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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  • zcat - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    It's not just you.

    There is no good reason anymore, imo, for full-size ATX systems, unless you really *need* all those extra bays for internal HDDs as a file server, and/or you need more than the 4 expansion slots that microATX offers (maximum) in a space_heater/gaming_rig for something like 2x double-wide video cards + audio + h/w raid + "futureproof-something".

    If you search newegg, you'll find that there's almost as many microATX motherboards for sale as there are ATX at very similar prices, and many of the microATX cases even approach the size of full ATX.

    In fact, the vast majority of people, even hardcore gamers, could opt for miniITX (vs microATX), as long as they choose one of the few cases that can fit a single full-height & full-length & double-width video cards (like the Sugo's or a few of Lian Li's). Room enough for 2 8GB sticks of ram, an SSD, and HDD, but no insane CPU coolers.
  • Risforrocket - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Can you give me one reason that is relevant to me why I should use a small case for my computer?

    I think of my computer as a workstation, it has to do everything. And it does. Yes, it has a RAID card and 4 drives in RAID. Yes, it has a full sized ATX deluxe motherboard. Is that ok with you? I also don't believe in water cooling so I like plenty of room for the air to flow around and I like plenty of full sized low speed fans.

    Some day I might build a mini computer to use for... well, something. Maybe as a music/video player. Until then I guess I'll just keep on building my big beautiful workstation computers for no good reason and put things in there that I don't really need.
  • zcat - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    So YOU are utilizing the extra space -- good for you -- but most people don't.

    Good reasons to go smaller when you can -- which is most of the time -- is to save on wasted space, materials, and energy. It's called being efficient for the increasingly common case.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    My experience is that mATX with a high-end graphics card (e.g. GTX 580 or HD 7970 or similar) is going to either run hot, run loud, or both. Mini-ITX is almost impossible to get a reasonably quiet system with a high-end GPU. Meanwhile, if you look at our previous tests of full-towers, there's a reason many of them are quieter and run cooler than mid-towers, never mind mATX.

    So unlike those who "see no use for full ATX anymore", I'm the exact opposite: unless space is at a premium, I see no use for mATX. I have three desks, and they all have a spot for a mid-tower. If I had an mATX case instead of my current case, all I'd end up with is a foot of empty space above the box.

    In case you're wondering, my current main desktops are using a SilverStone Raven (dual 5870 GPUs), an older Lian Li PC7 (single GTX 580 -- this case was not good for dual GPUs), an old Gateway FX530 with a single slot GPU for the display and a dual-slot GPU for GPGPU work (5670 and 5850 currently installed), and the last is some weird Ultra case that was designed to be high-end but really isn't... but it still works well enough for my wife's PC.
  • zcat - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    If highest-end SLI + RAID5 are in your vocab, then, sure, you probably want full ATX, else microATX usually strikes the best balance, especially if you choose your case wisely (for silence & air flow).

    My perspective is that of 'good enough' systems (~80th percentile performance) where you save on money, energy, and space by default; not on building the 98% BEST gamer/workstation systems.
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, April 5, 2012 - link

    I'm in complete agreement with you Jarred as well. I think a lot of people like the wow factor of cramming a bunch of components into a shoe box. I'm not one of them. I, like you, would have no use for the extra bit of space a smaller enclosure/mobo would provide (actually it'd be MORE annoying as I'd have to bend down farther to turn on), not to mention the increased difficulty during the build/upgrade as components are closer together, and the increased heat issue of having power-hungry parts adjacent to each other.

    If you're a mobile gamer or living in a dorm room where every inch counts I get it. But for a large percentage of people I just don't see the attractiveness of a smaller form factor.
  • kenyee - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    If you're comparing a case on noise/cooling, it'd be really useful to compare it to other cases in this price range like most other sites do.
    There was mention that the design copied some of the techniques from Fractal Design's cases, but no comparison on performance. I'd have loved to have seen a comparison with the Fractal Define R3 which I think is a direct competitor with possibly less plastic. Newegg's comments also mentioned a lot of damaged cases during shipping so I'm surprised you didn't talk about the packing since you talked about aesthetics ;-)
  • kyuu - Thursday, March 29, 2012 - link

    Please read the article. The reason there are no cases for comparison is stated on the very first page: they revised their testbed and methodology and, therefore, results from previously reviewed cases are not directly comparable.
  • ExarKun333 - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    Then AT needs to do a 'silent case' or 'performance case' or the like shootout to get some numbers. The new methodology makes great sense, but what is a review with nothing to compare it to?
  • ggathagan - Friday, March 30, 2012 - link

    So you would have them wait until they've tested 3 or 4 cases and *then* put out the results? No thanks.
    It's a new test bed and new methodology. They have to start somewhere.

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