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BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX Case

BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX Case

December 6, 2013 by Lawrence Lee

Product
BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX

Mini-ITX Case
Manufacturer
Street Price
US$80

Most Mini-ITX cases fall in distinct categories, specially designed for one
or two functions. There are incredibly small enclosures with external power
supplies meant to house very basic systems for playing media and browsing the
web. There are gaming boxes that support ATX power supplies, long graphics cards,
and provide a decent amount of cooling. These cases are larger in size but still
easy enough to carry around to LAN parties. Server cases offer plenty of hard
drive bays but often not much room for anything else. The BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX
belongs to the last category, the biggest of all. In the words of our BitFenix
rep, "Phenom is ideal for laid back living room/storage PC." There
aren't many mini-ITX cases in this last category, as most cases with more than
four or five drive bays are either micro-ATX or bigger.



The box.



The Phenom Mini-ITX.

While it ships in a rather plain cardboard box, the Phenom itself is an attractive,
subdued amalgam of metal and plastic. The chassis and side panels are made of
thick steel and the top and front are covered by a rounded shell with a soft-touch
finish. The matte surface feels almost rubbery but it's far from unpleasant
and also less prone to smudging, though it might just be hidden better on the
white version. The Phenom is available in both black and white, and there is
a microATX
version
as well, though that case has a completely different layout.

For a mini-ITX case, it has a sizable footprint, though by now, everyone knows
that just because it's mini-ITX doesn't mean a case is small. It's not overly
tall or deep for a mini-ITX tower, but its width of 25.0 cm (almost 10 inches)
makes it thicker than a lot of ATX cases. The 31 litre space is well-utilized,
offering support for up to six 3.5" drives and two 2.5" drives, long
graphics cards, a big intake fan, a 2 x 120 mm radiator, and a tall CPU heatsink.
On paper, the Phenom looks like it's capable of housing a home server or even
a small gaming rig.



The BitFenix Prodigy.

Looking through the rest of the BitFenix lineup, it's clear that the Phenom
is one of three products based on the same chassis, the others being the aggressively
styled Colossus, and the LAN-gaming oriented Prodigy. The latter has high cooling
potential, more stylish appearance, handles for easy transport, and a low price
tag of just US$80. As far as we can tell the metal chassis of these cases
is identical, only the exterior differs. The Phenom has a simpler, subdued aesthetic,
no external drive bay, and far less ventilation. The Prodigy has a large vent
at the side for the graphics card and different schemes for a front intake depending
on the version. The black iteration pulls air directly through a large grill
at the front, while the white, blue, green, orange, and red versions have intake
slits all along the edge of the bezel. The Phenom's solution is more restrictive
than either.



Accessories.

Tucked inside the case is an accessory box is a bag of screws and an adapter for converting the case's USB 3.0 cable to USB 2.0 if your motherboard lacks the appropriate header. An assembly guide is also included (not pictured).

Specifications: BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX

(from the
product web page
)
Materials Steel, Plastic, SofTouch™
Colors (Int/Ext) Black/Black, White/White
Dimensions (WxHxD) 250 x 330 x 374mm (30.9
litres)
Motherboard Sizes Mini-ITX
3.5” Drive Bays x 6 (5 + 1 using included adapter)
2.5” Drive Bays x 11 (5 + 2 + 2 + 1 + 1 using included adapter)
Cooling Top 120mm x 2 (optional)
Cooling Front 120mm x 2 (1 included) or 140/180/200/230mm x 1 (optional)
Cooling Rear 120mm x 1 (included) or 140mm x 1 (optional)
PCI Slots x 2
I/O USB 3.0 x 2, HD Audio
Power Supply PS2 ATX (bottom, multi direction)
Extras Tool-free drive locking mechanisms, SofTouch™ surface treatment, filtered intakes

EXTERIOR & SIDE PANELS

The BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX measures 25.0 x 33.0 x 37.4 cm or 9.8 x 13.0 x
14.7 inches (W x H x D), giving it a total volume of 30.9 liters. It's big for
a mini-ITX model and rivals smaller microATX cases in overall size.



The power and reset buttons as well as the audio ports and a pair of USB 3.0 connectors are located on the side of the case. The side panels are completely solid though a small amount of airflow is pulled in through some holes at the sides of the front bezel.



In its stock configuration, the ceiling fan mounts, which are covered by a removable dust filter with locking mechanism, act as the case's primary intake source. The rear of the case reveals the layout — the power supply is positioned at the bottom horizontally beneath the motherboard tray and there's a 120/140 exhaust exhaust fan placement at the top.



Underneath the case is a removable dust filter servicing the power supply fan and screws for removing the bottom hard drive cage inside. The chassis sits on short rubber feet with a wide base.



The side panels are held on with a pair of thumb screws at the back. They utilize a fairly secure hinge design and are surprisingly sturdy. Measuring 1.0 mm thick, they're a throwback to the exceedingly well-built old school towers of yesteryear.



The right side panel is encumbered with the circuit board and cables for the external switches and ports. There's also a plastic grate-like structure for mounting two 2.5 inch drives. An additional pair of 2.5 inch drives can be installed at the bottom of the case, positioned vertically between the main drive cage and power supply.

INTERIOR

While the Phenom is big compared to most mini-ITX cases, it's still cramped
to work inside, as a good chunk of space is occupied by the drive bays. The
build quality of the interior is good with the exception of the removable drive
cage. The removable drive cage has a sloppy fit, about the worst we've encountered.



The blocked off 5.25 inch drive bay at the top is a clear sign the
Phenom shares the Prodigy's internal design — a plastic 2.5/3.5
inch adapter is included to make it usable. A 3 x 3.5 inch removable
cage is located in the middle, and a 2 x 3.5 inch cage is screwed into
the bottom of the case. Cooling is provided by a pair of 120 mm fans.



Two additional120 fans or a radiator can be mounted to the top of
the case.



The most notable aspect of the interior is the hard drive mounting.
The trays have wiggle room in every direction and fail to make the ubiquitous
and satisfying snapping sound to indicate they're locked in place. The
middle drive cage is very loose and can be pushed/pulled out by 3~4
mm without detaching. We recommend using the more secure bays underneath
first.



The front bezel can be removed by releasing a series of plastic
tabs. A pair of 120 mm fans can be equipped in the front or a single
fan up to 230 mm in size can be utilized. It seems like a waste, though,
considering how little ventilation is actually available through the
bezel.



When case manufacturers opt not to ventilate the front of a case,
they use slits running down the sides of the bezel. The Phenom uses
this approaches,but the holes are too small and too few to be effective
as intake vents. The thin layer of black mesh is deceiving, creating
the illusion that there's more ventilation.



A gap at the bottom of the bezel is blocked off so no airflow can
get through, making it useful only as a handhold.

ASSEMBLY

Assembly of the Phenom is fairly straightforward but unless it's put together
carefully, cable management is a pain. The side of the power supply where the
cables come out is very close the bottom drive cage, and the cables going to
the side panel can't really be tied down.



The hard drive caddies are thin plastic contraptions equipped with rubber grommets fitted using a bayonet mount. Shallow steel bolts are inserted into the drive mounting holes to keep them in place.



The Phenom is tall enough to support a tower cooler but unfortunately
our test motherboard has a CPU socket location, that forced us to mount
it perpendicular to the exhaust fan in order to install a graphics card.
It's not an ideal setup but it still cools the chip fairly well.



The only useful place for excess cabling is on either side of the
power supply. Managing the cables was difficult even with a modular
PSU. The power supply mounts through the back so it can be pulled out
if you need to but the cables get yanked on. Also it's impossible to
remove the right panel if its cables are tied down.



CPU heatsink clearance is ample. Our Noctua NH-U12P stands 158 mm
tall and there was a good ~35 mm of space above it.



Installing a graphics card longer than the motherboard tray interferes
with the middle drive cage, or rather its trays. Graphics card clearance
is about 33.7 cm by our measurements but a high power GPU is definitely
not recommended as the Phenom lacks adequate ventilation.



The blue LEDs on the side are small but blinding. Some sort of diffusion mechanism would've been nice.

TESTING

System Configuration:

Measurement and Analysis Tools

System temperatures were recorded with RealTemp, SpeedFan, and GPU-Z
at idle and on load using Prime95 (small FFT setting) and FurMark, an OpenGL
benchmarking and stability testing utility. Power consumption and noise levels were also measured.

Baseline Noise

The Phenom ships with a pair of 3-pin Spectre
120 mm fans
which use fluid dynamic bearings and have a nominal speed of
just 1,000 RPM. There was about a 100 RPM difference between the two samples
so we tested them at an average speed of 800 RPM and their maximum of 1050 RPM.

Stock Fan Noise Level
Avg. Fan Speed
SPL @1m
800 RPM
14~15 dBA
1050 RPM
20 dBA
Measuring mic positioned 1m at diagonal angle left/front
of case.

At 800 RPM, the fans measured just 14~15 [email protected], low enough that there's really no need to run them any slower. At top speed, they produced only 20 [email protected], which is still fairly quiet in our books.

The quality of noise was excellent, smooth at both 800 and 1050 RPM, though
the front fan had a clickiness that the rear fan lacked. However, in normal
operation with the our test system turned on, it was hard to detect. There was
also a slight buzzing on both samples but this was only audible when we placed
our ear right up to the motor.

TEST RESULTS: Test System with Intel HD 3000 Graphics

First we present the results for our test system running on integrated graphics and a single hard drive. This represents a very basic configuration for something like a media PC.

System Measurements: HD 3000 IGP Test System
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan
800 RPM
1050 RPM
CPU Temp
31°C
57°C
56°C
PCH Temp
31°C
46°C
46°C
HD Temp
36°C
37°C
37°C
System Power (AC)
39W
133W
134W
20 dBA
20 dBA
23 dBA
CPU fan at full speed.

Ambient temperature: 21°C.

Sitting idle with the CPU fan at full speed and system fan at 800 RPM, the internals were well cooled and the machine's noise level was a low 20 [email protected] The system warmed up substantially on full load but not overly so with the CPU temperature stabilizing under 60°C. Increasing the system fan speed to maximum brought the noise level up by 3 dB but didn't really help with temperatures.

Our IGP test system had a fairly benign acoustic profile throughout testing. A small tonal peak was noted at 120 Hz, corresponding to our 7200 RPM test hard drive. We could feel some faint tremors on the case exterior but no more so than most cases. We failed to detect any vibration-induced noise by ear.

Test Drive Noise Summary
Drive
Vibration

1-10 (10 = no vibration)


Idle Airborne Acoustics @1m

Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB
7~8
17 dBA
Samsung F3 EcoGreen 2TB
7
15~16 dBA
WD Caviar SE16 320GB
6
18~19 dBA
WD Red 3TB
9
13~14 dBA

Next we added three additional hard drives (detailed above) to the IGP test
system. This is representative of a small server build, which is probably the
ideal application for this case, given its multiple 3.5 inch drive bays. The
7200 RPM drives were placed in the more secure lower bays while the 5400 RPM
models were mounted in the sloppier removable drive cage. The same array of
drives were tested previously in the Lian
Li PC-Q18
and Chenbro SR30169,
mini-ITX cases which are well suited for server use, equipped with SATA backplanes.

Case Comparison: HD 3000 IGP Test System (Idle)
Case
Lian Li PC-Q18*
BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX**
Chenbro SR30169***
System Fan Speed(s)
5V
800 RPM
500 RPM
CPU Temp
24°C
33°C
39°C
SB Temp
29°C
33°C
37°C
HD #1 Temp
35°C
40°C
42°C
HD #2 Temp
35°C
31°C
35°C
HD #3 Temp
30°C
37°C
37°C
HD #4 Temp
36°C
31°C
33°C
System Power (AC)
54W
53W
60W
21~22 dBA
23 dBA
23 dBA
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

*Config differences: Scythe Big Shuriken 2, 1100 RPM

**Config differences: Noctua NH-U12P, 1100 RPM

***Config differences: Core i5-3470S (vs. Core i5-2500K), Noctua NH-L9i
at 2400 RPM, AcBel CE2 300 (vs. Cooler Master Silent Pro M700W)

The Phenom doesn't match up to the PC-Q18 for HDD cooling, and it also had
much more vibration-induced noise. The drives ran cooler in the Phenom than
the Chenbro SR30169 but the subjective acoustics of the Chenbro were superior
despite the same 23 [email protected] reading. Vibration was a complete non-issue in the
SR30169, while the Phenom produced a strong rhythmic pulsing.

With four drives, the system produced tonal peaks both 90 and 120 Hz caused
by the vibrations of the 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM drives, respectively. Though
not visible in the screenshot above, the 90 and 120 Hz peaks rose and fell continually
every couple of seconds, which corresponds to the pulsing sound effect we heard.
The 120 Hz tone was lower in amplitude because the 7200 RPM drives in the more
secure bottom drive cage. The 5400 RPM drives in the loose middle cage is responsible
for the dramatic spike at 90 Hz.



On each side of the drive cage is a metal tray for housing a single 2.5 inch drive.

In attempt to reduce the vibration level we tried a simple modification to
make the hard drive assembly fit more snugly: Applying masking tape to the edges
of the trays and cage. This resulted in a much more secure fit, though it did
not reduce the measured noise level. It did sound better, however — the
90/120 Hz pulsing was less severed, though the effect was still audible. More
experimentation with this type of mechanical modifcations to better stabilize
the HDHs in the upper cage would be useful. BitFenix would also be well advised
to go back to the drawing board and create a more rigid, stable HDD mounting
structure/system; it's not the materials, it's the design.

TEST RESULTS: Test System with ASUS Radeon HD 6850

For our final test we moved back to a single hard drive but threw a modest
graphics card into the mix, an ASUS Radeon HD 6850. This is not an option we
would recommend or use ourselves, but simply a quick check on BitFenix's claims
of Phoenix versatility.

System Measurements:

ASUS Radeon HD 6850 Test System
System State
Idle
CPU + GPU Load
System Fan Speeds
800 RPM
1050 RPM
GPU Fan Speed*
1750 RPM
4120 RPM
CPU Temp
33°C
73°C
PCH Temp
32°C
59°C
HD Temp
35°C
41°C
GPU Temp
40°C
90°C
GPU VRM Temp
46°C
93°C
System Power
62W
275W
21~22 dBA
34 dBA
*set as low as possible to maintain a GPU temperature of ~90°C on load.

Ambient temperature: 21°C.

The addition of the HD 6850 didn't have much effect on the system at idle.
Internal temperatures were only marginally higher and the added noise from the
GPU fan only accounted for an extra 1~2 dB. On full load however, things quickly
turned south, with the CPU and PCH heating up 17°C and 13°C more respectively
than when we were using integrated graphics. These temperatures weren't high
enough to elicit concern but it shows you just how much of a thermal impact
even a ~130W GPU like the 6850 can have. More importantly, in order to keep
the GPU at ~90°C, the GPU fan had to be pushed to over 4000 RPM, resulting
in an earsplitting overall noise level of 34 [email protected] The poor cooling is directly
attributable to the absence of a side vent and inadequate front vents.




Sitting idle, our HD 6850 had a fairly innocuous sound. On load, the GPU fan's
high speed shifted the noise character toward higher, more annoying frequencies.

Case Comparison:

Radeon HD 6850 Test System
Case
BitFenix Phenom Mini-ITX*
Lian Li PC-V354**
System Fan
1050 RPM
9V
GPU Fan
4120 RPM
1740 RPM
CPU Temp
73°C
59°C
PCH Temp
59°C
-
HD Temp
41°C
25°C
GPU Temp*
90°C
88°C
GPU VRM Temp
93°C
75°C
34 dBA
26 dBA
System Power
275W
274W
Ambient temperature: 21°C.

*Relevant configuration differences: Core i5-2500K, Noctua NH-U12P (CPU fan at 12V), Seagate Barracuda XT 2TB.

**Relevant configuration differences: Core i5-750, Noctua NH-C12P (CPU fan at 9V), Samsung EcoGreen F3 2TB.

While the Lian Li
PC-V354
is a microATX case, its size and functionality are very close
to that of the Phenom, making it a suitable candidate for a comparison. Also,
the test components are very different but as the overall power draw for both
machines was eerily similar, the thermal load in each case can be considered
equivalent.

The PC-V354 takes this contest with ease, winning in every category, even in
CPU temperature despite being paired with a less capable down-blowing CPU cooler
and slower fan. The noise level is a complete rout for the Lian Li case, which
is aided by a more traditional vertical motherboard orientation and two intake
fans mounted to a fully ventilated front bezel.

AUDIO RECORDINGS

These recordings were made with a high resolution, lab quality, digital recording
system inside SPCR's own 11 dBA ambient anechoic chamber, then converted to
LAME 128kbps encoded MP3s. We've listened long and hard to ensure there is no
audible degradation from the original WAV files to these MP3s. They represent
a quick snapshot of what we heard during the review.

Each recording starts with ambient noise, then 5~10 second segments of product
at various states. For the most realistic results,
set the volume so that the starting ambient level is just barely audible, then
don't change the volume setting again while comparing all the sound files.

FINAL THOUGHTS

For a mini-ITX case, the Phenom is surprisingly wide, with the extra space
utilized to make it more versatile. Few mini-ITX models can tout support for
up to six 3.5 inch drives and two 2.5" drives, the option for a long graphics
card, and room for a big CPU cooler. The interior is also well laid out with
little wasted space. The exterior is clean and classy and it's built like a
tank, which is refreshing in this day and age. Given its feature-set, great
external build quality, pleasant aesthetics, and a street price of just US$80,
it appears to be a phenomenal product. Unfortunately it's hampered by a couple
of serious design flaws.

The lack of ventilation, particularly at the front of the case is appalling.
We understand putting up a solid front face to block noise from escaping and
to give it a more understated look, but the few vents along the sides of the
bezel can hardly do anything for cooling. It's especially frustrating as they
could have easily increased the bezel side venting for far better airflow without
a significant cost in noise. Both versions of the Prodigy are far superior in
this regard. Despite the Phenom's position as the living room friendly, quieter
case, the Prodigy's superior ventilation may actually keep a system running
quieter by allowing fans to run at lower speed.

The removable hard drive cage and drive trays are poorly-fitted, making for
the loosest drive assembly we've encountered. There is noticeable wiggle room
both front to back and side to side, making the entire cage highly prone to
vibration. Our four drive test produced a significant amount of vibration-induced
noise, and this was with only two drives in the troublesome middle cage. We
highly recommend filling up the more secure two bay drive cage on the case floor
first and finding ways to secure the removable cage more securely. As a small
server, the Phenom is perfectly capable as far as cooling is concerned, but
if noise is a sticking point, you'll have to put a bit of modding work to keep
a half dozen drives quiet enough.

Still, options for small mini-ITX cases with the capacity to install a large
number of hard drives are very limited. Among them, the Phenom has about the
lowest price tag, and though it is a bit bigger than the others, if you're a
bonafide DIYer willing to do some modding, it's a very viable option.

Our thanks to BitFenix
for the Phenom Mini-ITX case sample.

* * *

Articles of Related Interest

Chenbro SR30169 Mini-ITX Server Chassis

Silverstone ML05 mini-ITX HTPC Case

SilverStone Grandia GD07 & GD08 Media Center Cases

Fractal Design Node 605 HTPC Style Case

Cooler Master Elite 120 Advanced Mini-ITX Case

Lian
Li PC-Q18: The Perfect Mini Server Case?



* * *

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