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BitFenix's Survivor enclosure, take two

Who's getting voted off the island this time?

In November of last year, we reviewed a pre-release version of BitFenix's Survivor enclosure, a rather interesting product from an equally interesting Taiwanese start-up made up partly of former Abit staffers. (If you don't remember Abit, I recommend hitting the great TR archive.)

The Survivor showed a lot of promise, but unfortunately, we found a number of nagging little issues with it. Some of those issues were attributable to our review unit being a pre-production sample, while others, in my view, were simple design shortcomings. After publishing the review, we discussed those problems with the folks at BitFenix, who graciously sent a production sample of the enclosure our way. That sample, they said, reflected the shipping product consumers would get their hands on.

Right around then, I received an order from the top to drop everything and begin work on The Tech Report v3.0. The Consumer Electronics Show and Intel's Sandy Bridge processors came next, postponing my second look at the Survivor by quite a bit. The Survivor made its way into European and Asian e-tail listings during that time. BitFenix's own online store services customers Stateside, too, but the Survivor isn't due to hit U.S. e-tailers until later this month. So, I'm totally not late. I was just waiting for the right time—honest!

Before we get started, I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn't read our Survivor review do so right now. The rest of this article will only highlight the differences between the retail Survivor and the pre-release model we reviewed. All of the key information about how the Survivor works, how much it costs, and so on can be found in the original review.

The good
To begin, let's take a look at the shortcomings that were addressed in the production unit.

As you can see above, the wiring for the fan LEDs and the LED on-off switch is pre-connected out of the box, so there's zero work involved for the user. Just plug in the power. Having to dig up the manual and connect wires to unlabeled pins was a major headache with the pre-production sample, so BitFenix gets a big thumbs-up for this change. Be careful not to pull the wires loose by accident!

The front fan filter is installed as it should be, too, without a trace of inappropriate adhesives. I wasn't expecting any less from the production Survivor, but finding the filter partially hot-glued to the front bezel on the pre-release sample raised some concerns. I don't know what goes on in those factories half a world away—clearly, gangs of kids with hot-glue guns are common, but they must've been kept out of whatever factory produces BitFenix's cases. Another thumbs up.

True to its promise, BitFenix has moved the 5.25"-to-3.5" drive adapter from the top external bay to the bottom one. That way, your optical drive can slip into the uppermost bay (where it belongs) without a fight. This might be a minor change, but with the pre-production chassis, encountering the adapter in the wrong position and being unable to move it after having installed the motherboard proved frustrating. BitFenix gets a third thumbs up here.

Last, but not least, the power button in our production Survivor was connected properly and operated without issue. I wasn't expecting any less from the retail product in this respect, either, but my adventures with the pre-release unit (which I had to start up with a paperclip) forced me to ensure this wasn't a continuing problem.

The still not-so-good
Now, this production sample wasn't all sunshine and kittens. One issue in particular persisted:

Just like with the pre-production unit, some of the motherboard standoffs simply refused to go in all the way when screwed in by hand (two at the top, in this case). The same standoffs fit happily into other screw holes on the motherboard tray, so my guess is that some of the threads were just too tight. BitFenix explains, "The internals are currently coated by hand, which means that a small number of samples will have slightly thicker coating in some areas. This is causing the motherboard standoffs to be harder to install than normal, but not outrageously so, and not with all samples."

To get around this problem, you'll either need to grab a wrench or put a screw inside the standoff and use that to get it in all the way. Alternatively, wait a bit—BitFenix says that, in the very near future, it will shift Survivor production to a different factory that will take care of this problem.

My complaints about other problems unrelated to fit and finish still hold. For one, the side panels are still a chore to take off; doing so requires the removal of two rounded plastic pieces at the top and bottom, each held in place by two screws, and the removal of a pair of thumbscrews for each panel. Putting everything back together is no fun, either. BitFenix says the rounded plastic bits serve as bumpers to absorb shocks, which is a neat idea, but the practical execution is going to get in the way if you need to dig inside your PC on a regular basis.

Also, the amount of space behind the motherboard tray doesn't appear to have increased. That means getting all of your cables to fit might take some work, and that some cables might have to remain on the other side, especially if your power supply lacks modular cabling. The Survivor is a compact, LAN-friendly design, though, so I don't want to give BitFenix too hard a time over this.