Assembling the Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced

Putting together a system in any Mini-ITX enclosure is going to be more difficult than in larger cases, that's a given. Yet with the Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced, I often found my fingers didn't need to be as spidery as they were to get the job done, and an end user who takes proper care to plan out the assembly isn't going to have much trouble getting everything together. The worst part of just about any Mini-ITX build is getting the power supply in, but if you use a modular PSU, you can ameliorate a lot of that difficulty by connecting all of your leads to the components first and then connecting and installing the PSU last.

Truthfully I was a little disappointed Cooler Master didn't include the motherboard standoffs pre-installed or at least extrude the bottom of the case enough that standoffs wouldn't be necessary (as Corsair did in the 300R). There's only one form factor of motherboard that fits into the Elite 120, and the screws are only ever going to go in the same four places. Given how cramped our testbed motherboard is, though, I opted to connect all of the case headers prior to installing the board and thankfully those cables were long enough to make this relatively easy. The side intake fan, however, does cramp things a bit and no one would fault you for removing it.

Installing 5.25", 3.5", and 2.5" drives was incredibly simple. For the 5.25" bay, you need to remove the front fascia (which snaps off easily, if maybe a little too easily), then remove the bay shield; it's impossible to remove without damaging something otherwise. The toolless locking mechanism for the 5.25" bay is excellent, though, and easy to use. There's a single lever in the center and "Open" and "Lock" etched into the plastic on either side of it. It's a small touch but appreciated.

The adaptor for the 2.5" drives is made of firm plastic and the two come preinstalled with the rails snapped into the sides; a third set of rails for a separate 3.5" drive is included with the screws. The rails snap into the adaptor and 3.5" drives with ease and they feel remarkably secure. I don't think they'll be stellar for absorbing vibration, but certainly they'll do in a pinch and they're a nice convenience.

Where things get hinky is the same place they always do and the same place I mentioned before: cabling the power supply. Installing an expansion card has more to do with delicately moving and cramming cables into whatever nooks and crannies you can find for them rather than any kind of real clearance issue. There's definitely enough height and width for all but the biggest of video cards, but cramming cables can be a nuisance. Thankfully, the power supply bracket is easy to remove, with four standard screws holding it in place. Provided your PSU is short enough you could theoretically even install it without actually removing the bracket, but removing the bracket will make your life easier.

All told the Elite 120 is remarkably easy to assemble given the circumstances and I didn't have any major complaints with how it came together. Even gently tucking the cables and getting the shroud back on the sides and top of the case was fairly simple. As I mentioned before, my primary concerns lie more with actual performance than with aesthetics or ease of assembly. I don't see a Mini-ITX case, especially one that supports full size ATX components, getting a whole lot easier to assemble while staying this small.

In and Around the Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced Testing Methodology


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  • philipma1957 - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    The case looks decent in a htpc rack.

    problem is it is noisy.

    I use a sapphire hd 6670 ultimate video card. it is passive. = silent

    I use a seasonic 400 watt fanless psu = silent

    i use an asrock itx board = not cheap

    i use an intel i5 2500t cpu = low power runs cool

    i use an ssd = silent

    i use a 500gb 2.5 inch 5400 rpm hitachi = very quiet

    i use a samsung blu ray drive.

    this would have been a nice htpc machine in a rack ,but the stock fans are noisy.

    I need to play with it some more.

    the small 80 mm fan on one side is the problem very noisy.

    also using a low cpu cooler heatsink is a must.

    the cpu cooler blows right into the psu.

    I think if i had a psu with a fan and let it pull hot air out of the machine

    i could keep the machine cooler. maybe then i can lower the fan speed on the small fan.

    as for ugly the cooler master label is flat out not needed and is truly the worst part of its looks.
  • lwatcdr - Monday, July 30, 2012 - link

    Why an i-5 and an external graphics card for an HTPC? A Celeron or I3 T would be more than good enough for for an HTPC with a GPU. Or you could use an Ivy-Bridge i5 with the onboard GPU for lower cost and thermals. The only good reason to have an i5 and a GPU would be gaming. Also you might want to consider dumping the HD and using a NAS for media storage. That can be in another room and you can put as many big cheap drives as you want on one. Even something like PoGo plug will work for serving media. Reply
  • flparula - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I've built 2 mini-itx systems. I used one of the older Lian cases. The case uses a full sized ATX power supply; but I only have used modular cable-ling. The last build used a all-in-one water cooler. Is there enough room to put a water cooler, e.g. Corsar H60 or Antec 620. Water coolers also fix a problem that low-profile fans run into with all of the cables (usual power supplies have too long of cables) a fan can hit the cable and stop cooling. No such problem with the water cooler. Reply
  • ggathagan - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Water cooling in this case would require some cutting and would almost certainly require you to mount both the fan and the radiator on top of the case.
    It would be possible to snake the coolant lines between the PSU and the GPU, but the length of the coolant lines might be an issue.

    All in all, you'd be better served with a different case.
  • cjs150 - Friday, July 27, 2012 - link

    Whilst I agree a different case would be better I think this case is capable of supporting water cooling, just a little imagination is needed. Remove the drive cage and use a slim line optical drive with room for one or 2 2.5 drives beneath it (or drop the optical drive). Take a 120mm radiator (140 may fit) and turn it 90 degrees so barbs are on the side. Use the new swiftech apogee drive and you have a watercooling system that can cope with the CPU and (probably) a low heat GPU. You can also use the water cooling hole at the back as a fill port so not entirely wasted.

    Personally I think it is all a bit too cramped for that but it is certainly plausible
  • KasiorMC - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    on forums someone posted one of these:

    is there any chance of you testing it in near future?
    it's roughly the same size, same price... only with different (better?) layout
  • adboelens - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    I have owned two mini ITX cases that had SFX power supplies. Both I found too noisy, while an entry level 300 ATX one can be almost completely quiet. I now have a Lian Li one and very happy with performance and noise level. Reply
  • Metaluna - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Yes it's a problem of trying to cram too much power dissipation into too small a space. There's only so much you can do with forced airflow before the fans get too noisy. Using standard modular components makes things worse as they aren't going to be tailored to match the case's layout and airflow (the author touched on this a bit talking about the chore of trying to cram ridiculously long PSU cables designed for a tower case into a mini-ITX case.) Reply
  • Guspaz - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Well, when you try to remove all the heat dissipated in a computer using 300-400 watts with a single 92mm fan (what the Shuttle SZ77R5 uses, because that's as big as they could possibly fit on the rear), you're going to have to spin that fan pretty fast to exhaust all that heat. And when you spin a fan at 3000+ RPM, it's going to get loud no matter how fancy your fan gets.

    I think they could have designed the SZ77R5 (and other similar SFF cases) a bit differently, though. For clarification, in the SZ77R5, the CPU's cooler is just a plate attached to heatpipes that connect to a heatsink that mounts to the rear of the case, and a single 92mm fan blows air through that, acting as both a CPU and case fan. If, instead, a 92mm fan was placed on the top of the case, a 120mm or even larger fan could be used, which would allow the same amount of air to be moved while spinning at a much lower speed.
  • PyroHoltz - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - link

    Get rid of the massive logo on the front. I'm not in the market to advertise for the companies I buy from.

    If people want the Cooler Master logo, give them a sticker.

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