- Review Price: £89.99
Thankfully the days of PCs being boring beige boxes are far behind us, but now the overwhelming variety of case options out there can be a bit daunting. It’s important to make the right decision here as, just like a set of decent speakers or a good monitor, a case is something that you can keep through many cycles of PC component upgrades.
The best cases are often evolutions of preceding models, and the CoolerMaster CM 690 II Advanced is – if you’ll forgive the pun – a case in point. Unsurprisingly, it’s the successor to 2007’s highly successful CM 690. However, it comes in at a higher price point, so join us as we see whether it’s worthy of housing your next build.
The first thing most customers should decide is what size of case they want to buy. If you need something small and light the CM 690 II Advanced is not for you, as this mid-tower stands at nearly half a metre tall and weighs a not inconsiderable 9.8kg (21lb). On the other hand, if you require a case that’s roomy, offers excellent cooling and boatloads of flexibility, the CM 690 II might be right up your alley.
In terms of looks we certainly like it. As is frequently the case with high-end chassis primarily aimed at the gaming and enthusiast market, CoolerMaster’s latest consists of a steel body with moulded plastic edges clad in matte black. Though the steel does result in that heavy weight, this combination makes for a blend of unique if subtle styling and excellent build quality while keeping the price at a very affordable £86.
One of the things that sets the CM 690 II apart from most other cases is CoolerMaster’s signature mesh front and top, complemented by chrome strips that run all the way to the back. The mesh sections not only help it to stand out visually, but also allows for good ventilation.
Build quality is excellent with only slight (and expected) flex in the side panels and mesh sections. The only minor exceptions are those chrome strips, which feel just a tad looser than we would ideally have liked, but then they’re protected from harm by the raised plastic side-ridges.
Mostly, the exterior remains very consistent with the original CM 690’s look. There are now only four 5.25in drive bays at the front instead of five, but honestly we can’t see most enthusiasts even using that many. A 5.25 to 3.5in mesh bay adapter and twin bracket rails are provided for installing a memory card reader, (shudder) floppy disk drive or other 3.5in device.
The CM 690 had its power and reset buttons plus LEDs awkwardly located at the side where if you had it under your desk they were the perfect height to accidently knock with a foot, but the CM 690 II has sensibly moved these up to the top right where they now reside in a dedicated plastic panel alongside the case’s connectivity. The buttons offer a positive click, and the reset button is small and recessed preventing accidental presses. On the left is another recessed button that controls the case’s frontal blue LED lighting.
Between these buttons you’ll find the CM 690 II’s connections. These are actually a step back from its predecessor, as FireWire has been dropped. To be honest though this is an increasingly niche – dare we say, outdated – connection and thus we can’t bemoan its loss too much.
Aside from this you get two USB ports and a very welcome eSATA port. The USB ports are sensibly spaced with the headphone and microphone jacks between them, leaving room enough for even the thickest memory sticks. This is especially appreciated as it’s a weakness even the original CM 690 didn’t manage to avoid, and something surprisingly many experienced case manufacturers still get wrong.
Behind the buttons and connections is a removable transparent cover that reveals a sloped tray for 3.5in/2.5in SATA hard drives, which CoolerMaster calls the X-dock. Thanks to both data and power connections, it really is as easy as just sliding the drive in and you’re away. Though it’s not the only case on the market with this feature, the CM 690 II is one of a very few to offer it at a sub-£100 price point, and it’s a touch that immediately elevates it above the norm.
Moving to the case’s base, we have long, broad rubberised feet which should keep it balanced very well regardless of what surface you put it on and prevent damage to scratchable surfaces. They’re screwed to the chassis so shouldn’t come off as the ones on even some high-end cases (like my Antec P180) have a tendency of doing. The feet raise the case 2cm above whatever it’s on, ensuring adequate airflow for the optional bottom fans and PSU intake.
Both of the case’s side panels are removable by unfastening two thumb screws. This brings us across our first minor complaint with the CM 690 II Advanced as the left panel is quite difficult to remove, requiring more force than should be necessary. Still, at least it’s a tight fit unlike on some other cases.
Before we get onto this CoolerMaster’s insides though, let’s check out the cooling. The CM 690 II has two 140mm fans and a single 120mm fan already installed, which should be adequate for most setups. Just in case it’s not, there’s support for a total of ten 120mm or five 140mm fans, in addition to another two 80mm fans.
Below the 5.25in mesh drive covers at the case’s front is a single pre-installed 140mm fan that can be moved to cover any four of the available six internal 3.5in drive bays to suit your drive configuration. It has attractive blue backlighting that can be turned on or off with the aforementioned button. As this front fan is an intake, it features a removable dust filter. To clean the filter you can remove the entire front of the case, which simply comes off with a slight pull and clicks back in just as effortlessly.
Though the top 140mm fan blows air out, it too is protected by a removable filter (as is the entire mesh top of the case) to prevent dust getting in when the PC is not in use. You can install a second 140mm fan in front of it too, and again you can remove the entire top section to access the fan and filter.
Just above the final (120mm) fan at the back we have two rubber-edged holes for water cooling tubes of up to 2.5cm thick. All pre-installed fans have three-pin power connections to hook up to your motherboard and come with attached four-pin throughput adapters if you want to power them from the PSU.
Speaking of water-cooling, you can install a two-fan radiator either at the top or bottom of the case. The case’s bottom supports one 120mm fan ‘as is’, and removing the bottom section of the drive cage (leaving you with two usable bays) makes room for a second one. Plastic rivets for only one extra fan are provided.
On the right panel there’s provision for an 80mm fan to cool the motherboard below the CPU mounting area. The left panel has cut-outs for twin 120 or 140mm fans. The top one will give extra cooling directly above the CPU, while the bottom fan does the same for any graphics card(s) you might install. In addition to this there’s a dedicated graphics card support and cooling system which is included with the Advanced case, and we’ll cover it in more detail later on.
So far we have little to no complaint with the CM 690 II Advanced, and the only area where it’s inferior to cases we have looked at in the past is its lack of external controls for adjusting individual fan speed, as found on Antec’s gaming cases. Does the inside hold up as well?
For starters, the same matte black finish adorning the case’s outside has been used on the inside. It doesn’t have too much of an impact on our review sample case, as there’s little opportunity to see inside the PC, but a version of the CM 690 II Advanced with side window is available. It looks very attractive and there’s not a sharp edge or corner to be found either.
Like its predecessor, the CM 690 II sports a completely tool-free design, so the only time you should need a screwdriver is when installing the motherboard. The quick-release mechanisms for the drives all work very well, although those for the 5.25in drives do feel slightly flimsy.
However, in the unlikely event that one snaps off you can always replace it with one from a spare bay or revert to screw mounting. Installing a drive is again as easy as pie: remove the front and slide the drive in, and the mechanism even locks automatically. If we’re being particularly picky there’s just the smallest hint of movement on installed drives and there are no grommets to dampen vibration, but that’s nitpicking of the highest degree.
Six 3.5in drive bays are rotated 90 degrees for easy access. They have removable caddies, of which one is designed to hold two 2.5in drives, an important inclusion with the steady migration towards SSDs in high-performance systems. Both drive mounts are incorporated into a ‘floating’ tray that rests on screws with rubber grommets to reduce vibration when using laptop drives. Likewise the standard 3.5in drive caddies also sport rubber grommets, and hard drive installation is very simple.
The power supply mounting area at the case’s base also has rubber mounting nubs to dampen vibration, though if your PSU is particularly short (like the 500W Blue Storm II we tested the case with), it won’t reach the front ones. This is not a big deal, though it’s something CoolerMaster may wish to revise on a future model. Obviously, given the case’s roominess, you can fit even extended power supplies.
When it comes to card retention, CoolerMaster has dropped the plastic clip system employed on the CM 690 for a much more reliable set of thumbscrews. However, these were so difficult to remove initially that we needed some pliers to undo them, kind of defeating the whole tool-free philosophy. Mind you, once loosened they’re easy to work with.
A clever touch with the CM 690 II is that above these horizontal slots there is another vertical slot, similarly secured with a thumb-screw. This innovation is ideal for all kinds of purposes, such as for those backplate expansion holders for extra USB ports from motherboard headers, which otherwise obscure a valuable slot on your motherboard. Genius!
For the most part the motherboard mounting area is easy to work in, despite the lack of a removable motherboard tray. There are plenty of holes in the base for routing cables through with around 2cm of clearance between the side panel. There’s also a hole behind the CPU so you can install coolers that require a back plate without removing the whole motherboard. However, we do have a couple of issues with the 690 II.
The first and potentially most off-putting (for gamers, anyway) is that the CM 690 II Advanced simply won’t fit an AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5970, as the maximum card length is 304mm. This is even more frustrating as the issue could have been remedied by making the top part of the drive cage assembly removable as the bottom one is. Unfortunately it’s riveted, so good luck getting it out of the way. On the plus side, for users of other large and heavy graphics cards, there’s an ingenious adjustable graphics card support bracket that should prevent your graphics card coming dislodged when in transit and also acts as a cage to house an additional 80mm fan for even more cooling if required.
(centre)The graphics card support and cooling bracket.(/centre)
The second issue with the case is less serious. If you’re using a large CPU cooler it can be very difficult to attach the with the board installed as the back and top fans butt right up to the edge of the motherboard. It’s not a deal breaker but it caused us a bit of frustration.
Luckily there’s no issue with height as the case can handle CPU coolers of up to 177mm, and these problems aside, installation in the CM 690 II Advanced is a dream. Plenty of black screws and cable-tidies are provided, and though the manual lacks instructions in how to mount and place a few bits and bobs, to be honest it’s all very self-explanatory.
Best of all, the two 140mm case fans run whisper-quiet at stock speed while providing excellent airflow, though the 120mm fan was noisier. Overall, the case produced between 40 and 45 dB (side/front and top at about at around 20cm distance), while keeping our test CPU at 39 degrees idle and 66 degrees under load. This could be much reduced by using your motherboard’s fan control on the 120mm rear fan.
As long as the system you plan to build avoids the two pitfalls mentioned above and you don’t mind its weight, there’s little to dislike about CoolerMaster’s latest enthusiast mid-tower. It’s well-built, looks good, offers a plethora of features (most of which are genuinely useful) and a very flexible, quiet cooling setup (with the 120mm fan running below its maximum). Best of all, the CM 690 II Advanced is good value at just under £90. Though there’s no shortage of competition at this price point, CoolerMaster does offer a few unique features and we reckon it’s well worth the £30 premium over the original CM 690.
Despite a few issues, CoolerMaster’s CM 690 II Advanced is a worthy successor to its popular predecessor, offering a great combination of features, looks and build quality for the price.
Score in detail