REPORT ANALYSIS AND FINAL THOUGHTS
The Cougar Archon mid-tower PC case is a good news / bad news proposition. The Archon sports a couple of nice features for a budget price-point case. The all-mesh front panel with filter material on the back of all sections is a nice-to-find asset. The power supply fan filter is easy to remove, rinse and reinstall. The Archon utilizes a simple, yet effective tool-less optical drive mounting. The HDD/SSD drive sleds are easy to slide out and snap back into place. They are also very simple and straightforward to mount the drives to, either from the sides or from the bottom. The extra flange on the front edge of the motherboard tray is a great cable management asset, and is well thought out.
Unfortunately, the outright negatives and a couple of quality control issues are going to dramatically dilute the value of the positives the Archon has going for it, even at the $49.00 price-point. Let’s start with design issues: The standoff-less, “dimpled” motherboard mounting may be someone at Cougar’s idea of ‘cutting edge’, but we do not see this being any sort of an improvement over widely-accepted and proven current designs that adequately segregate the motherboard (and all of its exposed solder points on the underside) from the tray itself. This seems to be a move in an undesirable direction. The baffling placement of a cable routing hole in the motherboard tray that is rendered useless by the presence of the motherboard is counter-productive. The result is that the CPU power lead(s) cannot be concealed and must pass in front of the motherboard. The CPU cooler cutout in the motherboard tray is poorly positioned, and will be unusable in many applications.
As far as the front panel is concerned, we are at a loss to understand the choice of one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port; as opposed to 2 X USB 3.0 ports. Recent and current motherboards with front panel USB 3.0 headers generally support 2 X USB 3.0 ports via the single header. Eliminating that second, separate connector for USB 2.0 has to help just a tad with the cost of the bill of materials, and every penny counts on a case at this price-point. Any front panel design with USB 3.0 should mimic that of Cougar’s Challenger.
Cougar Challenger USB 3.0 Ports
The front fan filter is being advertised as “easy-clean detachable”. Mounting front fans to this filter changes this considerably. “Easy-clean” becomes “easy-clean on one side only without un-mounting the fans”. “Detachable” becomes “detachable within the limits of the length of the cables connected to the fans”. Unplugging the fan connections would be the only way to detach it completely with a fan or fans mounted to it. Mounting fans in this fashion is less than optimal if we want our case fans to be vibration-proof.
The front panel audio header lead could not be concealed when used with an mATX motherboard. An extra three inches of length for this lead would resolve this situation. Use of a non-modular power supply when building a system into the Archon would likely result in other significant cable management issues.
Also on the design side of things, the clear acrylic side panel window is not situated very effectively. A horizontal orientation of the window and fan mesh would have made a bit more sense. The partial view that is all that can be seen with this window orientation is only a partial experience of what a clear side window should offer. Neither side panel has any knobs, handles, or grip-able flanges to help remove them. Removal requires the “palm flat against the panel with rearward pressure and motion” method.
As far as quality control is concerned, a warped fan filter that is basically unusable without mounting two fans to it is rather troublesome. An I/O shield mounting that could not be used at all could be a quality issue; or it could just be a flawed design that wasn’t adequately tested. A mis-drilled motherboard tray that causes issues in attempting to install the motherboard is also a quality control fail.
The Cougar Archon is not a throwaway; it has potential. If cougar could take the positives and build on them by eliminating or mitigating the negatives, a second edition of this case (Archon II ?) might gain some traction. Cougar has some fine products, including the Spike mini-tower gaming case, which we previously reviewed and recommended. The Cougar CFD 120mm case fan that we previously reviewed earned our Editor’s Choice award. Unfortunately, the current iteration of the Archon does not live up to Cougar’s usual product design and quality.
Cougar’s choice of marketing slogan for the Archon is “the cutting edge gaming case”. Unfortunately, this phrase contains a couple of words that have become seriously overused by the PC marketing PR spin machines. “Cutting edge” begs the question “compared to what”? Compared to the competition, is the Archon offering anything that is “cutting edge” by today’s standards? The word “gaming” has become even more over-hyped. What were “gaming only” features a year or two ago are standard features on today’s models. Does the Archon offer gaming-specific features not found on other similarly-priced models? Some loose usage of the term “gaming” may be in play here.
It is difficult to have high expectations of a case at this price-point. However, basic functionality should not suffer to achieve that price goal. In the final analysis, Cougar needs to do much better with both the Archon and its marketing slogan. The current version comes up short of the mark in both instances. Unfortunately, we will have to relegate the Archon to the “Not Recommended” list.