The Ultra m998 Black Midsize Tower
Today we will be looking at the M998 case from Ultra. The case has a few things feature-wise that I have not had in a case for a long time. It is light, due to the all aluminum design, and it has a removable motherboard tray. Before we get in deep into the M998, lets take a quick look at its specifications and features.
- Color: Black
- Dimensions (HxWxD): 18.11" x 9.45" x 20.47"
- Drive Bay: 4x 5.25" Bays, 5x Internal 3.5" Bays, 2x External 3.5" Bays
- Material: 1.5mm High Grade Aluminum
- Form Factor: ATX, EATX, Micro ATX
- Expansion Slots: 7 Standard Slots
- Case Fan Mounts: 2x 120mm Fan Mounts
- Case Fans Included: 2x 120mm Fans
- Easy access front panel: 2x USB 2.0, 1x Firewire, 1x Headphone, 1x Microphone, 1x eSATA
- All panels removable for easy, tool-free access
- Stainless steel finished removable Mainboard tray
- Includes Ultra’s Power Bar power distribution system
- Front eSata/Firewire/USB Audio ports
- Interior and Exterior finish
- Replaceable front Firewire/Audio/Microphone/eSata bracket with virtually any PCI slot-type bracket.
When I got the case, the box looked like it had taken a beating during shipping as a couple nice gouges could be seen on the side. I hoped the case wasn’t damaged.
After removing it from the box, I was quite pleased to see that the case had not been harmed. The case was protected top and bottom with styrene and the whole case was wrapped in plastic.
Looking at the front/side of the M998, I first noticed its width. It is a fair bit wider then your normal case (more on how this is nice later). The side window is protected inside and out with a plastic film that peeled off quite nicely and left no residue. The case also has a dated look to it due to the front bezel design, but overall fits the styling of the case. I like the classic look, in a sea of over-the-top gaudy-looking cases, it’s nice to see a case with simple looks. With an MSRP of $200 and a street price of $153 plus shipping, I would have liked to see something more up to date, rather than the tried and true plastic bezel. Carbon fiber maybe?
Looking closer at the front we can see the power and reset buttons as well as the power and hard drive activity LED’s.
Just below is a stealth door that conceals the front IO ports. You have the USB, eSATA, EE1394, and audio ports. More on how Ultra has taken a unique approach to the M998’s IO panel later.
Looking at the back of the M998, you get an eye full of chrome, but it's not chrome, it is polished stainless steel. Why point this out? Well, if you wanted to have a matte brushed look like the rest of the case you can break out the scotch brite pad and scuff it up and not worry about rubbing the layer of chrome off. Then if you want to go back, break out the buffer and your back to the mirror finish. We also can see the 120mm rear exhaust fan and the PSU mounting plate. All are attached with nickel-plated thumb screws. There is also a lock loop to help keep things locked up when needed. To prevent someone from just taking the tray out there are two screws that can be installed on the inside of the case to lock it in place.
On the bottom of the case we have the rubber feet and mounting points for casters. The provisions for casters are something I thought to be rather funny option for a light aluminum case, but it is easier to roll your case into a LAN than to carry it.
Packed away on the inside of the case was the accessories box. In it were casters, nickel plated and black anodized mounting hardware, modular power cables for the Power Rail (more on this later), and a single SATA cable for the front panel eSATA connection.
Moving on to the inside, we will first look at the fresh air duct on the side panel. The duct can be adjusted to match the height of your CPU cooler to funnel cool air straight to it. The only down side to it is that it will only work for stock or low profile coolers.
Looking towards the front of the case, we can see the drive cages, the Ultra Power Rail and video card support/cable guide. The Power Rail is an interesting part unique to this case. I was not quite sure how it was supposed to work at first; the instructions are a little on the vague side. At the top of the Power Rail there are 4 power connectors for the PSU to connect to, 2x molex and 2x 8 pin PCIe, the power is then sent via the PCB that makes up the Power Rail to the lower connections. From there, you can use the provided modular cables to send power to the components mounted in the lower part of the case. The Power Rail can be easily removed if you chose not to use it, remove four screws it comes right out.
Here is a closer picture of the Ultra m998 power rail. This makes wire routing simple!
After removing the right side panel we can see the back of the motherboard tray and wiring for the front panel. Due to the extra width of the M998, there is tons of room to hide extra PSU cables in between the drive cages and side panel.
After removing the top and front panels, we have the almost bare skeleton for the M998.
Looking closer at the front IO ports, it’s removable; it is in fact, a PCI slot-type IO bracket. So if you don’t like this panel you can replace it with one of your liking.
Looking at the bottom-front, we can see the screen for the front 120mm intake fan, as well as the retaining screws for the 3.5” and hard drive bays. Now a couple things I didn’t like about this arrangement: First, the top right thumbscrew over the screen prevents the screen from being removed. Second, to remove the hard drive or 3.5” bays you have to remove the front panel to get to these screws. If you chose to leave these off the internal retention clips are not sufficient to keep the cages from rattling. Also, to remove the middle 3.5” bay you must remove the hard drive bay first. Lastly, with the wide spread use of thumb screws through out the case, I’m not sure why the 3.5” drive bay had normal case screws.
Here, we have the hard drive and 3.5” bays removed from the case. You have room for five hard drives and two 3.5” devices.
The last piece of the puzzle to be uncovered is the motherboard tray itself. The tray has a nice chrome finish and all the expansion slot covers have thumb screws. We can also see the rear 120mm fan, extended length card support, and Power Rail.
Installing parts into the M998
Installation of parts into the M998 was a nice change of pace for me. This was largely to do the removable motherboard tray.
I really only had one issue with the tray: The back plane, or the rear of the case, was not square to the mounting surface of the motherboard. I didn’t notice this until I was installing the video card. It was an easy enough fix, but it meant removing everything from the tray and bending it inward a little. It took very little pressure to do this, so using the back plane as a way to pull the tray from the case would not be wise.
It was also helpful to be able to have the top of the case open. It allowed for more working room, and made it a little easier to get my big hands into where I wanted them with out having to be a contortionist. I would also like to point out that the M998 has the room to accommodate long body PSU’s, like the new 1000+ watt units out, and not interfere with other devices. To also aid in supporting the larger PSU’s, Ultra has provided a cross bar to keep the PSU from moving around.
Ultra’s Power Bar helped clean things up, but with the way the case is laid out you could easily wire the case without it. If you’re running old style PATA cables for your hard drives then the benefits of the power bar get blown out of the water.
Overall, Ultra Produts has made a very nice case with the M998. The case is easy to work with and for a midsize tower, and it was found to have plenty of room to accommodate aftermarket coolers, extended length expansion cards, and large body PSU units. The M998 exterior is not extremely impressive when measured on the eye candy scale, but it has a nice chrome look inside. Ultra provides black mounting hardware for the drive bay devices to aid the end user obtain the ‘clean’ look by keeping everything the same color. Once a system is installed into the case, it really does look slick as you can see in the picture above.
To take it a step further, Ultra also provides the Power Rail to help with air flow and wire management. From my point of view the Power Rail is a conversation starter and that’s about it. Because the width of the case is so wide you could easily hide all power wires without the Power Rail, but it does make for better wire management. The other unique feature of the M998 is the replaceable front IO panel, which I really like.
There were a few things that I didn’t like about the Ultra M998 computer case. It should be noted that these are personal annoyances and may not bother many of you. If you are building a system and plan to leave it in that configuration for some time, then these issues will not have any bearing on you. Now, if you tend to swap parts often (like me), you will grow to hate these these issues. It annoys me to no end that I have to take the front cover off every time I want to add or remove a drive. If you want to add something to the external 3.5” bays you have to remove the hard drive cage, and in order to that the expansion cards or the tray itself has to come out. Being able to remove the cages independently and to the side would be a MASSIVE plus to this case. The Ultra M998 has no tool-less drive rails, which also stinks. Instead, Ultra put thumb screws on just about everything to have a somewhat tool-less environment. I would have liked to have seen drive rails. It is just one of those things I have grown accustomed to having in a case, especially in high-end cases.
The M998 sports a plastic front bezel that uses the clip-in style retention system. Anyone that has had a case with a front bezel like this knows it’s not if it will break, but when. For a case that retails for $153 plus shipping on our shopping engine, it would have been nice to see a more updated front bezel.
Bottom Line: The Ultra M998 ATI mid-tower case is a good solid case. It would be great for a LAN rig, it is light, looks good, very easy to assemble parts into and has the required side window to show off all your parts.