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Tagan Monolith

In a world of ever-shrinking technology, it’s interesting to see a number of computer case companies going in exactly the opposite direction. Case in point – the Tagan/Aplus CS-Monolith. As the name implies, this is one big case, but how does it really measure up? Join me as we find out…

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INTRODUCTIONDr. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone.

In today’s world of ultra mobility, technology companies seem almost uniformly focused on developing smaller components designed to accompany us just about everywhere. Remember the early mobile phones? For those of us old enough to remember, the first commercially available cell phone came out in 1983 – the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x. It weighed in at a hefty 28 ounces and measured 13″ x 1.75″ x 3.5″. Talk time was about 30 minutes, it took roughly 10 hours to recharge, and could go a whole 8 hours between between charges! And by the way, this “little” beauty could be purchased for just shy of $4,000 U.S. when it hit the market on March 6th, 1983. What a bargain!

What the heck does this have to do with computer cases, you ask? Well think about cell phones today – so tiny that we end up spending about half our lives trying to find them! A far cry from the giant brick released back in the days when an awesome little band called “Journey” ruled the world and Steve Perry was King. In an age where smaller is better (at least for technology!), it’s interesting to see the ongoing evolution of computer cases where once again “big” seems to be making a comeback. Case in point (pun intentional), the Tagan A+ CS-Monolith “Super Tower”
case.

Make no mistake, this thing is big. You can see the full details in the specifications section of this review, but suffice it to say this case is appropriately named. According to Dictionary.com, “Monolith” is defined as:

1. an obelisk, column, large statue, etc., formed of a single block of stone.
2. a single block or piece of stone of considerable size, esp. when used in architecture or sculpture.
3. something having a uniform, massive, redoubtable, or inflexible quality or character.

(“Monolith.” Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. 30 Jun. 2008.
<Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Monolith>.)

All in all, not a very flattering description especially in light of the number of PC builders looking for an exciting, functional and flashy case. However, very appropriate for the Tagan A+ unit that’s the subject of this review. But size and looks aside, does the Monolith have what it takes to stand up against the competition. Let’s take a look.  

ABOUT TAGAN

Tagan started out with a group of technology professionals from different countries (Germany, Japan, and the United States) who met in 2001 at Taipei’s Computex show. They quickly realized that they had something in common – frustration with the existing design of PC power supplies. With their combined experience and expertise, the group set out to develop the best devices available. After more than a year of extensive research, design and testing, this team of international experts produced some of the best and most reliable power supplies for the PC and other systems. Ultimately, they became the founders of Tagan.

Since it’s birth, Tagan’s spirit and philosophy has been to produce the best quality power supplies using state-of-the-art technologies and make them accessible to all users. They’ve taken this same approach to expanding the product line, which now includes computer cases and storage devices. For more on this innovative company, please visit www.tagan.com.

 

FEATURES AND SPECIFICATIONS

The Monolith is painted all black, which I’ve been told is a slimming color when it comes to wardrobe. Perhaps that’s one reason for the choice of this color scheme.Whatever the reason, it works and the matte black color is a good fit for this beast. The one exception is the shiny high-gloss acrylic insert on the front panel, behind which lurks the glowing A+ logo in bright blue LEDS should you choose to turn it on. More on that later. Let’s take a look at the specifications:

Feature/Specification

Tagan Aplus Monolith
Case Type 
Super Tower
Dimensions 
25″ X 23″ X 12″
Weight 
26 lb
Material 
Case material > 1 mm SECC
Front material: Silk/rubber skin plastic and acrylic
Motherboard Compatibility 
Standard ATX, extended ATX (12″x13″), also for MP Dual CPU
Drive Bays 
5 x 5.25
6 x 3.5 internal, 2 x 3.5 external
Front Panel 
2 x USB 2.0, 2 x audio and IEEE 1394 Firewire on right side
Cooling System 
2 x 250 mm side fan, separate adjustable (and on/off)
Optional Fans – 1 x 80/92/120 mm in back and 120 mm in front
Power Supply 
PS/2 Standard (Not Included)
Expansion Slots 
7
Other 
Accessories 26 rails for the disk drives, various screws and spacers, piezo speaker and cable ties

As you can see by the specifications, the Monolith lives up to its name. This is defintely a large case and users should put a lot of consideration into where they plan to put it before investing in this unit. Now, on to highlight the major features:

  • Super Tower Case with brand-new cooling system
  • World record: two blue illuminated 250 mm fans in the left side door
  • Separate adjustable (speed) 250 mm fans, also with separate switch off/ on function
  • Blue illuminated Aplus logo in front with on/off switch
  • Up to 13 disk drives can be mounted inside the case
  • ATX and extended ATX main boards fit inside
  • Easy drive mounting with 26 screw less rails
  • Easy installation of the PCI cards with clip system
  • 4 Thumb screws on the back for easy opening the case
  • Manual in English, German and French language
  • In accordance with RoHS

PACKAGING

 
The Monolith arrived at my doorstep in only the original box and not nested inside another larger shipping carton. You can just make out the shipping label affixed to the top of the box in the picture below. As a result, I felt this was a great test of how well the unit was packaged and opened the box in anticipation of at least some small amount of damage. After all, larger cases such as this have an enhanced probability of denting or bending due to the size of the side panels. Also, based on the condition of the box, I was sure the unit would be damaged. It turns out I was wrong, as you’ll see further into the review.
 
   
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The package itself is fairly unremarkable with a black and white picture of the case on the front/back and specifications on both sides. There’s a plastic carrying handle built into the top (which was taped down for shipping and was totally useless for me when moving it into my house), and two slots on each side for easy carrying. The box actually says “Monolize” and I’m still a bit confused about this since just about every reference to the case mentions “Monolith”, but I’m thinking it might be a marketing word meant to inspire customers to “Monolize” by purchasing a “Monolith”. Regardless, I’ll continue to refer to the case as “Monolith” until told to do otherwise.
 
   
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Upon opening the box, it’s immediately clear that Tagan has taken appropriate steps to keep the Monolith dent free. It sits nicely in the middle of the box wedged solidly between two foam inserts. There’s plenty of dead air space between the sides of the box and the actual computer case, providing an excellent buffer zone to prevent damage. In the second picture we can see better how the unit is supported by the foam packaging. Notice the way that even the foam has gaps to prevent the computer case from touching the box. The outer packaging would have literally had to have been crushed in order for the Monolith to have sustained any damage. Well done, Tagan.

CONTENTS

At first glance, I was afraid that I received a unit without any accessories. I’m so used to looking for a little box full of stuff floating around inside the case that I overlooked the built-in storage box located below the drive bays. I did notice the user’s manual, which is more like a user’s pamphlet considering its modest number of pages, but I didn’t see any drive rails or screws. When I finally opened my eyes and popped open the storage box, I was happy to see the usual cast of characters. These include:

  • Drive rails
  • Screws
  • Speaker
  • Ties
  • Motherboad standoffs
One thing that did surprise me was the color of the drive rails. For such a modest and very black exterior, I certainly wasn’t expecting the bright green and blue rails. However, since the Monolith does not have any windows, they should go unnoticed inside the case, which is probably a good thing. It just seemed like an odd choice of colors when black or white would have sufficed and actually coordinated better.
 
(Click for larger image)

 

EXTERNAL VIEW

The Tagan Monolith certainly lives up to its name, and at first glance its obvious that this is a very large case. As such, it only seems appropriate that it comes with a flat black paint job. 

The front panel is composed of plastic with what Tagan describes as a “silk/rubber” finish. It also has a high-gloss acrylic panel insert, which is so glossy that is effectively a mirror. You may notice reflections is several of the photos, which isn’t necessarily bad, but like mirrors – the surface is extremely prone to showing fingerprints and smudges. If you have a small child in the house (or someone who just acts like one), I can promise you’ll have a hard time keeping the front of the case clean. Not a big deal, but I felt worth mentioning.
 
   
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The upper two-thirds of the front panel is actually a door which conceals 7 external drive bays (5 x 5.25” and 2 x 3.5”). As you look at the case, the door hinges are located to your left (same side as the side fans) and unfortunately only opens just a bit more than 90 degrees as you can see in the picture below. This means that when the door is fully open it stands well out from the main unit. I’m not particularly crazy about this since my computer usually resides under my desk (to my right) and this would make accessing the drives a little inconvenient.
 
(Click for larger image)

Also concealed by the door are 1 large and 2 small buttons. The largest button is the power switch, which I have to say was really disappointing. At least on the test unit I received, the power button sticks and slowly slides out after pressing. It does not have that crisp “pop” that I’ve come to expect from a quality case. It just feels like a cheap switch and I’m not confident that it will stand up to repeated pressing in the long run. One of the smaller buttons is the reset switch, which unlike the power switch, feels solid and works just fine. The other smaller button is the on/off switch for the large lighted Aplus logo hidden beneath the acrylic insert on the front of the door. I found this switch especially handy since I wasn’t exactly impressed with the glowing Aplus logo and could easily turn it off. If you do happen to like the logo, no problem – a quick press and it’s on. In later pictures you’ll get a better idea of what this looks like when the light is on.

Worth noting is that the lower third of the front door just beneath the acrylic panel doesn’t look like it comes off, but it actually does. Hiding beneath this section is a spot for a case fan (optional – not included) that can cool the internal drive bays in the lower section of the unit. Should you decide to put in a fan, just remove 4 screws from the back and this panel comes off. It does change the appearance of the front considerably, and I’m not sure a fan in this location would provide any real benefit considering the massive 250mm fans on the side of the case, but I kind of like the idea of putting a LED fan in there to jazz up the front a little.

Another thing you’ll immediately notice is that the Monolith has a lot of venting built into it. The power supply is top mounted in this case, so there’s a vent on the top and rear for the PSU. There are 6 vents on the right side panel (as you look at the case from the front) and 3 on the left side panel along with the 2 gigantic 250mm fans. There’s also another vent on the rear of the case under which can be installed a rear case fan (optional – not included).
 
(Click for larger image)
 
Speaking of fans, that’s probably the first thing anyone will notice about the Monolith – the twin 250mm fans on the left side of the case (again, as you look at it from the front). The enclosure that houses these is made of what appears to be a good quality plastic, and it stands off from the lower side of the case. Unfortunately the fan grills are also plastic and seem a bit fragile, so be careful when you move the unit. I would have preferred metal grills instead as the case is large and bulky to move anyway, and the plastic grills seem likely candidates for damage. On the front of the large fan enclosure are knobs to control fan speed (one for each fan so they can be adjust individually). Also located on the front are on/off switches for the blue fan LEDs.
 
       
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The external connectors are located on the lower right side of the case front door. These include audio, 2 x USB and 1 x 1394 Firewire. Personally I was a little disappointed that Tagan did not include an e-SATA port. I do still have a couple of devices I connect by Firewire, but looking toward future compatibility, it seems to me that an e-SATA connector might have made a little more sense. Also, I’m not a big fan of having the connectors on the side since I do tend to place my computers under my desk. Side connectors just aren’t very convenient for me and I personally prefer these on the front of the case. Additionally, I also like them to be located closer to the top of the case so that cords from external devices can reach.
 
(Click for larger image)
 
Located on the bottom of the case are 4 plastic feet. These swivel out to provide greater stability, which is a good thing considering how top-heavy the case is when a power supply is installed. Like an old SUV without stability control, the Monolith is just ripe for a rollover and I highly recommend flipping the feet out from the case.
 
(Click for larger image)
 
The rear of the case is really unremarkable for the most part. As mentioned earlier, the power supply mounts in the top of the case, which is very evident in the picture below. The grill in the middle is for an optional rear case fan, and as you can see by the multiple mounting holes, the case will accommodate an 80, 92, or 120 mm case fan. I like this feature since I always tend to have a couple of spare case fans sitting around and I can use whatever I have handy. Note the 7 expansion slots near the bottom of the case and the cutout for the motherboard I/O panel. Also note the green ROHS sticker prominently displayed for all to see.
 
(Click for larger image)
 
What is ROHS (or more accurately RoHS)? I’m glad you asked! RoHS stands for “Restriction of Certain Hazardous Substances”, a bit of legislation created by our friends in Europe. Effectively considered a designation of “lead-free” products, this law enacted in 2006 actually covers a variety of hazardous substances which are barred from manufacturing processes including mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, polybrominated diphenyl ethers and lead. Under RoHS, products manufactured with any of these products cannot be sold in Europe after July 1, 2006. The main point here – this case does not contain lead, mercury or any of the other hazardous substances barred under the RoHS legislation. That’s definitely a good thing!

INTERNAL VIEW

 
Now to the heart of the matter, let’s take a look inside. The first thing I noticed was the 2 rails running the length of the upper portion of the case. These support the power supply, which as I mentioned earlier, is mounted in the top section of the case. There’s plenty of room for even the largest of PSUs, and the built-in venting provides for excellent cooling capability.
 
    
(Click for larger image)
 
The 7 external drive bays can be seen clearly in the picture below, with the internal drive bays just below them and turned sideways. Inside the lower section of the internal drive bay area is a storage box for the extra drive rails, screws, etc. Unfortunately this doesn’t allow room for many hard drives, but the storage box is removable should you need the extra space. Sandwiched between the internal drive bay and the front of the case can be seen the mounting bracket for an optional case fan (not included). With the storage box installed, a fan in this position would be partially blocked and wouldn’t provide much airflow – another good reason to remove the storage box.
 
       
(Click for larger image)
 
The motherboard tray is very large and will accommodate pretty much any motherboard a typical user could throw at it. There are also plenty of mounting holes pre-drilled to make installation of a motherboard very simple. On the down side, the motherboard tray is not removable and the guide holes for routing cables are minimal. For a case this size, I would have thought cable management would be easier than it was. The good thing is that the motherboard tray doesn’t go all the way to the top of the case, leaving room to run cables over the top edge and under the tray. Overall the design is good enough to allow for a fairly clean installation, but not quite as good as I would have expected.
 
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The expansion slot covers are held in place by a tool-less system that relies on pressure to keep peripheral cards secure. Simply push up and pull toward you to release. The design here is nice, simple, and solid.

       
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Now I couldn’t finish a look at the inside of the Monolith without providing a glimpse of the big fans installed in the side panel. I was very pleased to see that the fans are wired together, providing for a single molex connector that plugs into the power supply.
 

 
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INSTALLATION

Considering the size of the Monolith, installation is extremely easy since there’s so much room to move around. I put in the power supply first, which was a very simple process and took only a few minutes. The power supply is supported by two large rails that run the length of the case and attaches to the rear of the case by four screws. The PSU actually sits directly on the rails without any rubber grommets or dampening devices. I was concerned that this could result in vibration noise later once assembly was completed, but that didn’t happen – at least with this particular power supply.

Unfortunately the screw hole placement only allowed me to install the power supply one way. I initially thought the frame for mounting the PSU could be removed and re-installed in a different orientation – which would have enabled me to mount it the way I wanted. However, that didn’t turn out to be true as the frame only fits one way. This got me wondering why it is removable in the first place since it provides little or no benefit.

     
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Next I installed the motherboard, which again was very easy since there’s plenty of elbow room. Simply install the headers so that they align with the holes in the board and put in the screws. Piece of cake!
 
    
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The drives all install with tool-less rails and installation really couldn’t be much easier. For the hard drive, simply snap a rail onto both sides and slide the drive into the bay. The rails go right between the circle cutouts and it’s just about impossible to do this incorrectly. Push in until the rails snap into place – and that’s it! Not only is the installation simple, but the drive stays securely in place. As much as I tried, I could not get the unit to move at all once it was locked in place. To remove the drive later, simply squeeze in on the rails and slide it out.

     
(Click for larger image)
  
 
For an external optical drive (in this case a DVD-RW drive), the procedure is similar although it does require a little more preparation. First, pop off the front panel by gently pulling on the notch underneath the bottom. Be careful and take your time since the tabs holding it on don’t seem to be very solid. They’re plastic and in my opinion, just a little bit too thin and flimsy. Once the front panel is off, the drive bays underneath are exposed – although at this point they are still covered by metal plates. You can use your fingers or put a screwdriver into one of the slots and wiggle one of the plates loose. Once the bay is accessible, snap the front cover back onto the case. You must install the drive from outside through the plastic front panel or else it won’t fit correctly. Slide the drive in until the rails pop into place. Again, that’s it! Very easy and due to the mounting method, drives can easily be swapped in and out later.
 
 
 (Click for larger image)
 
 
I won’t go through the cabling and other typical steps of installation as there’s really nothing different to show here. Just remember to run one power connector from the PSU to the molex connector hanging from the twin 250mm fans built into the side of the case. The fans are actually wired together so there’s only one power connection necessary. Below are a few shots of the finished product, which really does look nice. I do think the blue LEDs on the front of the case near the fan control switches are a bit redundant (they indicate that the fans are on – which is pretty obvious considering the size of the fans and their built-in blue LED lights), but then again, there’s no harm to having them in place. As mentioned earlier, the Aplus logo can be easily switched off. I wasn’t crazy about it at first, but after looking at it for a while, it seems to have grown on me. Overall, I think the case looks really nice and is surprisingly quiet.
 
   
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CONCLUSION

There is no doubt about it – the Tagan Aplus Monolith lives up to its name. This case is huge and provides plenty of room for just about any mixture of components you might choose to throw at it. The twin 250mm fans mounted on the side provide excellent cooling power and are surprisingly quiet. Front-mounted controls enable easy adjustment of fan speeds and the ability to turn on/off the LEDs are a nice touch – especially as it pertains to the giant Aplus logo. Overall the Monolith is a good case, but it lacks a few finishing touches that might have made it a great case.

Pros:

+ Huge case with plenty of room for expansion
+ 250mm fans are very quiet and provide excellent cooling
+ Tool-less drive installation system works very well and is easy to use
+ Convenient controls to adjust fan speeds and turn on/off LEDs
+ RoHS compliant
 

Cons:

 
- Side-mounted external ports may be inconveniently located for some, no eSATA port
- Unit is very top heavy with PSU installed, need to deploy feet on base to keep it stable
- Clips used to connect front panel are thin and a bit flimsy, good potential to snap off
- No pre-drilled holes on the back of the unit for those interested in adding watercooling
- Power button on the test unit was prone to sticking
- Drive rails are bright neon color and show when external drives are installed (translation: ugly!)

Final score: 7.5 out of 10

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