Bitfenix is a relatively new player in the chassis market, especially in Australia, where its products only started appearing last year. We’ve been consistently impressed with its products, which have in many ways redefined our expectations of the features available at certain price points.
Some of its innovations are starting to be seen in other products, a sure sign that the company knows what it's doing. The ‘soft touch’ plastic used in its cases has made for some truly different looking designs, and now it is ramping up and moving into some areas where the enthusiast market is desperately underserved.
A few weeks ago we met with some people from Bitfenix while they were in Sydney, people who we used to deal with years ago when they worked for Abit. During the meeting we were shown some renders of Bitfenix’s upcoming case designs, and our excitement levels hit fever pitch.
During a whirlwind visit to Taipei last week we just knew that we had to make the journey to Bitfenix’s office to see the cases in person. We only expected a sneek peek at the handmade prototypes, and where a little stunned when we not only got extensive rundowns of the features, but were also given permission to take photographs of the products, which are still months away from hitting the shelves.
Mini-ITX done the Atomic way
The case that had us handing a printout of Chinese lettering to a cab driver, and hoping that we’d end up in the right part of New Taipei City, is the Bitfenix Prodigy. We’d been buzzed about it since we saw the renders, and the prototype has us even more anxious for it to enter production. The reason for this is that it fills a neglected niche, one that we have always wanted to see filled. It is an enthusiast level Mini-ITX chassis.
With Intel moving more and more of the chipset onto its CPUs, mini-ITX has become a more and more viable platform for PC building. There are some limitations to the design, largely revolving around having only two memory slots, a single PCI-E connector and less space for the power circuitry needed for bleeding edge overclocking. But for the vast majority of us it offers everything we need for high perfomance PC tasks like gaming.
What Bitfenix has done with the Prodigy is create a chassis that enables Mini-ITX to reach its full potential as a high end platform. The case is markedly different from the slimline, media player type designs that we have seen in the past, and is designed to use the standard components that we would usually put into a full sized case.
From the outside this means a chassis that is larger than what we usually expect from Mini-ITX, but still smaller than we would see in a Micro-ATX chassis. It has handles on the top and bottom made from a special kind of plastic known in chinese as ‘plastic steel’ (Bitfenix is still working on a marketing name for it). These can bend fully, and then pop right back into place with no sign that it ever happened. The sample we saw had travelled through 12 countries already, and while there were a few dings and dents the handles were still in perfect condition, being able to be pushed right down and popping back.
This isn’t just a cool bit of cosmetic tech either. It gives the Prodigy a degree of shock protection as well - you still wouldn't want to drop the case deliberately, but it protects the internals when the case is moved around, which is perfect considering that the Prodigy should make for one hell of a LAN box.
The front of the case is quite clean, with a 5.25in optical drive bay and bitfenix logo the only things on the grill. Power and ports are on the right hand side of the case - at the moment this sample has power and reset buttons, two USB 3, headset jacks and a special USB charging port that hooks into the power supply. This isn’t finalised, and Bitfenix is still debating whether or not to include the charging port or to add more USB ports when the case goes into production.
Along the top of the case is a large grill covering mounting points that are designed to take a radiator such as a Corsair H100. You would likely also be able to mount extra fans in this spot if you want to go with air cooling, however. In fact, one of the inherently great things about the design of the Prodigy is that is offers a huge amount of cooling flexibility.
Not only could you mount a radiator on the top of the unit, but the insides are reconfigurable enough to add a standard closed loop water cooling unit to the front of the case, or even a proper radiator and pump if you want to go all out. There is also 160mm of space to play with above the motherboard, and Bitfenix told us that it fits a lot of tower coolers, even big bulky ones like the Coolermaster V8.