Today we are reviewing a case from Fractal Design – ERA ITX mini tower. This is a case for people who would like to build something stylish, whether it is for their desk or even living room.
We will cover what you get for your money, our experience and tips on building in it and also benchmark its performance.
The case comes in 5 colours, they are accompanied by different top panels: white oak, walnut or tempered glass. Do note that the top panels are matched with certain colours so check out the combinations on their website. In a set you also get a more generic steel mesh top panel for better airflow, it is pretty nice to have the options.
Era comes with one 80mm rear fan, three dust filters and bottom and sides intakes with top exhaust. This adds flexibility to your cooling airflow should you wish to change it up, but to be honest you should probably just have it set in default configuration – pull air from the bottom and exhaust out from the top.
While this is a small case, it actually has a reasonably flexible set-up for components, of course with some trade-offs. For example, you can fit up to four 2.5 inch drives, providing you are using SFX power supply and don’t have any 3.5 inch drives. Or you can have two 3.5 inch drives without any 2.5 inch ones with SFX Power supply, or a mix of both. If using ATX power supply you would lose a drive cage so keep that in mind.
Also installing an ATX power supply will limit you to only having enough space for a fan above it. So like any small case, you really need to do some planning and research what components will fit and how.
Let’s run through the build and cover a few tips and considerations. As always – we are doing as much as possible on top of the desk. In this setup we will be using an ITX motherboard from ASUS, the z490 I Gaming with Intel i7 10700k – a toasty 8 core 16 thread CPU. For RAM we have two 8GB sticks from KLEVV clocked at 3600MHz, this is their BOLT X Series.
Now it’s a good time to start taking the case apart. First remove the side drive bracket and then, depending on your power supply, drive and cooling requirements, you will need to take apart the PSU cage. In our case we removed the whole set. Set aside ATX power supply bracket and then mount SSD and Fractal SFX 650w power supply. This is where we made our first mistake. We mounted the cage too high. The top section is where the radiator will go so we had to move it down to the lowest position later on.
At this point I would recommend plugging in all the power supply cables and having them to the side ready to go, use them to visualise and test fit cable routes. Also take the CPU EPS cable and put it across to where the connector on the motherboard is and then slot motherboard on top or you could just slot the cable around like we did. In cases like this you need to plan and cable manage at every step.
Then plug all the front IO cables and using the included cable tie below the power supply, tidy up as many cables as you can. In regards to IO – it has one USB 3.1 Gen2 Type-C, two USB 3.0 ports and a combo audio/mic port.
I wish Fractal had made these cables shorter as they are creating havoc in this case, but I also understand that different motherboards may have connections in different locations so longer cables cover all eventualities. Good thing is that these cables are flat though.
After the IO cables are done, it is time for GPU and be careful here. In the spec sheet of this case it says it can fit up to a dual slot graphics card with length below 295mm, even as short as 190mm, with low mounted SFX or ATX power supply. Also watch out for those wide cards – if the cooler is larger than reference design, you may have clearance issues – especially at the back of the case where it curves.
If you opt for using a single slot card, then you could also fit two fans underneath it. We tried to use ROG Strix 2080 super, but it was too long so had to settle for GTX 1060 Dual from ASUS. Here you should plug the power connections straight away and hide the cable on the side or even behind. At this stage don’t be afraid to take off the power supply to move the cables around.
With all the main components now in place, we can plug the remainder of power cables and SATA cable for the SSD and do the final securing of the power supply. Lastly we are installing the radiator, for this we have to undo the 4 screws and remove the top section.
We are using Fractal Design Celsius+ S24 Dynamic all-in-one cooler. We have already attached the fans and routed the cables to the onboard fan controller. I really like this implementation, especially in cases where access is limited. This way all the cables are hidden on the cooler itself and there is only a single cable that needs to be plugged in from the water block, unless you opt for using RGB, then you will need to plug that in as well.
I would recommend to attach the radiator loosely and then slide it in, adjust it back and forth and then secure, making sure you have a little bit of space for the water tubes. Then move the cables out of the way, put some thermal compound and with a little bit of wiggle mount the cooler. A note here, if you forgot to mount the back panel like we did – it’s not a problem as this case has a large cut-out on the back. Thanks, Fractal!
Last thing is to make sure all the cables are plugged in and out of the way from the fans. I recommend using a few cable ties. Then install the side drive mount, flick the power supply switch and close the case up. I like that the side panels are tool-less, just make sure your cables or water cooling tubes are not pushing onto them. With all that done we are ready to benchmark.
For the benchmarks we have enabled XMP profile and left the rest on default. This is to keep it fair for most users. A more enthusiast builder may want to overclock and undervolt to optimise both CPU and GPU. We are using the mesh top for all the tests but will also include a few comparisons between mesh and tempered glass.
First, let’s jump into Cinebench R20 and here we have a score just shy of 5000 which is exactly what we would expect from 10700k. When we look at temperature, it peaks at 83C which is very reasonable, though it only had a frequency of to 4.7 GHz.
Next we fired up Blender and ran the test using CPU to get a much longer benchmark and here we have temperature jumping to high 80s and after about 30 seconds it drops down to high 70s.
When we look at the CPU frequency we can see it starts off at 4.7GHz on all core and then throttles down to 4.3 to 4.4 GHz. Which is still pretty good for a small PC running at stock.
We then load up this PC with the most unrealistic and extreme workloads, both Prime95 and Furmark to really stretch it. The tests are done in three different configurations. First is with the mesh top, second with tempered glass and for the third we remove the top cover and also top filter to see how big of a difference it can make.
Starting with CPU – we find temps hitting 98C with the tempered glass top and 96C when using mesh. When the mesh and filter is removed, it drops down to 95C. About 30 seconds later the boost is over and the speed and temperature drops, now we have 82C while using a tempered glass, 79C when using mesh and 78C while completely open.
If we look at the clock speeds, all three variants hit 4.7GHz boost and then go down to around 4.1 GHz for the remainder of the test. The completely open case is 10MHz faster, but that is very much negligible.
When we look at the GPU temperature, the difference is only 1 degree between each variant, while on the way to get to the peak temperature of 83C.
Looking at the clock speed, they are all within a few MHz of each other. Completely opened panel is slightly higher but again this is negligible.
From this test alone we can see that there is definitely a few degree performance hit while using tempered glass cover. My personal preference here is using mesh, not just due to performance but also because to me it looks better with the matt finish and it fits in with the side intake holes. Tempered glass panel is just too reflective. What do you guys think?
Let’s jump into a few game benchmarks. For gaming we have set the games to 1080p and maxed out the settings to really push this set-up. First up we have Shadow of the Tomb Raider and here we have an average 54FPS and 49.8 at 1 percentile. Here GTX 1060 is simply too weak of a card. When it comes to thermals we have a toasty low 80s on the GPU and a very reasonable 50-70 degrees on the CPU.
In Doom Eternal we maintain 91.2 FPS on average and 73.4 at 1 percentiles. On this game GTX 1060 manages to keep good frame rates. We do get very interesting temperatures. GPU is locked at 82C which is basically maxed, and CPU is at around 56 degrees.
When we run a much less demanding title like CS:GO, we hit an average of 311FPS and 189 at 1 percentiles. The graphics card here on average got about 84% utilisation, this reflects really well in the temps. We have a maximum of 72C on the GPU and CPU ranges between 40 and 60C.
From these tests we can definitely see there are a few limitations. If you are to run the graphics card or CPU at its maximum for a prolonged amount of time, then your components will throttle down. On the other hand if it’s just casual gaming, or some kind of creative workload (excluding exporting), then it will be hot but manageable. I hope for the next version of this case Fractal adds some feet and bottom intake filter to improve airflow and provide better cooling for the GPU.
Temperatures are not everything though. This case is good looking and small enough to be placed on a desk right next to you so noise levels is another important aspect. We have tested it in two scenarios: 1) while 30cm away 2) while 50cm away. In both scenarios we test noise from the front and side. Our room noise floor is 35dB.
From 30cm away, while idle, we hit 37.2 decibels from the side and 36 from the front. When we apply Prime95 and Furmark load, we have 46.5 decibels from the side and a surprising 40.4dB from the front.
In our test from 50cm away, which to be fair is a more realistic distance, at idle we have 35.4dB from the side and 35.5 from the front. When it’s hit with Prime95 and Furmark we get 44.5dB from the side and 39 from the front.
Results here are actually very interesting. If you plan to load this case with components that generate a lot of heat and run them at full speed like we did here, you will certainly notice the noise when it’s placed beside you. You have two options – place it out of the way or turn it so noise is not heading directly towards you. But then again this kind of negates the point of getting a PC case that is this elegant…
I believe this case is more suitable for a casual user who values looks over performance. When discussing this with my wife, she agreed that a case like this would be a great statement piece when placed in the living room by our TV. For me this will be a perfect home-theatre PC that looks good and as we are sitting directly in front of it, we won’t be able to hear it. So it is a win-win, plus I have now won the argument about having an extra PC around the house.
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