Back in 2016, I ran across a community inspired case called Sentry. It was designed in Poland as a side project by a wind turbine company. I reached out at potentially getting one in at the time but it being a side project they didn’t have any extra. It went on to have a successful Indiegogo campaign early in 2017. Well, they didn’t go away, in fact, they have been busy bringing in feedback all this time from the Sentry 1.0 owners and working on a new design. Talk about exciting! I was excited about the first design, being able to pack a true PC into a console form factor. What could they possibly have changed? Well, their changelog reads a lot like an open source software roadmap including showing what ideas they decided not to implement with reasons why. Even better, this time around for the Sentry 2.0 they made a few more test cases to spread around. You most likely have seen a few of them around YouTube and the internet by now. Well, we had a Sentry 2.0 come in as well and I’ve been playing around with it. I’m excited to finally take a closer look at this unique design and see if it was worth being excited about all this time.
Product Name: Dr Zaber Sentry 2.0
Review Sample provided by: Dr Zaber
Written by: Wes Compton
Pictures by: Wes Compton
Amazon Affiliate Link: HERE
For the packaging on the Sentry 2.0, packaging was a real concern. Typically when you have cases being shipped from Amazon here in the states things go a relatively short distance. The Sentry 2.0, however, was shipped from Poland. My concerns were quickly calmed down when the case actually came in. The box itself was shipped with a plastic wrap on the outside and this did start to come open a little but it would still protect the box from rain or snow which we were getting this weekend even. On top of that, they have thick straps across both directions on the case keeping everything nice and tight and keeping nosey customs people out. If that wasn’t enough they also had seals placed on the opening as well, these had what look to be our engineering sample model number or revision on it.
With all of the protection pulled off the box itself is your normal brown box and they went with black artwork. This includes the branding and a line drawing of the case. Around on the back is a second line drawing, this time with the case in a vertical configuration. This was put alongside a specification listing as well. I don’t think they have retail sales in mind, but the Sentry 2.0 is already well ahead of a lot of products in my book simply because they show you what is inside and include all of the important specifications as well long before you open anything up.
Before I got into the box I did a quick picture with the components I’m using to test the case as well. #teaser
So the outside of our box had what one or two tiny dings on it. But honestly, DHL could have kicked the Sentry 2.0 all the way from Poland to the middle of the nowhere Ohio where I live and I don’t think it would have taken any damage. When you open the box up right on top is a thick padding and you can see this high-quality foam used all around the case. This is the same foam that shipping cases use. From there the case itself is wrapped up in plastic with the Sentry 2.0 branding on it. This is actually a nice bag but this is above and beyond what most cases come with, with the only exception being the few cases that came in fabric bags but you rarely see that anymore.
Then up under the Sentry 2.0, all of the accessories are all in their own foam tray with a cutout for each thing. Then there is more foam under that.
Most cases just come with a small bag of screws and maybe a few zip ties, the Sentry 2.0 has a lot more than that. That is partially because there is a small amount of assembly. But also because packing everything into a small case like this is complicated. That includes two static protective bags on the bottom there with the PCIe adapter and next to those the bracket for them. To the left of that is a small 2.5-inch drive mounting bracket and then the big metal part on the left is the vertical bracket. The top row has a few wiring components. On the left is the USB cable and front panel, the middle is the power extender, then on the right in the bag, there is a front panel switch and LED. That bag also has a lot more so I broke that down into another photo. You have two bags of screws. A variety of feet and a plastic mounting design for the main feet. Last but far from least you also get a nice screwdriver. The Sentry 2.0 has a condensed number of screw head types now. The old design used hex head designs in a few sizes and they combined them down to one T10 Torx design as well as the normal Philips head screws. To make things simple they include a screwdriver for this
Photos and Features
Typically I would split up this section into two, one for the inside and another for the outside of the case. The Sentry 2.0, however, is just an amazingly small case at 6.9 Liters in total volume so it was best to combine them. So the overall design of the case is very similar in size and shape to the Xbox One and PS4. It’s not a big surprise that those consoles have gone to this shape given its efficiency. But both of those use much older tech and it is all custom made for that design. Dr Zaber has managed to fit our traditional PC components in the same form factor. Now they aren’t the only case in this shape. Fractal has the Node 202 for example and Silverstone has designed a whole list of cases with this layout. But the Node 202 is 10.2 liters and the RVZ03 from Silverstone is 14.04 liters. At 6.9 liters this is a different class if you ask me. In fact, I think there are only two other cases on the market that are smaller that still use the SFX power supply.
Now that we have gone over the scale of the Sentry 2.0 I can finally dive into what it is all about. This is an all steel case and Dr Zaber didn’t skimp out with ultra-thin material, they used 1mm thick steel which gives the case some weight and a lot of structure. That is then powder coated with a textured black finish. The finish does have a little gloss to it and I think I might prefer a more industrial matt finish. It was harder to photograph so I do have a little bias there, but I also just think a matt finish would look a little better. If you look closely, you can see that the case has a main panel on the front, as far as structure goes this wraps around the bottom of the case. The top wraps around the ends and the top is removable. It isn’t just a simple box shape though, the corners on both sides do have an angled chamfer. The right side (which is also the top when the case is laying flat) has a lot of ventilation on the bottom half. There is also a small line through this which I’m not sure if that is for styling or to add a little structure to that area. Other than that, there is nothing else going on that side of the case.
Around on the back, you can get a better idea of the layout. On the left is the hole for the motherboard rear I/O shield. You can also see they slipped in three holes just above that which I think are for wireless antennas should you need them. Obviously, you can’t run a video card and a PCI wireless adapter in this design so if your board doesn’t have them in the I/O shield those will come in handy. From there, in the middle is a power connection hole. Like I said earlier there are a few things that don’t come installed, this is one of them. Then next to that is a dual PCI bracket. The top of the bracket has a clamp down bracket over it, this is integrated into a bracket we won’t see until we open the case up. This is where they tucked away the badge. You have the model name, version number, unit number, and all of the required stuff like the CE logo. Also on the back, you can see that they tried to get as much ventilation as possible anywhere they could with additional holes above and below the PCI slots as well as the I/O hole.
Around on the front, you can see a few more holes where things would normally be installed. The middle hole is a vandal switch hole for the included vandal switch power button with an LED ring. The included switch has a red ring, but being a vandal design you could pick up any design you want including ring or dot shapes for the LED along with any LED color you might think of. Then over on the right, there are two square holes where the USB ports are. The screws next to them are how you mount the included dual USB 3.0 adapter. I would have preferred one to be Type-C or even better a Type-C in addition to the two ports but they did address this in their list of feature requests. It was asked for, but they are waiting for a standard cable design that includes Type-C to be available. We have to remember they are still new to this and they don’t have the purchasing power to have a custom cable design made without it costing a lot.
The left side of the case is just like the right with two exceptions. The large ventilation area is up on the top on this side and if you look closely you can see the PCI brackets showing us this is the ventilation for the video card area. This side also has four holes in it, one in each corner. These are for the horizontal mounting feet. They also include plugs to use if you don’t use feet here.
Both of the thin ends of the case are completely covered in those same round ventilation holes. You can see that as the case ships the two screws that they hold the top panel on are used with rubber washers. These aren’t permanent, they are just to keep the screws snug without them being tight and hard to remove. It also helps you find which screws you need to remove, it’s the only two screws installed on the outside though so I doubt you will miss them. One of the thin sides does have an extra set of holes. They look just like the mounting holes you would find on the back of a power strip, these are where you mount the included vertical stand.
When you pull the top cover off the Sentra 2.0 you will find a box welded to the underside on the GPU side. This was an interesting design choice and I did a little reading on the Zaber website about it. This is what they are calling an optimized air pocket. This fills in an air gap that sits between the backplate of your video card to the top of the case. The idea for this is to prevent a hot air pocket from building up by filling the space. It seems to be especially important for when the case is in use sitting horizontally where heat from the video card would go directly up. In a vertical orientation, the heat would rise up into normal ventilation. It also helps keep the video card closer to the side panel where it can pull in cool air. This was on the original design but has been redesigned to increase its size and rigidly.
So here is the full layout of the case. On the bottom left you can see the four ITX motherboard standoffs. Directly above that is the power supply mount. There is then a bar that runs across the middle of the case and then the entire right side can be used to fit full-length video cards. The Sentry 2.0 design did change to give you a few options in this area especially. You can run a shorter 170mm ITX video card and that leaves just enough room to fit a 120mm radiator. The middle bracket was moved over slightly to accommodate a radiator and that also means there is nor a little more height available for the video card. In total there is 145mm but you have to also account for the power connection as well. So taller cards that step down to a standard height for the power connection will be possible if they are under 145mm tall. As for the radiator support, in addition to only supporting a 120mm radiator you only have 50mm in total height with the fan and radiator together. So you will most likely need to run a low profile fan to get that to work. You also have the option to not use the space for a video card or a radiator and if you do this you can fit two 3.5 inch hard drives or one while using an ITX GPU. The Sentry 2.0 ends up being surprisingly versatile considering how compact it is.
Clearance over the CPU is a concern as well with that having 47mm in height clearance. Leading up to this review I was trying to line up a water cooler for testing and a lot of the options from Cooler Master, for example, were too tall in their pump housing. Not to mention with air coolers this means there are just a few options. Some stock coolers will fit, I’ve tested a whole list of ITX coolers you can find some of them HERE. I ended up going with the Cryorig C7 Cu which I really liked in our review, it seems to be the best option considering the height limit. Memory has to be standard height as well to not block the 2.5-inch drive bracket that mounts above them.
Installation and Performance
To me, there are three main things to consider when looking at cases. How is it to build in the case, how is noise and cooling performance, and is there anything about the user experience once built that stands out? All three of these are doubly important when it is a case as compact as the Sentry 2.0. Building in a large case, even at its worst is still very simple. Same goes for heat performance, larger cases make keeping things relatively cool easy. But ultra small builds when running high-end components, overheating is a real concern so I am going to look at that. Then of course with a small case like this, I’m very curious how well it works as a LAN PC and also an HTPC case so I will touch on those as well. But first I need to build in it.
I wanted to run through a few of the main components I went with to explain the reasoning. With this build, I was focusing on something that would game extremely. I have been considering this as a long term build to try out at a few LANs and or to use with our VR setup in the living room. Because of that, I needed a powerful video card. I wanted to go with a 120mm AIO and an ITX sized RTX card but I couldn’t get either one in time for this coverage so I stuck with the C7 Cu cooler that I know performs well and one of our orange GTX 1080 Founders Edition cards An aftermarket card would be better for GPU temperatures, but I think the blower cooler might help make up for it by not leaving as much heat in the case. Then for the CPU I considered going with another Ryzen build but ended up going Intel. We have the Intel i5-8400 which is a little dated now but its 6 cores and a 4 GHz turbo clock is respectable. This was more than enough CPU power and frankly in a compact build like this with a limited amount of cooling potential, the heat was better served being used towards the GPU. The i5-9400F or the Ryzen 5 2600 would be better choices if I didn’t already have the 8400 on hand. For storage, I went with the older WD Black in a 1TB capacity which was just enough to store a decent number of games on. I may expand and add a second drive later.
So in getting going on the build I went ahead and prepped my motherboard first. This included installing the M.2 drive up under the heatsink on the Gigabyte board and putting the CPU in place. I fought with the heatsink installation, I forgot how much fun it is to get the backplate installed on the C7. Then installed our HyperX Savage memory. If I were installing an AIO I wouldn’t be able to get this much ready but getting all of this out of the way first helped give me more room in my build area once I got the case out.
From there I started working through the provided instructions which are online btw so that Dr Zaber can update them as needed. These are seriously the most detail case instructions I have ever seen. They spent a LOT of time on this aspect alone. They first guide you through installing the front panel power switch. It is a Vandal type switch so anyone who has installed one before shouldn’t have any trouble. You remove the nut and o-ring and slide it in the hole and then slide the o-ring and nut back on and tighten it back up. From there you also want to put your power supply in. They suggest hooking up all of the cables you need ahead of time on a modular PSU so I did that. Then getting it in place was easy. You will need the screws provided with your PSU here, they do not provide them so make sure you grab your screws our of your power supply box. You mount the PSU using three screws and if you look closely you can see that for both of the bottom screws they did cut notches in the back edge of the case to get a direct line at these to tighten them down.
Next, you take the entire motherboard assembly that was already put together and get ready to install it. That includes putting the rear I/O shield in place, then from there, you slide the board in. They do provide screws for mounting this but this was where I ran into my first problem. First I’m not the biggest fan of these being silver screws, everything else provided has a nice black finish. But my main issue here was that our screws were of the poorest quality. So bad in fact that a lot of them had the Philips head, not in the center of the top of the screw making them really hard to install. Considering you use these same screws to install things like hard drives I hope they change these for the production run. This is an engineering sample, so hopefully, that is why. Once I dug through the screws and found a few that weren’t as bad I installed our motherboard.
Next, you install and route the power cable that runs from the rear of the case to the PSU. This is the first time you get to use the provided Torx screwdriver and the nice black Torx screws. The instructions give you good guidance to install the ground first and then were to run the cable. I ran into two issues here. For starters, I installed everything and found later that the plug got in the way of our PCIe riser card. After looking at it, I found that the plug was thicker on one side and not the other. Given the detail in the instructions, a small note making sure you know which way to install this part would help. I also found that the right-angled connection that plugs into your PSU was extremely tight up against the side of the case with our Silverstone SFX PSU. It worked, but it is tight.
Skipping back ahead, I installed the two-part PCIe riser card. Ignoring the clearance issue I mentioned with the power cord that I fixed. This went in really easy. You have two parts than a bracket that holds them in place. The bracket design is new to the Sentry 2.0 and it holds it all very secure without putting screws through the riser itself. This is a good choice because PCIe risers are sensitive and getting a better support under the slot should hold up from the heavy GPU pulling on it more.
The third cable that you have to install yourself is the front panel USB connections. As usual, the USB cable has those thick and hard to work with cables and the tall connection. I wrapped the cable up in a loop once before putting the two screws in the front with plans of cleaning this up more at the end of my build. You can see just how much extra cable you use up with, but that, of course, depends on where the plug is on your motherboard.
Here is a look at the 2.5-inch drive bracket. It is surprisingly simple and can allow you to install two drives end to end. For my build, however, I kept things simple with an M.2 drive.
Next, I started to work on cleaning up the wiring I had already done and to run and hook up the 8 pin and 24 pin power connections on the motherboard. I also tucked our PCI power cable up under the divider bracket to hook up our GPU later. The power wiring will depend a lot on your motherboard layout. Mine ended up having a little extra length on both and the 8-pin cable had to be tucked along the edge of the case. That said I had to use very few zip ties when cleaning it all up. Just one on the USB and another on the front power cable.
From there all I had to do was get our video card installed. The PCI bracket holddown is actually the entire side of the case. Once that was removed sliding our Founders Edition car in was simple. You can see that even with the stock height card that the power plug is tight to the side, there isn’t much room for play there but there is some extra room for the rest of the top of the card if you have a taller card with the plug on the end or a recessed plug.
Reinstalling the top cover was improved over the previous Sentry design. Not only are all of the outside screws the same Torx design, but there are only four needed to pull the main cover off. So getting the build buttoned up was quick and easy.
The last thing I needed to do was decide which of the stand/feet that I was going to go with. Remember I’m planning on using this as a VR PC in my living room but also taking it to a few LANs. Because of that, I decided to actually use both. The horizontal feet would help when in our TV stand and the vertical would save room at events. The horizontal feet have two components, there is a rubber foot with a hole in the middle. Then there is a plastic push in part that pushes in the foot and spreads out its “wings” to lock it into place. This is a nice design because not only were they easy to install but it should also be easy to remove later if needed. They also include small plugs to push into the cases foot holes if you don’t want to use these.
The vertical stand might be my favorite part of the Sentry 2.0. It is made out of a thick steel construction and has the same textured powder coat finish. For feet, they just slipped inch long rubber in four spots. This was a change from the previous design which used glue which didn’t hold up. Without glue, this should be a better design. The stand itself attached with a toolless design that uses an o-ring and a standoff/screw design that you slide into the two mounting holes on the edge of the Sentry 2.0 and you just slide over locking it into place.
Here is a look at the Sentry 2.0 with the vertical stand. I love the clean look of the case but the flared out feet really set the case off. I would love to see a similar foot design for horizontal use and I have an idea of how it could work, I might have to send some notes over toe Dr Zaber after this review.
So the Sentry 2.0 may not have a window, but the vented side panels do give a good look inside. Our orange GTX 1080 Founders Edition really stands out.
I did notice an issue right after I finished getting our system all together. While building it the powder coating on the bottom side didn’t agree with our wood photo table and it ended up scuffed up. This was a bit of a surprise because I’ve never had any cases damaged from moving them around on the table before, just the wood itself taking some damage because it is softer. Now the Sentry 2.0 instructions do note to make sure you build on a soft surface for this reason so let my mistake be a second warning for everyone else. I do think that some of the powder coat finishes I’ve worked with on cases like Case Labs were more durable but it remains to be seen if the Sentry 2.0 finish is any lower in quality or if I just got unlucky with sand or a similarly hard material up under the case when building in it. Either way, I would recommend installing the feet earlier than they recommend and using a soft pad if possible.
With everything up and running I did find the red LED ring on the vandal power button to be a little dim, especially when I had our photo lights on it you could hardly see it at all.
As for actual performance testing, I spent some time checking out the cooling performance of both our GPU and CPU. Individually I was confident that they would both run about where they should, but when both are under an extreme load would a case with no fans at all handle it? Well to test this I ran both in AIDA64’s stress test. The GPU I expected to run in the 80 to 82c range because that is where all of the Nvidia Founders Edition cards with blower fans run, that is what their fan profile is targeted for. But I was curious to see if a load stronger than a typical game and the heat from the CPU might have that creep up over time but as you can see below it stayed at 82c. The CPU, on the other hand, did raise up a little after about 15 minutes but it leveled off soon after to a solid 50c for the rest of the half hour test.
I was also curious how loud our system would end up being during this test. Obviously, the Sentry 2.0 doesn’t make any noise itself with no fans. But when under an extreme load like that would our C7 Cu CPU cooler and GTX 1080 Founders Edition get loud? Well with our decibel meter setup 18 inches away from the system and with both the CPU and GPU under the AIDA64 stress test it was running at 45.1 decibels. This wasn’t quiet, but also not loud considering the load and just how open the case it right next to both fans.
Now I haven’t had the chance to pack the Sentry 2.0 up and take it to any LAN events just yet. But I did toy around with packing it up and carrying it around and it has been interesting. For years now my go-to setup has been to use a LAN bag to hold my monitor, keyboard, mouse, and all of my cables. Then all of my LAN systems have been easy to carry with a handle. The Sentry 2.0, however, opens up the possibility of fitting my system into my LAN bag itself or using a normal backpack to pack it and all of the cables/peripherals up and carry my monitor. Using it in my LAN bag that I already have would be awesome, but I will have to thin out what I keep in my bag including cutting out extra cables and maybe even finally upgrading to a thinner lighter LED monitor, I tore a previous bag putting to much weight into it and the Sentry 2.0 is heavy. But I was really digging how much easier It could be to carry in a bag. Not to mention it takes up almost no space when you are using the vertical stand which helps a lot at LANs.
Overall and Final Verdict
So remember even back with the original Sentry launch I was excited, did the Sentry 2.0 live up to those lofty expectations? In most ways it did. I am in love with the simple all-metal construction and the simple styling that doesn’t have branding all over it. At 6.9 liters in overall capacity, it is amazing what they manage to fit in the form factor. You could run one of the RTX 2070’s from MSI or Gigabyte and still have room for a radiator which I think is the most optimal configuration or if you don’t mind having a little less CPU cooling performance and sticking with air cooling you can pack in an RTX 2080 Ti. Our test configuration with a GTX 1080 and an i5-8400 gets you 6 cores running at 4Ghz and more than enough performance unless you are trying to game at 4k.
The small capacity is nice, but it is the support for a full-length video card or a 120mm AIO that is impressive to me. Dr Zaber has an attention to detail finding a way to slip in two 2.5 inch drives even a radiator and video card installed. Or if you want you could drop those and put two 3.5 inch drives, two 2.5 inch drives, and two M.2 drives and create a weird compact NAS. The same goes for their attention to detail on their instructions.
Of course, I did run into a few issues and concerns. The weird defective screws they included for installing your motherboard and hard drives was a first. I was also really bummed to see scratches on the powder coating even before I powered the system on. I will say again that the instructions do note to make sure to build on a soft surface and I didn’t do that. But I’m going to be keeping an eye on the overall finish a little more long term as well to see if it is a sign of a bigger issue or if I was unlucky. If nothing else maybe put the feet on the case first when building in it. I also thought the power button LED was weak, it was washed out with just my two basic photo lights on it. That is less of a concern and frankly, I will most likely swap the vandal power switch out for another color in the future anyhow.
For those of you wondering about the overall size of the Sentry 2.0. I did grab three other SFF builds I had in the office for comparison. On the far left is the GEEEK A30 which uses a FlexATX power supply and only supports an ITX length video card. The Sentry 2.0, then next to it is the Raijintek Ophion Evo I just reviewed last week. It supports a full-length card as well as a 240mm AIO. Then on the right is the Lian Li TU-100 used for our Lunchbox 3 build years ago. It also only supports an ITX length card but you can fit a 120mm AIO in it as well. The Sentry 2..0 is the tallest but also less than half or even 1/3 as thick as the rest and is also shorter than the Ophion Evo.
The other concern with the Sentry 2.0 which is a concern with all of the lower production community made or inspired cases is the price. Not having the huge buying power and production of the big name case companies is part of the reason. But cases like the Sentry 2.0 also don’t really cut corners like other cases do. They built the case out of a thick steel, used a traditional vandal power switch which costs more, not to mention things like the PCB PCIe riser. It might be a small case, but you can tell just from picking the case up that it is on a whole other level from a lot of your traditional cases as far as construction. Same goes for details like its fortress like packaging, including a tool, and the included stand as well. It all adds up and in the end getting one will run you $260 plus shipping the case internationally.
To get one you have to pick one up in their Indiegogo which just started yesterday and is running for the next 30 days. I don’t have it listed as a downside, but having to buy the case on their terms and not at your own pace is a downside for some as well. On the plus side, that should also help the case hold value for later if you want to change later but honestly, I don’t think you will want to do that. This is a great case and while it isn’t cheap, it is a perfect case to be used as an HTPC or to take to LANs. In my opinion, it also looks great sitting out if you go the HTPC route. Check out their pictures on their website or Indiegogo page. Speaking of, if you want one don’t wait too long. They are 27% of the way towards their goal right now and they do have a limit on the number of cases in this run. It is available in the black that I took a look at and a grey as well which I really like as well, I’m a little jealous of those of you who end up with it in grey!
Here is a link to the Indiegogo