At Computex 2012, I wandered among endless halls of huge booths filled with computer cases. There were dozens of manufacturers that I’ve never heard of, and that aren’t on what many builders consider the “A-list” of casecrafters, but many of them featured some pretty compelling designs.
One of the booths I walked by caught my attention and made me stop, because their design aesthetic was eye-catching. That booth was Cougar, and today we’re looking at one of their newest cases, the Challenger.
- Micro-ATX / ATX
- 3 exposed 5.25″ drive bays
- 1 exposed and 7 hidden 3.5″ drive bays
- 3 hidden 2.5″ drive bays (converted from 3.5″ drive bays)
- External 3.5″ & 2.5″ HDD/SSD hot-swap bay
- Maximum 3.5″ HDD installed quantity: 9
- Maximum 2.5″ HDD / SSD installed quantity: 8
- USB3.0 x 2 (internal), 1 mic jack, 1 audio jack
- Maximum number of fans: 7
- 7 expansion slots
- 410mm maximum graphics card length
Let’s just get the one big thing off the plate: some people will immediately reject this case based on aesthetic alone, while some might want it on aesthetic alone. It’s a polarizing design that fits in with the younger core gamer demographic. My 13-year-old son loves the look. I think it looks kind of goofy (I’m 35). The case itself is a standard metal box, the kind that has been coming out of east Asia for years now, though quality has improved dramatically even in the last five years. I think it’s safe to say that the days of sheet metal so thin that a toddler could bend it and finger-shredding razor edges are gone. All of the cases I’ve seen coming out of China and Taiwan lately are at least a reasonably good manufacturing quality; fit and finish are finally acceptable across the board.
The Challenger aesthetic can best be described as race car/fighter jet. One of the things that is mentioned in their marketing material more than once is the red lid-covered power and reset switches, that are supposed to make you feel like you’re flipping open a missile launch switch or something. The rest of the case falls into the race car aesthetic, with glossy black and either orange, white, or more black highlights, depending on which color you choose.
Aesthetics aside, the Challenger has a couple of very nice features that bear mentioning right away: the dust filters on the side and bottom are magnetic and easily snap into place without worrisome plastic clips that tend to break. It’s very satisfying when they “chunk” into place, perfectly aligned. It’s a well-designed system that other case manufacturers should imitate.
The top two USB ports have a hybrid internal cable that can be plugged into a USB 3 header if you have one, but also has a pigtail with a USB 2 header if your motherboard lacks support for internal USB 3.
The big selling point of the Challenger, based on what Cougar seems to want to get across in their press kits, is the configurable drive tray system.
If you have a massive GPU that requires 410mm of clearance, you can remove an entire section of hard drive trays to make room for it. There are three configurations for hard drive trays. Here are the graphics from Cougar that explain it:
It’s a nice system, and the trays are very simple to swap around and move out if you need to.
The rails themselves are relatively flexible plastic, but they held my drives snugly and snapped into place without any problems.
As a normal mid-tower ATX case, airflow is a little cramped. I’m coming from the lofty world of the NZXT Switch 810, so I may be biased, but at least there are enough cable management holes for most users. The Challenger comes with a single 120mm Cougar Turbine fan in the rear, and a giant 200mm fan in the front, which rests behind a relatively airtight filtration panel. The 200mm inhales while the rear fan is set to exhaust. The side panel contains holes to mount a side fan, and the top contains enough room to mount two 120 or 140mm fans or a single 180mm or 200mm fan.
If you opt out of a side fan, a grill with a dust filter is supplied, and it uses the really cool aforementioned magnetic mounts to snap into place.
As I mentioned previously, the build quality is better than I had expected. The motherboard tray was matte black steel, and had a large enough cutout for any sort of cooling setup you could throw in there. Instead of brass standoffs, the motherboard tray has raised mounts built right in. There is a single non-screw standoff post in the center, and the motherboard bolts directly to the case on the standoff bumps. I like this system more than having to install 6-9 standoffs.
I encountered no quality issues with the case. Everything was solid, square, and fit together perfectly. The side panels were slightly flimsy, but they slid in and screwed in flawlessly.
If you like the look, this is a pretty decent mid-tower case. If you don’t, there’s no way you’ll buy it. The surprisingly decent build quality, the flexibility granted by the modular drive bays, the magnetic clamps for filters and panels, and the standoff system are all things that set the Cougar apart from their many peers.
If I had to categorize this, I’d put it firmly in the “decent, but not premium” mid-tier. At $65.99, it’s not going to break the bank, and you’ll find yourself with a good quality case.
The Cougar Challenger is available now from Newegg for $65.99.