The SilverStone Fortress FT03 case was launched in 2011 and was received as one of the most innovative Micro-ATX enclosures to date. Engineers designed the FT03 for “elegant integration” by building up instead of out so that the final product would have a smaller footprint.
The new FT03-MINI takes the incredibly popular design of the FT03 and shrinks it by 50%, giving it an even smaller footprint and bringing Mini-ITX/DTX to the Fortress series. The interior still uses the stack effect cooling layout, but this time it is powered by a single 140mm Air Penetrator fan. The MINI can accommodate graphics cards up to 10” in length, and has support for one 3.5” and two 2.5” hard drives or SSD’s.
Will the smaller size still allow for a powerful gaming system? Check out the full review.

 


Specifications

Model No.
SST-FT03B-MINI (black)
SST-FT03S-MINI (silver)
Material
Aluminum outer shell, steel body
Motherboard
DTX, Mini-ITX
Multimedia
Drive Bay
External 12.7mm Slot loading slim optical drive x 1
Internal 3.5” x 1 , 2.5”x2
Cooling System
Front
Rear
Side
Top
Bottom 1 x 140mm Air Penetrator fan, 1500rpm
Internal
Expansion Slot
2
Front I/O Port
USB 3.0 x 2Audio x 1MIC x 1
Power Supply
1 x Optional standard SFX
Operating system support
Expansion Card
Compatible up to 10” long
Limitation of CPU cooler
78mm
Limitation of PSU
SFX PSU
Net Weight
4.7kg
Dimension
188.9mm(W)x 397mm(H)x235.1mm(D)
Extra

Packaging and Accessories

The FT03-MINI comes shipped in retail friendly packaging with full color pictures of the case as well as specifications printed on the side. The case is well protected and arrived in perfect condition. Accessories include:

  • Bag of case screws
  • USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter
  • Wire ties
  • User manual

 

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Exterior

The FT03-MINI is constructed with a steel body and an aluminum outer shell. The exterior panels are 2.5mm thick anodized aluminum and have a nice finish that resists fingerprints fairly well. You won’t find any vents on the panels like on the FT03, the MINI is designed to have only one source of air flow by utilizing the bottom (single speed 1500rpm) 140mm Air Penetrator fan in it’s stack effect cooling. The I/O panel is at the top of the case, so the motherboard is mounted in 90 degree rotation to take advantage of hot air’s natural tendency to rise.

The only opening on the FT03-MINI is for the slot loading DVD drive located on the front panel. The panels themselves are very sturdy and do not bend or flex when pressure is applied to them. This model is available in both silver and black. Today, we are testing the silver model.

 

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The top of the case is where you will find the I/O panel, expansion covers that support dual slot graphics cards, power and reset buttons, dual USB 3.0, mic and audio ports, and the power and hard drive activity LED’s. The bottom of the case has a 140mm Air Penetrator fan and a removable fan filter. The filter is easily removed by pressing a plastic tab on the side, no screws to remove here. This version of the fan is a single speed 1500rpm model. There is no fan speed selector switch.

The bottom feet are high enough to promote good air flow on most surfaces, but high pile carpet will most likely restrict air flow. The footprint is so small and the exterior so nice looking that it would be a shame to tuck this away on the floor. The FT03-MINI seems designed to sit atop a desk where everyone can see it.

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Interior

The entire interior has been completely redesigned since the FT03. So even though the exterior may look similar, once you open the panels you will see that this is a totally different chassis. The panels simply snap on and off, no need to slide them up to remove. This method seems to work much better because the panels are more secure when lifting the case to move it around. The interior is far from screw-less. You will need your trusty screwdrivers to complete your build.

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The interior is very spacious for a small form factor enclosure and is very open with the panels removed. The interior is painted black and has a nice look and finish. There is support for one 3.5″ hard drive and up to two 2.5″ hard drives or SSD’s. The 3.5″ drive cage and one of the 2.5″ drives cages are mounted next to the optical drive cage on the front of the case. The other 2.5″ drive can be installed at the lower rear of the case beneath the motherboard.

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The FT03-MINI supports USB 3.0 for its top USB ports and has the 19pin connector to plug straight into the motherboard header on supported boards. If your board does not have this header, the included USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter cable can be used. With the adapter installed, the top USB ports will only run at USB 2.0 speeds.

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The Build

Parts Used:

Case – SilverStone FT03-Mini – $129.50
PSU – SilverStone SST-ST45SF 450W – $69.99
CPU –Intel Core i3 2100 – $114
Motherboard – ASRock Z68M-ITX/HT – $120
Memory – Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600 8GB – $60
GPU – EVGA GTX 560Ti – $229.99
Hard Drive – Western Digital Caviar Black 500GB (WD5002AALX)- $60
DVD Drive – SilverStone Slim SOD02 – $70
OS – Windows 7 Professional OEM – $140

Total: $993.48

 

Our Mini-ITX test bed motherboard for this build is the ASRock Z68-ITX/HT, which is a socket 1155. This board was paired up with our Intel Core i3 2100 CPU and 8GB of Corsair memory. The lower thermals of our CPU will work really well for this build because the SFX power supply is only 450W. Because this system will have a dedicated GPU (GTX 560Ti) we had to be careful with power consumption. Using a SSD for the boot drive would be even better for power, but we did not have one available for this build.

 

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The FT03-MINI is very easy to work with when the panels and drive cages are removed. The motherboard standoffs are pre-installed, so board installation is super easy. Now is the time to start planning cable management, before the power supply and drives are installed. Once the other components are introduced, things can get a little cramped. This is typical for SFF builds, so we’re not knocking SIlverStone for this.

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The MINI only supports SFX power supplies (not included), so we are using the SilverStone SST-ST45SF 450W model for this build. This is the only SFX model currently offered by SilverStone, but 450W will be plenty for our build.

Our GTX 560Ti GPU’s minimum system requirements call for a 500W PSU and the GTX 680 we were considering calls for a 550W. These recommendations are based on full desktop systems that are capable of being stuffed with a lot more hardware. Small form factor builds like this are a different story. The main thing to be cautious about is maximum power draw from your parts.

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The bottom of the optical drive cage has a spot to install a 2.5″ drive. You must use a slot fed optical drive with the FT03-MINI, a tray model will not be able to eject through the drive slot in the case’s front panel.

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The 3.5″ drive cage attaches next to the optical drive cage. If a 3.5″ drive is not installed, this cage can be left out to increase air flow through the case.

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There is a spot below the motherboard area to install a second 2.5″ drive. This tray can be removed by two thumb screws if not being used. This area would have been a good spot for cable management, which seems to be lacking in the FT03-MINI. There are places to tuck away cables (like between the hard drive cage and the bottom of the case) but some cable tie slots under the motherboard area or behind the hard drive cage would be helpful. We tied loose cables together and then tried to tuck the bundles out of the way as much as possible.

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Testing

Thermal tests were run using CPUID Hardware Monitor ver. 1.1.8. Prime 95 was used to max out each CPU core for load tests. Furmark 1.10.1 was used to stress the GPU for testing. Ambient room temperature was 78 Degrees Fahrenheit. GPU tests were run after manually setting the fan speed to 100% using EVGA Precision X version 3.0.2. We ran tests using the stock case fan for the FT03-MINI. Our Intel Core i3 2100 was running at stock speeds with SpeedStep disabled.

The temps were good across the board, but the GPU temps were a bit on the high side. With the front case panel being so close to the intake fan on the GPU, air flow is a little restricted. When we removed the panels from the case, GPU temps dropped significantly under load. The CPU temps were lower in the FT03-MINI than they were in the SG08. We think this is due to the extra room around the CPU area. The case fan did not add any significant noise during testing.

These temps are worst case for this hardware, as normal operation will not typically generate this extreme load. It’s also worth mentioning that we tested power consumption from the wall to see how our 450W PSU was doing. Idle power for our system was 49.5W, max CPU load pulled 87.5W and max GPU load used 255W. We had power to spare and did not experience any problems. SilverStone has confirmed that the 450W power supply can handle video cards such as the GTX 680 in this enclosure.

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Conclusion

The build in the FT03-MINI went great, with only a couple minor issues. Building in a SFF enclosure will always have compromises, and the FT03-MINI is no exception. Cable management could be improved by adding some dedicated tie spots in key locations. The graphics card did run hotter in the FT03-MINI, but not enough to worry about under normal circumstances. After building quite a few systems in small form factor enclosures, this chassis feels much more open and easier to work in. The exterior look and finish are top quality and the case as a whole even fits together better than the FT03. We highly recommend this case for a small form factor build. The Fortress Series now has a case for each of the major motherboard types, ATX, Micro-ATX and now Mini-ITX/DTX. Both the silver and black versions of the FT03-MINI can be found for $129.50 at Amazon.