Just before Christmas I found out I was going to have to move and wanted to do something with the giant pile of PC bits that was on my desk. I previously built a router and a NAS but with the clock ticking for the house move I really wanted to get a bunch of random parts put together into something a little more durable than a cardboard box – thus came the ultimate spare-part PC. The only problem was that I had no case and no money and the motherboard in question was a full sized ATX case making most motherboards expense.
The solution? The cheapest possible ATX LED case on the internet at just £25 – the CiT GForce Gaming Case. Gloss black plastic, three fans with green LEDs, a memory card reader, front audio and USB, a side window and a power supply shroud for just £25. What could possibly go wrong.
The parts to go inside this were everything I had leftover from previous builds and were quite the mix:
- ASUS KCMA D-8 Opteron workstation motherboard
- 2x AMD Opteron 4334 CPUs (6 cores each, 12 cores total)
- 2x Noctua NDO-D13 CPU coolers
- 1x Intel 40GB 320 Series SSD
- 32GB ECC RAM
- Palit GeForce GTX460
- 2x Intel PRO/1000 PT quad port gigabit network adapter
- OpenVox A400P11 1 FXO 1 FXS VOIP card
- 500W ACE single rail PSU
The first impressions unpacking this case are that it’s light. Really light. I would have spent the whole of the day believing it was made out of helium if it wasn’t for the fact that it immediately gave me one of the largest static shocks I’ve ever had and the poor quality steel folding then went out to give me a giant cut. At least I was less focused on the muscle twitches in my arm from that point on.
Aesthetically it’s the early 2000s again – it’s kind of what a gaming case drawn by a 7 year old would look like. And that’s OK. I love beautiful and elegant cases but I think there’s also a place for cases like this and the slightly-retro-yet-up-to-date stylings seem to work well. The combination of “angry gamer looks” with a side panel, PSU shroud, high-gloss black finish and multiple LED fans come together to create a case that looks a lot better than a completely generic box and includes the fans. There’ a bit of a strange bulge on the motherboard tray side of the case but other than that it’s OK.
Taking a look inside it becomes obvious that this may support ATX but that it won’t be easy to work on. Especially for a dual CPU system. There are very few cut-outs in the motherboard tray for able routing and the top panel is riveted on to the case completely removing access to where I need for cable routing the power to my motherboard. The 5.25“ bays are solely there for a fan controller – one bay isn’t even exposed on the front (I suspect these insides are shared across a range of cases) and the other hasn’t got any rear support so you couldn’t put a drive in there. Of the other drive bays the 3.5“ bays remained untested by me (although I used the space for them to house many cables) and of the 2×2.5“ bays only one had screw holes in the correct location – lucky for me but if you’re planning on multiple SSDs, think again. There were a few other works as well – namely the power cable for the rear case fan kept getting in the way of the IO plate (in the end I just rolled with this and lost a USB port), I had to remove one of fans from one of my Noctuas so it didn’t hit the rear fan and the IO plate wouldn’t even clip in place properly.
Saying all that we do need to step back here and realise that 3 LED fans cost more than this whole case so it’s pretty much buy two fans and get another one and a whole case for free. The case, whilst tight to work on, does have PSU shroud, built in controller for LED lighting on the front panel, a high amount of connectivity, thumb-screws for expansion cards and was finished in black throughout. The rear fan had green-tinted blades whereas those more hidden in the front of the case were untinted. It certainly feels every penny has been saved where it can and the balance of how this was done has been reasonable.
The cable routing was the biggest nightmare. In the end I had to replace the PSU with an EVGA one I picked up on the cheap with the hope that the cables would be long enough to run through the case and when that didn’t work I had to buy ATX extender as well. There are just no cut outs in useful places and there is no room to route cables with an ATX board. This also makes screwing the case in much more difficult. I would have liked to mount the motherboard first then install the CPU fans, but the rear cut-outs weren’t really designed with dual Opterons in mind. I managed maybe 7 of the motherboard screws in the end and finally got the ATX cable in courtesy of a screw driver and some persistence for a long time.
The moment of truth – would the case shut considering the monumental size of those CPU coolers? Yes. With maybe even a millimetre to spare. It was meant to be.
It was a nightmare to build such an overly-full system – but it worked. Fundamentally I managed a fully-specced server build inside a £25 case along with side-panel, PSU shroud and three LED fans. The fans themselves aren’t even that bad – they’re not particularly noisy and if you get bored of the lights they can be switched off from the front panel. The front case is designed in such a way that when the lights are off you can’t really see them and it all just looks like gloss black plastic.
I had no real idea what I’d be using the build for at the start of it but just wanted the put it together for some future purpose. I thought I might create a VOIP server and backup nodes for my router and active directory infrastructure in my house but honestly had no particular desire to do a lot with it. Half way through this build my wife’s iMac blew up leaving her with just a laptop. I still wanted to run ESXi but knew I’d also be creating a gaming PC for her from this – so I had to get the EVGA PSU and have also swapped one of the Intel NICs for a PCIe USB3 interface. That’s a lot of kit packed inside such a cheap case.
On the surface of it this case and build was not enjoyable to work with – but I doubt when it was designed on a shoe-string in China anybody ever expected it to be used for this purpose and it still worked. There were so many annoying quirks it kind of reminded me of building computers back in the early 1990s when a case like this would have cost hundreds of pounds if anybody had even considered building one.
Overall though this actually an amazing case for the money. Buy some fans and get a case for free? How is that not a good deal. There’s even an RGB variant now available for £35 which is crazily good compared to a lot of the RGB gear that’s out there. If you’re using a set of sensible gear here (mATX board, consumer CPU, single GPU, air cooling, single SSD and maybe an extra HDD) then I suspect this case would be a lot easier to work with and would provide a good home for a bargain-basement PC.
If you want to build a server? Well what’s £25… just for the frustration-factor and nostalgia I’d say give it a go.
In a future blog I’ll cover how I setup the ESXi to provide GPU pass-through for my wife and I’m also going to try and get a virtual Hackintosh working on this thing. So far I’ve had no luck getting it working completely (I can get El Capitan working with GPU pass through but games fail to launch due to missing CPU instructions in the Opteron). It is possible but probably won’t be addressing the virtual Hackintosh again imminently.