The ‘Worst Case of 2019’ is great!

I built a PC in the ‘Worst Case of 2019’ … and I liked it so much I did another one.

So the title is a bit clickbaity, but this really was my experience with the Cooler Master Q500L. While many of the reviews were scathing (and they had their reasons), I have been extremely pleased with these cases.

How it all started was that when I moved into my new apartment after many years as an itinerant tenant, I decided to get my PCs off the floor and into some sort of ‘server rack’. Since this was going to be in my living room, I modified an IKEA cupboard to put next to the desk. The result was pretty good.

I left the back off and with the door open there was plenty of airflow. And with the door closed, nobody noticed all of the IT. This worked out really well.

It was only when my main Windows PC developed a whistling power supply that I had problems. This PC was a Gigabyte GA-Z87-HD3 / Intel i7-4770 based system – which is a full ATX motherboard. Replacing the PSU would be easy, but as I had never been happy with the thermals of the case, I decided to replace that as well.

Unfortunately, over the years since I got this system, full ATX cases had grown somewhat and I could only find two cases that would fit inside my ‘server rack’. As one of these was basically not available in Australia, I chose the Cooler Master Q500L. It was only when I looked at the reviews that I had second thoughts, for the Q500L not only had several very bad reviews (some referred to it as the ‘Master Oven’), but Steve (Gamers Nexus) rated it ‘The Worst Case of 2019’. He even took a Dremel to it for a bit of DIY airflow improvement (spoiler – it didn’t help).

This was rather worrying, but as I had limited choice (basically none), I did some more analysis and I noticed a number of commonalities to the various complaints.

  • Large CPU air coolers – All of the reviewers were using these in what is a very small case, and I was planning on using water cooling.
  • Large GPUs – All of the reviewers are gamers and were using the most powerful (ie: largest) GPU that they could get in the case. My PC is basically an ‘office PC’ so only has a basic (ie: small) GPU.
  • Front-to-back airflow – While this is traditional, the Q500L has a number of obstructions at the front and rear that make a bottom-to-top airflow more practical.

I’m not going to disagree with any of these reviewers. If you want to build a high-performance gaming PC, this is not the case for you. The GPU creates a wall dividing the case in two internally, which basically blocks bottom-to-top airflow. And as there is only one small air hole at the back, and the PSU blocks most of the front, a front-to-back airflow is highly restricted. And using a CPU air cooler only dumps more hot air inside the case. Basically, this case is not designed for these configurations.

However in my situation, a bottom-to-top airflow was highly practical, and using an AIO water cooler for the CPU meant that the radiator could push the heat directly out of the case. In fact, a close inspection shows that the rear air hole is designed for a 120mm square radiator. So I went ahead with the replacement.

Despite it’s small size, the case was a pleasure to build in. There was plenty of room for cable management, and all parts had ample clearance, though the radiator blocks one of motherboard case screws so put that in last. I chose to leave the magnetic grills off the top and bottom of the case to help airflow (the one at the front was for decoration as I’m was not expecting much airflow from the front anyway).

The thermals were excellent. With the AIO pushing all of the CPU heat straight out the back, and with only a small GPU (NVIDIA GTX 650), the four case fans had no problem keeping the case cool. With an ambient temperature of 20C and the system fully loaded, the case was about 30C, and CPU about 50C (in the old case the CPU would often be over 85C).

I was so pleased that I decided to replace the case on my other PC as well.

The end result is a compact full ATX case with excellent thermal performance. So the “Worst case of 2019” is actually “The Best” (for me anyway).

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