As we've discussed here at VL many times before, lugging a 20lb full tower to a LAN party, to put it mildly, is not the most enjoyable experience. To put it bluntly, it sucks. Thankfully, small form factor PCs (SFF) are getting to be pretty decent performers these days so the need to have a large box for portable gaming is becoming less of an issue.
However, one drawback to SFFs is that you're working with somewhat "closed" systems. We're not talking Mac Mini closed, but in most cases the motherboard is designed for the SFF chassis you've bought. Yes, you can swap those out for another, but unless you purchase a motherboard from the same manufacturer, there's no guarantee that some items integrated into the chassis (such as the external USB and audio connections) will fit. Also, 90% of the typical SFFs have limited expansion options as you'll usually find only one graphics slot (AGP or PCI Express) and one PCI slot.
Today we'll be looking at a new entry from , the X-QPack case. The case is designed to accommodate any Micro-ATX motherboard, which should give you a fair number of options on the market place. Since most Micro-ATX boards feature at least four expansion slots, you potentially have more options available than most SFFs.
The Aspire X-QPack Case
The X-QPack arrived undamaged for the most part in a box slightly bigger than the chassis itself. There were some plastic sheets protecting the many case windows, and peeling these off revealed some minor swirl marks on the windows. We did receive an early production sample, so hopefully this will be addressed in the retail packages. There was also no documentation, with neither hard or soft copies included. While putting together a system is a snap for most experienced users, we did find this omission surprising.
Once all the packaging was removed, we placed the X-QPack on the table for its mandatory photo session. The case is constructed primarily of aluminum and was extremely light, even with the power supply present. I'll admit that knowing the case was aluminum based prior to receiving it, I expected it to be light, but the weight, or lack thereof, did surprise me. According to Aspire, the shipping weight of the chassis is 10lbs, but my guess is they included the box as well since the case weighed a little over 8lbs on our household scale.
Taking a closer look, we figured that although the construction material is mainly aluminum contributed to the weight, Aspire did not use a whole lot of it. The sheets of aluminum were very thin, and although the X-QPack should be alright for general travel, you'll want to make sure it's secured in your car as we're certain the case will not stand up to much abuse.
As shown above, there are three case windows surrounding the chassis (one on each side, and one on top). Opinions on case windows vary, but if you're not a fan of them, look elsewhere as all of Aspire's colour choices feature the window. Speaking of which, we received a silver facade X-QPack, but there are to choose from. The paint applied to the body was not buffed to a mirror finish, and to be honest, it felt a little ghetto as brushing my finger along the case was a bit of a gritty ride. Again, we received an early unit, so this may be addressed in the final retail product, or this is just a problem that plagues the silver/black model.
On the rear of the case, we have the fan exhausts as well as the PCI backplates and rear IO. The IO backplate included follows the PC'99 specification, so chances are you'll need to replace it for your current Micro-ATX motherboard (which should have one included).
Moving on over to the front of the case, the front bezel is made of plastic. Normally, we feel a plastic front cheapens the overall look of a case when the rest of it has a custom paint job, but considering the work that needs to be done with the paint, the bezel doesn't feel too out of place.
Getting back on topic, the front bezel leaves a little something to be desired. There are two USB 2.0 ports, a front sound out and mic port as well as a FireWire connection. Maybe the only thing we would have liked to have seen is a rear and center channel for sound as well as a door perhaps to hid these connections when not in use. Just above these connections is a front LCD readout that displays the temperature of whatever you connect the internal temperature probe to.
The front bezel also features a number of stealth drive bays. There is room for two 5.25" devices and one 3.5" device. One problem we have with the stealthed bays is that there's no way to manually eject a CD when a CDROM is installed. Your only option is to eject the player through your Operating System, so we feel this is an oversight that needs to be addressed.
Since we've mentioned LAN gaming earlier, one thing we appreciate is the carry handle on the front of the case. Unlike some SFF units we've seen with a handle, this one folds down when not in use so it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. It's made of plastic as well, but it felt secure enough that we didn't worry too much about it snapping loose and crashing the chassis to the ground.
Three thumbscrews can be removed to open up the X-QPack. Normally, we're not fans of one-piece shells where the top and side panels come off as one, but on SFFs, this is actually a bit more convenient as it allows easy access to the case from all angles. We mentioned the poor paint job earlier, and in the last picture above (to the right) you can get an idea of what we're talking about.
There is a fair amount of working room inside the X-QPack, but to make things easier, Aspire thoughtfully made the motherboard tray removable. Unfortunently, a screwdriver is required as they did not use thumbscrews for the tray.
For cooling, there is one 120mm blue UV LED fan, as well as the 420W power supply setup for exhaust. What we like about these items is both feature a grid or honeycomb grill that should allow more airflow than a fan cutout in the chassis. While we'll be testing the cooling later in the review, we do have some reservations about having no intake fans in the front, but we'll see if that becomes a problem shortly.