Cast your minds back to Autumn 2014 - Donald Trump was still a 1000-1 shot of being the next US President, Leicester City looked on course for relegation long before their Championship-winning season, and the Valve Steam Machine concept was still a big deal. Conceived as a console-esq PC for the living room, Steam Machine PCs would conform to tight size restrictions and yet have high performance components suitable for most games, in some instances offering fully configurable components.
I'm sure you'll agree that both Trump and Leicester City had pretty notable 2016s, however the Steam Machine concept is now a mere footnote in an industry which has moved on to bigger things. That said, it briefly stimulated rapid development of some ideas which wouldn't have otherwise gone much further than the concepting stage, most notably in the chassis design market.
One such idea is the Sentry, a brand new PC chassis designed by two Polish brothers with close ties to the games industry and a background in industrial design and machining. Kacper Zaber is a developer with Flying Wild Hog Studios (the team behind Shadow Warrior) and Krzysztof Zaber is an Automation Engineer at DR ZABER as well as self-described hardcore gamer. Their nascent Steam Machine case concept was clearly an ideal convergence of both interests and talents. Krzysztof describes the impetus for the Sentry as the following:
"People are tired of getting toys made by big companies according to a product aging policy. They want solid and lasting hardware. Sentry is definitely not a toy and people appreciate it."
So, what is the Sentry? Simply put, it's a 7-Litre small form factor chassis with the challenging task of housing an entire system including discrete GPU. To put that into context, a standard tower chassis is on the order of 70L, whilst ITX cases are closer to a 20L internal volume; 7L is truly exceptional. From this brief the Zaber brothers have created a small, elegant case that can adapt to multiple internal configurations and offer users who really want a discreet living room PC a genuine alternative outside the major players.
Sentry itself has gone through six major prototype iterations, including one pre-production prototype that DR ZABER solicited feedback from tech. media on. This final version boasts space for a full size discrete GPU, SFX PSU and ITX motherboard, whilst still having space for a fairly meaty CPU cooler and SSD storage. Its exterior dimensions are very close to that of an XBOX One, but the hardware inside could be an order of magnitude more powerful.
In order to get production off the ground however DR ZABER needed to fund an initial run of 100 cases, for which they turned to crowdfunding. Unlike some initiatives the crowdfunding platform served only as a way to invest in a tangible object - in this case one of the first 100 of the production units - rather than chip in minor amounts to express interest or support the project. The classic micro-payment 'perks' have been replaced with price listings: $195 for a standard model, or $390 for two. Furthermore DR ZABER provided a clear timeline to shipping - April 2017 in this case - and a full rundown of both the case specifications and early reviews of production prototypes. From there, they just had to keep their fingers crossed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the campaign blew through its target, hitting the $19,500/100 Units order within 11 minutes. Currently, after less than a week, the fund sits at $148,535 with 634 backers and equates to as many as 760 units sold (assuming most pledges are in $195/$390 chunks).
Once these orders have been fulfilled DR ZABER expect to make the chassis more widely available and have indicated an MSRP in the neighbourhood of $230. That's certainly at the premium end of the spectrum, but also means early bird backers are receiving a not-inconsiderable discount. The critical point they need to prove is that they've followed through on their core motivation: to create a chassis which will buck the trend of planned obsolescence and stand the test of time.
The Sentry Indigogo campaign continues through until February 11th, and you can check it out at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sentry-console-sized-mini-itx-gaming-pc-case-computer#/. As with all such campaigns pledging entails significant risk, and should be approached accordingly.