By: Dave Montez
PCGC Contributing Editor
Since 2003, Silverstone has built a reputation for providing well designed and crafted computing solutions to consumers all over the world. Combined with their legendary craftsmanship and dedication to producing quality products, Silverstone pushes the envelope with innovative computer accessories and peripherals. Spanning everything from enclosures to power supplies, Silverstone continues to be a market leader in producing high-quality PC computing solutions.
Today, Silverstone ups the ante once again in enclosure design and execution with their new Fortress FT02 gaming chassis. Featuring a 90-degree oriented motherboard tray and noise absorption materials, the FT02 offers plenty of features not seen in typical case offerings. Can Silverstone win enthusiasts over with their new unique chassis design? Will the styling and feature set of the FT02 make it a success? Only PCGamingCorner has the answer!
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Silverstone does not go cheap with the accessory bundle of the FT02, which I find to be refreshing compared to similar offerings at this price point. Included in the bundle are the requisite hard drive, motherboard, and power supply screws, along with motherboard standoffs. You will also find five cable ties and a fan cable adapter that supports up to three fans. The FT02 also supports the installation of one 2.5” storage device when utilizing the plastic SSD bracket.
The FT02 is also watercooling friendly, offering enthusiasts the ability to install a radiator inside the enclosure using the two rectangular brackets in the bundle. To further secure the power supply, in addition to using screws, a black Velcro strap and a power supply bracket is also included. I found the manual of the Fortress FT02 to be quite good, offering good diagrams and clear instructions when installing a system in this chassis.
As with all aluminum-based cases manufactured by Silverstone, the façade of the Fortress FT02 offers a minimalistic, no-nonsense approach. Tastefully designed and executed, the FT02 achieves a striking balance between Spartan-esque design cues and contemporary simplicity. The result is a beautifully crafted exterior that screams exclusivity and understated, raw power.
This mid-ATX enclosure comes with five 5.25” external bays, and while the lack of a 3.5” external bay is troubling, aftermarket transfer brackets such as the Silverstone FP51 can be purchased separately. The entire exterior of the Fortress FT02, save for the 5.25” bay covers, is treated to a sandblasted and black anodized surface which easily resists fingerprints and minor scratches.
A hallmark of a typical Silverstone chassis lies in its fit and finish. The FT02 is no different, as everything is precision cut and fitted. The result is a perfectly constructed, incredibly strong case. Much of that strength comes from a 4.5mm thick aluminum unibody frame (first seen in the Silverstone TJ07) supported by a 0.8mm thick SECC body.
This increased structural strength is important for good reason: the Fortress FT02 is one of the bigger all-metal enclosures on the market, nearly matching the size of Silverstone’s own flagship chassis, the vaunted SST-TJ10. Remarkably, while the TJ10 is technically the bigger chassis, it isn’t heavier, due to the lack of a 4.5mm thick unibody design incorporated into the FT02.
While the use of aluminum and steel makes the FT02 structurally sound, it also makes it unbearably heavy. The case alone weighs in at 33 pounds empty and with a rather large footprint, moving the chassis can be downright strenuous. Needless to say, the Fortress FT02 is not intended for gamers looking for a new lightweight LAN event enclosure.
The FT02 holds the distinction as being one of the very few, if only, enthusiast oriented cases on the market to feature a 90-degree motherboard tray. The exception, of course, is the less-expensive Silverstone Raven RV01 which also utilizes this unique motherboard tray design. While each case offers the same unique motherboard configuration, a price disparity exists between the two, with the FT02 selling for about $250 and the RV01 retailing for $200.
The driving factor in the price difference is found in the use of materials and construction for each case. As mentioned earlier, the Fortress FT02 is made of an aluminum unibody frame and a steel substructure, while the RV01 is made of steel with plastic accents covering parts of its exterior, notably the front, sides, and top of the enclosure.
However, the materials used in each chassis tell only half the story. Unibody construction is very expensive, and the need for thicker, larger panels to support the structural weight of the case is required, thus the use of thick aluminum in the building of the FT02. The tradeoff, of course, is while the FT02 offers much more rigidity and structural strength than many of the top enthusiast-grade enclosures currently on the market, its overall net weight is just simply obscene.
Since the FT02 uses a 90-degree motherboard configuration, the usual place you would find the “top” of the chassis is now really the rear. In this case, the rear of the enclosure features a generous cutout complete with a removable dust filter, allowing airflow to be accessed by a fan in a power supply. At the top, a convenient hand opening is provided for transportation of the case, while also serving double duty as the point of exit where power and peripheral cabling is routed from the rear of the motherboard to the outside of the chassis.
The left side panel of the Fortress FT02 comes in two styles, a windowed and non-windowed version. The thick Plexiglas on the windowed versions offer a very nice view to the inside of the case, allowing envious friends to drool over multi-GPU setups and watercooling configurations. The side panels are incredibly heavy, made of very thick steel. Removal of the side panels is accomplished by unscrewing two thumbscrews at the top of the chassis for each panel.
The side panels of the case are covered with a thick, spongy foam material that absorbs interior system noise. This material lowers the acoustic signature of a system build in the FT02, which could allow higher RPM case fans to be used and give gamers the opportunity to utilize modified, multi-fan CPU coolers as well. The 4mm thick noise absorption material used in the FT02 is similar to what you can buy from Silverstone directly, the SST-SF01.
Looking at the top of the FT02, we can see that the Fortress employs a large, metal mesh screen which allows hot air to pass through from the internal exhaust fan. This bracket is removable which offers access to the PCI slots, power supply area, and a motherboards’ various inputs and outputs. The removable bracket, made of aluminum and supported by a plastic sub-frame, is painted in the same sandblasted and black anodized surface coating as the rest of the case, while the metal mesh exhibits a more glossy finish. Removal of the bracket is accomplished by pulling straight up from the opening above the power and reset buttons.
Hidden under a sliding cover, the Fortress FT02 offers dual USB 2.0 ports, a microphone jack, and an audio jack that supports both HD audio and AC’97. I’m a bit surprised at the lack of high-speed data inputs offered here, even the inclusion of eSATA would have been better than nothing. It is worth noting that the length of the I/O header wiring is a generous 17” in length.
For those gamers wishing for high-speed data inputs, such as eSATA, FireWire 1394, or USB 3.0, 5.25” external bay devices do exist to fill this void. To the left of the I/O area is the reset and power buttons (top and bottom, respectively). Silverstone spared no expense with the FT02, as the buttons are made of aluminum and are sandblasted and black anodized surface coated as well.
Removing the FT02’s top metal mesh bracket, we can see seven PCI slots, a 120mm exhaust fan, a top mounted power supply area, and additional cutouts to assist in promoting further passive cooling of the system. This includes the seven PCI brackets, which have been vented to increase positive airflow within the chassis. The chromed PCI brackets are reminiscent of Silverstone’s AeroSlots, which are essentially the same product save for the nickel plating.
Something usually not seen in most Silverstone enclosures are built-in fan controllers. The FT02 features a 3-way fan controller which controls three 180mm intake fans inside the chassis. Fan speeds are limited to High (1,000 RPM at 27 dBA) and Low (700 RPM at 18 dBA). Directly below the fan controller is a single 120mm exhaust fan. The blades on this fan incorporate a golf-bladed design, which Silverstone maintains quiets the operation of the fan without decreasing its cooling performance. A chrome grille allows airflow to be exhausted without obstruction.
Since the introduction of its first 90-degree motherboard layout in 2008, Silverstone continues to be one of the very few chassis manufactures adopting this approach. Its newest iteration of this design is the FT02, and leveraging on what was learned while designing their RV01 and RV02 cases, Silverstone has tweaked the Fortress FT02 to perfection. The unibody construction mentioned earlier is quite apparent and can be clearly seen, the 4.5mm thick aluminum forming a big “U”, making up the left, bottom, and right outer portions of the enclosure.
The benefits of a 90-degree oriented motherboard are obvious: rotating the tray 90-degrees allows hot air to rise to the top of the case naturally, where it is exhausted by a 120mm fan. Three 180mm intake fans assist in this process, promoting a positive airflow effect within the chassis which allows for more effective and efficient cooling to take place. Because there is greater intake airflow than exhaust, the positive pressure that is created also prevents the undue build-up of dust from occurring over time, which can lengthen your system’s service life.
Taking a cue from the design of the Silverstone RV01, the Fortress FT02 uses the same removable hard drive configuration. Five 3.5” hard drive trays are included with each tray featuring four silicone grommets to prevent vibration from affecting the hard drives. HDD installation is easy: slip an HDD into the tray and using the provided screws, secure the hard drive into place. Next, slide the tray back into the hard drive cage and secure it using the lever.
Unfortunately, gamers that wish to use SSD’s in this enclosure will find the 3.5” hard drive trays incompatible with 2.5” storage devices. However, this shortfall may be circumvented by using the transfer brackets that are included with an SSD purchase. Most manufacturers are including these brackets as standard accessories with their SSD’s for specifically this purpose.
At the top of the chassis, seven PCI slots are available, each slot covered with a removable PCI bracket. The PCI area of the FT02 is not tool-less, and will require a screwdriver to remove and install PCI devices. At the front, the FT02 includes five 5.25” external bays, with four of those bays offering tool-less capability. Operating the tool-less feature of these bays is easy and feels very secure once 5.25” devices are locked down.
One of the unique aspects of the hard drive area in the FT02 is the inclusion of hot-swap capability. While Silverstone includes one standard hot-swap bay in the FT02 (located in the first HDD bay), enthusiasts have the option of making all the bays in the FT02 hot-swap capable by purchasing Silverstone’s SST-CP05. This product is compatible with the FT02 and installs in seconds at the rear of the hard drive cage area. They currently retail for $9.99 at Newegg.
When looking at the stock cooling array configured for the FT02, you can quickly see how Silverstone spent a lot of time figuring out how to best cool components in what I like to call targeted “cool zones”. Three massive 180mm intake fans are mounted at the bottom of the case and provide serious upward airflow for the four “cooling zones” of the chassis interior: the hard drive area, videocard area, CPU area, and the power supply area.
Each 180mm intake fan (SST-AP181) includes a removable dust filter and can be controlled with the fan controller at the top of the chassis, providing anywhere from 80 to 130CFM per fan depending on the setting. These fans are part of Silverstone’s Air Penetrator (AP) series, which have the ability to push air in a column rather than a cone. This allows for concentrated airflow at longer distances and through objects like cabling, wiring, and internal PC components.
PCGC had the opportunity to perform an in-depth review on Silverstone’s Air Penetrator fans and I found the results to be quite surprising. You can check out the review HERE.
Because of the 90-degree motherboard orientation, the placement of a power supply in the FT02 may look a bit odd to some. Along with requisite screws at the top, the black plastic bracket in the accessory bundle also supports the bottom of the power supply. The included Velcro strap wraps around the power supply itself, offering additional support in the event that the enclosure requires transportation.
Unfortunately, because the power supply lies against an unpadded support on the motherboard tray, not only can vibration pose a problem to gamers, but the power supply can become scratched due to the metal-on-metal contact of the motherboard and PSU. However, this is easily mitigated with a bit of self-sticking foam padding, something Silverstone should have anticipated and included in the FT02.
In addition to the motherboard support for the power supply, Silverstone also includes a few pre-set motherboard standoffs which speeds up system installs. Additionally, as has become more commonplace with enthusiast-level enclosures, the Fortress FT02 features a large cutout for CPU coolers. This allows gamers to easily remove and replace their CPU heatsink assemblies without having to remove the motherboard from the case.
With the right side panel removed, the Fortress FT02 allows a better view of the motherboard cutouts and the myriad of loops punched into the steel. The loops, used in conjunction with cable ties, secure wiring to the chassis. There is approximately 1/2” clearance between the right side panel and the motherboard tray to route cabling. However, care must be taken when doing so as the foam absorption padding on the side panels are fairly delicate and prone to damage.
Gamers wishing to take advantage of the wire management opportunities in the FT02 will want to gauge the length of their cables from their power supply carefully. This is a large chassis, and a modular power supply is highly recommend, both to reduce unnecessary cabling, and the fact that these types of power supplies traditionally offer extra length in their cables that their hard-wired cousins do not.
A cornerstone in the design of the FT02 is the unique way in which this large enclosure supports itself. In lieu of using traditional supports or “feet” in each corner of the chassis, Silverstone uses the unibody design of the case to great effect. In essence, the bottom of the unibody frame becomes a giant “foot” that runs the entire length of the case. On the bottom of this foot are thick rubber pads, preventing the chassis from sliding around or damaging surfaces.
In addition to the CPU and the many wire management cutouts in the motherboard tray, Silverstone continues to demonstrate that details are everything. This includes sleeving all internal fan and fan controller wiring, and shrink-wrapping the ends. The result is a highly professional look, giving the Fortress FT02 an air of exclusivity.
The backside of the FT02 also reveals the power supply mounting support, which contains openings where a Velcro strap routes through and around a power supply. Again, while not technically required, Silverstone recommends its installation as it provides further support for large power supplies.
Enthusiasts looking to install their array of SSD’s in the Fortress FT02 might be wondering where they do it at. Since the FT02 does not natively support 2.5” storage drives in the 3.5” hard drive cage area, Silverstone has provided a mounting area for a 2.5” SSD-compatible bracket. This bracket will secure an SSD to the outside of the 5.25” external device bay area.
This feature seems more like an afterthought, and while it is perfect for gamers who use a single SSD for boot drive duties, those with more than one SSD will be disappointed. Below this, you can clearly see the single hot swap bay in the hard drive cage area. As mentioned earlier, additional CP05’s can be installed to allow for additional HDD hot-swap capability.
The only case wiring not sleeved is the I/O header wiring, which looks a bit out of place next to the fully sleeved and heat-shrinked fan wiring. Nevertheless, Silverstone has allowed plenty of length where the USB, audio, and motherboard header wiring is concerned, a generous 17” in length. This is more than enough for even the most fastidious wire management guru.
The Fortress FT02 is a joy to build in, the blacked out interior offering plenty of room for component installation. Total build time took about 25 minutes, which included some basic wire management. The result is a very organized and tidy build, thanks to the numerous motherboard tray cutouts and ample interior room. Of course, the feeling of satisfaction quickly turned to one of dismay when trying to move the FT02. While an unapologetic 33 pounds empty, a typical full system build will tip the scales towards 50-60 pounds.
From its inception, the FT02 was designed to accommodate oversized components. Therefore, it is possible to fit motherboards that are larger than standard ATX (12” x 9.6”). This includes motherboards such as EVGA’s x58 Classified series (12” x 10.375”) and the Asus Rampage II Extreme (12” x 10.6”) where the maximum motherboard limitation is 12” x 11”. Speaking of oversized components, the FT02 accepts videocards up to 12.2” in length, which includes all nVidia and ATI offerings, even the beastly ATI HD5970.
Enthusiasts looking to install aftermarket CPU heatsink assemblies, the maximum height is set at 165mm (6.5”) while large power supplies are limited to 230mm (9”) in length. Unfortunately, while Silverstone designed the FT02 to accept oversized components, selecting and installing 5.25” external devices in the top bay of the chassis can be tricky. Bay devices longer than 180mm (7”) prevents the connection of power or data cables as the seventh PCI slot blocks the ports. Therefore, the use of 90-degree cables is highly recommended.
While the basic design of PC enclosures has not substantially changed in years, this has not stopped Silverstone from coming up with new innovative alternatives. While many manufacturers are content to push out the same product year after year, showcasing minor cosmetic changes, the FT02 marks a definite departure from the status quo. Who else sells 90-degree oriented motherboard trays and noise absorption padding as stock options in a chassis? Who else uses 4.5mm thick aluminum, let alone invests in unibody case construction?
There are a few miscues in the FT02 though. The primary being the size and sheer weight of this enclosure, as well as the tight spacing issues with 5.25” bay devices installed in the PCI area. If Silverstone knew that the maximum length of 5.25” devices was 180mm, they should have included a 90-degree SATA data and power adapter. I also felt that the power supply area needed to be padded to defeat vibration and prevent noise. This is a curious omission considering that Silverstone went through great pains in silencing this chassis as much as possible.
In light of these drawbacks, the FT02 is no slouch in giving enthusiasts exactly what they want in a premium gaming chassis. The bevy of features that the Fortress FT02 offers is unparalleled in any other consumer enclosure on the market, and, naturally, the price reflects this. At $249.99 USD street, the FT02 is by no means cheap, and for gamers who demand only the best, the Fortress FT02 should be on their (very) short list. Because of this, PCGC is proud to award the Silverstone Fortress FT02 the PCGC Editor’s choice award!
- Extensive accessory bundle; manual is thorough and detailed
- Rock solid unibody construction; 4.5mm thick aluminum
- Terrific cooling potential; AP181 cooling fans a plus
- Inclusion of noise absorption material; quiet fans
- Myriad of cable management opportunities
- Well-appointed chassis with great looks
- Feature-rich; 3-way fan controller
- Lack of padding in power supply mounting area
- Power supply extension cables may be required
- Chassis is incredibly heavy; large footprint
- No high-speed data transferring options
- Expensive and cost prohibitive