Sleek ITX case inspired by a Valve puzzler, but is this a triumph?
THE REASONS to go ITX for your next build are manyfold: You reclaim valuable space; you need fewer cans of compressed air to clean it; and now, thanks to BitFenix’s latest model, you can pretend you built a rig inside one of Portal’s sentry turrets.
Perhaps the reason ITX isn’t the dominant form factor is that you need to make compromises in the name of compactness, although they aren’t as significant today as they once were. In the Portal’s case, you need a smaller SFX power supply to power your diminutive machine, and you’re limited to a single GPU that takes up a maximum of two slots. Neither is a big surprise for an ITX case, but we also recommend going as modular as possible with that PSU to minimize unnecessary cables, as this case’s unusual interior design doesn’t leave much room between PSU and drive bays.
There are benefits to that design, though. Rather than giving you access to the components via a removable side panel, BitFenix instead opts for a frame within a frame, so your entire build lives in an interior chassis that’s accessible via a ball-bearing runner. It’s also oriented so that your graphics card lies “upside down” at the very top of the case, visible through a perspex window on the top panel, although variants without the window are also available. In practice, this allows easy access to some usually hard-to-reach parts, and makes cleaning the PC much easier—just pull it out, bust out that air can, and push it back in. It does mean it’s a bit more tricky for cable management, though. Certain cables can be tied in place on the interior frame, but those connected to the case itself—case fans, power button, and so on—must have enough slack to allow the interior frame to run out past the exterior. It’s a little like building a ship in a bottle in that way.
With a system built inside, the exterior features of the Portal are kept minimal to stay in line with that Valve-inspired aesthetic. A single power button graces the front panel, and along one side are two USB 3.0 ports next to inputs for headphones and a mic. At the rear, an additional bracket is fitted over the GPU screw holes on the case to allow easier access to the thumbscrews, and two large gaps at the top and bottom provide exit points for the hot air as it’s pushed through from front to back, helped along by a single 120mm fan at the front and an 80mm fan at the rear. There is room for a 120mm radiator to be fitted instead of that 80mm fan if you opt for a more heavyduty CPU cooling solution, though. Below the interior frame there’s also plenty of room at the base for hot air from your PSU to disperse. For a case this size, which appears so solid and unventilated at first glance, airflow actually looks ample in the Portal.
But let’s be honest, if this case piques your interest, it’s probably due, in large part, to its looks. In person, as it were, those looks hold up well. The aluminum panels are well finished and feel sturdy enough that transporting a built-up machine shouldn’t do any damage, and it’s nicely topped off with a black or white powder coat, depending on your taste. The only question mark comes in that runner design, which is fine for the initial build, but doesn’t feel smooth or robust enough to endure repeated action in the long term, for frequent cleaning or regular upgrades, without exhibiting a bit of wear and tear. So, was this indeed a triumph? Unfortunately, the Portal falls just shy, but its looks and interesting design read big in the plus column. –PHIL IWANIUK
HUGE SUCCESS Sentry turret looks; breezy airflow; frame design.
WHEATLEY Flimsy runner. $140, www.bitfenix.com