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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  • ExarKun333 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    This is very true. Also, buying a quality fan can make a HUGE difference on not just airflow but noise as well. All 80mm fans are not created equal, same with 120mm, and so forth. Reply
  • Folterknecht - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    An other point is available space. Ok - if you just build that machine, use it and never touch it again fine, there small cases are ok maybe . But every time I tinker with my builds (midi/big towers) I m happy with my choices because my hands can reach the desired parts without problems. As a bonus you have better thermals with bigger cases, resulting in less noise if you choose the correct case and invest some thoughts into the right components and fans (their placement and direction of airflow). Reply
  • Rick83 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I'm not completely bought by the argument of bigger volume = bigger cooling.

    Indeed, the bigger volume creates more "dead space", while a smaller case can have more airflow along the surfaces that actually need to be cooled, by more selective "ducting". While this allows for a longer, more gradual ramp-up of temperatures with open-air GPUs, and top-blower CPU-coolers, in the end the final in-case temperature is a direct function of the air passing out of the case (surface are radiation is so small, that I am going to ignore it). Component temperature is a function of cfd along the cooler, cooler surface, and delta-theta of the cooler surface and the air flowing past. I argue that a small case optimizes the first parameter, while the other parameters should be equal, after a burn-in period.

    An exception would be a power profile that emits frequent short bursts of thermal energy - in this case a big enclosure has a larger buffer, before the in-case air temperature rises.

    The advantage of a bigger volume case is, that you have more area for suction/exhaust with the environment, but you also have less airflow "effectiveness", unless you actually use the space.

    Also, few people regularly tinker with their builds. And a well laid out small case may still be superior to a not so well designed large case.
    Reply
  • ExarKun333 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Bigger cases allow for bigger fans which = better cooling at lower noise levels. Reply
  • DMisner - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I hate when people, especially reviewers, use a Micro-ATX motherboard in an ATX case. Just a pet peeve Reply
  • ShieTar - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I assume this decision was made in order to test both ATX and µATX cases with the same board, and as such it does make sense.

    On the other hand I do understand your point too. I did once buils a system into a (admitedly very cheap) case where the cable of the front-USB port was just a tad too short too reach the connectors at the very bottom of the full ATX board. That is a problem that you may not detect when testing with a µATX only.

    Not that I expect this kind of problem from a modern Corsair case.
    Reply
  • JCheng - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Dustin, thanks for this review. New testing methodology notwithstanding, your case reviews are the best I have ever seen, not only in terms of the depth of your coverage and very good writing, but also case selection that mostly matches the cases that I personally find interesting/appealing.

    I am thinking about buying the 550D today or tomorrow (NewEgg's $20 rebate expires tomorrow) for a new build that will have an OC'd 2600K or 3930X, along with a single low-to-midrange passively cooled GPU (I am going to use it as a Linux development workstation). The CPU will frequently be flogged with doing parallel compiles using as many threads as the CPU can handle concurrently. I would like the system to remain extremely quiet under these loads.

    My question is whether you think the 550D's "underwhelming" thermal performance would be fixed by the addition of 2 slow 120mm fans, either behind the drive cages (practically empty--I only need 1 SSD for storage) or as intakes on the top panel. Or whether, since I'm not expecting to have the GPU generating much heat, it is even worth worrying about. I would prefer the CPU not reach 80 degrees under any circumstances.

    Any thoughts would be appreciated... thanks!
    Reply
  • Nje - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I'm also interested in this - although my plan was to add one or two intake fans on the side because of the conclusions drawn in 'The Big Air Cooling Investigation' at BitTech where they tested fan placements. They did use the R3, but I'm guessing the results would be pretty similar on the 550D. It seems that the most beneficial extra fans are the ones placed to blow air directly onto the motherboard. Reply
  • JCheng - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    I didn't know about that BitTech article, thanks--really helpful information. I'd only worry whether there's enough clearance to put in a side fan if I go with a big tower cooler like Noctua NH-D14. Reply
  • Nje - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    That's a good question, especially since I'm planning to get the Noctua NH-D14.. I'm still waiting for Ivy Bridge and some custom GTX680 cards to get into the stores though. Presumably at least one of the side fans would still have enough clearance? Reply

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