Corsair Carbide SPEC-ALPHA Mid Tower Cabinet Review
The ATX Mid-Tower has always been a favourite of PC builders, which is no surprise considering its ‘sweet-spot’ size. It can be transported with relative ease, while still managing to hold a respectable amount of very high-end hardware.
You can generally expect to see around four times as many mid-towers available as any other form factor at major online retailers. With so many options available, competition is fierce, meaning that there are a number of excellent choices out there.
Corsair has, however, recently announced another Rs.5,500 Mid-Tower that has gamers squarely in its sights, and is by no means drab. Dubbed the Spec-Alpha, this is a case that we very much expect to be a dominant force for a few reasons.
Corsair’s Spec-Alpha Is Edgy
Like the Silverstone Raven X, the Spec-Alpha is a super-aggressive looking case and, like the Raven X, the bold angular styling certainly won’t appeal to everyone. Nevertheless, it has to be said that while I wasn’t really a big fan of the Raven X aesthetics, the Spec-Alpha’s design really appeals to the gamer/kid in me.
The dimensions of the Spec-Alpha are fairly typical for a mid-tower, measuring 474mm tall, 518mm deep and 220mm wide – giving it a 54L capacity. Those are similar dimensions to the Raven X, which features a 52L capacity, though the Silverstone case wastes quite a lot of that on its oversized plastic panels. The most crucial differentiating dimension here is the width, the Spec-Alpha is 15mm wider than the Raven X, and that will make a big difference when it comes to not just the CPU cooler height support, but also to cable management.
Despite being slightly smaller, the Raven X weighs the same 5.7kgs as the new Spec-Alpha, likely down to all that extra plastic used. Still this makes the Spec-Alpha a relatively light mid-tower, particularly given that it only uses steel and plastics.
For review we have the very flashy white and red color scheme – which, I must say I am really loving. Before the case arrived, I honestly didn’t think that I would. Initially, I was hoping for the black and grey design, but I’m now quite happy with the more flamboyant white and red.
Finally, there is also a black and red case which should appeal to a lot of people. When it comes to PC builds, it seems red and black themes are the new rage.
From the front, the Spec-Alpha can only be described as unique. There are clear indications here that the Spec-Alpha borrows many of its design cues from the highly anticipated and yet to be released Bulldog. The edgy angular façade is intriguing to look at, and the two tone colour scheme adds to the excitement.
Accurately describing how this case looks isn’t easy, so I will let the pictures do most of the talking. As you can see, the left side features a solid panel, though even this is far from boring, featuring a double angled surface. Opposite it is a large ventilated section featuring a black honeycomb grille surrounded by a red bezel.
Again, there are more crazy angles seen here and the mesh panel also features a second insert that is stepped further back into the façade. Here you will find a neat little front I/O panel offering a pair of USB 3.0 ports, two audio jacks, storage activity light, power and reset buttons along with a nifty little fan speed controller.
From the right side we find a solid white door panel which has been given a nice white paint job that almost has a hint of pearl in it. A large section of the door has been pressed out to provide additional room inside for routing cables behind the motherboard tray. Even from this angle, the Spec-Alpha looks impressive, with the front and top red highlights and those aggressive angular feet at the bottom, which we will discuss in more detail shortly.
The opposite side of the case is where all the showing off takes place as the pressed section of this door features a nice large Perspex window. Apart from the addition of a case window, the Spec-Alpha looks quite different from this side as the red highlights aren’t as visible, adding to the case’s exciting and unique design.
Up top we find a similar look to that of the front, with the black mesh and red bezel to the right, and the angled solid white panel to the left. Even from above, the Spec-Alpha looks great, and I particularly like the subtle look of the red spider web type design under the honeycomb grill.
Around the back the Spec-Alpha has been painted black and we find seven expansion slots along with a PSU bracket at the bottom – which I know all of you will be pleased about. There is a 120mm fan grille adjacent to the I/O panel cut-out and two one-inch rubber grommets for mounting external liquid-cooling gear.
Underneath, the Spec-Alpha looks pretty standard for the most part. There is a removable dust filter covering the bottom fan grill and this will help keep the PSU dust free. The real highlight here are those four tall feet, the front feet in particular really help emphasise the aggressive design of the Spec-Alpha and as you will see in the photos they look pretty special.
While the exterior design of the Corsair Spec-Alpha certainly won’t appeal to everyone (it’s far too outlandish for that) I have to admit to really liking it.
Not as Edgy Inside
As wild as the Corsair Spec-Alpha is on the outside, we were expecting a more standard case on the inside, and that is exactly what we got. The design and layout is very typical for that of a mid-tower. However, it being a Corsair case, there are a few nice design elements.
For example, there is the tool free drive cage that can accommodate three 3.5” drives and two 2.5” drives. Tool-less drive cages are nothing new, but we really like this design, as drives can be slotted in or out within seconds and there is no need to waste time pre-attaching custom rails to the drives, as they aren’t required.
As you would expect from a Corsair case, there’s loads of room for excellent cable management, with plenty of cut-outs in the tray along with sufficient room behind for tucking away excess cabling- not something all mid-towers do well.
Out of the box, the Spec-Alpha is very well equipped when it comes to cooling, and this is important, given Silverstone include three of their 120mm Air Penetrator fans in the RVX01. Corsair has taken note, and matched this configuration with three 120mm fans of their own. They have even gone as far as to add a little bling with dual red LED fans up front in this particular model with a third more standard black fan in the rear.
The front intake fans are supported by a dust filter built into the mesh panel on the front façade. The filter isn’t removable so in order to correctly clean it out you will have to remove the top panel, and then the front panel. This isn’t a very big deal, as the process is very simple. As the panels are mostly plastic, they are washable if things get really bad.
Apart from the three fans included, it is possible to install an additional two 120mm fans in the top of the case. Oddly, it is possible to fit three 120mm fans in the front of the Spec-Alpha as there is room for an additional fan below the two that come pre-installed. I say oddly because Corsair only states that there is room for two on their spec sheet.
As for radiator mounting locations, Corsair states that the front fan location can handle a 120 or 240mm radiator, while a second 120mm radiator can be mounted in the rear. For our build, we had no trouble installing a 240mm radiator in the top of the case, though the radiator or fans (depending on the configuration) will just cover the top side of the motherboard. For us, though, this was a non-issue.
Something else we found odd in regards to the Spec-Alpha’s spec sheet was the fact that Corsair states that the maximum CPU cooler height is a rather limited 156mm which we were surprised about. Yet, despite that, my 160mm tall Prolimatech Megahalems CPU cooler fit with plenty of room to spare. In fact, you can actually go as high as 170mm before almost touching the window with about a millimeter to spare.
Corsair has certainly allowed themselves plenty of headroom with this specification, particularly given that the case has a fixed mounting height for the motherboard. Anyway, the Spec-Alpha is guaranteed to handle 156mm tall CPU coolers, though we believe it can handle any air-cooler on the market right now.
Something we hated about the Silverstone RVX01 was the extremely limited 162mm length for the power supply. For testing, we installed a 160mm fully modular power supply and even then, attaching the modular cables was very difficult due to the limited headroom. Corsair hasn’t made that mistake, and the Spec-Alpha essentially has all the room in the world with 190mm to play with. In fact, there is essentially 290mm in total before you hit the drive bays. So as was the case with the CPU cooler where anything will fit, we find any ATX PSU on the market will actually fit inside this case with no compatibility issues.
As for the graphics card length, you are essentially not limited for the primary card, as it can measure up to 380mm long, and no desktop graphics card comes even close to that measurement. The second and third graphics card will be limited to around 280mm long, which still means even cards such as the 267mm long GeForce GTX Titan X will fit with ease.
The motherboard tray features a nice large cut-out for installing third party coolers without first having to remove the motherboard. The tray supports Mini-ITX, MicroATX and ATX motherboards and features plenty of options for routing cables. In the top right corner of the case you can also mount an additional two 2.5” drives to the back plate giving the case support for a total of four 2.5” drives.
Internally, the Spec-Alpha is very well designed which should make installation as easy as possible and that is something we are about to take a closer look at. The tool-less drive cage is a very nice touch, as are the three included 120mm fans, and of course the headroom for larger hardware.
To talk about the installation process and show off the Corsair Spec-Alpha, we have gone with a modern build using the MSI Z170A Gaming M7 motherboard with the Core i7-6700K (cooled by the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Riing RGB 240mm) and 32GB of Kingston HyperX Savage memory. The Corsair AX760i Digital ATX power supply has been used to power the system which will also include the Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X and three WD Red Pro 4TB hard drives.
The MSI Z170A Gaming M7 motherboard managed to look right at home in the stripped down Spec-Alpha, and with it installed we went ahead and hooked up all the front panel connectivity.
With just the motherboard installed, we find that there is loads of room around the back to access the CPU socket for installing an aftermarket cooler such as the Water 3.0.
Next, we threw in the Corsair AX760i which is a simple task due to its fully modular design, which we feel is almost a must in a mid-tower case or smaller. The AX760i supports real-time monitoring and control with Corsair Link, which is an awesome feature that allows users to monitor power input and output, efficiency, fan speed, and internal temperature, directly from the Windows based Corsair Link Dashboard software. Installation is simple, the user only needs to connect the power supply to one of the motherboards onboard USB headers using the supplied cable. Once that is done, it is just a matter of installing the Corsair software.
With the power supply installed, we went on to outfit the motherboard with 32GB of Kingston’s HyperX Savage memory. Out of interest, we installed the Thermaltake Water 3.0 Riing RGB 240mm in the top of the case and was surprised to find it fit quite well, causing no compatibility issues at all. Granted, it’s a tight fit, but having spent so much time working with Mini-ITX and smaller systems lately, I found it acceptable.
Finally, we installed the Gigabyte Radeon R9 290X and WD Red Pro 4TB hard drives, all of which quickly slotted into place without issue.
Another bit of Corsair kit that we’re using was the Hydro Series HG10 A1, which is a liquid cooling bracket that adapts Corsair’s all-in-one closed loop Hydro coolers to a Radeon R9 290 or 290X graphics card. For a while now, I have had an AMD reference R9 290 graphics card on hand that I haven’t been using as the card simply runs far too hot with the stock cooler.
Swapping out the crummy reference cooler for the HG10 A1/H100i v2 combo allowed for massive improvements in operating temperature. The card dropped from a load temperature of 95 degrees right down to 57 degrees and was considerably quieter as well.
The only issue here in relation to the Spec-Alpha is that there isn’t a convenient place to mount the radiator regardless of size. Not helping here was the fact that the H100i v2 has rather thick cables that aren’t very flexible. Still, with a little messing around, we managed to mount the radiator in the front of the case, though only one fan could be installed.
That said, we did manage to fit a second on the outside of the case for a push pull configuration but only half of the 240mm radiator was receiving air flow. Still this didn’t seem to matter as the H100i v2 still provided excellent temperatures on the R9 290.
Overall the Corsair Spec-Alpha installation process was very straight forward and there were no hiccups to speak of.
Best Value Gaming Mid-Tower?
For me, the Corsair Spec-Alpha ticks all the right boxes – it looks great, features excellent build quality inside and out, offers more features than you would expect given the price and is very flexible when it comes to hardware support.
Obviously, looks are subjective, but for a gaming-oriented case I think the Spec-Alpha looks great. It’s a bit crazy, a bit out there, but Corsair is able to pull it off with a high level of build quality and what appears to be a highly refined design. As hard as I have tried, the photos simply don’t do it justice – the white semi-gloss on the panels look amazing in person, for instance.
Nonetheless, looks are still subjective, so if the Spec-Alpha’s appearences don’t do it for you, then there are other almost-as-good cases out there. However, if you (like me) approve of the design, then you are in for a treat with what is probably the best gaming mid-tower on the market at the price.
Granted an Rs. 5,500/- case isn’t a true ‘budget’ solution, but even so, the Spec-Alpha is about as good as it gets for the money. It boasts of build quality of a premium Rs. 12,000/- case, and comes with plenty of features you won’t find in other cases in the same price range. Features such as a three step fan controller that supports the three included 120mm fans, two of which feature nice red LEDs.
The large window has been given a slight tint and seems more scratch resistant than those found in cheaper cases. The tool-free drive installation is first class and we love how the drives don’t need any custom rails or clips to slot into place. There is excellent compatibility for high-end hardware such as over-sized power supplies, graphics cards and CPU coolers.
Cable management is also on point and the bulge in the case door provides much needed clearance for extra thick cables such as the 24-pin ATX power cable.
Normally, towards the end of a case review I’d have a good number of things I would like to see changed, even on cases I really liked. That said this hasn’t been the situation with the Corsair Spec-Alpha and I have failed to come up with something I didn’t like about the case or even just something small that I would change.
Really the only thing I can think of would be adding the ability to install both the front 120mm intake fans on the outside of the steel chassis behind the plastic façade. That said, for 99% of setups this isn’t really going to be necessary as there is so much room inside the case above the drive cage for mounting the radiator and fans. It would have only been helpful with my dual 240mm radiator build.
Impressive looking gaming case
Great price given the features and build quality
Truly tool-less drive cages
Neat and tidy cable management
3-step fan controller
Three quality 120mm fans included.
None, it would be unreasonable to ask for more flexible cooling inside a mid-tower.