Stalled NCASE Project Sidearm

Necere

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There's an in-progress thread over on [H], but since quite a few people are more active on SFN these days I thought I would crosspost it here.

This is an idea we've been batting around for a while for a somewhat more portable, show-off friendly SFF case. I had done several iterations already when @wahaha360 took it upon himself to go ahead and try his hand at designing and CADing his own version of the case, and then getting a prototype made, since it's something he's personally interested in as he travels frequently. That prototype was partly to test some other manufacturing ideas, so it wasn't necessarily intended to lead to a final product. This version is my latest iteration that I've decided to show publicly to get some feedback as a possible commercial product for NCASE.



Similar to back-to-back designs like the DAN A4, the GPU is behind the motherboard, but facing the backside of the board, rather than the side of the case. The purpose of this is so instead of drawing air through the side panels, the components intake from inside the case, with fresh air provided by the two bottom-mounted 120mm intake fans. The GPU orientation also has the advantage of requiring a shorter PCIe riser compared to back-to-back designs. Downside is the face of the GPU is mostly obscured from view, for those who care about that.

I'm using a flexATX power supply in this version because it opens up quite a bit of space at the front, which could be used for 3.5" drives or pump/res/tubing in a watercooled setup. I'm not set on flexATX though, and its viability really depends on how some of the new units coming out perform in terms of their noise profile.

A top-mounted carrying handle is a potential option as well.

One of the major features of this design is the bottom section, which can be swapped out for an extended version that would allow for a bottom-mounted 240 rad:



Preliminary specs:
  • Dimensions:
    • Air-only version: 250 x 135 x 340mm, 11.5L
    • Extended W/C version: 280 x 135 x 340mm, 12.9L
  • CPU cooler: 40-45mm max height, plus clearance for air intake (~55mm max)
  • GPU: dual slot, ~320mm max length, ~150mm max height
  • Drives: 2x 3.5" or 2.5"
  • PSU: FlexATX
  • Fans: 2x 120mm intake
  • Rad support: 240mm (w/extended lower section)
  • Dust filters: standard on intakes
  • Windowed side panel option

Overall, it's similar in size to the M1 - narrower, slightly deeper, but the same height (30mm taller for the W/C version). There are some trade offs though, mainly the quite limited CPU cooler height and PSU support. That's balanced by better GPU support, and more potential for show-off watercooling builds with the window.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.
 

3lfk1ng

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That's a very interesting design. I'm glad to see that the use of dust filters wasn't an afterthought and I really like the custom Caselabs-eque design approach to accommodate for the h2o users.

Also, huge plus for helping to push FlexATX into the spotlight.
 

Aibohphobia

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Feb 22, 2015
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Good timing! I was about to copy/paste your post so we could discuss it here.

So would the case sit on rubber feet or something to elevate the bottom vents off the ground?

I'm not set on flexATX though, and its viability really depends on how some of the new units coming out perform in terms of their noise profile.
I guess the fan bearings in my FSP500-50FSPT need breaking-in or something, because I got an awful whine out of it initially. But I tried it out again today and it's actually pretty quiet at idle now.

It's not perfect, but even I find it mostly acceptable. I need to test at load though, I suspect it's a whole different matter.
 

Necere

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That's a very interesting design. I'm glad to see that the use of dust filters wasn't an afterthought
Indeed, dust filters are something I consider mandatory for my designs going forward. It makes things more complicated - particularly to do it in a way that's convenient to access and cosmetically unobtrusive, but IMO a pretty important feature.

Also, huge plus for helping to push FlexATX into the spotlight.
Yeah, I definitely would like to see flexATX take off, and maybe with the right design to push it, we can do that. I'm pretty sure we helped Silverstone sell a fair few SFX units with the M1, and probably helped to get Corsair and some of the other companies producing them as well.

So would the case sit on rubber feet or something to elevate the bottom vents off the ground?
Ground clearance is actually integrated into the design - there's a bit over an inch of clearance between the fans and the inside floor of the case, which is full perforated on the bottom and partway up the sides.

I guess the fan bearings in my FSP500-50FSPT need breaking-in or something, because I got an awful whine out of it initially. But I tried it out again today and it's actually pretty quiet at idle now.

It's not perfect, but even I find it mostly acceptable. I need to test at load though, I suspect it's a whole different matter.
That's encouraging to hear. I was having second thoughts about using flexATX at all after I read your experience with it. This is actually one of three different designs I have on the drawing board using flexATX, so there's potentially a lot riding on whether or not they can be viable noise-wise.

I'm supposed to get a sample of FSP's 400W unit some time to test, so we'll see how that goes. Also looking forward to their higher wattage units, as well as Seasonic's.
 
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Aibohphobia

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But what's the point of venting the bottom if it's not elevated?

And I'll be doing a full review of that PSU now that I know I'll be keeping it. I just need to cobble a harness together to hook up a video card to it, then I'll probably do the load testing Sunday.
 
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Necere

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But what's the point of venting the bottom if it's not elevated?
By default it would likely have some short rubber feet, but taller feet could certainly be used for extra clearance. Or the case could be set on its side. But honestly, it's mostly for uniformity of appearance (even though you're not likely to be looking at the bottom that often).
 
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Aibohphobia

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Ok, even short rubber feet would make sense. It's just having vents literally sitting against a surface would annoy me due to their impracticality way more than the asymmetry from not venting the bottom.
 
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Phuncz

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I like the design and concept, I can't wait to see what people will come up with to put in the bottom compartment besides water cooling.
I would suggest allowing 2,5" (and maybe even 3,5" if possible) storage through mounting holes in the frame or with a bracket. I bet with your dual-drive bracket system, you might be able to allow atleast 6 drives while still allowing the use of fans.
But I'm also thinking in that bottom area people could mod in an extra PCIe device, maybe even a GPU could be possible or an extra NUC or mSTX system.

Will these have the new glass bead blasted finish ?
 

Brokoii

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That's a good looking case, but i'd much prefer seeing the GPU Cooler itself and not just the backplate, especially since it's a "show-off" case. Did you think about moving the radiator to the top of the case? It looks like you could save space using perforated panels as intakes. It probably has to do with aesthetics when in the aircooled configuration, right?
 

Mackan

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Some feedback:
  • Don't know much about FlexATX PSU:s, but from what I have heard, they can be noisy. If they are noiser than SFX, I strongly suggest to also include support for SFX.
  • Great to see supported case airflow by the bottom fans. Perhaps they can help cool the FlexATX PSU as well.
  • Great to see water cooling support. However, I believe push fans on the radiator are more quiet and slightly more effective than pull. Perhaps a top compartment for the radiator could be included as well.
  • Perpaps add support of bottom and top case air fans. A variant where both bottom and top compartment exists.
  • In a way, it would be nice to avoid a PSU power cable being routed inside the case. I understand this allows for more flexible design, but they generally are too long and stick out like a sore thumb after you have tried to perfect everything in side the case. Same thing with these stiff overly long internal USB cables.
  • Interesting orientation of the GPU. Might be good. From what we have seen, having fans close to an perforated obsticle, can cause unwanted turbulence noise. This would be the case in A4, where the GPU and CPU fans are very close to the side panels. Perhaps this can be avoided in this case, for this case (eh..).
  • For people who want to see the GPU "from the right side", perhaps the case can be made flexible enough to support two variants on the motherboard plate. Probably a headache though.
  • Dust filters is a nice plus.
  • Side window panel is a nice plus.
  • Thicker panels (2mm or so) is a nice plus, to avoid bending issues.
Overall, I really like where this is going. I've always wanted to see a slightly more flexible case, where the overwhelming priority is not the smallest volume.
 
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ricochet

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...But I'm also thinking in that bottom area people could mod in an extra PCIe device, maybe even a GPU could be possible or an extra NUC or mSTX system...
I am extremely curious about this... why would this be needed and how would it be used/incorporated into the rest of the system? Has this been done before?
 

Phuncz

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You could use it as a server for instance, with a web-interface you wouldn't even need to have it hooked up to anything but power (through power adapter) and network. What the specific use would be, depends on your use-case. I have a few linux servers running virtually on a NUC running VMware ESXi, for networking services.
 

Aibohphobia

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In a way, it would be nice to avoid a PSU power cable being routed inside the case. I understand this allows for more flexible design, but they generally are too long and stick out like a sore thumb after you have tried to perfect everything in side the case.
I hate having to rely on internal power cables too, but it's hard to achieve many interesting layouts without them.

Maybe cable tie points along the top of the frame to keep the power cable out of the way?
 
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craigbru

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You could use it as a server for instance, with a web-interface you wouldn't even need to have it hooked up to anything but power (through power adapter) and network. What the specific use would be, depends on your use-case. I have a few linux servers running virtually on a NUC running VMware ESXi, for networking services.
That's exactly what I did with my Rogue project. I used a pico-itx board as an always on download server.
 
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Arboreal

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Brilliant to see it over here @Necere; I've been watching it develop over on [H].
I really like the concept, size and shape.
Although the SG05/SG13 is about the same volume, I've been looking for a slimmer more 'upright' style of case.
The handle does it for me too, as I have a regular LAN night that I visit.
Go go NCASE!
 
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Aibohphobia

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Forgot to ask this earlier, is that just a flexible strap handle on top?

I think an option for a nice machined handle would be popular, they're much more ergonomic.
 
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Necere

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I like the design and concept, I can't wait to see what people will come up with to put in the bottom compartment besides water cooling.
I would suggest allowing 2,5" (and maybe even 3,5" if possible) storage through mounting holes in the frame or with a bracket. I bet with your dual-drive bracket system, you might be able to allow atleast 6 drives while still allowing the use of fans.
But I'm also thinking in that bottom area people could mod in an extra PCIe device, maybe even a GPU could be possible or an extra NUC or mSTX system.
The bottom compartment is really reserved just for the fans/filters/air intake, and I'm not very inclined to turn it into a space for drives or other things. Anything in there would be ahead of the fans/filters (blocking or precluding them entirely), so that wouldn't really fit with the overall airflow and cooling concept.

Will these have the new glass bead blasted finish ?
That's possible.

That's a good looking case, but i'd much prefer seeing the GPU Cooler itself and not just the backplate, especially since it's a "show-off" case.
You won't see the GPU backplate, as it would be facing the right side panel and there's no window on that side. It's mostly the motherboard that would be visible through the window, with perhaps the front half or third of the GPU, or else drives.

There are good reasons for putting the GPU behind the motherboard, BTW, which I'll explain in further detail in a followup post.

Did you think about moving the radiator to the top of the case? It looks like you could save space using perforated panels as intakes. It probably has to do with aesthetics when in the aircooled configuration, right?
Perforated side panels? No, the reason the fans are at the bottom as intake is so the case will be positive pressure, otherwise you can't control dust effectively (it'll get in through the cracks). Only using top exhaust fans with side intake (like w360's design in the [H] thread) results in a negative pressure setup and dust filtering isn't practical.

Don't know much about FlexATX PSU:s, but from what I have heard, they can be noisy. If they are noiser than SFX, I strongly suggest to also include support for SFX.
That's the big if, isn't it? As I said, it's going to depend on how the upcoming flex units do in that regard.

As for SFX support, it's something I'm still considering. Oriented lengthwise in the case, it would preclude 3.5" HDD support and make running the tubing for watercooling trickier. I thought about supporting a cross-wise orientation as well, but that obstructs longer GPUs and would require lengthening the case by 10mm just to support 10.5" long cards:



Supporting both PSU orientations complicates things, though.

Great to see supported case airflow by the bottom fans. Perhaps they can help cool the FlexATX PSU as well.
That would be ideal, but as is the PSU is too far forward to take much advantage of the airflow from the bottom fans.

Great to see water cooling support. However, I believe push fans on the radiator are more quiet and slightly more effective than pull. Perhaps a top compartment for the radiator could be included as well.
There'd be nothing stopping you from mounting the fans before the rad, it just requires an extra set of screws.

Perpaps add support of bottom and top case air fans. A variant where both bottom and top compartment exists.
That would make the case taller, which is not something I want to do as the air-only version is already at the limit to fit in some carry on luggage.

For people who want to see the GPU "from the right side", perhaps the case can be made flexible enough to support two variants on the motherboard plate. Probably a headache though.
Yeah, I think that would be too complex to implement.

Thicker panels (2mm or so) is a nice plus, to avoid bending issues.
That's my preference as well, and what we'll do if we can.

In a way, it would be nice to avoid a PSU power cable being routed inside the case. I understand this allows for more flexible design, but they generally are too long and stick out like a sore thumb after you have tried to perfect everything in side the case. Same thing with these stiff overly long internal USB cables.
I hate having to rely on internal power cables too, but it's hard to achieve many interesting layouts without them.

Maybe cable tie points along the top of the frame to keep the power cable out of the way?
There's a structural beam running the length of the case at the top, which the handle bolts into, that could also serve as a conduit for the power cable:


Forgot to ask this earlier, is that just a flexible strap handle on top?

I think an option for a nice machined handle would be popular, they're much more ergonomic.
At the moment I've got one of these luggage handles in as a placeholder. They look a bit cheap, and I'm not too sure about durability, but I like that it folds down pretty flat. A machined handle might be nice, but it wouldn't be as low profile and the cost would be higher.
 

Necere

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So in previous iterations of this design I've put the GPU in front (that is, on the left side of the case) of the motherboard, but I want to explain a bit why I settled on having it behind instead.

First off, I have to stress the importance of intake clearance for fans. Too little will reduce airflow considerably, and both cooling performance and noise will be adversely affected. Cases like the Phanteks Evolv ITX don't leave enough room between the GPU intake and the PSU shroud, and temperatures suffer for it.

What's an appropriate amount of clearance, then? Well, admittedly I haven't experimentally tested this, but what I've settled on as a "probably good enough" rule of thumb is one quarter of the fan diameter of clearance. This is based on calculating the area the air must flow through - namely the disc of the fan, and the area of an imaginary cylinder forming the boundary of the intake area - and making them about equal. See this image for an explanation:



For example:
  • 140mm fans need 35mm clearance
  • 120mm fans need 30mm clearance
  • 92mm fans need 23mm clearance
Note I use 0.25 of the fan diameter only as a general target to aim for, not as an absolute rule. More is probably better, but a bit less will suffice as well.


So for this style of layout, where the GPU and motherboard are sandwiched together, putting the GPU behind the motherboard actually makes better use of space than the reverse. That's partly because we have a large area where the GPU extends past the motherboard, but also because we can use the space that's required, but otherwise unused, for the motherboards standoffs/backside clearance:



As is plainly apparent, the layout on the right provides considerably more intake clearance for the GPU fans. Now, depending on what drives are mounted or whether we end up putting in an SFX PSU, that area towards the front may be considerably reduced, but it's still going to be better than with the GPU facing the side of the case.

A secondary reason why I believe the GPU-behind-the-motherboard layout is superior is because it better isolates the GPU from the front side of the motherboard, where the GPU exhaust could enter the CPU cooler:



There are some other benefits as well having to do with fitment rather than airflow. Tubing to the bottom rad, for example, is likely to be easier to run with the GPU pushed all the way to the right side of the case. Also, in the case where a full custom loop is installed and a full cover, single slot block on the GPU, the space opened up behind the motherboard could be used for SSD mounting.

Structurally, there's some advantage to having the motherboard tray in the center of the case, as it would be attached to the top beam (which must support the full weight of the case with a handle attached).
 
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