Cooler Master Case Transforms Old Mainboards into Mini-Desktop Powerhouses

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Cooler Master Case Transforms Old Mainboards into Mini-Desktop Powerhouses
(Image: Oliver Nickel/Golem.de)

Buying a new motherboard and recycling the old one: that’s one of the arguments devised by the developers of the Framework Laptop for their modular system. And it seems to be working. Notably, several third-party products have already emerged around the DIY device, including the Framework Case from Cooler Master. This case aims to give older motherboards a new existence as Mini-Desktop PCs.

Golem.com had the opportunity to test the Cooler Master Case along with the new AMD motherboard featuring Ryzen 7 7840U (Zen 4) and integrated Radeon 780M, both provided by Framework for this purpose. We believe that not only does the AMD motherboard turn a notebook into the fastest Framework Laptop in the lineup, but it also performs exceptionally well as a standalone system. However, there are some limitations to consider.

Perfect Fit for the Case

Firstly, let’s talk about the Cooler Master Case itself. It is molded around the Framework motherboard, which has maintained the same form factor for three SoC generations. Consequently, the board fits snugly into the case after installation. Cooler Master has incorporated ventilation slots above the heatsink and on the side. A motherboard placed there should theoretically receive more airflow due to the slightly more open design compared to running in a notebook. In the end, both variants perform similarly well.

Like the Framework Laptop itself, the Cooler Master Case has a total of four slots for connection modules. For a desktop system like this, four ports seem almost a bit too few. Perhaps Framework will eventually release connection modules with two USB-C ports. Alternatively, a dongle can be used if needed. In our case, the mouse, keyboard, screen, and power connection fit onto the motherboard.

It’s worth noting that we can choose our connections even though one of the ports is already occupied by USB-C power. In our case, we used the other three ports for HDMI (screen) and two USB-A ports (mouse, keyboard). However, the motherboard presents us with a problem not entirely transparently communicated by the manufacturer: only two of the four USB-C ports support USB 4 plus DisplayPort via Alternate Mode.

Specifically, these are the upper two ports. The lower right port supports only USB 3.2 and DP Alternate Mode. The lower left slot is only compatible with USB 3.2 and not DisplayPort, meaning it cannot be used for connecting a screen. If we want to use a high-resolution panel with a fast refresh rate, we should use one of the USB-4 ports with higher bandwidth.

Instructions Could Be Clearer

It would be beneficial if Framework made this clearer in the instructions for the Cooler Master Case or the Ryzen 7040 motherboard. Otherwise, the guides are straightforward and well-written, albeit currently only available in English. It’s crucial to follow the instructions closely; otherwise, the motherboard may need to be removed again if, for example, the Wi-Fi module is forgotten.

Unlike the Framework Laptop, the antenna cables are routed beneath the motherboard, not along its surface. In our case, we were able to use the Intel Wi-Fi module of the Framework Laptop, downloading the corresponding drivers as a complete package from Framework beforehand.

Overall, installing the motherboard is a straightforward process, requiring minimal screwing. However, it’s essential to follow the instructions precisely before diving in.

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Carl Woodrow
A seasoned tech enthusiast and writer, Carl delves deep into emerging technologies, offering insightful analysis and reviews on the latest gadgets and trends.