Can a $169 open air test bench possibly be worth it?
Open-air chassis have always been an odd segment of the PC hardware market. While the ability to quickly swap out components is a major benefit to hardware reviewers like us, overclockers, and other people who are working to quickly validate lots of components, they are the antithesis of what most users are looking for from their computers.
While we've seen some attempts at bringing the open test bed concepts to a more general audience including the Antec Skeleton and the Thermaltake Core P5 and P3, test bench products are often very low volume and are targeting a specific niche market. Due to the low volume nature, test benches are usually pretty low build quality, expensive, and don't seem to be fully formed concepts.
Today, we are taking a look at a product which aims to change all of this, the Open Benchtable.
From first glance, you might be hard-pressed to tell that the BC1 is meant to be used with computer hardware. One of the unique design aspects of the BC1 is the ability for it to pack completely flat, in a way that may be familiar to you if you've ever had an experience assembling furniture from Ikea.
Everything has a place and there's a place for everything on the BC1. Included hardware such as thumbscrews, brackets, standoffs, and even the feet for the actual testbench slot into the single piece of aluminum and store securely into an 8mm thick package. This, along with the completely toolless design mean that the BC1 can quickly be assembled, used, and torn down.
Once you start to assemble the BC1, one of the most striking features is the build quality. Where we normally see test benches made from lower quality materials like acrylic or bent sheet metal, the BC1 is made of a single slab of anodized heavy-duty AL5052 aluminum. It's difficult for me to imagine a user managing to break this test bench in any way, aside from potentially chipping anodization, without actively trying to do so.
The first step to assembling the BC1 is to remove the feet from the middle section of the test bench. Simply remove 4 thumbscrews, and you can remove the feet from the main assembly.
Once these feet are removed, simply unscrew the motherboard standoffs from the side of the feet, and begin to mount your power supply.
A common element of the BC1 is novel solutions for mounting standard PC components. The first example of this is the power supply mounting system. The power supply mounts to the feet of the testbench. However, where it might look at first glance look like the power supply and feet are flush against the table, the power supply is actually suspended. This allows for the option of placing your fan face down to intake air, while still maintaining ample air flow.
While it looks like there would be stability concerns in mounting the power supply suspended like this, it felt very solid to me. I think the combination of high-strength aluminum and steel screws allows for ample stability.
One of the features that excited me the most about the BC1 are the pushpin-style motherboard standoffs. Once you screw the standoffs into the aluminum base, you can simply place your motherboard on top and push down. You'll hear an audible click, and your motherboard will be secured in place without any screws. To remove the motherboard, you push up (I found it easier to work the motherboard up from the corners with two hands gently pressing up from underneath.
For years I have been wanting to see some screwless designs for mounting motherboards to cases and I am not disappointed with the design of the BC1. The balance between ease of installation versus security is perfect. If for some reason you wanted to, you'd have no problems completely inverting this test bench.
It's worth noting that the OBT also comes with traditional screw-in standoffs if you are more inclined to use them instead.
One of the more unusual elements of the OBT is the storage mounting system. Up to 2 drives (one 2.5" and one 3.5") are mounted vertically next to the feet, using thumbscrews into the aluminum base. Personally, while this method seemed to work fine I wasn't the biggest fan of it. While the drives were secured firmly, I have concerns about the cables exiting the SATA connectors and the potential stress that an errant cable from the power supply might cause. If you are using only a 2.5" SSD, you might be able to find a different place to mount your drive, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend the OBT if you were looking to use 3.5" drives often.
In terms of watercooling, the OBT can support up to 240mm radiators through the use of included brackets. These brackets attach to the side of the test bench as well as the traditional screw mounts of the radiator.
While we were able to attach our Corsair H80 to the OBT, it was not perfect. The included screws weren't long enough to go through both the fan and radiator as intended. Additionally, the screws that came with the H80 had the wrong head size, meaning they didn't work either. We came up with an alternative solution of screwing the bracket into the side of the radiator that did not have a fan. While this isn't ideal, it seemed to function well enough. If you were interested in using radiators with the OBT, this could easily be fixed with some alternative screws to attach your radiator fan to the mounting brackets.
As you may have guessed from the name, the Open Benchtable is an open source design. The source files for the design have been released under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license, meaning you can produce and modify the design for personal, non-commercial uses, as long as you properly attribute the original designers.
A rendering of a sample system configuration provided with the source files
While you probably aren't going to have access to the machinery to produce one of these bench tables yourself, the open source aspect has advantages in making accessories compatible with the OBT. Already, there are designs for a compatible 3D printed ATX to SFX Power Supply adapter as well as the files in order to 3D print additional brackets if you need them. For the type of consumer that is interested in an open air testbed, the prospect of being able to design your own accessories or modify the design for exactly your use is an exciting one, that I'm a huge fan of.
Now we get to the least appealing aspect of the Open Benchtable, the price. Currently, you can order the Community Edition of the Open Benchtable from their website for $170 (silver version), or $199 (black or red version). The community edition is a limited run, but OBT has also partnered with Streamcom for wider release under the "BC1" name at more traditional PC hardware retailers.
There's no way getting around it, $169 is a lot of money for what the Open Benchtable is. However, when you compare it to comparable test benches we have looked at in the past like the Puget Systems Test Bench, or the Praxis WetBench, the pricing seems to be in line for what you are getting. Keep in mind, these products are low volume and priced accordingly.
If you are a normal consumer, you could buy a great traditional PC case for the same amount of money or less. However, if you are the type of consumer who is always swapping out hardware, for overclocking, validating components for system builds, or just always changing your mind, the test bench lifestyle may be for you.
The Open Benchtable is the only test bench I want to use any more. The solid construction, ease of hardware installation, and attention to design combine into an easy recommendation from me.