Introducing the NZXT Phantom 820

NZXT is an interesting manufacturer. Each company that designs and manufactures cases has their strengths and weaknesses, things they're good at and things that need work, but NZXT is unique in that they're very closely related to iBuyPower (one of the biggest system building boutiques and one that's starting to threaten established brands) and tend to vend some of the most cost effective enclosures to boutiques in general, for better or worse.

Our experiences with NZXT have been mixed. The H2 when it was released suffered from a serious design flaw that drove up internal thermals (an unmarked revision was silently released later that largely resolved those problems), and the Switch 810 was a good but not great enclosure that couldn't quite live up to its promise. But today NZXT is launching the Phantom 820, a case aimed squarely at the top end of the case market where stalwarts like the Thermaltake Level 10 GT, Corsair Obsidian 800D, and SilverStone FT02 reside. It has a lot to live up to, but most impressively of might actually do it.

I'll get this out of the way: the Phantom 820 is not coming cheap. NZXT is listing an MSRP of $249, placing it squarely into competition with the highest end enthusiast cases, and it's a pretty bold move from a company that's usually been more about raw value than premium gear. I'm of two minds when it comes to this decision; I think it's a good choice for the company since price is often the best way to give a premium product that extra kick (just ask Apple), but it's ultimately bad for the end consumer who wants and should get great products at reasonable prices.

NZXT Phantom 820 Specifications
Motherboard Form Factor Mini-ITX, Micro ATX, ATX, E-ATX
Drive Bays External 4x 5.25”
Internal 6x 2.5"/3.5"
Cooling Front 1x 200mm intake fan; 1x 120mm/140mm internal fan mount
Rear 1x 140mm exhaust fan
Top 1x 200mm exhaust fan, 1x 180mm fan mount or 3x 120mm fan mounts or 2x 140mm fan mounts
Side 1x 200mm intake fan
Bottom 2x 120mm/140mm fan mounts
Expansion Slots 9
I/O Port 2x USB 3.0, 4x USB 2.0, 1x Headphone, 1x Mic
Power Supply Size Standard ATX
Clearances HSF 180mm
PSU 220mm
GPU 13" / 330mm
Dimensions ?
Weight ?
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 four channel (three leads per channel), five step 15W fan controller
Color configurable, toggleable LED lighting system
Toggleable rear I/O and expansion LED illumination
Integrated SD card reader
Price $249

When I spoke to my rep at NZXT he was very bullish about the Phantom 820 and it's not hard to see why. While Taiwanese case designers have a tendency to try to throw in everything but the kitchen sink (see NZXT's own Switch 810) and call it a product, the Phantom 820 is a different beast. This is a feature rich case, but a lot of the features that have been incorporated are done intelligently. The integrated fan controller in particular is an incredibly slick design that's easily the equal of many entry-level fan controllers; the lack of analog adjustment is offset somewhat by having five different steps, ranging from off to full bore.

I'm also keen to point out that NZXT included an SD card reader; SD cards are pretty much the standard these days, yet for some reason they're seldom integrated in modern case designs. The convenience is appreciated tremendously.

Finally, the Alienware-style LED lighting system is a nice touch and can be disabled entirely if you so choose; otherwise you can turn a dial inside the front door to change the color to whatever you like, and you can toggle between enabling and disabling different lighting zones on the case.

In and Around 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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