Blog Post

Case envy.

cases are, by and large, not the most attractive of objects. Sure, they now come in different shapes and sizes, and while black still dominates, look hard enough and you’ll find a few more esoteric colours to choose from. But, even some of the more appealing examples aren’t the sort of thing you’d put proudly on display in a home office, let alone have sat next to a TV in your living room. Enter the Bitfenix Pandora, an aluminium-clad Micro ATX and Mini-ITX case with a front-mounted LCD panel that eschews some the usual over-the-top gaming case touches for a design that’s more refined, and far friendlier for the living room.

A Sleek Design

The Pandora is all about curves. Its aluminium side panels sweep from the back of the case all the way through the front, partly enclosing a glossy, mesh-free black front panel. It makes for a sleek and thoroughly striking design, one that I’d be happy to have sat atop a desk, rather than hidden away underneath one. For all its sleekness, though, the Pandora isn’t a small case. Sure, it’s smaller than your average mid-tower, and–thanks to there being no 5 1/2″ drives bays–it’s much slimmer too at just 160mm in width, but there’s no doubt that you’ll have to make room a significant amount of room for one in a living room setup.

The Pandora’s size does mean there’s a lot of space for components, though. There’s support for MATX and M-ITX motherboards with up to five PCIe slots, GPUs up to 350mm in length, PSUs up to 180mm long, and up to a 240mm watercooling radiator on the front panel. Disappointingly, there’s only room up top for a single 120mm fan, which acts as the sole exhaust for the case. There are plenty of ventilation holes, though, which makes it easy to set the case up for positive air pressure. There are also removable dust filters on the front and top fans. The front magnetic filter is, unfortunately, rather flimsy and doesn’t feel all that secure, but the top filter is much studier and pops off with a push via a spring clip.

The top panel also houses two USB 3.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, power and rest switches, and a slot for a 3.5″ hard drive, with another slot located underneath the cable management box near the front of the case. The cable management box also doubles up as a 2.5″ drive mount, with space for another on the side of the side, and another on the back of the motherboard tray. That’s not a whole lot of room for drives, so those with more ambitious storage requirements will want to look elsewhere.

Unique to the Pandora is a front mounted LCD panel (which hooks up to an internal USB 2.0 header) that you can use to display images up to 240×320 pixels in size. It’s a neat feature, but the panel itself is of a poor quality, so unless you’re looking at it straight on, the image gets washed out. The software is also rather basic, so there’s no scope for more complex functions like temperature readouts or fans speeds, but Bitfenix is planning to release the display source code so more enterprising users can create their own software.

The Build

Thanks to the slim design of the Pandora, cable management is a bit of a struggle, but with a little work you can come up with a tidy layout that works well with the optional windowed side panel. The biggest problem lies with the CPU power cable. There’s only a small section in the rear of the case for running cables, and that’s only 15mm deep, meaning you have to run the CPU power cable across the front of the motherboard. There is a small space for tucking the cable away though, and with a little shoving it doesn’t look too bad.

The cable management box in the front of the case works well for hiding most of the other cables, but a modular PSU is a must if you don’t want them spilling out inside the case. A judicious use of cable ties is also a must in order to work with that small 15mm of space behind the motherboard tray; the side panels are held in via four push pins, and while this makes getting to the inside of the case relatively easy, they aren’t secure enough for you to be able to use the panel to squeeze bulky cables out of the way.

Still, building inside the Pandora is, for the most part, a standard affair, and certainly much easier than the likes of Bitfenix’s Prodigy M with its upside down PSU layout. One small annoyance, though, is the layout of the PCIe screws, which are tucked behind the aluminium side panel. To unscrew them easily Bitfenix supplies a right-angled allen key, which works fine, but will inevitably get lost within minutes of finishing your build, making it tricky to swap out PCIe cards in the future.

If you’re planning on using air-cooling for your CPU, then the Pandora’s width limits the height of cooler you can use to around 130mm. However, a watercooling unit like the Corsair H75 I used fits perfectly to the front of the case, and I’d recommend something similar given there’s not a whole lot of airflow being pushed through the case. You also need to keep an eye on GPU height. The XFX 290X I used is raised just above the PCIe express slot and fitted fine, but beefier cards that extend further may not fit.

Verdict

The Bitfenix Pandora isn’t quite a case of style over substance, but a few compromises have been made to achieve its slim design, and it isn’t the case to choosing if you’ve got a lot of large components to house. It’s also not the best choice for airflow, particularly given the Pandora is only supplied with two fans–you’ll need to factor in the cost of another to mount on the front panel to keep things cool. Watercooling is far better option, but with only the front panel available for mounting a radiator, and with limited space inside, you’re largely restricted to all-in-one units.

That said, if you can work through the compromises, the Pandora is a great looking case. The aluminium finish is top notch, and with a lack of visible vents on the front, it looks seriously sleek. With support for MATX motherboards, housing an SLI system is possible, but you’ll want to stick with blower-style cards to ensure things don’t get too toasty inside. At around $129 in the US and £95 in the UK, it’s not the most expensive of cases either. There’s also a version available without the gimmicky LCD display for around $110 in the US and £84 in the UK. Sure, you can get cases with more expandability and better cooling performance for the price, but few look anywhere near as good as the Pandora does.

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