Tearing down the Fortress
Pulling away the Fortress FT03 side panels reveals a steel internal structure that's unlike anything we've seen before, and that makes it more challenging than your average chassis. As the 35-page manual suggests, this is an enclosure that'll require a little thought and consideration.
Here's the basic principle; the power supply is mounted at the bottom, and a pair of pre-installed 120mm intake fans push air from the bottom of the tower up to a 120mm top-mounted exhaust. Both 120mm intake fans are angled (one presumably due to space constraints, the other to push air toward the CPU and system memory) and the fans can be adjusted to suit more extreme builds. If you're planning on a dual-GPU configuration, the bottom-most 120mm fan can be replaced by a pair of 80mm alternatives that'll blow air directly at the PCIe slots, and an additional 92mm/80mm fan can also be mounted on a bracket directly above the graphics cards.
In the middle, the non-removable motherboard tray provides a base for a micro ATX or mini ITX motherboard, and there's plenty of room for on-board components - CPU coolers measuring up to 167mm in height are supported, as are a pair of graphics cards measuring up to 350mm in length.
The chassis' two angular fans can be removed to make motherboard installation that little bit easier, but on the whole the chassis' interior feels surprisingly roomy and the sense of space can be attributed to SilverStone's clever internal layout. The bottom-mounted power supply is made possible by an angled, pre-routed power cable that extends from the power supply to the bottom of the chassis, and the system's hard drives are kept out of the way on the rear of the motherboard tray.
This clever arrangement allows the Fortress FT03 two internal 3.5in hard disk bays, a single 2.5in bay, and a 3.5in hot-swappable bay that's accessed from the top of the chassis, beneath the plastic grill. It's an excellent use of space, but there is a potential drawback; the hard-disk bays have no direct airflow and rely solely on the aluminium panels to draw heat away from the drives.
Continuing the some-good, some-bad trend, we like the all-black interior, but we dislike the fact that it's interspersed by silver screws and fittings. There are some obvious concerns over the 5.25in optical drive bay, too. Favouring form over function, the slimline bay helps maintain the sleek exterior shell, but supports only slot-loading drives that are typically more costly than standard solutions. And there's also no eject button, so you'll have to rely on software to remove discs from the system.
But our gripes are minor, and the chassis is undoubtedly enjoyable. It makes you feel as though you're building something unique, something different, and the end results can be hugely satisfying.
To give you an example, here's the Fortress FT03 loaded with our mATX text rig, consisting of an Intel DH67BL motherboard, Intel Core i5-2500 processor, Inno3D GeForce GTX 550 Ti OC graphics card, 8GB of Corsair Vengeance memory, a 430W power supply and a 2.5in solid-state drive.
That's a potent build, and it fits easily into the FT03's frame. We haven't used a modular power supply but there's no real need to do so, as the rear of the motherboard tray provides ample room for excess cable storage.
Cable management in general is excellent, with SilverStone paying particular attention to the motherboard power cables. It's surprisingly easy to keep things looking clean and tidy, but there is room for improvement. Many mATX motherboards - including our test system's Intel DH67BL - are unlikely to have enough headers for the chassis' three pre-installed fans, forcing you to use the bundled molex adaptor, and it's a shame the top-mounted USB 3.0 ports are routed back to the motherboard I/O panel instead of an internal USB 3.0 header.
Despite these few small niggles, the Fortress FT03 is great fun to work with, but is the unusual layout capable of keeping our mid-range components cool under load?