In and Around the Corsair Carbide Air 540

I was enthusiastic about what became the Carbide AIr 540 from the prototyping stages, but I was at least a little curious as to how Corsair was going to handle the ID. With most of their other cases, their designs were fairly simple and clean, but this is something different. It's asymmetrical, not just internally, but externally. I think they really hit it out of the park, though; the Air 540 looks almost like a baby server.

Looking at the front of the Carbide Air 540, the dual-chambered design is pretty evident: on the left hand side, behind the front mesh vent, is the main system chamber that houses the motherboard, CPU, and expansion cards. It's sized exactly large enough to fit an ATX motherboard and radiators in the top and front. On the right side are the two 5.25" drive bays, positioned above the I/O and power and reset buttons. That row of I/O lines up beautifully with the Corsair logo in the front mesh.

Roll the Air 540 on to it's front, and the line of mesh venting continues along the top of the enclosure. Note too that the mesh vents are actually very easy to remove: the top mesh is secured with two thumbscrews on the back, and once you slide it off, you can lift and remove the front mesh. That front mesh also has places for you to secure it with screws if you're so inclined, but if the 540 is assembled correctly, everything stays firmly in place.

Since there aren't any unsightly drive bays in the primary chamber (just the two sleds on the bottom), Corsair has windowed the left side panel almost completely. However you feel about windows on cases, I think it's hard not to feel like it makes sense with the 540. Meanwhile, the right side panel has ventilation above the power supply bay, but that's it. It's worth noting that both side panels are hinged and held in place with thumbscrews.

The back of the 540 gives you a much clearer idea of how everything is laid out internally. Behind the primary chamber is the power supply bay, and then above that are the 2.5" drive cages. Corsair is using the same cages they used in the Obsidian 350D, and while I don't care for the plastic that much, they definitely get the job done. Corsair's still a step ahead of the competition here; toolless 2.5" drive cages or sleds are still uncommon. Note the middling clearance of the 140mm exhaust fan; in experimenting with the 540 I found that some 140mm fans wouldn't even actually fit (or at least not easily), and I don't believe you could realistically install a 140mm radiator back here.

The primary interior chamber of the 540 doesn't actually include much in the way of surprises. This is as basic as it gets: fans, motherboard mount, routing holes, and the two drive sleds at the bottom. That's it. It's still exciting, though: Corsair has taken all of the heat-generating components of a PC and almost completely separated them from the rest by placing them in a chamber with virtually unobstructed airflow.

If anything, the rear chamber is almost a little disappointing. There's a tremendous amount of negative space back here which is good for hiding cabling, but I feel like we could've had a smarter, cleaner assembly of drive cages. This is always the unsightly side of an enclosure, yet there's definitely room for improvement here. Worth mentioning, though, is that this is the first case I've tested that had an essentially toolless power supply mount.

There's something ultimately very fresh about the Corsair Carbide Air 540's design. We're walking a road less travelled here, so I'm more inclined to give Corsair the benefit of the doubt and some leeway on some of their design choices because I know they were largely building their template from scratch. This is unlike anything else in their line, let alone most manufacturers' lines.

Introducing the Corsair Carbide Air 540 Assembling the Corsair Carbide Air 540
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  • Tulatin - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Out of curiosity, how deep is the back chamber from tray to panel? This case has a lot of potential as a little fileserver cube - it just needs some mods to do it. Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Hi, it would be nice to know the total power draw (at the wall is fine) for the 'Full Fat' system.

    Thanks for the review!
    Reply
  • bobbozzo - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Also, it would be nice to know, in all case reviews, if the stock fans will work with a PWM motherboard fan controller. Reply
  • Grok42 - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Excellent case and a great review. The case looks great and I'm I really like the design of separating the components. This case will certainly be in my list of cases to consider with my next build even though I can't imagine what build it would make sense for. I hope to see more cases pushing the design envelope like this one and I will try very hard to purchase such designs when I can.

    That said, who will use this case? It isn't a file server as much as the comments here want it to be. The drive bay isn't actively cooled and there aren't enough internal bays for it. It can certainly be a gaming system but it's a bit overkill for that given that 90% of the right bay would be empty.

    This case seems perfect for a high end gaming show rig. The two separate bays makes the main bay very clean and gives plenty of room for doing about anything you want. All the extra space in the right bay could be used to hide everything that's needed to trick the visible side out. Unfortunately for me, I'm not into this but it's going to make some very nice rigs.
    Reply
  • Grok42 - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    For all those wanting this to be a file server, think about this. This case is obviously for building a high-end show rig probably with water cooling and multiple graphics cards. It makes no sense to also press a $2k-$4k rig like this into menial file server as well. Sure, like Dustin, some of you have space challenges but for most it makes a *lot* more sense to build a separate file server.

    Aside from the space it takes up in a room, the "overhead" of building a separate file server is about $400. This gets you a Large Case, PSU, MB and RAM. Some of this extra cost can be recovered because you will need less costly components in your primary machine but if you're like me you won't save anything but your primary machine will be perfect for what it does rather than be a compromise between two major functions.

    This machine will serve you well for years longer than you'll keep your main system. I keep everything on my server so when I get a new machine there is no backup to be done, just drop in the new box and tell steam to download the games I'm currently still playing. My kids watch their movies from this box, we watch our movies on our TV, our phones automatically upload pictures and video to it. This is the benefit of having a machine that is always running and dedicated to being stable and working 24/7 for years.
    Reply
  • rchris - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Thanks for the review. Interesting design, but not for me. You mentioned that you "feel like I'm looking at the next BitFenix Prodigy." Well, I've seen a few peeks at the upcoming Prodigy M and it looks much better than this (although not as versatile with MB sizes). That's the one I hope you can review soon. Reply
  • Impulses - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    I feel like they need to either go larger or smaller, it's current size leaves that side chamber in no man's land... You can't use it as a dual purpose server/enthusiast rig, but you end up with a lot of wasted space for the typical enthusiast rig. Side chamber should only be as wide as the PSU/external bays, shave off a couple inches and simplify the HDD/SSD caddy space. Reply
  • Twoboxer - Friday, July 5, 2013 - link

    Shrunk to ITX specs and sans the space for the radiator, the side bay space would be well used and it might make a great single-vidcard gaming case. As is, there are some corner desk applications where the shorter length is an asset too. Reply
  • adamdz - Friday, July 5, 2013 - link

    My biggest issue is that there are no fans on the right side. It needs at least one 120mm fan there. I like the looks otherwise, but with 4 SSDs and the PS there will be some heat there to be removed.

    Also, vertically oriented DVD/BD drives are a pain to use.
    Reply
  • atragorn - Friday, July 5, 2013 - link

    You know what all these comments really say ?
    “You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

    You all want to make this thing into something it clearly is not. Personally i like it, i think im going to build my next water cooling rig in this box. It either works for you or it doesnt.
    Reply

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