BitFenix Prodigy: Add-ons, mods and why it’s my favourite mini-ITX case
I’ve been dabbling with mini-ITX as a form factor for over a decade. My first systems were based on VIA-equipped low power embedded motherboards housed in modded cases from the likes of Morex or Akasa. From there I moved to Pentium and Celeron socket boards and finally to Zotac’s enthusiast LGA775 boards several years ago. My main system has been mini-ITX for two generations as well, and I can’t see me enlarging again from there (unless I win the lottery and move to a massive house where'd I'd probably build a huge PC just for the sake of it).
However, something that’s infuriated me in the past was the lack of decent mini-ITX cases. The ones that were around ten years ago were little more than aluminium or steel shoeboxes, with little thought on cooling and using them with discrete graphics cards. However, with LGA1155 ushering in a plethora of true enthusiast mini-ITX motherboards, we’ve been inundated with mini-ITX cases aimed at finally dealing with the heat generated from lots of high-end hardware packed into a small case.
The designs were all pretty different too – Cooler Master opted for some of the smallest of the lot, with the Elite 120 and more recently Elite 130 the latter of which should definitely be on your shortlist for a mini-ITX system, both air-cooled and water-cooled. SilverStone has supported mini-ITX for a while and has its FT03 Mini as well as numerous cube-style cases, few of which have disappointed. Lian Li’s offerings have often fallen short cooling–wise but Fractal Design’s Node 304 is another that can cope with a fairly high-end system.
For me, though, BitFenix has not just the best mini-ITX case but also one of the best PC cases I’ve ever used. However, the trendy Prodigy isn’t perfect out of the box. The Fyberflex handles have resulted in the case sporting quite a wobble, which shocked us when we first saw it. However, filled with hardware, this became less of an issue and certainly one that hasn’t bothered me using the case for my main system at home for the last six months or so. The top handles of course mean that it’s much easier to move around – a god send for me as my system is water-cooled and weighs easily over 20KG.
Perhaps the biggest issue many people have with the Prodigy is its size. It’s so large (for a mini-ITX case) that modders quickly began tweaking it to fit not just micro-ATX or even ATX motherboards but E-ATX boards too (check out Epitome by Fridge Gnome, Big Bro' Prodigy by Nikkop and Evolution of a Prodigy from ITX to mATX by Pierre3400) and BitFenix itself has done just this with the Prodigy M – an identically sized case that supports micro-ATX motherboards out of the box. This problem might be true for an air-cooled system, but anyone that has attempted to mix water cooling and small form factor PCs will know just how difficult they can be to work with.
If you need to remove your CPU for example, you can often kiss goodbye to an afternoon as you drain the cooling loop and dismantle everything. With the Prodigy, everything is spaced out enough for you to be able to plumb in a little extra tubing slack and to have both the CPU and graphics card as easily accessible as they would be in a full tower case. Having built water-cooled systems in several of the above-mentioned cases, including the Cooler Master Elite 120, while it’s possible, they’re no-way near as easy to work with as the Prodigy, so for me the compromise on size is acceptable.
The case also has probably the best water-cooling support of any mini-ITX case too. I’ve currently got a single 200mm radiator in the front, drawing air through the case and exhausting it out the front mesh using a 180mm SilverStone Air Penetrator fan. I have the fan on low RPM most of the time as that’s all that’s needed to cool an overclocked Core i5-3570K, GeForce 660 Ti 2GB and the motherboard VRM waterblock. There’s also the option of using a dual 120mm-fan radiator in the roof or a combination of the two, all while keeping two 2.5in mounts and using a standard sized PSU.