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FT04: Improving the Formula?
Having tested the Silverstone Fortress FT04 in full, what I was expecting to find wasn't quite the case, no pun intended. The results from our hands-on testing were unexpected based on previous great experiences with Silverstone cases.
For those concerned with the use of plastic, I don't see this as a serious issue. For the most part the use of plastic is limited to the side rear-angled front vents and it's hard to distinguish between them and the aluminum front doors. Then there is the issue of the steel body opposed to a lighter aluminum body. At 11.5kg the FT04 is still relatively light for a big case though it's still 33% heavier than the original Fortress FT01.
The most obvious advantage in the Fortress FT04's design is improved GPU cooling. Once everything was installed the case performed well. We set the fans to medium and they were almost silent. The GPU result is one of the best we've seen to date which is a positive mark for Silverstone's latest chassis.
On the not so positive side, the FT04's design is very crammed which leads to a number of inconveniences you simply don't expect to deal with when building in an eATX case. Silverstone's biggest error was how they positioned the 5-bay 3.5" drive cage. Why it is oriented long ways rather than sideways is beyond us. Rather than stick all the SATA and power cables out the left side of the case they are aimed directly at the CPU cooler and in the process block a good portion of the motherboard.
This was a poor design choice that made working with the FT04 frustrating, so much so that we wouldn't want to own this case. Perhaps if you are the kind of user that builds a system and then doesn't venture back inside for 6-12 months then the inefficient means of removing hardware might not cause as much anguish.
The CPU cooling test result was not good either, as the full 5-bay 3.5" drive cage blocked much of the air-flow to the CPU cooler. Given we test in a passive state, meaning there is no fan attached to the heatsink, it is important that the case directs a large amount of cool air over the CPU cooler. If you were to install the optional rear 120mm exhaust fan we expect that the CPU results could be much better, but compared to the rest of cases we test in similar conditions the FT04 underperformed.
At $230, the Fortress FT04 is not prohibitively expensive but it faces tough competition. Other quality full tower cases typically sell for around $200, the FT04 is a 'smallish' full tower case. The Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced costs $100 less. Meanwhile the Lian Li PC-A76WX occupies the same price range, while consumers will only pay slightly more for the award winning Corsair Obsidian 800D.
It's also evident Silverstone is placing the FT04 at a premium compared to its siblings. Their own Raven 3 costs just $150, while their latest fourth generation Raven costs $160. Granted these cases target a slightly different audience, however they are cheaper while offering many of the same features in a bigger package.
Overall we feel Silverstone has missed the mark with the Fortress FT04 as it simply doesn't live up to their typical standard of ingenuity. The design is so complex to the point where it has started to become impractical and this makes living with the FT04 feel more like a chore than a pleasure. While we don't doubt this design is complex to produce, at its current price tag there are simply many better options available.
Pros: Handsome looks, silent operation and great GPU cooling performance.
Cons: Complex design makes builiding and changing components a nuisance. Horribly positioned drive cage.