Armor+ ESA (internally called VH6001BWS by Thermaltake) is a big super tower case, being one of the few cases around featuring 10 slots for expansion cards (most cases have only seven), allowing the installation of four video cards and extended ATX motherboards. It also has seven 5.25” bays (although only six can be actually used), a big 190 mm side fan, sliding motherboard tray, ESA technology for monitoring and controlling the fans and the temperature inside the case and several other features that make this case really unique. Let’s take an in-depth trip inside this case.
Figure 1: Thermaltake Armor+ ESA case.
Figure 2: Thermaltake Armor+ ESA case.
This case features a big transparent window using a 4-mm thick acrylic plate, being thicker (and thus providing better quality) than the transparent window used on mainstream cases.
In Figure 3, you can see the front panel from this case. As you can see, this case has a total of 11 5.25” bays, but since the top bay is used by the ESA circuit and the bottom four bays are used by the hard disk drive cage, we actually have six 5.25” bays available for optical devices or liquid cooling solutions.
In order to install or remove 5.25” devices you need to open the two side doors present on the front of the case. These two doors – which are manufactured in aluminum – use a magnetic lock but on the sample we received the magnets used weren’t strong enough to hold the doors closed, making them to swing open when we moved the case around. Since we received this case far before it was released, we hope this defect to be corrected on the final product. You can also remove these two doors if you want, by pressing and sliding the hinges.
Figure 4: Front panel with the two doors opened.
[nextpage title=”Introduction (Cont’d)”]
On Figures 5 and 6 you can see the top panel from this case, which has two meshes. The one located at the rear part is used to help to dissipate the heat from the power supply. Since on this case the power supply is installed on the top portion of the case, there is no space for the installation of a fan between this mesh and the power supply. But you can install a 120 mm fan below the other mesh, which is located at the middle of the top panel.
On the front part of the top panel there is a sliding door. Below this door you can find a small storage compartment. If you decide to install a liquid cooling solution that is installed on 5.25” bays like Bigwater 780e, you will need to remove this compartment in order to have access to the water tank. In this case you will also need to move the ESA control circuit that comes installed on the upper-most 5.25” bay to a lower bay, since the water cooler will need to be installed on the upper-most bays.
This sliding door, however, has a lousy quality, at least on the sample we got. It would get out of place whenever we tried to fully open it and we would waste a lot of time trying to put it back in its rail. This is another point we hope Thermaltake fixes before releasing this product.
Figure 6: Storage compartment, buttons and connectors found on the top panel.
On the top panel you can find the power and reset switches, one FireWire port, four USB ports, one eSATA port and microphone input and headphones output. The amount of connectors available on this case is just perfect.
On the bottom panel, shown in Figure 7, we have the air intake for the two optional 120- or 140 mm fans or the two bottom hard disk drives (more about this later). Here you will find the thumbscrews used to hold the bottom hard disk drive modules.
Finally we have the rear panel in Figure 8. As we have already explained, this case has ten slots for expansion cards and not only seven like regular cases, including full tower models. Because of this feature this case is categorized as a “super tower” case. Ten slots allow you to install extended ATX motherboards and also up to four video cards. If you have a motherboard that accepts four video cards and you have four double-slot video cards then you need a case with at least eight slots. The funny thing is that so far the only platform accepting four video cards is CrossFireX from AMD/ATI and this case is targeted to NVIDIA-based motherboards, since it supports ESA monitoring technology.
On the rear panel you can also see a 120 mm fan –you can control its speed through ESA software, if you use an NVIDIA-based motherboard – and two holes on the top left side that can be opened if you use an external water cooling system or a water cooling system that uses an external radiator.
On this panel you can also see a handle on the left side. This handle is used to remove the motherboard tray, as we will explain later.
This case uses thumbscrews to hold the side panels to its body and the left side panel (the one you need to open to build your PC) can be locked with a key that comes with the product (see the key on the right side from Figure 8).
[nextpage title=”Inside Armor+ ESA”]
To open Armor+ ESA you need to remove the top and bottom thumbscrews, for a total of four screws. The rear panel has six thumbscrews and the middle screws should not be removed, as they are in fact levers that must be pulled up (right panel) or pushed down (left panel) for you to remove the side panels.
Figure 9: Removing the left panel.
Figure 10: Removing the right panel.
As we mentioned previously, the left panel has a 190 mm fan attached to it, glowing blue when the PC is turned on. There are two things you need to know about this fan. First, it uses only two wires, meaning that you can’t monitor or control its speed. Second, Thermaltake says that this case uses a 230 mm fan, which is incorrect. The fan used is smaller than advertised by the manufacturer.
Figure 11: Side 190 mm fan. You can’t monitor or control this fan speed.
In Figure 12 you have an overall look at the inside Armor+ ESA. This case uses a steel body, not aluminum like Cooler Master Cosmos S.
Figure 12: Inside Thermaltake Armor+ ESA.
[nextpage title=”The Motherboard Tray”]
One of the highlights of this product is its removable motherboard tray. By removing for small screws present on the rear panel you can remove the motherboard tray and the whole rear part of the case by pulling the handle present on the rear panel. Usually on cases with removable motherboard trays the rear part of the case stays attached to the case.
Figure 13: Removing the motherboard tray.
Since on this case the rear part of the case is attached to the motherboard tray and is also removed, you don’t need to uninstall daughterboards like video cards in order to remove the motherboard. Also, you don’t even need to remove the tray entirely from the case, so you can pull it just a little bit if you want to.
In Figure 14, you can see the tray removed from the case. We loved this tray, as you can build your computer with the tray removed from the case, where we have a lot of room to work, and then simply install the tray back to the case after finishing building the PC.
In Figure 14, you can see the rear 120 mm fan and the screwless mechanism used to hold daughterboards to the case (see a close-up in Figure 15). The rear fan uses a 4-pin connector and is installed on the ESA module, meaning that you can monitor and control its speed using the ESA software provided by NVIDIA.
Figure 15: Screwless mechanisms to hold daughterboards.
[nextpage title=”The Disk Drive Bays”]
This case has seven 5.25” bays and one of them is used by the ESA module, so in fact we have six 5.25” bays. Looking the front of this case you would get the impression that this case has a total of 11 5.25” bays. However, the hard disk drive cage isn’t installed inside the 5.25” bays as it happens on other cases we reviewed recently like Cooler Master Cosmos S. The reviewed case, instead, use a separated and independent cage that can be removed from the case (it uses thumbscrews, so no tool is needed) in order to facilitate the installation of hard disk drives but you can’t change its location as it happens on cases where the hard disk drive cage is installed inside 5.25” bays.
The main hard disk drive cage is installed perpendicular to the case and supports five hard disk drives. Armor+ ESA has two more hard disk drive modules on its bottom, allowing the direct installation of up to seven hard disk drives. The case come also with an adapter for transforming any 5.25” bay into a 3.5” one, so if you need you can install up to eight hard disk drives – if you don’t need the adapter for installing a floppy disk drive, of course.
Figure 16: Main hard disk drive cages.
Figure 17: Bottom hard disk drive modules.
Figure 18: Main hard disk drive cage removed from the case.
Each hard disk drive bay is a small drawer, so you simply need to open it by pressing its latch located on the right-hand side and pulling its front cover towards you. Then you will need to install the hard disk drive inside the drawer and fasten the hard disk drive to the drawer using two installation mechanisms that come with the case. So this case uses a 100% screwless mechanism to hold the disk drives. Unfortunately there is no mechanism to prevent noise is used (several cases use rubber rings or similar devices to lower the noise level produced by the hard disk drives).
Figure 19: Drawer where the hard disk drive should be installed.
Figure 20: Fastening the hard disk drive with a screwless mechanism.
Figure 21: Hard disk drive correctly installed in the drawer.
[nextpage title=”The Disk Drive Bays (Cont’d)”]
In front of the main hard disk drive cage there is a 120 mm fan. This fan us
es a 4-pin connector, being installed to the ESA module, allowing you to monitor and configure the fan speed through NVIDIA ESA software.
The two bottom hard disk drive modules can be removed for the installation of additional 120- or 140 mm fans – if you are not using these modules, of course. Their removal is done by unscrewing the thumbscrews present on the bottom panel of the case.
In Figure 23, you can see the adapter for installing a floppy disk drive or an eighth hard disk drive to the case.
Figure 23: 5.25”-to-3.5” adapter.
The installation of 5.25” units is really simple. With the front doors opened, remove the cover present on the 5.25” bay you want to use, slide the 5.25” unit until you hear a click and that’s it! It couldn’t be easier. If you think your device isn’t firmly attached to the case, you can use regular screws to fasten it to Armor+.
[nextpage title=”The ESA Module”]
As you know this case is compatible with ESA (Enthusiast Systems Architecture), an interface standard promoted by NVIDIA to monitor and control power supplies, cases, fans and water coolers. The rear and front fans that come with this case are connected to the ESA module, meaning that you can control and change their speed using NVIDIA ESA program. You can also attach liquid cooling systems and power supplies that are compatible with ESA to this module. Notice that the side fan isn’t ESA-compatible.
Figure 24: ESA module that comes installed on the upper 5.25” bay.
But what is really cool about this case is that it comes with two thermal sensors that you can install anywhere you want. The recommended places are the main hard disk drive and the GPU from your main video card, but we have a better suggestion. How about placing them on strategic spots inside the case where you can measure if the addition of an extra fan really decreased the temperature of your target component?
Figure 25: Thermal sensors and thermal tape that come with Armor+ ESA.
ESA is monitored and controlled through nForce control panel. You must have a motherboard based on nForce 680i, 780i, 790i or 780a chipsets to have this program running.
The ESA module must be connected to any USB header available on the motherboard.
[nextpage title=”Main Specifications”]
Armor+ ESA case main specs include:
- Application: Extended ATX and smaller form factors derived from this one.
- Material: One millimeter zinc-coated steel (SECC) with aluminum doors.
- Power supply required: Doesn’t come with the product.
- Available colors: Black.
- Side panel: Transparent (four millimeter acrylic).
- Dimensions: 23.6” x 9.6” x 24.6” (60.0 cm x 24.5 cm x 62.5 cm) (H x W x D).
- Net Weight: 37 lbs (16.8 Kg)
- 5.25” bays: Six.
- 3.5” external bays: One, converted from one 5.25” bay.
- 3.5” internal bays: Seven.
- Expansion slots: Ten.
- Fans: One 190 mm fan on the side panel rotating at 800 rpm, one 120 mm fan on the rear and one 120 mm fan on the front, ESA-compatible.
- Extra features: ESA module, two thermal sensors, storage compartment on top and 5.25” storage compartment.
- More Information: https://thermaltakeusa.com
- Average price in the US*: This product wasn’t available on the market yet when we published this review.
Armor+ ESA is a really impressive case that should satisfy high-end enthusiasts with lots of video cards and hard disk drives and are really worried with cooling.
The ESA module that comes with this case is excellent if you have an ESA-compatible motherboard, as you will be able to monitor and control the speed of the rear and front fans and also the temperature of up to two different places, as the case comes with two thermal sensors. You will be also able to monitor and control other ESA devices like power supplies and liquid cooling systems.
This case is big enough for a great internal airflow, but if you are worried you can install more fans: this case provides extra space for a 120 mm on the top, two 120- or 140 mm fans on the bottom and one 140 mm on the middle.
But what we really liked about this case is the fact that it holds up to seven (or eight, if you convert any of the 5.25” bays in a 3.5” using the provided adapter) hard disk drives. We can’t understand why some very expensive high-end cases like Cosmos S from Cooler Master come with just three or four hard disk drive bays.
Another highlight from this product is its removable motherboard tray, which will certainly help you a lot while you are building your PC.
This case hasn’t been released yet, and it will probably arrive at the market at the same price point as Cooler Master Cosmos S: USD 250. Since we have recently released this case, this is a good time to make a comparison between the two.
Cosmos S brings as advantages compared to Armor+ ESA the body made of aluminum, which makes it lighter than Armor+, and the upper and lower handles, which makes it easier to carry around.
But Cosmos S takes a beating on all other features. Armor+ ESA comes with an ESA module to monitor and control fans, temperature, power supplies and liquid cooling systems; it has an excellent removable motherboard tray; it is a truly 100% screwless case (on Cosmos S you still need to use screws to attach your hard disk drives); it has 10 slots; and it has more hard disk drive bays.
We found some flaws with Armor+ ESA that maybe are present only on the pre-production sample we’ve got:
- The top cover is badly designed, as it kept leaving its rails when we opened it and we lost some time putting it back in place.
- The magnets used on the front panel aren’t strong enough to hold the front doors, so the doors always opened when we moved the case, a thing that shouldn’t happen.
- The sample we received came with a 190 mm side fan but on Thermaltake website and on the product manual is written that the product uses a 230 mm side fan.
Even though we liked a lot the looks (and the handles in particular) from Cosmos S, Armor+ ESA is a better product. If it reaches the market really costing the same thing or less than Cosmos S, then it will be a great product if you have the money to buy it. At least with this product the price makes sense for what it brings, which isn’t the case with Cosmos S.
Unfortunately it doesn’t bring a good cost/benefit ratio for the average user, but this product isn’t targeted to Average Joe
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