Cooler Master is a name synonymous with high quality cases and cooling accessories. They were among the first to market premium aluminum cases, and to this day, these cases are among the best designed on the market. Of course, for a premium case, you paid the price for it, and for many users, it's difficult to justify $200 for a case when some of that money can go towards something else.
That's not to say that enthusiasts on a budget want something that looks like it was picked up at ACME CaseZone. Cooler Master has addressed this mainstream market with their Centurion line of cases, which shares many similar design features as their top-of-the-line cases, but uses steel primarily as the main ingredient instead of aluminum to reduce costs.
While I would consider their aluminum products high-end, the Centurion line is closer to entry-level. This is just my opinion, as I'm sure Cooler Master's marketing thinks differently, but the Centurion 531 does offer some very nice touches so let's see if the case is worthy of consideration if you're on a budget.
Cooler Master Centurion 531 – Exterior
As previously mentioned, the Centurion 531 is constructed primarily out of steel, which is stronger than aluminum, but also heavier. Surprisingly, compared to a case such as the WaveMaster, the Centurion is not really much heavier than that all aluminum case. The steel isn't very thick mind you, but the case seems strong enough to withstand the abuse most people give their cases under normal circumstances.
The front bezel is 100% aluminum, though there is no swing door such as those found on the Cavalier, WaveMaster or newer Praetorian cases. The front bezel design-wise is generally simple, though it does feature two columns on either side as well as having a somewhat of a gothic feel to its fan grill. The top portion of the bezel has five external 5.25" drive bays, which should be more than enough for the majority of users. As usual for Cooler Master, they only give enough 5.25" bay covers so that one is always left exposed. The majority of the time, a user is going to put an optical drive there, but it wouldn't hurt to throw in the extra cover.
The lower half of the bezel lies the front 120mm fan grill and lone 3.5" external drive bay. The drive bay has the Centurion logo stamped on it, though its appeal will be lost as soon as you put a floppy drive there. On the left hand side (as pictured above) of the grill, the power button rests on top, followed by the power and HDD activity LEDs, and finally, the reset button.
Both side panels are removable via a couple thumbscrews. The main side panel (to access the interior) features a couple of vented areas to allow some cool air to flow over the hottest components. We are not too sure how effective the rectangular vents will be for video card cooling, but the round vent works quite well thanks to the CPU fan duct on the opposite side.
The fan duct more or less forces air to be drawn from the outside directly and over the CPU heatsink. Normally, most CPU heatsinks draw airflow from above and into the CPU heatsink's fins. The air duct should limit any warm zones and allow cooler exterior air into the case to be more effective. However, many of today's modern performance coolers may be too large for the air duct. Either you'll need to remove it (which can be done with a simple screwdriver), or change your heatsink. Chances are, most will choose the former. As illustrated above, the side panel cannot go back in with a Zalman CNPS9500 in place.
There is a 120mm fan grill for exhausting air from the rear of the case and out. The fan grill is factory cut in a honeycomb manner which is better than the cheaper looking factory cut grills of yesteryear. While Cooler Master provides one 120mm intake fan in the front of the case, no rear fan is included.
Rounding things out on the exterior are the FireWire/USB and sound connections. For those of you who prefer using headphones for late night gaming, or if you tend to plug in a lot of peripherals into the USB or FireWire ports, you'll appreciate the extra connections Cooler Master provides on top. What I like about the placement, is that it keeps these connections from tarnishing the look of the case (at least when viewed head on). It's not really convenient if you tend to place the case on your desktop, but it sure beats reaching behind the case to plug in headphones or a USB key.
Removing the fan duct side panel exposes the interior of the Centurion 531. Unlike their premium midtower cases, Cooler Master chose not to include a removable motherboard tray in the Centurion. Normally, we prefer having a removable tray as it makes upgrading a lot easier, but there is enough room inside that working isn't too difficult. Unlike many budget cases, no power supply is included with the Centurion 531. This is really no big loss in our opinion since these PSUs tend to be of poor quality.
We've already mentioned the thumb screws for the side panels, and in keeping with the tool free design philosophy, the Centurion uses snap rails for installing the hard drive and optical drives, negating the need to use Phillips screws and a screwdriver for installation.
Installing the CDROM, or any other 5.25" device is done by pushing the device through the front of the case until it slides into place. Once the drive is installed, you snap the lock on the rail into place, thus securing the device.
Hard drive installation works a bit differently, but no more difficult. There are drive rails that need to be inserted into the drive as most other forms of rails. The difference here is no screwdriver is needed. Simply pop them in and slide the drive into place.
In front of the hard drive bay (or to its side depending how you look at it) is the 120mm LED intake fan, which is included with the case. As per ATX specifications, the fan draws in exterior air through the bottom and into the case where it's exhausted the rear fan, if installed. A byproduct of the fan's case cooling is it also cools the hard drives as well.