There seems to be all manner of micro-ATX cases out there at the moment, from cubes such as Corsair’s Carbide Air 240 to several super-slim towers that focus primarily on housing all-in-one liquid coolers, rather than tower coolers. The former cooler allows for good cooling but doesn’t require as much space as a tower cooler, enabling companies such as BitFenix to tweakt heir case designs. BitFenix’s new micro-ATX case, the Pandora, is a classic example of a case that shuns space for large air coolers in favour of accommodating all-in-one liquid coolers or low-profile air coolers.
It measures just 160mm across, compared to 210mm for Corsair’s micro-ATX Obsidian 350D, which clearly has ramifications for the size of cooler you can install – with just 134mm of clearance, even comparatively small coolers such as Gelid’s Tranquillo Rev 2 are too big. As such, if you’re keen to dabble in overclocking your CPU, you’ll want to consider an all-in-one liquid cooler over a low-profile air cooler. Thankfully, there’s plenty of room for 120mm radiators in the front, with space for full-height models, as well as two fans, provided your graphics card isn’t too long.
Externally, the Pandora certainly looks unique, with curved side panels that extend right around the front of the case. These panels are made from brushed aluminium, which also helps to keep the weight of the case below 6kg. Our sample was an early one – at the time of writing, the case was still only available for pre-order, but while the panel edges were a little sharp in places, BitFenix assures as that this won’t be the case with retail versions. Meanwhile, the front of the case is predominantly consists of a glossy black panel and, with the more expensive model, called the Pandora Core, there’s a programmable display in the front too.
This display enables you to show your own pictures using its 240 x 320-pixel screen, which connects to your motherboard via a USB header. The software, which is downloadable from BitFenix’s website, is simple to use – drag a picture into the folder, double click the application and it uploads the photo to the display almost instantly.
You need to make sure your image has the correct aspect ratio, though, or it will appear distorted. This display, while colour-enabled, has narrow viewing angles, but it looks good when viewed head on. With both models, an adhesive BitFenix logo is also included, which you can use instead. The inside of the Pandora is fairly spartan, but combined with the case’s length of 460mm, this space allows for graphics cards up to 350mm long to be installed with no slot-height restriction. There’s even enough space for two dual-slot graphics cards, with the PSU located in the base.
However, the restricted width also limits your cable-routing options. There’s no room behind the motherboard tray for cables from the PSU, and there’s only just enough room for smaller wires, such as fan or front panel cables. You’re essentially limited to using the space behind the main drive mount, but in any event, you won’t want to install too many SSDs, hard disks or graphics cards if you want a tidy system. In terms of drive mounts, removing the large top grille reveals a space for a 3.5in hard disk in the roof and a further one in the base, which is also compatible with a 2.5in SSD and is straddled by an L-shaped plate.
On the side of this plate is a final 2.5in SSD mount, which is great for easy access. What’s more, if you opt for the windowed version of the Pandora, which we’ve reviewed, this mount will clearly display your shiny SSD too. There’s no mount for an optical drive, though, whether it’s slimline or full-height, while the front panel buttons and ports, including two USB 3 ports, are located on top of the case at the front. The side panels are screwless, and pop on and off the case using small ball-fittings that clip into holes in the chassis.
Both the PSU and front section also sport dust filters, which are both easily removable for cleaning. Finally, in terms of cooling, there’s only a handful of fan mounts. There are two front 120mm fan mounts, with one fan included as standard, and there’s another 120mm mount (again including a fan) behind the top 3.5in drive bay.
As there wasn’t enough room to house our usual micro-ATX test gear, we had to use our low-profile mini-ITX test kit to test the Pandora’s thermal performance instead. The two 120mm fans did a reasonable job of cooling the GPU, with the case’s delta T of 54°C being just a couple of degrees warmer than Corsair’s Carbide Air 240 and SilverStone’s SG08. However, BitFenix’s Prodigy was 6°C cooler. The CPU delta T was less competitive though; at 60°C, it was 17°C warmer than the Prodigy. Thankfully, the fans are very quiet – much more so than the Prodigy’s fans when you’re positioned a few feet away from the case.
The Pandora’s lacklustre air-cooling results are mostly down to us having to use a low-profile CPU cooler due to the case’s narrow dimensions, but they don’t provide the whole picture. The Pandora is much better suited to all-in-one
liquid coolers, although that obviously means spending a little more money to achieve a cool and quiet overclocked system.
Adding another 120mm fan to the front panel would probably improve the mediocre GPU temperature too. The Pandora’s unique, slim design is attractive, its pop-off side panels work well, and the display enables you to add fancy personalisation.
Plus, it’s very quiet, and if you use an all-in-one liquid cooler, it can accommodate an overclocked CPU too. The only issues with the Pandora are its lack of cable-routing room and its spartan interior; there isn’t a lot of room for flexibility, or building a tidy system. If you’re just using a single GPU, two storage drives and an all-in-one liquid cooler, then it’s fine, but it lacks the features, flexibility and superior air cooling of slightly larger micro-ATX cases.