In the next few weeks we're going to be taking a look at the latest releases from BitFenix. First up is the Phenom, a practically cuboid case measuring just 250x330x374mm (WxHxD). Based on the Prodigy chassis, the Phenom is available in both Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX flavours, and in both Midnight Black and Arctic White. As you might expect the case has also been given the once over with the ever-so-slightly naughty BitFenix "SofTouch" surface treatment. Although both the Mini-ITX and M-ATX versions of this case share the exact same external panels, as the Mini-ITX shares its internals with the Prodigy, for the majority of the review we're going to be concentrating on the M-ATX version of this case. It might be small but you can fit a surprising amount inside the Phenom, 5 expansion slots, room for up to 5x3.5" drives and 5x2.5" SSDs, tall CPU coolers, long GPUs, and did we mention you can also get a 240 Rad in there!. For the full picture let's have a look at the technical specification.
|Case Type||Cube Case|
|Motherboard Support||Micro ATX Mini ITX|
|Power Supply Support||ATX|
|Maximum GPU Length||320mm (HDD Cage Removal May Be Required)|
|PCI Expansion Slots||5|
|External 5.25" Drive Bays||n/a|
|External 3.5" Drive Bays||n/a|
|Internal 3.5" Drive Bays||5 (4 + 1 Using Included Adapter)|
|Internal 2.5" Drive Bays||5|
|Front I/O Panel||2 x USB 3.0 HD Audio|
|Colour||Black or White|
|Removable Motherboard Tray||No|
|CPU Mounting Hole||Yes|
|Dimensions (LxWxH)||374mm x 250mm x 330mm|
Up Close: Exterior Overview and Roof
There's no denying the minimalist looks of the Phenom, both the sides and the front are practically featureless aside from a metallic slightly iridescent BitFenix logo and the front I/O on the right hand side.
A thin mesh strip runs along the upper and front edges of the case, both allowing air in and providing visual separation of the two planes. The front I/O area is located in the front corner of the right hand side so as no to spoil the looks of the front fascia.
Like the front surface the roof has been given the once over with the oh so slippy BitFenix SofTouch surface treatment. It's been around for a while now and although you could say "if you've felt one you've felt them all", (ahem) we do still think that the treatment lends a sense of quality to the Phenom. Even the fan filter/grill which is easily removed via the catch at the rear appears to have been given the good news with the slippy brush. Just a shame they've not applied it to the case sides.
With the roof vent removed we get our first peek inside the Phenom. Dark isn't it! I guess it won't be too long before we get a windowed version, and no doubt before then we'll be seeing many a window mod hitting the Project logs section of the OC3D forums
Up Close: Exterior Sides, Rear and Base
Having glanced briefly at the sides of the case in our initial overview we can now look in more detail. The mesh area that we saw that is recessed into the upper and front edges is vey fine indeed, but owing to the large total surface area (as a product of its length more than its width) it should serve to give reasonable ventilation, which is just as well as it's through this mesh that the PSU draws its breath. The left hand side of the case is devoid of features, and even the right hand side keeps it clean and simple with a subtle I/O area towards the front lower corner. A brace of USB 3.0, audio jacks and a separate power and reset buttons are the order of the day.
It's when we look round the back of the case that we get the first hint that the internal layout of the Phenom differs somewhat from the traditional. The keen eyed amongst you will have already worked out that the Motherboard is inverted as the five PCI slots are towards the top of the case. Another unusual (and as we found when we came to the build, slightly annoying) feature of the PCI slots is the use of a single clamped bracket to hold the five covers in place. Releasing the thumb bolt and sliding back the clamp releases the grip on all five of the slot covers, which if you only want to remove one often ends in a small cascade and a few choice words.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that you're looking at the PSU fan through the rear grill. Actually we wouldn't forgive you as we'd assume you'd totally forgotten that we're dealing with an inverted motherboard layout so there's no way on Bobs green earth that that could be the PSU. It is in fact a mounting point for either a 120mm (included) or 140mm (optional) fan. In the bottom right hand corner lies the socket for a standard IEC mains lead known to you and us as a PSU plug, and to the wife as a kettle plug. This fitting attaches to a cable that runs through the base of the case and meets up with a fitting at the other end into which your PSU attaches.
The base of the case is predominantly mesh with a large aperture at the front for the vertically mounted PSU. Two 120mm fans (one included) can be mounted in the base, alternatively a pair of 3.5" drives can be housed down here. If you're not using it for ventilation then you may chose to use the magnetically located cover shown below right.
Up Close: Interior
If you're used to our normal formula for exploring the interior of a case, or you're only happy with the predictability of the standard ATX layout then you're in for a bit of a bumpy ride, as things are a bit all over the place inside the Phenom. Opening up the right hand panel you're met with a removable rack which is able to house either 2x3.5" drives on it's interior surface and 3x2.5" drives on its outer surface. With the drive rack removed we're afforded a better view into the interior. To help orientate you, the PSU mounts vertically at the front of the case (left of the images) whilst the Motherboard sits inverted against the back wall of the case, with the CPU over the large cut out area.
The PSU is located vertically in the front of the case after first attaching it to a mounting bracket. you can get long PSUs in here but do bear in mind you're going to need to turn the cables round and down in the remaining roof space.
A single 120mm Spectre fan in included in the floor of the case and is set in the extract position. If you choose you can add a second 120mm unit, or a pair of 3.5" drives, or mix and match between the two. For those of you familiar with the Prodigy chassis on which the Phenom is based, it should start to become a bit clearer exactly where this cases heritage lies, however in this Micro-ATX form factor, the large mesh area on the image below right is provided for the PSU should you choose to have it located with the fan on intake from the exterior of the case.
The only other ventilation is provided by a second 120mm Spectre fan located in the rear of the case. This can be swapped out for a 140mm unit or used in conjunction with a 120mm or 140mm Rad based AIO. This fan is again positioned as an extract making the case a negative pressure set up. If you want to experiment with airflow both fans can be easily re positioned.
Up in the roof we can see a large cut out with mounting holes for 2x120mm fans, and as the inter fan spacing up here is 15mm you should be able to fit in a good many of the 240mm rad based AIOs. There's also a bracket up here which at first view appears to be for a 5.25" drive, but as there's no external opening we can assume that it's a legacy featuree from the Prodigy case which by means of an adapter can be used to mount a single 3.5" or 2.5" drive. If you're looking to put a rad up in the roof then this bracket is going to need to be removed, which is easily done with just 6 screws holding it in place.
Turning the case around and looking at the reverse of motherboard area, we see that there's not exactly a lot going on back here. A very meagre 14mm of space is available for cable management. We suspect this isn't really going to be a major issue though as there aren't any cable management holes to work with, so if you're not going to be routing cables round the back you don't really need the room to do it in do ya!
Up Close: Stripped
Both the top and front sections of the case pop off with a few firm tugs revealing the metal chassis underneath. Again we can see the bay cover for the legacy 5.25" bay, sitting as It does above the huge front intake grill. Again anyone familiar with the bare bones of the Prodigy chassis will be experiencing a certain sense of deja-vu about now.
The removal of the top cover affords us a better view of the roof ventilation cut out. The screw holes for 120mm fans with a 15mm spacing can be clearly seen. There appears to be enough room at either end for rad end tanks so a 240mm based water-cooling solution is well on the cards. The image below right shows the adapter plate which attaches to the 5.25" bay internally allowing an additional 3.5" or 2.5" drive to be installed.
The interior of the right hand side panel is also quite an busy area, housing as it does 2x2.5" drive trays in the plastic mesh area. It's also home to the business end of the front I/O, but as BitFenix have had enough forethought to fit all the connections with long cables there shouldn't be any drama in detaching these accidently when removing the door
We'd never admit to reading instructions. However, for the benefit of the review, we do of course have a look at them (for purely academic reasons you understand). They come in a booklet form and are in English only, so if you're a Welsh national we suggest you get onto BitFenix for offending your cultural heritage. The diagrams are instructive but could maybe do with being a bit bigger as there's quite a bit of white space around them that could be better utilised. Accessories wise, along with half a dozen cable ties and the usual "sort em out for yourself" bag-o-screws there's a handy dandy USB3.0 to USB2.0 adapter. Nice one for all those yet to upgrade to a USB3.0 Mobo.
On with the build then and after first attaching the PSU to it's mounting bracket we insert it carefully into the case. The PSU we've used here is 160mm long and although there is space in here for a longer unit do remember that you'll have to turn the cables round in what ever space remains. It's also worth noting that longer PSU's will reduce the GPU length available from the maximum 320mm, but as it's unlikely that you're going to be shoe horning a mahooosive 1200W unit in here we don't really see this as a problem.
Both of the fans provided with the Phenom are positioned near he base of the case and are set to extract. Nothing wrong with this as such, but as we all know hot air rises their positioning is somewhat in conflict with the laws of thermodynamics. Still, we can always move them can't we.
Below we've shown a few of the HDD mounting options. to the left we have a 3.5" in the base of the case, screwed in from underneath and benefiting from isolation rubbers. To the right we've shown a drive mounted to the inside of the vertical brace. It's possible to fit 2x3.5 drives on this side, and an additional 3x2.5" drives on the other side.
With the Micro-ATX motherboard in we start to get a better idea of the scale of the case. As this is an inverted design the GPU is orientated with its fan facing upwards, and so potentially trying to suck air from the roof vent. Being M-ATX and with 5 PCI slots it's entirely possible to run an SLI or Cross Fire set up in here. We talked about how a long PSU will impact on the max 320mm GPU length, but it's also worth noting that the position of the PSU cables themselves will also have an effect on the length of GPU you can fit in. We found that with the modular PSU we used reduced the max length available down to 290mm, and had we used the lower rail of PCI power sockets on the PSU we would have reduced the max GPU length still further down to 250mm. This may be one occasion when a non modular PSU is actually an advantage as all the cables will leave in one big (but ugly) bundle well away from the area of GPU impingement.
As there aren't any cable management holes there's not much point routing things round the back, especially as theres a nice deep recess down the side of the PSU to stash the lengths not used. If we were being even more OC3D we'd probably cable tie all these lengths together to keep them even tidier.
With the HDD rack in the view of the interior is largely obscured, but being as there's no window it's not going to be an issue. Should BitFenix release a window version of this case, or should the modders amongst you decide to whip out the Dremel and cut your own then you're probably not going to want to fit this brace which of course will limit you to the pair of 3.5" locations in the base.
Looking at air cooling first, the Phenom will take a decent sized tower type cooler, in fact anything up to 160mm will fit just fine even with the HDDs mounted on the vertical brace rack. If you absolutely have to cram a gargantuan tower cooler into this case then removing the HDD rack will garner you an additional 35mm of space. having said how big a cooler we can get in we also need to think about how we're going to orientate it. We've left the fans in he case in their stock configuration, and positioned the cooler to push air out through the rear extract. With this in mind it might be better to have the fan in the base of the case swapped round to intake, or to remove it and place it in the roof as an extract.
The image below left shows the cooler rotated through 90 degrees and pulling air up from the base of the case. Again we'd want to swap the base of case fan to intake or swap it out to the roof as an extract, perhaps adding another as we've shown in the image below right (please note the case does not come with fans in the roof, these have been added by us for illustrative purposes). Now this might seem a pretty ideal set up, until we consider the air flow over the graphics card, which as you've no doubt worked out is getting hit on its back plate by warm air from the CPU cooler and is fighting to pull cool air in from the roof which is busy trying to extract.
Perhaps we'll have more luck with water-cooling. Native water support for a 240mm radiator in a case of this size used to be unheard of only a few years back, yet here we are able to fit in a dual rad and fans. There are a few provisos though. First off you're not going to want to stick anything more than 35mm thick in the roof as it will impinge the top of your GPU, No problem if you're going for one of the many great AIOs on the market such as the H100i or the Seidon 240. Secondly, if you want to run SLI or Cross Fire and a rad in the roof, you're going to have to choose between the two as it's not possible to fit both due to the height restriction. All is not lost though as along with any of the 120mm rad based units such as the H80i and H60 you can also get a 140mm based AIO such as the Kraken X40 or H90 in the rear fan position.
To give you an idea of just how much room you have we've shown the Phenom with the 35mm thick XSPC RS240 rad and a standard 25mm thick fan. Combining these with our rather antiquated Asus EN8800GT Graphics card which weighs in at 40mm thick we're left with just 12mm of space.
However you orientate your rad and fans you're going to have to compromise. An extract system, whether in push or pull makes the most sense thermodynamically but with the intake of the GPU so close to the face of the rad or the fans may lead to them fighting each other for air and at worst set up eddy currents which may effect airflow and static pressure through the rads. Setting up the rad with the fans on intake will pull cool air in directly from the outside of the case but will then blow it directly over the fan intake for the GPU, which again isn't ideal.
Micro-ATX compared to Mini-ITX
We said at the start of this review that although the Phenom came in both Micro-ATX as well as Mini-ITX form factors we'd be focussing on the Micro-ATX version of this case. However, to do so exclusively would not be telling the whole story. The reason for not going into too much depth, or indeed for not reviewing the Mini-ITX case in its own right is that its internals are shared with those of the Prodigy and as such it's fair to say they have already been covered at length in Toms review of May 2012.
We will though be having a quick gander over it and taking a quick look at how the two cases vary. Just so you guys don't get too confused, the black case is the Micro-ATX that we've used for the body of this review and the white case is the Mini-ITX version. We do like to keep things simple here.
It's not until we look round the back that we see the variances between the two cases. As with the Prodigy the Phenom-ITX supports the smaller motherboards and has only 2 expansion slots as opposed to the Micro ATX vesions 5 slots.
No you're not having a seizure and this isn't one of those optical illusion tests. Just to show that the two chassis are identical we've swapped the door panels over. If you wanted you could also swap one of or both of the exterior panels giving a contrasting interior and exterior. We thing it looks kinda cool. Any two tone fans out there?
A real quick look at the interior as it would be rude not to, but as you can see it's a carbon copy of the Prodigy, which is no bad thing. Our only real concern with the Mini-ITX version of the Phenom is the lack of airflow in the front of the case. Although there's a 120mm fan on intake duty the actual airflow to it from the outside world is more than a little restricted. Take a close look at what appear to be mesh vent strips down the leading front edges and you'll see they are in fact for the most part contiguous with the white metal panel posterior to them, with the only actual front ventilation coming from seven 5mm holes down each side, some of which can be seen in the images below.
Huge air coolers can still be slipped in here with ease though, but if you're thinking of putting a rad in the front remember the low airflow we talked about above.
And although you can still fit monster GPUs in the vented side panel seen with the Prodigy is absent from the ITX version of the Phenom, meaning you may leave your Graphics card gasping for air as it'll be hard up against the solid edge of the case side panel.
Those who have taken the time to read the full review will have by now formed their own opinion of the Phenom case. Those who haven't taken the time, well you're in luck, because as always we're going to share our thoughts with you.
If you haven't guessed already the Phenom is based largely on the Prodigy chassis. Now this is no bad thing as you'll know from our thoughts on the Prodigy back in May of 2012. Although the Phenom is available in both Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX versions, as the internals of the Mini-ITX version of the Phenom are to all intents and purposes identical to the Prodigy we've concentrated our efforts on the Micro-ATX version of the Phenom with all the multi GPU goodness potential that brings.
Turning our attention away from the internals for just for a moment let’s take a while to drink in the exterior. The enclosure is practically a cube, measuring as it does just 250x330x374mm (WxHxD). The front and roof are coated with the oh so naughty to caress SofTouch surface treatment, with even the roof fan grill feeling as if it's been given a lick of the Naughty brush. It's a bit of a shame that the sides are merely painted, but then we guess you can have too much of a good thing. Aside from the roof panel and the faux vent strips running along the roof and front edges of the case the lines of the Phenom are largely uninterrupted. Even the front I/O is actually round the side, keeping its 2xUSB3.0, audio jack sockets, Power and reset buttons out of view but within easy reach.
Owing to the larger Motherboard the Phenom M-ATX isn't quite as cavernous inside as the Mini-ITX version, that said, you will still be able to find a home for up to 5x3.5" drives and 5x2.5" drives. CPU coolers up to 160mm can also be accommodated, and if you're happy to lose the cross brace HDD rack then that height can be upped to 195mm, which should be more than enough for most mortals.
The Prodigy with its Mini-ITX format was oft praised for its prestigious water cooling properties. Changing things round to the M-ATX format of the Phenom has had a bit of an impact, in that you're no longer going to be able to fit those monster rads in the roof and nothing at all in the front (because that's where you PSU lives). You are however still going to be able to get any of the 240mm based AIOs such as the H100i, or Seidon 240M up in the roof, or if you want to go custom any rad up to about 35mm thick but that's about it. The M-ATX format also offers the capability of going dual GPU, by which ever flavour you favour, although at this point we feel compelled to mention that if you want to add a second GPU you're not going to be able to fit a roof mounted rad, AIO or otherwise. All is not lost on the AIO front though as any of the 120 or 140mm rad based units can be placed back there, so coolers such as the H80i, H60i, H90 and Kraken X40 should be on your shopping list.
So where's the benefit in going Micro-ATX with the Phenom as opposed to Mini-ITX? Well a lot of it boils down to personal preference, whether you want to fit monster rads or are happy with a nice simple AIO. That of course and the price of Motherboards. You see, pound for pound you do seem to get more for your money with an Micro-ATX board. Sure there are some decent Mini-ITX boards out there, but they have a habit of costing quite a bit more than their Micro-ATX Brethren. Now throw in the inherent ability of the Micro-ATX platform of being able to accept two GPUs and you start to see the appeal. If you need any more convincing, take a look around at the number of people who have modded the Mini-ITX Prodigy to accept the an M-ATX board and you'll start to get a feeling for the desire in the communities for a version of this chassis that's able to accept the larger board.
Having talked about the pros and cons of the differing motherboard formats we also need to have a little chat about the cooling options in the Phenom M-ATX. We know you can stick a rad in the roof, and although custom water is on the cards, an AIO solution is certainly the easier option once you've factored in finding a home for your pump and res. What isn't quite so clear whether you go for air or water is how to set up the fans. By default the two 120mm Spectre units situated in the base and the rear of the case are set up to extract giving what is known as a negative pressure set up. We can't help thinking that being as hot air rises it might have been wiser to either have these on intake or perhaps swap one to the roof position. Putting an air cooler in certainly might make you want to want to switch the base fan to intake or even the rear to intake depending on how you orientate the cooler. Even if you sort things out down below you're still faced with the GPUs urge to inhale air, and the cooler the better. In M-ATX format with a tower cooler down below its simple enough, it can get it from the roof vent. Stick a rad up there however and it's going to be fighting it for the same air flow. We're sure that more time spent with the Phenom would enable us to put these beasts to bed, and we're certain that there is an optimum set up out there for whatever cooling solution you go with, our point really is that unlike a great many other cases, it's not immediately obvious what should go where. Still, it's always nice to have options.
When we reviewed the Prodigy back in May of 2012 we were simply blown away by its price. Since its release we've seen the addition of a multitude of colours and options to suite every palate. What has remained however is the low price and the value for money. We're pleased to say it's the same with the Phenom, which has started well with a mix of Black and white at launch, and we're guessing there may well be a similar selection of sensational colours to follow. Price wise the Phenom also kicks much the same bottom as the Prodigy with the Phenom Mini-ITX version costing just under £70 and the Full fat Micro-ATX just a fiver more. Sure there are cheaper cube cases on the market, but none even come close to the features, value and quality of the Phenom. To get anywhere close you really have to spend quite a bit more money aiming for such cases as the Carbide Air 540 and Parvum systems range of SFF cases, each of these being well north of £100.
Whether you go for the Micro-ATX or the Mini-ITX version of the Phenom will be down to your personal requirements. In simple terms the Mini-ITX offers greater water cooling support but only single GPU. There are also our concerns about the airflow being limited at the front intake to consider. Opt for the Micro-ATX and you lose a bit of radiator headroom but what you save on the cost of the cheaper Micro-ATX motherboards can be put towards a better GPU. Either way both represent excellent value for money and will look as at home in the lounge as they do on the desk. Decisions decisions......
Thanks to BitFenix for sending the Phenom in for review, you can discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.