(Review) Cooler Master Elite 110A and 110

Intro

source: coolermaster.com

source: coolermaster.com

The Cooler Master Elite 110 is a little-known mini-ITX that is cheap, well-featured and easy to work with that I believe more people should be using for their ITX build. In this post, I will give you my impressions on the old 110 as well as the new 110a. Do these 2 cases perform the same? Which one should you pick? Keep reading to find out.


The 'old' Elite 110

OVERVIEW

The original Elite 110 has been in the market since early 2014 and by now, there are numerous reviews on the Internet. As with all the reviews, my favourite is from LinusTechTips and you should watch his video to have a general idea about the case.

Having built more than 10 systems using the Elite 110, there are a few things that you should know when building PC using this case, these are:


APPEARANCE AND CLEANINESS

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Circle of dust after 6 months of usage

Come with understated design, filtered front panel and a 120mm fan in front which sit directly behind the mess to aid with air intake, the Elite 110's front panel can become very dusty after months of usage (YMMV depend on the surrounding cleanliness). What you will observe is a circle of dust particles in front of the fan intake and this can reduce cooling performance of the fan. However, what surprising is the fact that inside the case, the components are a lot cleaner. Many of my customers' system get externally extremely dirty over the years, but once the outside are cleaned off, the internal doesn't require that much dusting. The filtered mess does a very good job at trapping all the dust at the intake.


ABOUT THE FRONT INTAKE

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Location of intake fan on the 110

The 120mm fan in the front is mounted in between the steel chassis and the front mess. There are mounting holes for 140mm fans, but you cannot mount 140mm fan at the same position as the 120mm fan since the CM power button assembly will block the area. The only way that you can mount 140mm fan is to mount the fan inside the steel chassis, which bring with it a few disadvantages:

  • Mounting fan inside the chassis will reduce the space you have for cable management and possibly radiator. I strongly recommend NOT to use 140mm radiator with this case since you won't have much space left inside the case for your PSU and cable.
  • The 140mm fan won't be able to fully intake fresh air from outside of the case since there is a gap between the steel chassis and the front mess. What will happen instead is it will recycle some of the hot air from your GPU and blow it over your CPU, which is not the most efficient way to cool your system.

With all that said, I recommend anyone to use the included 120mm at the original location (even if you want to use radiator). If your system produces a lot of heat, a better 120mm fan can be used (Noctua NF-F12 for example) to increase the air intake airflow of the case.


ABOUT THE NOT INCLUDED SIDE FAN

These two 80mm fans are not needed due to the fact that PC components are getting more efficient over the year. Moreover, the side of the case are not filtered, the use of such fan will increase the amount of dust that enter the system.


ABOUT PSU TYPE, ORIENTATION AND WATTAGE

As with any Mini-ITX system, a fully modular PSU is strongly recommended for the ease of cable management as well as improving airflow in such a small system. With that said, a half-modular PSU is fine as well.

In term of the length of the PSU, the shorter the better. You can even buy SFX PSU even though it generally cost a bit more.

 

 

PSU orientation in the Elite 110 is actually a very important regarding the overall thermal performance of the PC. So it goes like this:

  • PSU fan facing upward: Lower temp for GPU and top mounted storage devices. This is because the hot air exhausted by the GPU will rise toward the top of the casing, whereby it will get pushed out of the case by the PSU. But more dust in the PSU.
  • PSU fan facing downward: Lower temp for CPU. Less dust in system.

The temperature we are talking about is ~3C (depend on your PSU).

With most of my build, the PSU fans face upward since GPU is generally hotter than CPU during gaming load and it's a lot easier for the GPUs to hit their temperature limit. Furthermore, the front intake air is not blown directly to the GPU as such we need to remove hot air from GPU as fast as possible. However, doing that will also lead to more dust in the PSU since the top mesh of the case is not filtered.

 

 

Since the PSU also work as exhaust fan during load, I personally recommend higher quality PSU that have a little bit more wattage headroom for your PC. This is to make sure that the extra heat of the PC won't be detrimental to the life span of the PSU's component. For the most power hungry system that I've built, I went with a 520W Seasonic fully modular PSU for an i5-6400 with a GTX970, which total wattage of the system maxed out at ~250W. For a Mini-ITX system, since you cannot cram in extremely powerful components and since CPU and GPU are getting more efficient, a PSU from a well-known brand of around 500W is all you need.


ABOUT STORAGE DEVICE PLACEMENT

You can either mount SSDs or HDDs on the top or at the side of the case. However, due to the thermal characteristic of the Elite 110, I would recommend:

  •  Never mount HDDs on the side of the case if you got your GPU installed. The HDD will partially block the intake of the GPU as well as the hot exhaust from the GPU will warm up the HDD more than necessary.
  • If you need to mount SSD on the side of the case, mount it at the higher position. This is to give the GPU more access to the side opening for fresh air.
  • If possible, mount HDDs on top of the case, the side away from the GPU. This is to allow the hot air from the GPU to be sucked out and exhaust through the PSU.

CONCLUSION

Get your Elite 110 now if you are looking for a budget Mini-ITX case, you can't go wrong with it.


The new Elite 110a

OVERVIEW

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The 110a and 110 may appear to be different at the front panel. However, there are other subtle differences that you should take note as well. The following will list out what you should know about the new Elite 110a:

Location of intake fan on the new 110A

  • Plastic front panel that mimic the look of brushed aluminium.
  • Front air intake is now just thin rows and columns of opening surrounding (at the edge) the front panel.
  • Front air intake is not filtered.
  • The fan is now inside the chassis, NOT in between the chassis and the front panel.
  • A weeny bit more expensive than the original.

With all of these changes, the 110a will:

  • Look better than the original 110.

But with:

  • Less efficient air intake.
  • Potentially more dust that enter the system.
  • Since the fan is recessed inside, hot air will have more chance to circulate the system. The fan will have harder time to intake fresh air from the front of the case.
  • Less option for radiator cooling, less space internally to work with since the fan is inside the chassis.

With my limited time with the new 110a, stress tests of the CPU show that the CPU temp is actually ~5C higher than that of the original 110.


CONCLUSION

At the time of this post, the new Elite 110a doesn't seem to be a good enough replacement for the original 110, I hope that CM will address the shortcoming of the new 110a (air intake issue) in the near future. However, if you value the look of the new case more, and since PC components are getting more efficient, the 110a is still a suitable, attractive and cheap option.