We have reviewed several S.F.F. (Small Form Factor) cases this year, including IN WIN's Alpha 360 Micro ATX chassis, and while we appreciate the space saving qualities, we usually end up less than thrilled with the cooling prowess. Because of the small size, cooling presents a problem for mATX enclosures, and we've simply come to accept this trait as a necessary trade off. And when In Win sent us their Mt. Jade enclosure, a co-development project between them and Intel resulting in an even smaller chassis than that of the traditional SFF enclosure, we could help but wonder how far companies were willing to take this cooling trade off for a space saving design. But then we looked at the innovate feature list and, well, you'll have to read the review to see how this dual designed case fared in the HardwareLogic hot seat.
Front I/O Connectivity
The first thing we noticed is that no regular ATX PSU will fit in such a midget sized case. But instead of purchasing a power supply on your own, In Win throws in a 300W Fortron PSU. Let's repeat that. In Win didn't just toss a generic power supply into the mix, but they include a capable unit from one of the most respected PSU manufacturers in the business. Fortron has a long history of churning out quality power supplies, not only selling under their own name, but also appearing in rebadged units, such as the stellar OCZ GameXstream series.
The 300W Fortron measures s about half the height, length, depth, and weight of a standard Fortron PSU. Cable-wise, it comes with two SATA cables, three 4-pin molex connectors, a smaller 4-pin connector, a 24-pin main ATX connector, and the extra 4-pin supplementary motherboard power connector. We tossed this PSU on our test bench to see what it could do, and as we'd expect from a name brand, it performed like a champ. The results came back well within range, varying less than 5% on each rail and very little (less than .05 volts) fluctuation, even when pushed on our OC'ed testbed at full load.
In Win also included some round rubber feet (4), which have adhesive on one side. They did this so we could choose whether to make the Mt. Jade a horizontal or vertical unit. Rounding out the bundle are some motherboard and case screws.
Pictured above we see the left side when oriented as a tower (vertical). The ability to be mounted both horizontally and vertically reminds us of the Play Station 2 units, giving users more flexibility both in the living room or computing nook, depending on how you have your area situation. And for those that may concern themselves with using a vertically mounted optical drive, have no worries, CDs/DVDs spin just as fine in this orientation. Just be careful not to drop the disc when putting it in.
To give you an idea of just how small the Mt. Jade measures, we put it next to a standard mid tower chassis for comparison. The Mt. Jade is by far the smallest microATX case we have reviewed, making the mid tower above appear as a full sized enclosure. And rest assured, that really is a mid tower, sporting the typical for 5.25" external bays and two 3.5" bays, but it still manages to dwarf the Mt. Jade when pitted side by side.
Removing the top off of the Mt. Jade was fairly easy; just remove two screws, one of which is connected to the PSU, then slide it about half an inch toward the rear and lift it up. The large area of ventilation holes make up the primary intake vent for the case. The smaller area with two rows of holes rest down near where the PSU lays in the case.
Removing the front was even easier, containing no screws at all. There are just three clips that easily snap up, rotating the front cover around to what you see below. We like easy!
Once the front cover is opened to a 90 degree angle, it can pulled out straight away from the frame, revealing the skeleton chassis. It's just as easy to put back on as it was to remove, too - just snap it back on and you're back in business.
The front panel connectors are as common as we get these days. You get you HD audio (headphone and mic ports), four USB ports and a IEEE1394 (F) port. As with all new cases that come through HardwareLogic, we'll continue to bemoan the ones that eschew an eSATA port, and we'd gladly trade away the aging Firewire port for the newer (and faster) standard.
But while we miss the inclusion of eSATA support, we do appreciate the high placement of the ports that are included. As far as we're concerned, it makes no sense when case manufactures continue to place the I/O ports towards the bottom of the chassis, making them hard to reach in this age of connectible devices (digital cameras, MP3 players, thumb drives, gaming accessories, USB pole dancers, and so on). When mounted vertically, the ports on the Mt. Jade are easily reached towards the top in the middle of the case, and equally accessible when mounted horizontally.
The bottom (or right side when mounted as a tower) was just as easily removed as the top. The only reason to remove this cover is to screw in the other side of that external floppy drive, if you still use one of those old things. Most of us on HardwareLogic staff have long since abandoned our 3.5" floppy drives, and instead update our BIOS either from within Windows (most motherboard manufacturers include a BIOS update utility), or with a USB thumb drive.
Like most cases, there's nothing really spectacular in the rear. The vent visible above the PCI ports serves as an additional exhaust area, but there isn't room to mount any exhaust fans there, as there is only about a quarter-inch of clearance on the inside thanks to the other case components. For such a small case it was good to see 4 expansion slots in the back. Since the case seriously limits some aftermarket cooling options (larger CPU coolers just aren't going to fit), we are glad to see that the microATX mobo will likely be what limits our expansion hardware, and not the enclosure itself.
After removing the top and front cover, this is what you get (exciting, eh?). Now it's time for the fun stuff. Let's dig deeper into the engineering of the Mt. Jade and see what separates this from the typical mATX chassis. If you look near the middle of the front of the case, there is one screw to remove to get started...
After removing the screw, just grab the optical drive cage and lift it up and out of the case. There is nothing magical or difficult here, it's as easy as it looks. And again, we like easy!
Included on the optical drive cage is the dust filter for the intake of this case. Why is the filter on the optical drive cage you ask? Well, its all part of the design of this fancy little chassis. Below the cage is a white piece of plastic that will direct the airflow, shooting it from the top panel and through the cage and into the case.
The white plastic piece is easily pulled out as well, and this represents an extremely unique piece of technology in the Mt. Jade case. The circular part of the white piece is adjustable and designed to fit snuggly over any Core 2 Duo (or Core 2 Quad) mATX motherboard with the Intel stock cooler installed. In Win and Intel collaborated to create this interesting piece of work, and here's why:
This Partition Plate Cooling Technology (PPCT) allows for the CPU cooler to also pull double duty as the case intake fan. This design brings in cool air from outside the case directly onto the heatsink, and then throughout the case and back out the other exhaust vents. The previous design, as shown above, would allow for some of the warm air that exited the heatsink to recirculate right back up to the CPU fan, decreasing its overall effectiveness.
If you noticed the small rectangular piece of rubber on the white partition plate, well, you are very observant. Here's a cookie. Fortunately In Win had the foresight to add this piece of rubber for the data transfer and power cables that need to be routed to the optical drive sitting above the white partition plate. This allows for the cables to be routed appropriately without having any issues with the intended air flow.
So onto the first step in our installation. The hard drive just slides into the bay with the front cover removed. We added a couple screws and we were all set. As for adding a second HDD, that can be added to other bay that doubles as the external 3.5" bay.
We tossed the recently reviewed ECS G33T-M2 and Foxconn 8600GTS into this little case and it was surprisingly easy to work with. Notice the Intel cooler used. Obviously a little disappointment is the inability to add any aftermarket CPU coolers, but frankly, it is rare to find a microATX case that allows you to do that. Considering this, the nice addition of the white air flow partition was pretty ingenious. Since we are going to be forced to keep the stock cooler anyway, we were glad to see this new technology added to the case.
You didn't really think you'd be squeezing in an 8800GTX/Ultra into the Mt. Jade, did you? By our measurements, you'll come up about a half of an inch short trying to cram in a 10.5" GPU in this tiny case as well. Disclaimer: We didn't have an 8800GTX available during testing, but we did have a ruler. Also note that while it doesn't appear you can add one of nVidia's newer elongated cards into the Mt. Jade, the slots are all full height.
The Mt. Jade includes a little cover to help secure the expansion cards, which swivels out after removing the screw.. We prefer this to a removable cover that is just likely to get lost during the installation process.
After connecting our PSU wires to the motherboard, we then tossed the white air flow partition and the optical drive cage back on. You might save yourself a bit of time by making sure you route the optical drive wires before putting the the optical drive cage back on.
And here we are. We installed the optical drive and put the filter on the cage We just need to put the top back on and we are in business.
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Overall, we'd classify the collaboration between In Win and Intel resulting in the Mt. Jade chassis a success. If they were looking to maximize bang for buck, they certainly hit their mark. For under $70 shipped (street), you get a super space saving case that's not only flexible in its orientation (vertical or horizontal), but looks gorgeous to boot. Front mounted I/O ports are intelligently placed, standoffs come pre-installed, installation, for the most part, was an easy affair, and to top it all off, you get a 300W name brand power supply (Fortron) thrown in, instead of the mostly generic units that have become traditional add ons.
But lest we walk away completely glowing, both In Win and Intel left room for improvement. Any new case should sport an eSATA port, but we're instead given an aged Firewire connection. And those looking for tool-less installation will need to look elsewhere. Finally, while the cooling was adequate thanks in large part to the Partition Plate Cooling Technology (PPCT), enthusiasts looking for a bit of extra airflow oomph are limited both in third party CPU cooler options, and the inability to mount case cases.
At the end of the day, we walked away pretty impressed at the punch In Win and Intel packed into such a tiny enclosure. While we still haven't found a SFF enclosure appropriate for the overclocking enthusiast, these consumers usually aren't concerned with diminutive size, instead going after full tower behemoths. But for those that put spacing efficiency as a priority, particularly HTPC aficionados, the Mt. Jade does a great job at balancing size, cooling, noise, and aesthetics. Enthusiasts planning to build a new Core 2 Duo/Quad Home Theater PC will find the Mt. Jade to be the perfect case for the project. The only question is, will you go vertical or horizontal?
Other Reviews of Note
It's always nice to have more than one opinion on a component before you spend your hard earned money. For one, we may see something others missed, or vice versa. As with all reviews published at HardwareLogic, we'll not only give you our recommendation, but also point out reviews from some other great sites around the web.