Bitfenix are a relatively new player in the PC chassis game. At the time of writing the entire range is made up of a half-dozen variants of the Colossus case, the Survivor, and a recently announced new case, the Shinobi. Today we're looking at the Survivor - a full review of the Colossus will be here soon but for now - read on to see what we think of the this Bitfenix PC Housing...
With the ever growing variety of case styles in circulation and an equally expanding number of players in the chassis production game, it's always interesting to see what a manufacturer is going to produce to make themselves stand out as being unique. Today's review centers on the Survivor - a Mid-ATX Case from PC component manufacturer Bitfenix.
Bitfenix Survivor Specifications Sheet
Nothing amazing or unusual - a nice balanced list of claims and capacities, with a nice light control built in to allow you to decide if you want bling or subtle in your desktop
Bitfenix Survivor Retail Packaging - Front View
Very enigmatic and mysterious - the front of the box is something of an excercise in minimalism, providing little information other than the make, model, and website of the manufacturer. It does this with a little style though, taking advantage of the almost always classy color combination of black, white, gray and red.
Bitfenix Survivor Retail Packaging - Rear View
The back of the packaging is adorned with a little more information, including some key features and a sneak peek at what you'll find when you tear into this big black box. I think the big yellow sticker is down to the fact that the unit was sent directly from Bitfenix as a review sample - it isn't part of the design of the packaging.
Bitfenix Survivor Retail Packaging - Side View
The side contains some specification information, along with another view of the case itself - it's definitely worth mentioning that the cardboard the box is made out of is thick tough stuff - you can be fairly certain that a casual knock or nudge isn't going to be damaging this case in transit.
Bitfenix Survivor Retail Packaging - Interior Packaging
Big blocks of polystyrene pad out the top and bottom of the case, pretty standard stuff when it comes to case transport nowadays. Let's face it, generally, it works and it's cheap - if it ain't broke and all that....
Bitfenix Survivor Retail Packaging - Internal Packaging
The final layer of protection standing between the case and the elements is a clear plastic bag. Also included in the case is a fairly simple installation manual. Bitfenix have managed to strike a nice balance with the paperwork - the manual doesn't read like it's written for a complete fool, but it's more than informative enough to get it's message across clearly.
A Closer Look
Once you get the case unpacked, you're presented with an almost endless sea of black. The thick border around the case looks, and feels like a big rubber block, and the black is carried on into the side panels. In this photograph it looks grey but it is in fact black. There are large rubber blocks on the four corners of the case, and the panels between are covered in a special rubberized coating (which Bitfenix have entitled "SoftTouch") which makes it a little more fingerprint resistant than your average chassis.
The top of the front panel is adorned with a large semi-transparent Bitfenix logo. Below this sit three external 5.25" bays , each with a removable cover again, clad in the SoftTouch material. There are no external 3.5" bays as standard on this case, but Bitfenix have supplied a conversion caddy, so if you wish to fit a floppy drive/internal card reader/3.5" fan controller, you're all set. Finally on the front we have a grille covering the Red LED lit front 200mm intake fan. If preferred, this fan can be replaced with a pair of 120mm fans.
A quick 180 later, the case gives us a peek at what promises the inside holds. Included, top to bottom, are a pair of grommetted watercooling holes, space for an optional exhaust fan with holes for multiple sized fans, the ATX standard backplane with 7 expansion slots, and finally space for the bottom-mounted Power Supply. You can also see, on the left and right, a pair of thumbscrews holding the side panels in place.
Also in the box is the expected accessory kit. There's a pair of unique (in my experience) three-part Video card securing kits included - these allow you extra support for heavier Graphics cards by strapping them down using the motherboard mounting holes. Beneath those is the Bitfenix S2 cable security block - this attaches to the rear of the case and provides a simple cable lock function to protect your keyboard and mouse at LAN events (or at home), along with a well populated bag of screws.
Finally we get a motherboard speaker, some cable ties, a pair of brackets for mounting one or two 2.5" devices in a 5.25" bay and an optional side-panel locking eyelet.
The bag of screws is definitely going to more than cover your needs. Every item is black, to match the case and interior, and there are more than enough screws and fittings supplied. You get twelve thumbscrews for securing optical drives in place, nine motherboard standoffs and matching screws, 20 additional optical drive size screws (for floppy drives, 2.5" drives etc), four power supply screws and six extra long screws for adding that extra security to the hard drive trays.
The top of the case has two notable features. The first of which are the front controls and I/O ports. Fitted as standard are power, reset and light control buttons, then a pair of USB3 ports, a pair of USB2 ports, the usual headphone and microphone sockets and an e-Sata port. Sitting above the audio ports are the power and HD activity LEDs. The whole front control and I/O ports section sits under a sliding door so they can be hidden away when not in use or not required.
Top exhaust and carrying handle
Further towards the rear of the chassis on the to panel sits a mesh grille with a second 200mm fan installed. This one is installed as an exhaust fan and, like the front 200mm fan, is illuminated with Red LEDS.
Carrying Handle on the top of the Survivor
In the middle of the grille sits a spring loaded retractable handle. Between the handle, and the solid rubber bumpers on the corners, it is clear that Bitfenix are aiming this case squarely at LAN Party fans.
Closer look at the top-rear of the case
Getting inside the Survivor can be a bit of a trial. While the side panels appear to be held in place with a pair of thumbscrews each, in reality, they're pretty much redundant. The rubber blocks at the top and bottom of the case overhang the side panels both on the sides and at the ends. In order to open the case up, you have to remove two screws from each of the two rubber blocks on the back of the case. These screws are recessed quite deeply so there is no alternative to using a screwdriver to achieve this. Once those blocks are removed, we can get our first glimpse inside the chassis.
First impressions are undeniably positive. Everything inside the case is black, there's a large hole in the motherboard tray behind where the CPU would normally sit, and there are several other holes around the motherboard area for the purposes of cable management. Oddly, internally there are four 5.25" bays, but only three of them are externally accessible, the top one being blocked by the bitfenix logo on the front of the case. There are also a total of six internal 3.5" bays sitting directly behind the front 200mm intake fan so storage capacity shouldn't be an issue.
A closer look at the internal drive bays.
As I mentioned before, there are a total of six internal drive bay slots, all of which have tool-free caddies which I'll talk about in a moment. One very positive aspect of this system is that the top three bays are mounted in a totally removable caddy.
Removable 3x 3.5/2.5" caddy
This caddy slides in and out tool-free, and lines up almost perfectly with the normal location of the PCIe card slots on your motherboard. If you're going to use an extra-long graphics card in this system, you may have to consider forgoing these top three bays. I have no doubt in my mind that this is the entire reason these bays are removable. This gives you maximum flexibility without adding to the external dimensions. You can choose either six drives and a regular size video card, or settle for three drives (still more than the majority of people need in a PC) and have almost unlimited space for video cards.
Individual Hard Disk Caddy
The hard drives are mounted in the case by means of these removable plastic trays. According to the instruction manual, you simply bend the tray and pop the drive in, and the four rubber-mounted metal pins will fall into the holes on the sides of the drive. There is also a single screw hole for additional drive security if you want to go with a belt and braces approach. In addition, each tray has holes drilled in the cross-bars to allow the installation of 2.5" drives. Along with the small adapter system included in the accessory kit, this means you could (in theory) install eight SSD's in this system!
When it came to installing a 3.5" drive my experience was, however, somewhat different. It took me about five attempts to get my Hard Disk installed using this system. Most of the time, what would happen is that the little metal pins didn't quite pop right into the screw holes on the side of the drive. The pressure caused by the flexed plastic would then force the pin out of the far side of the mini rubber grommets. I then had to fight to stretch the grommets back over the pins before reinserting them and trying again. One one occasion, probably the third or fourth time, I managed to tear the grommet, leaving it useless.
It's a real shame as this is the first remotely negative thing I've come across in this case, and it's a big one. There's no nice way to put it - I absolutely despise this Hard drive mounting method and I really hope Bitfenix develop an alternative in future cases. I know the Colossus uses the same mounting method as I have one of those here in the workshop and that will be the subject of my next review. The recently announced Shinobi Chassis, I'm pleased to say, appears NOT to use these trays.
Expansion slots and Mounting guide
Moving on to the rear of the internal structure, and I'm pleased to say it's back to the positive. The seven expansion slots covers at the rear of the chassis are made of mesh, adding extra potential airflow to the case. The expansion cards themselves are held in with simple thumbscrews, which leaves the user with the choice of going tool-free or using a screwdriver. I've long been a fan of tool-free systems which give the user a choice when it comes to utilisation. They're a convenience for people who regularly swap bits in and out of their computers, but it's always nice to have the option to use traditional securing methods.
Also notable in this area of the case is the small legend punched into the motherboard tray. This can help you quickly figure out which screw holes need risers for any particular type of board, which can be a time-saver over repeatedly putting the board in and out to check you have a riser under each screw hole in the board. Definitely a thumbs-up there - a simple idea, effective and genuinely useful.
Internal connection cables
Turning the case around we see the mass of cabling that hides behind the motherboard tray before you even think of installing a system. With the two USB3 ports, eSata and lighting control in addition to the standard USB2, switches, and LEDs there's quite a collection of cables. It's nice to see these come pre-organised and tied into the back of the motherboard tray with wire-ties so you can easily remove or add to them. The front USB3 ports do use the same out the back and into a port style of connection used in the InWin Dragon Rider and Thermaltake A30 cases but I'm not going to knock it as the internal connection standard for USB3 was ratified long after all three of these cases went into production. It'll be nice if Bitfenix starts using those connectors in later production runs, but it's not a point-killer for the purposes of this review for the reasons stated.
Additional Cable Tie Mounts
In addition to the cable management holes and ties already in use, the rear of the motherboard tray has a selection of small eyelets to make further cable management that little bit easier.
On the base of the case, directly under the PSU mounting space in the rear panel, there is a dust-filtered air intake, surrounded by four small rubber bumpers. These two features together mean that the rear of the case doesn't have to hold the full weight of an installed PSU, and that there's a combination of air from inside the case, and air drawn from under the case to cool your power supply.
Removal of the front panel reveals that 200mm intake fan I mentioned earlier, the 3.5" adapter bay, and the other 5.25" bays. There is another dust filter fitted to the front panel in front of the intake fan. The front simply pops off with a little evenly applied pressure. The white block at the top is the rear of the Bitfenix logo with a couple of wires hooked in. Why? Because the Logo is illuminated and shines red whenever the PC is turned on (assuming you haven't used the built-in light controls to turn it off).
Time to throw a system into this case and see what it's really like to work with....
For the purposes of this review, I installed a mATX system, with a Dual-Core Athlon II, a single hard drive, a single optical drive and a slightly oversized Hiper PSU. With everything installed, and a quick 15 minutes spent on cable management, the end result is very tidy (if you don't pay too much attention to the excess PSU cables) and if you use a modular PSU, you will be able to very easily build an extremely tidy-looking PC.
There is plenty of room around the board for larger units and for cable management, and the case was, in all honesty (and if I temporarily "forget" those plastic HDD caddies) an absolute pleasure to build in. No sharp edges, lots of space and plenty of cable-management options.
Complete PC in the Survivor
The completed PC doesn't look all that different to the empty case. The optical drive is a little glossier than the rest of the outside, but that's barely noticable.
Possible Clearance Issues under the case
One final thing I wanted to point out is that the intake underneath the case for the PSU fan is about 1/3 blocked by the rubber outers. In addition to this, there is only about 1.5mm of clearance between the bottom of the case and the surface the PC will sit on. That clearance isn't really an issue as long as the case is going to sit on a hard surface - the 1.5mm may seem small but its the full outer perimeter of the case which adds up quickly. If, however, you're going to sit it directly on a carpeted surface, that clearance will disappear. In this case, I'd recommend inverting your power supply so it draws air from inside the case. That may not sound like the best idea, generally, but remember, it sits directly in line with the airflow coming from that large 200mm front intake so it should be more than sufficient.
The angle of this photograph blocks the subtle red glow from the front and top LED fans but I assure you it's there. The Bitfenix logo has a good strong brightness to it, but it isnt glaring so shouldn't be too much of an issue in the dark. The blue power LED is very bright but sits in recessed in the top of the case so again, shouldn't really present a problem.
Between the thick layer of rubber surrounding the chassis, and the use of 200mm fans, the lights are probably a good thing because they're the only thing that'll tell you that the PC is on - this thing was utterly silent - a definite bonus for those noise-freaks out there!
Pro's and Con's
- Lots of flexibility
- LAN Party optomised design
- Sleek looks
- Dual 200mm Fans fitted as standard
- Rubberised exterior to prevent marks
- 3.5" drive mounting system is VERY awkward to use
- Good potential airflow partially blocked on front and PSU intakes, and top exhaust
I considered adding the awkward access to the case to the list of Con's but decided against it as this case is obviously geared towards LAN Party fans, and when you're in a room full of strangers, easy access to your expensive components isn't always a good thing.
I really like this case, I genuinely do. There are a couple of minor niggles which unfortunately are going to prevent me giving it a full 5/5 but it's a very good piece of kit. There's plenty of room inside the chassis for the largest of systems. The drive caddies allow lots of additional flexibility when it comes to longer VGA cards or the use of 2.5" drives and it has undeniably unique looks. The designers at Bitfenix have done their homework and it shows. I'm not 100% sure I'd recommend this case if you have an extremely hot-running system, but the airflow is more than adequate for the majority of users running mid-high end machines. About 30% of the potential airflow is blocked by one obstruction or another, but if you bear in mind that there are two 200mm fans and the option to install a futher exhaust, there's probably airflow to spare so this may not be a real issue.
I am going to award this case a 4/5 - the 3.5" drive mounting issue was just too big a thing to let the case get a full 5/5. If I hear of Bitfenix modifying or replacing this system, I'll take it all back and award a 5 in a heartbeat because there's really nothing else undeniably bad about the case.
The Bitfenix Survivor is available from Bitfenix direct for $109
This product was provided free of charge by it's manufacturer, for the purpose of review.