|Intro, Specs, and Features|
|Unfortunately, many PC enthusiasts tend to skimp on the chassis when building a new system. After all, you can get a decent case with adequate cooling for next to nothing these days, making a splurge on a $200-plus, premium case seem unnecessary. However, as anyone who’s owned a truly high-end chassis can tell you, it's usually worth the extra money for superior construction, additional features, ample cooling options, and sometimes attractive lighting. In addition, a high-end case is something that can last through multiple upgrade cycles.
That’s how the NZXT Phantom 820 is positioned: it's an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of chassis, offering all the options and extras you could hope for whether you’re rolling with the stock fans or want to put in a monster liquid cooling solution.
This full tower case is made from both plastic and steel and is truly an extra-large chassis at 235mm (W) x 650mm (H) x 612mm (D) and a whopping 32lbs. You can put almost any motherboard you like inside, as the Phantom 820 supports all form factors from mini-ITX to E-ATX.
NZXT stuck with its cool and sophisticated white fans for the Phantom 820, and the case can accommodate plenty of them. Four large ones come standard--200mm fans on the top, front, and side panels, and a 140mm exhaust fan at the rear--and they’re operated by a 4-channel, 15-watt digital fan controller.
There are nine expansion bays to accommodate even the bulkiest multi-card graphics configurations, and the case has four 5.25-inch and six 3.5-inch drive bays. One of the 3.5-inch bays (the lower one, which has two trays) pops out easily with a pair of squeezable tabs, and both bays are angled at 90 degrees to offer access from the side panel instead of from inside the main compartment of the case.
One of the highlights of the Phantom 820 is its lighting design, which features multiple color choices, front-mounted controls, and white LEDs illuminating the rear I/O ports.
|Exterior, Interior, and Installation|
|For all the sweet lighting options available in the Phantom 820, the exterior of the case is otherwise rather understated. Our unit sports an attractive smoky, gunmetal gray finish, although you can also get a Phantom 820 in white or matte black. The finish is rather impressive, as NZXT did an excellent job of concealing which parts are metal and which are plastic.
We’re never in love with mixed materials on cases (primarily when one of those is plastic), and there’s always a concern that even the best-matched colors will age differently over time, but NZXT has come as close as anyone we’ve seen in getting it right. Even the texture of the plastic and metal parts matches fairly well.
Of course, using plastic in various parts of the case was necessary--the behemoth already weighs 32lbs. Any more steel, and the Phantom 820 would need to come with a warning label about its weight.
There’s a continuous peak running the length of the front and top panels that evokes an industrial Art Deco sort of flavor. The front has a large grill on the bottom section for the front-mounted 200mm fan, and the top portion swings open to reveal the 5.25-inch drive bays, lighting controls, and built-in SD card slot.
The top panel is loaded with integrated features, including two USB 2.0 and four USB 3.0 ports on one side and the headphone and mic jacks and fan controls on the other. Much of the top panel has a grill design to accommodate up to two 200mm fans or a water cooling radiator.
One knock on the design is that the front and top panels aren’t especially removable. Granted, you only need to do so if you’re cleaning the grills or installing fans or a water cooling system, but NZXT has demonstrated the ability to make that process much easier in other cases such as the Switch 810, so it’s not clear why it’s so hard on the Phantom 820.
The case is set atop a plastic foot that helps provide more clearance for air exhaust and actually contributes to the overall profile of the chassis in a subtle way.
The main side panel sports a clear acrylic pane as well as a large pair of grills that offer a 200mm fan mount. The other side panel is, as usual, all one solid piece of metal, but the lower portion features a 36mm bump-out to help facilitate cable routing behind the motherboard tray. There’s a decent amount of clearance back there for cabling, and the bump-out helps, but it’s still a little tricky to get the side panel back on due to all the cables; we’d prefer to see more space, especially with a case like this one that’s likely to house a host of components and drives.
There’s certainly room to spare elsewhere; the main compartment is delightfully spacious, with plenty of room to work without nicking up your knuckles and nice depth for large CPU coolers.
Of course, if you load up on fans or employ a water cooling system, that space will fill up a bit more. NZXT ships the Phantom 820 with four large fans, as we previously mentioned, but you can fit another 200mm fan at the top of the case (or swap in a trio of 120mm fans), slap a couple 140mm fans on the bottom, or insert a 120mm or 140mm fan on a pivoting mechanism next to the uppermost 3.5-inch drive bay. For radiators, there’s 90mm x 280/360mm of space up top or 240/280mm on the bottom if you so choose.
The 5.25-inch bays have toolless mechanisms that feel strong and sturdy despite being made of plastic, and the 3.5-inch bays are rock-solid, although they use flimsy plastic sleds for the drives that aren’t particularly fun to work with.
And of course, there are large mesh filters at the top, front, and bottom of the Phantom 820 that all pop out smoothly for easy cleaning.
The lighting setup on this chassis is a sight to see. There are bright white LEDs on the back of the case that keep the I/O ports and expansion bays lit so they’re easy to work with in the dark; if you’re not a fan or just want to go stealth, you can simply switch those lights off with a button on the front panel.
There are also five LEDs securely built into the rim of the top the case on the side closest to the windowed side panel, and another light that makes the clear plastic strip by the fan controller glow beautifully. (Indeed, this is no after-market lighting string; those suckers are part of this case and won’t get yanked asunder when if you grip the case to move it with the side panel off.) The lights hit the clear side panel just right and do a nice job of illuminating the whole interior of the chassis. You can switch them off if you like, or you can adjust the brightness and color, choosing from various shades of red, green, or blue with the click wheel mounted on the front panel.
Using the fan controller is a breeze; you can toggle between the four sections of fans--rear, internal/side, front, and top--and click the +/- buttons to increase or decrease fan speeds. A white LED not only indicates which fan group is selected, it also changes in brightness depending on how fast or slow the fans are spinning.
|Test System and Thermal Test|
|Test System: Our test system consisted of an MSI Z77 MPOWER Big Bang motherboard with an Intel Core i7-3770K (3.5GHz) processor, 2x4GB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 (@1333) RAM, a ZOTAC GeForce GTX 260, WD 150GB Raptor HDD, 850W NZXT HALE90 PSU, and Windows Home Premium x64.
We used an infrared thermometer to record CPU, motherboard, graphics card, and hard drive temperatures (in Celsius) after booting the system and letting it idle for 15 minutes. We checked temperatures again after running Prime 95 for 15 minutes, thus achieving both idle and load readings. The ambient temperature was maintained as consistently as possible. Where applicable, such as with motherboard temperatures, we took readings from multiple spots and averaged the results.
Because the Phantom 820 has an integrated fan controller, we ran tests with the fans running both at full bore and at their minimum speed as allowed by the controller.
First off, we can see that there’s a substantial difference between the NZXT Phantom 820’s cooling performance with the fans running full blast versus set on low, both when idling and under load, particularly for the CPU and motherboard.
At idle with the fans cranked all the way up, the Phantom 820 was right about on par with the rest of the field in terms of the CPU and motherboard temperatures, although the graphics card and hard drive were a little warmer than we’d like to see. The hard drive score in particular was somewhat disappointing. Do note, however, that the reason for the very low HDD temp in the Switch 810 is due to a fan inside that chassis that sits right next to the drives and keeps them nice and chilly. With the fans on low, the Phantom 820's cooling performance isn't very strong.
The story is much the same when the systems were under load: The NZXT Phantom 820 was a bit on the warm side compared to the field, though not by much. Again, the Phantom 820’s hard drive cooling left something to be desired. Keep in mind, however, repositioning or adding a fan to better cool the hard drive bays is possible.
It should also be said that even with the fans running full bore under a nasty Prime95 load, the system remained impressively quiet; with the fan speed turned down low and the system idling, the case fans are only about as intrusive as the hum of the lights overhead.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The NZXT Phantom 820 offers decent cooling performance in its stock configuration, although there are other cases that perform better at its price point. That said, the case offers as spacious an interior as you could ask for (although we’d like a bit more room in the rear for cabling), more than ample fan mounts for additional cooling, and room for a beefy water cooling setup. The fetching lighting setup and integrated four-speed fan controller are superb extras.
NZXT Phantom 820
There’s a fine line between offering up a decked-out killer chassis with all the amenities and a garish clown of a case, and NZXT found the sweet spot with the Phantom 820 in our opinion. Despite its ample lighting options and a side panel that shows off just enough of the interior of the chassis, it never feels or looks like overkill. The case also sports some interesting lines without making it look like it’s wearing some sort of space-age armor.
In terms of features, there’s not much NZXT left out; as we mentioned above, you can leave the chassis alone and rely on the four stock fans, pack it full of nine fans, or slap in liquid cooling--this case can handle it all. Both the lights and fan controller are integrated into the case design, and they offer users the ability to both customize the look of the system and balance fan speed and noise. There are also 9 expansion slot locations to accommodate virtually any assortment of motherboard, expansion cards and extras.
The case is mostly steel and feels sturdy all the way around, even the parts that are made of plastic (except for the flimsy hard drive sleds) such as the locking mechanism for the 5.25-inch drives. The pull-out hard drive bay and interior pivot fan mount are nice touches, as well.
The cost for all this chassis goodness is relatively steep, though; NZXT has the price tag set at $249.99. However, the overall fine looks, flexibility, sweet lighting, and handy fan controller just might make the Phantom 820 worth it.