Corsair SPEC-01 Case 280 Radiator Installation

I recently acquired a Corsair SPEC-01 case and a Kraken X61 all in one liquid cooler in opened-package "new" condition.  I am nearly certain both of these items were store returns that somehow made their way into the hands of a distressed merchandise retailer and subsequently onto Craigslist where I found the case for $25 and the cooler for a cool $60.

When trolling for used PC parts deals, you often don't get to pick and choose the exact parts combinations for builds and have to figure out how to work with what luck brings your way.  Lucky for me, I think builds are much more interesting when the parts don't quite fit together without some hacking and creativity!

Even with the recent trends towards more clean front PC cases, I like direct front to back airflow setups, and being as I have not had extra budget in any build to use a premium case, the entry level Corsair SPEC-01 accurately fits my cheap style.  When this one came up on Craigslist at roughly half of current retail price, I jumped on the opportunity.

The Kraken X61 is a bit of a gamble and I still don't know if it will pay off.  The various stickers  on the box indicate that this unit was sold at some point by NCIX and was returned with the reason being "did not fit".  If the clues are accurate, I'm hoping it does not exhibit any other manufacturing defects and can run for the designed 6 years.  But if not, I lose because Kraken requires the original purchase receipt for warranty service and I do not have that!  Another problem may be the negative reviews I read about the CAM software required to set up the device.  As this will likely be a used parts budget build, I'm hoping I don't have to contend with a piece of software that eats up 3% or more of my system resources all the time.  But, with some luck everything will work out ok.

The first step is to remove the front face of the SPEC-01 by pulling on the large bottom tab.  This may put up quite a bit of resistance the first few times.

 This will expose the single red LED illuminated 120mm fan that comes with the case.  Four screws remove this fan.

I decide that the most straight-forward place to mount the 280 radiator is right behind the front cover in this position.  On the bottom side, we see the bottom lip of the case obstructing the radiator's reservoir.

On the top side, there are no physical obstructions to mounting the radiator, but the rubber tubes will need to pass directly through the bottom 5.25" drive bay which will reduce the expandability of the case, but should be a pretty clean and seamless solution.

So, the first order of business is to cut the bottom of the case for the radiator reservoir to clear.  I used some blue painter's tape to clearly mark the cutout area.

And a fiber reinforced dremel cutoff wheel goes through the thin sheetmetal with ease.  Is that a "feature" on cheap cases?  Maybe.

After some cleanup with a file, this is what we end up with.

The case is definitely weakened a little bit, but once the radiator is screwed into position, it should add back a bit of lost rigidity.

And, here we have our mount position for the radiator.  Nice and clean with minimal case cutting!

Turning my attention to the plastic front cover, there are definitely some new obstructions that will need to be dealt with.  Because the top of the radiator is intruding into the 5.25" drive bay area, I will need to make a few cuts to the plastic plate.  The front cover was only intended to accept two 140mm fans and the reservoirs protrude further that this at the top and bottom.

This flat plastic section will need to be removed.

The dremel cutoff wheel works fine to cut the plastic, even if it is a bit "melty" and I use a wire cutter to chop the small ends because the cutoff wheel is difficult to maneuver into that position.

Here you can see the radiator clearance after the cut is made.

The next obstruction is the bottom reservoir on the radiator.  A notch cut will need to be made on the front cover to make it sit flush.

Again, I used blue tape to mark the cut area, but this time, I stayed a bit outside of the final line with the dremel and used a file to slowly close the distance to the tape line.  The dremel is way too "melty" to make a clean line on the plastic.

The first cut attempt was a little bit short and the front cover still had a gap, so I had to re-mark the area and make a second cut

The second cut was also a little bit shallow, but I was close enough that I could close the remaining gap slowly with a file.  This way, I cut the least amount of material possible so the front cover can retain as much structure as possible after the hack.  I thought about reinforcing the area behind with some aluminum or brass sheets epoxied in, but the cover felt strong enough without additional reinforcement.

At this point, I removed the bottom drive cage from the case and tried screwing in the 140mm fans from inside of the case, but discovered that the case was only designed to accept fans on the front side directly under the front cover.  Because the radiator now occupies that space, it is impossible to mount the top 140mm fan behind the radiator.

The bottom of the 5.25" drive bay prevents the fan from fitting.

One solution would be to simply mount a 120mm fan in the top position, but after thinking about it for a bit, later that evening, I decided the bottom 5.25" bay is occupied by the rubber hoses coming off of the radiator and can't be used anyways, I might as well make the cut I need to mount the proper 140mm fan from the back side.

Again, I mark my cut line with some blue tape.

This cut will require drilling out two rivets to release the metal panel.

And, I am able to make the cut with a cutoff wheel again.  There is a bit of an angle at the end because the cutoff wheel was difficult to maneuver into that spot from this angle.  I came in from the other side of the panel on a second pass to clean that up.

And, here is the clearance cut for the top 140mm fan completed.

This case was tapped and drilled for fan installation, those threads make it difficult to seat the radiator all the way flush with the sheetmetal tabs.  Because we are sandwiching the metal tabs between the fans and radiator, I decided to drill out the screw threads on all of the fan mount holes so when I tighten down my fan screws into the radiator, the radiator will be able to settle all the way down to the metal tabs.

And that is all for the case mod!  With the clearance cut, both 140mm fans now fit without issue.

The Kraken X61 has long enough rubber tubes to reach the CPU.  I know not all AIO's will reach, but this one will work.  There also looks to be plenty of room for a reservoir and pump for a custom loop if that is an upgrade path in the future.  Unfortunately, the bottom drive bay will not go back in with the fans mounted in this position.  This shorter corsair drive cage could work on the bottom because I believe it is short enough to stay under the motherboard.


But, at this point, the mod is complete, and I feel the 280 radiator slots in very discretely under the front cover.

Here are the cuts that were made to the front cover in order to clear the radiator.

And the cover in place!

Humans win!


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