Introduction/Specs

Thermaltake has been building some quality aluminum tower cases lately and today we'll be given the opportunity to swim with their SHARK, aluminum full-tower. The semantics behind the name have less to do with the predatory reputation of the fish and more with an entity which has attained an evolutionary plateau. Thermaltake's SHARK lives up to its aquatic reputation in that it's designed to house Thermaltake watercooling products (as well as other water-cooling systems). Today were going to look into model VA7000BWA, the block aluminum version featuring all the accoutrements the devoted PC-enthusiast and/or watercooling hobbyist could hope for.

 
 

Thermaltake's SHARK series is one of the most versatile Tower designs on the market today. The side panel features a "Honey-comb" viewing alternative which replaces the typical plexiglas window and allows further ventilation. Plexiglas is a better insulator then conductor of heat and in-so-far as case temps are concerned your better off eschewing a plexiglas side-window. Thermaltake's solution is simple, effective and integrates EMI shielding. Below we've included a summary of the SHARK's specifications.

Model Number VA7000BWA / VA7000BWA1
Case Type Full Tower Chassis
Side Panel Honey Comb (see through)
Net. Weight 6.8kg / 14lb
Dimensions 540x205x500mm
Cooling Front 120mm fan /Rear 120mm blue LED
Noise Level Front fan 21dBA / Rear fan 21dBA
Material Chassis 1.0 aluminum / Front Door 5mm aluminum
Drive bays External: 5 x 5.25", 2 x 3.5" Internal: 5 x 5.25"
Motherboards removable tray fits: ATX / Micro-ATX
Thermal test T ambient: 38C, Intel validated
USB  Front accessable dual USB 2.0
1394 Front accesable dual 1394 Firewire
Audio Front accessable dual audio & speaker ports

Now let's move along and take a closer look at our review unit.

The Case Up Close

As usual with Thermaltake products the case was boxed very well and arrived in perfect condition. Taking the case out of the box was easy as the all aluminum construction is very light.

Removing the side-panel simply requires sliding forward an ergonomic handle at the rear of the panel. The handle is spring loaded securing the panel in place, and features a lock with key for added security against inquisitive children and really smart pets. Below we see a close-up of the spring-loaded handle, it's lock and the honey-comb screens which allow air to flow freely.

Removing the side-panel its clear Thermaltake used all aluminum construction through-out. I've seen aluminum cases which were not constructed using "all aluminum." The case is designed to accommodate dual 120mm fans (front/rear) and features multiple access ports on the rear where water-cooling tubes may be passed through.

Next we see the case opened and the removable motherboard-tray also made of aluminum. The motherboard tray easily installs by virtue of two retention spikes which the tray slides on and over, locking in place.

The mobo tray differs from other designs which typically slide out and are secured on the rear of the case by screws. Thermaltake's reasoning behind the design was to ensure the rear panel be as sturdy as possible since the case is intended to support the weight of a radiator/fan assembly. Delving into the SHARK we see the aforementioned "spikes" which the mobo-tray slide's over and locks under. Two screws can then be used to secure the tray further. 

 

Next we'll explore some of the SHARK's thermal attributes and mounting flexibility for various components.

Thermal aspects

The rear of the SHARK case accomdodates a 120mm fan which has thankfully become the new standard in the evolution of case air-flow dynamics. Multiple screw holes are located along the rear, and a few accoutraments I've yet to identify. 

At the bottom of the rear-panel 4 x 1-cm ports allow watercooling tubes to pass through. Although the system I was using at the time of this photograph used larger diameter tubing, had I re-configured the H20 system larger holes at the top of the rear-panel would have accomodated these tubes.

A photo of the larger 1.5-cm pre-punched holes which are easily removed with a screwdriver. To the right the as yet "unidentified" accoutrament I alluded to earlier.

The SHARK's flexibility inadvertantly offers some thermodynamic benefits as well. While the area above the PSU is intended to house watercooling related hardware, the added space offers some "hidden" thermal benefits. 

Literally above and beyond the all aluminum construction, the area above the PSU allows warm air to rise and accumulate there. Eventually the heat will radiate (conduct) through the aluminum housing. In a typical case design the PSU mounts at the uppermost region of the unit where the warmest air would rise engulfing that power supply. While this may seem trite, a reduction in temp albeit just a few centigrade degrees, will not only allow your PSU to perform better but also extend it's life.

Interior

Looking forward to the front interior we see the new standard for mounting HDD's. The drive bays keep wiring out of sight and feature slide-out locking trays. The SHARK accomodates a total of 12-drives. External bays (access) house 5 x 5.25" (slide-out) and 2 x 3.5" drives. Internally (seen below) there are 5 x 3.5" sliding bays with rubber isolation grommets. 

Once again a seemingly minor, yet important detail are the rubber grommets which protect and isolate Hard Drives by reducing vibration. These are held in place by small aluminum "caps" which need to be removed prior to installation.

I'm formulating a theory Thermaltake engineers design with the expression in mind; "God is in the details." While any comparison might be considered blasphemous, let's just say what separates mediocre build quality from exceptional, also resides in the details. HDD dampening is all too often overlooked and given it's your HDD which makes your PC your's, I for one am impressed to see Thermaltake pay attention to such details. Below we see the case with Thermaltake's Big-Water 12-cm internal H20-cooling system installed.

 

Now let's take a close look at the outside of the case with our test system fully installed.

Final Thoughts/Conclusion

Below you can see the SHARK with it's distinctive fron panel blue LED. The noise level of this case is nearly inaudible except for one issue discussed below. Both 120m fans are practically silent (if working properly) and any watercooling system installed is much more likely to be heard rather then the case-fans.

When I first powered up the case (system) I heard an annoying scraping sound. This derived from the front intake fan which seemed to be scraping against the "dust" filter. I placed quotes around filter because this is also a point of concern. In the photo below you can see the filter is an all plastic affair, and I'm just not sure it would trap all particles of dust, and I'd rather not be specific as to what dust actually is. Suffice it to say dust your room daily, and should Thermltake replace this filter? To be open-minded is to empathize with both sides of a conflict. Therefore one may also argue too gfine a filter can restrict airflow, and since we can be forghetful the plastic filter wouldn't clog as often. None-the-less it's better then nothing. I may be nit-picking but you may decide for yourself.

My next issue with the SHARK case is a little more severe due to it's potential complications. Mounting two different motherboards, including the Abit AA8 Duramax and DFI Lanparty nF4 UT I only noticed after replacing these, the mobo-tray edge (at the rear) is dangerously close to making contact with the motherboard underside. The tray has an edge which stands at a 90-degree angle and is greater in height then the included stand-offs. The length of the tray compared to the length of most full ATX size motherboards results in a potential for contact between solder points on the underside of the motherboard and tray's edge (or lip). While this didn't have an adverse effect on my Abit, I felt a responsibility to our readers to bring this issue to light. Perhaps exacting specifications on Thermltake opart didn't account for the amount of solder used on some motherboards. Regardless I felt the need to bend forward the offending lip with my needle-nose pliers. See the tray edge (bent forward) below;

Additionally bending the tray edge towards the rear of the case also inhibits the PCI-ex (or any PCI card) slot tab from inserting properly as it makes contact with the now protruding tray edge.  Above you can see where I've bent the edge forward, below you'll see why as it's still close to the board edge.

 

Epilogue: As the modern PC-user becomes more sophisticated, there has been an effort on behalf of manufacturers to integrate many of the attributes once associated only with "performance hardware" into their product lines. If there's one area of technology which epitomizes the trickledown effect, it's in the PC world. For example; Watercooling was once a niche' hobby primarily supported by the Overclocking-enthusiast or experienced PC-hobbyist. Just a handful of manufacturer's existed where such specialized hardware was concerned. Recently we find a plethora of watercooling manufacturer?s, many of which have become just as established as any other facet of PC production. Even Intel has an H20 prototype for possible use with future CPUs. This of course is largely based on necessity as a result of the heat associated with the modern CPU. Thermaltake is a manufactuer integrating cutting edge technology into everyday hardware. Their SHARK case is an effort to meet the need among PC-users to convert, or at least have the option to convert to H20-cooling. 

Conclusion: Besides the issues mentioned, which I would hope Thermaltake will address, this case is one of the best I've tested. The SHARK aluminum full-tower case can be priced through Dealtime for approximately 150.00 USD. A little more costly then the average PC-case; however, this is an above average case and an investment I believe to be completely justified. When you consider all the benefits a proper home for your components can offer, the cost is relatively inexpensive. This case offers light-weight yet solid aluminum construction, excellent ventilation with very low noise, excellent thermal characteristics, flexible mounting, great ergonomics and is water-cooling friendly. Once in a while PC-cases I'm not asked to return I'm offered I usually end up donating. However, the SHARK is definitely a keeper. That is a high compliment indeed. Recommended! I'd like to thank Annie at Thermaltake.