I have always had a thing for small compact PCs, they don’t take much space and are pretty portable, but options were very limited. Good mini ITX motherboards were hard to find and the cabinets were few and expensive. The release of the prodigy has really shaken the market and given it a new life. At a very reasonable price, it provides great flexibility and opens up a lot of hardware options,previously not possible in a SFF rig. So lets take a closer look at the prodigy and know why it is quickly becoming such a popular case.
Exterior Analysis :
Lets first take a look at the exterior of the Prodigy. The front side of the Prodigy is a full mesh plastic with their metallic logo, even the shield of the 5.25″ bay is the same material. On the right side we have the IO panel, which comprises of 2 USB 3.0 ports, headphone and mic jacks, Power/Reset buttons and power/HDD lights. On the left side we have some venting holes that would really aid your graphics card cooling. On the top and bottom of the case we have the plastic handles with their special soft touch coating. On top, we also have space for 2 120mm fans and comes with a removable filter mesh, and yes, it can accommodate a 240mm radiator! On the front side you can mount a single 230/200/180/140mm fan or 2 120mm fans. On the rear you can have 1 140/120mm fan. So even on a small cabinet like this, you do have plenty of fan options to play with.
On the back, we can get a hint of the working of the prodigy. The motherboard is mounted horizontally and you have 2 vented rear slots. This will allow the use of dual slot cards, so that should cover most of the cards in the market. The PSU bay is right at the bottom. You need to remove the face plate and then just slide the PSU in, a fairly simple process.
On a whole, the cabinet looks pretty good. Its slightly large compared to traditional mini ITX chassis, but that not a huge con in my book. The IO panel being on the right side can restrict your placement options and can be an issue for some. The handles on bottom make the cabinet a little wobbly which I really dislike, I hope bitfenix can make some changes and fix this issue in the next version.
Moving onto the interior of the case, first thing we notice is that it has a lot of HDD space. There is space for 5 x 3.5″ HDDs and you can install up to 9 x 2.5″ drives! If you want to use a long graphics card, you can easily remove the removable HDD cage. So for the loss of 3 HDDs, you can install really long cards in this case. Even the bottom 2 HDD slots can be removed by removing a few screws. Even the optical drive bay can be removed, thus giving you a lot of space to play around with, specially if you want to go for a custom water cooling solution.
Its really simple to remove the lower cage and the top ODD bay…you just got to remove these screws (sorry for the dusty pics, its gets dirty quickly here). For the optical bay, you need to remove 2 screws from the front of the chassis as well, so just keep that in mind.
Removal of the front panel is also pretty simple. All you gotta do is just push these tabs sideways and the front panel pops out itself. Once you do that, you can clearly see the front intake fan holes. As mentioned before, you have a lot of options, right from 230mm fans to 120mm. I noticed a small issue here though, if you do go for 2 120mm fans in the front, you will have to sacrifice you sole optical bay, I hope Bitfenix can come up with a design that can fix this issue.
When you remove the bottom HDD cage, it gives you a lot of space, here, there are a lot of 2.5″ HDD mounting options, I have shown just of of the possible locations. So one is on the bottom as shown, there are 2 more possible places on the PSU cage.
The PSU cage has a depth of 180mm, but that does not mean that you can use power supplies that are 180mm long, you should take into account the cables themselves. I would not suggest you use PSUs that are longer than 160mm in this case. This should be enough for most users, as you can get good 700W PSU with this limitation. But if you need more power, you might have a problem. Not sure if it is a good idea, but as an interim fix, they could provide a bent PSU face plate, that can give an additional 15-20mm length.
Taking a more closer look at the side panel, we notice that it not only provides USB 3.0 support, but is also backward compatible and provides a USB 2.0 option as well. I really think its a good thing done by Bitfenix, hope all manufacturers adopt the same. Its very useful in case your motherboard does not come with a USB 3.0 header, you can still use these ports. In my case though, it was even more useful since my USB 3.0 header broke (I will take about this in the next section), so my USB ports were still usable. The power and HDD LEDs are pretty bright, its not really an issue for me, but some might find it distracting.Just in case you are wondering what the ‘grill’ kind of structure in the above side panel is, its actually a 2.5″ HDD cage! You can mount 2 2.5″ HDDs on the side panel as well.
Its always a challenge building a SFF PC and I enjoyed doing this build. It was certainly not easy, I would recommend every first timer to plan his build, plan out what order you will do the assembly. I first attached the liquid cooler to the CPU socket and then mounted the cooler to the chassis. I then fixed the motherboard to the chassis and then put in the PSU. Before you do that, route the cables on each side so as you require them to be. Bitfenix has provided some space on the sides of the PSU cage for you to stash the extra cables. In addition to that, I push some extra cables on the top of the PSU as well, so in the end I ended up getting a pretty clean setup.
The cables from the IO panel are pretty long, which is a good thing so that you can remove the side panel easily, but I made a blunder and twisted the USB 3.0 connector such that it was under some stress. After a few days when I was disassembling the system, I accidentally broke the USB 3.0 motherboard connector (one on the chassis), but since I had the option of the USB 2.0 ports, it was not such a huge loss. So just be careful while you are packing away those cables.
The included fans (2 120mm fans) are very silent but they don’t push a lot of air, so you might want to get some additional fans. One extra crib, Bitfenix, please supply some 3pin to 4pin headers since the mini ITX boards have very few fan headers (my ASRock Z77 had just 2!).
The rest of the build went pretty smoothly. It was a fairly easy job to install the hard drives and the graphics card. As you can see, there is plenty of space so you can install some pretty long cards. The card I installed measures 10.5″ and you still have a lot of place left. You can pretty much install any air cooler, there is sufficient of clearance in the cabinet, but most often it is the motherboard layout that is the issue. In my ASRock Z77E-ITX, the CPU socket is too close to the PCI-E slot, hence I face issues with large air coolers. The EVGA Z77 mini ITX stinger seems to have a better layout if you want to install larger coolers.
The Verdict :
The BitFenix Prodigy really does live up to the name. It has rekindled interest of the market in the mini ITX/SFF segment. You finally have an affordable mini ITX chassis that provides great flexibility with good looks. The Prodigy is not perfect though, there are areas where they can still improve, but even with that, its a lovely case. I would give it a 9/10 and is highly recommended to anyone who is looking for a small PC without having to sacrifice much performance. Its currently available in 2 colors, Midnight Black and Arctic White. The window side panel variant is now released and should be available soon. The official distributor of bitfenix products in india is Xtreme Grafix and is available for a price of Rs5950 + shipping.
——Update : 03/04/2013——-
The special edition white prodigy is now available. It comes with a 230mm front LED fan and a rear 140mm LED fan, just just Rs6450 + shipping.