Date: September 20, 2014
Author(s): J.D. Kane
BitFenix’s Neos mid-tower chassis sits at the lowest rung of the company’s chassis product line. As such, it comes in at a very affordable $59.99 – a price that allows anyone to get a piece of the action. But a low price doesn’t always deliver on the “value” aspects we’d hope to see, so let’s find out what kind of value the Neos is.
Value. Now there’s a loaded word.
For some, it’s a bit of a dirty word, a euphemism for “cheap” and usually descriptive of something that occupies the lowest position of a company’s product line. By this definition, to say something is a great value is to denigrate it for its price.
For others, though, value is a beautiful concept. It means getting the most for one’s money. You don’t fork over a ton of money, but you get a lot for what you do surrender in terms of legal tender.
This brief discussion on the concept of value is relevant to the subject of our review today, the Neos from BitFenix. This chassis sits at the lowest rung of the company’s chassis line. Despite this, the Neos model offers a staggering plethora of color options. The basic chassis comes in either black or white, and this can be combined with a front fascia that comes in red, blue, black, silver, purple, gold (!), and white. That means there are fourteen possible color combinations to choose from, which, frankly, is astonishing considering this chassis’ place at the bottom of the batting order. The company sent Techgage a white and blue Neos to review, as well as a 650W Fury power supply unit for our use in this review. Many thanks to BitFenix.
Let’s get on with getting to know the BitFenix Neos.
There it is, resplendent in white and blue. It’s a cool color combination, very easy on the eyes. The front view is dominated by the all-mesh fascia. This specific color scheme and the perforations suggest that this chassis should be able to keep your PC cool quite easily, no?
Removing the front panel reveals the mesh is backed by a foam filter which should do a good job keeping the dust out. Further aiding dust filtration is a clip-on dust filter. This dust filter is actually quite cleverly designed, since this is where users would install up to two 120mm fans. Normally, fans are installed onto the chassis itself; this is an interesting innovation on the Neos.
Here’s a view of the left side panel. It’s virtually identical to the right side panel. BitFenix does have a Neos model fitted with a windowed left side panel (it’s a separate SKU).
The rear view is fairly typical. Most noteworthy are the seven PCI expansion slots as well as the thumbscrews securing the side panels. The rear exhaust fan is a 120mm BitFenix fan, by the way. That black piece perpendicular to the PCI expansion slot area is a removable plastic panel that gives you access to the screw holes used to anchor graphics cards and other PCI expansion devices.
Since there’s nothing particularly interesting on the right side of the case, let’s move on to the front I/O cluster. It sits on the top front edge of the Neos. The I/O cluster is fairly unique in that this is the first one that I’ve seen that has one port each of USB 3.0 and 2.0; more usual, in my experience, is a pair of either or both USB types.
Turning it to its side, we can have a look at the Neos’ bottom. The chassis has four plastic feet at the corners. There is also a filtered opening to feed your system’s power supply unit at the rear. The filter is removable for easy cleaning.
Next stop on our visual tour of the Neos is a look at its interior. The whole interior is painted in the same color as the rest of the chassis. Note that black sleeving on the cables from the I/O cluster, the four oval-shaped cable management holes, as well as the 100% tool-less optical drive bay retention system. Although it’s not clear from this angle, where the standoffs would usually be on the motherboard tray, are raised blisters with screw holes in their centers. These blisters are, effectively, the standoffs. The Neos supports mini-ITX, mATX, and ATX motherboards.
The Neos has two distinct drive cages, one each for 2.5″ and 3.5″ storage devices. SSDs and HDDs are secured onto plastic sleds with screws (which are provided); the sleds then slide into their own appropriately sized drive cages. These drive cages can each hold up to three drives; they are not removable from the chassis.
Next is a look at the rear of the motherboard tray. As this shot shows, there just isn’t much room between the rear of the motherboard tray and the right side panel; the gap is just barely half a centimeter, actually. Whether this will make neat cable management difficult (or impossible) we will see later on in the review.
Here’s a look at the accessory package included in the Neos. We have a single baggie of assorted screws, a few zip-ties, and a quick installation guide.
Before we move on with this review, here’s a look at the Fury 650G PSU that BitFenix so generously provided to us. The Fury 650G is a 80 Plus Gold-rated power supply unit, capable of producing a peak of 650W. Its feature list is extensive: Active Power Factor Correction; Nanosleeve braided cables; semi-modular cabling; Japanese-made capacitors; single 12V rail output (capable of 50A from 0-40°C); Intel Haswell C6/C7 Power State compatibility; and OVP, UVP, OCP, SCP, OTP, and OPP protections. BitFenix specifies a warranty of five years.
Now that we’ve had a look at both the Neos and the Fury 650G, let’s install our test system.
I’ll be reviewing the BitFenix Neos on a few key criteria: Ease of system installation; cooling performance; a subjective evaluation of its noise output characteristics; and a few miscellaneous subjective observations and comments about the chassis and its design and features.
Because BitFenix was so generous in providing the Fury 650G for our testing, I think it’s more than appropriate that it should have the honor of being the first component installed into the Neos. Installation is easy and typical. Users have the choice of mounting their PSUs with its fan facing either up towards the motherboard tray or down towards the floor. I’ve chosen to mount the Fury 650G fan-side down.
Before proceeding further with the installation, here’s the rest of our test system:
|Chassis Test System|
|Processors||Intel Core i5 2500K @ 3.3GHz/1.2V VCore|
|Memory||GSkill Ripjaws DDR3 1600 2 x 4GB|
|Graphics||EVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX680 (reference design)|
|Storage||Crucial C300 (128GB) SSD|
|Power Supply||BitFenix Fury 650G|
|OS||Windows 8 64-bit|
Motherboard installation is complicated somewhat by the fact that there is precious little room to operate in, particularly towards the top of the Neos. This is exacerbated if you have large hands. Now mine aren’t exactly baseball mitts, but it’s still nearly impossible to work inside the Neos near its roof section. I strongly suggest plugging in the 8-pin CPU power cable before maneuvering the motherboard into position, particularly if the 8-pin connector is in its typical location on the motherboard’s top-left corner. Even if you do this, though, it’s still a major pain maneuvering the cable and the motherboard so that the latter is installed properly onto the motherboard tray. As things stood, though, because of another issue I discovered later, I had to kludge the motherboard installation and forego using the top left and top center screws. I’ll describe why this was necessary in a couple of paragraphs.
As soon as I put the motherboard in, I ran into another issue, this time with the height of the NZXT Havik 140. There’s no way for it to fit with the side panel installed. I did a bit of research, and I found that the Neos supports CPU coolers with a maximum height of 158mm; the Havik 140 is 8mm too tall.
This simply won’t do; our test system would be useless without a CPU cooler. So I beseeched Techgage top banana Rob and told him about my discovery. Thankfully, he was able to arrange the acquisition of a more suitable CPU cooler.
Unfortunately, the need to uninstall the Havik 140 revealed yet another issue.
The CPU backplate cut-out was just a bit too small, blocking access to the CPU cooler retention system; this necessitated removal of the motherboard to uninstall the Havik 140 (as well as to install the new CPU cooler). It may be that your motherboard’s CPU backplate may be 100% accessible through the cut-out on the Neos, but it wasn’t for my system. It’s an unfortunate and inconvenient coincidence.
I scarcely couldn’t believe it, though, when the alternative CPU cooler Rob arranged to be sent to me was likewise just a bit too tall. This time, the heat sink was just 2mm too tall (and that was just the heat sink itself; the fans protruded a couple of millimeters more).
By this point I was getting a bit annoyed, if I’m honest. Rob came through for us again, though, and arranged for another CPU cooler to be sent to me. Each delay, by the way, added to the time I was spending to review the Neos. Thankfully, though, the third time, finally, was the charm.
Now that we’ve had our third go at system installation, it’s appropriate to elaborate on why I didn’t use the top left and top center screws for motherboard installation. It was simply impossible to do so due to the absolute lack of space available. Because I had to pre-install the CPU cooler to the motherboard due to the smallness of the CPU backplate cut-out, there was simply no way to fit any of my screwdrivers in the limited space available and install the two remaining screws to secure the motherboard onto the motherboard tray. I cannot remember any other PC chassis causing these types of niggling issues, especially a modern one.
At any rate, after motherboard installation, I proceeded to complete the installation of the GPU and its AIO cooler. This necessitated the removal of the 120mm fan installed in the rear exhaust position. This is the only part of the Neos where users can mount a radiator. Not only that, but users are also limited to just a single 120mm radiator. This means only one component (either the CPU or the GPU) can be water-cooled; there’s simply no way to do both without modifying the Neos.
Because of the location of the radiator mounting, though, I had to install the GPU on the lower 16x PCI-E slot on the motherboard (instead of the upper primary slot) to allow the hoses some more room. Installing the GPU in anything but the primary PCI-E slot may impact its performance; however, since we’re really only interested in the Neos’ thermal performance, mounting the GPU in the secondary PCI-E slot shouldn’t impact the GPU in any negative way for this specific purpose.
Mounting the SSD into its sled was very easy. I don’t mind securing it with four screws, but I can imagine some users may think it’s a slightly inconvenient solution.
Cable management is challenging, particularly because of the shortage of space in the Neos. Thankfully, the Nanosleeve braiding on the Fury PSU seems tailor-made for the Neos’ tight confines. Using a PSU with stiffer, bulkier cables will definitely frustrate builders who like their cabling jobs to be as neat as possible.
And speaking of cables, hooking up the front I/O leads to their headers on the motherboard is more challenging than usual simply because of the lack of space inside the Neos. Using tweezers might help, but I don’t think users ought to go to such extremes just to work inside their PC chassis.
You may have noticed just how much I’ve said about system installation so far. Moreover, most of what I’ve said hasn’t exactly been complimentary, either. Installing your PC’s components into the chassis is normally a straightforward process. It is anything but in the Neos. I hate to say it, but I cannot overstate just how annoying system installation is with this chassis.
Hopefully it can redeem itself when it comes to thermal performance.
Because we are now dealing with a brand-new CPU heat sink, it wouldn’t be fair to compare thermal performance data achieved on the test system versus older data acquired from two previous chassis reviews (here’s the first, then the second). Having said that, testing protocol shall be identical to how we’ve been doing it with this test system: I keep the room ambient temperature at 72°F/22.22°C; I add no fans to the PC chassis, using only what’s installed out of the box or using only what comes with the CPU and GPU coolers I’m using, and I use OCCT and MSI Kombustor to generate peak loads and temperatures for the CPU and GPU, respectively.
So here is how the BitFenix Neos performs in terms of CPU peak temperatures:
OCCT generates peak CPU temperatures of 64°/69°/68°/69°C for each of the i5-2500K’s four cores. That means there’s a delta of 47°C between the ambient room temperature and the hottest core temperatures.
And as for the GPU, MSI Kombustor heats up our AIO-cooled GTX 680 to 68°C (a delta of 46°C from ambient).
While we cannot directly compare CPU temperatures, it’s perfectly valid to compare GPU data. The BitFenix Neos does worse than both the Corsair Obsidian 450D (63°C) and the Puget Systems Test Bench (50°C). Five degrees Celsius may not seem like much, but a difference of 18° is staggering. The data suggest that the GPU radiator’s performance is suffering from air starvation. Because the Neos doesn’t have any intake fans, any air that does make it into the chassis must be sucked in through the front intake, relying on just the fans on the CPU cooler and the radiator. That’s a very inefficient way to feed a PC’s need for cooling air. And that’s with a full-mesh front fascia.
Now, in terms of noise suppression, the Neos is quite good. I couldn’t hear any noise at all from the fans inside. At least that’s something BitFenix did right.
As far as miscellaneous comments go, well, I’m not so impressed with the feel of the materials used on the Neos. There is preponderance of plastic pieces in the Neos’ construction. The feet, in particular, feel a bit flimsy, as does the black plastic panel covering the PCI expansion slot anchor points. Even some of the metal portions of the chassis feel less robust than they should. The PCI expansion slot area seems to lack rigidity, for example.
And I’m not impressed at all with the “disposable” PCI slot covers. If there’s any one feature on the Neos that screams “cheap” to me, it’s this.
Let’s wrap this review up with some final thoughts.
There is a very fine line between “cheap” and “inexpensive,” and the BitFenix Neos absolutely doesn’t straddle it. It’s most definitely got its feet squarely on one side of that divide.
At a SRP of $59.99 it seems like it’s good value. It’s definitely accessible, especially for the most budget-conscious users.
However, I honestly cannot recommend it.
It’s just far too limiting (and limited). The dramas I discovered while trying to fit an aftermarket CPU cooler inside it are quite ridiculous. Consider that most tower-style CPU coolers now use 140mm fans; unfortunately, most tower-style heat sinks just won’t fit within the 158mm maximum CPU cooler height specified by BitFenix for the Neos. Believe me, in the throes of absolute desperation to finish up this review, I did a ton of research on what heat sink could fit inside the Neos. I even wanted to spend my own money, just to get a cooler that would fit. Rob wouldn’t have that and arranged for a third-party to send me a suitable heat sink, and it still took two bites at the cherry before we got a compatible cooler.
One that finally did is an older model that’s fitted with a 120mm fan. Now there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a smaller heat sink; the thing is, though, is that they are getting harder and harder to find because the world has already moved on to coolers designed to work with bigger fans. You might argue, too, that you can always use your CPU’s stock cooler. The thing is, I don’t want to use stock coolers because they don’t perform as well as aftermarket solutions. The Neos just forces users to use inferior equipment in their PCs. That kind of built-in restriction just seems anachronistic and, well, stupid. It’s also unacceptable, in my opinion. I cannot think of one good, logical reason to limit the Neos’ compatibility with current-generation PC components.
The Neos’ petite dimensions all conspire to make building a PC inside it an exercise rife with frustration. There’s just no good engineering-based excuse to make it so damn hard to work inside of. At least I can’t come up with one.
Then there are the other baffling design decisions that may simply be coincidentally and inconveniently incompatible with my specific hardware combination. I’m talking about the CPU backplate cut-out that’s just a bit too small. It’s pointless to have a convenience feature like this if you can’t take advantage of it. The lack of room at the top of the chassis also makes it far too difficult to do something as basic as plug in the CPU power connector or completely screw in your motherboard. You’d need a little girl’s hands to do these things in the Neos, unless you anticipated the problem and worked out a solution beforehand (assuming there is one available). Even then it’s still inconvenient and far too much to demand from a user.
If the Neos had redeemed itself through a spectacular performance in the thermal tests, I’d be less critical of it. However, because it only came with one fan (which had to be removed because I needed its mounting position for my GPU’s radiator), it ensured a woeful performance in these tests as well.
Plus it seems to be made of the softest steel around, as well as plastic bits that feel so flimsy that I’m afraid they’d break if I just looked at them the wrong way. “Disposable” PCI slot covers also seem to be a throwback to a bygone era of PC chassis design. This isn’t a chassis you’d feel good about using if you want to go through multiple upgrade cycles with your custom PC.
About the only positive thing I could say about the Neos in terms of its performance characteristics is that it dampens sound really well. Oh, the multiple color combinations available are nice too, if vanity is that high up your own priority scale.
Stacked up against everything, though, you can only conclude that the BitFenix Neos is simply woeful. The design feels old, updated maybe with a modern touch here or there (the cable management holes, the CPU backplate cut-out). As such, perhaps it embarrasses itself with its name. After all, “Neos” comes from “neo,” meaning new.
Maybe it should have been called the “Antiquis” instead.
Whatever its name, it unfortunately will always be known as representative of the worst iteration of the concept of value.
It’s just cheap.
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