As much as we love high-end enclosures, we also understand that many of our readers are interested in humbler and more economical ways to house their PCs. Today, we're taking a break from the bevy of enthusiast-oriented cases to scrutinize a product from BitFenix aimed at the mainstream crowd. Ringing up at $70 without a power supply, the Shinobi Window sits near the upper limits of budget territory and tugs on the capes of popular mainstays like the Antec Three Hundred, Cooler Master Centurion, and Lian Li PC-K58W. We've put BitFenix's latest under the microscope to see if it can hold its own at this popular price point.
BitFenix is a relative newcomer to the PC enclosure market, founded only a year ago by former employees of Cooler Master and Abit. Those folks proved that they know a thing or two about style when, last year, they launched the Survivor, a futuristic and curvy design. With the Shinobi, they've taken a subtler approach. While this enclosure is still targeted at the mainstream gaming crowd, the only real "gamer" embellishment to be found on the outside is a tinted side-panel window—and even that is optional. Our review sample happened to be the Shinobi Window model, but a window-less standard version is also available at a lower $60 asking price.
While I'm not a fan of side-panel windows in general, I don't really understand the point of the window on this particular case. The window plastic is tinted in an attempt to stand out from the crowd, but unless you have a CCFL or some other significant light source inside the case, the tinting blocks your view of the internal components. That kind of defeats the point. The sorta-see-through plastic does have ventilation holes and mounting points for a 120-mm fan, however. Users of the standard Shinobi must make do without the added airflow potential.
Both versions of the Shinobi use a mid-tower design that sits 46 cm tall, 49 cm deep, and 20.5 cm wide. That translates to about 18.1" x 19.3" x 8.1" for us Amurakins. At this size, the Shinobi will feel at home above or below deck. The front ports are situated up top, hinting that the floor might be this case's best location.
One of the main selling points for this case is the soft-touch rubber coating (imaginatively trademarked as "SofTouch") that you'll find on the front and top panels. If you've ever handled a ThinkPad with the soft-touch lid or a smartphone with a rubberized back, BitFenix's case will feel familiar. The coating looks great, feels great, and resists fingerprints with aplomb. There are a couple minor drawbacks, though.
For some reason, both the power button and its surrounding cavity are coated in the SoftTouch material. The contact between rough surfaces causes some friction, which occasionally results in the power button getting stuck in the down position, requiring a light tap or two to pop it back up. BitFenix may have been trying to help the button blend in with the rest of the case, but that's really not necessary, especially when doing so compromises the operation of the button itself.
The second issue I have is that soft-touch coatings do not take well to scratches. I've owned many ThinkPads over the years, and the first thing to wear on them is the soft-touch coating on the edges and corners of the lid. The Shinobi's surfaces are free of scuffs so far, but be aware that damage to this type of coating might be a little more exaggerated than on your standard plastic case. This may be a trivial consideration if you plan on leaving the case in one spot its whole life. Aesthetic-minded folks who frequent LAN parties or move their systems frequently might not be so forgiving.
The designers opted to keep the Shinobi's front face relatively simple and clean. There are three 5.25" drive bays up top, a chrome BitFenix logo in the middle, and a couple mesh accent and ventilation strips that run up the face and over the top panel. I quite like the logo, which gives the case a bit of Romulan Empire vibe. BitFenix also includes a 5.25-to-3.5" bay adapter to house that 1.44MB floppy drive you refuse to throw out.
Up top, you'll find a pretty typical array of ports, buttons, and lights. There are four USB 2.0 ports accompanied by a microphone jack, headphone jack, power button, reset button, and LEDs for hard drive activity and power status. The LEDs are noteworthy if only because the hard drive indicator is red, while the power LED is blue. I like the different colors, but some people may prefer to have it all one way or the other.
Behind the ports, you'll see a mesh area capable of covering two optional 140-mm fans. Partitions beneath the mesh separate the two fan mounts and would seemingly prevent the installation of larger water-cooling radiators. With a few tweaks here and there, the Shinobi probably could have been made to support at least a dual 120-mm radiator.
When I first unboxed the case, one of the mesh strips that runs the length of the top panel was not seated properly and bounced up and down about a quarter of an inch if you pushed on it with your finger. In trying to correct the issue, I discovered that the top panel is removable by pulling up on the small gap at the rear of the case. Removing the roof allows you to access to the mounting holes for the top fans, and if you're suddenly feeling the urge to demonstrate your mad Dremel skills, you could probably modify the top of the case to accommodate a water-cooling radiator fairly easily.
There isn't much going on around the back of the Shinobi. You'll find seven expansion slots that continue the black motif, along with some thumb screws and a 120-mm exhaust fan. BitFenix takes cooling pretty seriously in this case. In the windowed version, there are seven mounting points for 120-mm spinners: two up front, two on top (which also support 140-mm fans), one in the back, one on the bottom, and one mounted to the window. The standard version of the Shinobi offers largely the same cooling potential as its windowed counterpart, lacking only the window mount. If liquid cooling is more your style, there are also two rubber-wrapped holes on the rear panel to accommodate the associated plumbing.
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