Peering inside the Prodigy
The Prodigy's generous proportions aren't just for show. They're responsible for the chassis' roomy internals, and BitFenix has made the most of the available space. Opening the side panels reveals an internal layout reminiscent of contemporary mid-towers.
There are some differences, though. Instead of laying the motherboard along one of the side panels, the Prodigy positions it parallel to the floor. That layout leaves enough vertical clearance for common tower-style air coolers. Heatsinks as tall as 6.9" (175 mm) are supported. Of course, adding a fan to the top-panel mount directly above the motherboard will reduce that clearance somewhat.
Most Mini-ITX cases have very limited cooler support, so the Prodigy's tall main compartment really stands out. The airy design also makes inserting the motherboard a breeze. You can slide in the board easily from either side, regardless of whether the memory and cooler are installed already. With access on both sides, getting the motherboard into the chassis and lined up with the rear I/O shield is a trivial task.
Bolting down the motherboard can a little more difficult, however, because you'll need a screwdriver shorter than about 6" (152 mm) to avoid butting up against the top of the case. And since the motherboard posts don't line up with the opening in the top panel, you can't thread a longer screwdriver through the case's ceiling. This is an admittedly minor annoyance, especially considering the hoops one has to jump through to install the motherboard in some Mini-ITX chassis. Still, screwdriver length isn't a concern with most other cases.
BitFenix stacks two drive cages behind the front bezel. The top cage can be removed without tools, while the bottom one requires a screwdriver to extract. Ditching the bottom cage is only necessary if you want to run a radiator in the front panel. I'm guessing few users will do that, especially since there's room for a similar radiator up top.
I expect more folks will be inclined to remove the Prodigy's top cage to make room for longer graphics cards. With the cage in place, the maximum graphics card length is a relatively stubby 7.1" (180 mm). Pulling out the cage provides enough clearance for cards as long as 13.1" (335 mm), which means even the ultra-high-end GeForce Titan and Radeon HD 7990 will fit. That said, cards with triple-slot coolers aren't supported, since there are only two expansion slot openings at the back.
The systems I've been building inside the Prodigy use integrated graphics, but out of curiosity, I popped a GeForce GTX 680 into one of them. Installing the card took all of a few seconds. The hardest part of the process? Loosening the thumbscrews holding the expansion slot covers in place. My only concern was that, since the vents in the left side panel weren't filtered, the GPU cooler was free to suck dust into the case.
The main drive cage slides out on tool-free rails and houses three sleds ready for 3.5" or 2.5" drives. Desktop drives are held in place by metal pins backed by rubber dampers, but you'll need to screw in notebook drives and SSDs manually. If you're worried about the sleds sliding around, each one can be screwed to the cage, as well.
Two more sleds populate the lower cage, which is screwed to the floor of the chassis. The sleds slide out to the left in the default configuration, but the entire dual-cage assembly is reversible.
The Prodigy has five additional 2.5" drive mounts outside of the cages. One of those mounts lies between the lower cage and the bottom panel, while two line the wall of the PSU area, and another two are situated on the inside of the right side panel. The only thing missing is an external drive dock. Then again, I can't think of any Mini-ITX cases—or even microATX ones—with built-in docks, so it's hard to fault BitFenix for that omission.
Pictured above is the right panel, which houses the SSD bays, the external USB and audio ports, the power and reset buttons, and the power and HDD lights. Some folks may prefer those ports on the left side, so it's a good thing the panels can be swapped. However, that maneuver requires detaching the SSD cage and transplanting it onto the other panel (or removing it entirely). Swapping the panels also means losing the venting holes next to the graphics card.
Unlike older Mini-ITX cases, the Prodigy includes a pair of USB 3.0 ports. These are tied to one of those newfangled internal headers, and BitFenix provides an adapter for internal USB 2.0 connectors. That said, you're on your own if you need to route USB connectivity from the rear-panel ports.
As I fine-tune the systems living in our twin Prodigy enclosures, I grow to appreciate the openness and flexibility of the case's loft-like floor plan. There is one room that feels claustrophobic, though. The PSU bay is tight, with barely enough clearance for the Rosewill Fortress 550W units packed into our rigs. We had to route cables carefully just to get that PSU into the chassis. Admittedly, we're exceeding the maximum size by a smidgen. Our units are 6.4" (163 mm) long; the official FAQ recommends using PSUs no longer than 5.9" (150 mm), and it identifies the maximum length as 6.3" (160 mm). You're better off sticking with shorter ATX units to avoid the hassle.
Happily, thanks to the Prodigy's width, there's plenty of room for excess cabling on either side of the PSU. The motherboard tray and second internal wall are perforated with routing holes, making it easy to lace a relatively clean layout with only the zip-ties included in the box. I also like that the power supply sits on fat rubber bumpers to dampen vibration. The reversible back plate is a nice touch, too, especially given the filtered grill in the bottom panel.