (thus comparative sound sampling would be pointless), but subjectively it is a quiet chassis. The dampening foam seems to take the edge off high-frequency “sharp” sounds, such as the POST beep and the noise of the hard disk seeking. I don’t believe I have once made out the sound of the hard disk over the chassis fans. The included chassis fans are also quiet, but not “silent”. But there is a big different between a whisper and silence….
Quite attractive when powered up
Plenty of space to work inside
Supports up to 9 hard disks
Hard disk trays support both 3.5” and 2.5” drives
Front fan is larger than the specifications indicate
PSU bracket allows PSU to be mounted normally or upside down
Sound insulating foam on both side panels and top panel
E-ATX motherboard support
Front fan intake is filtered
Substantial vibration dampening features
Not all that attractive when powered off
Tubing holes only support ¼” ID tubing
Build quality is SEVERELY lacking
Weak plastic throughout
Weak mechanism on top port panel
Buttons feel cheap
Edges of the aluminum front panel piece are quite rough
Tool-less drive mounts use soft plastic, creating plastic shavings when they rub against the steel case
Case fans use weird 3-pin fan connector/4-pin molex combo leads, creating unnecessary cable clutter
Impossible to route reasonably thick cables behind the motherboard to take advantage of the slots in the motherboard tray
At a $145 USD price point, there are a number of great alternatives to the Whisper (the previously mentioned P180 is only $5 more)
My review unit arrived rather busted up
The Whisper is not what I would call an enthusiast chassis. I would not take pleasure from working inside the Whisper every day. But if you want to build a silent server that you will stick in a corner and only open up every six months, then it is a viable option. Mind you there exist a number of other good chassis options at this price point. If the price was a bit lower (around $120 let’s say), the chassis would be far more competitive feature wise.