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Cooler Master HAF X

For a long time now I have been sitting on the sidelines distantly watching all the praise heaped on the Cooler Master HAF Series PC Cases, skeptical about the nearly absolute lack of flaws of any kind that I have seen reported. Thinking to myself that almost nothing is that perfect. Cindy Crawford, after all, has that mole. I wondered if I would ever get a chance to see for myself if the HAF was really that good. It is not like I was really unhappy with my Antec 1200. Although, being an older model I have to admit is finally starting to show its age: no front panel USB 3.0, no motherboard CPU Cooler cutout, and those ridiculously hard to access fan filters. Still the Antec 1200 is without a doubt the nicest case I have owned so far, and I have had it for so long it is comfortable like an old pair of shoes, so it will be interesting to see how the HAF X measures up. What made the HAF series cases irresistible to me were those three giant (and one really large) fans that should deliver great airflow as well as being very quiet--important for someone like me who seems to be entering the "You kids get off my lawn" while shaking my fist stage of life. As usual, the case we are testing today, the Cooler Master HAF X RC 942 Case was provided us by Geeks, our main site sponsor.

HAFX Box 1     HAFX Box 2

I was a little surprised at the attractive high gloss retail box the Cooler Master HAF X arrived in. This case, after all is sold by Geeks as a refurbished model at quite a substantial discount from a new HAF X, and as a refurbished item one of the places manufacturers normally cut costs is by using plain brown box OEM packaging. Not here, though. Opening up the box I found my good fortune had continued, as the HAF X I received seems to be new. Not only does it have all the case accessories of a new model (another area manufacturers usually cut costs on refurbished items) there are no exterior (or interior) scrapes or scratches to the finish. Even the side panel window still has the protective plastic film attached to it (note: later after completing my build and removing the side panel window film I found three small scuff marks underneath, so the side panel, at least, actually was refurbished and not new). Of course, being refurbished, I don't know that all the HAF X are like this one, but hats off to Cooler Master if this is what it considers refurbished, because I can't personally tell any difference from new. Perhaps most important, though, was the oversized Styrofoam shell on each end of the case that did its job protecting the case. Even though there was some minor shipping damage to the box, the case itself arrived undamaged.

HAFX Foam Inserts

Specifications:

Color Black
Material Steel + Plastic
Dimensions (W x D x H) 230 x 550 x 590 mm / 9.1 x 21.7 x 23.2 inch
Motherboards Micro-ATX / ATX / E-ATX / XL-ATX
5.25" Drive Bay 6
3.5" Drive Bay 5 hidden
2.5" Drive Bay 2 (converted from 5.25" drive bay)
I/O Panel USB 3.0 x 2
USB 2.0 x 2
Audio x 1
Mic x 1
e-SATA x 1
1394a x 1
Cooling System Front: 230 x 30 mm red LED on/off fan x 1
Top: 200 x 30 mm fan x 2 (one optional)
Side: 200 x 30 mm fan x 1
Rear: 140 x 25 mm fan x 1
VGA Fan Duct: 120 x 25 mm or 120 x 38 mm fan x 1 (optional)
VGA Holder: 80 x 15 mm fan x 1 (optional)
Expansion Slots 9
Power Supply Bottom mounted / ATX PS2 (optional)
Compatibility VGA Card length: 342mm / 13.4 inch
CPU Cooler height: 190mm / 7.4 inch
Warranty 2 years

Most of the time I don't include company slides like this. I figure you come here to read a review, not a Press Release. Plus I you probably get enough of the corporate spiel in the Specifications section. Still, this picture really lays out concisely and with great detail better than I could do what sets out the HAF X from its competitors.

HAFX PR Pic

This is the first time I have written a case review in which I have included a whole section on accessories, because in the past case reviews I have written the case accessories have been mostly limited to a small bag of screws and maybe an extra drive rail or two. If you were really lucky you might get a proper paper User's Manual, but most of the time you have to settle for a .PDF version. With the HAF X case it seems you could almost write a full review just about the case accessories. Let's see: You get a handful of Cable ties, two small bags of various assorted hardware, an eight pin power extension cable, USB convertor cable, four case wheels, installation guide, PC Speaker, and a VGA bracket, and those are just what is included in the accessory box. There are also several accessories that are attached to the case, which we will talk about later when we get to the section of the review where we discuss the case interior.

HAFX Bundle

To keep things from getting too long-winded here I will only comment on the accessories that seem unusual or that I have some specific thoughts about. Let's start with the two small bags of various assorted hardware. One of them contains the misc screws, standoffs, paper washers, etc., that everyone who has ever owned an aftermarket case is familiar with. Yawn. But wait! What is this? A tool to install the motherboard standoffs so you don't have to go looking for a nut driver, or worse a set of vice grips. That’s pretty cool. The eight pin power connector was much appreciated, even though I have never used one in any of my case builds before. Unless you have a power supply with an abnormally long eight pin power lead you will use it here, so it is nice to see one included. The USB convertor cable is for those of you who either refuse to route your USB 3.0 connector cables out the back of your case to plug into the motherboard, or don't have USB 3.0 on your motherboard at all. Those people can use this cable to convert the front two USB 3.0 ports to two more USB 2.0 ports plugging into the motherboard USB 2.0 pin header which they can use. The four case wheels are a good idea for as large and as heavy as the HAF X, is but they are made of what looks to be cheap plastic that I doubt would last very long. The paper installation guide--while a welcome yet often neglected addition--seems quite poorly written. For instance, one of the first entries reads "How to remove the side panel". his single sentence is then repeated below in seventeen (yes 17!) different languages, followed by four diagrams. This single line of text and its multiple translations makes up one whole page of the installation guide! This nonsense is then repeated on the next page starting with the text "How to install the power supply”. Next is a VGA bracket which is designed to brace and help support the cards of those of you using multiple or just heavy and or oversized video cards as well as provide extra supplemental cooling, the only downside I see here is that the extra cooling it uses is provided by an optional 80mm by 15mm fan, many of which are terribly noisy.

HAFX Manual

Warning: The next paragraph is full of nostalgic "when I was your age" geezer drivel and likely won't be interesting to anyone younger than forty years old unless they are a student of PC history back in the Dark Ages, so feel free to skip the rest of this. Last, but not least, is an item that almost brought a tear to the eye of this old timer: an actual PC Speaker. I haven't seen one of those in a new case for years, and many of you reading this have likely built numerous PCs of your own without even knowing what they were for, or that they even existed at all. You see, back in the olden days before your motherboard had post code readers, diagnostic LEDs, and one touch memory configuration switches etc., cases had a PC speaker, usually hard mounted to the bottom of the case. When plugged into a motherboard pin header it would let you know via the BIOS when you turned on your system with one single beep from the speaker that you had completed a good boot, were preparing to load an OS and all was well with the PC, any other amounts of beeps meant you had an boot error. Being an uber nerd I even still have a whole book that told you exactly what those errors meant based on the number and length of the beeps, in conjunction with the motherboard manufacturer and BIOS maker. Think of it as Morse Code for us old school PC builders.

HAFX Left     HAFX Right

The finish of the the HAF X is best described as a matte black. While not the dull flat black I would have preferred for a case, it is certainly not a high gloss black fingerprint magnet either (HP Touchpad I am talking to you. After handling the HAF X extensively in preparation for this review, if you look closely you can see some smudges and the outline of a few faint fingerprints, but they are not of a maddeningly blindingly obvious nature that makes me want to take a rag and some Windex to the case every time I touch it (aka Tony Shalub of Monk). In a huge obviously well made metal case like the HAF X I was a little disappointed to see that the top piece of the case which covers the two top 200mm fans (one of which is optional) is made of plastic. I guess this was done to keep costs down since it would have probably been prohibitively expensive to have a piece of stamped metal there owning to the shape, large protrusions, and the multiple ridges. So, although the overall design seems sturdy enough and the plastic seems of a fairly durable nature and I have not had any problems with it as of yet, I am still slightly distrustful since over the years I usually manage to damage anything that is made of plastic on a PC case. For instance, the Antec 1200 I was using previously has a plastic top shell not unlike the one found here on the HAF X. Well, some time over the course of handling it I managed to snap off one of the top attachment points where several screws are mated from the metal to the plastic, and while I managed to repair the damage myself I couldn't help but thinking that if the top portion of the case was stamped metal--even if that meant it had to be less ornate--it would be more sturdy and more able to stand up to that kind of normal abuse. So, a word of caution here: If you are planning on using the HAF X or any other case with a plastic shell top as a LAN case, or you are just someone who frequently moves make sure to lift and carry your case from the sides or the bottom and you shouldn't have any problems. I haven't.

HAFX Top

Moving to the top front of the case you find a Power button, a Fan LED on/off button, and a Reset switch, along with a sliding door like panel to cover the aforementioned buttons so they can't be accidentally pushed. While I was happy to see a Fan LED button I was disappointed that only the front case fan is lighted (which we will talk more about later). Moving down somewhat to the front case connectors you find two USB 3.0 ports, an eSATA port, FireWire, two USB 2.0 ports, and a microphone and headphone port. Below that you will also find two red LEDs. One is the power LED and the other is the HD activity LED. Since I have already griped about how the USB 3.0 ports are connected I won't rehash that here again. One thing I did find here of note, though, is that the headphone port which used to emit a quite obnoxious background hiss when I was listening to my headphones with the same exact hardware in my Antec 1200 case is almost entirely gone. I am not sure exactly why this is but I would guess that it is either because of the lower speeds the case fans spin at don't case as much magnetic interference, or maybe the HAF X headphone port cable which attaches to the motherboard is shielded or just of a better quality. Whatever the reason I am pleased to say that I find myself using the headphone port much more now that I don't have the annoying sounding hiss filling my ears all the time when wearing my headphones.

HAFX Top Front

Moving down from there we have six 5.25" bays. The bottom one has a SATA Dock in the form of a pull out bay for those of you who like to quickly switch out your SATA Hard Drives. On the inside of the case you will find a SATA data and power connector hardwired to the rear of the bay to make this possible. At the bottom front of the case is the 230mm red LED intake fan. This fan has a fan filter which is easily accessible from the bottom of the case where its cover opens similar to how a briefcase opens, making it much easier to access than most other fan filters I have seen. If things are not too dusty you can even clean the dust/pet hair from the front of the case by simply wiping down the outside of the grill. It does such a good job of catching the majority of the debris that most of the crud was stopped there before it even made it to the fan filter itself. I guess you could call this grill mesh a pre-filter of sorts.

HAFX Dock Inside     HAFX Grill Bottom Front

On the left side of the case you will find a 200mm intake fan, situated not only to bring air into the case but looks to have a secondary function of helping to cool your video card. While this fan doesn't have a fan filter it does have a small mesh pre-filter similar to the one found on the front bottom of the case, that does a fairly good job of collecting dust/pet hair. Well enough that with a house full of pets, I have to wipe it down every few days because it is coated with debris. I can't say I mind, though, because if it wasn't there then all that stuff would end up inside my case, making more work for me when it came time to clean out the inside of the case.

HAFX Side Panel

On the right side of the case the side panel is raised. First there is one large raised square area that covers most of the whole side panel. Inside that raised area is a second smaller raised square area. These raised areas on the right side panel are there to give you additional room on the far side of the your case behind the motherboard tray for cable management, so things won't get quite so cramped there. While the HAF X does sport the largest raised right side panel I have personally seen, even at the risk of unbalancing the look of the sides of the case silhouette it could IMO still be another 1/2" or so taller. Maybe it's me and I am just not as good at getting all my cables hidden in an organized and compacted manner as some other case enthusiasts, and while everything did eventually fit, I must admit to at times wondering if it would fit. Not a real comforting feeling when assembling your PC.

HAFX Case Side View

On the back of the case up top there are three rubber ringed pass through holes; although, at least two of these are clearly for water cooling, I imagine a fair amount of users are going to be using one of them for the USB 3.0 pass through cable to plug into the rear of your motherboard. Moving downward is the 140mm rear fan that we will talk more about in the cooling section. Below that there are nine expansion slots, and situated next to the slots is a rectangular-shaped crosshatched patterned cooling cutout for you add-in cards--a nice touch. At the bottom of back of the case is the opening to mount your power supply. There are screw holes here for mounting your power supply with the case fan pointing to the top or bottom of the case depending on your personal preference or power supply design. At the bottom of the case there is another much larger oddly shaped crosshatched patterned cooling cutout here, as well as being the location for mounting your case wheels if you chose to do so.

HAFX Top Rear     HAFX Bottom Rear

The fit and finish on the inside of the HAF X is an old-timer's dream: all the case edges are properly rolled, all the corners and seams actually line up, but best of all is that we have seemingly come to the point in time with case evolution (at least the high end models) where you can safely run your fingers around the inside of your case and not fear for your personal safety by risking a visit to your local emergency room for stitches. As I am sure you noticed by now from the pics, the inside of the HAF X is not bare metal like found on most cases, even enthusiast level ones, but an exterior matching and just as well applied matte black, and while as noted earlier, I would have preferred flat black, most people will probably find matte black an acceptable compromise.

HAFX Case Side

The HAF X cooling, as equipped from Cooler Master consists of four fans, a 230mm front red LED fan, a 200mm top mounted fan (with space for a additional optional 200mm fan), a 200mm left side panel window mounted fan, and a 140mm rear fan. None of these fans are of the RPM adjustable variety. However, because of their large size and the slow RPMs they spin at they are all so quiet that you aren't likely to mind, or even notice the potentiometers absence. For additional cooling there is the VGA bracket discussed above as well as the VGA Fan Dock which supports either a 120mm 25 or 38mm fan, which can be positioned across from your video card mounted on the case rail virtually wherever it may be. Since my current video card (Sapphire Radeon HD 5850 Xtreme) rarely breaks 60C even during the summer and at full load I am not currently using the VGA Fan Dock. It is nice to know that it is there if I get something in the next few months like a GeForce GTX 480 to heat my living room come this winter, since our furnace is not working, that I have the VGA Fan Dock available should I need it.

HAFX Front View     HAFX Rear View

Starting from the top, I am not a big fan of “tool-less” optical drive fasteners. While I get the move to the whole “tool-less” case theme, IMO anything that spins as fast or at times faster than a Hard Drive does, like an optical drive, needs a more secure method of mounting to the case frame than is found here in the HAF X. Understand that while this is one of the better types of this click-and-slide design I have seen, call me old school, but I would have preferred at least the option of securing my optical drive with four old fashioned screws. It seems that this would make both the “tool-less” and us old school case guys happy. Of course I still prefer manual hand crank windows in my cars so maybe that is just me being an old fuddy-duddy.

HAFX Click Slide

If you change your CPU Cooler often a CPU Cutout is a must-have feature for a case, and not to worry the HAF X has one. It doesn't seem quite large enough, though, IMO. A little more space here would makes things much easier when changing CPU Coolers if you hope to avoid removing your motherboard. I can't say the same thing about the Cable routing holes in the motherboard tray, though. Not only are they sleeved with a rubber grommet to protect both your fingers and the cables from fraying over time, but they are plenty large enough to work with--even for someone like me who has freakishly large hands.

It's going to be difficult to explain the Cooler Master Hard Drive mounting system if you haven't seen it in person because it is something of a hybrid affair. You open the hinged locking mechanism and slide in the drive? Not exactly, because inside the Hard Drive cage is a separate drive caddy that you remove and put the Hard Drive into that. The drive itself is held in place in the drive caddy by those “tool-less” knubs that stick out from each side of the caddy. Once you have done that you slide the drive caddy back in the drive cage on the rails like the old school cases had, and then close the hinged locking mechanism. One other odd thing here is that the drive goes in backwards from what you are probably used to, which means the data and power cables attach to the drive on the right side of the case back where are all your cables are routed. Although it takes a little getting used to, I actually like having the Hard Drive facing rearwards because it makes it easier to hide the two Hard Drive associated cables, leaving a little less case clutter visible through the side panel window.

HAFX HD Bay

When I initially opened up the Cooler Master HAF X the first thing my eyes landed on was the Power Supply Box, where I thought “That's neat, there is one more rather unique way Cooler Master has gone out of their way to help you hide all your cable clutter.” My next thought was “But that is not going to work here, because the people buying this case are likely to be using a big honking non-standard sized power supply.” Knowing that my Corsair 750HX Power Supply was a bit larger than a normal sized power supply my pulse began to quicken as I started wondering where my trusty Dremel was so I could mod the Power Supply Box to fit my power supply. Well, after examining the Power Supply Box a little more closely it turns out that Cooler Master has thought of that, and has mounted the Power Supply Box to the case using a sliding rail mount. So, whatever the length of your power supply from the shortest to the longest it should fit. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Sigh. It looks like this will be one of my first case builds that I didn't have to use the Dremel to repair or notch something to fit a little better, and the days of having to cut my own case window in the side panel with my Dremel are long gone. Oh, well, such is progress, I guess.

HAFX Motherboard Installed

I was slightly disappointed in the case lighting of the HAF X since this is definitely an enthusiast case, with a matching price tag; yet, only the 230mm front fan has LEDs. While you can purchase additional lighted fans for the HAF X case from Cooler Master they are not cheap: 22usd for the 200/230mm red LED fans, and 10usd for a 120mm compatible red LED fan (as far as I can tell Cooler Master doesn't sell a red LED 140mm fan). So if I wanted to replace the three case fans that don't light up with LED models we are looking at 54usd plus shipping. Add in another 22usd if you wanted to get a 200mm red LED fan for the optional top fan case mount as well. That is IMO petty that a premium level case where pretty much everything else is top quality would cheap out on the case lighting like Cooler Master has done with the HAF X. Of course, you may have tons of misc case lighting gadgets laying around the house that you have collected over the years that you can use in the HAF X like I do, but in my case all of them are blue. To use them I would have to actually turn off the front red LEDs which you can do with the HAF X as mentioned earlier, but it kind of ruins the original color scheme.

Rear Fan

I feel that I need to say something about the interior of the case regarding the HAF X and its ability to support large video cards. The problem is that I don’t own any really giant video cards and I don't run a SLI/Crossfire setup either. Both my old 10” AMD Radeon 5850, and my brand new slightly smaller AMD Radeon 6950 fit with plenty of room to spare--so much so in fact it doesn't really even tell you anything about the inside HAF X dimensions. So to give you guys a better idea about how big you can go with video cards while using a HAF X, I will refer to Cooler Master themselves who state that the HAF X supports two AMD Radeon 5970's. If you aren't familiar with the Radeon 5970's dimensions the last one I saw weighed in at just over 12” long.

Comparing case temps between the Cooler Master HAF X and my previous Antec 1200 I found them to be within 1 deg C. That is close enough that I would just call the two cases even. Where the HAF X was considerably superior to the the Antec 1200 was sound levels. Using my old Radio Shack db meter I measured a 3db drop in the sound level, (both case sound levels were measured at 1” from the side at the middle of the left case panel.) This sound level reduction was made possible by the fact that the HAF X case fans are not only larger and spin at a lower RPM than those of the Antec 1200, but there are fewer of them as well. For a more subjective sound measurement you need to look no further than my wife, who was sitting beside me at her PC when I first powered up my own after moving all of the guts from my old case to the HAF X. She turned to face me and said “Is it on?” It's hard for me to imagine a more ringing endorsement for an enthusiast case that packs all the cooling the Cooler Master HAF X does than that.

Conclusion:

If you have read all the way through this review you might be left with the impression that I didn't like the Cooler Master HAF X very much but that just isn't so. Rather, I felt that with all the ink I have seen this case get and as long as it has been on the market it was amazing to me how little I have seen about the little things that should be an easy fix for Cooler Master, but that for some reason are still present and not remedied at the time of this review that would have made this a truly great product. The manual for example is almost comically bad. With all of its near total reliance on diagrams and almost a total lack of text it looks like it was designed for someone that is completely illiterate--a fact I find highly unlikely for buyers of this product. The bottom line here, though, is that the Cooler Master HAF X is a very good product. All things considered maybe even the best case I have ever owned and I have owned several dozen over the years. I just guess that for as long as it has been on the market, as much as it costs, and all of the awards it has won I was expecting a little more refinement from Cooler Master that I just didn't find.

Pros:

  • Very spacious
  • Attractive overall design
  • Both great & quiet cooling
  • Fingerprint resistant matte finish
  • Plenty of room for oversized video cards

Cons:

  • Misc minor annoyances (Manual, MB cutout, Lighting)
  • Top portion of case is plastic not metal
  • Expensive if new instead of refurbished

I would like to thank Geeks for providing us with the Cooler Master HAF X RC 942 Case for review. This item can be purchased at Geeks for 130 usd (well 129.99 actually).

Geeks

Added: September 26th 2011
Reviewer: JimAdkins
Score: 9  
Related Link: Cooler Master
Hits: 10300
Language: english

  

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