titleAbout two years ago I reviewed Gelid Solution's 12PL case fan, an article I encourage you to read, not only because it will answer that 'what's so special about a fan' question on your mind, but also because its an early review of mine and you can find plenty to poke fun at. Bottom line, the fan was attractive, quiet, and effective. I was quite a fan of the company, often plugging the review when people would ask for case fan recommendations. Gelid has come a long way since then, now equipped with a healthy catalog of products to choose from. Today we'll be putting Swiss-managed company's first chassis, the DarkForce, to our tests.

Product Name: DarkForce

Review Sample Provided by: Gelid Solutions

 

Written by: Adam

Pictures by: Adam, Wes


 

Specification

3.5" Drive Bay:

6+1 (Converted from one 5.25" Drive Bay)

5.25" Drive Bay:

4 (Without the Use of 5.25" to 3.5" Tray)

Acrylic Window:

361.5 X 280 mm Visible Area with 3mm Thickness

Color:

Black

Dimensions (LxWxH):

530 x 207 x 505 mm / 20.9 x 8.1 x 19.9 inch

Extension Slot:

8+1

Fan Power Extention PCB:

2 (Supports up to 6 Fans)

Fans (Base):

2 x 140 or 120mm (Optional)

Fans (Front):

2 x 120mm (1 x 120 x 25mm Fan @1200rpm included)

Fans (Rear):

1 x 120 x 25mm Fan 1200rpm

Fans (Right):

Side: 1x 80 or 120mm x 15mm Fan (optional)

Fans (Top):

2 x 140 or 120mm (Optional)

Hot-Swap Harddisk Dock:

1 (Recommend Enabling AHCI Hard Drive Mode)

Material:

0.7mm SECC Steel Body; Arcylic Side Window; Plastic Bezel with Metal Mesh

Motherboard Type:

Full ATX / Micro-ATX

Net Weight:

9.2KG / 20.08LBS

Power Supply:

Support ATX PS2 / EPS 12V (Optional)


Packaging
Shipping had done an excellent job of testing Gelid’s damage resistance packaging when we received the DarkForce, the hard foam placeholders peeking through holes and dented corners. A practical exterior still shined through the wear of the delivery truck with action shots of the case and simple feature callouts that do a good job showing off from the shelf. Opening the box in typical fashion reveals the DarkForce between the two foam pieces and wrapped in plastic.

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The accessories box is visible through the side window tied to the motherboard tray. Inside you’ll find individual wrapped goodies including stand offs with tool, 5.25” to 3.5” drive bay converter, mounting screws, cable ties, case lock, case badge, and manual.

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Exterior
The external design of the DarkForce is really quite simple, flush and smooth. It’s different from what we see with from a lot of towers targeted towards gamers, with ridges and accents that stick out from the base surface. Aside from the feet and a slight cliff on the rear of the case, it’s a straight elliptical design. The front bezel is completely flat on the top half, occupied with four mesh extension bay placeholders. That mesh continues to the lower half, but recedes a bit between a number of solid plastic rows. Even so the majority of the piece is mesh, which is ideal for airflow.

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Removing the front panel, pulling from between the two front feet, expose the temporary expansion bay covers, grilled for airflow. Also revealed now are two 120m fan spots, one pre-installed behind a hex-like design. On the front piece, you can see that the mesh placeholders have a patch of foam behind to help stop intruding dust.

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Continuing towards the back, the front I/O panel is connected in a solid piece to a SATA hot-swap dock and consists of the usual suspects along with an eSATA port and USB 3.0 port. The remainder of the top piece is a mesh covering with hexagonal ‘hive’ shapes underneath, again favoring the air cool solution. The top extends over the back of the tower about an inch or so, providing a ‘roof’ that is handy for carrying the unit.

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The board I/O cutout and PCI slots are recessed from the rear exhaust and water cooling grommets on the back. An additional expansion slot is situated near the side panel directly underneath the exhaust fan, and can be used for PCI-shaped devices that don’ require board installation, such as eSATA expansions or cold cathode switches. The power supply cutout finishes the rear of the case.

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The main side panel, as you’ve probably gathered, is occupied mostly by an acrylic window. It inhabits about two thirds of the panel, and ends just before the hard drive and expansion bays begin. The opposing side panel usually doesn’t have much to talk about, but Gelid has included a fan grill situated just behind the CPU cutout on the motherboard tray for more breathing. Though you could technically mount a fan here, it would have to be very slim.

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The underside of the beast, not surprisingly, is also mesh with hexagon pattern; of course the feet elevate the chassis to allow airflow from underneath.

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Interior
The entire interior in finished black, which you’ll see from the side window before you even unscrew the panel. The finish is a powder coat, which is bonded much more reliable than simple paint. Complementing the finish, the cables that are pre-installed in the chassis, such as the front I/O connectors, are sleeved. You may follow some of those cables back to find black PCBs installed around the motherboard tray. This pair of boards is situated next to the grommets, one with a four-pin molex and three-pin PMW fan connectors, and the other piggy-backing off the molex power with a three-pin connector. These allow the fans to be routed behind the motherboard tray and back in to be powered while showing the least amount of cable.

Speaking of grommets, there are four rubber ovals situated in a backwards-L : three that span the vertical length beside the hard drive and expansion bays, and one in approximately the middle of the motherboard tray, near the bottom.

On the inside, the power supply cutout is outlined with cushioning, and feet on four corners and the mesh discussed earlier to allow the power supply mounted in any direction, bottom out so the exhaust doesn’t blow into the case. A Velcro strap is included for a little extra security as well. The bottom the case continues on in open mesh form, as discussed with the exterior, room enough for an additional 120mm or support for extended power supplies.

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Layering the front of the case are two hard drive bays each with a capacity of three drives. These can be removed via two thumbscrews (side and rear) to help further suit the needs of extended hardware, such as video cards. With the bay removed, the DarkForce can be support a card up to 410mm in length. Though the trays operate on a tool-less design, in which the edges slide in rails and clip to secure (tabs are then depressed to release), the drives must be mounted using included screws.

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Atop the hard drive cages rest the optical drive bays, four in total, built for 5.25” devices but supporting 3.5” with the included converter. This system is entirely tool-less, using a small thumb switch moving from left to right and extending a bar that secures in the drives mounting hole.

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The top of the DarkForce is essentially a layer of mesh for dust control, but does support two 120mm fans should the need arise.

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Performance
With a windowed side panel, finished interior, and cut-outs in the motherboard tray, one can expect to invest some time in cable management. Though there is a bit of room to work with behind the motherboard tray when the right side panel is installed, it isn’t a lot; the optional fan that can be mounted on the rear-side of the CPU cutout can only be a 15mm thickness, if that gives you an idea of the space between. When the majority of the routing takes place in one area, such as the column between the bay cages and the motherboard as is with the DarkForce, you can find yourself with thick bundles quickly. It can be achieved, however, after a little bit of planning.

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The motherboard tray has rectangular cutout in the upper left hand corner that is great for the CPU power, and can potentially hide the rear exhaust cabling as well. The grommets that outline the motherboard do a great job of allowing escape for cabling, but this is where you may need to think before you act. The most troublesome is likely to be the grommet beside the power supply: though you will be distributing the power rails to different parts of the chassis, nearly all of them will need to be routed behind first, through this one hole. Then on top of that, if your pin headers such as USB and front-panel line the bottom of the board as most do, you’ll need to bring those through from the back via this hole as well. That’s a tight fit, and creates a pretty congested highway of cables that will fight you when trying to put the right side panel back on. Modular power supplies will be extremely helpful here; if you have to hide extra power cables that are connected, you may be forced to try to hide them as subtly as possible on the bottom of the case.

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The one other thing to be aware of with cables is when installed hard drives. The back of the cages come really close to the right side panel. Right angled SATA cables are almost a necessity here, and if you have thicker SATA power connectors, you might run into some trouble. Where the cables enter the connector tends to be stiff, and that bend from the plastic to the cord is going to get some pressure in it when the side panel is on. In some extreme cases, we saw cables that jutted out so far that it was starting to bend the PCB of the drive. We were able to relieve some pressure by pulling the hard drive out from the front, attaching the rear side panel, and then gently sliding the drive bay back into position. But it is something to keep in mind.

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It will take some work, but the end result is definitely worth it. The case looks extremely sharp with an all back finish and tidy cabling. And truly, cable management in any mid tower is not easy. Gelid Solutions has lifted some of that burden with convenient grommet placing and wiring the included fans to the PCB extenders situated on either around the tray.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how many times I’ve used the word mesh thus far. The majority of the surface area, aside from the side panels, is open air allowing excellent breathing. Of course, this also means dust. Though Gelid has included the layer to keep fight dust, they will require some upkeep. The front of the case especially, being in-take, can become covered unsightly covered in dust. On that note, the designed airflow with the included fans in front intake and rear exhaust, as we typically see. With an open air top, an active heatsink has the option of being mounted vertically or horizontally, to exhaust the air out of the rear or through the top. The front intake is situated precisely in front of the bottom hard drive cage, with an optional fan bay right above it to cool the top cage as well. If you’ll be running the case without upgrading fans, be sure to install in the lower cage.

One of the big advantages about a mid-tower for me is the portability. Being able to transport the DarkForce to and from LAN parties while reducing the strain on my back is a huge perk, and it’s achieved without sacrificing being able to show off. It does fall victim to a little pet peeve of mine, the case doesn’t have any real grasping points, with a pretty consistent shape all around. So I’m inclined to carry it like any other box. With a little pressure on the front placeholders, they can be popped out pretty easily, requiring you to remove the entire front panel and clip it back in place. Otherwise the DarkForce is a pleasure to tote around. It’s crafted out of steel and weighs in at a little over twenty pounds empty, so you’re still likely to get your work out.


Overall
Without the luxury of spare parts to test the chassis out, I transplanted my current rig into the DarkForce so I could experience the chassis from installation to the satisfaction of the end result, and I won’t be going back. Aside from being lazy, the DarkForce is enthusiast portable: the finish and cable routing options allow users to really show off a neat display of their hardware, and supports high-end components without being over burdening. Cable routing will certainly test your patience, but with the right amount of forethought (and compressed air) it will turn out just right, to the point you’ll be convinced it was meant to be.

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Author Bio
Lersar
Author: Lersar
Contributing Editor / Event Staff
Adam is a big proponent of LAN parties, esports and speed-running, and helps organize our semi-annual LAN events. He has covered hardware and software reviews of a wide variety, but most content these days come from event coverage, such as other LAN parties.

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garfi3ld's Avatar
garfi3ld replied the topic: #25660 13 Jun 2012 18:10
Another case review this week, this time from Gelid Solutions.
Twodavez's Avatar
Twodavez replied the topic: #25661 13 Jun 2012 18:44
Looks just like the Coolermaster 690 ii, but with an updated look and a new fan spot.

Good review, and i loved the CM 690, so i'm assuming this is going to be a good case too. It ws kinda heavy, but very sturdy!

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