Up Close and Personal with the Phenom

box - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Like many mITX cases which cost under a hundred dollars, BitFenix uses a cardboard box for the Phenom’s shipping container. Also like most mITX cases the outside is liberally covered in details, specifications and other data you will need to make an informed decision on whether or not this is the right case for you. To be honest the only noteworthy thing about this shipping container is the sheer size of it. We are not exaggerating when we say that we have seen mATX cases come in boxes not much bigger than this.

access - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

While the box itself may be large, the same cannot be said of the number of included accessories. To be fair the usual assortment of screws, brackets, installation pamphlet and zip ties are included; however the only real noteworthy included feature is the USB 3.0 to USB 2.0 adapter. This adapter sells separately for about ten dollars so it does -somewhat- help elevate the accessories to slightly above average, but we were hoping to see more. For example a PSU adapter bracket to allow for deeper than usual power supplies would have been certainly welcome.

comp - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Even on just a quick perusal two things standout about the Phenom. Firstly with dimensions of 250 x 330 x 374mm and an internal capacity rated at 31 liters this is easily one of the largest mITX cases you are going to find on the market. Compared to a more typical sized mITX case like the Cooler Master Elite 110 (which has an internal capacity of 15L), the BitFenix Phenom literally dwarfs it in both the height and depth department. Luckily it is not that much wider than a typical mITX case so finding room for it should not prove to be too difficult.

ang3 - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

The other blatantly obvious feature of the Phenom is it is a downright gorgeous looking mITX case. While it does come in black or white, our sample was the ‘Arctic white’ version and to be perfectly candid BitFenix really have put a lot of effort into improving the overall aesthetics of their mITX cases. We seriously would not have been surprised in the least to have seen an Apple logo and not a BitFenix logo on the front – as it literally is that elegant and that graceful a design. The only minor issues anyone will have with this case when it comes to its overall looks is that the two side panels are not quite the same color white as the top and front fascia. They are very close, but while the top and front are more a cream white, only the two sides are what we would call a pure white. This is because BitFenix has once again opted to not cover the side panels with their excellent SofTouch rubber coating. This seems to be a ‘thing’ with BitFenix and while we are sure it does help shave a few cents off the cost of the side panels it does mar an otherwise perfect first impression.

ang1 - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

On the positive side, these two small side panels are as thick and as heavy as you are likely to encounter in the mITX case marketplace. On a weight vs weight basis you would have to move up to mATX tower style cases to find side panels which come even close to weighing as much as these two do.

side pannel - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

We always like it when manufactures don’t skimp out the construction of their cases and no one needs worry about accidentally bending these panels while simply removing them. This however does not make up for the difference in colors and we truly wish BitFenix had taken the extra time and effort to coat these panels. We are a big fan of this rubber-type coating and it certainly would have helped keep the panels free of scratches during transportation to and from LAN parties.

ports - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

The next big thing which stands out about this case is the lack of venting. Not only are both side panels lacking venting so too is the front. This solid front certainly helps the Phenom look like it just stepped off a Paris fashion runway but keeping the internal components fed with enough air will be a challenge. To help make things easier there is a black mesh covering running along the top and sides of the case, but most of this mesh is only there for aesthetic reasons. There literally is only a few circular holes cut out in chassis underneath the side mesh covering and the rest is also a solid surface. Of course removing this mesh and then drilling or cutting out more air holes is a relatively simple mod, but much like the side panels we wish BitFenix had made the extra effort and gone that extra mile for consumer. Aesthetics is all well and fine, but at the end of the day cooling is even more important.

fans - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

These small restrictive air vents will increase the static pressure requirements of any front mounted fan. This is a shame as this mITX case – just like the prodigy- not only accepts the usual 120 or 140mm fan options, but can accommodate either two 120mm fans, a single 200mm fan or even one massive 230mm fan. However, considering the number of high static pressure 200mm+ fans on the marketplace we doubt that many will opt for them if internal air flow is a high priority. On the positive side, the front case has enough room to mount a dual 120mm radiator here. If you combine a radiator with four high speed, high static pressure fans we doubt there will be much problem in the cooling department – small air vents or not.

top port - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Equally impressive is the top of the unit has been designed for mounting dual 120mm radiators. Even if you do not go for a dual bay radiator, two 120mm fans in combination with the rear 120/140mm fan and a front fan(s) should provide more than enough air flow to keep even the hottest of running systems happy. We just wish that BitFenix had included more than just a front and rear fan. Consumers will have to take this additional cost into consideration before opting for this rather expensive – for its niche – case.

Moving on from the cooling potential of this case one thing which some consumers will love and others will loath is the location of the front I/O panel. In order to keep the smooth, monolithic front look of this case BitFenix has once opted for side mounted I/O ports. In this instance the large power button, smaller reset, dual USB 3.0 port and the usual headphone and microphone ports are located on the right hand side. We understand the reasoning behind keeping the front as clean looking as possible but a hidden recessed panel with front cover would have looked just as nice and would not have increased the footprint of this case like side mounted I/O panel does. As it stands you will really want to add at least two more inches to side dimensions if you actually want to use the USB 3.0 front ports – otherwise they will prove difficult to access.

ang2 - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

The rear of this mITX case is nicely designed and makes fewer compromises. As mentioned there is a large – for its class – 120/140mm rear exhaust vent that has a nice free-flow design to it. Below this is the motherboard I/O panel and below that is power supply bay area. Next to the rear I/O panel are the dual mounting brackets which allow consumers to use basically any video card they wish. To be precise, with the internal drive cages removed a single, dual slot video card that is up to 330mm in length can easily fit inside this micro-ITX case. Color us impressed.

gpu inst - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

With that being said there is still room for improvement. BitFenix could have easily allowed mega triple slot designs to fit here, but since the basic chassis design has not been upgraded from that of the Prodigy the Phenom is unable to show any improvements in this department. Also, the solid side panel means that the video card will be sharing air with the other internal components rather than sucking fresh air in through the side like they can with most mITX/mATX cases. This is another area that even a semi-skilled ‘mad modder’ can improve upon the basic design and we do recommend doing so, especially if you plan on using a video card with a ‘down draft’ style cooler found on many custom design rather than the stock ‘blower’ coolers found on more mundane video cards.

psu bumpers - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Rounding out the list of exterior features is a removable PSU filter, nice caster feet, and tool-less knurled case screws. The last of which makes disassembly and assembly much easier, though we do wish BitFenix had opted for metal screws instead of black plastic components; however this too is a ‘thing’ with BitFenix and all their cases use plastic tool-less screws. On the positive side, they are even included for the PSU bracket and their deep black color does contrast nicely with the white of the case.

sides off - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

The internal area of the Phenom has been broken into three main areas: the front hard drive area, the motherboard area, and the power supply area. While there is some overlap in cooling of these zones each zone really is meant to be cooled by its own fan(s). In the case of the power supply area, the PSU’s fan is what does the job; whereas the hard drive area sucks cool air in from the front of the case and the ‘exhausts’ it into the motherboard area. While you can mount anything from dual 120mm fans all the way to a single 230mm fan, BitFenix includes a single 120mm fluid dynamic bearing based fan. Specifically it is their 120mm, 1000rpm ‘Spectre’ fan. The motherboard zone has three potential fan locations of which only the rear exhaust fan is included and the top dual 120mm fan ports are empty. On the positive side the included fan – another BFF-SCF-12025KK-RP ‘Spectre’ fan- can be swapped out for a 140mm unit and thus consumers can mount either extra thick, single bay 120mm radiators or single bay 140mm units. This is rare for a mITX case and is impressive.

As mentioned previously the top cooling zone can be used to mount any thickness dual 120mm radiator available on the market today. It can also easily accommodate quad fan configurations; however all fans will have to be mounted inside the case. This is because in a very puzzling move BitFenix has made the top recessed fan area on deep enough for only 20mm thick fans. Using thicker than 20mm fans means and you will not be able to reinstall the removable black mesh fan filter. This is a design flaw that hopefully is fixed in future revisions.

hdd cages - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Getting back to the front hard drive zone, BitFenix has opted for two smaller hard drive cages. A dual drive and a three drive cage. Unfortunately while you can rotate their orientation you cannot just use the three drive cage; rather the three drive cage has to be mounted on top of the two drive cage. Of course with a liberal use of a drill you can easily modify the three drive cage to be securely mounted in the two drive cage’s location, but we are unsure why BitFenix did not make their mounting more universal. Also it is worth noting that to properly secure the top most triple drive cage, you need to leave the rather useless 5.25″ caddy in place. If you do remove this caddy – which is needed to be done in certain scenarios that we will go over in the installation section – the top caddy does moved way too much for our comfort. This is a direct result of reusing the Prodigy’s internal design and could have easily been avoided with slight modifications to the drive cage mounting system. For example screws or bolts holding the two cages together would have easily made the entire affair more than secure enough to not need a top reinforcement.

mobo area - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

Like most mITX cases the motherboard sits in a horizontal or ‘flat’ orientation. Unlike most mITX cases, with both side panels removed there is plenty of room to maneuver and plugging in any connectors is as easy as it would be on a much larger case. Also of note is the motherboard standoffs are built directly into the non-removable motherboard tray. This does save a step latter on and certainly makes for a more secure installation.

psu filter - BitFenix Phenom Case Review

The only glaring issue which jumps out at us is the power supply cage has not been improved or even modified in any way from the Prodigy. Hopefully looks are deceiving otherwise installing even 160mm units may prove to be very troublesome. In talks with BitFenix there is no power supply extension bracket in the works for the Phenom; rather they simply are planning on modifying this area to be more user-friendly. While these improved Phenom’s are starting to trickled on to the market there are no details on how – or even if it is possible – to tell a new Phenom from an ‘old’ Phenom like our sample is. Also on the positive side, the PSU has its own removable filter which will help keep dust from accumulating inside the power supply.