Compact Mini-ITX Case Round-Up

Cougar QBX

The QBX chassis claims superior expandability and cooling capabilities, including the ability to fit a full-length graphics card and several case fans, along with support for water-cooling. However, the QBX's heavy focus on cooling leaves us a bit worried that it might be one of the louder cases we've tested.

Exterior

At first glance, the QBX sports a sleek and simple design. The front, top and bottom panels are made of plastic that resembles brushed aluminum, while the left and right side panels include mesh windows. The panel material is thick and of reasonable quality given the case's price. Except for Cougar's logo on the front, and the usual set of ports on the right side, the outside of the QBX is mostly devoid of anything that breaks up the flow of the outer panels. The QBX lacks support of any kind for external 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch drive bays, but users can install a slim, slot-loading optical drive in the front of the case and feed discs in through the gap between the top and front panels. When there is no optical drive installed, the QBX features a rubber seal to fill the hole and help keep dust out.

The power button/light, HDD activity light and front panel ports for the QBX are hidden away along the case's right side. Why Cougar chose to put the ports on that side of the case is a bit hard to understand, as most users would presumably want them on or near the side of the case that has the best view of the internal components. The case does away with legacy USB 2.0 ports, featuring only a pair of USB 3.0 ports and a standard set of HD audio inputs. Some users might find it hard to fit certain types of USB devices into the front set of ports, as there's limited clearance between the frame and the lip of the front panel.

The QBX supports mounting two 120mm fans in the bottom of the case, and it includes a removable dust filter. The filter itself, which seems very sturdy, simply slides out toward the rear of the case for easy maintenance. When it's time the reinstall the filter, it locks in place with a firm click.

The back of the case features a 90mm 3-pin exhaust fan, the quality of which is reflected in the price of the case. The fan isn't terribly loud at full speed, but at lower speeds it emits a grinding noise — most likely from a cheap bearing. The QBX features two full-size expansion slots, which enable users to install a wider range of graphics cards than most other mini-ITX cases.

Given the price of the case and the number of expansion slots, it's interesting to see that the expansion slot covers are replaceable, rather than their cheaper, non-replaceable break-out counterparts. The expansion slots also feature a guard that mounts on top of the covers and locks into the case to help secure heavier graphics cards. Finally, there's a removable power plug mounted to the back of the case, which feeds an extension cable leading to the power supply mounted near the front.

Interior

The QBX offers quite a bit in the cooling department, including water-cooling support — something not often found in a mini-ITX case. It features support for both 120mm and 240mm water-cooling radiators, although only a single 120mm fan is supported for the 240mm option. The radiators mount to a removable side panel that is directly behind the left exterior side panel. The same panel that the radiators mount to also includes a bay for a single 3.5-inch hard drive, which can be removed so that a 240mm radiator can be installed.

For those who have no plans on using a 3.5-inch hard drive, or employing the space on the radiator mount for a fan or water-cooling solution, the entire panel flips up and can be removed from the case to save on weight and provide better airflow.

A look inside the front portion of the case reveals a removable bay for a single 2.5-inch slim hard drive or SSD and a place to mount an 80mm case fan for better airflow. Additionally, to the right of the motherboard cutout is the air intake for the case's power supply, which mounts to and exhausts air through the top of the case. The supporting electronics and cabling for the front panel ports can be seen in the photo below as well.

A quick glance at the back of the case shows the included 90mm fan as well as a good-size motherboard cutout, and numerous cutouts around the motherboard for cable management.

Finally, the top panel of the case is also removable, allowing users to install up to two 120mm case fans. It's worth noting that there isn't much room between the top of the motherboard and the top of the case. Additionally, the extension cable that feeds power from the back of the case to the front-mounted power supply also routes along the top of the case. Taking both of those things into account, depending on the depth of the case fans it might be difficult to actually install both 120mm fans on the top of the case and still be able to get the top panel on.

The Build

The QBX comes with a small booklet that isn't really as much of a manual as it is a guide detailing the features found inside the case. That might be a problem for some individuals who are new to building their own computers. Fortunately, the design and features of the case are straightforward enough to mostly mitigate that issue. The QBX also comes with the standard pack of screws, zip ties and a filter for the optional front fan, which, honestly, may be too coarse to help very much.

The cable selection for the case is pretty much what one would expect given the case's features. Included in the assortment are a USB 3.0 cable, an HD audio cable and a standard set of front panel connections with a split LED cable for compatibility with both ASUS and standard motherboards. Note that the case lacks legacy audio and USB 2.0 connections, which seems to be the direction most modern cases are headed these days.

 Our 2.5-inch SSD for this build attaches with screws to the backside of the motherboard tray. Unlike other cases we've reviewed, the QBX allows us to use the mounting holes on the bottom of the SSD to secure it to the case. This orientation makes it much easier to install, plus there is plenty of space between the motherboard tray and side panel of the case for routing and stowing extra cables.

 After we installed the SSD and moved on to the rest of the case, the build started to get somewhat tricky. For a Mini-ITX case, the QBX has quite a bit of room to offer, but things can still get tight. Later on in the build, after the major components were installed, it got to the point where having large hands was a disadvantage. In all, despite the lack of hand room toward the end, the QBX is actually a moderately easy case to build in. With everything installed, there's still plenty of room for airflow. We could have even gone with an ATX power supply and full-length graphics card, and still had room for some extra SSDs or case fans.

Speaking of the power supply, it's worth noting that the QBX doesn't actually support the use of SFX power supplies due to their small size. We managed to get ours to fit by using an SFX to PS/2 adapter plate. Neither the power supply nor the case came with the adapter, but it would've been nice for Cougar supply one in the box, as they're not that expensive and one would go great with this case.

 With the last side panel on, everything comes together quite well. Users wanting a better view of the internals might be a bit disappointed as the mesh on the left side panel does obstruct the view a bit (but with the benefit of better ventilation). Still, it would be nice if Cougar were to release a version of this case that includes the option of replacing the mesh on that panel with a window for those of us who enjoying having an unobstructed view of a build's innards.

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  • ivanthechemist
    I was waiting for this!
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  • ivanthechemist
    It seems that there are a lot of things missing in that article, like the specs and conclusion. Must be a bug or ridiculous mistake.
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