We here at pnosker.com have very specific demands of our testing equipment. When we’re benchmarking computer components, what we need is a case that allows us to quickly put together a system for testing, and then equally quickly replace various parts. The order of the day here isn’t decibel reduction or portability or aesthetics or cooling: rather, it’s convenience. For the pnosker.com test bench, we needed a chassis that would provide easy access to all the components, but still contain them safely and securely. For that, we turned to the guys at highspeedpc.com and their Top Deck Tech Station, an open-air, build-it-yourself chassis purpose-built for quick and easy component replacement.
It must be established right away that the Top Deck Tech Station is in fact the second generation of HighSpeed PC’s two-shelf testing rig. The first generation (still available as the Original Tech Station) places the motherboard on the lower tier, while the power supply and everything that would normally mount in a 5.25″ drive bay rested on the upper tier on a non-slip foam mat. Although this design placed your optical drive, floppy drive, etc. within easy reach, the limited clearance above the motherboard made it impossible to mount large CPU coolers. This second generation, however, puts the motherboard on the upper level (hence the name) and as such there is no problem with maximum CPU cooler height. And although this new design has necessitated a few extra parts—the support brace for expansion cards is mounted on a pair of square legs that weren’t present on the original—the price has remained the same at $79.99.
The Tech Station arrives looking much like a package from IKEA. Contained inside a nondescript white cardboard box, the only noticeable feature is the colored sticker denoting that specific tech station’s color. Open it up, and the parts are contained in several plastic bags, all protected by a copious amount of bubble wrap. The instruction manual was clear and the pictures very informative, but the build is intuitive enough that I looked at the instructions maybe three times over the course of assembly. The parts themselves are solid, substantial, and very resilient feeling. I have to praise HighSpeed PC for their use of much better feeling oil-based plastic despite its steadily increasing cost. In addition, all of the Tech Stations’ parts are built within specifications for ESD compliance (electrostatic sensitivity), so there’s no chance of the plastic building up a motherboard-melting static charge. Besides the supports, shelves, screws, and rubber standoffs, an ATX control kit is also included, as the Tech Station itself has no power or reset switch or LEDs. These plug directly into the motherboard where their respective wires would in a normal case, though the switches are angled away from each other for spacing purposes. The control kit negates the need to run yet another wire across your motherboard.
While the mounting for motherboard, expansion cards, drives, etc. is completely tool-free, the assembly of the Tech Station is a screwdriver-intensive process. However, all the holes are pre-drilled and everything falls into place very easily. Each of the two shelves is outfitted with rubber standoffs, either to rest on the floor or for the motherboard, before they are connected by four square legs. I won’t bore you with a detailed account of the assembly process here, but suffice it to say that it’s very straightforward and simple and was completed within about 20 minutes with a single Phillips screwdriver. The end result is very stable and feels very strong, except for one piece: the plastic support brace for expansion cards. It and the graphics and wireless cards it holds in place appear to rely on each other for support: when the chassis is empty, the brace feels very flimsy and fragile, but once you attach an expansion card everything feels rock-solid. Also, the thumbscrews used to secure expansion cards are made of nylon, which just feels a bit cheaper (although strength and durability are debatable) than metal ones.
There’s not much to be said about the Tech Station’s “performance.” Like I said, its focus isn’t cooling or aesthetics or portability, so there’s nothing that can be measured numerically. It does, however, serve its purpose very well; everything is immediately accessible and easily replaced. The non-slip neoprene mat that keeps the power supply and your optical drives in place does its job well. The single 120mm fan mounted next to the CPU moves enough air by itself to keep things cool, since the open-air design allows heat to escape easily.
Although the rubber motherboard offsets offer no security at all—the board simply rests on top of them and is held on by a combination of friction, the support brace, and a pair of tiny nylon nuts—they keep your mobo from moving and make it very easy to lift it out to replace. It was a bit annoying that the hard drive rails only support 3.5″ HDD’s, which could be annoying if you test SSDs.
If you contact HighSpeed PC, they will drill a different set of mounting holes if you want to mount 2.5″ drives instead—but then you can’t use 3.5″ ones. (The more spacious Top Deck Large Tech Station has room enough to mount both a set of 3.5″ rails and one for 2.5″ drives.) But I’m nitpicking here. The Tech Station does its job of holding your parts together well enough that I can’t think of anything else to complain about.
Note that various accessories are available for every Tech Station model, from expansion-card-mounted power switches to extended 10″ legs to replacement motherboard standoffs and hard drive rails. Most importantly, though, is probably the Anti-Static Dust Cover ($19.99) which will prevent your test rig from dust while not in use.
The normal-sized Top Deck Tech Station—as seen in this review—is $79.99, while the Large version for eATX boards costs nearly twice as much ($139.99). If you want even more exotic setups, XL-ATX and HTPX versions are also available for $169.00 and $229.00, respectively. $80 might seem like a slightly princely sum—it’ll buy you a very decent mid-tower case, with fans and panels and real buttons—but you can’t compare the Tech Station to other cases. It’s more of a tool for benchmarkers and reviewers, and for those purposes it’s $80 well spent.