One of the joys of being based out of the bay area is getting to actually visit the headquarters of some of these vendors. I've had one on one time with Antec, NVIDIA, Logitech, and my last visit to Corsair's headquarters in Fremont got me a good look at the early prototyping stages of both the Obsidian 900D and the Carbide Air 540. Corsair's designers were pretty enthusiastic about where they were going with what became the Air 540, and with good reason. Now that I've had a chance to handle the final product, I feel like I'm looking at the next BitFenix Prodigy.

Outside of Lian Li's eclectic lineup, cube style ATX cases are rare as hen's teeth and seeing one from Corsair is especially unusual. The one-off Graphite 600T notwithstanding, Corsair has tended to produce fairly conservative, extremely refined case designs. But the dual-chambered Carbide Air 540 is a radical departure and a much needed one. It's not a perfect design and there's plenty of room for improvement, but there are very good reasons I chose the Air 540 for my upcoming custom liquid cooling loop review.

Corsair Carbide Air 540 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro-ATX, ATX, E-ATX
Drive Bays External 2x 5.25"
Internal 2x 3.5", 4x 2.5"
Cooling Front 2x 140mm intake fan (supports 3x 120mm)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (supports 120mm)
Top 2x 140mm/120mm fan mounts
Side -
Bottom -
Expansion Slots 8
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm
PSU 200mm
GPU 320mm
Dimensions 16.33" x 13.07" x 18.03"
415mm x 332mm x 458mm
Special Features USB 3.0 via internal header
Almost completely toolless assembly
Unique dual-chambered design
Supports 360mm radiator in front and 280mm radiator in top
Price $139

I'm going to address a minor elephant in the room before getting into the nitty gritty of the Carbide Air 540: a cube-shaped enclosure is arguably less space efficient than a typical tower. As someone who lives in an apartment smaller than he needs, I can tell you that floor space is always at a premium, and the Air 540 does have a pretty large footprint. It's not as tall as a conventional case, it's a bit wider, and when running it probably looks like a good place for a cat to sleep.

Of course, on the flipside, by breaking out of the ATX standard, Corsair's designers were suddenly free to start rethinking about how everything can come together to truly maximize performance and efficiency. The Carbide Air 540 is in many ways operating on the same principles SilverStone's Temjin TJ08-E, Raven RV-04, and Fortress FT-04 are: as direct a path for air as humanly possible. Yet while SilverStone's designs moved the power supply and 5.25" bays to the top of the enclosure, Corsair made the enclosure wider and created a separate chamber for all the parts that didn't need direct, active cooling.

In and Around the Corsair Carbide Air 540
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  • Kevin G - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    Agreed. This case is just begging for a front mounted hot swap back plane in that side chamber.

    It also would have been nice to see a second PSU mount in the side chamber too for those who like to run multiple PSU's for their multiple GPU setups. I would howver default this area to the internal 2.5" drive cage.

    The 3.5" bays at the bottom of the main chamber aren't a bad idea but storage really should all be located in the side chamber.
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    Since most large cases fill up their "empty space" with drive cages that I don't use, the "wasted" space in the back is no problem at all for me. Still, I agree, I would like to have seen something like more drive bays in sections that you could pull out if you didn't need or want in there.

    And, it's in the back chamber and so not visible. Personally I don't care for the way drive bays look anyway, so that is a very good solution for me. :)
  • Subyman - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I wouldn't say this is a case pushing the boundaries. Its more of a case bringing a Case Labs design to a new price bracket. Has Anandtech ever done a Case Labs review?
  • GoliathPtXs - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    i love this case, right when i saw it at computex 2013 i fell for it, but it could be thinner indeed.
    hard drives should be in the back, not under a gpu... gpus eat up for themselfs, don't need help from the hdds... they should be in the back compartment with the ssds and the annoying opticals, also, the back compartment should have a exaust fan at least

    i'm still waiting for manufacturers start producing REAL gaming cases, with no optical drives... you can download all games nowadays.

    i do know this is not a "gaming case" but still... all mid towers are gaming cases...
  • genghisquan - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    If the user wants to put in some high-end performance HDD, then they will need to get some airflow. That's why the put them in the front. I still agree with you that they should've put the HDDs in the back, though. If there was a HDD cage in the back, then this case could easily fit 4-5 HDD with at least 4 SSD along with it. With that amount of HDD, though, then they'd definitely have to put an intake fan on the secondary compartment, but I don't think that'd destroy the case.
  • dpimente - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    This Case is more of a pure desktop, and not for entry level users either. With that said, there shouldn't even be HDD's. Clearly it's designed with SSD's in mind, thus I feel the 2 x 3.5" HDD bays were merely adding in for the interim.
  • JDG1980 - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I understand the importance of using a consistent testbed platform, but I think you do an injustice to direct-airflow cases like the 540 and RV04 by using the ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP video card. The problem is that this card has heatsink fins that are perpendicular to the airflow, not parallel - so the air can't go across the length of the heatsink, and cooling performance is substantially reduced. I suspect you would have gotten much better results if you used a card like the ASUS DirectCU GTX660-DC2O-2GD5 (which does have parallel fins) or one of the MSI Twin Frozr models. The Arctic Accelero S1 Plus aftermarket cooler would probably also work very well.

    Building a serious PC entails designing an overall *system*, not just throwing a bunch of components together in a box based on whatever Newegg has for sale this week.
  • genghisquan - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I'm confused because the GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP has two fans, but the cards that are shown in the assembly picture look like they're are using single blower style fans. LOL.
  • thesavvymage - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I believe the ones in the picture are the 580s that they are using for sli
  • Sabresiberian - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I wish I had a purpose for a new case, I'd very likely buy one of these. It is innovative and attractive enough that I think Corsair deserves a pat on the back, and what better way to pat a company on the back than spend your money on one of their products. :) Considering the price of many tower cases, I think it's something of a bargain.

    Well written and thorough review Dustin, thanks!

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