In and Around the Corsair Obsidian 550D

From the get go, Corsair's Obsidian 500D exterior looks like it draws its lineage more from Fractal Design than from any of its predecessors at Corsair. Top to bottom, the whole enclosure is about clean lines and smooth surfaces.

The front of the 500D actually boasts one of my favorite features of the enclosure: the cut-out in the front door for the power and reset buttons and port cluster. It's a simple and elegant solution to one of the two persisting problems of cases that use front doors. The other problem? Depending on where your computer sits, the enclosure door may swing out the wrong way, and for this Corsair has another solution: the front door isn't just removable, but can also be swung out from either side. They achieve this by basically using small C-clasps on the four corners of the door, allowing it to snap shut on either side or swing open. It's a slick solution, but like many of the decisions Corsair made with the 550D it's something that I have concerns about in the long term.

When you do open or remove the front door you'll find the inside surfaces are almost entirely hard black plastic, and look unusually chintzy for Corsair. The aesthetic isn't necessarily bad and your mileage may certainly vary, but I couldn't help but feel like it looked a little bit cheap. If this were any other vendor I'd probably be more forgiving, but this is definitely a case that looks better with the door closed. You can also pop off the large panel beneath the drive bays to expose the two intake fans and their removable filters.

On the left side panel there's also a smaller inset removable panel; it doesn't just provide access to the filter for the underlying fan mounts, it also exposes the potential for mounting side fans to begin with. The filter seems to be affixed magnetically, while the removable inset panel has acoustic foam on its underside, giving the end user the option of engineering for silence or for performance. This is functionality I like to see; instead of having to explicitly choose between superior thermals or superior sound dampening, you can optimize the enclosure for your needs specifically. The top of the 550D has another panel just like this one that operates the same way.

Move to the back of the Corsair 550D and you see the usual tubing grommets along with eight expansion bays, but you'll also see one of the more unusual features of the 550D: the push-button side panel removal system. Corsair has been pretty good about making the side panels of their cases fairly easy to pop off, but there's always been a trade-off there and I can't help but feel like there's another one being made here too. The clamps used on models like the 600T were convenient but never felt completely secure, and the push-button release on the 550D has a similar problem. The side panels hinge at the bottom, and it feels like this design will be prone to developing vibration problems over time. We didn't have any problems with it in testing, but only time will tell if Corsair made the right call.

Opening the 550D returns us to very familiar territory with Corsair. If it wasn't for the acoustic foam padding inside the side panels and front door, the 550D might look like any other Corsair case, and that's not a bad thing. I've gone on record before as having said that the only way Corsair could make case assembly easier would be to ship a technician with every case, and the interior of the 550D has all the same smart design decisions of its predecessors along with a new one.

To save on enclosure width, only the area surrounding the motherboard tray (where cabling would go) has a substantial amount of clearance between it and the right side panel. This is actually a very elegant solution, as it creates specific conduits for cables to be routed in and through rather than just mashing everything up behind the motherboard tray and calling it a day. Other conveniences of the interior of the 550D include toolless clasps for the 5.25" drive bays that are actually very effective at keeping drives firmly in place and two completely removable drive cages with three drive sleds apiece, each sled supporting a 2.5" drive or a 3.5" drive. As a much appreciated improvement, the sleds themselves now allow you to either mount the 2.5" drive in the center of the sled or against the side to line up cabling.

Despite some generally clever design decisions and a lot of flexibility in how you can use the 550D, I can't help but have some concerns about its viability for long term use. The panels that hide the fan mounts on the front, side, and top all run the risk of developing the same kinds of vibration problems the top grate of my Graphite 600T developed over time, and that concern is exacerbated by how loose the push-button release mechanism causes the side panels to feel. I'm also not as impressed with the 550D's fit and finish as I am with some of the other Corsair enclosures I've tested; there's just something about the black matte plastic that looks a little bit cheaper than I've come to expect from them, but that's more a matter of personal taste.

Introducing the Corsair Obsidian 550D Assembling the Corsair Obsidian 550D
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  • earthrace57 - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I kind of wish there was a grace period in which you guys would test both testbeds, and after x number of tests, the new testbed tests would be released, that way we have a frame of reference. (I hope this is easy enough to follow). Reply
  • sfroom - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I can't believe I'm the first to mention this, but the card pictured (and presumably tested) is not the one listed in the testing methodology or description of the new test bed. What gives?

    The card listed in the methodology is an open air cooler whereas the Zotac pictured looks like a blower. This would surely affect the whole data set (CPU temps, etc).

    Can you explain?
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Good catch.

    Photography was done before we swapped out the graphics card, and future cases will be using the ASUS, but the photos are still useful since they're intended to show how assembly goes. The photos have the Zotac, but the testing was actually done with the ASUS; this was the last piece I standardized on, and the reason was that the GTX 560 Ti that Zotac provided was unfortunately just too hot and loud and would've skewed all of our test results.
    Reply
  • tilandal - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    I bought this case to replace my Lian Li V1000. There is a lot I like about it but I can't help but pine after the build quality of the V1000. The 55D is great to work in and keeps my system running silently without any thermal problems but the plastic does feel cheap and the side panels are a little on the thin side. I bought my Lian Li for $200 and I would gladly pay that much for a case with the same layout but higher quality panels. For $120 after rebate I feel I got good value but I doubt I'll keep it around as long as my V1000 (Almost 9 years). Reply
  • piroroadkill - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Still seems a better buy. I actually use ALL the 3.5" drive bays in the Define R3, but only have one HD-DVD/Blu-Ray/DVD writer drive in a 5.25" bay (although I have an SSD mounted in the other 5.25" bay).

    Who really needs 5.25" bays anymore? Posers with those screens you used to get for them? Seems like you need one, maybe two, tops. I just think the Define R3 represents a better use of the space..
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I actually use four in my tower.

    1. Optical drive.
    2. Fan controller.
    3. Card reader.
    4. Hotswap bay.

    I do understand reducing the number in modern enclosure and I'm definitely an unusual instance, but notice how I have a whopping one optical drive yet I'm using four bays.
    Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    My fileserver box also uses four 5.25" bays:

    1. Optical drive.
    2. 1x3.5" toolless hotswap bay
    3. 2x2.5" toolless hotswap bay
    4. Card reader.

    Maybe not quiet typical, but not really a rarity either.

    Of course I built it into my old Coolermaster Stacker 800, which does provide me with an overkill of eleven 5.25" bays, and only a single adapter for 3.5" units. With the Card Reader and the 2.5" Hotswap you do have some flexibility to use either sizing, I guess.
    Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    No such thing as overkill.
    I've got the same original Stacker, and I'm left with one free 5.25 slot (and theoretically a disk I could put there, but ATA cables are too short to connect it, so it floats freely in the case :( )

    I bemoan the loss of cases such as the Stacker, because right now, I'd be hard pressed to find a case that comfortably fits 12 hdd's below $250, with decent ventilation or hot-swap. There certainly is a use case for all those 5.25" slots. It's just, that it's not for the average user, who has between one and three 3.5" HDDs, and an optical drive or rarely two.
    My current desktop has zero 5.25" bays, (no, I don't mean devices, I mean bays - ODD is SFF slot-in). Optical media is on the way down though, so this should hasten the demise of the three to four bay designs, which I find ugly and boring.

    Anyway, it seems that case makers are loath to cater to more exotic needs, and will instead churn out the billionth iteration of a 20 year old design. There are very few makers who come out with avant-garde designs, and usually at extreme price points (that Lian-Li Snail is a brilliantly eccentric looking thing, but the price is out there), so the main stream is stuck with those 60-120 dollar cases, that all look the same, except some have got chintzy plastics and lighting.
    Oh well, I haven't given up quite yet, and at least Lian Li is continuing to explore the cube, with it's more pleasing aspect ratios. All the while: Someone bring back the old school Stacker - style cases. That case is, for me, still the ultimate in understated performance and utility, excepting the odd choice of 80mm fans in some places. It's got the size and fittings so that you can do anything with it, and the price wasn't even that extreme (compared to some current 300$+ cases...)
    Reply
  • Grandpa - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Thank you for acknowledging noise as an issue. So many times the important thing is how much overclock with complete disregard for noise. To me, I don't care how fast a machine is if I can't enjoy the experience. So noise is always a top consideration. I wish there was a standard method of measuring the noise so it could be used in every review, for every part, and every build. Reply
  • cactusdog - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    A silent computer has more to do with the components you buy like CPU cooler and GPU cooler. The case just needs 120mm fans running at 1000-1200 RPM or under to be silent, but more important is your GPU fan, CPU fan and PSU fan.

    My case is silent even with the side off, and I have an overclocked 930 CPU and overclocked 6970.

    Reply

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