Sentry – best mini ITX computer case ever made

Sentry is a console size mini ITX case for true PC enthusiasts.

What’s so special about it? At only 7 liters it’s about the size of the original Xbox One while it can actually accommodate hardware many times more powerful than any gaming console available. 

Speaking raw numbers, the case measures 31 cm by 34 cm by 6,6 cm. It’s made of 1 mm thick steel and comes either in black or white. The design is very minimalistic, with the power button and two USB ports on the front being the only diversities on the otherwise very monolithic shape. 

The case can be positioned either horizontally or vertically using the enclosed stand. It is also made of steel and it features pieces of rubber along the edges to prevent furniture from getting scratched. 

The biggest challenge of small form factor computing is heat dissipation. In a case this small there is no room for fans. So the trick is to allow as much air in so the CPU and GPU coolers can do their jobs. Hence almost half of the top panel is perforated and so is the video card compartment on the other side. The left and right sides are perforated entirely yet the construction remains very solid. 

To evaluate the thermal performance I loaded the Sentry with an Asrock motherboard, Intel Core i5 6500 CPU, Zotac GTX 1060 AMP+ video card courtesy of Zotac and another 1060 with a reference style cooler courtesy of my wallet.  

Working with Sentry is a little different from what I’m used to… and it’s the very first time I actually had to refer to the manual and follow the assembly procedure to put everything together. Despite the awkwardly positioned topics titles and a minor mistake with some screws types used for internal components assembly, the documentation deserves a solid A+. 

Prepping the case requires undoing 8 hex screws to take off the top panel and then four more to gain full access to the GPU compartment. Popping in the motherboard is no different than with any other case out there. Put the I/O shield in place and then in goes the motherboard.  

Next in line is the power supply… and the SFX BeQuiet unit I got was a really tight fit and I had to struggle to get it in and secure it with screws. Sentry can also accommodate larger SFX-L units but in such case, you’re losing one of the top hard drive mounting spots. It does help if the power supply has modular cables but it certainly is not a must. 

Connecting the video card requires installing a short, flexible riser which is secured with two long screws. 

SSD drive is next. Since I’m using the cooler that came with the CPU and the CPU socket on my motherboard is further away from the PCI-express slot, I can use the first hard drive mounting location. But if my motherboard layout was different, I’d have to get a low profile heatsink fan to mount a drive there or I’d have to mount it in the neighboring spot – as long as I wouldn’t be using a slightly larger – SFX-L power supply. 

Alternatively, a hard drive can be mounted in the GPU compartment but only if your video card has a reference blower style cooler as in case of custom designs, this very spot is used to exhaust hot air. If you have a 20 cm long video card you can also mount up to four drives in the GPU compartment using enclosed brackets. 

With the storage subject sorted out, you connect the front USB connectors to the motherboard header and secure it with two hex screws.  

The very last component to install is the video card. Simply slide it into the PCI Express riser, put the frame back in place and secure it with four screws.  

Note that video cards manufacturers these days tend to get a little crazy when designing new products not only when it comes to cooling but also circuit boards. So before buying a random GTX1070, make sure that it is as close to reference design as possible or you might not be able to fit it into the Sentry. 

Connect the auxiliary power and you can put the cover back on… just make sure you flicked the power switch on the power supply before you do that… cause I kind of forgot to do that. 

Oh and if any of these constraints sound confusing – Dr Ząber guys have a wizard on their website that should help you out when shopping for parts. 

I took the temperatures readings after running Prime95 and Unigine Valley Benchmark for 15 minutes. The total power consumption was about 220W.  

When in an upright position, the reference design GTX 1060 got to 83 C degrees. The CPU was 62 C while the system temperature was reported at 43 C. Switching the video card to Zotac GTX1060 AMP! The CPU temp has gone up 2 degrees and the system temperature rose 1 degree but the GPU itself ran 2 degrees cooler. 

Operating horizontally, the blower style GTX1060 was also 83 degrees C, the CPU was 62C while the system temperature remained at 43 degrees. Non-reference Zotac AMP! Was 2 degrees warmer at 83, the CPU was 1 degree cooler while the system temperature increased by 2 degrees. 

Out of curiosity, I dropped in a more power hungry R9 380X by Gigabyte. With the 190W TDP GPU, the system appetite for power has increased to almost 300W. 

Standing up, the GPU was 73 C, the CPU was 70,5 while the system temperature was 48. Laying flat, the GPU was 82 C, the CPU 69,5 C and the system was 50. 

It’s worth to notice that with either GPU the temperatures did not get high enough to trigger CPU or GPU throttling, but the R9 did get obnoxiously loud – which it does pretty much under every circumstance. 

Going back to the case itself – the built quality is superb thanks to some good old-fashioned engineering, which involves laser cutting, bending, welding and powder coating.

The result of all that is a very handsome case and I do know what I’m saying. If you’ve seen my desk setup you know that I pay very close attention to aesthetics and with that said – I just can’t get over how good Sentry looks on a desk or by the TV. I simply cannot think of any other computer case more likely to get your wife’s approval.  

It’s so small that it can easily fit in a laptop bag and when standing on a desk, it can double as a headphones hanger… although a quite expensive one. At 195 dollars Sentry is clearly targeted to those PC enthusiasts who can justify spending as much on a case as on a Core i5 6500 CPU. The difference between the two is that a quality case is an investment that will easily outlive a few generations of CPUs and GPUs.

Pros:

  • acceptable thermal performance
  • fantastic looks!
  • high quality
  • steel is real!

Cons:

  • price

 

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