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Thermaltake Sword M Super Tower Case w/Liquid Cooling Review

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SKYMTL

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Thermaltake Sword M Super Tower Case w/Liquid Cooling Review




Product Number:
VD500LBNA (w/water cooling)
VD5000BNA (w/o water cooling)

Price:
$700CAD (w/water cooling)
$600CAD (w/o water cooling)

Manufacturer’s product page:
Thermaltake SwordM



More than a year ago, (before I got into hardware reviewing) my eyes caught sight of a Thermaltake press announcement from CES detailing the imminent release of their Sword M case. To someone not jaded by countless reviews, it looked like an enclosure that dreams were made out of and I was determined to get one at any cost. It was the flagship case from a manufacturer I had always respected and it looked like it came with all the bangs and whistles anyone could ever ask for. I was officially enthralled.

Fast forward about 14 months and I find myself on the receiving end of this seemingly magnificent case albeit now I am a bit more jaded regarding what I do and don’t like to see in a case. However, Thermaltake has waved the Sword M in front of my face and from where I am standing, it looks damn hard to resist. Not only does it boast all-aluminum construction, massive amounts of interior space, built-in hydraulics and more features than you can shake a ram module at but it is also completely hand-built. The all-aluminum extrusions are assembled with care and they all come together to build one of the largest PC cases in the enthusiast market. Indeed, as you will see later the Sword M cuts an imposing figure in any room you put it into, especially if it is equipped with the optional LCD monitor. Thermaltake even gives you the option to order this chassis in custom colors (red and yellow) as well.

With all of this, you are probably wondering how many of these cases are actually being made but all we could get out of Thermaltake was that the Sword M is a “limited edition” case so when the stock of it runs out, that’s all she wrote. Supposedly, the total run was in the low thousands of units but don’t quote me on that. Even with the limited number, Thermaltake offers this case in the same flavors that they offer all of their high-end cases: in water cooled and non-water cooled versions. In this review we will be looking at the Sword M with the built-in water cooling system which consists of the usual radiator, pump, reservoir and CPU block but we will also detail the various air cooling features of the non-watercooled version.

Now we have come to the part of this intro you have probably all been waiting for: price….and hold onto your hats because it ain’t pretty. The standard Sword M without any water cooling installed will run you a jaw-dropping $500 to $600 CAD while the built in water cooling will add about $100 to the price brining the total to a stratospheric $600 to $700 CAD. Even if you can find it listed here in Canada, retailers don’t usually carry stock so expect a wait time of two to three weeks before you get your hands on the Sword M. Exclusivity doesn’t come cheap folks and at this price, this better be one of the best computer cases we have seen up to now.

Is the Sword-M really the last word in the world of cases or are all of those seemingly convenient components only window dressing for a case that is merely ok? Considering its unbelievable price and its bold claims, we are going to have MUCH higher expectations for this Thermaltake enclosure than we have had for past cases so let’s hope my 14 month wait has been worth it.

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SKYMTL

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Specifications / Packaging

Specifications

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Packaging

Let me preempt this section with a little story about me, UPS, a thrown back and how woefully unprepared I was for receiving a case of this magnitude.

After tracking the Sword M’s progress across the continent I made sure I stayed home from work the day it was supposed to be delivered. When I finally saw the UPS truck pull up I went to the front door only to find the skinniest UPS guy I have ever seen carrying a box that would have daunted a good-sized forklift. As he teetered up the snow-covered walkway (whoops, forgot to shovel) I stood there with a smile on my face because here was the same guy who left a power supply on my doorstep in a snowstorm a week before. Payback’s a bitch, ain’t it?

To make a long story short, I helped carry the behemoth box back to the UPS truck due to a customs charge and I proceeded to jump through more loopholes than a circus monkey in order for the charges to be waived while the Sword M sat at the UPS warehouse. Finally, I went to pick up the Sword…alone…in a snowstorm, and once again I was greeted with The Beast:

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The size of the Sword M’s box can only be called obscene and the weight of it is something I never want to experience again. Thinking there was someone to impress, I refused the dolly from the blond bombshell at the UPS counter and proceeded to lug this 80-pound box to my car through blowing snow. Needless to say, my back decided enough was enough and blew out on me as I heaved the Sword M into my trunk. What came next was a crawl into the car and three visits to a chiropractor.

That being said, if you need to pick up this box I recommend you bring along a forklift, Sherpa or able-bodied friend along with you because nearly 80lbs of aluminum in a size-defying box is not something to be toyed around with.

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Considering the size of the box itself, I would have thought there would have been quite a bit more padding inside but as it turns out, there is quite a bit of wiggle room. Both ends of the Sword M are protected by polystyrene inserts while the no-so-delicate finish is kept scratch-free by a cloth covering. To tell you the truth, I was hoping to see a bit more packaging material in there protecting a $600 investment.
 
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SKYMTL

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Accessories & Installation Hardware

Accessories & Installation Hardware

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Unfortunately, for an enclosure that costs an arm, a leg and your first born child, you don’t get as many extras as you would expect and this proves to be a huge disappointment for me. Even though you do get all the basics and then some, Thermaltake should have included literally anything else to soften the blow this case packs on your wallet. Nonetheless, you get white zip ties and tie downs (for an enclosure that is almost completely black inside!!), two extra front panels, a right angle power cable extender and a ton of screws and standoffs. There are also four black screws for installing the power supply.

I also had a hard time wrapping my mind around the larger purple rubber zip-ties; nothing else on the Sword M is purple so why the odd choice of color? Seeing these I promptly went to Home Depot and bought myself a package of 50 black plastic zip-ties that cost me all of five bucks. I just couldn’t believe I had to make a run to a hardware store to replace something in a $600 case.

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Here’s another head-scratcher for all of you folks keeping score at home. While including a right-angle power cord with the Sword M is a must due to its unique design, Thermaltake went with the cheapest one possible and this has ramifications closely tied to the power supply you buy. Usually someone spending this much on a case will pony up the money for a higher-end power supply (think 900W and more) and these units usually come with a thick, 16AWG power cord. High power consumption has dictated the need for higher gauge AC power wires in extreme circumstances but this is rendered useless by Thermaltake’s inclusion of this cheap, hair-thin extender that you need to use no matter what.

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Meanwhile, in a separate box you get all of the water cooling components which includes two bottles of fluid, about six feet of 3/8" ID / 1/2” OD tubing, the CPU water block and all of the mounting hardware you need to install the block on any AMD s939 / AM2 or Intel 775 system.
 
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SKYMTL

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Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required

Before I go on prattling about the exterior design, it has to be mentioned that in the same vein as all things Ikea that the Sword M requires a bit of assembly after you struggle to pull it from the vice-like grip of the box. Even though it is advertised as having “tool-less installation” you better take out your screwdriver to put your brand new case together.

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As you can see, things look a tad bit…incomplete when the Sword M is taken out of the box for the first time. Both the top and bottom “lips” are missing from the front panel and the wheels still need to be installed. There are also two strips of masking tape that have been applied to keep the front drive covers on and this tape needs to be removed very carefully or you will leave some pretty nasty residue on the front panel.

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There are four casters in total to install and each take four screws. I found that the best way to install these is to turn the whole case on its side, install one screw on the base plate and then line up the rest of the holes. It might seem a bit tedious but flipping the Sword M over on its head causes some serious problems due to the two “roll bars” (read: handles).

Each individual caster looks to be what you would find on a standard office chair which means they are relatively heavy duty. Every one of them has a brake so you can easily stop the Sword from moving from side to side.

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Above and below the front panel of the Sword M you will need to install a pair of aluminum “lips”. The bottom one is quite easy to install with the included screws but installing the one for the top is a bit of a pain. Thermaltake provides you with a long metal straw-like dowel which has to be pushed through two sets of holes. Not only does this take the hand-eye coordination of a brain surgeon but also some pounding with a rubber mallet since the pieces are slightly unaligned.
 
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SKYMTL

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Exterior Impressions

Exterior Impressions

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I’ll be honest with you; for me the jury is still out on the exterior design of this case. On one hand pictures really don’t do it much justice but on the other hand there are parts that just look “tacked on” as they say. Without a doubt, the Sword M is as majestic as it is heavy and having it sitting next to your computer will reward you with “oohs” and “aahhhs” from all of your buddies. The powder coating used for the aluminum is absolutely top notch to the point where it will resist scratches from everything short of a thorough keying from some car keys. Even the corrugated side panels give it a unique look which is second to none on the enclosure market.

The front is where the design needs a bit of revision in my opinion. While there are all of the drive slots you could possibly want, the top and bottom “lips” just look out of place. That bottom lip is especially annoying since it projects just enough for your foot to smash into it when you are walking by.

Meanwhile, the back of the Sword M has a unique and extremely sleek design. I would have loved to have seen something akin to this repeated on the front of the case since it is more fitting with the high-end price this case demands. The entire rear portion is one huge door which swings open to give you access to any cards you have installed on your motherboard. There are also a pair of 120mm exhaust fans installed here.

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The front panel houses the standard power and reset buttons as well as 2 USD 2.0 connectors, 1 Firewire 1934 connector, a headphone jack and a mic input. The inclusion of an eSATA connector can only be lauded as a great addition but the main issue with this is that the current eSATA interface requires a separate power connector which needs to be plugged in independently from the data cable.

Moving a bit further down the front panel we find a grille for a single 120mm intake fan with a blue LED. While this will provide ample airflow to the interior of the Sword M, there is no dust filter on it so be prepared for it to suck in copious amounts of dust.

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The bottom proportion of the front panel slides out to reveal a nifty little storage compartment. While it doesn’t hold much, it is convenient for all those loose tie-wraps, screws and other odds and ends you have hanging around.
Meanwhile, the drive covers are a lesson in engineering excellence; they are precision-fitted extruded aluminum pieces which only need a gentle tug to be removed.

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There isn’t really anything much going on with the side panels other than the fact that one has an opening for 4 fans (or in this case a water cooling radiator). Both sides have the rugged-looking aluminum fins which may give a perception of masculinity but they are a pain in the butt to clean in between and are held on by four thumb screws.

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It is always good to see thumb-screws on a case and this one has them in abundance; four hold down the side opposite the motherboard while another two are installed on the other side of the Sword M.

Meanwhile, even though our sample of the Sword M has the water cooling radiator blocking two of the mounting locations, the side door has room for four 120mm fans. Once again, there are large holes for the air to pass through which will act as a double-edged sword (no pun intended); they may allow good airflow to the fans but at the same time this will allow quite a bit of dust to enter your case.

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The top lip of the Sword M conveniently flips up but as you will see later, this is a bit pointless since you can’t install a disk drive into the top drive bay. Even though it may be redundant, the inclusion of foam to cushion the transition between the lip and the front bezel is well thought out and flawless in its execution.

Atop this lip we find a silk screened Sword M logo which is perfectly centered with the two carrying handles.

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The top of the Sword M has the two carrying handles which should NOT be used to carry a case that weighs nigh on 6 stone so they are more decorative than anything else. Between them is grille much like the side one which holds another pair of 120mm exhaust fans. The build quality seen here is seen everywhere else on the Sword M and I have to say this is the highest quality case I have ever seen….the quality is even higher than that of the Hiper Anubis.

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The back door is easily opened by pulling the brushed aluminum tab and then swinging it open. This is actually an ingenious design which has every right being included on a case of this price.

In the end, a lot about the exterior design of a case comes down to personal preference so I can only give you my opinions. Overall, there are many design queues on the Sword M which are absolutely brilliant such as the rearmost quarter with its door that conveniently hides any cables. Even the unusable carrying handles give an elegant look to the top of Thermaltake’s flagship case and the all-extruded construction is nothing short of inspired.

Unfortunately, the front of this case just falls flat for me since it looks like pretty much everything else on the market today. Generic is not what you want when you spend $600 but then again there are plenty of endearing qualities here as well.
 
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SKYMTL

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Interior Impressions

Interior Impressions

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A word of warning before you open the side door of this case: it is on a hair-thin trigger and it will belt you one in the face, knee or groin if you are not careful. This is because the door opens via a hydraulic piston that is only held in check by the thumb screws and when they are removed, make sure you hold it in place or the door will say hello in a nasty way.

When the door first opens with a release of air your think to yourself “cool” but when you have to brace the door over and over again for fear of it flinging itself open, it gets a bit annoying. However, this is one of the more unique features you will likely see on a case so it is unfortunate that it is kept on the inside where no one will ever see it.

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Here is a little better look at the interior of the Sword M. One thing that I can say about this case is that it has acres of interior space and will easily fit even the longest graphics card on the market without a problem. Thermaltake also breaks with tradition here by powder coating the entire interior a matte black finish with a few touches of silver on the drive cages. Overall, the interior is extremely well designed and just oozes class.

However, the wires for the fans provided a bit of an issue for me. Since there are seven (yes, seven) included fans, it would have been nice for Thermaltake to provide us with something a little different other than the generic red and black wiring hooked up to a Molex connector. If you remember our Gigabyte Aurora 570 review, there was a special connector included where you could daisy-chain three fans together so they plugged into one motherboard header. It was an elegant and simple solution which could have been included here as well.

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The bottom portion of the case has a perforated chrome sheet which can be used to mount a pair of 120mm fans. Additionally, there is what seems to be a pair of holes for water cooling tubes but since there are no protective rubber strips protecting these holes, I would advise against passing you water cooling tubes through them. From the look of it, this seems to be the perfect location for a dual fan radiator.​

The next picture illustrates two major issues I have with the Sword M and both of them should have been addressed before the release of this case. First of all there is the ungodly number of generic beige cables used for the front connector panel I/O ports. Being beige, they completely clash with the classy black interior of the case and coupled with the rainbow of colors presented by the power, reset and LED wires for the front panel they stand out like a sore thumb.

Then there is the issue of the number of hard drives which can be installed into the Sword M. While the hard drive cage and its accompanying 120mm fan can be conveniently removed via a quartet of thumb screws, having a mere three areas to install drives is a definite no-no on a high end case.

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Inside of the two front doors there are helpful instructions regarding the opening of the other doors on the Sword M in addition to a little message from the lead designer in charge its design. Looks like Thermaltake’s design tam have some pretty lofty expectations for their flagship enclosure.

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One of the features I love about this enclosure is the numerous holes which were placed in strategic locations for zip-ties and other fasteners. These really come in handy since as you will see later, the Sword M provides next to no wire routing routes.

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All of your expansion cards (GPUs, sound cards, etc.) are held in place by an easy to use plastic clamp system. While they blend right into the overall design, the clamps themselves are a bit flimsy and since they are made out of plastic, problems with cracking may arise after repeated and high impact usage.

With the back door open we can see the two 120mm exhaust fans as well as the water cooling pump and reservoir. Closer to the top there is also a bracket for the power supply. What struck me as being the oddest feature of this case is that there is no need for a motherboard backplate since there really is not “back” to the Sword M per se.

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You may have noticed in some of our last pictures that there is a pair of small aluminum pull tabs at the back of the Sword M. Well, once both are pulled the case lets out a mighty hiss of air and…

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The entire top portion of the case is lifted by a pair of hydraulic pistons.

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Once the top is lifted, you have access to the two pre-installed 120mm exhaust fans as well as mounting locations for a third fan. Even though the space is pretty tight, it is possible to easily uninstall the two top fans and replace them with something more to your liking. According to Thermaltake, it is also possible to mount some triple fan radiators up here as well.

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Yes the Sword M does come with a motherboard tray but installing and uninstalling it is a bit of a pain since it is held on by eight tiny screws. Nonetheless, having a motherboard tray is definitely a welcome addition to any enclosure no matter which way you cut it. Here we can also see that since the tray is mounted so close to the side panel there really isn’t any room for cable routing other than behind the drive bays.
 
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SKYMTL

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Water Cooling Components

Water Cooling Components

The Sword M we received had an integrated water cooling system that is compatible with other aftermarket water cooling components on the market.

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Behind the back door of the Sword M resides the reservoir which is linked directly to the pump. You can also see that the piece of aluminum they are attached to has additional mounting holes in case you choose to remove the components Thermaltake included and replace them with higher quality products.

The pump installed here is the standard Thermaltake P400 pump which is rated to move 400 liters per hour of while the reservoir can hold up to 350cc of liquid.

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The radiator is a large-scale 30cm by 22cm affair which has a shroud on which two 120mm fans are mounted in order to blow cool air over the fins. Unfortunately, this radiator design looks very restrictive which means it inhibits the flow of liquid through its tubes. This in effect slows down the speed of the water which diminishes cooling performance.

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There is a pair of black rubber tubes attached to the radiator for in/out water flow but make sure that you remove the zip-tie that holds them together because it kinks one of the tubes.

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To the left is the water block that comes with the Sword M and on the right is the one which comes with the Thermaltake Bigwater 760i. Notice the difference? Well other than the premature corrosion on the one included with this case, there is no difference at all. The threading only seems to be compatible with Thermaltake’s custom nozzles.

This CPU block seems to be just another step in what could only be called an extremely restrictive loop which once put together should offer slightly better (we hope) cooling than a good air cooler.

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The base of this block is absolutely perfect but that does not necessarily equate improved cooling potential over some water clocks with less than perfect bases. Luckily, Thermaltake provides mounting hardware which is compatible with nearly every platform on the market so the CPU block can be installed on s939, AM2 and LGA775 systems.

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The fluid included with the water cooling kit is Thermaltake’s proprietary Bigwater liquid which has a green tint to it. Our resident water cooling experts recommends avoiding this fluid and replacing it with regular distilled water.
 
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SKYMTL

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Component Installation

Component Installation

Overall, installing components into the Sword M is quite straightforward and went without a hitch. There are a few steps which are MIA in the instruction manual so while this section will not touch on every aspect of installation it will discuss some of the highlights and pitfalls you will encounter.

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The first order of business is to install the motherboard onto the motherboard tray. Since there is place for on the motherboard tray for E-ATX motherboards, our Asus M3A32-MVP Deluxe looks positively tiny by comparison and this goes to show just how much space is actually available in the Sword M. You can also see that we have pre-installed a D-Tek Fuzion CPU block which in this installation was used in place of the included Thermaltake block.

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The hard drive cage is easily removed by removing four thumb screws and come out with the front 120mm intake fan. However, installing the hard drives is easier said than done since trying to position the screws properly through the slots in the cage is extremely hard. There is also the distinct lack of any rubber grommets to cut down on hard drive vibrations.

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Depending on the layout of your interior components you can choose to place the hard drive bay wherever you want on the front panel of the Sword M. In this instance you can see that it can be installed quite high but this can have a negative impact on the airflow within the case.

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The installation of the 5.25” drives entails the easy removal of the front panel and the installation of the drive itself with four thumb screws. You may notice that we have installed our DVD drive in the bottom bay; this is because installing it into the top bay is completely impossible due to the length of the drive conflicting with the top fan placement.

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The top 5.25” drive bay is held in place by two strategically placed conical thumb screws which make for easy removal when you need to replace the drive. The conflict between the top drive and the 120mm exhaust fan can be seen here as well which means that the top bay should only be used for a fan controller or something with a similar depth.

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The installation of a power supply into the Sword M is very intuitive by way of a bracket which is then used to slide the whole unit into the case. Even a large power supply like the Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W shown here can easily be installed.
 
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SKYMTL

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Water Cooling Installation

Water Cooling Installation

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The installation of the stock water block onto the CPU is very straightforward so we won’t go into it here. On the other hand, the way the tubing is attached to the nozzles is extremely easy and is sure to win a lot of fans among water cooling novices (myself included). All that needs to be done is unscrew the clamps, slide them over the tubing, insert the tubing over the nozzle and then screw the clamp back onto the nozzle. This provides a nearly foolproof method of putting together a nearly leak-proof loop.

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Before we go any further into this installation it should be mentioned that you should pay very close attention to and kinks you have in the tubing. There are many areas in this case where the tubing has the potential to bend in some serious ways so make sure you keep an eye on things, especially with the black rubber tubing at the bottom of the radiator.

The next step will be to take some measurements of your tubing and cut it to usable lengths. Just remember: it is easy to work with a longer tube but if you cut too short, there is no way to undo what you have done. Here we can see that the green PVC tubing is interfaced with the black tubes from the radiator via a pair of beveled nozzles. The tubes are attached to each other by way of a pair of standard clamps which prevents any leakage.

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The installation of the tubing onto the pump and the reservoir is exactly the same as we saw with the Thermaltake water block. It is very novice-oriented and wonderfully simple.

Due to the unique nature of the Sword M’s layout, the tubing passes right in front of the motherboard’s I/O connectors but there is still enough space to give you access to them without too much of a problem. What you do have to watch out for is the tubes coming in contact with any heatsinks you may have on your motherboard once the back door is closed. Here the heatsinks have Asus’ trademark fan installed on them but if it was left bare, it would present an extremely hot surface which may damage your tubing.

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One of the most important things to remember about installing water cooling into this case is that fact that there is a pair of door to contend with. Make sure you check very carefully that when the doors are closed that they don’t cause your tubing to kink or bend in unnatural ways.

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To see if the proprietary Thermaltake water cooling system was compatible with higher quality components, we installed a D-Tek Fuzion CPU block with its optional 3/8” nozzles. Well, it installed without a problem and this bodes extremely well for the water cooling setup in the Sword M. While it may be restrictive to the flow of fluid through its components, Thermaltake’s loop can be upgraded through the use of aftermarket components like the Fuzion we used here.

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Something that Thermaltake doesn’t include in their instruction manual nor is it written anywhere in their documentation is the importance of leak-testing your loop before you turn you system on. What I did here was to isolate any leaks which may occur with paper towels so the distilled water would not get onto my components. I then hooked up the pump to an old power supply which was then started with a power supply tester which puts a dummy load of about 100W on the PSU. I then let the water circulate through the loop (while filling the reservoir as needed) for one hour to ensure that there were no leaks. This is a VERY important step so do not forget to do it.​

Considering before this I had never touched water cooling, I have to say that Thermaltake’s implementation of easy to install components coupled with good instructions made the job of a novice a lot less daunting. If you are looking into taking the leap to water cooling, this will provide you with a good jump-off point. Good job Thermaltake.
 

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Completed Installation

Completed Installation

System Components:

Motherboard: ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe
Processor: AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition
Memory: 2x1GB Corsair XMS2 PC2 8500
GPU: 4x Diamond Radeon HD3850 256MB
Hard Drive: Hitachi Deskstar 500GB SATA2
Disk Drive: Pioneer SATA DVD Writer
Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W Cable Management


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After hours of grinding it out in the trenches, here is what our system looks like in the Sword M. Overall it is a pretty clean install but there were a few issues which mainly center on the complete lack of cable routing options built into this case. Mention also has to be made about the Toughpower 1200W power supply we installed; ironically, Thermaltake’s flagship power supply needs extension cables to fit into their flagship case. I am sure their competitors are laughing right about now…

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The combination of very close PCI-E slots on the motherboard with the clamp system Thermaltake uses for expansion cards means that we struggled a bit betting the last Crossfire connector attached. Nonetheless, since the connector is amazingly pliable, there wasn’t any damage to it.

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Remember I mentioned that I needed to buy black zip-ties? Well, here they are used en mass and their omission by Thermaltake is still mind boggling. Thankfully, getting the front panel connectors out of the way was pretty easy even though their white color still looks out of place when seen inside a black case.

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With wires and water cooling tubes galore, the back portion of the Sword M can look like an absolute mess in no time at all. Since there is no real way to consolidate all of the Molex connectors that are attached to the fans, I daisy-chained them together and zip-tied them as close to the case as I could.

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Since the door at the back of the Sword M closes so close Thermaltake has provided a custom AC power connector which is then attached to your regular power cord. This cord and all of the other cables which are attached to the motherboard and your expansion cards exit through the bottom of the case. This leaves the keeps the back of the Sword M looking clean but it also means that you will need longer than normal cables for your USB, monitor and other peripherals.
 
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