Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6681/nzxt-phantom-630-case-review-the-relentless-pursuit-of-perfection

Introducing the NZXT Phantom 630

It wasn't that long ago that we reviewed NZXT's shiny new Phantom 820, a case that apart from its high price tag and slightly ostentatious design was pretty tough to beat. The Phantom 820 was providing some best-in-class thermal and acoustic performance, and it was a shot fired squarely across the bows of companies like Thermaltake and CoolerMaster, whose respective Level 10 GT and Cosmos II suddenly had a new, less expensive case to worry about competing with. Yet when I visited NZXT at CES 2013, they already had a descendant of the 820 on hand.

The Phantom 630 is just a little smaller, a little more conservative, and a lot cheaper. At $179 MSRP it's still on the expensive side and is clearly an enthusiast case, but unlike the 820, the 630 is using an entirely new chassis built from the ground up. The 820 scored a Bronze Editor's Choice award, but as it turns out, it may not have been a flash in the pan. Once you take a look at the 630, you'll start to understand why I'm beginning to think NZXT is entering a new era and the competition needs to be on their toes.

My meetings with NZXT at CES are often interesting just because of the unique approach they take to designing their cases. I would never, ever suggest that there's no art to engineering (quite the opposite actually), but the engineers at NZXT seem to have a more artisanal attitude towards their case designs than many of the other vendors. That attitude seems to have both intensified and been tempered by a stronger, clearer understanding of case engineering over the years, and an artist with a strong grasp of the technical can be formidable.

The results thus far have been some still fairly outlandish case designs, but the aesthetics have been reined in somewhat while more emphasis has been placed on useful functionality. Remember that it's not just about having features in general, it's about having useful features. In that respect, I think you'll see why I feel like in some ways, NZXT is pretty far ahead of the curve. This isn't the same company that produced my oft-maligned H2 two years ago.

NZXT Phantom 630 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX, XL-ATX
Drive Bays External 4x 5.25”
Internal 6x 2.5"/3.5", 2x 2.5"
Cooling Front 1x 200mm intake fan (supports 2x 140mm or 2x 120mm)
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan (supports 1x 120mm)
Top 1x 200mm exhaust fan (supports 2x 200mm or 2x 140mm or 3x 120mm)
Side 1x 200mm intake fan
Bottom 2x 120mm/140mm fan mounts
Expansion Slots 9
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 2x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size Standard ATX
Clearances HSF 170mm / 200mm without side intake
PSU 220mm
GPU 325mm / 507mm without HDD cage
Dimensions 9.65" x 24.69" x 23.62"
245mm x 627mm x 600mm
Weight 27.12 lbs. / 12.3 kg
Special Features USB 3.0 connectivity via internal headers
Toolless 5.25" drive bays and 3.5" drive sleds
Support for 360mm/280mm radiator in top of enclosure, 240mm/280mm in bottom of enclosure, thickness up to 60mm
Integrated three-speed, 30W fan controller (supports up to 10 3-pin fans)
Toggleable rear I/O and expansion LED illumination
Integrated SD card reader
Three removable drive cages (3-drive, 2-drive, and 1-drive)
Price $179

The immediate comparison should be made to the Phantom 820, which remains more expensive than the 630 at $249. In terms of dimensions, the 630 is ever so slightly smaller, only about 25mm shorter in height and 12mm shorter in depth, while actually being 10mm wider. The increase in width isn't really a bad thing as it allows for potentially better cable management by improving space behind the motherboard tray. It's also three kilograms (five pounds) lighter.

We do lose the HUE lighting system (my apologies to the commenter who corrected me on the original post about the 630), and the four-channel fan control is replaced by one single channel which supports ten fans at three steps. What we gain, though, is probably the smartest modular drive cage design I've ever seen, two additional 2.5" sleds behind the motherboard tray, and a slightly more svelte enclosure overall. We also save $70, which can't be understated even at this high level of the market.

In and Around the NZXT Phantom 630

I'm almost ashamed to admit the NZXT Phantom aesthetic is beginning to grow on me. Part of it is that the 820 I reviewed and now the 630 both employ a gunmetal and black two-tone that I'm partial to, but each successive Phantom has gone a long way towards streamlining the look. The 820 still looked a bit slapdash, but the 630 for the most part has it together. However you feel about the overall design is going to be a matter of taste, but it's at least the most focused Phantom chassis I've seen yet.

The front of the Phantom 630 is the same wedge shape we're used to seeing, with angular accents and a black mesh fan grill. A door held closed magnetically swings open to the right, and it hides four 5.25" drive bays (with easy-to-remove spring-latched shields) as well as the integrated SD card reader. The card reader is something I actually discussed with their designers at CES; every notebook and desktop sold comes with a card reader standard these days, but for some odd reason they're still largely absent in cases. Apparently a basic SD reader isn't particularly expensive to implement, so NZXT went for it, and I honestly appreciate the inclusion. There's a fan filter that slides out of the bottom as well, but when moving the 630 you'll want to try to avoid putting too much pressure on it.

Move to the top of the 630, and that's where NZXT put all of the I/O and controls. The original Phantom, way back in the way, had controls that were borderline indecipherable. The 630, on the other hand, is much clearer. There are two USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 ports along with the audio jacks, and these are along the top left. The right side sports the three-step fan controller (with three white LEDs beneath it to indicate fan speed), the rear LED toggle (for turning the LEDs around the expansion slots and I/O in the back on and off), and then the power and reset buttons.

While the side panel behind the motherboard tray is flat, the one above it features a single window and then what appears to be a large vent. Actually, beneath the vent is still mostly solid covering with an opening for the substantial 200mm side intake fan. I thought the split window on the 820 was kind of goofy; I'd still like to see NZXT release either a Phantom with solid, closed off sides, but this is a step in the right direction.

When we get to the back, we can see the usual adjustable rear exhaust fan along with a healthy amount of ventilation above the expansion slots. What we don't see are portholes for external liquid cooling, which is an interesting exclusion on NZXT's part. Those holes come bog standard on almost every case produced these days but I've never actually seen them be relevant. Most modern liquid cooling systems, even on super high end builds, tend to be housed within the case itself.

Four thumbscrews hold the hinged side panels into place, and despite hewing to the same basic ATX case design principles, NZXT's design inside the Phantom 630 is incredibly modern and enthusiast friendly. The motherboard tray is recessed slightly and the routing holes on the right side angled to steer assembly towards neater cabling. My personal favorite feature is the trio of drive cages. Because of the way NZXT split up the drive trays between cages, you essentially only need to include as many cages as you need, allowing you to remove the excess ones and improve airflow from the front 200mm intake. The cages themselves are locked into place with thumbscrews behind the motherboard tray.

Move behind the drive tray and you find more genuinely useful features. The fan controller supports up to ten three-pin fans and prevents fan cabling from becoming too cluttered (there's also an extension cable for connecting the side intake without too much trouble). NZXT also included two trays for 2.5" drives behind the motherboard tray. These wind up sitting behind the motherboard's expansion slots and will receive minimal airflow, but for SSDs they're perfectly adequate and better still, allow you to use fewer drive trays/cages.

It's probably obvious at this point that I'm relatively enamored with the NZXT Phantom 630's design, but a lot of that stems from how useful a lot of their inclusions are. The biggest problem with ATX case design is getting cool air to hit the CPU. The bottom-front-to-top-rear airflow design is dire; SilverStone's best designs skirt it entirely by just placing a fan almost directly in front of the hottest components. By tweaking the drive cages the way they did, they're removing as many obstructions as possible from the massive 200mm intake fan, allowing a tremendous amount of cool air into the case. You'll see this pay dividends later on.

Assembling the NZXT Phantom 630

NZXT has made a lot of really smart decisions as far as overall design goes with the Phantom 630, but there are still a couple of places where they need work. Assembly went pretty smoothly (I can't stress enough how important hinged side panels are), but in the interest of progress I'm going to nitpick the hell out of this because it is the weakest part of the 630's design.

Installing the motherboard is about as easy as it gets; NZXT ships the 630 with standoffs for an ATX motherboard preinstalled, which is an appreciated convenience. The only thing they're missing that other manufacturers have employed is a center stud that can be used to line up and effectively hold the board in place. It's also worth mentioning Lian Li was successfully able to make motherboard installation "toolless" by including special thumbscrews for this part, but that's a convenience that's not strictly necessary.

Where NZXT seems to keep running into trouble is with the drive sleds. The 630 uses the same sleds the 820 used, and they're just too flimsy. When the 630 arrived, most of the sleds were out of alignment, and they pretty much *need* a full hard drive installed to even snap in properly. Note also that the drive sleds enter the cages from the rear of the motherboard tray. Corsair, Antec, and Fractal Design typically get this part of the assembly right, and I get the feeling this is one of the places where NZXT is still cutting corners, because these are still too flexible and they just don't really lock into the drive cages very firmly.

Thankfully the drive trays used for 2.5" SSDs behind the motherboard have a slightly simpler and much more secure design; these are held in place by a single thumbscrew, and the simple slot-down mounting is exactly firm enough. NZXT also includes incredibly secure, firm latches for the 5.25" bays, though I wish these latches were on both sides instead of just the side above the motherboard tray.

You can color me surprised that the expansion slots don't use thumbscrews, though. I'm not sure what the reason for this change is, and I'm not particularly peeved by it since most thumbscrews are installed so tightly that you need to use a screwdriver just to remove them without losing your fingerprints anyhow, but it's an odd omission. The power supply continues to use the same screws every other case does, but NZXT thankfully includes enough struts in the bottom of the case to support power supplies short and long.

NZXT did get the cabling mostly right, but there's another major gaffe here. While the space behind the motherboard tray is copious to begin with and only improved by the smart cabling channels, and I'm really happy to see a central fan control hub, it's almost impossible to route the AUX 12V line behind the motherboard tray. There's a hole above the tray that theoretically allows for it, but in practice the clips on the lead itself cause it to be too thick to fit. It's kind of bizarre to see this kind of flaw come through the design when so much of the rest of it is spot on, but there you have it. At least there are plenty of rungs for zip ties.

If I seem to be nitpicking, it's only because I'm by and large talking directly to the guys who designed the Phantom 630 and asking for these things to be addressed. They're so close to a ten-out-of-ten design here, and these little things can come together to compromise usability somewhat. In the grand scheme of things these issues are minor enough that most users can and should be fine, and they're definitely overshadowed by the other perks of the 630's design.

Testing Methodology

For testing Micro-ATX and full ATX cases, we use the following standardized testbed in stock and overclocked configurations to get a feel for how well the case handles heat and noise.

ATX Test Configuration
CPU Intel Core i7-2700K
(95W TDP, tested at stock speed and overclocked to 4.3GHz @ 1.38V)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z68MX-UD2H-B3
Graphics Card ASUS GeForce GTX 560 Ti DCII TOP
(tested at stock speed and overclocked to 1GHz/overvolted to 1.13V)
Memory 2x2GB Crucial Ballistix Smart Tracer DDR3-1600
Drives Kingston SSDNow V+ 100 64GB SSD
Samsung 5.25" BD-ROM/DVDRW Drive
Accessories Corsair Link
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with Cooler Master ThermalFusion 400
Power Supply SilverStone Strider Plus 750W 80 Plus Silver

Each case is tested in a stock configuration and an overclocked configuration that generates substantially more heat (and thus may produce more noise). The system is powered on and left idle for fifteen minutes, the thermal and acoustic results recorded, and then stressed by running seven threads in Prime95 (in-place large FFTs) on the CPU and OC Scanner (maximum load) on the GPU. At the end of fiteen minutes, thermal and acoustic results are recorded. This is done for the stock settings and for the overclock, and if the enclosure has a fan controller, these tests are repeated for each setting. Ambient temperature is also measured after the fifteen idle minutes but before the stress test and used to calculate the final reported results.

Thank You!

Before moving on, we'd like to thank the following vendors for providing us with the hardware used in our testbed.

Noise and Thermal Testing, Stock

It's a cold winter here in northern California, and the NZXT Phantom 630's efficient cooling design doesn't really help much. Keeping with current testing methodology, I tested the 630's fans at each of their three settings. I also removed any drive cages that weren't needed (as I have with other cases with removable cages), and I mounted the system SSD to the rear of the motherboard tray instead of using a standard drive sled. Any SSD in front of the intake fan is going to be particularly frosty; we need to see just how bad the thermals might get behind a loaded motherboard.

I'm keen to point out that this configuration isn't particularly far from what a modern high end system should be able to achieve. Most people will probably need around two drive trays, only slightly obscuring the front intake more than our single drive tray does.

Ambient temperature during testing hovered around 21C.

CPU Temperatures (Stock)

GPU Temperatures (Stock)

SSD Temperatures (Stock)

Stock testing starts off with a bang. Even at the lowest fan setting, the Phantom 630 runs the CPU cooler than the other cases tested, and even the GPU thermals are competitive. The SSD runs hotter than the other systems, but keep in mind we're still well south of 40C; the hottest I ever saw the SSD hit during any testing was 34C. Take note how the less expensive Phantom 630 at worst ties the 820; this is going to be a repeating pattern. The 820 is using its lowest fan setting, but the highest one only improves temperatures by about 4C; in other words, not enough to beat the 630.

CPU Fan Speed (Stock)

GPU Fan Speed (Stock)

Fan speeds continue to show a healthy amount of headroom. The stock testbed doesn't stress the 630 at all.

Noise Levels (Stock)

You can see the medium fan setting produces a nice balance between thermals and acoustics. Noise remains relatively low, while temperatures are at least competitive if not outright victories. At the high fan setting, performance is tremendous, but not really worth the noise.

Noise and Thermal Testing, Overclocked

A case like the NZXT Phantom 630 isn't meant to run hardware at stock settings; it's designed for end users who want to push their systems as far as they can go. My experiences with Ivy Bridge and Kepler suggest that for current generation hardware, this is especially relevant, with Kepler in particular having its boost clocks being governed by relatively low thermal thresholds.

Our overclocked testbed tends to put a healthy amount of stress on system cooling, but you're about to see the Phantom 630 hit another grand slam and obsolete its older, more expensive sibling.

CPU Temperatures (Overclocked)

GPU Temperatures (Overclocked)

SSD Temperatures (Overclocked)

So this is pretty much what progress looks like. The SSD again runs toastier behind the motherboard tray than it does in the other enclosures, but not even close enough to affect usability; add another 10C to start approaching that threshold. If you run the Phantom 820 at its absolute highest fan setting, it can produce ever-so-slightly better CPU thermals than the 630 can, but just barely above the margin of error. The 630 just has a more efficient airflow design.

CPU Fan Speed (Overclocked)

GPU Fan Speed (Overclocked)

Airflow at the fan's high setting keeps the cooler on the CPU from hitting its inflection point, at which point it would have to spin up to a much higher setting. Fan headroom is still decent, but we're definitely pushing the cooling power of our CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Evo a little.

Noise Levels (Overclocked)

Say it with me, now: superior airflow almost always trumps acoustic padding. The Phantom 630's medium fan setting is most definitely its sweet spot, and the excellent flow through of the case keeps the heatsink fans from ever having to spin up too much. The 630 does a particularly excellent job of keeping our GTX 560 Ti cool even under its overclocked settings.

Conclusion: The Enthusiast Chassis of Choice?

I think it's important to note that NZXT's flagship Phantom 820 was only released about three months ago. I'm not quite sure how NZXT was able to hit the kind of turnaround time they did with the Phantom 630, but this new release effectively obsoletes the older, more expensive model. That's no mean feat when you're talking about the successor of a case that won our Bronze Editor's Choice award, but what makes the Phantom 630 so impressive is the fact that it's able to meet or surprass the 820 in every meaningful way while costing $70 less.

The Phantom 630 is in this editor's opinion a better looking, better designed enclosure capable of providing top shelf thermal performance with very reasonable acoustics. This is the kind of case I'm talking about when I talk about the stratification of the enclosure market: below $100 you're going to see a balancing act of noise and thermals that tends to favor thermals, between $100 and $150 you're going to see better noise performance but the same balancing act, and when you go north of $150 you can and should expect a case that's both quiet and efficient. At $179, the 630 offers superior cooling performance with better-than-average acoustics. If noise is your utmost concern you're never going to really beat the Nanoxia Deep Silence 1, but the Phantom 630 is incredibly compelling otherwise.

So why isn't the 630 Silver or Gold Editor's Choice material if it's directly better than a Bronze winner while costing less? For starters, $179 still isn't exactly a "value" price tag, even if you really do get what you pay for. Editor's Choice is about getting more than what you paid for; for example, an MSRP of $149 on the Phantom 630 might be unrealistic, but it would also be bulletproof (so keep your eye out for a good sale). The price is a nitpick; where the 630 loses points is in its continued use of those awful drive trays, and the strangely too-small routing hole for the AUX 12V line. The windowed side panel looks better than its predecessor and obviously contributes to the case's killer performance, but it's still a little ostentatious.

I pick nits with the 630 because it's my job and because NZXT has built tremendous momentum as of late. My ideal refinement of this enclosure would be a reduction in the number of 5.25" bays from four to three or even two, allowing for increased and even more direct front intake, along with completely closed side panels. A little acoustic padding wouldn't be out of place, either. Add a mounting post to the motherboard tray, fix the AUX 12V routing hole, get sturdier drive trays, and find some way to make picking up the case without accidentally popping out the bottom fan filter easier.

If you like or at least don't mind the way the it looks, and you're in the market for an enthusiast class case with substantial liquid cooling potential, I'm really not sure you're going to be able to beat the NZXT Phantom 630. SilverStone's FT02 might still be better for air cooling (at least for air cooling the CPU), and the Thermaltake Level 10 GT and CoolerMaster Cosmos II might both be bigger and fancier, but the Phantom 630 is more feature rich, easier to move and assemble, and ultimately more forward thinking. Other companies should be keeping a close eye on what NZXT is doing. Absolutely recommended.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now