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Inwin Maelstrom: An Affordable Gaming Case

The Inwin Maelstrom is a modestly priced gaming case with sturdy construction, plenty of ventilation and a large 22cm fan on the side panel blowing directly over the graphics card area. You may have to look beyond its appearance, though, to see its high performance and value.

March 4, 2010 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Inwin Maelstrom
EATX Tower Case
Manufacturer
Market Price

Gaming style cases tend to place cooling above all other things, so they are
usually very large and equipped with plenty of fans. They are also typically
very sturdy and have a few nice touches, little things that make adding/removing
components and cleaning up cable clutter easier. These qualities also make them
fairly expensive, with many going for well over $150.


The box.

The Inwin Maelstrom is one of the few affordable gaming cases, available on
line for $100. It is tall and deep, and ships with four fans including a large
22cm model on the side, so cooling doesn’t seem like it would be an issue, though
it probably lacks the refinement of higher-end cases from manufacturers like
Antec and Silverstone. That much is obvious from the image on the box, which
we are sad to report, is pretty much dead-on. The Maelstrom is perhaps the ugliest
case we’ve had the displeasure of setting our eyes upon.


The Inwin Maelstrom.

The front bezel juts out in all directions and has two green bars resembling
the steps you might climb when serving on a submarine or fixing a sewer. It
seems to make a perfect handhold for the case, but there is actually a small
warning label that discourages that idea. It’s something that could be easily
overlooked as the print is small, and the black and yellow hazard stripes look
right at home with the case’s aesthetics which evokes the image of a dangerous
industrial environment. The motif has a radioactive flare given the conspicuous
fluorescent yellow grommets on the side fan and interior fan blades, all of
which are undoubtedly UV reactive. It is noticeably sturdy though so if we had
to use one word to describe the Maelstrom would be beastly
both negative and positive connotations apply.



Accessories.

The accessories include a bag of screws and standoffs, a pair of 3-pin to 4-pin
molex adapters for the included 120mm fans, two extra spacers for the power
supply, and an additional thumbscrew in case you lose one of the four that secure
the side panels. There’s also a small PC speaker, and two plastic hooks for
cleaning up cable clutter. Hidden inside the case is a caddy in the 5.25″
bay that holds tool-less drive rails.

Specifications: Inwin Maelstrom
(from the
product web page
)
Case Size Full Tower Chassis
Material SECC(0.8~1.0mm)
Dimension (H x W x D) 550 × 225 ×
601mm
Power Supply 1. ATX 12V
2. PS 2 or EPS Power
I/O Expansion Slots 8 Slots
Thermal Solution 1. Front: 12cm Fan x 1
2. Rear: 12cm Fan x 1
3. Top: 12cm Fan x 1 (Maximum Supports 12cm Fan x 2)
4. Side: 22cm LED Fan with switch x 1 (Maximum Supports 12cm Fan x 6)
5. Water-Cooling Hole Ready
Front I/O 1. USB 2.0×4
2. e-SATA×2
3. IEEE 1394A×1(FireWire)
4. HD/AC’ 97 Audio
PSU 1. ATX 12V
2. PS 2 or EPS Power
3. PSU Dust Filter
External Drive Bay 1. 5.25” × 5
2. Includes FDD Cage x 1 (5.25)
Internal Drive Bay 3.5” x 6
M/B 1. ATX
2. Micro ATX
3. E-ATX (12″ x 13″)
Transfer Rate 1. 3.0Gbps w/ SATA II
2. 1.5Gbps w/ SATA I

THE EXTERIOR

The Maelstrom is a large, tall case, measuring 21.6″ high. As the case
is mainly composed of 0.8mm~1.0mm steel construction, it’s also fairly heavy,
weighing in at close to 27lb.


The front bezel is dominated by large grills which act as external
drive bay covers. There is a single 12cm fan pre-installed at the bottom.

 


The rear is also heavily ventilated with square holes punched to the
side and underneath the expansion slots. Even the slot covers allow air
to pass through as they are mainly mesh. There are four holes above the
power supply for tubing or external wiring.

 


The right side panel is completely solid, but the left side panel
has an extremely large honeycomb grill with rubber grommets attached for
a 22cm fan as well as six optional 12cm fans if you prefer. The big fan
has blue LEDs which can be turned off/on using a small switch off to the
side — this seems to be clash with the case’s color scheme.

 


The case has one 12cm at the rear, another one at the top with the
option for one more. There are line-out, mic, four USB, one FireWire,
and two eSATA ports near the front. The power and reset buttons require
a good amount of force to engage them so they are unlikely to be activated
by accident.

 


The case feet are fairly standard and can be swung out if desired.
Another vent is located near the rear, acting as an intake for the power
supply.

 


The side panels measure 1.1mm thick and have a rough gritty feel to
them. The left panel and the bottom of the right panel are lined with
foam, though it’s rather useless given how many holes have been punched
into the case.

THE INTERIOR

The case is fairly wide as it supports EATX motherboards. It has
8 expansion slots and room for 5 x 5.25″ and 6 x 3.5″ drives.


The interior has a fairly standard layout with the spot for the power
supply at the bottom/rear and a side-mounting hard drive cage at the bottom/front.
There is some separation between the expansion slots and the power supply,
so extra long video cards installed in the top PCI-E 16x slot will not
run into the hard drive cage.

 


One nifty feature is the hole behind the CPU socket area for easy
installation of third party heatsinks that require access to the rear
of the board. On the other hand, no thought has been given to cable management;
the hooks and holes common on enthusiastic cases are nonexistent on the
Maelstrom.

 


Four plastic knobs elevate the power supply to give it extra breathing
room.

 


The pre-installed 12cm fans have 3-pin connectors are mounted with
regular screws. The fan grills are raised slightly so fans do not lay
flush against the case.

 


The cables for the LEDs, switches, and top ports are located at the
top of the case. Just below sits a 5.25″ to 3.5″ external drive
converter.

 


The front bezel can be removed simply by pulling at the bottom, but
it requires a scary amount of force to do so. All the front covers can
be removed for dust cleanup.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

  • CPUBurn
    processor stress software.
  • FurMark
    stability test to stress the integrated GPU.
  • GPU-Z to
    monitor GPU temperatures and fan speed.
  • SpeedFan
    to monitor system temperatures and fan speeds.
  • Seasonic
    Power Angel
    AC power meter, used to measure the power consumption
    of the system.

System temperatures and noise levels were recorded with SpeedFan and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using 4 instances of CPUBurn to stress the CPU and FurMark
with the Xtreme Burn option to stress the GPU.


The Maelstrom with our test system installed inside.

Stock Fan Measurements

Noise and speed measurements were made of one of the three 12cm fans in our
foam harness as per our standard
fan testing methodology
. The 22cm intake, due to its rather unique design,
was left mounted on the side panel of the case. Its diameter is 22cm, but its
corners measure 18.4cm across while the mounting holes are separated by 17cm.


The 12cm fan is a fairly standard looking 7 blade fan with ceramic
bearings.

The 22cm intake fan has 11 straight blades and sleeve bearings.

 

Fan Measurements
Fan Voltage
12cm CeraDyna FD1212-A3133E
22cm Inwin DFS223012H (mounted on side panel)
Fan Speed
SPL@1m
Fan Speed
SPL@1m
12V
1170 RPM
16~17 dBA
640 RPM
24 dBA
9V
920 RPM
13 dBA
560 RPM
20 dBA
7V
720 RPM
11 dBA
390 RPM
16 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/rear
of fan
Fan Measurements (mounted in system)
Fan Voltage
top
exhaust (12cm)
rear exhaust (12cm)
front intake (12cm)
side intake (22cm)
12V
17~18 dBA
20 dBA
31 dBA
24 dBA
9V
14 dBA
14 dBA
25 dBA
20 dBA
7V
12 dBA
11~12 dBA
20 dBA
16 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case side panel

The 12cm fans are fairly quiet, buzzy at 12V, mostly smooth and benign at 9V,
and inaudible at 7V from one meter away in our foam harness. They are slightly
louder when mounted in the rear/top positions even though they are further away
from the mic as we measure the distance from the center of the left side panel.
The front intake is considerably louder as it is both closer to the mic and
impeded by an air filter. The 22cm fan sounds very smooth and has surprisingly
very little bearing chatter which is usually a problem for extremely large models.

Baseline Noise

Noise measurements were made of the case with the rear, top and side fans supplied
at various voltages in various configurations. The air cavity resonances inside
a case amplify fan noise, as do any vibrations transferred from the fans into
the case, so these measurements can be regarded as the baseline SPL levels for
the Maelstrom and stock fans. The intake fan was not used in our baseline tests
as the case has plenty of ventilation and a large side fan. It is unlikely the
front fan would make much a difference in cooling the system (except perhaps
the hard drive) and given its location, it would be the loudest yet least beneficial
of the stock fans.

Baseline Noise Level
Fan Voltage
SPL@1m
top & rear
exhaust (12cm)
side intake (22cm)
off
7V
16 dBA
9V
20 dBA
12V
24 dBA
7V
off
14 dBA
9V
17 dBA
12V
23 dBA
7V
7V
17~18 dBA
9V
20 dBA
12V
24 dBA
9V
7V
20 dBA
9V
21 dBA
12V
25 dBA
12V
7V
24 dBA
9V
25 dBA
12V
26 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

As the large intake fan is arguably the case’s most interesting feature, we
will be pitting it against the 12cm fans on the top and rear together during
thermal testing to see which is more beneficial. In terms of noise, the pair
of 12cm fans are quieter than the 22cm on the side panel.


The case measured 21 dBA@1m with the top, rear, and side fans @9V.

Test Results – Configuration #1 (HD 4870)


Case with test system installed (HD 4870).

 

System Measurements (HD 4870)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Active System Fans
none
none
top, rear, side @9V
side @12V
top, rear @12V
SPL@1m
22 dBA
25 dBA
26 dBA
27 dBA
27 dBA
CPU Temp
32°C
51°C
45°C
46°C
47°C
SB Temp
47°C
58°C
47°C
46°C
52°C
HD Temp
38°C
38°C
37°C
37°C
38°C
GPU Temp
73°C
85°C
82°C
81°C
83°C
GPU Fan
Speed
870 RPM
1420 RPM
1340 RPM
1340 RPM
1360 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 24°C.

First we tested the system both at idle and on full load with none of the system
fans on. On load there was increase in CPU temperature of about 20°C and
a rise in the Southbridge and GPU temperature of more than 10°C. The graphics
card fan also sped up by 550 RPM, resulting in a 3 dBA increase in noise.

Then we tested with top and rear fans at full speed, followed by the side fan
only at full speed. Both configurations added 2 dBA to system noise, improved
the CPU temperature by a moderate amount and caused a reduction in GPU fan speed.
However the side fan generated a far lower Southbridge temperature as it actively
cooling the area around the video card, while the top and rear fans simply helped
exhaust. Running all three fans at 9V seemed to be the best compromise, as it
was slightly quieter yet delivered almost identical thermal results to the system
with only the side fan operating at full speed.


The system measured 26 dBA@1m with the HD 4870 configuration.

The overall acoustics of all the configurations tested with active
system fans could be described as loud, but with a smooth character. The noise
was mostly broadband, lacking tonality, whining, and vibration-induced effects.
It was fairly impressive for a gaming machine.

Comparisons

HD 4870 Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Raven 2*
Antec 1200*
SS Fortress
Inwin Maelstrom
Active System Fans
bottoms @low, top @9V
top, rears @low
top, rear, front @6V
top, rear, side @9V
SPL@1m
23 dBA
25~26 dBA
25~26 dBA
26 dBA
CPU Temp
47°C
46°C
54°C
43°C
SB Temp
43°C
49°C
60°C
45°C
HD Temp
31°C
31°C
35°C
GPU Temp
80°C
85°C
82°C
80°C
GPU Fan
Speed
1170 RPM
1760 RPM
1340 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed, 9V for Raven 2, Fortress.
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Antec 1200 tested with Antec CP-850, Raven 2 tested with Seasonic X650,
others with Cooler Master Silent Pro M700W.
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.

Compared to other large cases housing the same test configuration (except for
the power supply in some cases), the Maelstrom performs very well, posting the
lowest CPU temperature and the second lowest Southbridge temperature while maintaining
a moderate noise level. Though the sight of a large fan on a side panel punched
full of holes may scream ‘loud,’ on a high-end system with a hot graphics card,
sealing the entire panel off does very little for noise and would undoubtedly
result in poorer cooling.

To get significantly better results, you really need to ditch the conventional
tower design. The Raven 2,
with its rotated motherboard tray and large 18cm fans is easily the coolest
and quietest of the bunch.

Test Results – Configuration #2 (CrossFireX)


Case with test system installed (2 x HD 4870 in CrossFireX).

 

System Measurements (2 x HD 4870s in CrossFireX)
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
Active System Fans
none
none
top, rear side @9V
top, rear, side @12V
SPL@1m
22 dBA
35~36 dBA
30 dBA
31~32 dBA
CPU Temp
33°C
55°C
44°C
43-23°C
SB Temp
58°C
69°C
52°C
47°C
HD Temp
36°C
36°C
36°C
36°C
GPU #1 Temp
79°C
91°C
86°C
85°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed
950 RPM
2320 RPM
1720 RPM
1700 RPM
GPU #2 Temp
70°C
86°C
83°C
83°C
GPU #2 Fan
Speed
1020 RPM
1930 RPM
1620 RPM
1610 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed.
Ambient temperature: 23°C.

With no system fans active, adding a second HD 4870 in CrossFireX
increased the CPU and GPU temperature by about 5°C, while the Southbridge,
trapped between two 130W+ graphics cards, heated up by an extra 10°C. The
noise level was also a tremendous 10~11 dBA higher. This time, turning on the
system fans resulted in a decrease in noise as the side fan helped to cool the
GPUs and areas surrounding them, so their fans didn’t have to work as hard.
With all the fans running at 9V, the CPU temperature dropped by 11°C and
the Southbridge temperature was 17°C lower. The two graphics cards ran moderately
cooler as well, resulting in a decrease in fan speed and an overall system noise
reduction. Increasing the fan speed to 12V made the system 1~2 dBA louder with
very little thermal improvement except for the Southbridge.


The system measured 30 dBA@1m with the CrossFireX configuration.

Like the single GPU setup, the overall acoustics of all the configurations
tested had a smooth character, but was very loud.

Comparisons

CrossFireX Configuration Comparison (Load)
Case
Raven 2*
Inwin Maelstrom
Antec 1200*
Antec P183*
Active System Fans
bottoms @low, top @9V
top, rear & side @9V
top, rears, front, side @low
rear, front @low
SPL@1m
26~27 dBA
30 dBA
31~32 dBA
35 dBA
CPU Temp
48°C
43°C
46°C
58°C
SB Temp
65°C
51°C
61°C
69°C
HD Temp
32°C
35°C
29°C
39°C
GPU #1 Temp
87°C
85°C
87°C
99°C
GPU #1 Fan
Speed
1930 RPM
1720 RPM
2110 RPM
3030 RPM
GPU #2 Temp
83°C
82°C
84°C
89°C
GPU #2 Fan
Speed
1670 RPM
1620 RPM
1910 RPM
2400 RPM
CPU fan set to 100% speed, 9V for Raven 2.
All temperature results adjusted to 22°C ambient.
*Antec 1200 & P183 tested with Antec CP-850, Raven 2 tested with Seasonic
X650, Maelstrom with Cooler Master Silent Pro M700.

The advantage of having a large side fan blowing on the video cards became
evident when we tested the case using a CrossFireX configuration. The Maelstrom
runs cooler than the Antec 1200
in all respects except for the hard drive as we did not turn on the front fan.
It was also 1~2 dBA quieter due to lower GPU fan speeds. Neither come close
to the Raven 2 though, which remains tops for the moment.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR’s own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We’ve listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don’t change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

  • Inwin
    Maelstrom – Baseline at 1m

    — top, rear and side fans @9V (21 dBA@1m)
    — top and rear fans @12V (23 dBA@1m)
    — side fan @12V (24 dBA@1m)
    — top, rear and side fans @12V (26 dBA@1m)

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Inwin Maelstrom may be the ugliest computer case we’ve ever tested, but
we do not judge on looks alone — there are a number of things that impressed
us.

  • The quality of construction is above par given its cost; it has thick, heavy
    side panels that do not have any flex once mounted.
  • The motherboard tray is raised higher than the Antec
    1200
    , so the rear and top fans are closer to the CPU area for better
    cooling.
  • The power supply is elevated more than usual, giving it ample breathing
    room.
  • There is also convenient cutout in the motherboard tray to aid in the mounting
    of CPU heatsinks that require access to the backside of the board.
  • Last but not least, the power and reset buttons are very solid, flush with
    the case and require quite a bit of force to depress properly. This may sound
    trivial, but it’s a thoughtful touch; when we reviewed the Silverstone
    Raven
    , we must have accidentally rebooted it over a dozen times due
    to its over-sensitive reset and power buttons.

The only thing we dislike about the overall design, besides the aesthetics,
is the lack cable management features.

The Maelstrom looks like it would be a loud case, and it is, at least in its
stock configuration. The fans that ship with the case are actually decently
quiet on their own, but at full speed and mounted in the case, they are noticeably
louder. The fan mounting holes on the side panel have rubber grommets on them
to dampen vibration, but the rest of the fans are hard-mounted with screws.

Most gaming cases that pass through our labs have some type of fan control
included, usually three-speed switches. The Maelstrom is lacking in this department,
so you will have to find a way to undervolt the fans to keep system noise at
a reasonable level, assuming your other components do not drown them out.

Then there is the issue of the large vents at the top, back, front and in particular,
the left side panel. Fortunately the case makes the least amount of difference
when it comes to system noise, so having a case full of holes isn’t necessarily
a detriment if the correct components are selected and appropriate fan control
is exercised. The worst thing about the excess ventilation is probably the inevitable
accumulation of dust. No hard drive vibration damping is offered, but this is
typical; setting up your own suspension system is a trivial task.

When it comes to thermal performance, the Maelstrom is more than up to the
task, excelling against other large conventional towers, especially when tasked
with cooling multiple high draw graphics cards. The ample ventilation and the
case’s biggest asset, the 22cm fan that blows air directly over the graphics
cards, gives the Maelstrom a significant edge over cases like the Antec 1200
which only has a single, mostly ineffective 12cm side fan. The only cases we’ve
tested that provide superior cooling with lower system noise levels are the
Silverstones that feature the innovative rotated motherboard design and large
18cm fans blowing from the bottom up: the Raven RV01/RV02
and Fortress FT02. However,
all three carry a heavy price premium compared to the Maelstrom, which can be
found for as little as $100.

We would love for Inwin to address the issues we mentioned, and abandon the
industrial hazard motif for something more streamlined. As it stands, the Maelstrom
seems like the ultimate, inexpensive, no-frills gaming case. It’s not exactly
a diamond in the rough — more like a small truffle buried under a few feet
of dirt. If you can look beyond its exterior, there is solid value to be found.

Inwin Maelstrom
PROS

* Well ventilated = excellent cooling
* Solid construction/design
* Stock fans have good acoustics when undervolted
* Effective 22cm side fan

CONS

* Ugly as sin
* Tall, deep
* No fan control
* Poor cable management
* Undampened hard drive mounts

Our thanks to Inwin
for the Maelstrom sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest
Cases: Basics & Recommendations

Silverstone
Fortress FT02 ATX Case

Silverstone Raven Two
Antec Twelve Hundred Gaming Case
Antec Nine Hundred Two Gaming Case
Antec Sonata Elite ATX Mid-Tower
Case

Silverstone Fortress FT01:
Positive Pressure Case

* * *

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