By November 10, 2005

ASPIRE X-QPACK miniATX Case Review

I built two new gaming systems for Lady Jaye and myself at the end of last month, and after living with the systems for a few weeks I’m ready to review the case I selected, along with the included 420W power supply.

I bought the ASPIRE X-QPACK for two reasons. One, it was small enough and unique looking enough to sit on my desktop. Two, I had wanted to buy one on her build but she wound up getting a grown up’s case.

ASPIRE’s product shot

STR, CON, DEX: Physical Case Attributes
The case is 9″ x 10.2″ x 14″ in diameter. This is not a true Small Form Factor (SFF) case. As I found out later, the case features a full-sized ATX power supply. It also has four expansion doors in the back. I believe the popular SFF Shuttles only have 2, for example. It is much larger than what you’d expect from an SFF case, but also much smaller than your typical desktop case or even minitower ATX case.

My case is all black, and very sexy. Lady Jaye’s case is silver and black, like the one shown in the product shot thumbnail. This is pretty vain, but my case (for $5 more) features Plexiglas side windows and a top window. It also has blue lights in it:

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The front of the case features two USB ports, one full size Firewire port, a headset jack, and a microphone jack. It also has your standard power light and hard drive activity light. The case also has a front mounted handle (made out of plastic), two 5 1/4″ bays, and a 3 1/2″ bay.

The X-QPACK has a 1″ x 1.5″ blue backlit LED display that reports CPU and hard drive temperatures. Aside from playing World of Warcraft, the CPU temperature on my box Crunk ranges between 26 degrees C and 31C. WoW cranks up the heat, pushing the CPU temp up to as high as 35C. I thought that the hard drive and CPU temperature information was there for shits and grins, but once I started having system problems (more later) the temperature reading came in handy.

A large rear-mounted 120mm fan (with blue lights!!) helps with ventilation. I guess I didn’t think about it until now, but this is the first case I’ve bought in over ten years that doesn’t have the capacity of a front fan. The case is well ventilated. The object of this type of system is to be quiet, small, and special purpose. There’s not much chance to put a six disk RAID5 array in one of these babies, and a second fan would probably be unnecessary.

The case is made out of aluminum and plastic. The aluminum on this case is unacceptably thin. As I mentioned in my overall system review, my case was bonked along the way, and the top left side had a large dent in it upon arrival. I hammered it out with a rubber mallet, but even now the Plexiglas window on the same side has a popped plastic rivet due to the initial damage. I’m impatient, and the damaged side isn’t viewable from my seating position, so I kept the case instead of sending it back. But the case construction is very weak. By reviews I’ve read, the aforementioned plastic handle is known for detaching itself during use, resulting in a potential two foot plummet to the ground. Ouch.

With any mATX case, the interior can be difficult to navigate for people with larger hands.

Up to two hard drives can be installed vertically in a cage that sits diagonally opposite from the power supply.

Lady Jaye did most of the work on her system, and even she had a hard time connecting cables and whatnot:

Granted, the X-QPACK has a removable motherboard tray, but this doesn’t really help you when it’s time to connect all the IDE and power cables to your hard drive and optical drives. Even after securing the wires with velcro, the case was packed tighter than a cargo container full of refugees. Oh yeah, I managed to tweak the thin metal of the motherboard tray when I slid it out to install our video cards.

The cramped working conditions, the flimsy metal case, the suicidal plastic handle … all of this can be forgiven, as I’m not inside these cases on a regular basis. What cannot be forgiven, however, is the shitty 12V rail on the power supply.

A 420W power supply should be more than enough to handle one disk drive, a card reader, a DVD burner, an addon video card, and the normal motherboard requirements (CPU, etc). Unfortunately, after adding a PCI-X video card to the motherboard both of our computers started locking up at 33C or higher. The system would reboot under high load while playing World of Warcraft. I first noticed this in the texture-rich forests of Ashenvale, but have also had crashes in the deserts of Durotar and inside the orc capital of Orgrimar.

I put out a cry for help on Ars Technica, and the consensus was that the power supply was the culprit. I ordered some really swank mATX power supplies, only to find out that my mATX case was powered by a larger, FULL SIZED ATX power supply. I’ve never heard of such a thing, and my failure to double check the power supply form factor resulted in a nice $22 loss due to RMA and return shipping.

I have new ATX power supplies on the way, but Wednesday seems like so far away when the crashes are intermittent and usually strike in the middle of combat. While it is humorous for me to watch angry tigers and raptors chase Lady Jaye’s rogue into the ocean, it’s annoying as hell for her to crash out over a half dozen times in one evening.

Given the high price of the case ($80 and $85) I expected the power supply to perform without a hitch. My server case from Antec was the same price, with a similarly powerful power supply, and it has never given me a problem. Plus it’s built like a brick shithouse, even though it is also aluminum.

The Good:

  • Looks great once it’s put together.
  • Front-mounted ports are nice.
  • LED temperature display allowed me to easily disregard heat as a culprit in my system woes.
  • As Lady Jaye put it, the blue LED lights in the inside are “like our little night light.”

The Bad and the Ugly

  • Power supply is horribly horribly horrible blech. Budget another $30 – 60 for a new power supply if you’re interested in this case.
  • Thin metal and cheap front-mounted plastic handle put your case at risk for bonkage.
  • Better have Frodo and the other tiny handed Sobbits come over to help you build this bitch.
  • Expensive, given the problems with the power supply.

While I’m going to keep my overall rating for my system as-is, I’m rating the X-QPACK:
Two out of five STFU mugs!

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