Although it's certainly been a while since the last blog post (in mid-February! Time sure does fly by quickly...), we've been hard at work exploring and testing various design changes to Project Nova, with much of this progress transpiring on our forum thread on SFF Forum. That said, it can be difficult to get a sense of everything we've been doing when reading these threads retrospectively - so I wanted to write up a simple summary of the kinds of modifications to the prototype we've been investigating, as we march towards a final design.
Note, however, that this isn't a complete list, nor are all of these changes final! There are other modifications we're looking at, and the feasibility of some of these is still being fully understood. That said, the following are perhaps the most substantial highlights, comprising the more significant changes that may find themselves in the shipping version of Project Nova.
#1: A 2 x 3.5" bracket, for larger storage configurations
Currently, Project Nova supports a 3.5" HDD mounted to the bottom of the case, which (in tandem with dual 2.5" support) adequately covers the storage needs of most system builders. However, by only neatly supporting a single 3.5" drive, we felt that we weren't adequately addressing those with high storage needs - so we've opted to design and include a simple bracket with Project Nova that will hold two 3.5" drives in place.
Although this will interfere with the bottom PCI slot on a mATX motherboard when secured to the floor of the case, half-length cards will still work, and it's an option that we think many will appreciate. Further, there are other possible mounting locations for the HDD cage (such as the side bracket), as well as additional places that will be made possible with other design changes. So we're very happy with the flexibility that these cumulative modifications provide for drives.
Save for those who need over 8TB of data stored locally, we think that getting storage how you want it should be easily done for most, especially with the pre-existing 2.5" bracket that can hold a pair of SSDs.
#2: Top fan support, now replaced by increased height/width clearances
One of the more interesting results from the thermal testing we performed was the top fan efficacy analysis, which demonstrated that the fan provided essentially no significant improvements to temperature. Because of this, we'll be removing the top-mounts to reflect this uselessness - but that removal has granted us the opportunity to redistribute the volume from the top of Project Nova, to areas of the case that are the most constrained.
As such, we'll be shifting some of that vertical clearance to the bottom of Project Nova, below the motherboard, and some more of it to the side, making Project Nova a few mm wider. The result? Greatly improved support for bottom-mounted hardware, from radiators to multiple drives (which now interfere with one less PCI slot). All without increasing Project Nova's volume one bit.
#3: A Front 120mm plate, to better control exhaust
Another observation gleaned from our thermal analysis demonstrated that the positive pressure exerted by intake fans tended to push exhaust out the front of the case, when a front-mounted 120mm fan wasn't installed. Although this seems unimportant at first, much of that warm exhaust exits the front only to be sucked in by the SFX PSU intake - thereby increasing both temperatures and (more importantly) noise. It was a behavior we hadn't anticipated, and weren't happy with.
Since not everyone will have or want a front-mounted fan, we'll be solving this by including a simple plate that's installed by default, and covers the front 120mm mount when not in use. For those who opt not to have a front fan, this will encourage air to exhaust through the top and back, rather than the front - and for those who do want to mount hardware in that position, you'll only have to remove the plate, which is secured with screws.
#4: Project Nova's handle as an optional accessory, to cut costs
Perhaps the most difficult decision so far has been to explore the opportunity to make Project Nova's handle optional - or, alternatively, to provide support for third-party handles that can be installed by users. The primary motivator for this change, simply put, is cost: the handle is expensive to manufacture, and our polling has demonstrated that most potential buyers would prefer if we offer it separately, and sell Project Nova at a lower cost.
Even as a high quality, low volume product, we want Project Nova to be as accessible as possible to system builders, including those within certain budget constraints. In addition, since the success of Project Nova depends heavily on selling enough units to make manufacturing viable, we realized that it would be very important for us to separate the high cost of the handle, from that of the case. Doing as such should serve those who aren't interested in a handle (and/or otherwise couldn't afford Project Nova), yet still provide that functionality to those who do value it. We think it's the best way forward for everyone.
We await more information on manufacturing (and otherwise) before we can say for certain what handle support will look like for Project Nova, but we're exploring every avenue available to us - from a KI-made accessory, to a bracket that supports third-party handles, to an open-sourced file that can be manufactured or 3D-printed freely using certain manufacturers and services. Stay tuned for more information on this!
#5: And finally... ATX PSU support!
We said it couldn't be done, but we've proven ourselves wrong with some recent experiments with rear-mounted PSU support, which would allow for system builders to install an ATX or SFX power supply straight on Project Nova's back, above the motherboard.
To do this, we enlisted Protocase (the manufacturer of the prototype) to create a custom-designed bracket, that allows for ATX power supplies to be mounted on the hinged side bracket. Any implementation of ATX support would probably involve rear-mounting and a rear cutout (which would be covered with a plate that has the existing fan/AC/WC cutouts when not in use), but this bracket made it possible to test the idea without mangling the prototype at considerable expense.
Needless to say, though, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the proposition of supporting ATX PSUs in Project Nova as-is, and we were just as eager as the community to test it out. And although our experimentation has shown that rear-mounting a PSU will limit CPU cooler clearance (for those who choose that method), it suddenly makes Project Nova a viable case for those who steadfastly need ATX. Furthermore, it expands the possible builds within Project Nova to a considerable extent, from transplanted rigs, to quiet-tuned builds, to some of the highest-performance configurations available. As a result of this support, Project Nova would be able to meet the needs of almost everyone, all without any volume increases, or any impact to the existing configurations that are already possible.
This expanded functionality is enabled, in part, by the fact that the entire front of the case is opened up for additional hardware when the PSU is mounted in the back. With two 120mm mounts, you could now install fans, the HDD cage, or even a 120mm or 240mm radiator (depending on clearances) in that space!
As I mentioned before, all of this has been discussed and shared pretty throughly on the forums, and I would encourage anyone and everyone who's interested to follow our progress there, in order to get more frequent updates. Furthermore, as we look to finish making design changes in the coming weeks, input from community members has never been more impactful and meaningful to the design process. In fact, discussion surrounding recent proposals (notably, to add more depth to Project Nova) have already brought about inspired and thoughtful dialogue that's been really helpful for us. So I would strongly encourage everyone who has thoughts or ideas to voice them while they are still viable to implement.
Once we're finished with the design, the final specifications of Project Nova will be formally announced, and our efforts across promotion and manufacturing will increase swiftly. It should be a very interesting next few weeks!