Corsair is a brand that is synonym to the word performance in the PC hardware industry especially if you consider its long range of AIO CPU Liquid Coolers from the Hydro Series. The cabinets are no less and to complete its impressive catalogue they came up with the Corsair Carbide SPEC Alpha last year at COMPUTEX which I had the pleasure of reviewing a couple of months back. Today I have yet another Corsair product with me and this time its the more aggressive looking cousin of the SPEC-03, the Corsair Carbide SPEC-04.
The SPEC-04 is an attempt by Corsair to not only cater to those who found the styling of the SPEC Alpha a bit too much and the other SPEC series a bit too bland for their taste but it also aims to revamp the entire SPEC series of Corsair since the styling has become too old with time.
With it’s asymmetrical, hard-edged exterior, the SPEC-04 is ready to stand out, with three different color options to match your system, Black and Yellow, Black and Red or Black and Grey.
Priced at around the $75 mark or Rs 5500 in India it places it just below the much bigger SPEC Alpha. By dimensions we can see that the SPEC 04 is identical to the smallest SPEC-01 but with some added benefits.
Packing and Accessories
The Corsair Carbide SPEC-04 comes in the traditional cardboard box packing of Corsair. I was expecting something colorful and new from them since the case itself is quite a new beginning for Corsair.
You'll find all the vital details, specifications and even a disassembled diagram of the chassis right outside the box. I even found a tiny colored sticker pasted outside the box with the colorful image of the case to give me the idea of which color the unit was!
Inside you'll find the usual two thick styrofoam blocks and a plastic cover to add further protection. Corsair is always so simple and perfect with their packing so no complains over here. All the accessories and manual are provided in a zip lock bag kept right on top of the case.
The SPEC-04 comes with a generous bundle of accessories including a multilingual user manual and a bag full of zip-ties, motherboard screws, four SSD pan head screws, a set of four long long fan screws, four sets of four short fan screws and a motherboard stand-off.
Manual and warranty card are present in the zip ouch while the other accessories are bundles inside the cardboard box that you'll find nestled in the HDD tray of the case.
What meets the eyes - The outer appearance
The first look of the Corsair SPEC-04 is enough to make out that its a cross between the traditional SPEC design and that of the SPEC Alpha. The Entire body is boxy with a transparent side panel fitted on a bulge and paint job is just perfect in from of matte black which doesn't feel cheap at all, best part its not a finger print magnet!
Front side is quite unique and looks quite futuristic with a meshed panel on one side and a completely opaque section on the other. The grill acts as a dust filter blocking larger dust particles and as expected there is no provision for a 5.25" drive so bye-bye to optical drives! The plastic is very hard and premium and I somehow feel that this dominating design would've been just for a much bigger chassis or better a full tower case.
The grill if looked at closely is dual layered to make a dense dust filter and the paint job is just perfect. I did find the Corsair sails a bit too bland for this kind of product, something embossed or more like a decal would've been more appealing.
On the other side its completely opaque with a slight bulge to complement the one on the window side. The IO panel has been completely shifted to this side of the case and is on the front fascia to which we'll come later on.
Back is simple with nothing much to discuss. It has provision for a 120mm fan on top and seven expansion slots to accommodate your PCIe slot based devices. The PSU area is a simple fit and screw mechanism instead of the bracket pull out system available on some competing cases.
Top is smooth and clean with provision for two 120mm fans to assist in cooling down the system. The fan mounts are a bit to the right so that the fans don't interfere with the motherboard or the CPU power cable. I was expecting mesh dust filters on top here like the ones available on the SPEC-02 since a lot of dust tends to make its way into the case from here even if the system is not powered on!
Oddly the bottom portion is very basic! There is only a dust filter for the PSU fan which can be pulled out even with the case upright. Strangely there is no bottom vent for air intake even though the bottom clearance is good enough for that. For a case like this & keeping in mind the present generation of graphics cards I was expecting this basic but very useful feature to be present.
Coming to the IO panel on the SPEC-04 we have the power button, one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, headphone and microphone jacks along with a HDD activity LED and reset button. Its a good move to add the panel on this unusual side and manner as it not only helps to keep the front streamlined but also makes use of the otherwise waster real estate on the right side of the case.
Digging deep - The inner looks
Open up the case and you can see that its pretty spacious and clean from inside. Plenty of cuts and crevices for wire management assistance are present but they are not lined by rubber grommets so be a bit careful while routing cables through tight corners.
The HDD cage is made out of metal and has three plastic caddies that can accommodate a 3.5"/2.5" drive. A cardboard box with all the accessories that we mentioned above is nestled over here. Caddies are of good quality, flexible and easy to use.
Taking care of storage further the case offers two SSD exclusive mounting spaces right above the HDD cage. Here you can mount two SSDs either on the motherboard side or on the opposite side, I'll show you both ways in the installation section.
One 120mm red LED fan is pre-installed in the front of the case, numbered as Corsair A1225M12S rated at 1000 RPM +/- 20% and 54.0 CFM with 20dBA 0.30A.
You can add another 120mm or 140mm fan right below it which would pass air through the HDD cage. Even though it seems you can add another 120mm/140mm fan above it but its impossible since the IO panel circuits board blocks the path!
If observed closely you can see that there are screw markings along with legends in accordance with motherboard sizes namely as ATX and Micro ATX to assist you during installation. Simple yet very useful move for the beginners.
The opposite side is conventional with about 1cm of space for wire accommodation thanks to the bulge in the side panel. Its not too much but enough to route cables for a basic installation. The flaw that plagued the SPEC Alpha made its way to the SPEC-04 aswell since the case lacks a CPU power cord routing hole! This means you'll have to route the wire from the front all the way to the port on the motherboard, though it'll stay hidden but a simple cut-out at the back would've made it way more cleaner and smoother.
Installation and ResultsBefore I proceed with the installation phase I'd like to list out the configuration we'll be using here for the main build along with side components aswell.
Our configuration is as follows for which I'd like to thank Gigabyte India, Kingston India and of course Corsair India for helping me with the various components -
CPU: Intel Core i7 7700K 4.2Ghz
Motherboard: Gigabyte Z270X Designare
RAM: Kingston HyperX Predator 8GB DDR4 3000Mhz Memory Kit
Cooler: Corsair H100i GTX
Graphics Card: Gigabyte GTX 1050 Ti G1 Gaming 4GB OC
Storage: Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD
Secondary Storage: Kingston A400 240GB SSD
Power Supply: Corsair AX860i 860W 80+ Platinum
Secondary Components -
Noctua NH-D14 CPU Air Cooler
Corsair H110 280mm CPU Liquid Cooler
I won't be putting up a simple build over here since that is quite obvious that the case can accommodate in easily. First up to use the H100i GTX we had to remove the front HDD cage since in no way possible you can put a 240mm/280mm radiator in front with the cage in place, yes a 120mm radiator can be installed easily along with the HDD cage. Also the front LED fan was moved to the back as an exhaust fan. Please note that due to limited space between the front fascia and the chassis frame a push pull configuration is not possible for any radiator so just stick to pull configuration if opting for one.
Since my build didn't involve any HDD so I could afford the liberty to remove the HDD cage but in case you need a HDD, which I'm sure a majority of us do, you'll have to stick with a 120mm AIO Liquid cooler or a CPU air cooler.
I've mounted the Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB SSD in the front SSD mounting position while the Kingston A400 240GB SSD went to the back since installing a 240mm rad in the front means the front SSD mounting position is blocked so you'll have to put one SSD in the back!
The back has enough space for keeping all the wires in place and wire management was no problem whatsoever even though the 24-pim ATX cable on the Corsair AX860i is a very thick wire. SSD mount area is good and keeps the SSD away from all the wiry mess!
The side panoramic window on the Corsair SPEC-04 is tinted and made out of high density plexiglass which doesn't hinder the LED lights allowing them to pass through clearly without any glare that tends to happen with some tinted panels.
To accommodate a 280mm is still a big deal for most of the cases especially a mid-tower but the Corsair Carbide SPEC-04 did the job well. Its a huge cooler but fits perfectly in a pull configuration with no problem in sucking in fresh air from the front grills.
Its obvious by now that the HDD cage would go away but in case of a 280mm radiator the front SSD mount even gets compromised! This leaves you with both the spaces at the back so I had to shift the Neutron GTX and A400 SSDs at the back mounts, no harm as such as cooling gains for the CPU is huge by simple swap of position.
Those who know this cooler are aware of its mammoth size, its just massive! Even though Corsair claims a 150mm clearance for coolers I did had the audacity to fit this 160mm NH-D14 in a case such as the SPEC-04 and realized that it does fit in well. Yes you need to shift the graphics card to the second PCIe slot for optimum cooling but I was a bit too tired by now to shift the card here so kindly use your own discretion. Best part you can retain the HDD cage if you opt for any air cooler no matter if its as big as the Noctua NH-D14
Clearance is just enough for you to close the transparent side panel, I observed that it will miss the panel by the width of a hair but its enough since that's all you need to close the case. As for the top, the cooler block would blow the hot air directly up from the top vents leaving no space for any additional fan on top.
Noise and Temperature LevelsUsing the configuration with the Corsair H100i GTX I tested the Carbide SPEC-04 for temperature and noise levels by keeping the CPU at stock frequency and the RAM overclocked at 3000Mhz, running Prime95 64 bit to stress the CPU and MSI Kombustor to stress the graphics card for half and hour and then measuring the temperatures using HW Monitor and Core Temp. Fan profiles were set to default via the BIOS and fans on the Gigabyte GTX 1050 Ti Gaming G1 don't spin till 60°C.
Temperature wise the cabinet has good air flow since the CPU cooler draws fresh air directly but graphics card temperature sees a steep rise since there is not much cool air to cool it down mainly due to the absence of the bottom mounted fan. Other readings are within a satisfactory range aswell.
For the noise levels I recorded it from a distance of 3 feet as that's the ideal distance at which one would keep the case from them. Fan profiles were on default and readings were taken under full system load. With not a fully quiet ambience the readings are impressive and for a case with no noise damping material installed the stats are commendable. It does get a bit noisy when the cooler spins at full speed though!
My VerdictWith the Carbide SPEC-04 Corsair has surely revived their dying SPEC line-up striking the perfect balance between the very edgy SPEC Alpha and the bland SPEC-01 but this balance is only in terms of aesthetics not in terms of performance!
The case delivers a lot but leaves a lot to be desired aswell in tits and bits for instance the absence of top dust filters and no provision for a bottom mounted fan. No rubber grommets on the cable routing holes is something I would complain about since the chassis is not coming in cheap but these small stuff don't cost much though they make a world of difference in every aspect.
Silver linings are also there such as a huge accommodation space for every type of conventional CPU cooler & even with the HDD cage intact you can install really long and beefy graphics card of upto 37cm. The build quality is top notch and it feel premium from every corner. I didn't like the fact that Corsair has made it a 120mm radiator only case though it can accommodate a lot more if there was a bit more space allotted to the front so one wouldn't need to remove the HDD cage.
All in all the SPEC-04 is a step in the right direction from Corsair which needs a little more work to achieve perfection in the long run. I do recommend this case to people who are into air cooling, are looking for a solid build-compact chassis that can hold a lot of stuff and looks great too, probably gamers would love this offering for its aggressive styling, a huge side panel window for admiring their components while modders would like it for its clean structure and solid build quality which provides infinite possibilities for displaying ones creativity.
I give it a 7/10 earning our Silver Award!