Date: July 20, 2015
Author(s): Ryan Perry
Whether space is at a premium, or you simply want something portable, BitFenix’s small form factor Prodigy M chassis might be exactly what you need. Whether it’s more for the features or the brilliant colours, it’s hard to walk by one without at least giving it a good once over, which is exactly what we’re going to do.
After reviewing chassis for over 4 years, I’m still amazed at how pumped I get when there’s a box waiting on my doorstep. Even my 6-year-old son is calling me a geek, but hey, if she shoe fits…
Today I get to geek out with my very first BitFenix product, the Prodigy M, which is a larger version of the original mini-ITX-only Prodigy. With an inverted motherboard and unique interior layout, this steel, small form factor enclosure can now handle mini-ITX and micro-ATX motherboards, multiple hard drives, and large video cards.
Originally available in black or white, BitFenix has released four additional eye-popping colours such as vivid green, cobalt blue, and atomic orange. Our review starts with the front panel of the fire red version, where we see a 5.25″ drive bay at the top, the BitFenix logo towards the bottom, and a vented area that runs around the perimeter. The front, top, and bottom panels have been coated with a soft touch material as well.
With the motherboard flipped upside down, the left panel is solid, so we’ll head around to the back. In the top left is a vented opening, and five expansion slot covers on the right that feature a sliding retention system. Sitting next to the motherboard I/O opening is a 120mm exhaust fan, and finishing things off is the power connector in the lower right corner that delivers the juice to the front-mounted power supply by way of an internal extension cable.
BitFenix also has a windowed side panel that can be ordered separately, but the Prodigy M ships with a solid panel from the get go. Towards the front of this panel starting at the top are the power and reset buttons, microphone and headphone jacks, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports.
Up on the top panel is a large, removable vent cover. Sliding the latch at the back allows the cover to be removed where we see the mounting area for up to two optional 120mm fans.
Aside from the opening at the front for the power supply, the underside of the Prodigy M is largely vented and includes another 120mm fan, with the option to install second, or even a monster 230mm fan. There’s room to install a single 3.5″ drive next to the pre-installed fan, but it can be removed and a second drive installed. If fans aren’t being used in this location, the included magentic cover can be attached to help keep dust out of the system.
Ok, it’s time to get nekkid, and there’s a lot to cover. As mentioned earlier, the motherboard is inverted, so we start by removing the right panel instead of the left, and are immediately greeted by the mounting plate that allows for up to three 2.5″ drives on the outside, or two 3.5″ drives on the inside.
With the drive mounting plate out-of-the-way we see the very large cutout in the motherboard tray, and the bottom and rear exhaust fans. There’s also the power extension cable that runs along the back from the rear port to the power supply area at the front, where a removable mounting bracket is waiting.
A quick look at the inside of the right panel shows the cables for the power and reset buttons, and audio and USB ports. All but the cable for the USB ports can be removed, which should make it easier to connect to the motherboard. The plastic grill behind the cables acts as the mounting points for another pair of 2.5″ drives.
The Prodigy M comes with all of the usual screws to secure the system components, a small socket to help with installing the motherboard standoffs, a handful of cable ties, a USB adapter (which is something I still love to see included, but seldom is), a quick install guide, and the magnetic vent cover to keep the bottom vents sealed up tight when not in use.
Now that the easy stuff is finished, it’s time to get to work and see just what the BitFenix Prodigy M is capable of as we install our test system and round up some temperatures.
Even though it’s not a component in the final build, we decided to test fit an optical drive to check for clearance issues. What we found was that the drive partially covered the fan on our large test GPU that uses the standard reference cooler. This could severely limit the amount of cool air that can be pulled into the video card and could cause higher than normal temperatures.
The other hiccup that we ran into had to do with our power supply, and isn’t a flaw in the design of the chassis per se, but rather with the orientation of the pins on the power supply itself. In the shot below we see that the 90 degree cable had to be bent sharply in order to clear the edge of the recessed power supply area. Again, it comes down to the power supply being used, so hopefully it’ll be smooth sailing for most.
By the time all was said and done, it took about an hour and a half to install our test system into the Prodigy M, which is quite a bit longer than it normally takes using a standard chassis, however this was more or less expected due to the small form factor and interior layout.
The overall build quality remained very high during the installation, however the top handles flexed more than what we were personally comfortable with when it came time to transport the fully built system, and in the end we found it less stressful to carry it from the bottom. Our test system is pretty basic, but we could imagine that packing this chassis full of drives and a liquid cooler could cause some serious problems if the handles aren’t up to the task of supporting the extra weight.
With the build running longer than expected, we decided to forgo tidying up the cables and simply stashed them in the very welcomed space between the power supply, optical drive, and video card. Here’s what we ended up with.
All of our testing is performed in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording all system temperatures throughout the testing process.
Windows is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording the idle CPU and GPU temperatures. CPU load temperatures are generated by performing a 20 minute run of OCCT LINPACK using 90% of the available memory, while GPU load temperatures are generated by OCCT’s built in test, also for 20 minutes.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by setting the AI Tweaker option with the BIOS to Auto and the maximum stable overclock frequency of 4.0GHz was obtained after extensive testing to ensure stability. The final clocks for the GPU are 760MHz on the core and 1000MHz QDR (4000MHz relative) for the memory with the voltage increased to 1.087V using MSI’s Afterburner overclocking utility. As with the CPU overclock, testing was done prior to ensure full stability.
|Techgage Chassis Testing System|
|Processor||Intel Core i5-661 – Dual-Core (3.33GHz)|
|Motherboard||ASUS P7H55D-M EVO mATX – H55-based|
|Memory||Corsair Dominator 2x2GB DDR3-1600 7-8-7-20-2T|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 470|
|Storage||Western Digital 2TB Green|
|Power Supply||Antec TP-750 Blue|
|Chassis||BitFenix Prodigy M|
|CPU Cooling||Thermaltake Jing|
|Et cetera||Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit|
|Graphics Card (OC)||44||95|
Stock idle and load temperatures stayed well under the thermal limits of the CPU and GPU, and were on par with another micro-ATX chassis that we tested out a while back, the Phanteks Enthoo EVOLV. The EVOLV uses a more traditional layout, but at the expense of a larger footprint. With regards to thermal performance, the two systems were neck and neck during overclocked testing.
We also wanted to see just how much affect the optical drive would affect GPU temperatures since it covered almost half of the fan. Thankfully, it only resulted in an increase of an extra degree, but at 96 degrees, that’s still plenty high, and those using an aftermarket cooler with a dual fan design could notice different numbers as well since one fan would be completely covered. Luckily, optical drives seem to be on the way out for most.
Finally, for those who value silence, the system remained extremely quiet, even with the fans running at 100%.
If we had to sum up the BitFenix Prodigy M in one word, it would have to be “advanced”. We don’t want to scare anybody away from such a solid chassis, but we could see how a novice could get frustrated due to what little space there was to work in.
Factor in the potential clearance problems when using an optical drive, as well possibly having to bend the power supply extension cable depending on the orientation of the pins on the power supply, and we could be left with a chassis that’s a bit of a pain for someone isn’t able to roll with the punches as they come.
We’re concerned by the high amount of flex in the handles, and again we would recommend that a fully built system be carried from underneath rather than tempt fate. With the exception of the handles, the build quality of the Prodigy M was fantastic. The panels and frame are very rigid and we didn’t notice any flexing of these during the installation of our test system.
Despite the smaller footprint, thermal performance was on par with a larger competing micro-ATX chassis, and the included fans are some of the quietest that we can recall.
We don’t know many folks who can “make it rain”, so price is also likely to be a factor in whether or not to purchase a Prodigy M. We’re happy to report that one can be had for as little as $85 USD, which is a fantastic deal.
All in all, our time with the BitFenix Prodigy M was a positive experience, however if you’re planning on using one as the backbone of your system, we recommend that extra time is taken to pick the components, or to ensure that your current gear will fit if being used as an upgrade.
Having a little extra patience won’t hurt either.
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