Building a PC: the case – Corsair Carbide SPEC-06

The case is one of the most boring parts of a PC build. But it’s where I had to start because, although motherboards and graphics cards and even, may the gods help me, the power supply are more interesting, you need to have somewhere to put them.

I went for the Corsair Carbide SPEC-06. It got good reviews and is stylish without being gaudy. There’s a tempered glass side panel for watching the pretty lights on all the stuff inside (although be careful to select the right model – not all have tempered glass). And it has a stylish, single-colour LED-lit stripe on the front. And it cost around €70 from Amazon.

It’s an ATX case, although it will accommodate ITX and MATX boards, if you don’t mind them looking a bit lost and silly.

Overall, the build quality (for the price) is pretty impressive. It’s solid – even the plastic removable front panel and the snazzy red panel beneath it (also plastic) seem robust. Pretty much everything else is metal and nicely finished.

Once upon a time…

My experience of PC cases dates back to the 1990s, maybe early 2000s, when I was doing a lot of reviewing. Towards the end of that period, it had become common to have side panels that removed for easy access. Before that, it was normal for both sides and the top to be a single (and very heavy) piece of metal that would always snag on something invisible and would refuse to go back on without considerable prodding, hammering and cursing – usually accompanied by some cable somewhere becoming entangled and disconnected. Also, you needed a lot of free space around the PC to perform this ritual.

Inside the case would be the front-facing drive bays because, back then, you needed to access many of the drives (floppy, tape, CD/DVD, Zip etc) from outside. But that was often the only nod towards organisation. The rest was mainly a single space into which you jammed components and cables as best you could, mushing them down with one hand while attempting to slide the cover back on with the other. Real men didn’t do cable management.

So the thought that’s gone into the design of the Corsair Carbide came as a pleasant surprise. All of this is probably standard these days and unsurprising to you – it’s just the first time I’ve encountered it.

Two sides of the story

As I said, the case has a glass side panel (on the left, as you look at the front) secured with four large thumbscrews. The other side panel is metal. You need access from both sides because the case is vertically divided. For much of the height of the case, running from the top, most of the volume is given over to the side accessed via the glass panel. This section is for the motherboard etc.

The main compartment. Note the shelf at the bottom and the absence of any cable management so far.

The opposite side of the divider, accessed via the metal side panel (which comes off with just two thumbscrews) is shallow and is where you can mount SSDs and 2.5in hard drives to the metal divider panel.

There are two removable carrier boards for 2.5in SSDs. Being removable from this side of the case means it’s easy to add, remove or swap drives even after the motherboard is in place. There are two other mounting positions for 2.5in devices, positioned so that the motherboard doesn’t obscure their screw holes.

The shallow side, with one SSD and one HDD in place. So far I’ve run four SATA data cables through, with two currently being spare. After this pic was taken, I ran another two through, also spare.

Near the bottom of the case, the divider panel turns to form a shelf. The area below the shelf is accessible only from the right side, beneath the metal side panel, and is where you put the power supply unit (PSU). There are also two 3.5in drive bays for spinning rust hard drives, bringing the total number of drive positions to six.

One of the access holes with the weird rubber grommet whose usefulness escapes me.

Set into the divider panel are three access holes that allow you to run cables from one side to the other – two are in the vertical section and one in the horizontal shelf part. All three have flappy rubber covers, cut to allow cables to pass. I’m really not sure of the purpose of these. I can’t imagine they do much to stop dust travelling from one side of the case to the other. But in any case, these access holes are well positioned to help with cable routing.

There’s also a large hole in the divider panel, part of which is still accessible after the motherboard is in position. In early tests (I haven’t yet installed the board) it looks like I’ll be able to run the secondary, eight-pin ATX power supply through this.

Airflow

Cooling is critical these days. The Corsair Carbide SPEC-06 comes with two 120mm fans – one in front, one in the back. As I haven’t finished the build, I can’t say if these are noisy or not. [UPDATE: they’re reasonably quiet at around 1200RPM, which is as fast as I’ve run them so far. But one has a slight rattle, so I can see myself upgrading these fans.] They have three-pin connectors, so no PWM.

Another access hole for cables, coming up through the shelf. Behind is the ventilation grille directly over the PSU.

There’s room for two more in the front panel – you can have a total of three 120mm fans or two 140mm.

The top of the case is fully perforated and covered with a magnetically attached dust filter. There are also slots to allow you to fit fans – two 120mm or one 140mm.

The front panel stands proud of the case, so air can flow in from all directions. Under this panel, the front grille of the main case has a magnetically attached dust filter. And there’s a slide-out dust cover in the underside of the case for the air intake grille for the PSU – easy to remove even when everything’s in place and screwed down tight. The blanking panels for the extension cards are also perforated.

All in all, the case inspires confidence that air will flow freely, with one slight exception. This is the lower section of the case, under the shelf, where the PSU lives.

In theory, air can flow from the front of the case to the PSU. And if you fit an additional fan in the lower section of the front panel, half of this will blow air into this lower bay. But that air is first going to hit the 3.5in drives (if fitted) and their enclosure side-on. And it’s going to have to negotiate its way through a mess of cables. So don’t expect too much airflow in this section. (There is, of course, a grille on the underside that lines up with the PSU’s fan.)

By and large, the PSU is going to be dependent on its own fan for cooling. It’s worth noting that the horizontal shelf part of the divider is generously perforated in the section directly above the PSU, so some heat is going to passively dissipate into the main part of the case and be dealt with by the airflow there. But I don’t see the 3.5in drives getting much ventilation. If you use the 3.5in drive bays, I’d definitely recommend fitting an extra fan in the front panel – it won’t be great, but it’ll be better than nothing.

Openings and connections

In addition to the normal slot positions, to line up with the slots on the motherboard, the case has two vertical positions to mount interfaces that connect to the motherboard via cables. I find myself strangely tempted by a serial port.

The cables from the front panel (two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, power switch and reset button) have standard connectors that will work with any normal motherboard, other than the connector for the front panel LED (that elegant stripe). This looks nothing like the one in the manual. In fact, it’s a SATA power connector, which turned out to be quite convenient, as we’ll see when I talk about the PSU.

The Corsair Carbide SPEC-06 comes with a reasonably generous selection of mounting screws, a few zip ties and a strip of double-sided adhesive tape for I-know-not-what purpose.

First steps

It’s early days for this build. I’ve installed the PSU, which was painless, although I first removed the 3.5in drive bays. This made it easier to plug cables into the semi-modular PSU I’d chosen (more of that in another post). This would have been nigh-on impossible otherwise. I have no plans to use 3.5in drives as yet, but putting the bays back in doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult other than maybe having to mush a lot of cables out of the way.

I have the motherboard but haven’t fitted it because I’m still waiting for the CPU. However, some tests revealed that two of the standoffs for the motherboard had been inserted at an angle I can only describe as ‘jaunty’. I had to remove and reinsert them, which was achieved without drama.

I’ve mounted one 256GB SSD and one 4TB 2.5in just because I had them lying around (like you do). I haven’t thought through storage on this machine yet, other than that the OS will go on a 256GB NVMe (on order). But the case makes it fairly easy to change drives, so, as the Kennedys say, I’ll drive off that bridge when I come to it.

The motherboard I’ve selected has six SATA data connectors. While running cables for the current two drives, I decided to add a couple more as spares. It’s a lot easier to run these cables at this stage. The spare cables are twist-tied to the ones in use so they’re neatly stowed and ready for use. And, as a last-minute thing, I ran another two cables just for the hell of it. I know people like to keep cables to a minimum, for airflow purposes if nothing else, but by having all the cables in place it means that management of the drives involves accessing only one side of the case.

I’ve also colour-coded the SATA cables – yellow for SSD, red for 2.5in HDD and blue for… well, whatever – probably 3.5in HDD. This colour coding serves no purpose other than to assuage my OCD.

Conclusion

I’m happy with my choice of case. It seems robust, well-ventilated and is attractive in a kind of early ThinkPad or Nikon F3 kind of way, what with the red highlights.

Now I’ve got to start stuffing things into it…

 

 

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