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Cooler Master Storm Scout filtration review (and modding)

Here I’ll be looking at the Storm Scout’s filters, and doing a few mods. Scroll down if you simply want to see the purdy pictures – otherwise, we’ll start with some background.

I was looking for a case to replace my current Antec Sonata III. The Sonata’s not bad, except that it’s incredibly heavy (I dread moving the thing, especially since I somehow lost the rubber feet and the bottom now wants to scratch everything), and when I decided to run an Intel i7 and Radeon 6950… well… the PSU’s top-placement meant that it was getting kinda hot. And loud.

A huge plus to the Sonata was the plastic, removable air-filter. I’d gone from pulling out handfuls of dust, to opening up the case after 2 years and finding all the components still looked brand-new. A filter on the new system was a must. In any case, these were the requirements for a new case, in order of priority:

  • Easy to move/transport. This meant a handle of sorts.
  • Bottom-mounted PSU. Cooler air = quieter PSU.
  • Intake air filters. I hate lugging the thing to the garage so that I can use the compressor to get all the crud out. I’d rather just keep the crud out from the start.
  • Large fans. 80mm fans are just too small/noisy, and they don’t push as much air anyway.
  • Reasonably priced. Around $100 is fine. Beyond that, I’ve built a custom 100% silent, perfectly cool case in the past out of MDF and spare case parts for around $50. The most expensive part was the furnace-filter it used. Of course, it weighed about 60 lbs and was pretty huge (so not portable) but it worked better than any case money can buy. So $200+ is out of the question. I’d build my own case at that point.

Anyway, Cooler Master had a decent looking case that seemed to meet the requirements (the Storm Scout), so I picked it up. This is the one I’m referring to:

 

So I opened it up, and had a look. Before going any further, it’s important to note that despite what you might infer from my furnace-filter case-building endeavors mentioned above, I don’t expect a HEPA-quality filter or anything on these things. The old Antec’s plastic filter worked well when it came to dust, and really, anything that’ll catch the majority of the dust is fine by me.

 

 

First, the filter for the bottom-mounted PSU (click for a larger image):

It’s attached to the bottom intake from the inside. I have no doubt it’ll perform well enough. It would have been nice if they made easy to remove/maintain (as it is, you’ll have to yank the power supply out to clean it), but they put some thought in, it’ll keep dust out, and that’s what counts. It didn’t require any modification.

Next, the front panel. It comes off easily with a hard yank (a + to CoolerMaster there). Again, click for a large image.

As you see, they have a foam filter over the fan grill, and filters over each of the drive bays, held in by metal tabs. They definitely didn’t take short-cuts here, and I have to say, I was pretty impressed.

This really was well-thought-out. Air can come in anywhere from the front (a lot of surface area), and it all gets filtered. If you need to clean it, just yank the front panel off – quick and easy.

It’s not perfect though – if you look in the right side of the image, you’ll see that where the handle is, you’ve got a big space. Here’s a look from the bottom with it installed:

While air from the front is filtered, air sucked in through this space at the bottom isn’t filtered. Since there’s very little resistance to airflow here, and since the fan is located very close to this space, I expect a lot of dust to make it’s way in here over time. Remember, the filters are on the right side of this space – the intake fan’s on the left.

Time for the first mod!

This one’s pretty easy. Get some screen and either tape or glue it over the hole. Here are a few pics (clicky clicky for large versions):

A few flaws with my mod that I’ll point out for you:

  • As you could probably tell, I didn’t cut it perfectly straight. It’s not perfectly flush.
  • Since the screen is flexible, it’s possible that it’ll be sucked up a bit and create a larger gap.
  • It’s more of a pain to pull the panel off without pushing the screen through – you can only grip the ridge of the plastic.

Alternate ideas if you’re looking to mod this area:

  • If you don’t have access to screen, you can simply use black electrical tape to cover the area and block airflow from the bottom altogether. That way all the air will be pulled from the (filtered) front. If you don’t have electrical tape, duct tape would probably work fine too – it’s at the bottom, so nobody’s going to see it anyway.
  • Rigid perforated plastic would be more durable, and wouldn’t flex with the airflow (instead of using screen).

Ideally, Cooler Master would have done one of 2 things:

  1. used rigid perforated plastic here, mounted at an angle so that it doesn’t interfere when you’re reaching your hand in, or
  2. had this section sealed off, with a handle moulded in.

Really though, I was so pleased that they filtered the entire front (individually on each drive bay!) that I can’t fault them too much for this oversight. Just block off or filter the bottom yourself and you should be set here.

Next, the side-panel, where you’d generally put 2 intake fans (the only fans that are not included by the way):

It’s worth quickly noting that CM put protective plastic on both sides of the panel. Just another indication that they put some care into the case. Also, if you’re not planning to mount fans here, you can simply leave the plastic on and it’ll keep dusty air from sneaking in here. Oh, and check the height of your CPU cooler – if it’s tall, you’ll probably only be able to install a bottom fan.

Anyway, if you’re putting fans here, you can see the flaw. Once you remove the plastic, this area’s completely unfiltered. Time for another quick mod!

Above (again, you can click for larger images), you can see that I’ve again cut some screen.  I used the existing push-rivets to hold it in place, and then some electrical tape on the sides to make sure it’s held flush (and to hide the screen edge). Installed the fans, and voila!

Again, alternate ways to do this:

  • perforated plastic (or solid metal screen) – you could cut it to size, drill 4 holes for the fan mount, and rather than having to use tape, the fan would hold it on. It’d probably look even better too.
  • if you go with the screen/tape method as I have, some colored tape might look a little more appealing depending on the color of the LED lights you’re using.

Before anyone asks why I used ugly brown/beige Noctua fans, they’re fairly quiet and I happen to like them :p . Obviously if you want to use some fancy LED fans, it’ll look a little prettier.

I’ll fault CM for the side panel – they really had nothing here, which is a shame seeings how they took care of the PSU intake and front. If you’ve installed both fans here, around half the air that goes into the case will be from the side-panel. It won’t be dust-free.

At the very least they could have included a couple metal screens (similar in size to the ones used at the PSU intake) with 4 holes drilled for the fan screws/mounts. Anyone who bought the case for filtration-reasons would probably use them (and anyone who doesn’t want filtration is probably ripping out the PSU/front filters so it doesn’t impede their airflow anyway).

Minimizing dust:

That’s it for the mods (only 2 were needed!), so on to other things.

Aside from making sure your air intakes are filtered well, aim for positive (but close to neutral) case pressure. Don’t know what that is? It’s the opposite of negative pressure of course! In basic terms, you want more intake air than exhaust air. Why? If your exhaust is “stronger”, it’ll suck air into the case from every crack and crevice it can, which means you’ll find dust in all the cracks and crevices – most noticably around CD/DVD drives, case seams, etc.

On the other hand, with positive case pressure, (more air being “pushed” in than being “sucked” out) air will be pushed *out* those cracks/crevices/etc. Because the air in your case has been filtered, this air being pushed out wont leave dust in all those crevices.

You could of course aim for “neutral” case pressure (intake air = exhaust air), but it’s a little harder to attain, and as your filters plug up it’ll start to become negative pressure.

Now, before somebody goes and turns all their fans into intake fans (“Hey Matt, I read your article and now I have 7 fans all blowing in so I have lots of positive case pressure!”)… that’s a bad idea. You also want air-flow too which means a mix of intake and exhaust fans. Just make sure more slightly more air is being pushed in than is being sucked out, and you’ll get the best-of-both-worlds; good, efficient air flow, and you’ll minimize dust.

To accomplish this, you’d generally match the # of intake/exhaust fans, and have one of the exhaust fans set slightly lower in speed. In the case of the CM Storm Scout:

  • the front intake and top exhaust are the same size (should equal out)
  • because the PSU gets it’s “own” intake and exhaust, it’s intake should roughly equal it’s exhaust
  • 1 intake side fan should offset the rear exhaust fan
  • 1 (the other) intake side fan should hopefully not only offset the video card’s exhaust, but add some additional air to create positive pressure.
You can see it’s fairly close (you’re looking at neutral/positive pressure). If you can’t add that 2nd side-panel intake due to a large CPU cooler, you’ll be slightly negative (again, assuming your video card blows out the rear), but you’re close enough that it’s probably not anything to be concerned about. An actual measurement might still show you as pressure-neutral anyway unless you’ve gone so far as to tape up every little space around the expansion-card area, etc (even then, you’re probably close to neutral).

Conclusion & other stuff….

All in all, it’s a pretty good case – not perfect when it comes to filtration, but as you see above, it’s close enough that it’s pretty easy to mod the rest of the way.

I was surprised at how quiet the case actually is compared to the Antec Sonata III – don’t get me wrong, the Sonata III is quieter (very quiet) when you’re dealing with low temps and low fan speeds, but as soon as you add heat to the equation and need the fans turned up, you really start to hear it.

That said, comparing it to the Sonata III isn’t quite fair. A better comparison would probably be the Antec 900 which is priced similarly and aimed at a similar audience. While I don’t own a 900 (though buying one for a CM Storm Scout vs Antec 900 comparison sounds enticing), looking through the details the CM Storm Scout seems like a better buy. I say that, being quite the Antec fan by the way.

The Cooler Master Storm Scout looks to beat out the Antec 900 in…:

  • front filtration
  • 4 front/top USB ports (vs only 2 on the Antec 900)
  • carry handle
  • CPU cutout on the motherboard tray
  • separate air intake for PSU
  • tool-less design
  • better cable management – space to hide wiring behind motherboard tray (though not perfect, it’ll hide away a few wires at least)

The Antec 900 does have adjustable fan speed switches (which the CM unfortunately lacks), and a monster 200mm top fan (CM’s is only 140mm and I’d venture to guess it’s louder). Aside from those, the Storm Scout blows it away feature-wise. You’d have to step up to the more expensive Antec 902 to get the front filters and cable management, though even that model’s still behind in the other areas.

Regardless, I’m quite pleased. If your priorities are similar to the ones I mentioned at the beginning, the Storm Scout won’t disappoint. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly on it’s way there. And hey… maybe we’ll get a Storm Scout 2.0 one day :p