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Palo Alto ATCX Mid Tower Case


Recently I tested the Palo Alto PA-600 case. I was impressed with the high build quality and provisions for good ventilation. The only thing I would have liked to see with the PA-600 was one more full bay, but in reality, that was a minor complaint. Palo Alto was gracious enough to provide the more upscale ATCX mid-tower for review. The similarity in design is apparent however there are enough differences between these two cases to set the ATCX apart. What really makes the ATCX unique is that it can be ordered in a mid-tower or a desktop configuration.

First Impressions:

The box that the ATCX came in was noticeably heavier than the box for the PA-600. This is due to the fact that Palo Alto shipped it to me with the optional panels to convert it into a desktop case. Be aware that when you purchase the ATCX you will either get it as a desktop or mid-tower case and you wonít get the extra parts needed for conversion. Some vendors do sell the optional kits to convert from one format to the other. While looking at the front bezel I noticed that when used as a desktop case that there is one less external half bay. You will still be able to use the bay internally so the overall capacity of the case is not changed. The case access panel is a little more difficult to remove than the cover on the PA600. It utilizes a thumbscrew and two retaining mechanisms that must be pinched inward while sliding the cover back. The unit features the same high quality plastic as the previous case and deburred metal edges within. Palo Alto puts high emphasis on being able to work on their cases without tools. This is born out in features such as the front drive cradle which houses the HD and the rear 92 mm fan mount Ė which slides and locks into place without screws.

Included inside the case with this evaluation unit was the optional 92 mm rear exhaust fan and what Palo Alto refers to as the "Optional horizontal fan assembly for Slot 1 Pentium Processors". This device is a 92 mm fan mounted within a casing that directs the air through a 90 degree bend. This allows the exhaust fan to sit directly over the CPU heatsink and exhaust the hot air before it has an opportunity to circulate through the case. This device relies on the low height of a Pentium II processor and may not work with a PPGA or FC-PGA CPU mounted on a slocket. I was able to use the assembly with my FC-PGA Pentium III/iwill Slocket II combo by removing the metal grill on the fan. This gave me the extra tenths of an inch I needed. Looking at the extra height of my Abit Slotket it would not have worked, though I still could have used a conventionally mounted 92 mm exhaust fan for that situation.

I mounted a 92 mm fan in the front area reserved for the HD cradle. The cradle will hold in a HD without the use of screws since its two clips pinch the HD in place. But guess what? The clips that normally hold in the HD easily held the fan in place. Be aware that if you mount a fan in this way youíll have to mount your HD in one of the bays and use screws to retain it. The PA-600 has a molded area in the front for an 80 mm fan but the ATCX came with no accommodations for an intake fan. I think Iíd gladly give up using the HD cradle to mount a HD in exchange for mounting a 92 mm intake fan in. I suspect I could have even fit a 120 mm fan in it, with a little work, as long as it was the same depth. You could even stack one 80 mm fan on top of another if that is what you have available. Though Palo Alto didnít design the drive cradle for this purpose it is perfectly suited to it. Even with two 92 mm fans, a slot fan, and the power supply fan I found the ATCX to be surprisingly quiet and even quieter that the PA-600. That was quite an accomplishment since I was already happy with the sound nature of the PA-600.

The power supply that is provided with the ATCX is the same 235 watt unit used in the PA-600. Although its rating is smaller than most would like it still retains a lot of good features. The bottom of the power supply features the same openings to allow the removal of hot air from within the case. This power supply has 5 standard power connectors and 1 floppy connector. If you somehow do cram 7 components into the case, which it is capable of holding, youíll have to use a Y adapter for 1 component to feed it power. That is still more power connectors than most mid-towers have provisions for.

Features:

  • ATX Format
  • Provisions for an optional 92 mm rear exhaust fan and front intake fan (more on that later)
  • 2 full bays
  • 5 half bays (3 external)
  • Standard 235 watt power supply
  • Dimensions: MT: 6.6"W x 17.1"D x17.1"H DT: 16.5"W x 17.1"D x 6.1"H
  • Weight: 20-lbs. 7 oz.

Installation and Testing:

I used an Abit BX6r2 motherboard inside this case as it is representative in size of most available motherboards. Once again the motherboard fit easily. Palo Alto cases utilize a unique mounting mechanism for the motherboard. They provide a bracket, which is mounted onto the motherboard, that is then retained by one screw on the outside of the case. This screw is in the area adjacent to where the peripheral cards mount. While at first this seems odd it does speed installation and is easier than using several screws to mount the motherboard. One improvement that stands out over the earlier test case is the removal of the drive rails used to retain all the drives in the PA-600. Although Palo Altoís drive rails are definitely sturdier than a lot of the other ones Iíve seen Iíd still rather use screws to retain my drives.

Extra Shots: (click to enlarge)

Inside Front Inside board Fan Adapter Back View

Pros:

  • Same great Palo Alto construction and quiet operation
  • Accommodates a 92mm exhaust fan
  • Easily fits a 92mm intake fan in the HD cradle (possibly a 120mm fan with a little work)
  • One thumbscrew retains the access panel
  • One screw motherboard mounting system
  • The optional horizontal fan assembly
  • No drive rails

Cons:

  • Only 2 full bays
  • The side cover on the PA-600 was easier to open

Conclusions:

The ATCX certainly does not disappoint. With nearly the same dimensions of the lesser PA-600 case Palo Alto was able to expand on the features already available on the PA-600 and even throw in an additional half bay. Keep in mind that the extra half bay is immediately lost if you mount a 92 mm intake fan as I did, since you will be relocating your HD there. With that in mind, I again would have liked to see a third full bay since three external half bays is a little bit of an odd configuration. With a floppy disk and internal Zip disk (or LS120) installed that would still leave an extra half bay unused. Obviously all these half bay accommodations would be great for someone with a lot of harddrives to mount. Configuring with an extra full bay would have made the ATCX lose its ability to convert into a desktop case. That is one compromise that couldnít be avoided so in the end I was happy that at the very least I had that extra half bay to relocate my HD to.

The horizontal fan assembly is one of the best ideas Iíve seen in quite a while. With it I was assured that the heat given off by the CPU heatsink was ejected quickly and efficiently. I was very happy with the large intake fans this unit will hold in the drive cradle. For an average size mid-tower you can set it up with good ventilation without any case modifications. I highly recommend you purchase two 92 mm fans to mount in this case. If you have the room above your processor, I would definitely pony up the extra change for the horizontal fan assembly. They even include a Sunon 92 mm fan with the horizontal fan assembly. Palo Alto sells the ATCX from their website for $110, including shipping, but Iíve seen it for as low as $85 at one of the authorized vendors listed on their site.

Reference: http://www.padg.com/pc/atxatcx.htm

Victor Oshiro
victor@targetpc.com
00/02/09




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