Silverstone Sugo SG03 Case Review

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Manufacturer Part #: SG03-B (Black), SG03-S (Silver)
Availability: Now
Warranty: 1 Year
Colors Available: Black, Silver

Table of Contents

1- Packaging
2- Accessories and Mounting Hardware
3- Exterior Impressions
4- Interior Impressions
5- Installation

Cooling Performance

6- Idle Cooling Performance
7- Load Cooling Performance

8- Conclusion

Specs

Silverstone has long been known for making some of the best computer cases on the face of the planet. Indeed, it is hard to find an enthusiast who has not lusted after a Silverstone case at least once in their lives but has backed away from the purchase due to the shear price of the cases themselves. Luckily, Silverstone has heard us consumers and has begun releasing products that will not have your credit card (and spouse) crying for mercy. Now, the have release the fully-featured yet pricy Micro ATX case we will be reviewing here today; the Silverstone Sugo SG03.

This case is the latest iteration of Silverstone’s popular Sugo series of small form factor cases which have long been known for their long list of features and impressive build quality. This case is what Silverstone considers their flagship SFF case and it looks like they have put a ton of thought into the design and presentation of the case. Here is what they have to say about it:

After SilverStone engineers have carefully thought through and redesigned from scratch in trying to come up with another SUGO enclosure that will not only surpass SG01 but also wows computer enthusiasts of all level. The small size of SG03 is designed to be use in many environments; its shortened depth provides an excellent advantage in cooling with the aid of two large 12cm fans possible in front, or just install one and have the flexibility of moving the fan to a position that will fits user’s need, this gives SG03 the cooling potential that are usually seen in large enclosures. With additional expansion slots and reversible power supply unit installation design, on top of all the important features inherited from SG01, it makes SG03 a flagship SFF enclosure of the future.

Reversible power supply installation
Adjustable fan positions
Light and compact all aluminum design
Extra large front and side mesh grills for unprecedented cooling
Amazing expansion capability
Support dual graphics card

It seems like Silverstone is setting this case up to be the end-all of smaller case designs with increased cooling, a compact design and some very interesting features that we will get to a little later in this review. As with all of Silverstone’s cases, the SG03 is backed up by their excellent technical support and one year warranty. So, does the SG03 live up to all the promises its manufacturer has made? Read on to find out.

1- Packaging

Yes, this time we are actually going to look at the packaging of this case because there are a few unique features to it….namely, the size of it.

The first thing we noticed about the box is that it is shockingly small compared to all of the other cases we have reviewed up until now on Hardwarecanucks. This is not due to a lack of packaging but rather due to the compact size of the case itself.

The exterior design of the box shows all of the SG03’s features in easy-to-understand diagrams and charts. There is also a short description of the different Silverstone accessories that can be bought for this case; there is nothing like bringing this home only to say to yourself “Darn, I wish I would have bought that accessory!” The box also shows quite clearly that there are two different colors for this case: black or silver.

Yes this is the same generic shot which people see on countless sites and say “Hey, there really IS packaging material in there! Who woulda thunk it!?” Then the reviewer goes on to say something smart about how well the case is packaged and how there is no reason to fear your case being damaged in transit towards your waiting arms. Well, here we are a bit more realistic; unless you get it in a 1” thick titanium box with Kevlar padding and a Star Trek-esque force field around it, there is ALWAYS a chance the product will get damaged by an overzealous delivery boy. That being said, the SG03 is packaged….well enough.

2- Accessories and Mounting Hardware

Inside of the main box there is a smaller box containing all the mounting hardware and an instruction manual. Silverstone’s instruction manual sets a benchmark that every other manufacturer should turn to for a lesson of how to lay out their own instructions. Not only is it well written but there are also helpful pictures for every step of the installation. In addition, there is also a CPU power connector extender which is must be installed onto the CPU power connector on your motherboard. This is because with the positioning of the power supply, it will be impossible to plug your power supply’s CPU connector directly into your motherboard due to space limitations. Silverstone also includes some cable tie downs and plastic hard drive rails which affix directly to the hard drive mounting holes.

The final inclusion may not seem significant but Silverstone has made a brilliant decision when it comes to the screws which are included with this case. Unlike most case manufacturers, Silverstone was bright enough to include ONLY ONE type of mounting screw. Gone are the days where you will have to search endlessly for a particular screw which is used to install a DVD drive but not your motherboard.

3- Exterior Impressions

Make no mistake about it; this is one good looking SFF case. While the older SG01 and SG02 cases had designs that were a bit more at home in a HTPC environment, the SG03 takes a bit different approach by having a much more “upright” design. This makes this case unique but it also causes bit of an identity crisis as well. The problem is that there is no set category where this SFF case can fit; on one hand it is too small for a normal ATX motherboard yet on the other, it is not well suited for HTPC applications either due to its vertical orientation and lack of an IR port. Basically, this case would be great for anyone with extremely limited space looking to build a compact computer. Sure you can use it for a HTPC but most likely you will need to put it beside your AV cabinet instead of inside of it like a normal HTPC case.

That being said, the overall design of the SG03 is absolutely brilliant; it looks a lot like a mini-me Silverstone TJ09 with the side air grille and brushed aluminum finish. The front’s beveled edges are a bit reminiscent of the upcoming Silverstone Kublai KL01. The front holds one 5.25” slot for a disk drive and the rest of the real estate is dominated by an aluminum mesh grille which is backed by space for a pair of 120mm fans (one of which is provided). Then you realize that the two beveled panels on the front pull a bit of a Transformer act:

Both of the beveled panels rotate open to reveal hidden areas of the SG03. On the right side there is the power and hard drive indicator LEDs while the left holds a bevy of connectors and a slot for a floppy drive. The connectors in this area include a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a single IEEE1934 Firewire port, a Mic input and a headphone jack. This is a brilliant design since the majority of users will use these connectors infrequently and when they are not being used, they will be completely hidden from sight. The same goes for the power and hard drive LEDs; there are many people out there that do not want an LED strobe light pulsing on and off whenever the hard drive is accessed. All in all, this leads to an extremely clean design which will go well with any room décor.

The power button is located on the top of the case in order to keep the amount of clutter on the front panel to a minimum. This location is convenient if you have the case in an open area and not tucked into a small nook in your desk. It is integrated perfectly into the aluminum structure and has a quality feel to it when you depress the button.

The back of the case is quite unique compared to all of the ATX cases out there since Silverstone had to get quite creative when designing a case of the SG03’s stature. There are plenty of areas with vent holes since the heat in such a small case can reach pretty alarming levels without the proper airflow and even the cover over each of the rear expansion slots has a grille on it. You will also notice that there are thumb screws to remove both side panels. Most of the aluminum on the SG03 is quite robust and structurally sound with the exception of the rear of the case. The aluminum used on the back panel is shockingly thin and is prone to bend quite a bit if you push on it. Indeed, when you are installing the motherboard backplate, it is a good idea to use two hands; one to keep the metal from bowing while the other pushes in the backplate.

The rear of the SG03 is so unique that we will have to discus it at length beginning with the picture you see above and to the left. The topmost grille you see is an additional expansion slot which doesn’t seem to have much use considering the motherboard PCI slots are nowhere near that location. That is until you start contemplating installing an expansion slot exhaust fan for your CPU area and suddenly this expansion slot becomes a Godsend. Below and to the left of the brilliantly-placed expansion slot is the area where a motherboard I/O panel would normally go. Silverstone decided not to include one since it has become nearly impossible to fabricate a one-size-fits-all I/O plate and every motherboard comes with one anyways. Moving to the right of the I/O panel, we have a set of perforations bordered by a quartet of screw holes. This area would be used to install one of Silverstone’s optional cross-flow fans (the FX121) for improved air circulation around your CPU. To the right of that is the power supply mounting area. The screw locations here ensure that a power supply with a top-mounted fan can either be installed with its fan oriented so it is sucking hot air away from the processor or cool air in from the side panel vent.

The lower part of the back panel doesn’t really hold much of interest other than the aforementioned perforated expansion slot covers and a whole lot of ventilation holes. In order to remove the PCI slot covers, the protective plate has to be removed (it is towards the center of the picture, being held by two screws) and then the covers can be unscrewed and removed. Looking at the back panel it should be quite apparent that Silverstone has designed the SG03 for optimal interior cooling and nearly limitless cooling expandability options. All of this expandability and attention to detail is impressive for a case of this size.

The bottom of the SG03 holds its two elongated, perfectly padded feet and it seems not much else. Yet, if you look carefully you will see that there are four small screws spaced around the perimeter bordering the legs. As you will see in the interior impressions section, these screws must be removed because Silverstone has used the “floor” of this case to house the hard drives.

4- Interior Impressions

We will use this section to not only look at the various interior features of the Silverstone SG03 but because of the unusual way devices are installed into the case, we will also touch a bit on installation.

The first thing which catches our eye when the side panel of the SG03is removed is the large aluminum cross-brace at the bottom of the case. This is used to increase the structural rigidity of the case, provide a bit of directional airflow for the front 120mm fan and to house the front 3.5” drive bay. At the top of the case there is a single 5.25” drive bay which you push a drive into and then secure it in place using a pair of mounting screws. You will also notice that there is a u-shaped metal bracket below the top drive bay. This is used to stabilize any longer power supply (like the Silverstone Decathlon) you might want to install into the case.

Inside of the front panel there are the connectors for the audio connectors as well as the Firewire and USB ports. The only problem with these connectors is that they are not on their own dedicated cables; basically if you don’t want to use the audio ports and eliminate some cables from the already-cramped interior, you are forced to remove the audio connectors AND the USB connector since they are all attached. You can also see the front 120mm fan in this picture.

To gain access to the interior of the case, the horizontal cross brace must be removed by unscrewing four small screws. This opens up the suddenly-spacious case for you to work in. There are no motherboard standoffs pre-installed so before you begin installation, the simple matter of installing some standoffs is necessary. As already mentioned, there is a surprising amount of space in the SG03 and this culminates in the ability to install an 8800GTX into the case. According to Silverstone, in order to do this you will first have to remove the front panel (an easy step as you will see later) and then feed in the graphics card through the front of the case before you close it up again. You will also have to shift up the front cooling fan into a second, higher set of mounting holes.

We already touched a bit on this before but as you can see above, the entire bottom of the case is used for a pair of hard drive cages. In order to get to these, you will have to remove the two panels that make up the bottom of the case and then slide them out. This may seem a bit convoluted but after your first time installing a hard drive, you will realize that it makes perfectly good sense. The plastic rails install on the hard drive easily slide into the cage in order to provide a measure of vibration dampening.

The front panel is removed without much hassle by depressing a pair of small tabs to the right of the panel and swinging it open like a door. This perforated aluminum panel can be cleaned with a rag since it seems to catch quite a bit of dust due to the presence of one or two 120mm intake fans. Both the removal and eventual reattachment of this panel is blessed in its simplicity and high-quality fabrication.

Behind the front panel, there is a pre-installed 120mm fan with wire protection in order to save the lives of any cables which may get too close to it. The fan is equipped with both a Molex connector if you want to attach it directly to your power supply and a 3-pin fan connector if direct motherboard connection is your preference. As stated in Silverstone’s specification sheet, this fan runs at 1200rpm at about 21dBA.

The fan can be moved higher or lower on the panel to either direct the airflow to a different part of the case or to make room for a second 120mm fan to be installed next to it. To affect all of this Silverstone has provided extra mounting holes on the length of the panel.

While in operation, the single fan operates very quietly while drawing in decent amounts of air.

5- Installation

Most of the installation steps have already been discussed in our tour of the interior but let’s take a look at exactly what we will be installing in the case.

AMD X2 3800+ EE
Silverstone Nitrogon NT-06 CPU cooler
Asus M2A-VM HDMI
2GB Corsair Value Select PC-5300 DDR2
Pioneer DVR-112D DVD writer
2x Sapphire Theatrix 550Pro TV Tuner cards
250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 Hard Drive
Silverstone Element ST50-EF 500W PSU
EVGA 8800GTS 320MB GPU

It sure does look like a lot of components but they will almost all fit into the SG03. The only exceptions are the 8800GTS being swapped for the Asus HDMI module for the temperature testing and the elimination of the two Theatrix cards for the installation of the 8800GTS. In addition, there is not enough place for the Nitrogon’s fan so it will be passively cooled for the installation steps and the Nitrogon will be completely replaced at one point in the cooling performance tests.

We will be conducting a complete review of the Silverstone Nitrogon NT-06 CPU cooler in a forthcoming article.

Here is what it looks like when everything is installed:

Thankfully, the installation went completely without incident even though installing components into the SG03 does take quite a bit of time and patience. You will need two different sizes of Phillips screwdrivers (a #1 and a #2 size) to remove all of the drive bays and install the motherboard, power supply and expansion cards. It also takes a ton of patience to do all of the cable routing since the power supply has to be installed last. Knowing this, you will realize that the installation process is anything but tool-less. On the other hand, once everything is installed, the result is quite rewarding.

There are a few pointers which you would be better off to heed if you choose to buy this case. First and foremost among them is the fact that you should seriously consider buying either the Silverstone ST50-EF SC (Short Cable) Edition power supply or a modular unit. Wire routing in this case requires deft hands and absolute concentration so it is a good idea to buy a power supply which will make your life easier. In this installation, we installed the power supply so it was pulling hot air away from the CPU area.

Here is what the ifinished installation looks like with the 8800GTS card installed; it looks a bit cramped but there is actually still about an inch of space to spare before hitting the fan. It is tight due to the positioning of the PCI-E power connector on the back of the card but without the fan in place, there is plenty of space for a 8800GTX card to fit into the SG03.

The height of the Nitrogon cooler is absolutely perfect when installed under the power supply. The power supply will draw in the heat from the cooler’s fins and expels it out the back of the case. This cuts down on the need for an active CPU cooler and thus drastically cuts down on the amount of noise generated when using this case. Please note that a cooler must be a maximum of 78mm in height to fit under the power supply.

Finally, with everything installed the case is ready to go. It looks great, there is plenty of place at the top of the case to hide all of the cables from the power supply and there is still some space left over to add a fan or two in the future.

Cooling Performance

System Used

AMD X2 3800+ EE (with stock heatsink)
Silverstone Nitrogon NT-06 CPU cooler
Asus M2A-VM HDMI
2GB Corsair Value Select PC-5300 DDR2
Pioneer DVR-112D DVD writer
2x Sapphire Theatrix 550Pro TV Tuner cards
250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 Hard Drive
Silverstone Element ST50-EF 500W PSU
EVGA 8800GTS 320MB GPU
Second Fan: Yate Loon D12BL-12 (1200rpm)

This is going to be a bit of a different test since we will not be comparing the SG03 to any other case that we have tested in the past. Rather, we will be testing with a number of fan configurations to see their impact on the cooling performance of the Silverstone SG03. In addition, we will be seeing if this case offers passable cooling performance without modifying it from its stock form.

These tests will be conducted with and without the Nitrogon NT-06 cooler installed. In addition, these tests were conducted in the most stressful environment possible with the 8800GTS installed and pumping out heat. Load testing temperatures were taken after 1 hour of load conditions while the idle conditions were taken after 30 minutes of the computer sting on the desktop.

All tests were conducted with a room temperature hovering around at 23.9°C while running a loop of the Lost Planet graphics test to stress the GPU and Orthos running on the processor. The idle temperatures were taken with two Compunurse digital thermometers in two positions:

Ambient #1: Probe located 2” directly above the right hard drive rail
Ambient #2: Probe located 4” to the right of the CPU

CPU temperatures were taken using Asus PC Probe
GPU temperatures were taken using Rivatuner

6- Idle Cooling Performance

7- Load Cooling Performance

The cooling performance of the Silverstone SG03 is nothing short of incredible. It is usually extremely hard for manufacturers to keep sufficient airflow through Small Form Factor cases due to the constant tradeoffs being made between the spaces allotted for fans versus that for needed components. Silverstone overcomes this by including a large 120mm intake fan and adds the option to include a second one as well. We can see how good the cooling performance is by the relatively minor increases in the temperatures between the idle and the load tests.

What is more remarkable is the performance afforded a completely passive cooler in a Small Form Factor case. In most SFF cases, having a passive CPU cooler is a recipe for absolute disaster considering the limited airflow those other cases provide. In the SG03’s case, the positioning of the power supply (when its fan is drawing air from around the CPU area) is ideal to aid in the cooling of a passive CPU cooler. Even though the X2 EE processor we used does not output much in the way of heat, it is great to see that Silverstone’s placement of the power supply is paying off in spades.

Performance increases quite a bit when the second intake fan is added on the front panel but some of the temperatures do not change that much versus those taken with the stock CPU cooler. This is mostly due to the orientation of the stock CPU cooler and the fact that there is probably sufficient airflow passing over the cooler as it is. With the NT-06, performance increases a bit since any small amount of additional airflow will help a passive cooler.

8- Conclusion

With the SG03, Silverstone has built a case which is an engineering and design tour de force. Even though it is a Small Form Factor case it offers unbelievable cooling, plenty of room for expandability and enough bangs and whistles to satisfy even the most demanding of consumers. There is even room for an aftermarket CPU cooler as long as it fits within the prescribed height tolerances in addition to the potential to add additional cooling if the single quiet-running 120mm isn’t enough for you. Every aspect of the SG03 is meticulously planned with a mind towards easing installation, improving cooling and overall convenience. Indeed, the installation section was so short because we did not encounter any problems during the entire installation process. Without a well-written manual, any installation into this case would descend into utter chaos because of the shear complexity of installing certain components. Silverstone really stepped up to the plate here as well by providing an excellent set of instructions to guide us through the process. It is also inspiring to see such a compact case using its interior space well enough to fit a behemoth like the 8800GTX. The SG03 makes a laughing stock of all of the ATX-sized cases out there that don’t have the space to fit one of these long cards.

It really is hard to try to find something wrong with this case but there are a few points that need to be brought up. With this case, Silverstone is hoping to cash in on the ever-increasing market of consumers who want smaller cases but don’t want to lose many of the features of their ATX-sized brethren. Silverstone has succeeded quite well here but a case as good as this just cries out for a full ATX motherboard. On the other hand, there are some extremely good mATX motherboards on the market which are great performers. Another little stumbling point is the price of the SG03; at $170CAD it is anything but cheap. Sure you pay for the excellent design and overall quality of the SG03 but at the same time, this price-point puts it above some very appealing ATX-sized cases. With these ATX cases, you don’t get the compactness of Silverstone’s flagship SFF case but you do get other benefits like ATX motherboard compatibility.

The Silverstone SG03 is at the pinnacle of its category and is a must for anyone looking for a small form factor case. Its cooling performance is awe inspiring and it is amazingly spacious considering its overall size. When it backs all this up with a stunning exterior design and Silverstone’s legendary customer service, this product deserves a 5 / 5 and our Dam Good Award.

Pros:

– Compact size
– Great cooling performance
– Spacious for such a small case
– Very light
– Expandability options abound
– Exterior design is wonderfully understated
– Easy-to-understand instructions

Cons:

– Price
– Takes time and patience to install components
– Very little space to hide PSU cables if upper expansion slot is used

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