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QMicra from PC Design Lab: SFF Super-sized

A high end SFF case from PC Design Lab recently arrived at the SPCR lab. It may be Small Form Factor (barely), but it’s got room for four drives, two graphics cards, an ATX power supply and tall heatsinks. It also comes with several silencentric features that set it apart from the competition. The question is, can it live up to its promise, or, more importantly, its price tag?

Sept 1, 2006 by Devon
Cooke
with Mike Chin

Product
QMicra from PC Design Lab
Full ATX, Small Form Factor Case
Manufacturer
PC
Design Lab
Market Price
US$330

The QMicra is a niche product par excellence. It is an unusual an all-aluminum Small Form Factor computer case designed and manufactured by new startup PC Design Lab. The company and its sole product are unusual in many ways:

  • It is not based in Taiwan, China or Korea. Almost every other case brand is either based or at least does its manufacturing in the Far East.
  • The company is based in Rochester, upper state New York, and its product, including all the components, is made there.
  • The Qmicra was designed not by an anonymous team but one engineer. It is original, not based on any previous case.
  • Qmicra began life not as a stand-alone case but a case to give high end SFF system integrators a unique selling proposition. It was made available to the enthusiast market in response to demand.
  • The current $329 starting price is substantially higher than you’d expect for a smallish computer case.

All of this — and the look, feel and overall design of the case — was different enough for us to make a call to Mr. LaLopa, the creator of the QMicra and the principal of PC Design Lab, as we started our review process. The chat lasted the better part of an hour, and it helped us to gain a more complete understanding of the Qmicra.

The concept of a SFF case is unusual — most SFF systems are sold
as barebones systems and often use proprietary or unusual form factors for the
motherboard and power supply. The QMicra is larger than most SFF systems: It can fit a standard micro-ATX motherboard, a standard ATX power supply, and
up to four hard drives. With the
right motherboard
, even dual graphics cards are possible.

The QMicra is manufactured in Rochester, New York, using locally sourced materials
and labor. This is the main reason for the unusually high price —
it’s tough to compete with Chinese labor. Initial anticipated volume was not high enough to justify seeking contract manufacturing in China. Independence from the rest of the
industry means that the QMicra shares very little with other products on
the market. It bears
little resemblance to any existing designs that we have seen. Its closest rival
may be the
Silverstone SG01 Evolution
, but there is much to set the QMicra apart.

How different is it? Perhaps an analogy with the automotive industry is in
order. Most cases are built like trucks: They are built on frame that provides
a mounting point for the outer shell and all of the internal components. The
QMicra is built like a car: There is no frame to speak of; structure is provided
by the shell in conjunction with the internal components. The advantages of
this style of construction (called unibody
construction
) are similar to those embraced by the automotive industry.
The QMicra is one of the lightest cases we’ve ever encountered, and less internal
structure means fewer points of metal on metal contact that could cause vibration
noise. And, like modern automobiles, the QMicra uses the internal components
to add rigidity to the case. No word on whether it comes with front or side
crumple zones…

Some of the packing material was damaged in transit, but the case itself
was unharmed.


The usual hardware bits… and a small blue multitool!!?!

SPECIFICATIONS: QMicra (from PC Design Lab’s
web
site
)
Colors
– Silver Metallic
– Two-Toned Black Anodized Aluminum
– Black Powder Coating
Case
– 1/16″
Aluminum Base
– Stainless Steel Bezel,
– 1/8″ Lexan Acrylic Face
Motherboard
Micro-ATX
Power Supply
Standard Sized
ATX
External Bays
2 x 5¼” Bays,
1 x 3½” Bay
Storage Bays
4 Hard Drives
Card Slots
4 x PCIe
Cooling
4 x 80mm fans
Dimensions
Height: 9¾”
[248mm] Width: 11¼” [286mm] Depth: 14″ [356mm]
Weight
5½ pounds
[2.5 kg]

 

FEATURE HIGHLIGHTS: QMicra (from PC Design Lab’s
web
site
)
FEATURE & BRIEF OUR COMMENT
Precision made using only high quality materials for an
attractive finish and long lasting construction
They all say this.
Designed to be used with mATX mainboards, ATX sized PSU’s,
high performance hardware and large custom heatsinks
Most SFF systems use
proprietary parts and most are not suitable for high end components.
Advanced front to back airflow cooling solution provides
excellent dispersion, a high flow rate and unbelievably quiet operation
Unbelievably quiet? We
don’t believe it.
Tool free access and removable sub-assemblies make system
construction, maintenance and upgrading extremely easy
Ease of use is important,
and hard to come by in SFF systems.
Aftermarket part technologies are integrated as standard
features to enhance function and offer a high potential for customization
Perhaps this refers to
the full systems that PC Design Lab builds?
Prominent high quality switches for reliable operation
Not that switch reliability
is usually a problem…
All screw holes are steel reinforced to resist stripping
Very important for an
aluminum case.
Rounded edges and corners
Child-safe?
Enhanced portability due to its small size and light weight
They’re going after the
LAN party market here.
Available in several custom color combinations and finishes
A variety of different
colors are available, not just the usual black and silver options.

DESIGN AND LAYOUT

Our first impression of the QMicra left us a little underwhelmed. Taste is personal,
of course, but the aesthetics of the QMicra didn’t appeal to us. It seems too big to keep on a desktop — not a positive trait in what
is supposed to be a SFF case. The two rods that run lengthwise
along the top corners of the case seem out of place, despite their usefulness
as carrying handles.


That’s, uh, pretty large for a small form factor case.

Airflow is very simple, with spots for two 80mm fans on both the front and
the back panels. High end systems may require all four fans, but most systems
should be fine with two fans in the back. A little extra airflow will inevitably
be provided by the power supply as well.

No stock fans are provided with the QMicra. PC Design Lab recommends fans from
Arctic Cooling, but leaves the choice of fan to the user. Given the price, this
is surprising, but perhaps it is understandable in a product aimed at the DIY
market. Many enthusiasts would just replace the stock fans with their own favorite
model, so why include them at all?


Intake vents for two 80mm fans are about 50% restricted.

The bottleneck for airflow will most likely be the two front intakes, which
are about 50% restricted by the front panel and the acrylic fascia. The exhaust
vents have wire grills that are much less restrictive.


The exhaust vents are much better, using unrestrictive wire grills.
Extra airflow will be provided by the fan in the power supply.

Without any parts installed, the QMicra feels very flimsy. The lack of an internal
frame and the very thin aluminum panels do not inspire confidence that the QMicra
can stand up to many changes in location. Rapping on the sides produced a sharp
rattle that made us wonder whether the case would be suspect to vibration induced
noise. However, once our test system was installed, the system felt and sounded
much sturdier. Much like car manufacturers use internal parts to reinforce the
car’s body, the QMicra uses the internal components (especially the power supply)
to give the shell much more rigidity than it has when empty.

INSIDE

Discovering how to remove the outer cover proved a bit of a challenge initially, especially
since there was no manual included to tell us what to do (we are assured that
a manual is in the works). Eventually we realized that the feet could be unscrewed,
releasing the cover from the body, as shown in the photo below. The feet are
made of rubber that is intended to reduce vibration, but they are probably
too hard to help much.


Special rubber feet serve two purposes: Vibration damping and securing the
cover to the base.

The two handles also needed to be removed before the cover could be pulled
off. The handles are secured with thumbscrews (anodized blue on our sample)
that unscrew easily. That done, the cover can be pulled off — stiffly —
by pulling the two sides apart and up. The cover flexes several inches in the
process, but it must be stronger than it looks as it survived several installations
without any apparent damage.


The U-shaped cover flexes as it is removed.

The inside of the cover is covered with a soft foam. The foam is Akasa
Pax Mate
, which we didn’t think much of in comparison with AcousticPack and some other panel damping products. It does not have enough mass to stop low frequency
resonance, but it should help smooth out the sharp higher frequencies.

The edges of the cover are lined with rubber sealing strips that prevent metal
on metal contact between the cover and the rest of the case. Although effective
at doing its job, the strips easily slip off the edge, ruining
the attempt at improving fit and finish. A little glue would go a long way!


The top panel uses rubber sealing strips and Akasa Pax Mate to cut down on
vibration noise.

The interior of the case is divided into two sections: A main section for the
motherboard and expansion cards on the bottom, and a tray for the power supply
and the drives up top. The two sections are not isolated from each other, although
it would not be difficult to construct a duct for the power supply. The majority
of airflow should pass through the bottom of the case in a straight line from
front to back. A power supply with straight-through airflow should be able to
pull a little air towards the top of the case, but the only parts that would
really benefit are the optical drives, so the effort may not be worth it.


The top tray holds the power supply and the optical drives.

The QMicra boasts enough room for four hard drives, but at first glance it’s
hard to see where they fit because there are no conventional drive bays. Instead,
the drives hang from an aluminum harness that suspends two drives along each
side of the case. The harness is made of thin, flexible aluminum, and is meant
to absorb drive vibration, acting as a spring that isolates the drive from the
rest of the case.


Hard drives hang from a harness that straddles the optical drive bays.

Below the drives, the intake vents both have wire filters that obstruct the
air even further. The wire mesh is quite small, and will probably need regular
cleaning to ensure that they don’t block the vent entirely. They are easily
removable, so if extra cooling is needed, removing the filters is a good place
to start. However, once the system is assembled, accessing those filters will be much more difficult.


Wire filters for the intake vents add further restriction.

The back half of the tray is reserved for the power supply. When it is all
screwed in, the power supply clamps the whole case together; without the power
supply installed, the upper tray is not fixed to the back panel. The power supply
forms an integral part of the internal structure, and greatly strengthens the
case when installed.


Power supply goes here, clamping the tray to the back panel when screwed
in.

INSTALLATION

Lower Section

The easiest way to build the QMicra is from the bottom up. The top tray can
be removed by undoing a few thumbscrews, leaving the main body wide open. With
the exception of a few tall heatsinks, there shouldn’t be many combinations
of hardware that won’t fit. Our test system used a sizable Zalman
CNPS9500 heatsink
that managed to squeeze under the upper tray.

Extreme performance enthusiasts should take note that dual graphics cards
or any unusually long cards can potentially obstruct one or two of the hard
drive bays. If you’re buying the QMicra for a box-with-everything, you might
want to reconsider your 4-drive RAID array. Regular users or anyone who cares
about noise can ignore this problem. You won’t want four drives in your system; they will make too much noise for the system to be very quiet.

Expansion cards fit easily into place, even after upper tray has been reassembled.
Cards are locked into place by a plate that is secured with thumbscrews outside
the case, where they can be accessed without a screwdriver at any time. This
is convenient, but we worry a bit about the metal plate that clamps the
cards in place — it had a habit of rattling whenever the system was running
until we damped it with a piece of foam.


Access to the expansion slots is from the outside of the case.

We like the plastic-headed thumbscrews. These are intended for use with the
hard drives and a total of 16 are included — enough for four drives. Our
test system only had one drive, and we found that the spare thumbscrews came
in handy for the motherboard and the power supply as well.


A fan splitter, lots of cable ties, and various screws are provided.

As noted, the QMicra ships without any fans, so these also need to be
installed before the top tray is installed. A small strip of silicone tubing
is included that can be used to make grommets for the fans or any other hardware
that might benefit. We used them on the hard drive and the power supply as well
as the fans. Unfortunately, the tubing is not especially soft, nor does it prevent
direct metal to metal contact between the screw and the frame, so the grommets
are likely to be of limited use.


A strip of silicone tubing is included so that damping grommets can be made…


…and the fan screws come with grommets already in place.

Upper Section

With the motherboard, CPU, heatsink, fans, and any expansion cards all in place,
the upper tray can be reinstalled and the power supply and optical drives with
it. Both of these are easy to install, as they can be laid into place from above
and screwed into place with ease. However, the short length of the case may
cause problems when both the drive and the power supply are longer than usual.
The photo below shows the issue we had trying to fit an Antec NeoHE 430 power supply (1cm longer than
standard) along with a standard optical drive. The shorter optical drive on top
fit perfectly, and it is the one we ended up using.


Fit between the power supply and the optical drives may be a bit tight.

Hard Drive

The hard drives are the last to be installed. Installation can be as simple
as hanging the drive from the harness by two thumbscrews. Multi-drive setups
will benefit from screwing a bracket to the bottom of the drives to prevent
them from making contact with each other, but this is only likely to be an issue
in systems with three or more drives. In most systems, the extra bracket should
not be necessary.

The problem with the extra bracket is that one end simply rests against the side of the optical drive bay, making it a point of potential vibration noise. This issue could be much ameliorated by the addition of a thin damping pad on either of the contacting surfaces. It’s something that could be easily added by the manufacturer.


The harness flexes enough to provide some isolation from drive vibration.


With the bottom bracket attached and the HDD on the outside position, the HDD is still free to sway back and forth, with the bracket edge rubbing against the side of the optical drive bay. This would not happen when the case is stationary.

With the bottom bracket attached and the HDD on the inside position, the HDD is quite stable, with the bracket edge barely touching the side of the optical drive bay. If a second drive was mounted on the outside position, then the bracket edge would press more firmly against the upper internal platform.


Drive hanging in place without bottom bracket. This position caused the drive to bump into the filter
below, so we ended up moving the drive to the inner bay, where it didn’t hang so far
inwards.
Ralf Hutter’s Take on the QMicra’s HDD Mounting System
Ralf Hutter is the nom de plume of a once-very-active SPCR writer who has extensive experience with metals from his occupational life. He had these comments to make about the aluminum yoke used as the HDD mounting bracket in the QMicra:RH: I would not be entirely comfortable with the flexy HDD mounting bracket because of…
  1. the constant vibration effecting the drive, and
  2. the aluminum brackets hardening over time and potentially cracking

We asked, How is this any different from any other method of soft-mounting?

RH: It is different from other methods of soft-mounting because it’s only attached at one end and it “swings in the breeze,” so to speak. Most every other soft-mounted HDD that I’ve ever seen is supported on at least two opposite sides, if not all four. And it’s obvious that it is swinging because of the sagging that’s apparent in the bracket.
(RH refers specifically to the photo of the drive mounted without the bottom bracket, which is the way we installed it.)

We asked, Would the fact that the harness is anodized make it less susceptible to metal fatigue?

RH:
Anodizing won’t make any difference at all. There’s sort of two types of anodizing. The first is for appearance (think of “bumper chrome”) and the second actually “case-hardens” the surface of the metal to a depth of .002″ or so (think “industrial hard chrome”). The first type is what you see on most consumer products. It can come in many various colors, but imparts no surface hardening to the metal. The second type (called “Type III” in the biz) actually provides a tough outer protective surface, but is not available in any color other than basic green-gray. The QMicra case is definitely not Type III anodized.

Aluminum is one of those ductile metals that work-hardens and becomes brittle. Maybe a HDD doesn’t weigh enough to cause that to happen over time, but I wouldn’t like to bet my drive(s) on it.

In light of RH’s comments, if you expect to subject your QMicra to a lot of movement (ie, a LAN party gaming rig), it might be prudent to use the bottom bracket and mount the HDD on one of the inside positions. If the resulting HDD vibration transfer causes too much increase in noise, discard the bottom bracket and wedge in a piece of softish foam to support the bottom edge of the HDD(s) to keep the aluminum yoke from flexing as much. Mind you, it might be a long time before the aluminum could become stressed enough to crack or break.

THERMAL & ACOUSTIC TESTING

Thermals and noise comprise the core of most SPCR equipment reviews. Two variations
of the same system were installed and tested in the QMicra. The base components
are listed below. They are the same components used in our recent reviews of
Antec NSK3300 and the
Lian Li PC-101
, so these cases will be used as reference points. Note that
different power supplies were used for all of the systems in question. This
may well affect noise results.

DFI RS482 Infinity MicroATX motherboard
This new ATI Radeon Express 200 chipset model from DFI has the most flexible and user-adjustable BIOS we’ve seen on any microATX board, comparable to the best of the full-ATX boards. It allows the CPU core voltage to be manually set without disengaging Cool’n’Quiet, which simply applies the manual voltage adjustment to the various CPU power states. It allowed the X2 4800+ to be undervolted by 0.1V throughout the testing, for very modest power consumption in every load. It has no fans.

AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+
processor

Not long ago, this was AMD’s current second fastest desktop processor, one
small step down from the flagship FX-60. This particular dual-core sample
has a rated TDP of 85W. Previous testing showed it easily undervolts by 0.1V
or more, with resulting power draw at full load of just ~60W at the 2x12V
motherboard socket.

Antec Neo HE power
supply
One of the quietest power supplies on the market, and the only one with
straight-through airflow that we recommend.

OCZ Technology Gold PC4000 2 x 512MB DDR matched dual channel memory.

Samsung SP2504C
250GB SATA 3.5″ hard drive
A quiet 3.5″ desktop reference. It measures 21~22 dBA@1m.

Other components included:

Gigabyte
GV-NX76T256D-RH
GeForce 7600 GT video card
A passive midrange video card that is relatively power efficient.

Zalman CNPS9500
CPU HSF

A heavy duty heatsink for a hot processor, this is an effective cooler even
undervolted to 5V. It measures 23 dBA@1m.

Windows XP Pro SP2 was installed and fully updated, and our usual gamut of software tools installed:

  • SpeedFan
    4.28
    for CPU and other hardware monitoring.
  • CPUBurn
    for processor stress testing.
  • ATI Tool provides
    a steady high load to the GPU in a reduced window, allowing other tools to
    be in use at the same time.
  • RivaTuner
    allows the core temperature of the GPU to be monitored over time.

Other tools:

TEST RESULTS

Ambient conditions were 23°C and 19 dBA. It is summer, and the lab is a
few degrees warmer than in winter. This has an effect on both thermals and noise,
especially thermally speed-controlled fans.

The system was initially configured without the VGA card installed. The CPU
fan was undervolted to 5V, and the two system fans (80mm Nexus models) ran at
a full 12V. Various other configurations were tried in turn to see how the case
responded to changes in airflow and system heat. Details of each configuration
are listed in the table below.

QMicra Configuration Details
Configuration
CPU Temperature
GPU Temperature
System Power Draw
Noise Level
#1
– CPU Fan @ 5V
– System Fans @ 12V
Idle:
34°C
N/A
Idle:
46W
Idle:
28 dBA@1m
CPUBurn:
57°C
CPUBurn:
145W
CPUBurn:
30 dBA@1m
#2
– CPU Fan @ 5V
– System Fans @ 7V
Idle:
35°C
N/A
Idle:
46W
Idle:
24 dBA@1m
CPUBurn:
61°C
CPUBurn:
147W
CPUBurn:
28 dBA@1m
#3
– CPU Fan @ 5V
– System Fans @ 7V
– PSU ducted
Idle:
34°C
N/A
Idle:
46W
Idle:
24 dBA@1m
CPUBurn:
58°C
CPUBurn:
145W
CPUBurn:
24 dBA@1m
#4
– CPU Fan @ 5V
– System Fans @ 7V
– PSU ducted
– Passive GeForce
7600GT installed
Idle:
35°C
Idle:
48°C
Idle:
71W
Idle:
24 dBA@1m
CPUBurn:
60°C
CPUBurn:
53°C
CPUBurn:
169W
CPUBurn:
24 dBA@1m
CPUBurn +
ATI Tool:

58°C
CPUBurn +
ATI Tool:

73°C
CPUBurn +
ATI Tool:

178W
CPUBurn +
ATI Tool:

25 dBA@1m

Configuration #1

Our initial configuration did not impress us. The relatively slow-spinning
Nexus fans did cool acceptably well, but the noise level was too high in comparison
to other systems in the lab. To make matters worse, the fan in the power supply
began to ramp up when the CPU was stressed, pushing the noise level up even
more.

The character of the noise was not too bad, mostly a rippling whoosh with
an underlying growl. The damping foam appeared to do its job well, as there
was very little high frequency noise in evidence. The QMicra did not exhibit
the ringing hum that afflicts so many aluminum enclosures. Much to our surprise,
we could not hear the 120 Hz hum from the hard drive that we normally expect
to hear from a hard-mounted hard drive — it blended in well with the
rest of the system noise. Seek noise was audible, but surprisingly muted —
far from the sharp chatter that the drive exhibits when hard mounted in a
traditional drive bay.

Configuration #2

It was not difficult to improve the noise level: Turning the system fans
down to 7V each dropped the noise level to 24 dBA@1m — as good as most
systems get without very special attention to detail. Most of the noise reduction
came from the disappearance of airflow noise; the underlying growl did not
change very much. As a result, even though the system was significantly quieter
(audibly as well as measurably), the quality of noise was a bit more irritating
than the first configuration. Even so, it was far from terrible, and is probably
good enough for most households.

Cooling at this level suffered a bit. The 61°C load temperature was higher
than we like to see, but our 4800+ processor is tougher to cool than most.
More unfortunate was that we still hadn’t solved the problem of the power
supply ramping up. As a result, the noise under load increased and the quality
of noise got worse. Under load, this configuration sounded worse than any
other that we tested because the bulk of the noise was the drone of the power
supply fan, with little turbulence noise to smooth things out.

Configuration #3

The next step was to build a duct for the power supply to prevent it from
ramping up to cope with system heat. This was easily achieved by lining the
sides of the upper tray with thin closed cell foam sheets and opening the spare optical bay as
an intake. The construction took about half an hour.


The quick makeshift duct to provide a dedicated fresh air intake vent for the power supply.


Front panel view of PSU intake vent / duct.

The change was dramatic: The power supply ceased to be a significant source
of noise, even under load. The system now remained at a steady
noise level regardless of load, at least in the moderate ambient temperature of the lab. The noise character was much
the same as the idle in Configuration 2. The open drive bay did let
out a bit of fan noise that was sharper than before, but the change was minor
and much preferable to the increase in noise under load. (A bit of open cell foam at the entrance of the duct might help, at the expense of some intake airflow restriction.)

Surprisingly, isolating the power supply helped the CPU temperature significantly,
as it dropped back below 60°C. It seems likely that the Neo HE may have
been struggling for system airflow with the system fans, reducing the effectiveness
of both. With the power supply isolated from the rest of the system, air could
flow straight from front to back without being pulled upwards.

Configuration #4

One final configuration was tried to see how the system handled a graphics
card. The test card, a passively cooled GeForce 7600GT, is not as power hungry
as our recently deceased 6800GT reference card, but it also does not have
a fan, and relies entirely on system airflow to remove heat.

The result of the test was much as you’d expect: CPU temperature increased
slightly, but noise barely changed. The power supply did ramp up a tiny bit
with both the CPU and GPU under load, but the change was barely noticeable;
we had to take a measurement before we could confirm that we had heard a change.

The VGA card itself did not show any signs of overheating. The onboard sensor
reported 73°C when fully loaded, which is well within the bounds of safety.

MP3 RECORDINGS

QMicra, Config 1 (System Fans @ 12V) — Idle: 28 dBA@1m:
One Meter,
One Foot
QMicra, Config 1 (System Fans @ 12V) — Load: 30 dBA@1m: One
Meter
, One Foot

QMicra, Config 2 (System Fans @ 7V) — Idle: 24 dBA@1m:
One Meter,
One Foot
QMicra, Config 2 (System Fans @ 7V) — Load: 28 dBA@1m: One
Meter
, One
Foot

COMPARATIVES

Antec NSK3300, Config 1 (System Fan @ L): 24 dBA@1m: One
Meter
, One Foot

Antec NSK3300, Config 2 (Rear Fan swapped to Nexus @ 5V):
23 dBA@1m:
One
Meter
, One
Foot

Lian Li PC-101, Config 1 (No Intake Fan): 24
dBA@1m:
One Meter,
One Foot

Lian Li PC-101, Config 2 (Intake Fan @ 5V): 26
dBA@1m:
One Meter,
One Foot

HOW TO LISTEN & COMPARE

These recordings were made
with a high resolution, studio quality, digital recording system and are
intended to represent a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.
Two recordings of each noise level were made, one from a distance of one
meter
, and another from one foot away.

The one meter recording is
intended to give you an idea of how the subject of this review sound in
actual use — one meter is a reasonable typical distance between a
computer or computer component and your ear. The recording contains stretches
of ambient noise that you can use to judge the relative loudness of the
subject. For best results, set your volume control so that the ambient
noise is just barely audible. Be aware that very quiet subjects may not
be audible — if we couldn’t hear it from one meter, chances are we
couldn’t record it either!

The one foot recording is
designed to bring out the fine details of the noise. Use this recording
with caution! Although more detailed, it may not represent how the subject
sounds in actual use. It is best to listen to this recording after you
have listened to the one meter recording.

More details about how we
make these recordings can be found in our short article: Audio
Recording Methods Revised
.

CONCLUSIONS

We said at the beginning that the QMicra is a niche product, and we stand by that
assessment. Its niche is performance-oriented users who want something small
and quiet but refuse to make cooling or performance sacrifices to achieve it. Those who want to stuff
four drives and SLI into a portable box may find just what they’re looking
for in the QMicra. It will be smaller and lighter than most of the alternatives.
It might even be quieter. But, in absolute terms, it won’t be small, it won’t
be light, and it won’t be quiet compared to what is possible with a more modest
system. Ordinary users for whom one drive is plenty and external graphics are
optional can find much smaller, quieter, and cheaper alternatives by looking
to existing SFF barebones systems.

Overall, the cooling performance of the QMicra is not bad, although users will
be hard-pressed to stuff a high-end system into it without accepting a fairly
high minimum noise level. From a noise perspective, it’s fairly good so long
as its thermal limits are respected. The Pax Mate damping material, the rubber
sealing strips, the grommets, and the unique hard drive harness all do their
part to improve noise quality, even if they cannot make it quieter. In
this respect, the QMicra is similar to the
Antec P180
, which sounds nicer than most cases, even though
it may not measure much quieter.

Unfortunately, there a few niggling details that prevent us from wholeheartedly
recommending the QMicra. The front intakes are too restricted to provide optimal
airflow, and cooling suffers because of it. Fit and finish was also a bit
of an issue, which is a shame since there is considerable attention to detail
in the design. Details like the rubber sealing strips or the
silicone grommets are not implemented as well as they could be, and this detracts
from the overall quality of the case. It would be nice to see the sealing strips
glued down, and softer grommets that surround the whole shaft of the screw.

However, the biggest strike against the QMicra is the price. As mentioned at the beginning of this review, its closest competitor may be the
Silverstone SG01 Evolution
, which we have not reviewed, and which we’d probably find lots to nitpick at. However, it can be found on line for just ~$130 and it has more of the look most buyers expect of a high end case. A $330
case is probably acceptable for a large, well-equipped, extreme high end case, but the QMicra (case only without power supply or fans) looks like a pretty hard sell at that price. Perhaps the price will change if PC Design
Lab can grow its niche enough to mass produce the case.

Many thanks to PC
Design Lab
for the QMicra sample.

* * *

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