Why the hell would you want a PC case that’s made of tempered glass?
The answer is straightforward: It looks cool as hell. The Element case from iBuyPower is a modified version of an existing case, the S340, and it looks amazing in person, even if it has proven a bit difficult to photograph. it's also only available as part of one of the company's custom builds.
"We modified the S340 because it’s a very solid, simple case," Michael Hoang, iBuyPower's marketing manager told Polygon. "The first time we looked at the S340 we thought it was very simple, very elegant and people went crazy for it. But there was something missing, we thought you change it slightly and make it a whole new case just by adding tempered glass."
This is very much a showpiece case; so don’t expect a tempered glass case to make a good LAN box. It’s heavy, and it’s a full-sized tower. It’s an imposing black and red monolith, complete with a front face made entirely of spinning fans. There are no optical drives here, and no option to add them in.
"People do look at it and think they shouldn’t manhandle the case the way they would if it was a plastic case," Hoang said. "You have that subconscious mentality that you have to be a little careful with this one."
Most cases with windows slide in from the back and feature rear-facing screws, but the Element case has a tempered glass side that hangs on side-mounted thumbscrews. It’s easy to remove to get to the guts of the case if you want to do some work on your PC, and it’s just as easy to replace. Once you do so you’ll also feel how heavy that glass is; this is a case with some heft to it.
What’s interesting is that I assumed that fingerprints would be an ongoing battle, and they show up pretty clearly in photographs, but in person — at most angles — they’re pretty subdued. And keep in mind I’m probably moving around this review loaner much more than the person who buys this as a display piece would move it. I was told that fingerprints being muted was actually a nice side-effect of a coating they used to strengthen the glass panels.
"With the tempered glass that we made, we put a coating on the outside that actually strengthens the tempered glass," Hoang explained.
"We went through maybe four iterations with the glass," he explained. "Originally we started out with acrylic, or plexiglass, and even though it shined in the beginning and looked really nice, after a while when you’re moving the system it starts keeping all its marks, all of its little scratches. It just starts looking bad. We realized that we’re going to have to go to tempered glass even though it’s a little bit more expensive and in our minds a little bit more fragile."
Companies that make pre-built PCs tend to stock ‘em with ridiculous parts when sending them to the press for coverage — and high-end parts are more fun to play with — but when looking at systems like this I’m more concerned with the cleanliness of the build and how much the company is able to do that I would either not be capable of, or work I would be unwilling to put in.
I may be alone in this, but the builds I make for myself tend to be more utilitarian than beautiful; it’s like the Iron Giant sneezed into a PC case most of the time. I’m not proud of this fact, I’m just pointing out that when I build a PC I take the shortest path to completion so I can hurry up and plug a head-mounted display into it.
So when I look at pre-built PCs, from companies whose business model is "let’s buy components and put them together so you don’t have to," I look for the things they do to make that experience worthwhile. Especially since, for most people, even "budget" pre-built PCs are a luxury purchase. I want some razzle with my dazzle.
And damn that’s a clean build. This is partly due to the fact the S340 is a known quantity and is designed to allow for really sleek insides, and partly the fact that everything is neatly arranged and color-coordinated. Everything you want to be on display is, and the front of the case isn’t busy; it’s just a wall of fans. Every aspect of this case and build works together to look good in your home.
"Our overall goal was to make sure we weren’t losing the integrity of the S340, but also adding that elegance and that feel of what an expensive case should be, but at a very low cost," Hoang said.
The Element systems start at $899, and the demand for this sort of case has to be quite the inverted pyramid. This is a system for someone who doesn't want to build their own rig — although we were told it's possible iBuyPower could start selling the cases by themselves in as little as a year from now — and the Element is someone who wants a system that's impressive visually while still being easy to work on ... but without an eye to portability.
The S340 was already a pretty good case, but the addition of tempered glass and so much work going into making the build so clean put it all over the top. This isn't a system for everyone, but it's damned good for what it is.