The ultimate compact PC case?
In this day and age most top of the line PC cases are supersized. With modern computer hardware continuously increasing in dimension, this trend is unlikely to die out soon. So what happens if you want a compact, high quality chassis? You either have to increase your size expectation or decrease your build quality expectations (in most cases anyway). Once again NZXT has risen to the challenge to deliver what we want. Minimum size, maximum expandability, excellent build quality, and a reasonable price. At least that was the idea behind this new chassis, the Panzerbox.
To start things off NZXT used its usual conservative packaging design for the Panzerbox. Not exactly what you would expect from a case called “Panzerbox”, but it looks good.
Also usual are the specs lists plastered all over the box. In case you can’t quite read it from the photo, here’s the rundown:
MID TOWER Welded Aluminum
FRONT PANEL MATERIAL
DIMENSIONS (W x H x D)
244 X 455 X 455 mm
3 DRIVE BAYS
500 WATT PS2 ATX 12V 2.0 ( OPTIONAL )
6.3 KGS (W/O Power)
MOTHERBOARDS: ATX, MICRO-ATX, BABY AT
- Mid Sized, Extreme Performance: Fitted with dual high performance 150CFM controllable 190cm fans and a dual radiator bracket to provide the best performance, the Panzerbox offers high performance for a mid sized case due to its unique layout.
- Removable Motherboard Tray: A removable motherboard tray makes upgrading easy and painless.
- Pure Aluminum: Built of all aluminum, the Panzerbox is light and luxurious, perfect for traveling and showing off at LAN parties. Compared to similar products with high airflow and ATX expandability, the Panzerbox is almost 25% smaller and 50% lighter.
- Full Expandability: Room for high performance 10.5″ cards, over sized heatsinks, even larger dual radiator solutions.
- Top mounted USB/Audio/ESATA Ports
So we get support for full ATX boards, giant video cards, AND the case is all aluminum. Kewl.
Cracking the box open we see the Panzerbox securely packaged in a plastic bag with white foam inserts. Again, nothing really unusual.
At the bottom of the plastic bag was this little plastic screw doodad. After thoroughly inspecting the chassis and completing the system build I STILL don’t know where it’s supposed to go.
Starting at the rear of the chassis (next to my m998 for the sake of scale) there are a few obvious features right off the bat. The first is that NZXT used thumbscrews everywhere. On both side panels and the removable motherboard tray, this is great to see. NZXT has also preinstalled grommets for water cooling tubes, but this time they’re huge. You could probably fit 1” ID tubes through them. Also notice that the rear fan grill is of the unrestrictive wire variety, rather than the usual punched grills. Finally notice that the expansion slot covers are vented. This should help keep your video cards nice and cool.
NZXT has once again used thumbscrews of its own design for securing various bits of the chassis. These ones are a little different than the ones included with the Whisper that I previously complained about, though. Instead of a plastic drum with a whole bunch of little slices out of it for grip (which are better suited to shredding fingers), this time NZXT molded the plastic drum with big hills/valleys in it. The result? A thumbscrew that doesn’t feel cheap AND grips quite well. If that weren’t enough NZXT throws in enough conventional black metal thumbscrews so you could replace all of the plastic ones if you wanted.
Looking a little higher we see the Panzerbox’s vented roof panel. One of the changes NZXT made during the design process was to indent a pattern into this panel to increase its strength. This change really bears fruit as this panel exhibits zero flexibility, so it really feels like a solid panel.
Nestled underneath the vented roof is one of the Panzerbox’s two 190mm, 150 cfm fans. This one serves to exhaust hot air out the top of the case.
The left side panel is pretty plain. The only real feature is the grill at the bottom that serves as an air intake for your PSU. Yes, the PSU sits next to your expansion slots, which is a fairly genius location. It reduces the vertical dimensions of the chassis, but since it isn’t sitting over your CPU or in front of your graphics cards, you’re free to use giant CPU heatsinks and super long cards. It shouldn’t impede cooling too much either, since most modern graphics cards intake air at the front and blow it out the back. The only thing you should be worried about is if your graphics card has a big aftermarket heatsink or a large waterblock, because the increased width could interfere with PSU installation.
Spinning the chassis around we can get a good look at the front panel. With 3 5.25” drive bays the Panzerbox should have enough room for your optical drives, fan controllers, and whatnot. Notice that the mesh from the top wraps all the way around and down the front of the case, broken up only by the three drive bays. The Panzerbox should offer excellent ventilation to say the least.
Moving towards the top of the case we have the front panel connections which consist of two USB, microphone, headphone, and eSATA. Pretty much everything you would expect from a quality chassis.
In terms of stature the Panzerbox is a bit shorter than the m998, but is slightly wider.
The right side panel is a mirror image of the left side panel. The bottom vent is only for aesthetics in this case.
Shining a light inside the chassis gives you a good idea of just how “open aired” it really is.
The front 190mm fan pretty much fills the space between the drive bays and the bottom of the case.
Now it’s time to crack this sucker open, nothing terribly unusual from this angle.
The front panel wiring is all bundled up and we have the usual white box with all the goodies in it.
Considering the size of the case, the front panel cables are kind of overkill where length is concerned.
The Panzerbox takes full advantage of NZXT’s favorite manufacturing technique, aluminum casting. Much of the intricate pieces of the internal structure are cast from aluminum. This allows them to get really intricate with their designs, with an excellent example being the “fins” on the 5.25” bays.
The main bits of the chassis are almost ridiculously thick. Check out the thickness of the aluminum in the PSU area. NZXT probably could have gotten away with using aluminum that was half this thick. While we’re in this area notice that NZXT has included black thumbscrews on all the expansion slots. I don’t know why other manufacturers insist on making a bunch of weird plastic clips when this is the simplest, most secure, and easiest way I’ve encountered to have tool-less access to all your expansion cards.
One thing I really don’t like is that the rear fan is double wired for a molex and a 3-pin fan connector. Thankfully the 190mm fans are just wired for 3-pins. Double wiring like this adds clutter and makes cable sleeving a real pain. Luckily I won’t be using the rear 120mm fan in my system build.
A few artifacts of the manufacturing process remain inside the Panzerbox. At the top front we can clearly tell that this area has been welded.
Now that we’ve gone over the internal structure of the case a bit, let’s see what goodies we get inside the little white box.
Lots of screws, and a couple of mounting brackets
More specifically NZXT includes a bag of black motherboard standoffs
Plus a bunch more thumbscrews for securing 5.25” drives
NZXT also throws in a pair of brackets that allow you to mount a 2x120mm radiator in place of the top 190mm fan.
Screws to mount your motherboard
And screws to mount your PSU
And finally, drum-roll please, the manual.
The manual includes plenty of pictures and is fairly well worded. No linguistic mysteries in here.
Moving back to the chassis interior we can see that NZXT has taken measures to ensure that even the largest PSU will be super secure. By including two support shelves in the design, NZXT has reduced the overall strain on the rear of the chassis, transferring most of the weight straight into the bottom of the case.
Looking at the front drive bays again we can see one of my favorite features of the Panzerbox. NZXT has included vibration dampening rubber strips on the 3.5” bays AND the 5.25” bays. I don’t know about you, but my DVD burner makes a hell of a racket with vibration, so hopefully these rubber strips will help dampen that out somewhat.
At the bottom of the case near the front fan is an additional rack for two more 3.5” hard disks. To remove the rack, simply remove the single thumbscrew and pull up. Notice the substantial steps taken to minimize vibration. We’ve got the drives resting against rubber strips and rubber grommets, so a bare minimum of vibrations will be transferred to the rack.
Then the rack is secured from shaking horizontally by a rubber lined, U-shaped aluminum bracket at the bottom of the case.
And finally the connection between the rack and the chassis is supported by these rubber coated bits. Look closely and you can see the marks from where the rubber grommets in the rack rest against the aluminum mounting plate. So the only point through which vibration can really be transferred is through the single thumbscrew. Fantastic
The motherboard tray is fairly straightforward to remove. Just untwist a few thumbscrews and give it a good tug.
NZXT chose an odd way to make the vented slot covers, and to be honest I think it was the wrong choice. They look all right, but they’re flimsy, really, really flimsy. This makes them a little out of place on the Panzerbox, so it would have been nice if NZXT had included the same slot covers that came with the Beta. The Beta’s slot covers were metal mesh, so they offered good ventilation, great aesthetics and more strength than the ones seen here.
With the motherboard tray removed there isn’t much chassis structure left, but thanks to the thickness of the materials the chassis is still rock solid.
Flipping the chassis over we can see the big rubber feet that the Panzerbox rests on.
Turning the chassis around gives us a better look at the remaining internal structure.
The aluminum bars that make up the frame of the case are super beefy, no signs of flex here.
The next components to be removed are the bay covers, which are a little manufacturing marvel themselves. You see, instead of being plastic or thin metal like on most cases, these are made of thick aluminum. But even more than that, each bay cover is a SINGLE PIECE of cast aluminum. No seams, no points of weakness. These are the BMW of bay covers.
Every once in a while a chassis comes to me for review that is so awesome that I absolutely must install the best system I have in it. This hasn’t happened since the ULTRA m998, which is still one of my all time favorite chassis. Up to this point I had been so impressed by the Panzerbox that I knew it was that time again. So this build will feature my main workstation/gaming rig, consisting of:
Intel e2180 @ 3.2 Ghz with CoolIT Domino LCS
XFX 680i LT motherboard
2x GTX 260 896mb graphics cards
6 gigs of OCZ DDR2-800 @ 1Ghz
1.3 TB’s of hard disks (One 1TB plus two 160 gigs in RAID-0)
Corsair HX1000 PSU
Plus DVD burner, fan controller, Audigy 2 sound card, etc. etc.
Step one: Install the motherboard
Next is to slide the motherboard tray into the case and remount the CoolIT Domino (notice I already have the DVD burner and fan controller in place).
Then we can stand the chassis back up
Three 5.25” drive bays worked out perfect for my DVD burner/NZXT Sentry LX combo
Next slide in the HDD’s and throw in a couple of video cards
It’s beginning to get a wee bit cramped in here.
Although at this stage there isn’t much wire mess to speak of.
Finally mount the PSU, hook everything up, and observe the resulting mess. Unfortunately with such a small chassis you can’t really get creative with cable management.
The PSU should be able to breathe easy through the left side panel
And one last look at the back of the chassis
Sizing It Up
Next to the m998 the Panzerbox doesn’t look all that much smaller. The question is, how much more compact is it?
So it’s shorter in terms of length, but otherwise about the same size. Considering the m998 isn’t all that large a case it’s not surprising. It would be a LOT smaller than something like the Coolermaster Stacker 830.
With a name like Panzerbox I was expecting this case to kick ass, and it really does. The build quality of the individual components is fantastic, although some of the fitting work (such as the side panel seams) indicates that fit and finish could be improved. One of the best surprises NZXT had in store for me with this case was that when they said it was “all aluminum” they weren’t kidding. Everything that you would expect to be plastic is cast aluminum. In fact I’m fairly sure that even the little power and reset buttons are made of aluminum.
Of course build quality means nothing if the case is difficult to work with, and this is another area where the Panzerbox shines. The motherboard tray is removable, and all of your expansion cards/exterior drives are secured with thumbscrews. On top of that the chances of your high end hardware not fitting are almost zilch. I managed to squeeze in a pair of GTX 260’s with several inches to spare on the end AND they run considerably cooler than in the more spacious m998. Any multi-GPU arrangement should be no problem for this case.
Along with lots of space for big cards there is also more than enough space for a 1Kw+ PSU, but in a case this small it better be modular (sorry PC Power & Cooling). The only real complaint I have in terms of expandability is that NZXT easily could have designed the bottom HDD cage to hold 4+ drives horizontally, but instead they made it hold two drives vertically. It would be awesome if they designed a cage to hold more 3.5” drives and a couple of 2.5” drives for those SSD and SAS drive fans among us.
On the topic of cooling, the Panzerbox is a real killer. The two 190mm fans combined push 300cfm, plus a 120mm rear cooling fan is also included. Add in a bracket for a dual 120mm rad and beastly holes to route external rad/reservoir tubing into the case and you have a real winner whether you are cooling with air or water.
Oh and this is the killer that I haven’t yet mentioned – you want to know how much all this will run you? You think you can handle it? Okay, at the moment the price of the Panzerbox on Newegg is:
No typos. That’s actually what it costs. Surprised? I was too. Absolutely incredible
But enough complements for the Panzerbox, time to do the pros/cons.
· Full aluminum construction
· Fantastic build quality
· Amazing cooling performance
· Facilitates water-cooling quite well
· Room for monster video/expansion cards
· Room for monster power supplies
· Space for four hard drives with extensive vibration dampening
· Vibration dampening rubber for 5.25” drives
· Simple aesthetics
· Includes two 190mm fans
· Perfect blank slate for modding
· Plenty of space for super sized CPU heatsinks
· Tool-less installation of external drives and cards
· Rubber feet ensure minimal vibration transfer to and no scratching of, your work surface
· Wire-type rear fan grill
· Only $119.99 USD
· No tool-less installation for hard drives
· Fit/finish could use a bit of improvement
· Cable management is very difficult
· Availability isn’t the best
· Due to the design of the side panels it’s a little difficult to carry around
· Bottom hard disk rack should have been made for more drives
· Isn’t all that much smaller than a standard case
· Slot covers SHOULD have been the same as the ones on the Beta
· 120mm fan is double wired for molex and 3-pin
The Panzerbox really lives up to its name. Compared to every other case I’ve ever reviewed, this one truly is built like a tank. Throw in an almost silly amount of ventilation and a couple of giant fans and it’s ready for just about anything you can throw at it. At $119.99 on Newegg at the moment, this is a “no-brainer” purchase. I cannot recommend this case enough.