Conclusion: Great for the Money

BitFenix's Merc Alpha is first and foremost an extreme budget case. While I've personally often considered cases at the $99 mark to be "budget" because I'm spoiled rotten and used to big and fancy stuff, $39 is really about as low as anyone should want to go. Thankfully, no one at BitFenix is sacrificing quality to get there.

The Merc Alpha (and likely the Merc Beta) is pretty much packed with smart decisions. BitFenix had to cut a few corners to hit that price tag, but they cut the right ones and smoothed out the rest. Aesthetically the Merc is still a remarkably attractive case that skillfully avoids looking too generic (as many enclosures in this market often do) without being ostentatious in the process. Their engineers have also made it nearly as tool-less as possible without actually including tool-less mechanisms that might inflate its cost, and they've done it simply and smartly by including a mess of thumbscrews. Sometimes the simplest solution really is the best one.

Internally the Merc Alpha is also well organized, with allowances made for managing cables despite the relatively cramped quarters within. There's no space behind the motherboard tray proper, but there's a healthy amount of it behind the drive cages that goes a long way towards making the enclosure easier to assemble a system in as well as easy to service. I also wish more enclosure designers would take the time BitFenix's engineers did to make installing a motherboard as easy as it is here: standoffs are basically built into the tray itself, and the single copper stud makes lining up the board worlds easier.

Honestly, the nuisances are relatively minor. Popping out the expansion bay covers was something of a chore, and the lack of thumbscrews on the right panel is unusual given their inclusion nearly everywhere else (though you could just as easily replace the standard screws with included thumbscrews). I also wish they'd at least highlighted the 2.5" drive mount in the instructions, as it's incredibly easy to miss. And when you install a video card you do run the risk of blocking one or two 3.5" drive bays, but this price I have a hard time really complaining about it.

Bottom line is this: if you're on a severe budget and looking to maximize the amount of value you get for your dollar on every component you buy, you should probably be shortlisting the Merc Alpha. It has plenty of room to grow with your build, as well as solid enough thermal and acoustic performance to get the job done. If you have the money, I'd still recommend spending up to either BitFenix's Shinobi or even a Fractal Design Arc Midi, but if you need to cut corners and save some bank, you could do a heck of a lot worse than the Merc Alpha.

Noise and Thermal Testing, Overclocked


View All Comments

  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    But would you want to use that?

    Also, fuck, those cases were basically scrap metal. No rolled edges. Hope you like bleeding all over your new machine, and then blowing it up after plugging in the tin-pot POS PSU.
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Not I don't mean this case of course!

    This case actually looks pretty decent, and they even bothered coating the inside instead of leaving it bare. Damn fine for $39, no matter how you slice it.
  • aguilpa1 - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Aw the good ole days, when you weren't hacking unless your fingers were bleeding...., wait maybe not so good. Reply
  • Thermalzeal - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    This ^ Reply
  • Spazweasel - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Oh, you still can. You can get a case + PS for as little as about 25 dollars.

    You would want neither case nor power supply, though. The lowest cost power supplies worth having, even for a budget build, seem to start around 40 dollars (Antec and Corsair both make very nice 400-watt class power supplies in that range).
  • JonnyDough - Thursday, October 06, 2011 - link

    With the extra $20 spent on a better PSU, we're not only saving the environment a little, but helping to ensure longevity of our motherboard and components by going higher end. Yep, around $40 is my minimum, as that's basically the starting point for a 300w 80+ Bronze certified from Seasonic. Most systems don't use that much, and amps are much more important than total wattage anyway. There need to be better standards regulating power supplies. In fact, they should have to list certain factors on every OEM PC sold as well. The big mass market PC builders should be unable to fool consumers by not listing the gpu specs for instance. Reply
  • CloudFire - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Good budget case indeed, the only other one I would recommend near this price range is the CM Haf 912. Reply
  • CrystalBay - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Coolermaster 690's were 30-40 back a couple/few years .

    Thanks Dustin, keep posting the deals!
  • Vepsa - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Would make a great case for my home server (so I could swap its 80mm fans out for 120mm fans) but Newegg doesn't have any BitFenix cases :( Reply
  • xcomvic - Wednesday, October 05, 2011 - link

    Yea, as soon as I finished this review, I tried to look it up on Newegg, very surprised that they aren't on there...maybe they are "too" cheap for the egg, can't make any profit on the resale... Reply

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