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A quick look at BitFenix's Prodigy enclosure

Mini-ITX all grown up

Mini-ITX motherboards have come a long way since the early days of soldered-on processors and PCI expansion cards. Current offerings have standard desktop sockets, PCI Express x16 slots, and peripheral ports up the wazoo. They can accommodate some of the fastest processors and GPUs available today.

It's still difficult to find truly enthusiast-grade Mini-ITX enclosures, however. Most cases designed to accommodate the form factor have caveats, including limited support for larger coolers, graphics cards, and PSUs. Also, their cramped internals leave little room for mechanical drive arrays and can make the building process a royal pain.

There is one rather striking deviation from the norm: BitFenix's Prodigy. This Mini-ITX box has little trouble accommodating full-sized desktop parts, and it has more drive bays than most mid-towers. Builder-friendly amenities abound, making assembly incredibly easy. I recently built a couple of systems inside the Prodigy for a special project you'll read about soon, and I gained some insight into the case along the way.

The first thing you need to know is that the Prodigy isn't all that small. At 9.8" x 15.9" x 13.7" (or 250 x 404 x 359 mm), it's more than double the size of the Silverstone SG07 pictured above on the left. The SG07 is already pretty beefy for a Mini-ITX chassis, so the Prodigy is positively monstrous. I've seen microATX enclosures that are smaller.

Of course, there are no rules that dictate how small a Mini-ITX chassis should be. ATX cases come in a range of sizes from modest mid-towers to gargantuan monoliths, so perhaps we should expect similar variety among Mini-ITX designs. It's also worth noting that the Prodigy's footprint isn't much bigger than the SG07's; the main difference between these enclosures is their height.

The Prodigy puts a new twist on a nostalgic design; it looks like the goth love child of the Power Mac G3 and G5. Despite the obvious influences, though, the Prodigy doesn't feel like a copycat—not unless you're one of those people who believes Apple has a monopoly on specific shapes.

The Prodigy's exterior is as much about function as it is about form. Mini-ITX systems are ideal for LAN gaming rigs, and the handles on the top make it easy to carry the system. Matching handles at the bottom suspend the case 1.75" (44 mm) off the floor, ensuring ample airflow for the bottom-mounted PSU bay. All four handles are made of flexible composite plastic, so they provide a hint of cushioning if you should drop the case inadvertently. I wouldn't recommend it, though. While the handles spring back to their original shape after being deformed, your system's internal components may not recover so gracefully.

Plastic parts can feel a little cheap, but the Prodigy's handles have a soft-touch coating that's really quite nice. The smooth, matte finish won't pick up fingerprints, either. Unfortunately, the color isn't a perfect match for the black metal side and front panels, especially under bright lighting. Replicating the same hue across different materials isn't easy, and you can see similarly subtle mismatches in the white, red, and orange versions of the Prodigy. Kudos to BitFenix for making those other options available, though. The Prodigy looks particularly cute in color.

From the rear, we can see the Prodigy's liberal use of thumbscrews. These screws anchor the side panels, PSU bracket, and expansion cards, and BitFenix throws in a few more for the single optical bay. Sadly, the thumbscrews pre-installed on the Prodigy cases we received were too tight to unscrew by hand. Having to use a screwdriver kind of nullified the intended convenience, at least for the initial setup.

The left side panel is riddled with ventilation holes. The Prodigy was designed to house potent hardware, and it's well-equipped to keep even high-end parts cool. This thing has room for up to five fans, and it comes with two 120-mm spinners in the box. One of those fans is configured as a rear exhaust, while the other serves as an intake behind the front bezel. The stock fans have three-pin connectors and are reasonably quiet, but they're nothing special.

Although the rear bracket comes loaded with a 120-mm fan, it also supports 140-mm units. There's some flexibility with the front intake, as well. You can add a second 120-mm fan, or you can replace the existing one with something larger. The front intake has mounting holes for 140, 180, 200, and 230-mm fans.

On the black version of the Prodigy, the front fan mounts sit behind a mesh panel that covers the face of the chassis. This configuration should provide more airflow than on the white and colored variants of the case. (Those have solid front bezels with slim vents around their edges.)

Prying off the front mesh to clean it requires removing the side panel, which is a fairly involved process. Thankfully, taking out the other dust filters is simpler. The filter for the PSU intake slides out of the bottom of the case with ease, and the one covering the top fans pops off with little effort.

Up top, we find two more 120-mm fan emplacements. There's enough room for a 240-mm liquid cooling radiator, but installing one will cost you the optical bay. A double-wide radiator can also be attached to the front panel. That configuration requires removing both of the Prodigy's drive cages, which might seem like a horrible idea. Amazingly, though, the Prodigy still has five 2.5" drive mounts even with the cages removed. To get a better sense of how that's possible, we need to take a look inside the case...