Date: August 25, 2016
Author(s): Ryan Perry
If you’re on the fence about which chassis to choose for your mini-ITX build or upgrade, we’d like to present the NZXT Manta as a clear contender for your hard earned dollars. It’s well designed, well built, has room for some serious hardware, and has more bells and whistles than many other mini-ITX only chassis. Check it out.
It seems like ages since I’ve reviewed a chassis of any kind. Oh wait, it has been. Well then, it seems like even longer since I’ve reviewed a chassis from NZXT. Oh wait, it has been. Well then, it seems like even longer since I’ve rolled around on my big pile of money. Yeah, I didn’t think that would work either, but let’s fix two of these three grievous oversights by taking a look at NZXT’s latest concept chassis turned production model, the NZXT Manta, a rather large mini-ITX (mITX) tower that flies in the face of smaller, more confining chassis that seem to be the norm these days.
The Manta features curved panels on almost all sides to allow more space to install components and route cables. This, along with the clean exterior and unbroken symmetry makes it hard to pass by without at least a quick once over. Our review sample is the matte black version with a window on the side panel, but the windowed version is also available in matte white with black accents, and matte black with red accents. For those who don’t feel the need to show off their gear, there is also a matte black version available with a solid side panel.
The front panel of the Manta is devoid of any openings and only the NZXT logo is visible near the bottom. Those who hope to use optical drives, a temperature monitoring system, or another device that makes use of a 5.25″ drive bay will be out of luck with this chassis.
Swinging around to the left side we see a very generous window to show off the various components inside the Manta. Both side panels feature captive thumbscrews, which means there’s no chance of losing them while the panels are removed since they remain attached. Just behind the side panel are two mesh accents that add a bit of flare to the Manta while also providing a passive way for air to enter the chassis.
Starting at the top of the rear panel is a vented area that sits above the motherboard I/O opening and the first of three included NZXT FN120 V2 fans, which acts as an exhaust fan in this location. Further down are two PCI slot covers, the power supply opening, and a small tab just below the power supply opening that belongs to a removable dust filter. It’s hard to see and could easily be missed, but above the motherboard I/O opening is a white LED that’s controlled by the small button on the left side of the rear panel. This serves as a way to illuminate the rear panel in low light environments, making it a cinch to see what’s connected.
The right side panel is a solid version of the left, so we’ll head on up to the top panel for a quick peek. At the front is a small white LED accent that sits in front of the power button on the left, while on the right are the microphone and headset ports, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports.
The underside of the Manta shows the integrated case feet that wrap under the chassis and each sports a pair of rubber pads to keep the chassis from sliding, while protecting the surface it rests on. At the front, or rather at the top of this shot is a better view of the front intake area behind the front cover, and at the back is the removable dust filter for the power supply.
Before we cover the interior, here’s the Manta with the front and top panels removed. There’s another removable dust filter on the front that covers a pair of FN120 intake fans, while the top has the mounting points for another pair of optional 140mm or 120mm fans. For those who want to take cooling to the next level, there’s even room on the front and top panels for radiators measuring up to 280mm, potentially making the Manta a cooling powerhouse. The power button and all ports are mounted to the frame of the chassis rather than the top panel, which makes for easy removal since there are no wires to worry about.
OK, it’s finally time to look at the innards, and there’s a fair bit to cover even though the Manta features a traditional tower-style layout compared to many other mITX chassis. We’ll start with the NZXT logo at the bottom, which hides the power supply compartment and can be illuminated using the button that also controls the LED for the rear panel. There’s also enough room to mount a 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive on the floor of the chassis in front of the power supply.
Moving up to the main section finds some ventilation slots over the power supply compartment; the two 120mm intake fans at the front, removable mounting trays for two 2.5″ drives next to the front fans, a raised NZXT emblazoned cover to help hide cables running to and from the drives, some cable management openings that run around the perimeter of the motherboard tray, a large cutout behind where the CPU will sit, and the single 120mm exhaust fan.
The back of the motherboard tray is where we see the mounting points for another 3.5″ hard drive, which is made possible thanks to the curved side panels. There are also cable tie loops found at all of the critical points where cables might be run, but the star of the show is the integrated 8-channel fan controller. This will allow the Manta to be filled with fans without users having to worry about a lack of headers on a mITX motherboard, or having to source a separate splitter cable.
Towards the rear is the circuitry that controls the NZXT logo on the power supply compartment and the rear panel LED. Power for the fan controller and LEDs is provided by a 4-pin Molex connection, and fan speed can be controlled by connecting the correct cable to a spare 4-pin fan header on the motherboard, otherwise all fans will run at full speed.
Included with the NZXT Manta, in an unassuming white box tucked into the chassis are all of the various screws to secure the components, a generous number of cable ties, and an NZXT badge for those who want to show off a bit.
Since our new mini-ITX test system is still being finalized, we once again turn to my personal rig to act as the platform with which to see how easy (or difficult) it is to build a system within the Manta, as well as to see how the thermal performance stacks up.
When it comes to working inside the Manta, it’s easy. Very easy. Often a small form factor chassis will have a unique layout that reduces the overall footprint, while at the same time reducing the amount of space there is to work in. This time around however, thanks to the more traditional layout of the Manta and the fact that the somewhat antiquated 5.25″ drive bay has been dropped, the interior felt almost cavernous.
We decided to see if the mITX-only Corsair H5 SF all-in-one liquid CPU cooler would fit in the Manta, but sadly the raised cover used to hide cables to the right of the motherboard came into contact with the mounting bracket for the cooler. That meant swapping out the H5 with a Phanteks PH-TC14S air cooler, however before starting we knew full well that the 140mm fan would extend over the PCI-e slot if installed vertically. Instead we flipped it 90 degrees after relocating the rear exhaust fan to the top panel, so those using specialized or larger coolers should do their home work first. Coolers with 120mm fans should not have either problem problem and can be installed in any orientation.
All of the other components installed cleanly and securely without any clearance or alignment problems. The curved side panels afforded us more than enough room to run our cables, and the raised cover between the motherboard and the drive area kept the build looking neat and tidy, meaning we didn’t have to spend extra time on silly things like cable management. Also, those planning on using all in one liquid coolers with multiple fans should be pleased as punch with the integrated fan controller, which still had enough connections left, even after all of the case fans were connected.
All of our testing is performed under controlled conditions to ensure accurate and repeatable results. The test system is kept in a near steady 20°C ambient environment with readings taken before and after testing with a standard room thermometer. AIDA64 Extreme Engineer is used for monitoring and recording temperatures throughout the test process.
Stock CPU settings were obtained by reverting to the default settings via the motherboard BIOS, while a the stable overclocked frequency of 4.2GHz was reached by simply setting the multiplier to 42, leaving the bus at 100mhz, and increasing the core voltage to 1.22V. Final GPU clocks of 1,200 MHz on the core and 7,200 MHz on the memory were achieved using MSI Afterburner after adding the maximum possible voltage of 100mV and increasing the power limit all the way to 20%.
A fresh, fully updated installation of Windows 10 is allowed to sit idle for 10 minutes after startup to ensure all services are loaded before recording 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 with a 20 minute run of OCCT’s built in test.
|Chassis Test System|
|Processor||Intel Core i5 4690K 3.5Ghz, Overclocked to 4.2GHz/1.22V VCore|
|Motherboard||MSI Z79I GAMING AC|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance LP 2 x 8GB DDR3 @ 1866mhz|
|Graphics||MSI 280X 3G GAMING|
|Storage||Corsair Force LX 256GB SSD|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX600M|
|Chassis||NZXT Manta mITX Tower|
|CPU Cooling||Phanteks PH-TC14S|
|OS||Windows 10 64-Bit|
|Graphics Card (OC)||40||82|
I can’t recall the last time I’ve run any type of air cooling, and I have to admit that I’m very impressed by the numbers when it comes to the overclocked load temperatures of the CPU. Our testing is designed to provide the best possible results under the worst possible conditions, so while 80 degrees is quite high, especially if that’s where the chip was to sit 24/7, there’s still 20 degrees left before thermal throttling kicks in.
Also impressive is the overclocked GPU temperature of 82 degrees. There is plenty of headroom left here as well, however we pushed our card to the limit in terms of stability and it just couldn’t give us anything beyond the clocks mentioned above in the testing methodology. Those with GPUs that can overclock beyond the one we used will certainly see higher temperatures, as will those with less capable cooling solutions, but in most cases we feel that this is what the majority of overclockers are likely to settle close to, therefore their readings should more or less fall in line with what we saw.
This extra headroom on both the CPU and GPU speaks volumes about the internal design and cooling capability of the included fans. Air isn’t obstructed by a drive cage since 5.25″ devices are not support in the Manta, and the FN120 fans move a decent amount of air without generating a lot of noise at 45CFM and 21dBA respectively.
Speaking of noise, the Manta is pretty much dead quiet in every regard, even with the three included fans running at 100%. The trio of FN120 fans are fantastic for those who want their system to remain as quiet as possible.
I’ll admit that we’re incredibly late getting this review posted, but it’s one that I’ve wanted to ensure saw the light of day for quite a while, especially after seeing the respectable numbers that could be had with cooling duties handled by an air cooler. Liquid cooling users should be over the moon because we can just imagine the numbers that the chassis will turn in considering the Manta was designed to handle 280mm radiators on the front and top panels.
From a design standpoint, there’s not much that can be found to gripe about. The frame is rigid, as are the side panels, the included fans are powerful and remain quiet when run at full speed, the removal of the 5.25″ drive cage means unobstructed airflow from the front fans, and the included fan controller negates a huge catch-22 of using a mITX motherboard, which is the lack of fan headers.
If we can had to complain about anything other than the larger footprint, which comes close to matching a mid-tower chassis in height and width, it would be that the fan controller requires a 4-pin Molex connector to supply power rather than a SATA connection. For modular power supply users, this means an extra cable to connect, but thankfully there’s lots of room to hide additional cables in the power supply compartment. The choice to go with a Molex connector could be due to the fact that it can supply more power than a SATA connector can simply due to its design, which would make sense since the integrated fan controller needs to run 8 fans, plus the rear panel and power supply cover LEDs
Let’s talk about a different kind of sense though. Dollars and cents. The Manta with the windowed side panel will set you back a cool $130 USD , while the model with the solid side panel is current selling for $128 USD. This is a fairly steep price tag given the other mITX-only chassis available at one major online retailer that we checked, however after concluding testing we feel that it’s a good value given the points listed above. Try not to let the three digit price tag hang you up, because you do get what you pay for
Due to the excellent design, build quality, thermal performance, and quietness of the NZXT Manta, we’re happy to slap an Editor’s Choice award on it and call it a day.
Now, it seems like ages since I’ve dated a super model. Darn. Still not working.
NZXT Manta Mini-ITX Chassis
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