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SilverStone Fortress FT01 Mid-Tower Case Review

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lemonlime

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ft01_companylogo.jpg




SilverStone Fortress FT01 Mid-Tower Case Review



Manufacturer Product Page: SilverStone Fortress FT01
Product Number:
SST-FT01B (black)
SST-FT01S (silver)
SST-FT01B-W (black + window)
SST-FT01S-W (silver + window)
TechWiki Info: Silverstone Fortress FT01
Availability:
Now
Warranty: 3-Year
Price: $230-260 CAD. Click here to compare prices.


The PC enclosure market has been saturated with a lot of the same lately: similar designs and uninspiring features. “A case is a case” is a familiar phrase that we hear from those who have never taken a step up and dished out a bit extra for a premium quality case. Here at Hardware Canucks, we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled for cases that truly break out of the cookie cutter and provide innovative features and unique styling. In our opinion, a case is not just a case; it is a home for the PC components you’ve invested so much in. Installing hundreds if not thousands of dollars worth of gear in a cheap low-quality case is like hanging a Picasso in a garden shed. Not only will it not look right, it’s simply not a good environment to keep it in.

We’re not alone in our views on the importance of quality cases; SilverStone just so happens to agree with us on this. SilverStone is a company that should be very familiar to hardware enthusiasts. Founded back in 2003, they have become well known for their premium quality cases and power supplies. They have also had a particularly potent impact in the home theatre DIY scene with over two dozen high quality HTPC enclosures released to date. Although best known for small form factor cases, many enthusiasts and overclockers have been very fond of their full-size Temjin series enclosures.

As popular as the TJ07, TJ09 are, they are massive cases. Measuring in at over 600mm deep, they were clearly designed with EATX motherboards and full-length expansion cards in mind. Not everyone needs beautiful monstrosities like this. After all, that extra unused real-estate does add to the cost of the chassis. Two years after the release of the popular TJ07, SilverStone has released a smaller, more affordable all-aluminium case; the Fortress FT01. Some of the unique features found in the Temjin series as well as the Sugo line of cases can be found in the FT01.

The Fortress FT01 is definitely not your average mid-tower. The engineers at SilverStone have put quite a bit of thought into the design of this case. The first significant departure from the norm is SilverStone’s decision to use a “positive air pressure” design. This is achieved through the use of use of greater intake flow than exhaust flow. Even a case having an equal number of identical intake and exhaust fans will still have an overall negative pressure due to the PSU fan, and sometimes the video card exhausting air from the case. SilverStone employed two massive 180mm intake fans in the FT01 to outweigh the single 120mm exhaust fan and create an overall positive pressure within. Not only does this reduce the amount of dust entering the case but SilverStone also claims that it can benefit high-end video cards as well. Hot air from the cards is not allowed to escape at or around the PCI brackets in a negative pressure environment. In the FT01’s positive pressure environment, a continuous stream of exhaust will be exiting the vented PCI-brackets as well as the other crevices in the case.

SilverStone has a video demonstrating this effect at the FT01 product page and details the advantages of the design in the tech talk area of their site. SilverStone’s Sugo SG03 case that we reviewed last year also uses a positive air pressure design.

The second noteworthy feature of the FT01 is its uni-body construction. Just like uni-body construction in the automotive industry, the case does not have a frame made up of several pieces of material. The entire center portion of the case is constructed out of a single piece of aluminium. This means an overall sturdier construction and removes the need for unsightly horizontal reinforcement bars and multiple riveted panels. SilverStone first introduced uni-body construction in the award winning TJ07.

There are currently four revisions of the FT01 to choose from; black or silver, with or without a window. Availability is currently very good—it can be found at many retailers across Canada. Priced at $230-260, it is clearly aimed toward the enthusiast. None the less, it is over $100 cheaper than the high-end Temjin cases, putting a high quality SilverStone tower closer to the reach of the average consumer.

Today, we’ll be taking a look at the SST-FT01B-W model.


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lemonlime

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Features and Specifications

Features and Specifications

The below specifications were taken from the SilverStone Fortress FT01 product page.

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/lemonlime/cases/silverstone_ft01/ft01_specs.JPG" border="0" alt="" />
 
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lemonlime

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Packaging & Accessories

Packaging & Accessories

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The Fortress FT01 is packaged in a large cardboard box. Although pretty massive, it is noticeably shorter than the large box the TJ09 ships in. A listing of the features and specifications are listed on the box, along with some shots of the interior and exterior of the case. The images on the box are of a silver FT01, but the actual product code can be found in the corner indicating what is within.

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The FT01 is protected by foam inserts which are spaced well to protect it against any dings or punctures while in transit. The box is a little large as a result, but you can rest assured that the case is unlikely to be damaged in its retail packaging.

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Very little is included with the FT01 in the way of accessories. A small cardboard box containing the accessories can be found tucked away in one of the foam inserts. It contains a bag of screws and motherboard standoffs, a 3-pin to Molex adapter and an instruction manual.

One may argue that it is the quality of the case that matters, not the included extras. The accessory bundle is certainly a contrast to some cases on the market like the Hiper Osiris that we recently reviewed.
 
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lemonlime

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Exterior Impressions

Exterior Impressions

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The Fortress FT01 employs a very simple and understated design but its brushed aluminum finish, smooth lines and subtle design elements give it a very high quality look. Those who pay little attention to enclosures may think the FT01 looks like your average mid-tower, while those who “know” will undoubtedly recognize that it is anything but.

The large front intake grille hints to the large 180mm fan behind it. Those who are very fond of Lian-Li’s styling will definitely like the FT01 since this definitely not a flashy case rammed full of LED fans, cold cathodes and bright colours.

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From the side, you can see that the FT01 is considerably shorter than the EATX supporting Temjin TJ07, TJ09 and TJ10. The model we are reviewing today is the FT01B-W where the "W" denotes an acrylic window. Those who are not terribly good with cable management can opt for the FT01B model that includes a solid side panel and save a few dollars.

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We were disappointed to see that our sample had a cracked acrylic window. The packaging was in excellent condition so it appears that SilverStone simply over-tightened the screws. As you can see, it is cracked in two spots. This is clearly a manufacturer’s defect and should exchanged if found in this state. However, this appears to be an isolated incident and not wide-spread.

Aside from the cracked acrylic, there is also a slight haze visible on the window when viewed from certain angles. No amount of glass cleaner was able to remove it. We expected a better quality window given the price tag of the FT01.

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Unlike most generic mid-towers, the power supply mounts at the bottom of the FT01. This is a common layout that most new high-end enclosures follow. It usually comes down to personal preference, but there are some pros and cons to both layouts. In a positive air pressure case like the FT01, it is indeed a positive feature that we’ll get into a bit more when we take a look at the interior of the FT01.

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Only a single 120mm fan can be found at the rear of the FT01but plenty of ventilation openings can be found around the expansion card brackets. This is part of SilverStone’s positive air pressure design and should allow a healthy amount of passive exhaust around any toasty graphics cards.

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SilverStone thoughtfully included some rubber grommets for external water cooling systems. The openings seem too high for a direct bolt on of a single 120mm radiator, but should come in handy for some custom mounts. Thumb screws are included for the side panels and some unique locking levers are used to hold the side panel in place when removing the thumb screws. We should note that the side panels fit quite securely when locked in place and have a very high quality feel to them.

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The FT01 can accept any standard size ATX power supply, including extra long models. There are threaded holes in place to allow for both standard and upside-down power supply mounting.
 
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lemonlime

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Exterior Impressions pg.2

Exterior Impressions cont.

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The front of the Fortress FT01 looks very simple. You’ll notice that SilverStone left only the essentials on the front fascia. A single power button and LED naturally blend in about half-way up the case.

When looking head-on, the only hint to the brand of this case is the small trademark snowflake on the intake grille. It would have been nice to see SilverStone include or make available some brushed aluminum CD drive bezels to make drives stand out less in the FT01.

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The I/O ports and reset switch can be found at the top of the FT01. Two USB ports, a FireWire port and the essential AC97 audio connections are included. Although the ports are exposed and easily accessible, it would have been nice to see them concealed behind a pop-up door similar to the TJ09 and TJ10. It just seems that SilverStone went to so much trouble to make the front of the case look so subtle and understated that the top appears “busy”.

Toward the rear of the case, the massive 180mm grille can be found. Although many cases have top exhaust fans, the sheer size of the grille hints that this is not your average fan. At first glance, most will assume that this is an exhaust, not an intake opening.

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At the bottom of the case, you’ll find a large grille for the PSU intake. SilverStone has included a good-sized dust filter for it and has sized it well for larger PSUs so those with 120 or 140mm bottom mounted fans should line up well. Heavy-duty rubber feet are included to keep vibration down and keep the FT01 planted firmly on the floor.
 
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lemonlime

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions

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With the side window removed, we are greeted with a spacious interior and a peak at the massive 180mm fans.

Instead of leaving enthusiasts to do it themselves, Silverstone has taken the initiative to paint the interior of the FT-01 completely black. I am sure there are many people who have been waiting for more manufacturers to move away from dull grey interiors so it is great that SilverStone has indeed been listening carefully to what enthusiasts want.

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A total of seven 3.5” hard drives can be installed in removable drive caddies. They are mounted perpendicular to the case, which makes installation very easy and keeps them accessible. On the flip side, however, the drive cage appears awfully restrictive and will definitely impede the intake flow of that lovely 180mm fan. The drive caddies are intended to be used in conjunction with SilverStone’s CP05 hot-swap adapters.

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A very unique feature of the FT01 is the locking mechanism for the five 5.25” drive bays. They simply swing upward like a switch to open, and then lock the optical drives in place in the down position. No more tiny screws to fuss with.

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The PSU vent on the bottom of the FT01 is nice and large so it should accommodate just about any regular or oversized PSU with a 120 or 140mm fan. SilverStone does provide holes to mount the PSU upside down, but keeping the fan facing the lower vent will ensure that the PSU intake does not reduce the positive pressure in the case. Mounting in this orientation will also ensure that the PSU is receiving cooler air from outside of the case. Power supplies with rear 80mm fans, like the PC Power and Cooling Silencer series will not be able to take advantage of this.


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Many of the header connections come from the top panel and some of them can be easily removed if so desired.

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There is no shortage of motherboard connectors coming from the FT01’s top panel and the front of the case. USB, Firewire, AC97 and HD audio connectors can all be found coming from the top panel as well as the reset switch lead comes from the top of the case. The other switches and LED header connections come from the front.

Like we usually see, some of the leads are wrapped in black insulating plastic, but many are simple twisted multi-coloured leads. It would have been nice to see SilverStone sleeve these; especially considering the high quality appearance of the FT01. Picky enthusiasts will likely sleeve these cables themselves.

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Another nice feature of the FT01 is the acoustic dampening foam found on the side panels that helps to reduce vibration as well as noise. It also gives the panels a slightly heavier and higher quality feel. This foam is about a centimetre thick and compresses easily. It should also be said that this is not something we are used to seeing on a mid-tower case but then again, the FT01 is priced slightly higher than many mid-tower cases on the market as well.
 
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lemonlime

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Interior Impressions pg.2

Interior Impressions cont.

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Squeezed behind the 180mm fan and the 120mm exhaust fan are the water cooling grommets. It seems odd that SilverStone placed them this high up the case as they are very difficult to access in this area.

The 120mm exhaust fan is a SilverStone branded fan with the model number DF1202512RFLN but searches for more information on this fan turned up very little information. It appears to be a sleeve bearing fan used by SilverStone in some of their other cases as well and is rated at a relatively slow 900RPM speed and 18dBA.

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The large 180mm exhaust fans are SilverStone branded with the model number DF1803212RFLN and are rated for 700RPM at 12V and only 18dBA.

SilverStone does state that the 180mm fans used in the FT01 can have trouble starting if used on a variable speed fan header or a fan controller so be careful. This is because since there is substantial weight to the oversize fins, a higher than usual start up voltage is required. More information on this can be found in SilverStone’s FT01 Q&A area. There are unfortunately not many 180mm replacement fans on the market so those interested in replacement models will have difficulty finding them. Because of this fact, it would have been nice to have higher RPM models that can be adjusted for quiet systems, or left at full speed for higher performance cooling. At only 700RPM, these fans are definitely tuned for silence.

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SilverStone includes dust filters for both 180mm intake fans, as well as the PSU intake. They utilize a very fine mesh and should be pretty easy to clean. The front intake filter can be easily removed, but the fan at the top of the case must be removed to access the filter there. The same holds true for the PSU filter so if your PC is located in a dusty environment, you may find this to be an inconvenience. Those who dislike cleaning dust filters can remove the filters altogether and many enthusiasts remove them simply to maximize airflow.

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One of the great features of the FT01 is the cable management grommets running along the back of the hard drive cages. Header leads and SATA connectors can cleanly enter into the main area of the case using these openings. However, they are a little tight for PSU leads, but are definitely a nice addition nonetheless.

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On the other side of the case, the wiring access to the hard drive cages can be seen, as well as the opening for the PSU cables. SilverStone includes one CP05 hot-swap adapter with the FT01. Hard drives can be easily hooked up without them, but for proper hot-swap operation, they are required. The CP05 adapter has a pass-through Molex connector and not a SATA power adapter and additional ones are sold separately.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation

Installation

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Lower PSU mounted cases are often very difficult to work with, but not the FT01. The PSU was very easy to install and was held in place very tightly and there is actually some foam under the motherboard tray bracket that holds it firmly in place.

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At the other side of the case, most of the cables can be pulled through and hidden away. We found the empty hard drive cages to be a perfect spot to hide away extra leads even though our non-modular TX750 is definitely a tough PSU to work with in cramped cases. Although not perfect, the cable management in the FT01 is a huge improvement over the TJ09 and TJ10.

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The header connections, SATA lead and the front 180mm fan lead all entered the case at the perfect height for connection to the motherboard. Extra slack was simply pulled back through the rubber grommets and tied up behind the hard drive cages.

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Installing the hard drive is also very easy to do. The drive caddy fit the drive perfectly and there are special screws included for hard drive mounting. They are longer than regular case screws to allow spacing for the rubber washers which should help reduce vibration and noise from the drive. There are openings to allow some airflow through, but most of the drive’s perimeter is insulated.

Although it would have increased the cost of the case slightly, metal drive caddies would have been preferable. Once we had the drive installed in the caddy, it effortlessly slid into the drive cage and clicked into the CP05 hot-swap adapter.
 
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lemonlime

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Installation pg.2

Installation cont.

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Although an overall spacious case, there are a few areas that can get cramped and are thus hard to work in. We found that with both hard drive cages in place, it can get a bit tight behind the graphics card in particular. In our test system, getting the PCI-E power connector plugged into the Radeon HD3850 was a bit difficult so we would suggest removing the top-most hard drive cage if you are using three or fewer hard drives. This will buy you quite a bit of extra real-estate. However, SilverStone states that extra long cards like the HD4870X2 will fit with both drive cages in place.

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If there is one feature we’d like to thank SilverStone for, it is the 5.25 inch locking mechanisms. We’ve never installed an optical drive so effortlessly since there are no rails or screws are required. All we had to do was to pop out the bay cover and slide the drive in until it clicked. We then pushed down the locking button and were finished. What a fantastic feature. It is just so easy and straightforward, we can’t believe no one thought of this before.

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Once we had everything installed, there is a bit of a rat’s nest of cables found behind the drive bays and hard drive cages. With non-modular PSUs, the cables have to hide somewhere, unfortunately. Overall, the cable routing options in the FT01 are very good and make working with a bottom mounted PSU a piece of cake.

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The final install looked nice and clean. It was a bit tight in some areas, but we were impressed with how easy it was to work with the FT01.
 
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lemonlime

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Conclusion

Conclusion

Let’s break it down for those who have skipped straight to the conclusion, shall we?

From an aesthetics perspective, the FT01 is a case that just about anyone will like the look of. Beauty is certainly in the eye of the beholder as case aesthetics are very subjective. None the less, there are no flashy LEDs, stickers or oversize logos anywhere to be found. This case would look right at home on the desk of a hardware enthusiast just as much as it would on the desk of an office worker.

The build quality of the FT01 is near perfect. There are no sharp edges anywhere within this enclosure and the uni-body construction makes it not only a strong case, but removes the need for internal supports within. The black painted interior was a pleasant surprise and the brushed aluminum finish is top-notch just as the side panels have a nice heavy feel to them and lock into place very securely. We were unfortunately disappointed to see that our acrylic window arrived cracked in two places due to over-torqued screws. However, we are able to look past this issue as it is clearly a manufacturer's defect and does not appear to be wide-spread from what we can tell.

From a usability perspective, the FT01 introduces some very innovative features that make working with it a very pleasant experience. Our absolute favourite is the locking 5.25” drive bays which make installing an optical drive an absolute breeze. There are numerous cable management features found in the FT01 that make dealing with case header leads and a non-modular PSUs less of a daunting chore. SilverStone has clearly done their homework, as bottom mounted PSU cases can be a real nightmare to work with if not designed properly. We’re pleased to report that the FT01 is a big step up from the TJ09 and TJ10 in this regard.

Although being tuned for quiet operation, the airflow within the FT01 is good. The large 180mm top intake fan provides quite a bit of airflow to the top half of the motherboard including the regulation components and memory. Our biggest concern with regards to cooling is the front intake fan. The hard drive cages are far too restrictive and block much of the airflow. Although it does succeed in creating a significant positive air pressure within the case, direct airflow to the graphics card could have been improved.

Overall, we were very impressed with the SilverStone FT01. Priced at about $230, it is not cheap, but you certainly get what you pay for. Therefore, we’re pleased to award the FT01 with Hardware Canucks’ “DAM GOOD” award.


Pros:

- Very classy styling
- Plenty of space for ATX systems
- Excellent build quality and uni-body aluminum construction
- Oversize 180mm fans included and good rear ventilation
- 5.25” drive bay locks
- Good cable management features for a bottom mounted PSU
- Sound dampening material on both side panels
- Very quiet


Cons:

- Some quality control issues with the acrylic window observed with our sample
- Hard drive cages too restrictive and block intake airflow to graphics cards

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Thanks to SilverStone for sending us this case​
 
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