It’s time to review one of the most interesting and arguably sought after crowd-funded projects ever.
Has a very nice story, in 2012, two passionate guys on [H]ard|Forum decided to build the perfect all aluminium mITX case in their vision.
Now the original topic has over 700 pages and +2.3 million views.
After debating, support and input from the community they decided to go live and find a manufacturer for it, their project named NCASE M1.
They choose Lian Li – for their expertise and which are one of the largest manufacturers of aluminium computer cases in Taiwan and is also a major world competitor in the upmarket aftermarket computer case industry.
After that, in 2013, to get funding for prototypes and testing costs, they started a project on the crowdfunding site, Indiegogo, raising the required sum in only 19 hours and more than double their goal in donations in a month.
The finished product cost 205 $ (before shipping and customs tax if applied) and had unique serial number for each piece engraved on a tag on the back.
It was the first generation, named V1.
They finally sold almost 1000 of these little marvels.
The high demand for it made them do another production run in 2014 with small improvements and thus the V2 took place. It was a little cheaper at 185 $ and no more unique tags.
We finally got one for ourselves to test, it’s a V2.
And boy, oh boy we are so exited.
So let’s find out why this case is so special.
Their creators wanted this to solve two main problems with the existing mITX cases – quality and design, the lack of, per say.
So the NCASE M1 excels at these and more, with a minimalistic yet perfect proportioned design and exterior look.
Then the quality is ridiculously good, all aluminium construction with 1,5 mm thick brushed aluminium panels.
Everything fits perfectly, nothing is let to chance.
Another key feature is they didn’t waste any space for accommodating the components and has only 12.6 L !
And it supports triple slot full length video cards, 3x 3.5″ drives and/or 5x SSD (depending on combinations), ATX or SFX PSU, dual radiator cooling, up to 4x 120 mm fans and even a slim slot load optical drive.
These sound very normal but you need to realize how small/tiny the case is.
Safely to say, it’s the smallest mITX case of this type in the world.
By comparing it to the actual competition things start to make sense.
As you can see, nothing gets even close.
And to conclude the perspective for its size here are some extra photos from their site.
And from us, compared to a ball paint pen and a 3.5″ HDD.
Yes, it’s that small.
Specification via their site
Dimensions (H x W x D): 240 x 160 x 338mm, 12.6L
Motherboard support: Mini-ITX, Mini-DTX
Liquid cooling support: Single 120mm or 240mm slim radiator
Power Supply support: SFX, ATX (limited)
3 x 3.5″ Mounts:
1 on case floor
2 in removable side bracket (cannot be used with dual radiator)
3 x 2.5″ Mounts:
1 inside chassis front
1 behind front panel (in place of optical drive)
1 on case bottom (in place of 3.5″ drive)
Included double-stacking bracket allows 2 x 2.5″ drives on one mount (depending on drive thickness)
Disc Drive: Slim slot-load optical drive bay
4x 120mm fan mounts
2x on side bracket
2x on case bottom (in place of 3.5″ drive)
1x 80/92mm fan mount (bottom)
1x 80/92mm fan mount (rear)
Front ports: 2 x USB 3.0, HD Audio
Power button: Red/blue power/drive activity LED
Material: 1.5mm aluminum construction, anodized brushed exterior, painted interior
Top-down coolers are recommended.
Height restriction: 130mm
Cooler cannot extend past the top of the board by more than 10mm.
For many larger coolers, this limits motherboard choice to those with centrally-located sockets.
Large coolers that extend past the front of the board will prevent the 3.5″ HDD cage from being used.
Sealed liquid coolers or integrated pump/block and radiator/res recommended.
Single 120mm or 240mm radiators only.
Thinner radiators only (under 40mm).
Fans in push/pull are not recommended due to space constraints.
Rear exhaust cards recommended.
Max length: 12.5″ (slots 1 & 2), 11″ (slot 3)
For cards up to 12.5″ or cards in the third slot: 4.4″
For cards up to 11.5″ in the first or second slot: 5.5″ (4.7″ at the PCIe power connectors)
SFX PSU support is standard
ATX PSU support is possible using the included bracket with the following limitations:
Cannot be used with the dual 3.5″ HDD cage or 240mm radiator mounted to the side bracket (120mm radiator is still possible over the motherboard area)
Up to 160mm modular PSUs may be used with short GPUs (under 195mm long)
To use an ATX PSU and GPU over 195mm, the PSU can not be longer than 140mm and must be non-modular (but this is not recommended unless shortening/removing excess cables)
The AC inlet orientation on some ATX power supplies may prevent the angle plug from fitting, please check carefully. See this image. Note: the included AC cable has been changed from right-angle to left-angle for V2.
For specific components, the community has created a user-contributed spreadsheet (be careful! Edits are open and shared with everyone). Other sources of information include the M1 picture and build thread on [H]ardforum, as well as the original project thread.
And here is the list of improvements for V2 vs V1:
- Enlarged CPU cutout upward on motherboard tray
- Additional cutouts at bottom of motherboard tray
- Move rear 92mm fan and tubing holes down 2mm
- Additional 3.5″ HDD mounting location at forward bottom of chassis
- Cable tie holes on chassis bottom reduced from 10 to 5
- SSD stacking brackets modified to allow stacked 7mm thick SDDs closer
- ATX PSU bracket moved back to allow more clearance behind chassis front
- 3.5″ HDD cage fixed to work in upper fan bracket position
- ODD bracket screw holes reduced for better M2 screw fit
- No top panel screw
- More SSD mounting screws
- Extra side panel clips
- Dome head M5 screws changed to flat head M5
- Shortened internal AC cable, changed to left angle
- Threaded inserts at side bracket mounting points
To further understand the versatility we should move on to the:
First amazed how light the package was, came straight from Taiwan.
Inside a black box with a minimalistic design and having just the logo on it.
Very well protected inside.
It ships with a lot of accessories.
Two color options: black and silver.
The nice thing is that you can have both, the frame is identical just swap out the panels, they also sell them separate.
On the back we have the socket and notice the triple slot video card, very rare for an mITX case.
It supports a 92 mm or 80 mm fan and 2 holes for external liquid cooling if one so desires.
Underneath we have more openings for cooling, here you can attach 2 of the 4 fan filters supplied and you can cool the GPU via 2x 120 mm fans – they recommend a reference (blower) cooling card for optimal performance as they exhaust all the heat out the back but we also got good result with an aftermarket (open style) cooling.
Or you can combine HDD/SSD or fan(s).
The panels are secure not with screws but with standoffs for easy access.
On the front you can accommodate the slim slot load optical drive or 1x 2.5″ SSD/HDD (or 2, if you remove the rails)
The M1 has a pleasant blue power LED on the power button and a red hard drive LED which changes the overall color to purple when it’s active.
Removing all the panels, we first see the frame that can be used for a 120 or 240 mm radiator or 2x 120 mm fans.
Or use the supplied 3.5″ HDD cage.
The other side we see a large motherboard opening for easy access.
And inside we see the SFX bracket already pre-installed and near to it where you can pun 2x SSDs stacked together.
And the brackets compared.
To mention if you want to use an ATX PSU it should be non modular and no longer than 140 mm if you want to use a full length GPU (the bundle of wires are all in one place and will not hit the GPU vs a modular one which would)
As you can see there are a lot of options and everything influences everything.
So you have to plan ahead a little, but that’s why we love these things, the challenge intself in doing it wright, more reward will come from it.
Basically the biggest influences are made by the PSU, GPU and what size of the HDD you use.
Scenario with full length video card, ATX and 3.5″ combo:
Crowded, a lot of work to hide the wires.
The more important downside aspect is that with that type of video cooler, it will spread the heat into the case, plus the heat from the CPU, and everything will be sucked by he PSU making it run hot all the time.
And the 3.5″ HDD will sit on top of the CPU adding more heat. You can put it under the video card, but that’s effective if you have the blower type GPU.
As you can see, although this case supports so many combinations, it’s better to build it with their recommended specs for best results.
Next scenario with same GPU, but with the SFX PSU and 2.5″ HDD.
And so we’ve got the Silverstone SX-600G, ditched the 3.5″ HDD in favor of a HGST 2.5″ 1 TB HDD that was put in front and voila, like magic the case transformed !
The cables supplied with the PSU are optimal for this type of build, short and flexible.
Everything now is organized, clean, no more airflow problems and the case is half empty.
Processor: Intel i7 2700k @ stock settings
CPU cooler: Thermalright AXP-100R
CPU Fan: Noiseblocker 120 MM NB-eLOOP B12-P PWM
Case Fans: 2x BitFenix Specter 120 MM
Motherboard: MSI B75IA-E33 mITX
RAM: 2 x 4 GB Crucial Ballistix Tactical Tracers 1600 Mhz CL8
3.5″ HDD: WD 640 GB AAKS 7200 Rpm 16 MB
2.5″ HDD: HSGT 1 TB 7200 Rpm 32 MB
Video card: MSI GTX 760 OC 4 GB Twin Frozr ~ 260 mm long
ATX PSU: Seasonic S12II 500W – non modular 140 mm long
SFX PSU: Silverstone SX-600G – full modular
Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1
Crysis 3 – 30 minutes gameplay session
Temperature & Noise results
The obvious conclusion in our case, is that almost everything is better when an SFX PSU is used because it will open to maximum compatibility and the lowest results in temperature.
Regarding noise, an ATX will be quieter than an SFX because it has a 120 mm fan vs an 80 mm.
But, our system draws 300-350 W so the SX600-G doesn’t have to work that much and the fan was silent.
For those with more silent requirements, SilverStone will put out a new SFX format, named SFX-L with an 120 mm fan, so that one should combine best of both worlds.
Of course, if no SFX is on hand, an ATX will suffice and if you experiment with airflow you can still get good results.
If you use a high power wattage ATX PSU like 600-750 W it will last a lot of years and you could invest in a custom wire shortening job.
With watercooling you will open the way to overclocking even better.
This exist purely because of passion, hard work and the need and quest for something absolute.
It has so much brainstorming, research and ingenious solution for space optimization in it that we think it will be a long time until something OEM can match it from a technical point of view. The design is very special and all proportion are true like Da Vinci’s Golden Ratio.
Complains, minor stuff that the standoffs may brake over time but they are replaceable, just get a bag of them from Lian Li and you’re safe for years.
It’s a niche product and costs add up after you count the shipping and customs tax and you have to be extra careful what components you choose. But again, we hold true to our motto, if the price is the only compromise and in return you get as close to perfection as possible, that you can’t go wrong with it.
It’s hard for you to get one. The second production run has closed, maybe they will have extra ones in stock, have to check the site regularity and don’t know if they will make a V3 but what is certain now is that they are working at their version of a STEAM case, so be on the look out.
Other that that fight for it on ebay.
For us, personally we love it so much we give it the PERFECT award because this is a thing that is rare in quantity as well as in quality and it will last you years of upgrades if you are into SFF builds.
Globetrotters “Perfect” Award – 5 out of 5
The case won the 2014 Award for Best Case from PC Perspective !