Gigabyte 3D Mercury Case - Get Into Liquid

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Product: Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro Case
Provided by: Gigabyte
Price: ~$399USD Online

 

Introduction:

Although Gigabyte is most widely known for its line of mainstream and enthusiast oriented motherboards, they also have been manufacturing other computer hardware as well.  They sell graphics cards, power supplies, CPU coolers and computer cases.  Today we will be looking at their latest incarnation and find out if the 3D Mercury Pro is worth the hefty price tag, or if the integrated water-cooling system simply can't take the heat of the competition.  The cooling system is comprised of similar components found in their 3D Galaxy II cooler, but with the 3D Mercury Pro, everything is ready to go right out of the box.  Simply add some hardware and water . . .

First Look (Big, Big, BIG):

I got a call from Dallmann Computers saying that there was a rather gianormous package being dropped off by UPS, and that I should come quickly because it was scarring the small children.  I was unavailable, so my wife headed off to grab the latest case from Gigabyte.  Although Dwayne may have been exaggerating about it scarring children, the box was still freakishly huge.

Large Box
Large Box

Two or three, 5 year old kids could fit inside the box.  My son is not a small 5 year old, as far as 5 year olds go, and as you can see, the box is very large when compared to him.  The box is well-done with graphics and information on what is inside.  You can read the products specs and the pictures show off many of the features.

Thankfully the large box is designed to protect the contents, and true to form, UPS delivered this case with the usual damage.  One corner was smashed and the box had been handled so roughly that one entire corner was torn loose from top to bottom.  Thankfully, there is a lot of protective packing, and the case arrived without a scratch.

3D Mercury Pro - First Look:

Once we unpacked all the goodies, we were able to unearth the actual case.  This is one of the nicest looking cases I've seen in a while.  The features show class - not a lot of flash, but it looks good in my opinion.

Front Left Profile
Front Left Profile

 

The case looks pretty tall, but has four retractable feet to help with stability.  I like the slots at the top (sides), they are actually intake vents for the liquid cooling system.

 3DMercury Front & Back
3DMercury Front & Back
 Side Open
Side Open
Top Fill Open
Top-Fill Reservoir

 

If you didn't get an idea of how tall this case is before, take a look at the back of the unit.  Above the expansion slots are two 120mm fans, above those is where the power supply gets installed, and above that is the exhaust for the liquid cooling system.  Not only is this case tall; it's also very long front-to-back and wide.  The front, sides, back and frame of this unit are aluminum.  It's not as thick as the Zalman Fatal1ty case, but it is still very sturdy.  In the middle picture above you get your first look inside this case.  It looks like there should be plenty of room to work.

The picture above and right shows the top-fill reservoir as well as some of the front controls and connections.  We'll look at those a bit closer as we carry on.


Closer Look - Inside:

When I opened up this case, I noticed a few things right away.  First, the door is secured with three thumbscrews and has a lockable latch to prevent people from snooping.  This door swings out and detaches easily, but requires a little patience to get back in place properly.  The Thermaltake Armor has a much "cleaner" swinging door and installs easier than the 3D Mercury Pro.  This isn't a big deal, but the door hinge could use a little refinement.

The next thing I noticed was that the front drives - both 5.25" and 3.5" drives all install tool-less.  Some implementations of tool-less drive installation are flimsy but the route Gigabyte took was all about quality.  Optical drives (and 3.5" drives such as floppy, zip, etc) slide in and then are clipped into place with a rail on one side of the drive rack; you don't even have to take off the other side panel!  Hard Drive installation is also very simple.  You need to put a couple of rails on your drive and then slide it into place.

 Internal Drive Bays
Internal Drive Bays
 Rear 12cm Fans
Rear 12cm Fans
 Accessory Caddy
HDD Rack & Accessory Caddy

 

The rear 12cm fans have the now standard blue LED effects and look very nice while exhausting the hot air from the case.  They spin quite slow and are virtually inaudible.  Mounted in the front HDD rack is a little box that actually houses many of the accessories for the case.  This box can be easily removed if you need the space, but for this review we won't need all 5 drive bays so we'll leave it in.  I think that many users would likely leave this inside the case as it is a great place to store a small screwdriver, extra drive rails and more.  Everything is right there when you need it.

It's been a while since I've been involved with water-cooling and I'm really looking forward to getting my gear wet once again.  One of the features that I like most about this setup is the expansion lines that Gigabyte has put in place.  At the top and bottom of the case is a manifold that has two blank spots for additional water lines to be ran.  You can use these for an extra radiator, and a graphics card block, or for a pair of graphics cards blocks to cool down a toasty SLI or Crossfire setup.

 
 Parrallel Expansion - Bottom
  ParallelExpansion - Bottom
 Parrallel Expansion - Top
Parallel Expansion - Top

 

As you can see in the pictures above, each connection is capped with a rubber cap, clamped and shut off with a quarter turn valve.  What I love about this setup is that it can be easily scaled for additional hardware or water blocks and can also be used to drain the system without spilling coolant all over your components.

 

Gigabyte has been doing their homework by using a parallel system instead of a series.  Many people that watercool their computers have their blocks in a series where the water goes from one component to the other and then finally back to the radiator to cool.  Each time the water passes through a block, it heats up and by the time it comes to the last block it may have gained quite a few degrees and provide less than optimal cooling to the final component.  It a parallel system, the water exits the radiator, and then is split off into different hoses so that each route only cools one component before heading back to the radiator.  This provides the best cooling performance - although it is not often used.  Gigabyte uses the parallel system much to their credit.

 

Included Accessories:

Gigabyte has included everything you will need to get up and running and chilling your gear.  They have included a couple of 600ml bottles of their own GBT Coolant.  This is to be added full-strength to the system and used in place of plain old water.  They also include a MOSFET fan, that clips onto the waterblock and while many people see this as a moot addition, I see quite a bit of value when running a hot Quad Core system and doing some overclocking.  In this situation the voltage regulators get raging hot and the fan does cool these components.  That being said, every fan in a system adds some measure of noise and with a total of 5 - 120mm fans, plus the MOSFET fan, it can't be totally silent.

 Coolant
Coolant
 MOSFET Fan
MOSFET Fan
   
 Included Accessories
Included Accessories
 Mesh Window
Mesh Window

 

Other than a screwdriver to change the side panel, Gigabyte has included everything you need to get the 3D Mercury up and running in short order.  In the bags pictured above are the drive rails, mounting hardware for LGA775 and AMD 939/AM2 processors, clips for cable management, thermal paste and a pair of Molex to SATA power adapters.  That's a decent bundle for a case.

On the next page we'll dive into the cooling system and see what chills the beast.


Cooling System Close-up:

There are two main reasons to switch to liquid cooling a computer.  First, you want a quieter solution to cool your hardware rather than louder, high performance air coolers.  Second, you want better cooling capability that air cooling can provide.  This can be for several reasons.  Your hardware or environment is too hot for standard or high-performance coolers, or you are a overclocker/enthusiast who wants his (or her) gear as cool as possible.  The third reason to watercool is simply for the l33t factor.  Not everyone has liquid coursing through their system and it still has a "wow" factor to many people.  Whatever the reason, there are thousands of combinations of radiators, pumps, water blocks, and tubing.  The hardcore enthusiast will research each component and put together a system that costs hundreds of dollar for bleeding edge cooling performance.  In many cases, a custom kit could cost upwards of $400 - without a case.

 Cooling System First Look
Cooling System First Look

We had to see what was under the hood of the 3D Mercury, so we took it apart to see what kind of components Gigabyte put together to make this system work.  It is not an extreme performance cooling system by all means, but it has some pretty neat features as you can see below.

 Cooling System Flow Meter
Cooling System Flow Meter
Cooling System Front I/O
Cooling System Front I/O
 Cooling System Custom Hoses
Cooling System Custom Hoses

 

You can see the small hose coming from the rear of the flow-meter in the picture above on the left.  This line runs off a "T" and has a wire wrap to prevent kinking.  The noteworthy feature of the "T"'d in flow meter is that all of the coolant doesn't have to pass through this.  The Zalman Reserator 1 & Reserator 2 have an in-line flow meter that all coolant must pass through.  The Zalman method causes extra restriction in the lines and reduces the L/h flow of the coolant.  The picture in the middle shows the wiring that hooks to the front I/O.  These wires are responsible for Firewire, 4 USB2.0 ports, Front Audio as well as HDD and Power LEDs and finally the power and reset switches.  Where possible, Gigabyte has wrapped the vinyl hoses with a wire wrap to prevent kinking, but in certain areas the hose has a sharper bend and they have opted to use custom fit rubber hoses instead of vinyl and wire reinforcement or plastic elbows.  These custom hoses add more cost to the system, but make for a much tidier, professional finish.

Below we take a look at the 120mm radiator, fans, and the pump.

 Cooling System Rad & Fan
Cooling System Rad & Fan
 Cooling System Tiny Pump
Cooling System Tiny Pump
 Front I/O With Plugs
Front I/O With Plugs

 

The radiator is aluminum and has a good sized plenum chamber on each side of the fins.  It is cooled by two 120mm fans that are controlled by a rheostat on the front I/O panel.  These fans have a set operating range of 1000rpm to 2600rpm.  At 1000-1400rpm they are inaudible, but once you get over 1600rpm they add a fair bit of noise to the system.  At full speed, they are loud and won't likely be used at this mode unless you were wearing a headset.

You can see in the middle picture that the pump is very small.  I remember back in the Eheim pump days, the pumps were massive and generated enough EMI that they couldn't be put too close to a CRT monitor.  This pump is a DC pump that is rated at 400L/hour and operates silently.  I can't hear it with the radiator fans turned to their lowest setting and all other fans off.

As you can see above (right), the Front I/O panel consists of power and reset switches as well as HDD and Power LEDs.  The fan control is also located at the top front of the case for easy access.  You'll notice the flow meter right in the middle.  This is backlit and looks very nice when in operation.  The USB and Firewire ports all include plugs to keep dust out, but these plugs could be easily lost.  If you don't plan on using your front I/O very often, I'd recommend using the plugs, otherwise just leave them in your handy-dandy accessory caddy!

 

Case Specs:

These specs are copied from the product page over at Gigabyte

  • Extended body for larger space
  • High-end brushed aluminum panel and body
  • Multi-functional window(steel mesh-vent; acrylic-transparent)
  • Enhanced strength rear plate with nickel coating
  • Dual security locks(front and side panel), protect value system hardware
  • Build-in liquid cooling system include pump, radiator, tank set, CPU waterblock
    (2x VGA & Northbridge waterblock are optional)
  • Perfect air convention provides best cooling performance, and silent environment
  • Build-in one LED illumined and one fan speed controlled silent intake fans
  • Build-in two LED illumined silent exhaust fans


We've got some more specs and features from their product brief that are worth mentioning also.

  • High-end, stylish Design
  • Build-in all new design and pre-installed high performance water cooling system
  • Extended body with extra space
  • Metallic Aluminum 3D front panel
  • Integrated thermal solution
  • GIGABYTE patent pending, build-in water flow meter, water level and multi-water valves
  • Easy Service, Refill water from top of the case, Trouble Free
  • Solid modularized Aluminum housing
  • Hassle-Free assembly
  • Anti-vibration and silent solution
  • Integrated cable management
  • Multi-functional side panel window
  • RoHS ready

 

Cooling System Specs:

  • GBT Value for easy upgrade and service
  • Automotive grade radiator with dual 12cm fans
  • Long life 400L/hr silent pump
  • 600ml one piece tank with low-water protection
  • Fill coolant from top of the chassis, simply by just remove the water tank cap
  • Fan Speed controller
  • Copper CPU water block with MOSFET cooling fan
  • Flow indicator with Blue LED backlight
  • Water Level window with Blue LED backlight


On the next page we'll take a look at installation.


Installation - Getting Started:

Gigabyte includes excellent documentation with the 3D Mercury Pro, and we referred to it a few times during installation to make sure we were doing everything right.  There is a full color quick installation guide included as well as a larger more detailed manual that covers everything from installation to replacement of individual parts of the Liquid Cooling System.  The documentation is quite good, but not perfect.

We started off by installing the Power Supply as recommended by Gigabyte - and I concur.  Once your PSU is installed, you can plug it in (switch in off position) and have the rest of your system properly grounded.  The PSU gets installed in a bracket that is secured to the rear of the case with four thumbscrews.  You have to use regular screws to secure the PSU to the bracket, but bracket installation in the case is tool-less.

 

 Frame Strapped to PSU
PSU Bracket Attached
 PSU Installed
PSU Installed

 

We are using the Zalman ZM600-HP Heatpipe Cooled PSU for this build.  It has proven itself to be solid and work very well is dual and quad core setups.

Once we've got the PSU installed, we can remove the CPU block from its secure shipping location and start the motherboard installation.

 WaterBlock Strapped For Shipping
WaterBlock Strapped For Shipping
Rear WB Bracket
Rear Stiffener Bracket

 

The Gigabyte CPU Water Block requires a stiffener plate for Socket 775 systems, but simply uses a clip to fasten to AMD Socket 939/940/AM2 motherboards.  The stiffener plate has an adhesive that helps keep it in place while you install the board in the case.  I've seen some cooling systems neglect using a rigid plate on Intel systems, and the board will flex if you over tighten the block.

Speaking of the CPU block . . .

 CPU Block Sticker
CPU Block Sticker
 CPU Block Finish
CPU Block Finish

 

The finish on the block is pretty good - and it appears to be very flat.  It isn't as smooth as a Zalman block, but it should work fine.  I know that some will want to polish this to a better finish, but we will test it as is ships.

Once we've got the CPU block out of the way we can proceed with the actual motherboard installation.  Some case manufacturers pre-install some motherboard stand-offs, but Gigabyte leaves them all up to you.  I prefer this because if a user is in a hurry and doesn't carefully check the location of the stand-offs, they could leave an extra stand-off installed that will short out the board.  I've seen this happen when some neighbors built a computer and it kept rebooting.

The MSI 975X Platinum Power Up Ed. V2 board we're using has a standard 9-hole ATX layout and once the stand-offs were installed we dropped in the board to secure it with some screws.

Bad Screw Angle
Bad Screw Angle

 

This is where we noticed the first minor issue.  The GBT Valves are somewhat in the way of the bottom corner and they cannot be removed easily.  This causes a pretty sharp angle to the bottom right corner of the motherboard.  It is possible, but you should take care so the screwdriver doesn't slip and you take a chunk out of your motherboard.

With the board installed, you can see that there is plenty of room to work inside this case.  The motherboard tray is not removable, but with this much room it isn't a big deal.  Even super long 8800GTX or HD2900 graphics cards can fit comfortable inside the 3D Mercury Pro.

 

Board Installed
Board Installed

 

We'll carry on installation of the water block and wiring on the next page. 


Installation - Carrying On:

After the board was strapped down, I panicked for a second as I remember the back stiffener plate was stuck to the back of the board.  I've seen many situations where the adhesive started to give out and the plate moved.  Thankfully, the adhesive was holding strong and all of the bolt holes were lined up with the holes in the motherboard.  I positioned the water block so there was little stress on the hoses and started to strap it down with the provided spring screws and proceeded to tighten them.  I checked the documentation to find out how tight to turn the screws - I was unsure if I was to bottom them out on the motherboard, or just provide "good" tension on the springs.  I consulted the guide and the manual, and the best I could come up with was "Secure the water block onto the motherboard with the attached spring screws."  Basically, I have no idea.  In the end, I tightened the screws unit the flat base came in contact with the board.  Because of the rear stiffener plate, the board won't flex and there will be adequate pressure for sure. 

 CPU Block Installed
CPU Block Installed
MOSFET Fan Installed
MOSFET Fan Installed

 

The MOSFET fan is optional to install, but if you plan on doing any overclocking, or if you are going to using a hot graphics card or two, additional airflow over the MOSFETs is always a good idea.  This fan is very quiet and moves some air over the northbridge chipset as well as causes a little breeze to blow on the RAM.  If you are going for a totally silent PC, you may want to put this on a fan controller, or skip it altogether.  I installed it though as the 975X MOSFETs get toasty warm when overclocking a Quad Core CPU.

Next up, I started running the front I/O cables (USB, Firewire, Audio) and discovered that the Firewire cable is a wee bit too short to reach the back corner of the board.  Many motherboards have the Firewire located farther ahead and this wouldn't be an issue, but it wouldn't reach in our system - until we re-routed the cabling from the front I/O.  This should not be required and Gigabyte should use a cable that would reach to every corner of the case.  In case you're wondering, that "girly" looking hand is not mine.  I borrowed it from my wife.

 Short Firewire
Short Firewire

 

Another thing that Gigabyte has done right on this case is expansion card and drive installation.  Some company's execution of tool-less expansion card installation is hit and miss, and often the cards are not secured very tightly.  In other cases, like on the Thermaltake Swing case, two-slot graphics cards don't work well if the bracket is one-piece.  The Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro holds all the cards tightly and installation is super easy.  The entire bracket swings away and clips back into place to securely hold all of your expansion cards.  Even a heavy card like the Crucial X1900XTX is held tightly by the Mercury.

Tool-less PCI Bracket
Tool-less PCI Bracket

 

Next up we installed a couple of drives for this review and dropped in a LG 20x DVDRW drive - the GSA-H55N.  Installing this drive was an actual pleasure and required removing the front 5.25" cover and sliding the drive in the empty bay.  Then, you just push the clip forward and you're done.  Really.  I've never used a tool-less design this slick before.  Most tool-less designs require you attach rails and/or flip locks on both sides of the drive.  Although the device is only held on one side, the drive feels very secure and doesn't wiggle around at all.

 Tool-less Drive Installation
Tool-less Drive Installation
Hard Drive Installation
Hard Drive Installation

 

Hard drive installation requires using rails, but they are simple, sturdy and slide right in with no issues whatsoever.  There is no right or left - they are all the same.  Once they are attached to the drive through its screw mounting holes, it slides in and clips into place.  To remove the drive you much squeeze the protruding ends of the rails and pull it out.  Because the HDD rack is so solid, there is no play in this mounting method.



Add Water and Start!

Now that all the hardware is installed and appears ready to go, I stood up the case, opened the handy dandy top fill spout and added about 1.2 liters of coolant.  The specs say that the reservoir holds 600ml, so the rest of the system holds about another 600ml as well.

Gigabyte has put some effort into their coolant and they recommend using it instead of traditional (and low-tech) water.  Gigabyte says, "The Nano-scale water-oolant can effectively reduce the presence of mpurities and increase heat dissipation."  It also has "anti-freezing, anti-corrosive and water quality stabilization features."

 Ready To Fill Up
Ready To Fill Up
 Conductive Coolant
Conductive Coolant


It sounds like it will be conductive, which can be harmful or fatal to your computer hardware if you spring a leak.  I checked to see if it was conductive and it is.  If you spill any on your hardware, make sure you clean it up and let it dry completely before powering on your computer.

 

Test Setup:

 3DMercury = Big
3DMercury = Big

 

As I mentioned earlier, this case is large.  Think of it as large mid-tower with a water cooling system mounted on top of it.  The picture below shows how it stands up next to the Fatal1ty FC-ZE1 case from Zalman.  Although we've covered most of the parts during installation, we'll recap:

 

Here are a couple more pictures for your viewing pleasure.  The LEDs are really bright so if you want to leave this computer running in your bedroom at night, you'd better like sleeping when it's light out.  Gigabyte includes both the mesh panel and the standard clear window.  You have a choice as to what look you're going for.

 Side Running LED
Side Running LED
 Window vs Mesh
Window vs Mesh

 

We'll pull out the stops and run the benchmarks on the last page.  I promise.


Testing Info: 

We used Core Temp to monitor our CPU temps and disabled all the thermal throttling and thermal management options in BIOS.  The test environment was kept at 23C ambient and the results will speak for themselves on the next page.  We tested the stock cooler at its default setting - set to maximum in the BIOS.  The Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro was tested at "Silent" (1000rpm), "Normal" (1500rpm) and "OC" (2600rpm).

Idle temperatures were taken 1 hour after startup, and load temperatures were taken after running four instances of the Folding @ Home client for an hour.  Often with heatsink reviews, you can decrease the time between load tests, but a liquid cooled system takes a bit longer to heat up - thus the 1 hour run before temperatures are recorded.

Stock Cooler O/C Load
3D Mercury O/C Load
3D Mercurcy O/C Load
Stock Cooler O/C Load

 

We used the logging feature of Core Temp to log 5 minutes of temperature data for each core.  The results were averaged and displayed in the chart below.

Performance & Noise:

Before we talk about noise, take a look at the performance of this case with integrated Liquid Cooling.

Stock Temps
Stock Temps

__________________________________________ 

O/C Temps
O/C Temps

 

While the performance numbers won't blow you out of the water (pun intended) the Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro does perform very well for a case in its class.  I have no other integrated LCS system to compare it to, but I do feel that there is a market for a case like the 3D Mercury Pro.  At stock speeds running idle, it keeps the CPU 9C cooler when in silent mode, 10C in normal mode, and 12C at full speed.  When we load the processor, we see a difference of 9C, 14C and 16C respectively.

 

When overclocking the gap widens even further as the Stock cooler can't keep up to the larger heat output.  At idle, the Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro runs anywhere from 14C to 17C cooler than the stock cooler and when running full load we see a difference of 19C - 27C!

At full speed the 3D Mercury makes enough noise to be really irritating - and it a hurry.  Most people would probably run this case in the "Silent" and "Normal" range.  At these speeds, the 3D Mercury Pro is quite comparable in noise pollution to many other mainstream cases on the market.

 

Conclusion:

This case from Gigabyte is currently their flagship case.  Not only is it a very fine quality case, it also incorporates a decent liquid cooling system to provide better performance, cooler temperatures, less noise and a "l33t" factor that can only come from having water inside your computer case.  The case itself is very functional, roomy and very well built, not only that, it's one of the nicest classy cases I've seen in a while.  The liquid cooling system is not an extreme performer, but it is scalable through the use of built-in valves.  You have the option to add another external radiator to the system with very little trouble.

The question arises, "Is the Gigabyte 3D Mercury Pro really worth $400USD?"  I guess that depends on who you are and how much money you've got in the bank.  You can certainly build a cheaper system that may perform better than the 3D Mercury Pro, but there is something nice about being able to go to a store, pick up a case and install a system that is liquid cooled is less than an hour.  With the 3D Mercury Pro, you don't have to cut any holes, wire up any switches install a variable speed fan controller.  It's all done, and it's done well.

Pros:

  • Case looks very nice.
  • Liquid Cooling pre-installed for ease of use.
  • Very roomy to work inside.
  • Flowmeter
  • Low coolant alarm
  • Window in the reservoir
  • High-quality construction of all components.
  • Aluminum front bezel, sides, back and frame.
  • Decent cooling performance.
  • Comes with absolutely everything you need for multiple platforms.

Cons:

  • Fans are loud above 1500rpm.
  • Door hinge a little tricky.
  • Bottom valves in way of motherboard installation.

 

BCCHardware.com Rating
Quality:
10/10
Performance:
8/10
Accessory Pack:
9/10
Stability:
10/10
Features:
9/10
Value:
8/10
Total Score 9.0

Although I score this case a little low in the value department, if you're looking for an easy way to get into watercooling and want a sweet case besides, this is good value for you.

 Top Pick

I'd like to thank Gigabyte for sending over this case for us to review.  It has been a while since I've got hardware "wet" and it was fun to get back into the game.  If you have any questions, please post them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.