In and Around the NZXT Phantom 820

Many of the NZXT cases I've tested have had aesthetics that floated in the neighborhood of chintzy or slightly gaudy—these are geared chiefly towards gamers after all—but the part of my reptile brain that appreciates the styling of Alienware's machines is attracted to the design employed in the Phantom 820. Gunmetal gray is an underappreciated color (see Antec's P182) that makes for an appealing change from the straight blacks and silvers we typically see in cases. The interesting thing about the Phantom 820 is that the more ostentatious aspects of the original Phantom 810's design seem to have been toned down, and the look as a whole seems to gel better. Maybe it's that gunmetal finish, but I don't immediately think of an Imperial Stormtrooper when I look at the 820.

The front of the Phantom 820 maintains the triangular motif that's become a hallmark of many of NZXT's higher end cases (again, like the original Phantom 810 and the Switch 810), using black ventilation grills as an accent. The magnetically sealed door hides four 5.25" bays along with the SD card reader and LED controls and swings out to the right; it's framed by an LED accent line on the left. At the bottom is a removable fan filter that also includes a small tray if you opt to use the fan mounts in the floor of the case.

Moving to the top, there are an impressive six USB ports: two USB 3.0 and four USB 2.0. On the opposite side is the quad-channel fan controller along with the power and reset buttons and the audio jacks. Most of the top of the case is vented in some fashion, and you can see the substantial 200mm exhaust fan at the rear.

The 820's side panels are where I get a little bit antsier. I appreciate the way the panel on the right side, behind the motherboard tray, has an extrusion to increase space for routing cabling (and it worked beautifully), but I actually have reservations about the window and ventilation on the left side panel. I've generally been a proponent of side intake fans, but some of our readers have correctly pointed out that a side intake and the accompanying grill also gives sound another vector to escape. NZXT pretty much has to bank on the cooling performance of the 820 to keep noise in check. I also think the window and grill design is on the gaudier side and probably the least appealing aspect of the 820's look.

The exterior of the 820 is mostly bog standard. It's evident there's a healthy amount of space behind the motherboard tray, and I like that NZXT again included the adjustable exhaust fan mount to allow users to line up the exhaust with the CPU's tower cooler. There are also the traditional four rubber routing holes, along with a removable fan filter for the PSU bay.

When you pop the side panels off (secured by three thumbscrews each), things are mostly the usual but NZXT has added a few wrinkles here and there. You'll notice a substantial number of cable routing holes in the motherboard tray, some much appreciated headroom above the motherboard mounts, a large bundle of cables, and oddly enough, two drive cages (the bottom one is removable) that actually require you to insert the drives behind the tray instead of on the open side. This is contrary to conventional wisdom, but a minor nuisance.

By and large I'm fond of how the NZXT Phantom 820 is built. This is a heavy case and the materials used all feel very sturdy. I think the aesthetic is just this side of being too ostentatious, but for an enthusiast-geared case I think it's light years ahead of the Thermaltake Level 10 GT in terms of looks.

Introducing the NZXT Phantom 820 Assembling the NZXT Phantom 820
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  • Sunrise089 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the review. I was pleased to see the note about watercooling in the conclusion, since as soon as I saw "NZXT" I though "watercooling" from my association with the Switch 810 as a great watercooling case.

    I would however like to humbly request the author consider putting watercooling info in an earlier part of the case review, perhaps the "in and around" section when describing the interior arrangement of the case. It's very helpful for me at least to know how practical watercooling will be with a case even if I don't place to use it that way since it helps put some design decisions in perspective ("that case isn't bad, it's just designed around space for rads"). It would therefore be useful to me if that info was more consistently included in reviews and in a predictable place.

    Again though, I do appreciate the watercooling info making it in period, even if new info doesn't seem wholly appropriate in a conclusion. Thanks again for the review.
  • vvv850 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Why do you always show a build on anything rather than a full ATX or e-ATX motherboard?
  • Dustin Sklavos - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    To keep the testbed standard. A full ATX or e-ATX motherboard isn't going to generate much more in the way of heat or really affect results in any way, but using a Micro-ATX board across cases allows for consistent, comparable results.
  • HisDivineOrder - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Perhaps people just want to see how the board fits in the case to check clearances visually and see how their motherboard would match up. Using a smaller than ATX motherboard doesn't really help a lot in the visual comparison.

    It's just like you said. If the motherboard makes a minimal difference in heat, then I suggest you've given yourself a great reason not to always use the same small motherboard.

    I suspect if you used the micro-ATX mb and ATX mb in the same line by the same company, you'd have a minimal difference yet allow users to get a visual on how the larger mb's layout in the case.
  • chowmanga - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Changing test hardware is never a good idea. If the audience just wants to see how a full sized motherboard fits, Dustin could take pictures with said motherboard in place but keep the testing hardware the same for thermal results.
  • HaydenOscar - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Would have loved to see some temperature results with all the fans off!
  • DanNeely - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Would like to see the IO ports and fan controller.
  • Earthmonger - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    This is the sort of case you'd find under a 40 year-old business professional's desk. Not because they're PC-savvy, but rather because they aren't. It's the sort of run-of-the-mill case that a local PC shop would bundle together in a build when the customer didn't bother to specify a case preference. Certainly not premium, but not too cheap or gauche either.

    That's been Johnny's problem for quite awhile now. He knows how to design really good cases, but he settles on plastic and steel crap like this and says, "Oh well. The kid's will buy it." He doesn't take a design to it's potential, he just compromises and says, "Meh. Good enough." He doesn't take risks anymore, and he doesn't compete with the big dogs.

    At $249. the bracket demands a premium case. Or at the very least, premium materials. So I'd wager that you'll see this thing sub-$200 in no time. Probably closer to $175. It's another design in a long line lately that doesn't stand up for itself.
  • crimson117 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    Where's the downvote button when you need one?
  • ExarKun333 - Monday, October 15, 2012 - link

    You would only see this case bundled 'by default' if a buyer gave a big price for a new build and said 'have at it' for the specifics.

    It is VERY doubtful many 40-something professionals would have this under their desk. Way off there.

    I agree on the premium price/premium materials comment though. Plastic and steel for $250 is asking a lot. Great WC options though...

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