Aluminium has always been one of the prime elements used in all kinds of computer products. Aluminium has a broad range of uses from heatsinks to being used in the cores of central processing units. However, aluminium has not been used very much in computer cases until recently. It seems that the stylish look, and lightweight (not to mention heat dissipation capabilities) of aluminium has made it a prime candidate for ATX (and even laptop) computer cases.
Skyhawk Computer Group has entered the market with its line of high end aluminium ATX cases. The Al-ATX4381D-SL (the subject of this examination) is priced at US$140, and comes in a range of colours since the aluminium is anodised. From the literature supplied with this case:
* Anodised aluminium alloy chassis.
* All-aluminium case lowers the system internal temperature.
* Lightweight - almost half the weight of steel chassis.
* Nonmagnetic - protects components inside.
* Corrosion/oxidation resistance.
* Thumbscrews for covers.
* CPU ventiduct: 8x8 fan inside the ventiduct located right above the CPU to directly vent the hot air from CPU.
* Internal fan: another 8x8 internal fan mounted on supporting arm helps draw air out to cool down CPU and RAM chips.
* Optional intake fan: 8x8 fan can be mounted on the back of face plate to increase outside cold air intake.
* Adjustable card holder: four adjustable card holders mounted on the supporting arm can hold the cards firmly in the slots while systems are being shipped.
* Front peripheral access: USB ports, joystick port, audio jacks, volume control, IEEE-1394 port.
* AMD and Pentium 4 compatible 300 W (330 W surge) power supply.
* Colours: ivory, black, silver, violet and gold.
The case for the case
From the inside the case is quite roomy, but as mid-tower cases go, nowhere near as spacious as some of the larger full tower cases. This case is capable of holding four 51/4" drives, as well as three 31/2" drives (two external), or up to six 31/2" drives with the optional internal 31/2" bay cage.
First and foremost, this case does not have a removable mainboard tray. When it comes to choosing a case, I find this is a major desirable issue. A removable mainboard tray makes it many times easier to replace or service one's mainboard. Installation of drives is made very easy: there are no drive rails, which makes installation of 51/4" drives a little less painful. Installation of 31/2" drives is the same. The inclusion of a removable hard drive tray is welcome; although it does not come standard with one, it is recommended that it be purchased ($3,00).
* Thumbscrews: I love thumbscrews. These nifty little screws are so utterly convenient that once you use them you will never want to go back. For those of you who do not know what thumbscrews are, they are regular screws with 'tops' that allow you to screw them on or off with a simple twist. Thumbscrews are used quite a bit in this case, not just for the external covers, but also on the inside for the PCI and AGP slot holders.
* Front multimedia panel: A growing trend lately with cases (and not just the OEM variety) is the inclusion of a front multimedia panel full of connects that were usually hidden in the rear. Our review unit's front panel arrived sporting two USB ports, gameport, one IEEE-1394 (Firewire), as well as a volume slider, and three audio ports (headphone, speaker, and line in).
On the inside of the case we also found two small speakers above the front panel where an exhaust fan should have been. Apparently these two speakers come into operation when one has the front panel connected to the soundcard but with no attached external speakers. However, the sound quality was mediocre at best. I would recommend that you opt for the extra intake/exhaust fan rather than the speakers.
* Weird arm thing? The adjustable cardholder is a fairly unique item, which basically 'grabs' onto the PCI or AGP cards installed to prevent them from bending during shipping or moving a computer. Despite being on a hinge this arm became a nuisance when the time came to install peripherals in my computer. The arm would constantly fall, though in defence of Skyhawk the arm can be removed quite easily if need be. For most of us, unless you attend many LAN parties, the arm can be quite useless. A saving grace of this arm is the inclusion of an extra cooling fan that is conveniently placed on it - this aids in the flow of air around the CPU.
Aside from being one big heatsink, the case also has a few fans which help to bring the internal temperature down. A nice duct cooling system is placed right over the top of the CPU to suck the hot air out of the case. In addition to that the additional fan on the arm helps to further draw hot air away from the processor. How does the air get into the case? Unfortunately there were no intake fans supplied with this case - hence the suggestion that Skyhawk include an intake fan in the front instead of the speakers.
A temperature test was conducted after running the computer for approximately one hour in a room with ambient temperature of 80°F (27°C). We used the temperature probes located on the mainboard to take our readings. A series of four temperatures were taken then averaged together. The test system had an AMD Duron 650 at 866 MHz, and Thermosonic Thermoengine HS fan.
Despite a few flaws, this is a fairly good case. What would make this case even better would be the standard inclusion of the extra intake fans as well as a removable mainboard tray. However, I do like the set of front ports. And do not forget that the power supply in this case is fully P4-compliant, making it an excellent case for a new Pentium 4 system.
My ratings for this case: price - 8,0; performance/design - 7,0; overall - 8,5/10.
For further information about Skyhawk contact Pyramid PC-Technic, 011 974 8996.
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