Computers are shrinking. Even enthusiast computers are getting smaller & smaller. We’ll look more in-depth at the shrinking ability of the power-user in the coming weeks when we publish a review of EVGA’s mITX Z77 Stinger. However, before that, we’ll have a look at the case in which it will reside – the BitFenix Prodigy.
To be honest, I’ve wanted to test one of these out since they first arrived around CES 2012 in January of this year. However, there has been no mITX board on the test bed to install in the case. That changed with the Stinger. We then approached BitFenix and they were happy to let us have a look at their very popular Prodigy.
Packaging & Specifications
We’ll get the boring stuff out of the way first. Like most every case on the market, Prodigy comes in a box. The box, however, is much more stout than even the Lian Li boxes you’ve seen in past reviews. Its cardboard seems much thicker than boxes I’ve seen in the past. This thing will survive on its way to you, no doubt.
The case itself is shrouded in plastic and floated with styrofoam like most other cases. The packaging is plenty to protect the Prodigy.
The specifications show us a versatile case. With all of the parenthesis, you can see there are several options to choose from with regard to internal configuration.
Specifications (Courtesy BitFenix’s Prodigy product page)
Materials: Steel, Plastic
Colors (Int/Ext): Black/Black, White/White
Dimensions (WxHxD): 250 x 404 x 359mm
Internal Dimensions (WxHxD): 250 x 310 x 340 = 26.35 liters
Motherboard Sizes: Mini-ITX
5.25″ Drive Bays: x 1 (removable)
3.5″ Drive Bays: x 5 (3 + 2 modular)
2.5″ Drive Bays: x 9 (5 + 2 + 1 +1 )
Cooling Front: 120mm x 2 (120mm x 1included) or 140/180/200/230mm x 1(optional)
Cooling Rear: 120mm x 1 (included) or 140mm x 1(optional)
Cooling Top: 120mm x 2 (optional)
PCI Slots: x 2
I/O: USB 3.0 x 2, HD Audio
Power Supply: PS2 ATX (bottom, multi direction), PSU cage depth 180mm, max PSU depth 160mm
Extras: FyberFlex™ Composite handles, SofTouch™ surface treatment, filtered intakes, tool-free drive locking
Everything looks good so far, let’s get that case out and let it stretch its legs.
The Prodigy we’re looking at today is the black model. It comes with a little silver trim on the front panel and a silver BitFenix logo. Aside from that, the case is a matte and glossy black work of steel & plastic art.
As I said, this case has been on my short list since it came out if ever an mITX board made its way here. As you can see, there was a reason for that. The case looks stellar. It’s one of those elegant, understated looks that you know I appreciate if you’ve read any case reviews that sprung forth from my hands.
However, for all its understated coloring, it still has just enough flare to separate itself, most notably the cool rubberized plastic handles. Those things can take abuse too. Long ago there was a YouTube video of someone pushing one all the way to the case and it bouncing right back. Of course, that was the first thing I tried…before taking these photos. Thankfully it worked just the way it was supposed to!
One quick side note before moving on, if you look at the second row of photos above, they show the side panel that’s going to be very close to your GPU. There is plenty of ventilation so your GPU won’t be starved for air.
The top panel is nifty and has a removable filter for easy cleaning and access to the top fan hole(s).
The power & reset buttons are soft rubber and give a nice, tactile click when used. It looks like they could have done a little more adjustment to make the LEDs fit their holes a little better, but that’s really a very small thing that no one will notice. Mostly they won’t notice because those things are bright. Really bright and really blue. Like, see spots if you look at them too long kind of bright.
As you can see, the Prodigy is also equipped with mic and headphone jacks as well as two side-panel USB 3.0 ports. I like the use of the side panel to house the control section. It leaves the front of the case without intrusion from the cutouts.
The back of the case is a textbook example of using available space wisely. You have one of the two included 120mm fans, the holes for the motherboard rear I/O and power supply and a very interesting system for holding expansion cards.
The bottom of the case is sparse. There are screws for removing the bottom HDD rack if you would like. There is also a PSU fan filter. It’s always good to see case manufacturers going the extra mile to keep dust out of our systems.
With the Prodigy, BitFenix has taken small dimensions and wrapped them in style. After getting hands and eyes on this thing in person, it looks just as good as it does in photos.
If black isn’t your taste, the Prodigy also comes in multiple colors, among them white, red and orange. You can also get replacement front panels with other-than-silver trim and BitFenix logos. You can check out the red and orange variations as well as the front panels on BitFenix’ site. There are more photos of the white version on the Prodigy product page.
The accessories come in a small box shoehorned into one of the HDD bays. There was no damage as a result of this, but it doesn’t look pretty.
With a case this small, there just aren’t a ton of necessary accessories. You get plenty of screws for your system installation, one stick-on wire holder and two little pieces of metal with holes in them. If you decide to remove the ODD blank, you can put these on and screw it back in place. I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that, but you can.
Interior & Features Tour
Now that the side panel is off, you can see the inside is just as good looking as the outside. There are five 3.5″ HDD bays, one 5.25″ ODD bay, the mITX motherboard tray and the PSU bay.
The motherboard tray comes with plenty of wire pass-through holes for wire management and the stand-offs are pre-installed. To the right is a closer look at the HDD rack. You can see around the top three HDD bays, there are plastic tabs. These are for easy removal of that part of the rack. The bottom rack’s removal is more rare and requires a screwdriver.
Here you can see the (also removable) 5.25″ ODD bay, which also requires a screwdriver.
This next photo shows a neat space saving trick that I’ve never seen on a case before. The side panel can house two 2.5″ drives. That allows for much more versatile storage solutions. Even with the top triple HDD bay removed, you can still have four drives total available (two 2.5″ + two 3.5″ or 2.5″). For those of you that want to remove both HDD trays (typically so you can install water cooling), this gives the option to still use SSD caching with an SSD and a 2.5″ HDD. Storage was very well thought out in this case.
Another good part about the side door is that both the side panel audio jacks and the USB ports have removable cables. If you have an mITX board like the one I’m installing that doesn’t have FP audio hook-ups, you simply remove that cable to reduce your clutter. Some manufacturers hard-wire these things, so this is a very welcome addition. You can even remove the LED and switch plugs if you want; you’ve got complete control over what you do and do not hook up.
On the right you can see the “back” side of the case, where you’ll do most of your wire management and plug in your disc drives.
In the front of the case resides the second of the included 120mm fans. These aren’t powerhouses by any stretch. Rated at 0.10 A, at 100% they run ~1600RPM. They’re good case fans, but you wouldn’t want to put them on a HSF. A big plus is the leads on these fans are quite long. This one went all the way to the back of the case out of site, just going up to plug into the rear fan header on the board being used.
Here you can see the top HDD cage removed and the rails into which it slides. You can remove those after you slide the HDD bay out for a more aesthetically pleasing top of your remaining HDD cage / bottom of your ODD cage.
The expansion slot system is redundant, which is always good to see. You have the two thumbscrews that hold down the cards as well as a sliding hold-down. I used them because I enjoy redundancy, but you don’t have to thanks to their system.
The Prodigy’s clean lines are echoed inside and out. One thing not mentioned is that the vast majority of the holes around the case are rolled so there no sharp edges. The only exceptions really are the expansion slots and the PSU bracket. You won’t cut yourself messing around in there, which is important in such a small case.
Working with the Prodigy
Working with the prodigy is rather straightforward and simple. There isn’t a lot of room, but that’s to be expected in an mITX case! To start with, you can remove the entire front panel (which you can replace with fancy colors if you’d like). As you can see the front panel has a plethora of fan mounting options available. It comes with a 120 mm fan installed, but there is so much more you can do! From a giant, silent intake fan to dual-120 mm radiator goodness, the only limitation is your imagination.
We also see why the case comes with those little brackets to reinstall the ODD blank – because that’s where you would mount two of the screws on a 2×120 mm radiator.
The front panel itself is held on with four clips and is very sturdy. There is no vibration to be had and the fine mesh on the front panel itself serves as a nice dust filter.
The HDD system allows installation of both 3.5″ drives (compression fit with the little metal dowels) and 2.5″ drives (screwed in from the bottom on the second and fourth rails from the front). Once you mount your chosen drive into the HDD bracket, just slide it in until it clicks.
As we mentioned before, the side panel allows you an additional two 2.5″ drive mounts. This particular system was installed with two 3.5″ HDDs and one 2.5″ SSD. The SSD resides in the side panel.
One thing you need to be extra cautious of is your choice of PSU. There is a set limit to how long your PSU can be and the flat metal panel does not let you get ANY longer. Most modular PSUs greater than 500-600 W will not fit in this case. I got lucky – the Cooler Master Silent Pro 600W fit perfectly. There’s plenty of power for even top of the line GPUs, enough connectors for however many drives you have and it all fit without so much as any extra pressure when pushing in the bracket.
Do note there are posts on forums and reviews around the net saying higher wattage modular PSUs will NOT fit. So when you look into a PSU for the Prodigy, make sure you account for the PSU itself AND the connectors, plus a little bit of wiggle room for the wires. Higher wattage, modular PSUs will fit, but they have to be the right model. Remember, the specs say you have 180 mm total from the back of the case to the front of the cage and they spec the max PSU depth at 160 mm. So that 180 mm number includes the wires.
Removing the top cover shows the options you have for installing fans or a radiator in the top. I put the 120mm fan there as an example, but take note – you can NOT put a fan there when you have a radiator + fan in the rear exhaust mount. Cooling in this thing must be planned from the get go and there will be compromises to reach your desired cooling level. Remember, when going with a SFF build, you must choose your components carefully and decide how they’ll be placed before you buy them so you don’t run into any unexpected roadblocks.
Here we have the only flaw I found on the case. One of the rear fan’s screws was rusted a little bit. I won’t ding them too hard, mistakes happen and things get missed in QC. This obviously came to BitFenix like this from their supplier and the person assembling the case didn’t notice it. No big deal.
There isn’t much more to the install. Here we have the motherboard and some of the wiring installed as well as the all-in-one 120mm liquid cooler that’s destined for this system.
Installing a system in this case was a breeze, even for my rather large hands. Wire management was even simple – surprisingly so for the little room.
Installed & Ready for Showtime
Now that everything is installed and wired up, we’re ready for the final photo shoot. Since the case is small, installing a GPU here would completely block the rest of the system from being viewed, so here are a couple photos without the GPU installed. As you can see, wire management was easy and effective; the system is very clean and it took very little effort to make it so.
Please forgive the extra wire going under the HDD cage. That’s there in the event another GPU makes its way into this build and requires more than one PCIe power cable. Remember – plan in advance for SFF system building!
Now we’ll put the GPU in there and, as advertised, it blocks the rest of the system off. You don’t even need to make your wires look clean and pretty if you don’t want – the GPU will block it from view. But you’d know you didn’t do it. Anyway, with the GPU in there, the Prodigy still looks great. Clean, composed and uncompromising, even in a small enclosure.
After closing the system off, if you need instant easy access, you can always pop the top off. Here you can see why the top 120 mm fan wouldn’t work with the radiator/fan setup. If there was a fan here, obviously you wouldn’t have any extra access.
Now we put the side panels back on and everything is buttoned up. This system is ready to go!
Final Thoughts & Conclusion
Small is the new black. Or something like that. The Prodigy is in, and in a big way. I’ve seen several builds using this case on our forum and elsewhere. The two recent ones use water cooling (kyleboy77 & Fruergarrd) and look great. There’s a reason this case is seeing such wide use. To start off with, you can get it for a reasonable sum, at $79.99 for the black & white models and $89.99 for orange and red.
Not only is it a great looking case, it’s functional, very much so. Everything about the Prodigy is easy to use and there are a seemingly endless number of combinations for system configuration. The entire drive section, from the 5.25″ bay down to the bottom HDD rack is removable. You can remove all or just parts of it. From a customization standpoint, the world is your oyster. You can go as “big” or as small as you want inside the Prodigy.
Cooling wise, there is plenty of airflow regardless of what you go with. Every panel except the I/O side panel (which also holds disc drives remember) has accommodation for cooling your system. With all of the customization available, you can see why so many people are putting great water cooling setups in these too. How many mITX cases do you know that can fit two 2 x 120 mm radiators without modification? (Hint, as far as I know, the answer is exactly one…and you’re looking at it.)
The build quality is solid as well. The side panels are thicker than anticipated. For such a small piece of hardware, it’s quite heavy – 17 lbs if I recall the shipping label correctly. It’s not made of aluminum (which you would pay a lot more for), but the steel is well finished, thick and strong. LAN gamers, take heed – its sturdiness is matched only by its looks. If you want a good looking LAN box, put it in here. Wire management is also a breeze. The holes for you to use are well placed and plentiful.
There is nothing to dislike about the Prodigy. It’s small, but you know it’s small when you go to buy an mITX case. Front to back, top to bottom, the Prodigy is the perfect base on which to build your dream small form factor system.