MasterBox or MasterOven – Cooler Master Q500L Review

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Hello good people, I’m Dmitry. When you think about a space efficient case layout, what elements do you think combine to make that perfect small enclosure? I think for 2019 hopefully more companies will tackle that exact question. We will see smaller cases fit larger hardware without the compromises that normally accompany the smaller form factor. Hopefully, that is what we’ll experience today with the Cooler Master Q500L.

Design

So the reason why this case is exciting is because it’s original intent was to be a micro-ATX case, but now they’ve added additional PCI slots and moved the power supply to the front so that you can use a full-size ATX motherboard inside of it, which is exciting. They could at least have beefed up the steel body a little bit though, because it’s very thin. It doesn’t give you a lot of confidence in the actual structural integrity of this case.

All right, so what is so exciting about the Cooler Master Q500L? Well first of all, the price point, at 59 bucks it’s very affordable. It’s also pretty compact yet supports all of your regular ATX-sized hardware such an ATX PSU, an ATX motherboard, and you can mount even 240mm radiator at the top… although that gets pretty tight and I probably advise against it. Just stick to a normal CPU cooler like I have done in this build.

Moving Air & Cleaning Cables

The GPU clearance is pretty good, but because the power supply is mounted right at the front of the case it does limit your graphic card length to 11 inches. Even if you have like a slightly shorter power supply the cables will jutting out, so I would say 11 inches to be safe and slightly more if you have a much shorter power supply or one where the cables are like exiting from one of the sides.

So as I mentioned previously the build quality is not fantastic and they also wished they did something with the dust filters. It’s kind of cool to customize the exterior using dust filters, but it would be nice for them to include like a kind of a design variation. However, I guess maybe those come as accessories. Now the cool thing about this whole perforation design for the top, front, and the bottom is the fact that you have some flexibility about where you can mount things. For example, the PSU bracket can be moved up and down depending if you are installing anything at the top or the bottom, or if you need extra clearance for the GPU. The same thing goes for the fan installation for the top and the bottom depending on where you want to install it. You know you’re not locked down to one particular orientation or mounting location.

Furthermore, you can actually move the side I/O panel to either the top or the bottom, depending if you like that orientation. I like it in the default position because of it hides the power supply area, otherwise you kind of see the cables and the little mess behind it.

In terms of cable management, this is one of the easiest cases I’ve dealt with in the last while, because there’s plenty of room behind the motherboards, and there’s cutouts in all of the appropriate positions. Where the cables exit from the power supply can routed directly to the back of the case so they don’t occupy any of the precious internal space.

Issues & Thermal Performance

And so that brings us to cooling and there are multiple issues with the Q500L unfortunately. First of all, the included 120mm rear exhaust fan is not good since it does not push much air and the also the actual case frame blocks a lot of the fan. It looks like it was designed for a 92mm fan instead of the 120mm fan, and it would be nice if Cooler Master opened up that area. I really don’t know why it has to be so restrictive. Second of all, there are no intake fans included. The power supply covers that entire front section, so you can’t really install fans there unless you’ve installed like an SFX power supply. You can still mount a 120mm or 140mm fan at the bottom, but kind of almost rely on like passive intake based on the CPU cooler and the exhaust fan and the GPU cooler. However, generally you can expect a kind of heat accumulation below the GPU.

You could usually try to combat this heat accumulation by installing an additional intake fan, but the case feet on this case are way too short so it kind of chokes the bottom fan. Also the dust filter is ridiculous, they should have just included the same filter at the bottom as we see at the top and the front. You could orient the case lying down, giving a little extra breathing room to the bottom, but the looks of that orientation don’t really work for me personally.

And so that brings us to temperatures, which unfortunately this case is a bit of an oven. At stock configuration the CPU is pretty toasty, but replacing the stock fan completely gives us much better CPU and GPU temperatures. In the case of the GPU, adding a bottom fan helps to cool it down but obviously running an open configuration with the side panels off gives you the best possible temperatures.

When compared to other cases that default configuration gives us the hottest CPU temperature in this entire stack. As for noise levels, given that the Q500L only has a single exhaust fan, it’s not too bad. But given the fact that the case is full of holes and basically fully open to help with ventilation everything noisy inside the case will be audible outside the case. It doesn’t really contain the noise too much.

Based on this poor thermal performance, I have to wonder who is this case for? Well first of all, it’s affordable, so those who like a bargain. Second of all, it’s pretty small for an ATX size and it supports standard ATX hardware, so those who like compact but powerful system. The only limitation would be your graphics card length, but you are probably not going to be installing any monstrosity inside this thing given that it’s only $59. The Q500L isn’t really a viable alternative for mini-ITX lovers, but then again the ITX direction is a lot more expensive.

To conclude, the Cooler Master Q500L’s main selling point is that it’s smaller than a medium size enclosure and it sells for only $59. I was hoping to see a better dust filter at the bottom, more dust filter graphic designs available for owners to choose from, and the rear fan section to be opened up so it’s not as restrictive. But I am impressed with the cable management situation that we’ve got going on here, it’s very easy to work in and the side panel closes just fine. All right, so that’s it for the Q500L and honestly I was expecting slightly better thermal performance given that it’s just a ventilated box, but it all comes down to that rear exhaust fan, which is not good and also the fact that it doesn’t really have an air intake. Everything combines to create a little oven inside for your hardware unless of course you remedy that by installing additional fans, which I would highly recommend that you do.

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