Thermaltake’s Soprano—A PC Case on the Cheap

Jason Cross

Though it had a few flaws, we were quite happy with Thermaltake’s Tsunami Dream. With a solid aluminum case at a bargain price, the Tsunami Dream was styling. Now, the company is producing what could best be described as a lower-cost alternative. The Soprano is more of an entry-level case, made to offer the same basic look-and-feel in a sub-$100 package.

Why the Soprano name? Is Thermaltake trying to invoke images of shrieking opera divas or New Jersey mob bosses? No, it’s the kind of name and marketing message only Taiwan could come up with: The name is in reference to the curved front panel, and the box proudly proclaims, “Curve is the same charming as music.” Today we take a tour of the new case, building a system into it to see if this is a “charming” replacement for the Tsunami Dream, or a cheap cut-rate spin-off. Continued…

The general cosmetic appearance of the Soprano is very similar to that of the Tsunami Dream. The front door has that same basic “wave” appearance, though the shape of the curve is somewhat different between the two. We have no idea what Thermaltake means with its marketing slogan “curve is the same charming as music,” but we don’t think “music” when we look at it. We think “cheap plastic.” Come to think of it, that does sound like most of today’s pop stars.

Unlike the solid aluminum door on the Tsunami Dream, the Soprano’s front door is lightweight plastic, and stops precariously at a 90-degree angle. It really feels like it would snap off easily.

Moving the lock on the right side to its third position disengages the rest of the front from the case, allowing this “second door” to swing free so you can install 5.25″ or 3.5″ devices (the case has room for four of the former and two of the latter). This is also how you get at the washable dust screen.

There are no front-mounted USB, FireWire, or audio jacks on the Soprano. The case hides them under a flap on top instead. This is a pretty convenient location if you keep your PC on the floor, but it makes things a bit messy inside, as the connecting cables stretch down from the center of the case’s top across your entire motherboard, where the USB, FireWire, and audio headers are invariably located near the bottom edge.

There are two flavors of Soprano case: one with a clear side panel and another with a solid side. The clear side version includes a 90mm fan over the CPU. Continued…

At first blush, the inside looks like any other case, but there are a couple of noteworthy features. You’ll notice two 120mm fans—a rear exhaust fan and another intake fan in front of the hard drive cage. The Soprano features the same screw-less card installation clips found on the Tsunami Dream, which is great for most purposes, but we couldn’t snap in a double-wide graphics card without screwing out the whole clip assembly (four screws), and replacing it after the card was in place.

The drive bay in front looks simple enough. Note the 120mm fan included—most cases have a spot to mount your own fan, but don’t include one. Thermaltake promotes tool-less drive installation through the use of a pretty clever little mechanism.

Drives slide into place and are clipped on with a small plastic retaining clip, allowing you to add or remove drives without breaking out the screwdriver. Well, sort of. See, the drive itself is installed tool-free, but you have to remove the right side panel of the case to snap the retaining clip on the other side of your hard drive. This, of course, requires a screwdriver. We prefer drive cages that are removable or rotated 90 degrees to be easily accessible without taking both sides of the case off. Continued…

Building a PC into the Soprano is quite painless. There are no big air ducts to deal with, and you don’t need to deal with too many screws. You’ll need to screw in your motherboard, and take off the right side of the case, but everything else can be done with snap-on components. This doesn’t do a whole lot to reduce vibration, but it makes construction a breeze.

There’s an overall feeling of cheapness to the Soprano. It’s just sort of light and flexible, with too many plastic bits where there should be more substantial materials—or at least stronger plastic. There are no sharp edges to get cut up on, though, and everything seems put together well.

The amount of noise made by this case is directly related to how many of the fans you plug in. We built a test system consisting of an Athlon 64 FX-55 with stock cooler in an ASUS AN8-SLI Deluxe motherboard with a GeForce 6800 Ultra. Since our case came with no power supply (there are Soprano versions that include a 430W unit), we used our own Thermaltake 470W power supply.

From about a foot in front of and above the case, we measured a sound pressure level (SPL) of about 48dB with all three fans going. Turning off the side CPU fan shaved off only half a decibel, but turning off the front intake fan brought the SPL down to a more respectable 45.5dB. It’s far from “silent,” but it’s not loud enough to be annoying. The thin plastic door doesn’t do a lot to isolate noise from internal components, though. The noise was a lot worse from about a foot away from the clear side door—as high as 54dB. Continued…

The best thing about Thermaltake’s new Soprano case is the price. The version we reviewed—with no power supply and a clear plastic side door—goes for about $80. The VB1430 model comes with a 430W power supply and is a really good deal, typically only around $10 more.

We also liked the almost tool-less nature of building a PC into the Soprano. You’ll need the screwdriver for a few things, but installing cards or drives is not one of them. With 120mm intake and exhaust fans, plus a 90mm CPU intake fan included, you won’t even need to install additional airflow devices anytime soon.

Our primary problem with the case is its cheap feel. Too much of it is plastic, and the plastic parts have a thin, lightweight quality that makes us afraid something is going to snap. The Soprano is neither particularly loud nor quiet, but the clear plastic side door does little to mute the whirring of components inside, and there tool-less construction tricks don’t do a lot to dampen drive vibration.

Check our more PC Case Reviews at ExtremeTech.

This is a decent starter case, something affordable where everything fits together nicely and you won’t cut up your hands on edges that aren’t ground down. The tool-less drive and card installation could be a help to first-time builders, or enthusiasts who are replacing something inside their case every other week. We just wish it felt a little sturdier.

Product:

Thermaltake Soprano

Company:

Thermaltake

Price:

$79 (street)

Pros:

Inexpensive; tool-less card and drive installation.

Cons:

Cheap, plastic feel.

Summary:

A good affordable starter case, but frequent DIYers or LAN party enthusiasts might want to look for something a little sturdier.

Rating:

Related Articles:

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in ExtremeTech.

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