What's up fellow enthusiasts! I want to first take the opportunity to thank MonsterLabo for this opportunity, it enables me to bring you something special. I covered it briefly in an article I did last year, (here) the MonsterLabo "The First". A fully passive, premium and ultra niche case with a lot to offer. MonsterLabo "The First" is the first product from MonsterLabo (full circle on that one), but they're a bunch of enthusiast ready to challenge the market with a new product and take aim for a niche (enthusiast -> SFF -> quiet -> passive) that many haven't explored. Passive cases aren't anything exactly new, but the method MonsterLabo used to create this case is something that I haven't seen done; build a case around a heatsink. We've seen a kickstarter for a similar cases a few years back, but involved technologies or something that basically kept the company quiet for the past few years even after a funded kickstarter (looking at you Calyos NSG).
The First offers a wide array of potential setups, but when deciding hardware for your build, it's better to check the compatibility chart before to ensure easiest assembly. As far as assembly goes, their YouTube videos should be more than enough to figure everything out even if there's nothing traditional about this chassis.
Upon opening the box, the case itself is inside a thick homemade fabric bag, you start to feel the niche here.
There's also a MonsterLabo novelty rubics cube, extra MonsterLabo logo silicon feet, hands full of panel mounted extensions (USB, Ethernet, HDMI and Display Port), a high end Noctua 140mm fan and Notcua thermal paste. Really well packaged, as expected.
Now, let's dive into the more technical aspect of this case. Basically, the case is a framed single heatsink with twelve heat pipes, six for the GPU and six for the CPU and room for a PSU on the bottom. There's a caddy that can be used to hold either a 120mm fan or 140mm fan that can be used with an SFX PSU. There's room for three 2.5" drives and a single 3.5" drive. The case dimensions are 205mm deep, 215mm wide by 430mm tall, which equates to 19L, which is just at the Intel spec'd threshold for "SFF", here on OCN, we consider less than 20L to be SFF.
As far as cooling capability goes, they have specified 100W for the CPU and 120W for the GPU in fully passive mode, for a total of 220W, but with a 140mm fan at under 500 RPM, it goes up 140W for the CPU and 160W for the GPU for a total of 300W. Having a fan with higher capability will net even more performance out of the heatsink, but that isn't the goal of this case and you'll reach diminishing returns quick enough because of the heatsink fin array (because they're quite spaced out compared to traditional heatsinks).
Before I dive into any performance numbers, I want to take the time to explain to you how this case works, actually more how it plans to use thermodynamics. We all know heat rises, like house base board heaters for example, but how and why it rises is something many don't fully understand. I'll try to keep it as simple as possible to attempt to not lose any readers before dumping actual data on you!
Heat rises because it becomes thinner because the particles composing it become more active, thus taking up more room. Like milk in coffee, it goes to the bottom first, but eventually the natural convection mixes both (there are other factors, but for the sake of this example, it's what I used!). A base board heater heats up the air, making it lighter than the colder air so it flows upwards naturally. The hotter the air gets before leaving the faster it'll be flowing upwards (it's velocity is higher). So basically natural convection is when you get a differential in temperatures from the intake air versus the exhaust air. This means that with a higher temperature difference between the intake and exhaust, will end up getting higher velocity, which is proportional to the air volume output at the exhaust side of the case. So higher delta in temperature (intake vs heatsink) means higher air flow from natural convection and higher air flow means increased cooling ability, which is actually why the configuration MonsterLabo choose to use works. Once we add a fan though, this whole thermodynamics theory doesn't apply as the fan creates higher velocity than the natural convection abilities of this case (and for any case for that matter).
So with that said, my test configuration consists of a Gigabyte Z370N Wifi paired with an Intel i5 9400F which is rated for 65W TDP and Gigabyte GTX 1070 Mini OC, which can pull around 150W which brings us at 5W under the 220W figure posted earlier. As far as storage goes, I'm using a Crucial MX200 500GB m.2 drive to save some cable clutter to have the best potential air flow. For power, I'm using a passive NJ450-SXL power supply, which is Silverstones latest fully passive SFX PSU. It's different also from traditional passive power supplies as it relies on the heatsinks to dissipate the heat instead of having a more open configuration of Seasonic and Silverstone passive ATX PSUs.
My GTX 1070 is compatible only if I use the riser, so I needed to bend the heatpipe array for the GPU just a tiny bit, about 5° maybe to be able to fit it. The riser included is a Li-Heat OEM (they can be bought from eBay), which personally I think is the second best riser on the market today (first being ultra expensive 3M risers). Also included is GPU heatsinks if you have a VRM design that goes from the side of the PCB to the other as it's a sort of clamping method of mounting. It unfortunately didn't fit mine, but it's a great additional to this case as leaving bare VRM can affect GPU longevity, so I strapped a tiny 50mm fan to the heatpipes but pushing air towards the VRM section just to make sure. (your card throttles if they're too hot, so it's not much of an issue, but you could lose some performance if it does).
MonsterLabo are also quite open to improving their product and package. I had one of the GPU post with bad threading so I had to make myself a new one to fully clamp the GPU die with old waterclock hardware (basically just a 30mm M3, M3 nut, washer and spring) and when I mentioned it to them, they took good note of it and will potentially include more of most threaded hardware in the package (it already has quite a bit tbh).
You're probably waiting for numbers right? Well, they're coming, I'm saving the best for last
So, the case is pretty straight forward, to mount the hardware, you need to remove 14 screws holding the three aluminium bezels (top black, middle bare aluminium and bottom black) I would've liked to see some subtle MonsterLabo branding here though maybe just laser etched 6mm tall letters "MonsterLabo" on the bottom right side of the aluminium bezel, but that's pretty objective. With the three bezels removed, we can also removed the magnetic top (two pieces) and one single post (out of the four corners), which is seven more screws (five for the frame itself and two holding the radiator). With this corner removed, you can then install everything you need for your build. I suggest putting back that last post and testing to make sure everything is properly seated as the first time I assembled it, I did not mount the GPU properly and it slid down quite a bit making poor contact with the heatsink (had 95C temps with throttling!). Once you know for sure your hardware is well seated, you can simply assemble it back together and enjoy your epic passive case!.
Numbers, numbers. I used HWInfo64 to monitor and graph my temperatures and to be honest, they speak for themselves.
First up is a full real bench benchmark run, which had mid-low 60's on the CPU as max and GPU had mid-high 50's (that's almost watercooling territory btw).
Second is an almost full round of PUBG (I blame playing on the couch for my short game lol). GPU climbed to high 60's and CPU stayed mid 50's.
Now, really pushing this configuration I ran [email protected] for a good 10 minutes and it brought temperatures in the 70s, keep in mind that case isn't made for such use!
There's also a hidden beauty in this case, it's the modularity of it. All parts are swappable, which makes it possible to have higher venting parts, thicker feet and even an extra top fan mount if you'd want! More rear I/O panel mount slots.
This case, the package I received, is 429£, but the base model is 369£. Considering the case includes both CPU, GPU and fully metal case (aluminium and steel). It's actually not THAT bad. You'll be paying near that for a niche SFF case with high end air for CPU and for GPU.
I give this case an easy 5 flames out of 5, for quite a few reasons. The quality of the product itself, the performance, the detailed video guides, the included hardware (and bonus goodies) and best of all, the people. Their customer service, their willingness to improve, their community presence are all reasons why I'd give MonsterLabo a full 5 flames on their "The First".
Hope you liked my review of this case, if you have any questions at all, do not hesitate to ask! I accept comments too!