Let’s get the admission of possible bias out of the way now. I really like Bitfenix.
I’m not alone in thinking that the company has managed to have quite an impact on case market, with a range of impressively designed, budget-priced cases that would please even the most choosy of PC enthusiasts. With lovely rubber-finished surfaces, a plain, yet elegant design (and some might aggressive choices, if that’s your thing, too), Bitfenix is easy to recommend.
That said... there’s something just not quite right about the new Shinobi XL.
All things, for all people
The issue is that the XL is probably trying to do too much, and in trying to be a jack of all trades it ends up being master of none. This might be a fine approach for a character in an RPG, but for a PC case, there’s every likelihood that a buyer is going to have a firm idea of what kind of case they want to build from the start.
So, while the XL, on the one hand, tries to be a great case for airflow, with two whopping big 230mm fans taking of intake and exhaust duties, with another 120mm model helping on the latter, there are in fact better cases in terms of stock fans and airflow for a similar price. Then, on the other hand, Bitfenix is very proud of the how good the Shinobi XL is for those looking for a liquid cooling solution. It’s true, too – there’s room in the front and top spaces of the case for large radiators, and the ability to remove the HDD cage entirely. However, if you’re going that far, chances are you’re looking to spend more on a case anyway, and then mod it to fit your chosen loop setup.
Plus, you can see that Bitfenix is still thinking in budget terms, with plastic thumbscrews even at this price point, which – and you can call me harsh, I’ll live – have no place in a case costing not far off $200.
Buts and nolts
The Shinobi XL certainly looks the part, however, and truly lives up to the XL moniker – this is a large case, though very light for the size. More often than not, when case-makers produce anything in this size range they’ll reflexively start adding more bits and pieces, so you come to expect XL-ATX cases to have a certain heft, even before you add your own gear. It’s complete with Bitfenix’s lovely SofTouch rubber coating, has some great mesh detailing, and simple lines. IO ports are on the top, front edge (including the pretty handy SuperCharge port, a USB outlet designed for charging devices, with 2.5A of current), there’s a mesh panel on the top surface, and otherwise, nothing breaks up the bold lines.
The rear panel’s got some nice touches. Apart from a 120mm exhaust fan, there’s meshed expansion brackets, for better airflow, and all the external water-cooling outlets are nicely grommetted, but also ranged across the top edge.
The internals are, as you’d expect, roomy. The 5.25in bays are secured by an interesting tool-less option, one that uses a sliding push-button that just yells “I like to jam awkwardly”; it works fine now, but the mechanism seems prone to long-term issues. The HDD bays are all housed a caddy that you can swivel so that it faces out of the cases, or along its length; or you can take it out completely if you want more space for water cooling or a crazy-long graphics card. The drives caddies themselves are, again, tool-less, and pinch in and out.
As for room for hardware, you fit a video card up to 334mm long with the cage in place, or up 487mm long without it. And while we’re at it, CPU cooler height is up to a shade over 181mm.
The motherboard plate is nicely laid out, complete with a lettered guide to where you need to install the stylishly black stand-offs depending on what size ‘board you’re installing. There’s large cutout for access to the CPU cooler, and there’s about a full inch of clearance behind the plate for stowing excess cable. In fact, in terms of cable management, the case is pretty much flawless; there are rubber grommetted cable runs all around the backing plate, and even the IO cables are already threaded through one of these, out of the box!
The PSU mount has rubber grommets for quiet computing, and there’s a couple of mesh inserts (one removable) to keep dust out of the interior. The tight mesh on the front intakes should help in this regard, too.
The thing is, looking back over those specs and features, there really is nothing wrong with the Shinobi XL; in fact, it’d very good! It’s only when you compare it to similarly priced or featured cases that it starts to look a little lacklustre. There’s a swathe of cases that give you similar cooling for less, while spending just a few dollars more will see you entering luxury Silverstone territory, or mighty gaming giants like the Antec Twelve Hundred V3. However, if you are, like the Shinobi XL, pondering an air build that you might want to one day upgrade to a liquid solution, and you have a thing for soft rubber under your finger tips (boy did that come out wrong), then this adaptable case is probably a great choice.